I have been sorely remiss in making posts from here in San Francisco. I could say that I’ve been too busy, but that’d be only half truth. Yeah I’ve been busy from time to time, but I’ve also had LOTS of free time, what with not having a job and all. Its been relaxing, but I am starting to go a bit stir crazy. Fortunately there are things to do.
The alleged reason I came to San Francisco in the first place was to attend the Burning Man Regional Network Summit at the Bently Reserve. The Bently Reserve was, well, the National Reserve. Centre of all things money. I mean it was where money came from. Lots of marble and ornateness. A monument to centralized power and permenence. Kind of the antithesis of Burning Man really, so it was with a distinct sense of irony that I participated in proceedings there. Still pretty cool, there are actually old ships buried in the foundation since this used to be the shoreline of San Francisco back in the day.
Many of the information sessions were repeats of last year so I skipped those and focused on the presentations and workshops that I thought would be relevant to our little community in Montreal – Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers, Succession Planning, Growing a New Community and presentations on events in Australia and the American Midwest. Then there was Larry’s Keynote speech, which… well I’m sure its on YouTube and it doesn’t make any more sense than Larry usually does, though I helped me realize something. It makes sense that Burning Man’s “messiah” is a ordinary schmuck who just kind of gets thrust into the limelight every once in a while and comes up with random art themes that half the population ignores. It works. Because nobody really cares about what Larry says, they’re just glad he dragged that man out to the beach and torched it all those years ago.
The Summit definitely makes me feel small. Some of these groups are managing hundreds of volunteers at huge multi-day events and on and on. Its pretty ridiculous and makes Montreal’s Burner community seem inconsequential sometimes. But then again it also makes Montreal’s community seem a bit more real. I mean we know each other and we can make anything into an event. This year I managed to connect with more small community leaders and we agreed that bigger isn’t necessarily better. In fact its nice to not have the pressure and visibility of a Flipside or a Playa Del Fuego defining your community. We’re a lot more flexible because we’re small and more intimate as well. That being said, I’m still always keen on bringing more people into the fold back in La Belle Province.
I also skipped the Defenestration Fundraiser and the Burnal Equinox party. I really wasn’t in the mood for massive throngs of Burners, I was getting close to Burner burnout. Instead I ended up going with some Flaming Lotus Girls and friends from Toronto to the opening of a new artspace Five Ton Crane, famous for the Gothic Raygun Rocketship. Pretty nice stuff that’s kind of art-deco-punk with an organic samosa van out front and that cool snail art car spitting fire into the Oakland sky. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed but ended up talking with some friendly girls outside for a bit before we got back in the car and drove back over the bridge to the city. So I ended up hanging out with Burners anyways, but this at least felt a bit more “real” as compared to the events us delegates were being shuttled to and fro. I hung out with the Flaming Lotus Girls a couple other times and I gotta say, they’re some great ladies.
One thing that really helps me to keep my head on straight is going for walks. Walking is kind of like meditation for me. I walk without a destination or goal in mind, just set out one foot in front of the other seeing what I can see and letting my mind bounce thoughts around without concern for whether its something I *should* be spending my energy on or not. Its relaxing even as I work my glutes on these gawddam hills! Its also a great way for me to familiarize myself with the lay of the land. Cities fascinate me in their streets, parks, neighbourhoods and alleyways. There are always so many secrets, surprises and details that are only seen by wandering and finding your way by gut and gut alone. I’ve probably logged at least fifty miles in San Francisco over the past three weeks and I’ve been logging some of my longer walks on a Google map. My goal is to have a pretty good mental model of the city, its layout, its neighbourhoods and its feel by the time I leave. I think I’m doing well, and I’m getting a workout while I’m at it.
The past two weekends have also seen that walking bug transported out of the city and into the Californian wilderness on ridge trails and redwood forests. Stella has a group of friends who love to go hiking and go out many weekends to places near the Bay for day hikes. This weekend featured a high ridge climb sporting some beautiful views of the north bay and the week before brought us to a beautiful series of waterfalls deep in the canopy of the redwood forests to the south. Even small redwoods are damned impressive and the way they grow is so magical. Many have big hollows in their cores (from lightning I think) which makes one kind of feel like a faerie or woodland creature taking shelter in this great magical plant. Unfortunately both weekends I haven’t gotten much sleep the night before so the walks were a bit grueling, but I keep coming back for more so clearly its worth it.
LIVING WITH STELLA
So for those that don’t know I’m living in sin with Stella. Well if we were puritans in the 19th century anyway, thankfully these are not those times. We’re both night owls so getting up for those hikes has been challenging. We typically have been getting to bed around 3am and waking up around noon or one (Stella generally gets out of bed a bit ahead of me, I like to languish in the sheets a bit longer with our new teddy bear Sherbert).
The apartment is small and doesn’t get much air or light, and its a bit of a challenge to adapt to living in someone elses’ space, but its been getting easier and easier and I’m pretty happy with the arrangement. I don’t even mind cuddling with Plutoes, Stella’s corn snake. We’ve been enjoying each other’s company (Stella and I, Plutoes too I suppose) and have started planning dates to get us out of the house. Its easy to get trapped in here for days on end without even realizing it. The weather’s been gorgeous (though I hear its been amazing back home too) so one has to get outside and enjoy it. In fact I’m on the front step right now thanks to the neighbour’s WiFi. Thanks!
I have to admit that I was having trouble fully embracing San Francisco for the first couple of weeks. Montreal was really reaching a wonderful peak honeymoon level of ecstatic shit happening when I left. Awesome friends, awesome roommates, awesome apartment, great community really starting to roll and I felt like I really knew what I was doing instead of a dumb Albertan hick. Then I just picked up and came to San Francisco without much of a plan. It felt like I’d given up a lot. I mean I left right after Nuit Blanche and an Olympic Hockey final bender. That’s a tough act to follow.
So I had a low level of grumpiness and judgemental attitude hobbling along on my back for weeks, sucking just a little bit of colour out of everything I saw and did.
Friday night Stella took me to the Rhythm Society’s All Night Dance Celebration for the spring equinox and I half expected to have a bad time. Afterall I rarely enjoy big crowds of people, especially when I don’t know any of them and I’ve never been that big into the rave scene. Of course if you expect to have a bad time you will, and I loped around from room to room, wishing I could connect with people and have a good time, but not daring to let myself actually DO that and ruin the perfectly good moapy spree I had going. Finally at one point I just broke and couldn’t stand being miserable anymore and burst into the courtyard screaming and smashed my wineskin on the floor destroying the glowstick attached to it and ripping the material open. My anger and angst was gone, replaced with a kind of shame, shame at acting out, but mostly shame at having spent so much time being so miserable when misery was only a choice.
I poured the leaking water over my head and tossed my fedora into the fountain and just let the water wash me clean of all the nastiness that I’d built up over the weeks. I allowed myself to just BE in San Francisco, in the courtyard, by the fountain. Why should I be anywhere but here, now? Finally, soaking hair, head, shirt and vest I just let it all go. I stood up and feeling like I owed something to the people around me for witnessing my outburst I went straight to the kitchen and offered to help out. Service so often helps when I don’t know what else to do. I cut casadias and chatted with the guys in the kitchen, then we cleaned the buffet table, then I went and found Stella and danced.
Since then I’ve been much happier and open to San Francisco and my time here. Moving without a plan sounds great, but it can also be hard. Its good to feel useful, but its also perfectly valid to just enjoy oneself. I’m starting to find a balance with that here now.
MORE BURNERS – STEAM!
I’d already noted that I needed to do something more with my time before the breakthrough at the All Night Dance Party so last Wednesday I followed up on the volunteer page of their website and paid the folks at Kinetic Steam Works a visit. If you don’t know them the KSW are the ones behind the big traction engine on the playa and worked on the Steampunk Treehouse as well. They’re kind of like antique restorers with a Burnery twist. I’d hesitate to call them Steampunk as most people think of it because they’ve got more interest in the integrity of the history of steam than most Steampunks, but really that’s just splitting hairs. They’re fucking cool.
I ended up helping to repair the timing on an old steam engine and removing a 50lb cast iron whistle from one of the traction engines. I ended the evening covered in soot and grinning ear to ear. I plan to head over to the workshop every week until I leave helping them with their various projects and getting as dirty as possible. Its also the perfect opportunity to get some footage and interviews for a documentary I’m planning on old machinery. If only my new camera would arrive! I’m still waiting (not very patiently) for the new Canon EOS550D which does stills and HD video. Grrrrr. No. Patience. Left.
Speaking of which, I’m participating in a filmmaking challenge in a couple of weeks (Neo-Noir theme) and might be DP on a student film. Nothing like free time to follow up some long neglected passions!
Lots of other excitement planned, and even more yet to be imagined. I miss y’all and look forward to being back in Montreal for the summer (bring on the festivals!!!!) but I’m finally really starting to get into MY San Fran Disco groove.