Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Tag: flipside (page 1 of 2)

Flipside essays

For Burning Flipside 2015, the organization had some tickets left over after the normal ticket distribution. We decided to sell these in what I call a “bonus round,” but we decided that anyone who wanted one of these tickets needed to demonstrate some commitment. Our normal ticket-distribution process is kind of a pain in the ass. Without including some hoops to jump through, access to a ticket in the bonus round ticket would be easier than in the normal distribution, and would give the appearance of rewarding flakiness. So for the batch of tickets that I sold in the bonus round, I required that requesters “write me an essay about what you hope to get out of the experience. If you have been to Flipside, you can write about what you hope to get out of this year that you haven’t experienced before, or write about an experience you had that was particularly meaningful to you.”

Following are the essays that I have permission to share, anonymized when requested.

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Flipside, how does it work?

Burning Flipside is a regional burn, an event in the spirit of Burning Man. It has been around since 1998 or 1999, depending on how you look at it. It’s grown a lot in numbers, and along with that, the organization that produces Flipside has grown in complexity and sophistication. My aim in this blog post is to describe that organization and how it works.

All volunteer

The first and most important point to make is that Flipside is an all-volunteer organization. No one gets paid to participate in Flipside. In fact, hardly anyone even gets a free ticket: every year, Flipside awards a pair of tickets to the winner of a ticket-design contest, another pair to the winner of a sticker-design contest. Those four tickets are the only free ones to Flipside. Everyone else pays full price for their tickets, including all the volunteers. Including the members of the board of directors (who serve on the board as volunteers).

Flipside does have outside vendors, of course. The companies that provide porta-potties, the heavy equipment, the ice, and so on at the event. Accountants. Lawyers. Landlords. Those people get paid. But they’re not participants at Flipside.

So Flipside is completely dependent on its participants stepping up and taking responsibility for making the event happen: Nothing “just happens” at Flipside–participants make it happen. Some of these volunteers need advanced skills and training–which in many cases they use in their everyday jobs–in order to discharge their volunteer responsibilities.

What does the organization do?

Flipside is a participatory art festival (among other things). The way we sometimes talk about is that if Flipside is a painting, the organization provides the frame and canvas, and the participants provide the paint.

So the organization provides infrastructure that makes the event possible. Participants independently make the event interesting.

What does the organization not do?

Lots of stuff.

Although Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” technically is not one of Flipside’s principles (Flipside has three principles in contrast to Burning Man’s ten) we are still big fans of that idea. Creative self-expression is one of our principles, and it ties in with the idea of self-reliance. Any time we consider adding something to Flipside, one of the questions we have to ask is whether we’re removing an incentive for someone else to be self-reliant and self-expressive in doing it on their own initiative. We also ask whether adding something will be too expensive, whether we would have enough volunteers for it, what unintended consequences it might have, and so on.

So with that explanation out of the way, Flipside as an organization doesn’t create any art projects except the Effigy. It does support and encourage other art projects, although it does not provide funds for them.

The organization doesn’t provide its participants with food or beverages or water or power. Or entertainment. Or shade structures. There are ideas offered under the “What can the community/organization do to make Flipside better?” section of this survey on Flipside 2013 that the organization will never undertake. They may be reasonable suggestions, but they would violate the spirit of self-reliance and self-expression. But the other side of that /, the community, can do (and in some cases has already done) lots of those ideas. There are other ideas that the organization might someday decide to do, but that someone else could do immediately, on their own initiative.

The organizational structure

Think of the Flipside organization as being shaped like a tree.

At the base of the tree is Austin Artistic Reconstruction, LLC (AAR). This is the board of directors. It it is the entity that has legal and financial responsibility for the event, as well as for the Warehouse. You can think of AAR as the membrane separating Flipside from default reality (whether that membrane is like a brick wall or like a soap bubble is an interesting question). Currently AAR has six members. Being a limited-liability company means that technically Flipside is not a non-profit, but it is not profit-oriented. None of the directors (Disclosure: I am one of them) make any money off of Flipside.

One branch coming up from that trunk is the Combustion Chamber (CC). This is an advisory body that discusses policy issues and community concerns. It also helps produce twice-yearly Town Halls and organizes a presence for the local Burner community on the East Austin Studio Tour.

CC meetings are usually every other Monday night at the Warehouse and are open to the public. Anyone can show up and say their piece (as long as it’s relevant to the topic under discussion). The CC currently has 14 members and periodically accepts nominations for new members. In terms of CC meetings, the only difference between CC members and the general public is that CC members can block resolutions (the CC operates on the consensus model).

Another set of branches coming up from the trunk are the Areas. And each of the areas has several Departments branching off of it. Each area is headed by an Area Facilitator; each department is headed by a Lead. In contrast to the CC, which focuses on policy, the areas and departments are operational. Some of the departments have only one person in them; some have dozens of volunteers. The number of areas has increased gradually over the years. The exact number of departments fluctuates from year to year, as some departments are inactivated and other are created or reactivated.

Sometimes its a little fuzzy as to whether a department belongs in one area or another, and there are a lot of tasks that wind up involving more than one department. It may look like a big bureaucracy, but we do a good job of making the organization serve the people rather than the other way around.

There are 9 areas:

360/24/7

This area handles year-round responsibilities–everything except Flipside.

Department leads: CC Scribes, Church Night Coordinator, Edjumication, Equipment Librarian, Off-Season Event Planning, Regional Outreach, Warehouse Manager.

Art

This area is mostly concerned with supporting art at Flipside and includes the Design and Fabrication Team (which builds the Effigy).

Department leads: Art Hype, Art Installation Logistics, Burn Night Coordinator, Burnable Art, Department of Mutant Vehicles, DaFT, Effigy Area Lighting, Graphic Arts, Procession Coordinator, Pyrotechnics, Regional Art Ambassador

City Planning

Organizes theme camps and places them–along with art and public spaces–on the map. Also, with greeters and zone greeters, helps welcome people into the city and get people to their camp sites.

Department leads: Cartography, City and Street Signage, Disinformation Kiosk, Flags/Camp Boundaries, Greeters Lead, InterZone Coordinator, Parks Department, Placement, Safety Lighting, Theme Camp Liaison

Communications

Another set of departments that are busy year-round, handling ticketing, the website, e-mail, etc.

Department leads: Content, Email Lists, Flipside Flame, Media Liaison, Sticket Design/Ordering, Survival Guide Lead, Ticket Distribution, Website Admin

Safety

The departments in this area are where some of those people with advanced skills and training that I was mentioning come into play.

Department leads: Boundaries and Safety Signage, Fire Safety Lead, Guardian (perimeter), PETs (Pyropolis Emergency Team, aka medics) Lead, Ranger Lead, Sanctuary, Sound Marshal

Site Ops

Handles most city infrastructure.

Department leads: Equipment Vendor Liaison, Power, Sanitation, Shaven Apes, Ice, Radio Communications, Pre-Ops, Transpo, Cartelle (motor pool), Fuel, Parking

Site Prep

Every year, there are several Work Weekends to get the event site ready for Flipside, clearing brush, laying roads (when needed), etc.

Department leads: Land Search, Roads, Waiver Wrangler, Work Weekend Communications, Work Weekend Tools and Supplies

Site Sign-off

We take Leave No Trace (LNT) very seriously at Flipside, and so we have a whole set of departments dedicated to it.

Department leads: Clean-up Lead, Earth Guardian Lead, Exodus, Post-Ops, Recycling Lead

Volunteer Coordinator

In addition to the above, Flipside has an additional Area Facilitator with no departments, the Volunteer Coordinator, who helps line up people who want to volunteer with departments that need volunteers.

Conclusion

That covers the structure of the organization. In the future, I may discuss individual areas in more detail. And I’d like to discuss the art projects and theme camps that make Flipside worthwhile.

Boundaries

I often use this blog as a way to think out loud. This will be one of those posts.

This is a post about Burning Flipside and boundaries. Burning Flipside is the central Texas regional burn. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, you might not want to go past the jump.
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Flipside 2011

Another year, another Flipside.

In September last year, I was elected to the Combustion Chamber, which is the advisory board for the limited-liability company that nominally produces Flipside. This means that every couple of weeks, I get together with other CC members and we argue over The True Meaning of Flipside. So I’ve been kept abreast of and involved in Flipside-related developments to a much greater extent, and felt more of a sense of responsibility for the event’s success, than usual. It’s a good thing that it turned out really well, at least from my perspective.

One of the most contentious issues leading up to the event was what to do with the Effigy. The effigy burn is the apex of the event. There have been two previous occasions when we could not burn the Effigy at Flipside, but this year there was a lot of debate over what to do with the Effigy in the event of a non-burn, which seemed all but guaranteed, given the wildfires all over the state. By amazing coincidence, the burn ban for Milam County (where Flipside is held) was lifted for one week, just a couple of days before Flipside started, resulting in this unlikely burn-ban map:

It was widely speculated that the Apache Pass’ landowner applied pressure to the county judge to lift the burn ban or that “somebody was paid off.” Perhaps, but I doubt it. Milam County actually had isolated flooding in the week before Flipside.

In order to get a head start setting up our theme camp’s infrastructure, Gwen and I got out to the property in the early afternoon on Wednesday, a day before the official start of the event. Two of our campmates, Matt and Lori, arrived a few hours later. When we arrived, we were surprised at how much had already been set up—a lot of theme camps seemed to be fully set up already. I got the impression that, more than any year before, there was an unspoken agreement that Flipside would hit the ground running when the gates opened for general admission on Thursday morning.

With a little help of a couple of Shaven Apes (the Flipside department of people who help with odd jobs), Gwen and I managed to get our main shade structure almost completely pitched in a few hours. Good thing, because it was freaking hot. Matt and Lori arrived in time to help with the tail end of that project, and we got the “residential” side of our camp fully set up before dark. Gwen and I wandered over to Wonderlounge (which had its bar going already) for bad drinks and good socializing. I waited until Thursday evening to get the fire circle set up, as there would be more warm bodies to help with that task.

On Friday evening, Monk (2009 DaFT lead) stopped by our camp looking for people to help finish the Effigy. David and I grabbed our work gloves and headed over. I spent the rest of the night off and on doing scut-work, like cleaning up wood scraps or holding pieces of wood in place while someone screwed them together. DaFT (the Design and Fabrication Team, which builds the Effigy) managed to open the Effigy by about 2:00 AM. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the DaFT crew, but that limited exposure gave me a much more direct appreciation for how hard they work. I don’t think I could keep up.

Saturday was my off day. I didn’t have any notable responsibilities, so I spent a lot of time in the creek and drank some beer. The one responsibility I did have was to attend a theme-camp meet-and-greet, and somehow I managed to misremember the time for that, so I missed it. I brought some homemade cookies to hand out there, and wound up handing them out to people I encountered at random instead. Someone asked “Are these plain cookies or special cookies?” I replied half in sarcasm “They’re special because I made them with love.”

Myschevia (the North Texas burn) had been held under a burn ban, so they brought their Effigy to Flipside. They took advantage of the last-minute lifting of Milam County’s burn ban to burn it at Flipside. Apparently their preparations were last-minute as well, because that thing would. not. burn. Normally an effigy is loaded with diesel to get it to burn better, and I’m guessing that didn’t happen at all. Shiree heckled the fire—”a bunch of ten year olds with sparklers can burn better than that!” I wandered over to the stage for Flipside’s own Effigy, where the Drishti Dancers were putting on a performance. Then Arc Attack fired up their singing Tesla coils and everybody was pulled away from whatever they were doing to watch. It’s almost unfair. I think Arc Attack was having some technical problems this year, as they had much less performance time. As far as I can tell, Parsec (the guy in the Faraday suit) wasn’t present at all. They had a new Faraday cage that is much larger—it can accommodate four people at once, so more people can have the experience, but the price is that none of them feel as close to the lightning (so I am told).

The fire circle at Circle of Fire got a lot of action on Saturday night, and I got in a few good light-ups. It was gratifying to see. Due to space limitations, our circle was smaller than usual. I would have preferred it to be bigger, but word reached me that some people liked it small. I think the size inhibited some people from going on when there was already somebody lit up, which slowed throughput. I guess that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

When I finally got to bed (probably around 4:30 AM), I noticed that Carpe Noctem, the neighboring dance camp, was a lot quieter than I expected. I learned the next day that there had been noise complaints on Thursday and Friday, and I’m guessing the dance camps had all been told to cut their subwoofers. Friday (?) was the only night that I felt rattled in my bed by the sound, and I generally managed to sleep well.

Sunday was all about getting ready for the burn. There was a 12:00 meeting that was supposed to be followed by a 2:00 meeting where the go/no-go call would be made. Since the 12:00 meeting ran until 1:30, we postponed the 2:00 meeting until 5:30, where a go call was made. As Ghost put it, certain dominoes needed to fall in order to make a go call: first, we had to be out of the burn ban. Check. Second, the county sheriff had to give his approval beforehand. Check. Third, Kit (the landowner) needed to give his approval. Check. Fourth, the wind levels had to be within the limit set by our own fire chief, Henry. At the 5:30 meeting, the prediction was that the wind levels would be near or possibly above that limit. Henry decided that we’d be able to take advantage of a window of opportunity, and so he gave us a go. Some of us then prepped the Effigy to burn by removing a wooden skirt around its base to promote airflow, and shoving wood scraps under it.

The next thing on my docket was the fire procession. I had put out the call to have fire performers assemble at Circle of Fire at 8:00 PM. This would give me plenty of time for stragglers to arrive, and still time to go over the details with (almost) everybody before the putative performance time of 9:45. I say that I’m the cat-herder in charge of the fire procession, and that’s as apt as any title, but in fact I could not do that job effectively if it weren’t for other people who step up and help organize the procession—Wulff, Matt, David, Frank Marissa, Warlock, and of course Gwen all made things run smoother for me. In spite of some confusing instructions on my own part and things not quite going exactly as I planned, the fire procession seems to have gone smoothly and safely. It looked great, and I think we had more performers than ever. I don’t have an exact count, but I think it was around 70 people.

With that out of the way, I could relax and watch the firecracker hats, fireworks and the effigy burn. Lacking anything like a chimney, I didn’t think the Effigy would burn well. I was wrong: it was halfway engulfed before the fireworks wound down, and fully engulfed shortly after. It burned beautifully, with a sheet of flame rolling under the arch and the flame-shaped pickets rimmed with yellow fire—like fire on fire. It collapsed in on itself quickly and perfectly, and a few minutes later, the Rangers dropped the safety perimeter so we could approach. People cavorted, running and leaping toward the fire, still burning intensely hot. We made our three circuits around the fire, stopping to wish friends “happy burn” as we encountered them in the circle.

Monday morning came all too soon. I got up early to take down a personal art project, and found that Matt and Lori—who had never gone to bed—had made a lot of headway toward striking camp already. By the time I was done with my project, Matt and Lori had gone to bed and most everyone else was up. We had a relaxed breakfast and got to work striking camp. Things went pretty quickly, and we were out of there by 2:00 PM. All in all, I felt that this Flipside and the preparations for it seemed to go smoothly.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll update this as I think of more.

Flipside 2010

I didn’t take any photos at Flipside this year, but I’m putting together a little gallery of shots I liked.

The land

Flipside was on new land this year, a pecan orchard and pasture adjacent to Apache Pass. The site has been nicknamed Apache Passtures.

What I liked

The topography is flat and allows theme camps to be situated much more closely than in the past. Flat Creek in particular has such varied terrain that theme camps wind up in isolated pockets, and getting from one to the next takes a long time; in contrast, one could comfortably walk a loop around all the campsites at Apache Passtures.

The trees are a huge asset.

The river was another huge asset, and the fast-moving current kept the water cool, preventing the hippie-soup effect that Flat Creek is prone to. And I never trusted the water at RecPlant.

The art ridge was great, and I hope to see it fill in more in the future.

What I didn’t like

The allergens. I don’t know what was in the air, but it rendered me almost completely non-functional all day Friday.

The flies. They were never much of an issue in past years, but they were a constant presence here.

The poison ivy. I haven’t suffered any outbreaks (yet). On some level, I’m inclined to look at the PI as the environmental challenge that seems to be endemic to burner events: Burning Man has the desert and the dust; at Flat Creek, it was cliffs and cacti. All of these require you to take certain precautions to deal with your environment, and I feel that’s part of the experience. So while I don’t want to wind up dealing with urushiol (the motto at Flipside this year was “Poison Ivy is the new STD”), the threat of it and the need to prepare for it fits in with the Burner experience.

My way of dealing with it was to stay on existing paths—no bushwhacking—and to wear my boots all the time. We kept alcohol wipes on hand to wipe down our boots if we thought they had come in contact, but I never used them. Also had Zanfel, just in case.

Parking

Parking at past Flipsides has been tightly controlled, to keep the camping area free of cars (except for art cars), with each car given a parking permit good for only a few hours, and vehicles that openly flaut the rules either being towed away or turned into impromptu art cars. For whatever reason, there seemed to be no parking organization this year—nobody even discussed limited-time parking permits, nobody seemed to be guiding people to parking places (admittedly less of an issue at Apache Passtures, since the parking field was wide open), and a lot of cars conspicuously parked at theme camps all weekend. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but that bothered me.

Pyropolis Parks Department

Fantastic idea and execution. Designating certain spots as parks, guiding people to them, and educating us about the environmental hazards were all important services to the community.

My camp

I’ve been theme-camp lead for Circle of Fire since 2007; before that, it had been led by SCESW, and looking back, the camp started going south when I took over.

I’m not sure if there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between those two facts. Stephen has a very different personality than I do, and may well be better at motivating people than I am; he’s also closer to more people than I am. But the real reason that I think the camp started deteriorating as a camp is because the roll call of people in camp changed.

When Flipside was smaller, CoF was bigger. Firedancing seems to have been the gateway to burner culture for a lot of people, and so it’s no surprise that they would camp with other firespinners, at least at first. But as time has past, some of the people who were at the core of CoF in my first years there moved on to find other ways to express their Burner identities, or simply moved on with life.

When I took over, I extended an invitation to any fire performers who wanted to camp at CoF. While this led to my meeting some good friends and solid campmates, it also opened the door to people who were just there for a party. They weren’t there to make CoF or Flipside better, they didn’t seem to get the whole point of Flipside, and they weren’t people I wanted to camp with.

While this has been a low-level annoyance for some years, the problem came to a head this year with a contingent of 10 kids from Dallas. I’d only had brief phone and e-mail contact with one of them shortly before Flipside; he turned out to be the den mother for that group, which was mostly guys in their early 20s, not one of whom would be able to find his own ass with both hands, a map, and a flashlight. They were (mostly) firespinners, and at least some of them had been to Burning Man and/or Myschevia before, but none of them seemed to understand the basic principles of a Burner event or have any interest in contributing to the camp. I am sure they hold me in equally high regard.

Anyhow, this forced me to reflect on how I run the camp. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in 2011, but it will be different.

Apart from that, Circle of Fire was a success. Our site was out in the open—no benefit from those great pecan trees—so it was a lot hotter than other camps during the day. The bjurt we built for Flipside last year, along with the radiant-barrier sub-canopy we fabricated for Burning Man, proved their worth again. Our kitchen cleanup situation seemed to be just about ideal, thanks to David Cummings putting together of a couple of compression vessels that sprayed soapy water and rinse water; these were worked into my existing not-quite-there camp kitchen, and in the end, we only used a total of 5 gallons of water for all washing up. The camp was sited along a low rise with a gully running behind it, which made getting everything laid out a little tricky, and the fire circle needed to be a little smaller than in previous years, but it saw consistent action and the setup seemed to work as well as ever. Ultimately, the camp’s central mission is to provide firedancers with a stage and a safe fuel depot, and in that respect, I feel that the camp was not only as successful as ever, but had become the place to light up, from what I could tell.

Arc Attack

As if singing Tesla coils weren’t enough on their own, Arc Attack keeps stepping up their game. Last year, Parsec stood in the discharge field, wearing a Faraday suit. When we saw that, Gwen was transfixed, and said “I will do anything to be in that suit.” This year, she got her chance, pretty much. Arc Attack has added a small Faraday cage, just big enough for one person, that they place in the discharge field, allowing audience members the experience of being in the middle of that lightning storm. There was, unsurprisingly, a long line, but Gwen got her chance, and was more excited than a ten-year-old who was just given a pony.

The Effigy

Kudos to Kris Blahnik for designing and heading up construction of an effigy unlike any others I’ve seen, in terms of its representational design, use of color, surrounding gantries, and use of two figures instead of one. I know that he and a lot of other people busted their asses to make it happen, and it was worth it.

Interstellar Transmissions

One of the unexpected high points of the burn was waking up to Interstellar Transmissions (no website, as far as I can tell) playing on the effigy stage. Having been woken up to megaphone wars at past Flipsides, this was so chilled out and uncharacteristically pleasant that Gwen thought she was dreaming.

Burn Night

Burn night went pretty well. I know there were some technical difficulties with the methanol cannons and I get the impression there were some with the propane jets. Caleb (or someone) was tinkering with a control box in the middle of the effigy circle even while the fire procession was taking place–something I hadn’t been aware of beforehand. But the effigy was great, and it made a good fire.

The fire procession beforehand also went as smoothly as I could hope. There’s always a certain amount of chaos that attends this, but I feel that I’m getting better at accommodating that, and for the most part have the process figured out. There was only one minor safety incident, where someone set his hair on fire. I didn’t have as many spotters as I wanted this year, but for the first time, I felt confident that all the spotters I had were competent.

Flipside fragments

I’m not even going to try to give a blow-by-blow of Flipside this year. Suffice it to say that fun was had and asses were kicked. I’ll just tell some stories.

Gwen and I (and our campmate Scott) went out to Flat Creek on Wednesday evening, a day before the regular opening. We were able to get in early because Gwen had an early Zone Greeter shift the next day and because I’m a theme-camp lead. We had just enough time to unload the van and get our own tents pitched before dark. We had the small bjurt standing up half-collapsed like a geometric sculpture. Someone wandered through our camp and said “I know what that is.” We chatted about shade structures for a while.

A certain friend who had been partying a little too hard was taking a piss and passed out. He came to later and found that he had fallen into a cactus patch. Drugs may have been involved.

I was helping Greg set up his art installation, About That Time, which involved driving a lot of T-posts. Driving T-posts is a lot of work, and I try to avoid it (I say that, but my camp setup involves 24 of them). After we had gotten a few in, one of the DAFT guys working on the effigy came over and asked “Can I drive some?” He was wearing a DPW T-shirt—DPW people are notorious for being rowdy and practically masochistic in their work ethic. I was feeling like Tom Sawyer having just convinced the neighborhood kids to whitewash the fence for him. I said “Sure.” He grabs my T-post driver and starts waling on that thing in a very sexual manner. After he got a few in, he started tearing off blisters (he wouldn’t wear gloves). A couple other DAFTies came over; he said to them “Want to drive a few?” They did. After they did two or three, he took over the rest, finishing with the same hip-thrusting gusto that he started with. The next morning, I saw a pickup with a bumper sticker bearing the DPW logo and the motto “My best vacation is your worst nightmare.” I thought “that sounds about right.” Later I discovered the pickup was driven by Demon Monk, the architect of the effigy.

One of the most notable events from this (or any) Flipside was the Arc Attack performance on Saturday night. If this had been just a typical performance from them, it would be special, but this was astounding. Parsec donned a Faraday suit and stood in the discharge field, like some science-fictional Thor directing lightning bolts. Everybody’s jaw hung agape. Gwen wanted to try it herself.

We had some heavy weather during the day on Saturday. I don’t know exactly how much rain fell or how hard the winds blew—I checked weather almanacs for two nearby weather stations that completely disagreed on rainfall, wind speed, and even wind direction. We had about 20 people clustered inside the big bjurt, and apart from some water getting past the rain flaps when strong winds lifted the canopy, we were dry and comfortable within. Having put so much work into the bjurt, I was very gratified to see that it worked.

After the rains, Gwen and I went wandering around and stopped by Red Camp. I was admiring a pendant a woman had fashioned out of pop-tops when she asked “Are you looking at my necklace?” I said “no, I’m checking out your tits.” She said “Oh, thank you!” I love Flipside.

We didn’t get to burn the effigy this year. Everybody was disappointed about this, but Demon Monk had come up with a no-burn plan to allow for this contingency, and I feel like the whole “unburn” ritual was a success. We had fire performers do a long (~10 minutes) set to music that was slower and more ethereal than I would have expected. That was followed by Sparky’s firecracker hats, and then excellent fireworks by Moss and the DAFT crew tearing the effigy down, having weakened it beforehand so that they could flatten it by pulls on a few ropes. This was good, but not as cathartic as a burn, and the mood throughout Pyropolis seemed more subdued—the fact that we received a noise complaint from a neighbor, which caused Sound Town to be shut down no doubt contributed to that subdued quality.

I hope I’m not giving away any secrets by explaining how the no-burn decision came about. The Flipside organizers knew for months beforehand that, because of the historic draught conditions, we probably would not be able to burn the effigy, and a no-burn plan was part of the selection criteria in the effigy contest. At a Burn Night meeting a few weeks before, it was decided that a final go/no-go decision to burn the effigy would be made at 4:00 PM on Burn Night, as this allowed the minimum amount of time needed to rig the effigy for one contingency or the other. In the week or so leading up to Flipside, there actually was some rain, but the property owner, Child Inc, in the form of its manager Strick, informed us that he would not allow an effigy burn (or any large burnable-art burns), as brushfires had followed even those recent rainfalls. After the toad-floater we had on Saturday, the organizers did contact Strick on Sunday asking him to reconsider, and additional rain was even in the forecast for that evening. Strick was present at the final go/no-go meeting and said he’d only allow the burn if that rain actually materialized. But we were already at our cutoff time, and in fact the rain never did come. Strick was apologetic, and has been supportive of Flipside for years now, but there were obviously larger issues at stake. The previous day’s rain had already soaked in and the ground was relatively dry by Sunday.

After we got home, I remembered the line that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. It’s sort of like that with Gwen. I think I have a more visible profile in the burner community, but the fact is that Gwen works as hard as I do, and is indispensable to making all the things I try to do happen. And she does it wearing a pink wig and platforms.

I took very few pictures (and none of them were good), but other people did, so I’ll just point to them.

Flipside fragment

I’m not sure I can sit down and squeeze everything I might want to say about Flipside into a single blog post—or that I even want to commit all those thoughts to print. I may wind up dribbling out a few more posts on the subject over the coming days.

In the meantime, here’s one tidbit. In a conversation with someone I met at Flipside, he asked me about firespinning—specifically, if I had noticed any physical benefits. I think my answer might make a good blog entry.

I’ve always been a klutz. I attribute this in part to being left-handed, partly to a growth spurt when I was 13 that left me a stranger in my own body. But I think that a big part of this klutziness was a form of learned helplessness: I had learned that I tend to break, or scratch, or knock over things, so I accepted that as normal, and never made an effort not to.

With firedancing, there’s an obvious need to be precise in your motions. There are also strong incentives to practice—practicing is enjoyable in its own right, and it’s easy to make rapid progress by practicing, especially as a beginner. Firedancing also forces one to be more aware of the spatial relationship between one’s body and its surroundings.

So a lesson that I learned at an intuitive level (and later at an intellectual level) was that I didn’t necessarily need to be a klutz. I was capable of using my body the way I wanted if I put a little care into it. I became more aware of how my body related to my surroundings, and more conscious of how I moved in general.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that I’m graceful today, I’m more mindful and precise in my movements, and that has been a benefit.

Delayed reaction

Burning Flipside officially opens tomorrow. A few key people are out there already. I’ll be heading out with the hoi polloi. I’ve been busy getting everything ready for the theme camp I’m leading, Circle of Fire, showing up for burn-night planning meetings, making lists, lengthening them, and lengthening them again.

Gwen and I went to our first Flipside in 2003. While some people at the time said that participating in Flipside was a life-changing event for them, Gwen and I reflected that we didn’t feel that way—not because we’re jaded, but because we felt that however big a footprint Flipside left, we had done enough living that we could keep it in perspective as part of the continuum of our lives, not see it as a break in it.

I’m about to depart for my fifth Flipside (skipped 2004), and here I am. Going to Flipside meetings, obsessing over my theme camp for weeks in advance of the event. Oh, it’s changed me. It just took longer for me to realize it.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some prep work for the bacon-avocado margaritas I’ll be serving at camp.

Burning Flipside 2007 report

I’ve been putting off writing about Flipside because it’s been hard for me to produce a coherent narrative based on my experience. This is my fourth Flipside (see my writeups on 2003, 2005, and 2006). I took a handful of photos, and while I regret not having more, I don’t regret not carrying my camera around more. I feel that the camera gets in the way of being directly engaged with one’s environment, and Flipside is all about direct engagement.

One thing that I came to realize well before this Flipside is that everyone who goes there creates their own experience. At the greeter’s station on the way in, a greeter will ask you “who is responsible for your experience at Flipside?” The correct answer is obvious, and the intent here is more limited in scope than what I’m talking about. The greeter’s point is basically that if you don’t like what’s happening to you at Flipside, you’re responsible for making your situation right, and if you get into a bad situation, you need to take responsibility for it. Which is an important point, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Some people see Flipside as nothing more a Dionysian weekend of drugs, sex, food, and debauchery. And while that Dionysian experience is a component for almost everyone there, for most folks it’s not the only one, or even the most important. For most people, it is to some extent about creating and experiencing art, and about creating a community. I have a friend who is a real party animal, but is also extremely generous with her time and energy, and I’m trying to convince her to go to Flipside, partly because I am curious which side of her it will bring out.

This year I was more involved than before in the community-creating aspect. In a sense, I’ve been having my Flipside experience for a few months. I went to Church Night, which is held twice a week and is a volunteer effort to build the effigy. I was lead for the Circle of Fire theme camp. I attended Town Hall meetings (where things get planned and discussed) and burn-night safety meetings. For the third year, I was the cat-herder in charge of the fire procession.

This level of involvement meant that Flipside was a lot more work for me than it had been in the past, but it also meant that I was coming into contact with a lot of other people who dedicate an astonishing amount of time and effort to the community-building aspects of Flipside–people who spend many, many hours before the event getting ready for their part in it, and many hours at the event in some kind of public-service capacity. These people are all volunteers–this is the Flipside experience they have chosen to have. Many of these people are also hard-rocking party monsters, and I wonder where they get the energy.

Anyhow, like I said, no coherent narrative. At least not yet.

Thursday

I was a theme-camp lead, and I wanted to get out there early. We were bringing out a lot more infrastructure than Circle of Fire ever had before, and I had borrowed Greg’s 1971 green GMC half-ton pickup (with AM radio!) to get it all out there. It barely fit, and took a hell of a lot of doing just to get it packed. I wanted to get out there right when the gates opened, but we were about two hours behind schedule. Finally, Gwen and I got in the cab (crammed in with all the stuff that wouldn’t fit in the bed, thinking only at the last minute to grab sweaters just in case it got cool) and turned the key. The starter ground away, but the engine would not catch. Tried again. Same result. Again. Same.

Turn truck off, breathe deeply. I do not want to unload this truck, rent another one, and load that. Try again. Success! Phew.

We hit the road, driving very carefully. I realized that maneuvers that would be easy in my car would tip this truck right over. Mention of that made Gwen pale, riding as she was sans seat belt in the middle. Made it out to Flat Creek in a reasonable amount of time. June, dressed as a cheerleader, flagged us down at the greeter’s station. I got out, reached into one of our ice chests, and fished out a beer for her.

On the drive out, Gwen and I had discussed what order we should attack everything in: we had the shade structures to erect, and the fire-circle backdrop to install. Both would be time-consuming. I said we should get the shade structures up first. It wasn’t clear how many people would be on hand to help when we got there (as it turned out, Travis and Spot were there before us, and they helped out), and the shade structures were our highest priority. Good thing: shortly after we got them up, it started raining. Hard. All the stuff we had just dumped off the back of the pickup we moved under the canopies. We wound up erecting our tent under the canopies, and then moving it out to our spot once the rain let up. Kevin from Kansas showed up. We got started pounding in the T-posts for the fire-circle backdrop. Amy and her entourage showed up. We got our kitchen and trash system set up. Realized we had forgotten a few things, so I called Kat (due to show up the next day) to request she bring those items. I was somewhat amazed that my phone worked at all out there (as it was, it was on roaming). The Brothers of the Flame showed up with their wives, girlfriends, etc. It rained some more, a lot more, and at one point, strong winds threatened to tear our shade structures loose from the ground. Next year: better stakes and tie-downs. The Brothers had trouble navigating their cars through camp, and then had trouble setting up their tents because of all the rain. This was the first year we really got to hang out with the Brothers, and despite the inauspicious start it was great having them at the camp. All those rainy hours sitting in a circle around the one dry spot were much finer because of their company!

Friday

Got up, made coffee for as many people in camp as wanted it. Started a fire in an elevated firepit–at some point someone asked “what’s the fire for?” and I could only answer “uh, Circle of Fire?” Actually, it was nice to have it going just because it felt homey, and it was useful as we burned a lot of waste over the course of the weekend so that we wouldn’t need to bring it home. A guy down from New York, Jeff, took shelter under our canopies and wound up hanging out for quite a while until the rain abated. Sean showed up. (Or did he arrive Thursday? He was like the wind.)

Finished getting the fire circle set up, with a lot of help. Took our first trip down from the plateau to the ring road, where we encountered Bean in her guise as Captain Cameltoe (“nine kinds of wrong” as she put it), and learned that the Subaru completely covered in astroturf was hers. I don’t remember doing anything else in particular during the day on Friday other than seeing the rest of Flipside, re-meeting old friends and making new ones. Amy worked on painting one of the panels on the fire-circle backdrop. More rain, and threatening skies all day. That night, Shiree of Spin Camp staged some fire art: she had brought out a full trailer-load of fire bricks, which she saturated in denatured alcohol doped with salts that produce colored flames. These were arranged in a low wall running about 50′, with curlicues splitting off from it, culminating in a small tower at one end. She did fire-paintings, spraying the same doped fuel on the road, and eventually started lighting the wall. It burned slowly and was quite a sight. After that was over, I headed back up to the fire circle to try to kick-start some action there, but as it turned out, most of the spinners were doing their thing at Spin Camp. I admit to feeling a little peeved that, after the amount of work I put into it, the circle was barely getting used. Reconnected with Gwen and went wandering. Hung out in the music tent at Ish–to take advantage of their comfy loungers as much as anything else, because my feet were killing me. I had gotten a pair of Bates combat boots–these were comfortable, waterproof, and supportive. Money well spent. But I was spending so much time on my feet walking around that by the end of the day, I could barely stand.

The neighboring camp, Giza, was unbelievably loud, and I had unwisely situated our tent close to it. We didn’t sleep well. Earplugs were almost useless.

Saturday

Saturday was much like Friday, except that I actually swam in the creek, which had been closed much of Friday (and part of Saturday, for that matter) due to the risk of flash flooding. The fact that we saw very little direct sunlight and that temperatures were on the cool side made the creek somewhat less inviting this year, as well. At one point we sat around discussing “what’s the most disturbing thing you’ve seen at Flipside?” My first choice was an older fellow with a multiply-pierced johnson, but on reflection, I decided it had to be the art piece “Marriage is (not) about doing the dishes,” a sculpture made of found objects arranged in a roughly anthropomorphic shape, in a wedding dress, with broken dishes and human blood on the front. A fair amount of human blood–I’d estimate about 4 ounces. I later learned a little of the back-story to this piece, which made it even more disturbing. As a friend put it, “Ellen [the artist] has some interesting issues.”

We moved our tent to place as much landscape, foliage, and stuff between it and Giza as possible.

We had a no-fire spin jam in the fire circle during the day, with experienced spinners and newcomers. That was fun.

Saturday night was the night of the glam-rock opera Arrogant Satin, being performed in the Smash Camp dome. I was reminded of this during the day when I encountered Michael 7.0 in his Burning Ridge Country Club theme-camp persona, going around and offering to buy people’s art: he was performing in the show that night, and explained that everyone involved had been rehearsing two nights a week for three months. It had an all-original score. The fact that M7 had done this while also serving as theme-camp siting lead as well as presumably holding down a day job impressed me greatly. Gwen and I showed up at the nominal starting time for the show, but the Miss Flipside Booty Pageant was still underway, so we watched that for a while. Eventually the show did start, and it was really quite good, and not just in an “A for effort” sense. Also involved were M7’s lovely wife June, Kristin, and probably some other people I should be able to name. I didn’t let myself watch much because I felt that I needed to check in at the fire circle. Good thing: power had been diverted from the PA, so I needed to run a new line to that. The fuel depot needed some attention. And just when I was finishing with that, our gracious DJ, Juan John, showed up, so I helped him get situated.

Saturday night at the fire circle turned out great. Any peevishness I had felt before was washed away: the music was good, everything was running smoothly. One problem was that the surface wasn’t as smooth as it really should be, and one woman took a misstep and tumbled on her ass. Next year: spread wood chips. Another problem was that Giza had a ridiculously loud PA, and it was difficult at times to hear our own PA (admittedly, just about the cheapest thing I could rent, with 400 W per speaker) over it. Giza was shushed repeatedly during Flipside, with sound levels metered at 112 dB or thereabouts (110 dB is described as “front row of rock concert” loud; I think the organizers wanted PAs kept to 85 dB). Next year: consider getting a bigger PA. Other than that, though, I felt like everything was paying off and I was very happy. I guess you might say this was the Flipside experience I wanted to have.

After I was done with the fire circle for the night, I put on my neon suit, and Gwen and I made the rounds. Got a good reaction.

Went to bed and slept very well.

Sunday

Sunday was the day of the effigy burn, the psychological peak of any burner event. People seem to take it a little easier during the day on Sunday because they’re holding back for the blowout that follows the burn.

On Sunday, somebody dropped by the fire circle for spinning lessons, and I was teaching him some moves when I was dragooned into taking part in the burn meeting. This was a meeting attended mostly by rangers and some of the Flipside muckety-mucks, to go over all the logistics involved in the effigy burn. On the one hand, it’s a little surprising that this stuff isn’t all worked out and written down well in advance. On the other, it’s surprising how smoothly the meeting went. Everyone seemed to know what needed to be done, and people plugged themselves into the required roles on the fly. I was there as the cat-herder in charge of the firedancers’ procession. I’ve done this before, and in some respects, I felt that I wasn’t as on top of things this year. Then again, there were more things to be on top of. We had to move the fuel depot (something new) because there was only one lane being held open, which firedancers would need to pass up and down, and this was far away from the Circle of Fire fuel depot, over very slippery, muddy ground. The fact that we were moving the fuel depot meant that I was, literally, trying to be in two places at once, because firedancers were showing up at Circle of Fire to take part, but had to move quickly to the relocated fuel depot to get ready, and people in both places had questions for me. I got a bit short-tempered with someone, which I regret. We had only seven spotters on hand–good thing nothing happened. Gwen observed how harried I must have been and took over spotter coordinating without saying anything. Other people thought the fire procession went smoothly, but I was very aware of how badly I passed along the procession guidelines to everyone, how badly I had done lining up spotters, how I had completely failed to brief the spotters, etc. I think I know how to do better next year.

The effigy burn was surprisingly low-key. The crowd did not make a lot of noise, and the effigy’s conflagration was not especially spectacular–I was surprised that the fire had burned down to almost nothing within a few hours, and was completely extinguished by the next morning. The most impressive Flipside effigy burn I’ve seen was in 2005, the rocket, which reached one crescendo of heat after another until it became almost percussive, pushing people back ten feet, then twenty.

Not long after the effigy burn came the temple burn. The temple was nowhere near as grand as one of David Best’s creations, but it was pretty, well-conceived, and solidly built. As the temple burned, Giza actually put on some music that was not only appropriate but moving. Dave down at Spin Camp lit a dozen or so of his flying lanterns, and they floated slowly northward and skyward until they were like stars. The symbolism was perfect. Everyone present was quiet. I got a little misty–it was the most memorable moment of the weekend for me.

After that came a firedancing free-for-all. The past few years this has actually surrounded the burning effigy remnant, but this year, because the path between the temporary fuel depot and effigy circle was so muddy, the depot got re-relocated to Circle of Fire, and we used the fire circle. Gwen knew that I wasn’t going to want to haul those depot barricades home, so took it upon herself to direct SCESW to toss them in the fire for me (she was right that I didn’t want to bring them home, but I planned on burning them later). Another good night of firedancing. After I exhausted myself doing that, Gwen and I took a walk around the plateau, and at Art Car Camp (which had no art cars) we encountered for the first time all weekend an eight-note flame organ, which we both took turns playing. Wonderful fun. The whole thing was very homemade, with the electronics being powered by a jury-rigged DeWalt power pack, and the pilot lights for each of the pipes shrouded in Schlitz cans.

We went to bed happy in the glow of the burn.

Monday

Mondays at Flipside are hard–psychologically, because it is hard to leave that community and re-enter consensus reality, and physically, because packing up and cleaning the camp is a lot of work. I had 24 cast-iron T-posts to pull and load up in the truck, two shade structures to break down and pack into boxes that had gotten completely sodden in the weekend’s deluges, the camp kitchen, the fire pit, the tent, the ice chests, etc. I went out to the effigy’s spot and found a metal plate that had been used on one of its arms, and packed it away. Just as crews on aircraft carriers “walk the deck” to pick up anything that might foul the landing gear of the planes, we do the same at Flipside, picking up cigarette butts, cellophane wrappers, etc. Although I had done that on the previous days, I did not do it on Monday–several other people asked “is there anything I can do to help” and I put them to work on that. I have to assume they did a good job, because I got the truck packed up by early afternoon, and Gwen and I said our goodbyes and hit the road.

Once home, Gwen and I took a few days to get back into our regular rhythms–as Gwen observed, it was a lot like jet lag.

This was the wettest Flipside yet, I am told: we had maybe four hours of direct sunlight all weekend, and several vigorous gully-washers. My former neighbor Marie referred to it as Burning Dripside. It was also probably the coolest. I would have preferred more sun, but somehow, I barely remember the rain. (Gwen here, to say that I remember the cold because it’s a lot harder to look good when you’re cold! I would’ve preferred a wool sweater and jeans for most of the weekend, and had to suffice with platforms and fishnets…we must suffer.)

Burning Flipside 2007

My re-entry into consensus reality has been a little bumpy. I’ll post a full report soon.

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