personal

Pros and Converse

'Red Chucks' by Purploony on Flickr

Growing older has its pros and cons. Most of the pros are mental, most of the cons are physical.

When I was a little kid, I desperately wanted a pair of “high-tops” (I didn’t know what else to call them). When I was in second grade, my parents indulged me, but only once. I wore those out quickly enough, and didn’t get another pair.

Until I went to college and was living on my own (and, for better or worse, buying my own clothes). Chuck Taylors were the only shoes I wore throughout my college career, and for a long time after.

As I got older, I found that my feet had less and less tolerance for the complete lack of cushioning and support in Chuck Taylors. It wasn’t that the shoes had changed (although aficionados will always say “they don’t make ’em like they used to”), it was just one of the cons of getting older. I visited New York City in 2001 and did a prodigious amount of walking in Chucks. After a couple of days, I damn near felt crippled. When I got back to Austin, I broke down and bought a pair of “cross-trainers,” and have worn some variety or another ever since.

But I miss wearing Chuck Taylors. I still have a few pair, and trot them out for parties when I know I won’t be doing a lot of walking. I miss the simplicity and utilitarianism, the personality and playfulness. If they came out with a line of Chucks with modern soles, I would be all over them.

True fans would complain they weren’t real Chucks. Whatever. It’s a compromise my feet would gladly make. Converse no longer exists as an independent entity anyhow. It’s owned by Nike, which treats Chuck Taylors as a fashion brand and sells them for a premium.

Smell, Memory

Every year, Gwen makes cookies for a class of first-graders who come trick-or-treating at her office. A couple of nights ago, she made two batches of butter cookies, each using a different recipe—one that her mom used throughout her childhood, and another that she found online . She stored them in tupperware until last night, when we decorated them. I opened the box containing the ones made using the online recipe (which is butterier, and which I liked better) and the escaping aroma instantly transported back to the time when I was in first grade myself, probably the last time I had a Salerno butter cookie. I hadn’t even thought of Salernos in decades, but I instantly remembered the daisy shape, the hole in the middle that I could stick my finger through, the smell, and the taste. We all know that the sense of smell is the sense that evokes memories most strongly, and this was a potent example. It was only that batch that did it for me though—not the other one.

Unsurprisingly, Gwen preferred her mom’s recipe. Because that’s tied to her memories.

Ride more bikes

In the severe hailstorm that hit Austin back in May, our car took a beating—some of the dings were so sharp that the paint cracked at the point of impact. When I took it in to get a repair estimate, they told me they were going to have to replace the hood and roof. In short, major repairs.

We finally got around to taking the car in to get the repairs done, and as of today, have been without a car for three weeks. The experience has been instructive.

I’ve lived in Austin without a car before. That was as a renter, and it definitely involved compromises. It would be much more difficult to live here as a homeowner without a car.

I’ve only had to bum a ride once during these three weeks. And there are certainly a few car-based errands that we’ve deferred. But for the most part, we’ve managed pretty handily, and more importantly, it’s been a reminder that most of the short 1/2/3 mile errands we run can be accomplished just as well by bike.

It’s a little embarrassing that we got out of the habit of using our bikes for errands in the first place. We didn’t quit riding them entirely, but we didn’t ride them nearly as much as we might have. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is. Too lazy to ride? Perhaps in part. Another dumb reason might be our garage door. When we moved into this house, the garage (where we store the bikes) could only be locked or unlocked from inside. So to get the bike out I’d go into the garage, open the door, pull the bike off the wall, put it outside, come back in, lock the garage, go through the house, go out the front door, and lock that. This is not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but it adds just enough friction to the process that we’re more often inclined to say “fuck it” and take the car. We had the garage door fixed a few months back, so we don’t have that trivial hurdle to overcome. And now we’ve been booted out of our bad habits by circumstances. I’m optimistic we won’t fall back into them.

Squeaker

I buried Squeaker today.

When people ask me how she came into my life, I would say “she came with the house.” It sounds glib, but it’s true.

When Jenny and I bought the house on Avenue G at the beginning of 1997, Squeaker was already living there as a street cat. She had been looked after by the previous occupants. When we showed up, she initially kept her distance (hanging out at a neighbor’s place instead), but after a few months, she warmed up to us. When the first freeze of the winter came at the end of ’97, Jenny and I agreed to let Squeaker spend the night indoors, just for that one night. Apart from a couple of forays into the back yard, she never went outdoors again.

Squeaker was already an adult when we took her in—our best estimate is that she was born in 1990. She was compact, stout, and stiff-legged, never jumping but frequently clambering up onto whatever surface she wanted to occupy. She enjoyed surprisingly forceful head-butts, and never played with toys when anyone was watching.

A lot happened to me over the intervening years—one marriage ended, another begun. I broke my pelvis. I sold the house on Avenue G and bought the one I live in now with Gwen. Squeaker was with me through all of that.

She was not unmarked by time. In 2004, she developed a growth on one foot that ultimately required two toes to be amputated. That growth re-appeared on her foot, but never obviously went beyond that.

Over the past few months, her stiffness of leg turned into painful arthritis. She developed hyperthyroidism, meaning her pulse was always racing, she was constantly hungry, and losing weight. I put her on a painkiller for the arthritis. She still seemed to be generally happy, but I realized she was in the endgame.

Over just the past few days, she declined precipitously. She lost her appetite and even had trouble drinking water. Her meow, which had always been stentorian and scratchy, became pathetic and weak. She smelled awful. It was time. I had the vet make a housecall to euthanize her. If anything, I should have done it a few days earlier. Her last day was peaceful.

Gwen and I went through this about a year and a half ago with the cat she’d had for even longer, Oscar. It doesn’t get easier with practice.

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.

The Internet is a small world

I was reading Ben Hammersly’s blog, and he linked to an entry in Adam Greenfield’s blog. I followed that, and in the comments, saw a name I hadn’t run across since I was about seven years old Kazys Varnelis.

Kazy, as I knew him, grew up a few doors west of me, and was a year or two younger (still is, I imagine). “What are the odds of there being a completely unrelated Kazys Varnelis?” I asked myself. I dropped him a line, and sure enough, it’s my childhood neighbor. Funny to run across him so randomly, and good to see that he’s apparently up to some very interesting stuff.

Update

I’ve been busy lately.

After a long spell with very little work, October ended with all I could handle. Add to that preparations for the annual Halloween show at the Enchanted Forest, preparations to go to San Francisco for the ATA conference, and other stuff. Now I’ve got plenty of blog-fodder piled up and don’t quite know where to start.

So I’ll start by squeezing this update out.

Chicago trip

Gwen and I recently flew up to Chicago. The excuse for our visit was my mom’s 70th birthday, but of course there’s more to do in Chicago than attend birthday parties, so we made a five-day trip out of it.

After a way-too-early departure from Austin, we arrived in Chicago with all of Thursday ahead of us. Took the blue line down to the Damen stop, where my sister met us with her car and took us back to her new condo in Old Town. It’s a great place. It’s an older building that has been through (really, is still going through) a gut rehab. It’s also less than two blocks away from Nookie’s, to which we promptly proceeded as soon as we got our stuff situated. Coffee, omelettes, and toast while sitting out on Wells Street enjoying the feeling of being on vacation on a nice day. That’s a good feeling.

Afterwards, we did what I like to do best in Chicago, which is just wander around. We wandered up and down Armitage, Webster, taking in the chi-chi boutiques in that area. Picked up a housewarming present for my sister. Gwen had just embarked on a commercial letterpress project, and many of the shops where we stopped had letterpressed cards of some variety or another. We wound up doing quit a bit of research. That night, a fellow firedancer who I know through the Internet, Kathleen, hosted a small spin jam at her apartment. It wound up being more of a social hour than spin jam, but that was fine, because it was an interesting crowd. And it was nice just making that connection in person. Whenever I go somewhere new, I look forward to meeting the fire folk there–I feel we’re members of the same tribe.

Friday, we had the pleasure of getting together with an Austin friend, Heather, who just happened to be in Chicago on business at the same time. We did more wandering around, walking until our feet were sore. They tried on shoes; I watched. We stopped by Ethel’s Chocolate and indulged. Stopped in Paper Source, where Gwen and Heather both bought stuff. That night, Gwen, Heather, my sister, and myself had dinner at Pasta Palazzo. My sister had never been there, surprising because it’s a really good restaurant, and it’s not even a ten-minute walk from her place. The kitchen is right out in the open at the lunch counter, and it is fun to sit and watch your order being prepared. A bit unnerving, though, when you see the extraordinary quantities of half-and-half and/or butter that go into making your meal so tasty.

Saturday was the day of my mom’s party, but that was at night. In the morning, Gwen and I went wandering southward, initially hoping to find a bakery (and walking right past one in my sister’s neighborhood), but eventually getting to a farmer’s market on Division, where we did procure some baked goods and wandered back north, eventually getting to another farmer’s market right next to the Farm in the Zoo, where we saw cabbages the size of pumpkins. We made our way over to Nookie’s for some sustenance after all that walking, where my aunt Sandy and her husband Joe intercepted us. We hung out for a while and went back to my sister’s to get ready.

The party was in a large private room at a huge rambling restaurant near where my parents live. The party was intended as a surprise. My mom had an idea that something was up (she knew I’d be coming to Chicago “around her birthday”), but I don’t think she had any idea how many people would be there, several others who flew in from as far away as I did.

Gwen and I spent that night at my parents’ place, and got to see the very nice new porch they’d put on, the refreshed kitchen, etc. Not much headway reducing clutter, though. My mom’s big ongoing project has been turning large chunks of their property into prairies with native plants. She’s got three pretty big fields going, all with numerous plants. I don’t know from beans when it comes to this sort of thing, but it looked good and was obviously a lot of work.

The next morning, my other sister came down from her hideout in the 815 area code and we all went out for a too-big meal in Barrington (too-big meals were really a theme of this trip). After that, Gwen and I caught the Northwestern line down to Clybourn and walked the rest of the way back to my sister’s place, past the Finkl steelworks. Later in the day, Gwen and I reconnected with my parents at my cousin Joel’s condo; from there, we went on to the Garfield Park Conservatory, where there was a sculpture show (pictures).

That night, Gwen, my sister, and I went out to Bacino’s for stuffed pizza, something I try to get on every trip to Chicago. The sauce seemed a little underdone this time. A stuffed pizza should really have a solidified, somewhat paste-like sauce. This was still kind of runny. Bacino’s used to be the best place to go for stuffed pizza, but I’m not able to monitor developments in the Chicago pizza world as closely as I might like. Perhaps the mandate of heaven has passed to another joint. Maybe I’ll try Leona’s next time—they were always reliable.

And then came Monday, our last day. Our flight was late in the day, so we went to Bucktown and, well, walked around some more. We stopped at the Fluevog shop, where Gwen came very, very close to buying a pair of shoes. We stopped in a vintage shop, where one of the clerks instantly marked us as tourists—perhaps because we were out as a couple during normal working hours. Eventually, of course, the trip had to end. My mom, who happened to be in the city, had offered to drive us to the airport, but we convinced her to just drop us off at the El station, which was probably a faster way to get to the airport. Our flight home was uneventful and relatively unburdened by new purchases.

A big part of the reason I love walking around Chicago is because of the architecture. Typical residential architecture is built to a vastly higher standard there than here in Austin, and much of it is interesting to look at as well. It’s one of the differences in regional culture. When I first came to Austin and looked at some of the apartments where regular people lived, I thought “These are temporary buildings, right? Or student housing?” I guess I’ve reconciled myself to the flimsy construction here, because this visit was a forceful reminder of how much better construction is in Chicago. And there’s a hell of a lot of new, really posh construction going on as well. The Chicago I grew up with was a city in decline—the population was shrinking, the streets and parks were not well maintained, and there was not much new construction. All those trends have reversed, and indeed there are parts of the city that are unrecognizable. My sister’s neighborhood is seeing a rash of very plush townhouses going up—enough so that the neighborhood association is upset about them hurting the character of the neighborhood.

There were other little differences in regional culture I noticed. In Austin, you can pay for damn near anything with plastic. Many businesses in Chicago won’t accept plastic. In Austin, everyone has sunglasses on a sunny day. Chicago? Not so much.

Then there’s the big cultural difference: the walking. In Chicago, everyone walks. Everyone has to walk to get somewhere. Even if you drove, you may have parked far enough away that you’ll still wind up walking a distance that many Austinites would consider unwalkable. And because everybody in this big, diverse, dense city is out walking, you rub elbows the complete spectrum of humanity. Just being on the street in Chicago feels very different because of this, and this may help explain why I like walking around Chicago myself. In Austin, the only people you see walking are people who have no other option, or people out for a walk.

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.)

Flipside camp/project concepts

At Flipside, we sat around shooting the breeze and coming up with interesting projects for Flipside that someone else should do.

1. Yellow-bike project at Flipside. Flat Creek is big enough that bikes are a good idea.

2. Bike taxi service. In the same vein.

3. We riffed at some length on something that would be a combination scavenger hunt/test of skills. Perhaps frisbee golf, or perhaps a different test of skills at each stop. You’d collect pieces to a puzzle at each stop, and at the end, you’d have all the pieces and do Something Wonderful with them. It would be especially interesting if you could work it out so that the stops could be completed in any order, and each order would yield a different but valid outcome–for example, if the final outcome is a word, each stop would yield a letter, and every possible anagram of that word (resulting from completing the stops in different sequences) would be another valid word.

Three years

Gwen skating

Yesterday was Gwen and my three-year anniversary. To celebrate, and try something new, we went to the roller rink. Ran into Heather and Mychal there. A couple of 80s-themed parties were going on while we were there.

My previous skating experience: a pair of clip-on skates with metal wheels when I was 6 years old (total time logged: about 5 minutes), and a pair of rollerblades when I was in my twenties (total time logged: a few hours). My experience last night was somewhere between “as bad as I feared” and “as good as I hoped.” No falls, but a few “whoa” moments. Clearly, I need more practice. I did do some ice skating when I was a kid, which may have helped a little (bend the knees!), and I think growing up in Chicago and knowing how to walk on ice helped a lot in avoiding falls. It was fun, but I was concerned about landing on a hip.

Oscar: 1991–2007

Oscar

We put Oscar in the earth today.

Despite the name, Oscar was a girl, and every inch a princess. Gwen tells the story of when she first got her. Gwen was living in Minneapolis, and the mother cat’s owners (who called Oscar “Whiner”), brought her over to Gwen’s place. Oscar was the runt of the litter, but as soon as she was released in Gwen’s apartment, she walked around the room, sniffed everything, jumped up on a table, knocked something over, and then came over to Gwen, got up on her hind legs, and gave Gwen an affectionate head-butt. This was her most endearing habit, and often used in the years that followed to defuse anger at, say, knocking something over. In that moment, Oscar became Gwen’s cat.

A year or so later, Gwen moved to Austin, and moved around in Austin quite a bit after that. Oscar was her one constant companion. She added another cat, Kevin, to her household, and when Gwen and I got together, we wound up with three cats between us. Hence the king-sized bed.

Oscar had been a svelte 17 pounds in her prime, but once she hit a certain age, she started losing weight, and her kidneys started shutting down. Ironically, the weight loss made it easier for Oscar to get into trouble, which she did, jumping up to places she couldn’t reach when she was heavier but younger. She often found ways of getting into trouble specifically to push our buttons, to let us know it was time for a snack or something. As infuriating as she could be in these moments, she always made us laugh (either at her or ourselves) because her needling was so transparent, and yet so effective.

Over the past four days or so, she lost interest in eating (apart from barbecued chicken from Hoover’s) and became much quieter. Gwen took her to the vet and found that her blood urea nitrogen level (an indicator of kidney function) was off the scale. The vet said Oscar had “days or weeks.”

With much grief and second-guessing, we made the decision to euthanize her, and this afternoon, after a snack of barbecued chicken, the vet came over and ended her life. We are both wrecked.

It’s a hell of a thing, having pets. You take them in as cute companions, knowing in the back of your mind that some day, a day like this will arrive. And when it happens, you’re completely unprepared.

(from Gwen) It’s impossible to sum up a life together in a few paragraphs. Oscar has slept by my side (or, more often, on my pillow) for 16 years. She’s made me laugh, pissed me off, purred in my ear at 5 a.m., and today licked my tears while we were hanging out together for her last few hours. I hope I can always remember the smell of her head, in the sweet soft spot between her ears that tickled my nose at the beginning of endearing-for-life head-butt. And I hope her cat friend Kevin, who has always been “Kevin and Oscar” will find some way to be Kevin. Rest well, Oscar. Piggy. Pig Pig. Muffin. Pig-a-Muff. Muffy. Muff Muff. Schmooky. Schmook.

One year

Front door view

Gwen and I moved to our new place one year ago today. Any home purchase is momentous, and perhaps worthy of commemorating. We put a lot of thought and energy into the renovation—which wound up being a design for our lives in many ways, so this feels especially so. Even though the customary observation of romance is tomorrow, today feels like a more significant date to mark.

Compare this view with moving day. While the boxes are all gone, almost all our furniture is in the same place in both shots. For most of our furniture, there’s only one place it’ll fit. We had it mapped out ahead of time, and that’s where we put it when we moved in.

Stuck in the middle

I just had my three-month follow-up visit after LASIK surgery yesterday. My optometrist said “well, the good news is that your vision hasn’t changed. And the bad news is that your vision hasn’t changed.”

I’m in a funny situation. My correction isn’t perfect—and I’m very aware that my vision now is actually worse than when I was wearing glasses. But pretty good, and more to the point, it’s not bad enough for a touch-up.

As my optometrist explained to me, the least amount that LASIK can correct is half a diopter. Beyond that, it can make very fine-grained corrections, but it needs to apply at least that much. I’m about 1/3 diopter away from perfect. So, he said, I can hope that my vision magically gets better on its own, or gets worse on its own (neither is likely), but if I have to live with what I’ve got, it isn’t so bad. I’m scheduled for another visit in three months.

Well, you pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

Home from España

We’re back. The trip was great. Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Bilbao, and San Sebastian. Longer letter later. Photos forthcoming.

We should all have such problems

Gwen and I are leaving today on a trip to Spain.

We had written a rather large check from our investment account and deposited it in our regular checking account, so we’d be able to get at those funds from an ATM while abroad. When we made the deposit, we asked the teller if she could deposit it without a hold, and she said Yes. Sure enough, the next day, the money appeared in our account.

Then yesterday at about 4:30, I checked our account again and saw a negative balance. Uhhhhhh…

Frantic calling to the bank and the investment house resulted in conflicting stories. According to the bank, the investment house refused to honor the check (which is strange, since we’ve written checks against that before and had them clear, and there was enough money to cover it), so they were returning it; according to the investment house, the check was never presented for payment. If we didn’t resolve the situation in exactly 24 hours, we’d be in Spain with no ready way to get at our money (beyond what we’re bringing, which isn’t enough to last the trip).

Today I ordered a wire transfer instead. It looks like it has gone through.

As problems in life go, this is not big. It’s the kind of problem only a fortunate person can have. I bear all that in mind, but the situation still made me very angry and anxious.

Honyakuhome.org is live

I started a web page that I called the Honyaku Home Page back in 1995 (for whatever reason, the wayback machine only shows iterations going back to 1997—still pretty old for a web page). Over the years it grew and transmogrified. For a while, I ran it using a crude homebrewed CMS written in Hypercard.

When I upgraded my Mac to OS X, Hypercard became a non-option; my hacked-up CMS had been very awkward to use for a long time anyhow. Eventually I transferred most of the site’s functions to Movable Type, using some jury-rigged templates. That too became unsatisfactory, and for a very long time, I looked around for other options.

I found one in Drupal, though when I first encountered it, it was somewhat primitive. Over time, Drupal has developed, and I committed to using it. After a false-start, I hired a developer to customize a module for me, bought a domain name (which I should have done a long time ago anyhow), and soft-launched the new site.

Even though most of the ducks have been in a row for some time, I’ve been reluctant to have a public launch. Drupal has numerous add-on modules these days, many of which would no doubt make the new site more useful, but the double-edged sword is that every new module creates new administrative tasks, and some of the spiffier features would require even more futzing around. I was stuck in option paralysis. The best is the enemy of good enough.

Today, I finally said “fuck it,” decided to launch with a plainer site, and announce it. Check it out. honyakuhome.org.