My 5-minute lecture from Ignite Portland 7 last week, for your amusement.
First up, my fabulous spouse Lisa Gidley has a new small-scale photo blog, Now It’s In Your Hands. Those of you who like Polaroids should have a look. Those of you who happen to have large amounts of Polaroid film you’re not using should send it to her.
Over at Carrie Brownstein’s “Monitor Mix” blog at NPR, I wrote a little rant called “The Death of Mistakes Means the Death of Rock,” and I’m very flattered by the number of responses it’s gotten so far.
Also, I wrote two chapters of Rolling Stone’s new book Michael (on Michael Jackson): one about his touring career, one about his significance as a dancer. (Haven’t even seen the finished book yet, but I’ve heard it’s out.)
One of the things I’m obligated to do by virtue of what I do for a living is keeping an eye on my own taste–noticing what I like and what I don’t like, in general. Over the last week or so, as people start to nudge me about various end-of-year music things, I’ve been noticing that there’s a lot of very popular (or very “semipopular,” as Xgau puts it) new music that rolls right off me: I don’t like it and I don’t actively dislike it, I just barely even notice it when it’s playing. But there’s also a lot of older music that has been totally knocking me flat, some in idioms I didn’t pay much attention to even ten years ago (that new Franco collection is just incredible), some that I would’ve passed over as second- or third-tier a while back.
I mean, in some sense I know that the Pointer Sisters’ 1975 album Steppin’ isn’t as special as… a lot of other things, but I picked up a battered copy of the LP at Everyday Music for a few dollars, and I’ve been wanting to listen to it every day. (Here’s its staggeringly great opening track “How Long,” an R&B #1 that I swear I have never heard on the radio, and absorbed only via Salt-n-Pepa’s “Chick on the Side”:)
Now, naturally, my job is to figure out why I adore “How Long”–which I heard for the first time last week, so I can’t really say I’ve got a longstanding or situational attachment to it–and can’t bring myself to care in more than a theoretical way about “Wasted” or “Fireflies,” let alone the albums they belong to. I’ve got a vague theory; now I have to figure out what would disprove it.
The local food cart scene, which is halfway between restaurant culture and street food culture. At some point, somebody in Portland realized that an empty lot could be filled with a bunch of trailers, each of which could be a mini-restaurant, serving a very limited menu with very limited seating for relatively low prices. There are a few downtown spots that have had a block full of food carts since we’ve been in town, like SW 5th between Oak and Stark, but for some reason they’ve been proliferating like crazy this year. Most are essentially lunch-focused, but some are open for dinner, and the new cart area at SE 12th and Hawthorne specializes in late-night food–a couple of its carts don’t even open until 8 PM.
Now there’s a blog devoted to them; Lisa and I have been checking out some of the newer ones. Enthusiastic thumbs-ups to Wolf & Bear’s (Iranian breakfast sandwiches!!) and The Ruby Dragon (Ethiopian/Indian-inspired vegan food!). Apparently there’s a new cart, Mum’s Kitchen, that serves not just Indian food but South African-style Indian food. I’ll report back when I’ve gotten to try it.
I’m by myself in an unfamiliar city, eating in a restaurant. A woman I don’t know decides she likes the look of what I’m having, grabs my plate and scrapes half of its contents onto her own. She doesn’t understand why I get upset. Neither does the restaurant staff. I throw my plate to the floor, stalk out of the restaurant into the city, and promptly find myself lost.
Key nightmare concepts: my own sense of entitlement, others’ sense of entitlement, communication failure, squalls of rage, abandoning something small and ending up with a greater loss.
It occurs to me that I should post what-I’m-up-to links–
On November 19, I’ll be giving a very brief (5 minutes) lecture as part of Ignite Portland 7. It’s free, and should be a lot of fun. (I may also be giving some kind of lecture on the 11th; details to come.)
I’m still writing a bunch of reviews over at Pitchfork, most recently the newish Madonna best-of.
I wrote about David Small’s Stitches over at Bookforum.
And I’m continuing to post weekly previews of comics over at Comics Alliance.
Lots of other stuff I’ve been working on is Not Out Yet, I’m afraid, although I’m particularly excited to note that I’ll have a tiny little piece in the San Francisco Panorama, which looks to be the single best newspaper ever, and possibly the last.
Thanks to everyone who supported me in my successful NaNoBloMo (National No Blogging Month) bid, and congratulations to everyone else who managed to not update their blog in all of October, either. It’s tough, but we did it!
For the amusement of those of you who don’t read the Twitter feed (which uh I couldn’t stay away from), here’s what I looked like last night for Anina and Paul’s annual Halloween shindig, which I’d missed the last few years:
(That was one of the very few parties I might have gone to, I’d bet, where at least half the attendees recognized what I was.)
Now: on to November!
I’ve always been curious to try eating a durian. For those of you who haven’t encountered it, durian’s a fruit that’s popular in Southeast Asia; I think I first encountered it on an episode of “That’s Incredible!” in the ’70s, where somebody described it by saying it “tastes like heaven and stinks like hell.” I am particularly fond of this Jan Chipchase photo of a karaoke bus; the second of the forbidden things it represents is durian.
This weekend, I went to my friends Maegan and Leo’s wedding up at Seattle. They had a very impressive banquet at their reception: several dozen dishes, many of them made by their friends, including Ethiopian vegetarian food, a roast whole pig, nasi goreng, and… a durian. It was under a glass dome, but anyone who got close enough to it got a whiff anyway; as promised, it smells like a particularly horrible dumpster full of rotting garbage. But I grabbed a scoop of it, put it on my plate, and immediately shoveled it into my mouth, whereupon as promised it became sweet with some curious savory notes, vaguely floral, and delicious. Then I wiped the remainder off my plate with a napkin so my plate wouldn’t smell like it any more.
Conclusion: I’d happily eat it again, but I’d have to make sure my nose was plugged first.
In other news, I’m doing a couple of panels at this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD: a Q&A with the astonishing C. Tyler, and a critics’ roundtable with Rob Clough, Sean Collins, Gary Groth, Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone and Bill Kartalopoulos. It should be fun–come say hi if you’re in the area!
First off, what I’ll be up to in about six weeks: giving a lecture on October 23 at the Understanding Superheroes conference at the University of Oregon. I’m on a panel called “Being and Super-Beings: Existentialism, Temporality, and Eschatology,” with Beth Davies-Stofka and Jonathan Tanner, and I’m going to be talking about the end of the Fourth World, the beginning of the Fifth, and the retcon as god-bullet.
I’ll be back at the U. of Oregon, this time at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum, on October 28 to give another lecture, which will be a double feature with one by Peter Coogan; this time, my talk’s going to be called “Super-Aesthetics,” and it’ll be about the overlap (and differences) between good visual art, good cartooning and good superhero cartooning.
In the meantime, a few other things I’ve had published recently:
*The piece about criticism and my abuse of poetry for Poetry magazine that I mentioned below, which is now up on their site
*A piece for Wired/Ars Technica’s “Dual Perspectives” feature about the current state of augmented-reality displays
*A few more brief appreciations over at Hilobrow, including this one, about Ogden Nash, which both uses and cites the word “objurgate”
This was my eleventh consecutive year at Burning Man. Does that make me some kind of intermediate tribal elder or something?
My project this year was listed as “the evolution game” in the What Where When. I had manufactured 1000 silicone wristbands that had *evolve* debossed in them–125 each in brown (it was supposed to be beige, but whatever), purple, red, blue, orange, green, yellow and glow-in-the-dark white. I wore one of each of the first seven colors on my right wrist all week; I went up to people (mostly at Center Camp and Playa Info), and announced that I had a game, and which color wristband did they want to win? (“[Color X],” they’d say.)
Okay, I said, to win the [color X] wristband, you have to do TWO things. First, you to find someone in the city sometime during the week who’s wearing a [color X] wristband on their LEFT wrist, and when you find them, you have to (I leaned over and whispered:) [activity Y]. Make sense? Then you can take that wristband from them and put it on your RIGHT wrist. The other thing you have to do–left wrist, please?–is you have to wear this [color X-1] wristband on your left wrist. Somebody’s going to be looking for this, and when they find you, they’ll have something special to do to get it. I’m not going to tell you what it is–but you’ll like it. Good luck!
That was how individual players of the game understood it. The structure of the game was actually loosely based on the idea of spiral dynamics, which is where I got the sequence of colors; the various vMemes associated with that system also provided a framework for the specific activities associated with each color of wristband:
Brown: “You need to give them something good to eat.”
Purple: “You need to bring them back to your camp and make them an honorary member of your camp.”
Red: “You need to tell them your secrets.”
Blue: “You need to grant them a wish–anything within your power.”
Orange: “You need to teach them something.”
Green: “You need to figure out what they need, if possible without asking, and make that happen.”
Yellow: “You need to help them do something nice for somebody else.”
The activities were tricky to come up with–I spent a few weeks quizzing friends of mine about what might work well. I wanted to find activities that any person A could do for any person B in the desert, that any person B would probably want to have happen, that would take at least a few minutes (so that they could strike up a conversation), and that wouldn’t take more than a little while (so they weren’t trapped together all day if they didn’t get along). I’m pretty satisfied by what I came up with, although Purple might have taken too long in some cases, and Blue and Green are fairly similar.
I assumed it would take me all week to distribute the wristbands. In fact, they were almost all gone by mid-day Tuesday–I had a few extra stashes of a couple of colors that I passed out later, and the glow-in-the-dark ones were reserved for people who were particularly nice to me, but the game seemed very popular, and handing them out to people standing in line meant that I could easily distribute 25 or 30 at a time without a break of more than a few seconds. I have no idea how many interactions between players actually came out of the game, but I did hear a few stories of successful interactions later in the week, and saw a bunch of people wandering around with the wristbands on one wrist or another.
Things that worked about the game:
*The instructions. I worried that they were too complicated for players who might be dehydrated or perhaps a little bit high or both, but I pared them down to the simplest possible explanation–actually placing the “wrong” color wristband on the players’ left wrists seems to have helped a lot
*The basic concept: a lot of people said “I like this game!” or something similar. That made me happy to hear.
Things that didn’t work as well:
*I should have taken into account that some colors would be more popular than others. In particular, the purple wristbands were far more popular than any other color (well, they were pretty), and almost nobody wanted the yellow wristbands (perhaps because they’re the same color as the Lance Armstrong wristbands, although it’s pretty funny that the Spiral Dynamics scheme suggests that the yellow vMeme may not exist in practice yet). That meant that I ran out of a few colors fairly quickly; once I was out of four colors, I stopped the normal version of the game, and just handed out the remaining wristbands with the note that people were out there looking for anyone wearing them.
*I probably made too few wristbands in all. 875 in-play wristbands should have meant, in practice, that about 1 in 50 people in Black Rock City was wearing one, but they didn’t seem to be quite as common as I thought they might be, and in fact I bet a lot of people took theirs off at some point before an interaction with another player could happen.
In any case, if anyone who got an interesting interaction out of the game is reading this, I’d love to hear what happened.
Other notable stuff from this year’s burn that I want to get down while I still remember it:
*Riding down with the kind folks from the giant sandworm project (and reading Gilbert Hernandez’s Luba en route, quietly cracking up every time Fortunato! showed up). Their bus broke down about 25 miles outside of Gerlach (while I was in a car that was going on ahead), so I arrived a day or so before my stuff did, but everyone was very nice and helpful to me, and people from Kostume Kult and the Boutique even gave me some excellent clothes to wear while I waited for my own clothes to arrive.
*The Esther Williams car, my personal favorite thing I saw: a truck bearing 30 or 40 men and women in identical blue bathing caps and frilly pink bikinis, who launched into a nicely choreographed “synchronized swimming” routine to appropriate mid-century music.
*In the dept. of “only at Burning Man,” the woman on the cafe’s stage who demonstrated how to wrap a sari while rapping about it.
*I got my meals through Divine Nourishment/Red Lightning’s excellent meal plan. They are the hippiest hippies who have ever hippied (I believe one of their official kitchen tasks was “creating a sacred space”), but what fantastic food.
*We stopped at Summer Lake Hot Springs on the way down. A very, VERY burner-friendly establishment, and the hot springs (indoors!) were heavenly.
*I finally got to appear in a Photoboof! shoot. (My wig and outfit were both green at the time, so the greenscreen effect interacted interestingly with them.)
*I dressed up in medical scrubs on Sunday morning after the burn and wandering around town as the “serotonin fairy,” distributing 5-HTP to anyone who could use a serotonin precursor.
*My annual Thursday-midday mood crash somehow didn’t arrive until Sunday this year. Apologies to anyone who was the recipient of my Sunday grouchiness, but maybe by next time I’ll manage to avoid it altogether.
*After last year’s nearly unbikeable playa surface, it was great to be able to zip around again–I yelled some kind of yee-ha when I finally got my bike. Weirdly, the area beyond the Temple was nearly impossible to bike, and the deep-playa art was sparse and largely mediocre–I walked all the way out to the end of the trash fence on Friday evening, and didn’t discover anything particularly noteworthy–but at least point A to point B within the city was doable.
*Another little highlight: finding my campmate Mark’s keyboard-car out on the playa, not really sure at the time what it was, tentatively striking a few notes on it, realizing that they had the same pitch and timbre as the first few notes of “The Fat Lady of Limbourg,” and playing and singing the whole thing.
*As I often do out there, I realized that I was spending a great deal of time running around trying to make sure that other people I knew (or didn’t know) had fun and interesting experiences, and not enough time being open to what my environment had to offer me. This is something I’m still working on.
*Awesome: Groovik’s Cube, a triumph of conception, engineering and organization. I adore the people behind it, not least because they’re probably the most hypercompetent people I’ve encountered in a city of people who, as flaky as they can sometimes be, are in any case at least competent enough to make it out to Burning Man.
*I managed to hit the Steam Bath Project twice. By the second time, there was an hour-long wait to get in. It was still worth it.
*I had a handful of experiences that suggested that I’m pretty good at counseling people who find themselves in a bad way for one reason or another (oh, okay: because of really bad acid trips). I might look into this being-a-listening-ear thing some more.
*Best rumor I heard: that Prince was playing Thursday night, but only for DPW and staff with a “Prince pog.” (I imagined what one would look like: the Prince symbol superimposed on the Man symbol?)
*I had imagined that this might be a very art-and-interaction-with-strangers-focused year. It ended up being much more about hanging out near my camp (lots of dust storms), and more than anything else about reconnecting with dear friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. That’s totally fine with me.