Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Burning Man 2013: Downhome Hospitality and Unexpected Accolades

Photo by Genevieve
            We spent our summer vacation out in the arid wasteland of the Black Rock Desert once again, participating in the wild and wondrous phenomenon known as Burning Man. This was my 8th year attending, my husband Dore’s 5th. 
            This indescribable festival has become an important part of my life.  My first year, back in 2003, was a revelation.  The experience of the art and the community totally blew my mind right open.  It radically expanded my concept of what art is and what it means to be an artist.  It also restored my faith in humanity, and gave me a taste of the incredibly positive potential that we, as human beings, possess and can achieve if we make it a priority.
            Since that first year, the Burning man community has been integral to my life.  I had discovered my Tribe, and found like-minded locals and organizations who held various social events in the L.A. area.  Most of my closest friends have sprung from this network of Burners, and countless amazing experiences, including meeting my husband, have resulted from associating with this mad mix of artists, musicians, dreamers, dancers, DJ’s, evil geniuses, builders, healers, helpers, hippies, teachers, clowns, freaks, geeks and many more inspirational characters.
            Over the years I’ve been involved in many Burning Man art projects and volunteer activities.  I’ve installed my own art piece in Center Camp.  I’ve helped others with their art cars and theme camps and installations.  I’ve lit the lamps of Black Rock City in duststorms and guarded the sacred space of the Temple as the sun rose over the playa. 
Photo by Dore
            This year I was looking forward to taking it easy.  No art projects, no volunteer shifts, no commitments, no toil.  We just parked Calliope next to Professor Peacock’s Medicine Wagon, set up camp with our closest friends in the suburbs of the city and chilled out most of the time.

            The Medicine Wagon is another camper trailer/art piece built by some good friends of ours who’s last name is Peacock.  They commissioned me to do the artwork, inspired by the old patent medicine wagons. Professor Peacock’s Miracle Elixir claims to address such troublesome afflictions as Blueballs and Spontaneous Combustion , among other things. The Peacocks make specially-labeled bottles of liqueur or herbal spritzer to give out as gifts.  Their decorated camper wagon was part of the inspiration for our own Calliope The Wonder Wagon.
Photo by Tom Varden
 The two wagons have since become camp companions, and this year we arranged and decorated them to form a welcoming entrance to our cozy camp kitchen and lounge area.  Even though we were kind of out in the boonies, away from most of the art and action that takes place in the center of the city, the wagons tend to attract attention.  Folks riding by on their way to somewhere else will stop to get a closer look.  That’s when we pounce – luring them into our little lair with the offer of a cold drink and conversation.
Photo by Jeff Linebeck

             This year we had a whole slew of visitors from all over the world stop by and hang out with us for a spell.  Old friends stopped by, and strangers became new friends.  We cooked meals and shared the surplus, gave away many beers and sodas and re-filled water bottles for thirsty travelers.  We heard many intriguing tales and received some lovely gifts.  At one point, I’d say about 30 people joined us for our Stone Soup night – a camp tradition where our campmates and neighbors contribute whatever ingredients they can spare to two huge beer kegs converted to soup pots (one with meat, one without). The resulting soup is always magically delicious!

Photo by Mike Smith
            This hanging out at camp and welcoming people to stop and visit is truly one of my favorite things to do.  There are plenty of elaborate “public camps” with bars and places to chill at Burning Man, and they are great fun.  Our space is just our camp, and inviting people in is more akin to good old-fashioned hospitality than a civic service.  It’s simple, it’s nearly effortless, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

            But despite our determination to be as lazy as possible this Burn, we managed to win an Award of Excellence!  Near the end of the week, a pair of travelers stopped by wielding a giant suitcase.  They inquired as to the makers of the two wagons, popped open the luggage and handed us a large envelope.  We had been chosen to be honored as one of 300 winners of the Necklace Factory camp’s Burning Man 2013 Awards of Excellence.   We were presented with an iron-on patch and marvelous electrum medal featuring the UFO-shaped base of this year’s Man.  The medal came with a battery to slip into the back, which powered its sound-activated blue blinky lights. 
            We also received a beautiful printed and signed certificate, which touched me so deeply I couldn’t finish reading it aloud.  I wasn’t the only one whose eyes were watering. 
            It references this year’s theme of “Cargo Cult”, and it quite eloquently describes the effect that the art and experiences out there on the playa can have.  I’ve transcribed the text here, in case the photo is difficult to read:

            “We come to the desert, overflowing with abundance.  Great cars and trucks, recreational vehicles, motorcycles and even airplanes. We bring more food than we can eat, more clothes than we can wear, more music than we can listen to, and more friends than we have time to visit.  We rush into the day and race into the night…stuffing our faces with wonder and magic. We witness miracles of sight and sound that are brought to us by fantastic artists who travel frum around the world…just to stretch our minds to overfull. 
            We are the newest evolution of Cargo Cult, and we are created by you, the Artist of Note.  The Winner.  Your cargo is splendid, your generosity is boundless and your motives are beyond our understanding.  YOU HAVE MADE MAGIC. 
            You are the winner because through your magic you have made Hope. People you will never meet walked up to your creation and were made happy.  Strangers to you found reason to live larger, and smarter and more free from the persons they were before they saw your work.  That is why you are the winner of the 2013  Necklace Factory Awards.  You join a rare group of artists who are making someplace new – a richer, funnier, tastier future. 
            And when we all return home in our great cars and trucks, our RVs, motorcycles and airplanes…when we take home all the food we couldn’t eat, and the music we had no time to listen to…when we are cleaning the mountain of clothes we barely had time to wear…we will be thinking of the most precious cargo of all: the hope that was created by being witness to your work. 
            When the Muggles in our life ask why we glow with confidence, and move with a tired by firm spring in our step, we can gaze fondly into the distance and think of the artists of Burning Man.  We can once again be filled with the wonder of your work. And if they ask what these magical artists were like, we can reply the same the Melanesian man trying to describe the unimaginable abundance brought by another long past John Frum: ‘’E look like you and me. ‘E tall man, ‘E live long.’ 
            Your cargo is splendid, your generosity is boundless, and your motives are beyond understanding.  YOU HAVE MADE MAGIC.”

            Maybe I’m just a silly old woman prone to unabashed displays of sappy emotion (or maybe there’s no “maybe” about it!), but this thing gets me every time.  I don’t really need this kind of validation as an artist.  It is its own reward most of the time.  But damn, it’s grand to be informed so expressly that what we do matters to people.  Even when quietly parked in the backstreets of BRC, minding our own business!

            So congrats to Professor Peacock’s Medicine Wagon, and to Calliope the Wonder Wagon.  Congrats to the Peacocks, and to my wonderful husband who built the wagon I get to pour my creative energies into, and congrats to me for finding my way here to this nexus of time/place/people that allows me to have such precious experiences. 
            And a heartfelt Thank You to the Necklace Factory camp, for expressing their appreciation, even to the smaller efforts out there, which truly can be just as impactful as the big dollar, fire-spewing extravaganzas.  It was a delightful surprise and a highlight of our Burn.

Photo by Mike Smith
  And with luck, our “Award-Winning Calliope The Wonder Wagon” won’t become insufferably conceited over this whole thing!  ;)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Adventures of GypsyLocks

Photo by Kaye Porter
So my year-and-a-half-long experiment with yarn dreadlock extensions is over.  I (with Dore's help) devised a method of braiding yarn into the hair and wrapping the braids that created a sort of dreadlock look, and didn't have to be taken out and redone every couple of months like braids do.  You just add more yarn and wrap the roots as they grow out. I call them GypsyLocks.

I really liked how it looked - my hair is normally fine and thin (and worn short for most of my adult life), and I’ve always envied that thick, ropey look of dreads.  After looking into getting actual dreads and exploring other methods of creating the look, I ended up making up my own method.  My hair was about 3 inches long when I started, and I paid a professional braider to do the initial installation, which took about 3 hours.  My method added several inches of length and increased the volume by probably over 1000%!

I dug adding different colors and types of yarn and decorating it with beads and bits of brass tubing, wrapping it with colorful scarves and clipping in feathers and flowers.  It was definitely a distinctive look and a lot of fun to play with.  Styling it was pretty effortless - no styling products necessary, no brushing or blow drying or curling.

However, it did take a bit of effort to maintain, and Dore did a lot of the work, since I couldn’t see or reach a lot of it.  Bless that man!

Photo by Steve Cheski
Overall, it was a fun experience. 
I spent the first 2 weeks feeling incredibly self-conscious...like everyone was staring at me and thinking I was a dirty hippie freak.  But I found that once I adjusted and got comfortable with it - once I owned my weirdness and let my freak flag fly, I got overwhelmingly positive reactions.
 I actually got to know my local shop clerks and neighbors better because I was much more noticeable and recognizable and they felt compelled to comment on my hair, and relationships were struck.  I actually got a lot of compliments on it - from young people (I was a hit at my stepson's graduation!) and old people (the ladies at JoAnne's were especially curious).  I'm sure there were plenty of people who thought I was a freaky weirdo, too, but they didn't mention it to me.  

One downside was that it was hot and heavy, since my head was covered with several skeins of yarn.  When I washed it (about once a week), it would get REALLY heavy, since it was basically a huge sponge, and took a lot of squeezing out and time to dry thoroughly.  If I didn’t let it dry thoroughly, there was the danger of the dreads getting moldy and smelly.  Yuck!

Spontaneous swimming was out. When I did get in a pool, I had to tie my hair up out of the water and limit my activities to avoid submerging.  Hats no longer fit on my head.  I couldn’t wear certain clothing because the collars wouldn’t fit over the volume of hair. I no longer needed to use a pillow (using one gave me a gnarly crick in my neck).  After a while, some of the older braids started looking ratty.  Bits of loose hair began to work their way out and the braids either had to be taken out and re-done, or further wrapped to smooth them out. 

I decided that after Burning Man, I’d pull them all out and start over fresh, with thinner and shorter braids this time to reduce the weight.

Photo by Genevieve

I was correct in suspecting that my braids would be in bad shape after the Burn.  They were full of dust and showering nearly everyday to keep clean and cool ended up resulting in the dreaded (haha!) moldy smell toward the end, even in the dry desert heat.  By the time we left Black Rock City, I was more than ready to get all this yarn off my head.

I started pulling them out on the 12-hour drive home.  This required scissors to snip and nimble fingers to unwind and untangle the strands, some of which had felted and matted together.  Some of the older braids were encased in several layers of yarn.  Underneath the yarn, the hair had formed actual dreadlocks, which then had to be combed out.  It was not a pretty process. 

Two days later, Dore (bless him!) and I were still pulling yarn out of my hair.  I could not believe how much yarn I had in there after a year and a half.  I swear I pulled out at least 5 skeins of yarn and a ton of hair that would have normally fallen out with regular washing and brushing.  By the end, my fingers were sore and I was desperate to just get the damn thing over with.

Finally, we got all the yarn out and I spent half of the next day combing out the rattail dreads.  At last, I was able to run my fingers through my hair again, and shampoo and condition like normal.  My scalp was thrilled to be scratched and massaged and moisturized.  My head feels about 5 lbs lighter.  Once my hair was clean and dry (in less than a half hour!), I sat down with the Tingler wire scalp massager thingy and had a few rather delicious moments of cranial ecstasy.  Aaaahhhh!

My hair has grown about 5 inches since I first had the braids installed.  This seems like a lot more growth than I normally have.  Perhaps the weight of the yarn sped up the process?
Unfortunately, it’s still fine and thin, and now more gray then ever, with that frizzy, wispy old lady texture.  I definitely look older – shockingly so, because of the huge contrast from the thick, dark dreads I had a week ago.

Not sure what I’m going to do with it. 
Right now, I have zero desire to re-install the yarn.  The removal process was rather harrowing. I was considering writing up a tutorial on the method, but after enduring the removal process, I don't know that I'd recommend it.  Perhaps I'll continue to experiment and modify the technique at some point.
But not right now.

My fuzzy old lady hair feels like a soft cloud on my shoulders.  I kind of like it.
And tonight, I’m going swimming.  And diving right in without hesitation.