Wednesday, August 27, 2003

there's dust in everything

I'm writing this on my laptop, sitting on the hood of my car in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. There is a city almost visibly growing around me, tens of thousands of people that are in some fundamental way my people. Off in the distance I see The Man, his neon glow a humble precursor to the fiery blaze that will end his existence on Saturday night. It's Burning Man, baby, and I'm digging it.

The words I am typing are going to a WiFi repeater about a hundred yards away from me. From there they are sent to the center camp, where a large satellite dish broadcasts them into the air. There is a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit roughly above this location that receives the broadcast and relays it to some large dishes in San Fransisco, where the data is finally connected to the land line. Any info that comes back to me follows the reverse path. This sort of technology was basically science fiction just a few years ago.

The fact that I am connected to the internet out in the middle of the desert would seem bizarre if it wasn't for the fact that just about everything else out here is even more bizarre. From where I sit I can see about 300 geodesic domes, a few pyramids, lasers lighting up the sky, a flaming rollercoaster (!), and what looks like the sets of all three Mad Max films dumped out onto the Playa along with thousands of the most beautiful and creative people I have ever seen in my life.

This year I chose to camp on my own (as opposed to camping with my usual group, The Embassy), and so far it has proven to be the right decision. I spent a few hours riding around in the burbs, a few streets back from the Esplanade, until I found a lovely little unclaimed spot between a couple of cool groups of people. An afternoon of setup later, I had my new home in Black Rock City. I'm really digging having my own space, and being able to spend more time going on my own trip. It's forcing me to talk to people more, and to see more parts of the city that I might otherwise have missed. (You could never see everything here. When I got home last year, I looked up pictures on the web, and I'd see pictures of very large hard-to-miss structures that I never even saw, and I'd wonder "where the hell was that?". There is a multidimensional aspect to Black Rock City... be careful, the ground moves.)

My pain has been mostly manageable for the last couple of days, until last night, when I had a strange drug interaction that left me phased and semi-conscious for most of the day. (Those are prescription drugs, by the way... I just know some Christian whackjob is going to google on "burning man" and "drugs" and add me to a list of statistics that show that BRC is full of acidheads.) When I was finally able to get up and about, I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Anne-Marie and our friends Anne and Jim, as well as visiting the folks at the old camp and in general walking around soaking in beauty (and more than a little dust). I would be a lucky man if all my days were as filled with joy and time spent with people I love as this one was. There are numerous friends that I wish were here, people I would love to share some of these experiences with... but as it is, they'll just have to settle for listening to me ramble on about it for the next 11 months.

I can't believe the days are passing so quickly.

I'll write more later... I'm going to go check out that rollercoaster.

Thursday, August 21, 2003


There's been some concern about my recent posts, so I thought I would try to clear things up to whatever extent I can.

Is my pain getting worse?

Yes, to some extent it is. The dysphoria is a big part of that, but the pain is a big part of it too. (Where my pain is concerned, all of the parts are big parts). The limitations in my range of motion, the sensitivity to touch (even without the pain I wouldn't want something that kept me away from a loving touch), the crosstalk to other parts of my body: these are getting worse. I am tired of fighting the pain. My mood is pretty good, though. I have people who love me.

So why the sudden change in the tone of my posts?

I have been struggling for quite awhile with an identity problem: I have been rejecting the "chronic pain sufferer" identity. I want to believe I can fight this, I can fight anything, this too shall pass... but it doesn't.

I can make the effort to have a 'normal' human day, but I pay for it afterward, usually with a couple days of worse-than-average pain and a corresponding decrease in mobility. Of course, people only see me when it looks like I am doing reasonably well, so they maintain a mental picture of me that is much healthier than I really am. I don't mind this a bit, since I too have been maintaining a mental picture of myself as someone who is just getting over a sickness, a little fragile but for the most part capable of being dynamic and alive.

I know that dealing with someone who is in chronic pain is difficult. Most people either disregard it, treating the person like they always have and sometimes being befuddled by the person's behavior (such as the need to be alone, or less participation in alot of activities, or having a pained expression that gets interpreted as being relevant to the discussion or the other person), or become hypersensitive to it, tiptoeing around the person like they are an invalid. I really don't want either of these to become the way people deal with me.

The pain I am feeling drains me of energy all the time. This causes me to be highly selective about whether or not I will participate in certain activities, conversations, or even lines of thought. I've already found that this can upset people, if they take it personally... so I've altered the amount of information I am putting 'out there', to give my friends a better understanding of where I am.

The sudden change in the tone of my posts doesn't reflect a sudden change in my mood or pain or life; it just reflects a sudden realization that my interactions with people might be less confusing if they knew more about what I am going through.

Is this a cry for help?

No, this is a cry for help: hellllllllppppppp!!!! The rest of that stuff is just my life. You get used to it after awhile.

That 70's Nation

Ok, listen people, especially young people: you may not have been around in the 70s, but I was, and it SUCKED. The clothing was bad, the music was bad, everything was bad. Everyone who wasn't doing coke was praying for the decade to end. It was the American Renaissance, where instead of developing the arts or technology or (shudder to think) a fucking culture, the American people worked together to push the boundaries of tackiness to levels undreamed of before.

So, the point: those women's shirts that coming back into fashion, those 70's-inspired one-shouldered or off-the-shoulder rayon travesties that the marketroids have convinced legions of women to start wearing again, those WERE UGLY THE FIRST TIME. The worst part is that people are only wearing those clothes because the clothing designers ran out of ideas, and they had already raped the 60's for all it was worth, so it was only natural that they move on to the 70's... and once they had injected their carefully crafted marketing campaigns into the consensus narrative, all of the sheep started lining up to buy This Years Crap.

The Matrix wants women to have this sense of desperation regarding their looks, because that desperation fuels a few of the largest industries in the world. Anne-Marie and I went into a mall (for the first time in years) a few days ago, and in the large department stores we saw acres of clothing and makeup for women, and usually there was a corner somewhere for the men's clothes. To me, the women in those stores looked like bees, flitting from item to item, driven by some imperative they were unaware of, or perhaps they were aware of it and they just accepted it as 'reality'.

I'll clue you in on a secret the marketers don't want women to know - all of those ads, all of the contents of those 'beauty' magazines, all of the clothes and makeup, all of the subtle ways in which the Matrix tells women how they have to look, all of that shit can be replaced by one simple rule:

A happy woman is beautiful.

That's it, all of it, period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


  • n.  An emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease.
  • From Greek dusphori, distress, which derived from dusphoros, hard to bear
  • The antonym of euphoria

My doctor referred to the bouts of disorientation, dread, depression, and discomfort I have been experiencing as dysphoria. She says it's common for patients to feel like they are dying (or wish they were) when their central nervous systems are being slammed around by large amounts of chemicals and nonstop pain signals, and that the feeling usually goes away once the drugs reach equilibrium.

Dysphoria. Unease. Hrmm.

America's foreign policy

Ahhh, I finally found a political analyst savvy enough to figure out what the fuck has been going on in this country lately:

"Naturally the common people don't want war, but after all it is the leaders who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

--- Hermann Goering, Germany, 1946

If you want to get Bush the Lesser out of office, you might consider going here or here for some useful information.

If by chance you've been living in a cave for the last few years, or have just had your head firmly wedged up your ass, go see 525 Reasons to Dump Bush.

And for you bargain hunters who think 525 reasons isn't enough, here's a special, for you, today only, One Thousand Reasons to Dump George Bush.

I mean, even if you aren't upset about the killing, and the lying, and the corporate thievery, and the incredible deficit, and the damage to the environment, and the lack of jobs, and the economy tanking, don't you at least want to have a president that doesn't make you cringe with embarassment every time he speaks?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Summer movies suck, and it's all your fault

The MPAA, responding to the slew of incredibly bad movies that were released this year (The Hulk, Gigli, and Charlies Angels to name a few), blamed the problem not on the fact that the movies were targetted at the least common denominator and were therefore devoid of plot or quality, but on the people who use their phones to send text messages (often while still in the film) to tell their friends that the movie sucks.

"In the old days, there used to be a term, 'buying your gross,' " Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, told the Los Angeles Times. "You could buy your gross for the weekend and overcome bad word of mouth, because it took time to filter out into the general audience."

So: they make a few hundred million right at the beginning, because news of how bad a film is can only precolate through society so fast. Now technology is changing that, and they lose the ability to fuck you, though I suppose 'fleece you' might be a better term, since they think (rightly so, for the majority of Americans) that you are sheep: their biggest complaint is that your ability to broadcast your opinion to your friends undermines their carefully crafted marketing image, i.e. you didn't go where they wanted you to go.

Expect to be paying more corporate welfare over this issue... the film companies are going to be declaring these flops as losses, which means they pay less taxes, you pay more, and Bush the Lesser will give them a handy financial boost to get over these hard times.

On chronic pain

What is chronic pain? Throughout my life I have heard of people who have chronic pain, and I just assumed that it was like normal pain, but it didn't go away. This sounds bad enough as it is, but it turns out there is much more to chronic pain, a dimension I didn't even know existed.

I have some sort of nerve damage in my side. The area that hurts has suffered some trauma in my life: a rib was broken by my mother's husband when I was 10, rebroken when I was attacked by a mob in India during my post-graduation "de-stressing" travels (the irony would be killing me, but it has to stand in line at this point), and something horrible-yet-undefined happened in the same area when I had "whooping cough" (this is Latin for "we don't know what it is, and we can't help him, but he sure is coughing alot") and I felt like the coughing was tearing muscles or cracking ribs. The chronic pain started at that point (4 years ago) and has been a big part of my life ever since. I am currently being treated by a pain management clinic (my 2nd) and a doctor (my 9th), who are attempting to get the pain to a manageable level and possibly even fix the problem. Previous doctors ran alot of tests, shrugged, then started giving me the spiel about how some people just need to learn to live with the pain, just as diabetics need to learn to live with their condition. Survey says: *ennhhh*.

In my experience, the thing about chronic pain is that it isn't just the hurt area; there are other pains that are related to the original pain, and there is a systemic effect that I did not expect at all. I sometimes feel like alot of the skin on my body has been scraped off. I almost always feel a pain in my gut that is most comparable to the descriptions my female friends have given me of 'cramps'. My headaches are legendary, often so bad I can't get out of bed, so much pressure behind my eyes that I can't focus them. My side hurts so bad I can't walk sometimes. And there is an overall sense of pain and pressure and dizzyness and suppression and depression and compression that makes me feel like I am going to die from the pain, like my whole system is shutting down.

The pain is at a level that I would have previously described as 'unbearable'. The doc gave me drugs to fight the pain, and they don't work... they make my headache go away a bit, make my toes tingle, and I think they are supposed to distract me from the pain rather than actually remove the pain, but there has never been a time in the last few years where I did not feel this pain, drugs or no. I sometimes cannot drive a car, or even walk up and down stairs, partly from the systemic effects of the pain, partly from the drugs. They now have me on massive doses of nerve damage medication, which so far (six weeks into it) has done nothing but further limit my normal senses and consciousness without touching the pain. Joy joy joy.

My future includes various sorts of physical therapy, more drugs, and more uncertainty. I'll post here when anything changes.

On death and dying, sorta

What would you feel if you knew you were going to die? Fear? Anger? Sadness?

Would you "live each day as though it was your last"? Would you try to reconcile all outstanding issues with the people in your life? Would you shake your fist at the sky and scream your wordless dissatisfaction?

I had no idea what I would feel, or even if I would feel, if I knew I was going to die. I have been so close so many times in my life that I assumed I would handle it calmly, but as to what would actually be going through my head, I had no idea. My Wonderful Life of Doom™ seems to have pain as a central theme, and (sadly) you get accustomed to it after awhile. Occasionally I realize that the level of pain I am feeling is enough that, were I not in chronic pain, I would be felled by the pain, but since it has become normal for me to have an absurd amount of pain in my day, I have learned to act as though it is not there. I smile and nod, go through the motions of life, never scream out the cries that would be appropriate to the pain I am feeling. Perhaps it is this that makes me feel so calm when the idea of death comes.

I feel like I am dying. I don't know if I really am or not, but the point is moot because there is no fucking way I am going to continue living in this much pain. So I look forward to finding some cure for the pain, and failing that, I look forward to the ultimate cure. There is a certain amount of sadness in this, but a certain amount of hope too... the pain must end sometime, and there must be an end to this continual outpouring of energy that I use to fight the pain. I'm tired. And I'm full. There isn't room for anymore pain. The inn is closed.

With these thoughts running through my head, I find that the thought of death brought an unexpected feeling: a calm and quiet amazement. There are times that I pay attention to every detail, watch every move, feel a tenderness for the people around me that just blows me away. I don't care about dying young, or missing years of my life; I just wish to experience one minute, one moment, in it's fullness, to appreciate the infinite intricate detail of this life, to love and be loved free from fear and pain. I think that's probably all anyone wants, even if they don't know it.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

burn baby burn

So I'm ramping up for Burning Man once again, although I'm not sure what 'ramping up' means this year, since I'm not going as part of a large theme camp, preferring instead to camp on my own out in the hinterlands. (Actually I'd prefer instead to camp with a group somewhere closer to the front, but I don't really know any other camps... which is part of why I need to do this, so I can spend less time dealing with camp politics and more having fun and meeting people). They (who the hell are They?) say to live every day as though it is your last... at the very least, I am going to live this Burning Man as though it is my last. It is probably more true for me than it is for most people.

I still had some things I said I would do for the old camp, so yesterday and today I have been out in the shop building a platform for the camp shower, and some stairs leading up to it. (Seems like I am making stairs often these days). My design for the camp shower was over-ridden by two of the main people in the camp, mostly on the basis of it being something they themselves didn't come up with... so I'm building the purely functional design they stripped everything down to. (I had some bizarre idea that beauty and creativity would be desired qualities at Burning Man, so I designed something that cost the same as their design, was less work for them since I'd have built it myself if the control-freaks hadn't interceded, and unlike theirs was beautiful and elegant, like a Shinto shrine. But I'm not bitter. :P ). Once I finish that job today, I'll have honored all of the commitments I made to them, and I can move on.

Anne-Marie is still camping with them, since she doesn't have the same concerns I have and is also intrinsically entwined in the camp kitchen, which is where she likes to be (she's magical in the kitchen... and in the garden... and as a nurse... and almost everywhere else). This has led to some stress between us, but there isn't a way to resolve that stress without one or the other of us not having a good time (isn't having a good time and expressing yourself what Burning Man is about?), and besides, the way we are doing it is the only way we can both stick to our word regarding what we said we would do for the camp. It is what it is. I yam what I yam. Do be do be do.

We didn't have time to do much artwork this year (if you've read previous posts, you know it's been a busy year)... and in some ways, that's a good thing, since we now need to divvy up some of our resources (tents and such), and I'm not too hip on working my ass off to create art for a camp I'm no longer in.

Here's a pic of us from last year... hopefully we have times this joyful this year as well.


Monday, August 11, 2003

*** whew ***

Sharon and Scott's wedding was excellent - 85 or so of their friends and family gathered together in a vineyard to share their love for one of the coolest couples I know. Sharon was radiant; I had been a bit worried (when I heard talk of hairdressers and makeovers and dress fittings and The Quest For The Shoes), but when she came out I was floored, she looked like a Gothic (as in era, not as in Black Horde) princess. Hopefully I'll have some pictures to post here before too long.

The ceremony was conducted by Chris, who like myself is a minister in the Universal Life Church... in fact, he got his license specifically for this event. He was an excellent choice - his attentiveness and his sense of humor were noteworthy. I got to talk with him and his mate Gege (a French nickname... in English it would be something like 'Zhejh', not 'Geegee') quite a bit, and it was a pleasure the whole time... I know many people that are interesting, intelligent, friendly, and humorous, but it is rare that I meet people who have all of these qualities in abundance. I hope that I'll see them again.

Anne-Marie and I were honored that Sharon wore the necklace and earrings we made for her. We didn't plan on her wearing it for the wedding; we just thought quite a bit about Sharon and what she was into and what would look good on her, and we did the best we could to make something that fit. Sharon was aglow - she has alot of spirit, a joy to see and a joy to know.

I met quite a few people at the wedding and the subsequent gatherings, friends of Sharon and Scott from back east, everyone from college buddies to childhood friends. Brian, Scott's best man (who flew in from Ireland), told a great story about when Scott and Sharon met. Sara, one of Sharon's bridesmaids and college friends, was great to talk with, and amusing when she screamed everytime the ball approached her in The Great Pingpong Battle the day after the wedding. I was heepmotized by Stephanie, a friend of Sharon's since they were 3 or so; she is a marketer from Jersey who I made the mistake of not talking to until late in the day, when I discovered that she was amazing... we seemed to have alot in common, not in terms of interests or experiences, but in terms of the way we related to the world. Another Chris (the mother of the Martell clan) and I had a good time hanging out on the garden bench and watching the humans at play.

I also got in some quality time with more permanent friends... some happy times for the memory banks. It's always great to hang with Jennifer, and I finally got to meet her mate, the (until now, for me) mythical Billy, from Chicago. Joshua Gosiak came down from Port Townsend, and impressed us all with his smoooooth dancing. Zannah dragged me out on the dance floor for a few songs. Scott and Sharon, both looking very relieved once the ceremony was over... Sharon gathering her long wedding dress in her hands and dancing with everyone, bare feet flashing below silk. And always Anne-Marie...

My health has been slightly better this last month (and there was much rejoicing). Tomorrow I return to the Pain Management Clinic for whatever happens next... hopefully we'll come up with something that fixes the problem, so I can get out into the world for more of these experiences.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

A day in the Matrix

I met an advertisement today. When I first saw it, I thought it was a woman, but when it got closer I realized it was only an advertisement. I'm not saying this in some abstract way; she actually was branded by a company, turned into a walking advertisement: clothes that matched the color scheme of the product, hair that was subtly highlit with those same colors, a hint of colorization in the makeup, in the eye shadow, in the nail polish. A small temporary tattoo, unassumingly stating the company's name, lay across her left cheekbone. I envision a team of makeup artists and marketers, working from the back of a windowless truck, with people out on the street waiting to ensnare one of the Beautiful People, someone who fits that boring predictable generic white-bread American sensibility, assuring them that all they have to do is submit to this makeover and they can make a few bucks. In one sense, the overall effect was not as glaringly intrusive as the marketing ploys we are accustomed to (billboards and tv ads and such), but in another sense this method of advertising, an almost holographic saturation of all the senses, is infinitely more sinister, since it's goal is to quietly influence, without triggering whatever defenses a person might have retained after a lifetime of being assaulted by the media.

I suppose it was only a matter of time... for years now people have been paying for the privilege of advertising for some company, and they don't see anything wrong with that, since the Matrix is internally self-consistent. The consensus narrative tells them that whatever it is they seek, they can find it by consuming more. If they want to express themselves, they can do so by choosing which particular brand of crap they buy; the option to disregard the mediated existence entirely is, of course, not presented to them.

I've noticed that my friends, people I admire, people I respect, all have a common trait: to some extent, they do not accept the mediated reality presented to them by our 'culture', choosing instead to find a path on their own. I feel like this is an increasingly rare trait. I went out into The World today (it doesn't happen very often), and I was stunned by how completely the people around me were absorbed in the consensus narrative, letting the Matrix tell them who they are. The Matrix doesn't seem to be telling too many people to be kind, intelligent, and friendly lately.

The part that gets me the most is that they actually don't see it, or if they do see it they think it is a good thing and will even fight to defend the chains that bind them. Republicans versus democrats, my team versus your team, Ford versus Dodge, Christians versus everyone... people so love to hate, that when they are presented with any trivial difference that can be exploited, they choose a side and somehow think that the act of doing so has changed them, made them better. Need an example? Go outside and check nearby cars for those little Jesus fish. Around here, they are epidemic.

The root of the issue seems to be that the consensus narrative has the power to define the realm of discourse. People seem to think that the 'choices' they are presented with are definitive, and that by choosing one side or another they can make whatever statement they seek to make in the world... they don't realize that there is another choice, the choice of whether or not to accept the limitations built into the system. It is not a matter of choosing between the options presented to you by the Matrix, it is a matter of choosing whether or not you are willing to accept those options as a substitute for really living.

The system isn't set up for self-realization. It's not set up to provide you with what you need. It's only set up to keep you hooked to the system. Is that enough for you?

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Roll river roll

Anne-Marie and I went on a rafting trip down the Deschutes river Monday with some friends of hers from work and my friends Devin and Joel, old war buddies from the war against marketing stupidity at Tektronix. We try to make this trip once a year, but my health sometimes makes me miss it. If I am up to it, it is surely not to be avoided... the land out there is beautiful, and there is something... majestic... about just drifting down a river. Of course, there is also something frightening as hell about rowing the boat into bone-crunching rapids, but it usually turns out alright. Hanging out with the guys was great; we bitched about work all day, just like the Good Old Days.

My buddy Richard is being competitive again: here I am with a pain in my lower right abdomen for a couple of years, and now all of a sudden he goes and gets emergency operative appendicitis just to try and show me up. Ooh, like your little 'operation' even counts, whinerboy... I'm in this for the *long* haul. Tourist. :)

I'm down in Eugene, working... finishing up the computer work I've been doing, and painting a house. I rolled in on the train late last night, walked a couple of miles from the train station to my friends' house, and passed out, only to be awoken by what I at first thought must be an alien abduction: bright lights, the ground was shaking, there was a rumbling and crackling sound and the windows were slamming down in their sashes and there was a whole bunch of shit flying off of the bookshelves and nightstands and I'm pretty sure there was some of that doom-dee-dwee-doom-dwoop music but that part might have been a dream. My medication and general weariness prevented me from investigating further, so after I woke up in the morning and had found no indications of anal-probing or whatever other atrocities the extraterrestrials are supposedly flying all the way across the frickin galaxy to inflict upon us, I asked around and found that we had been in the middle of a rather spectacular thunderstorm, which was strangely (suspiciously?) without rain. (Even on a normal alien-free day in Oregon the lack of rain is suspicious). This thing was BIG... the closest thing I can compare it to is that scene in Attack of the Clones where Boba Fett drops some explosive mines to shake ObiWan off of his trail, and the mines just float in the silence of space until they explode with a WHOMP of light and a vibration that travels more the through soles of your feet than through the air. This is a mildly amusing thing to experience at 3 am.

I guess I should give a shout out to our new peeps in Liberia: welcome to The Empire, suckas.