Burning Man Again

I am about an hour away from walking out my front door with two backpacks, a manpurse and a cooler on wheels. Soon me and all of my junk will be on an airplane bound for San Francisco. After that it’ll be shopping, driving, coordinating and finally the long push to Black Rock City. I’ve done this in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, making this trip #7 which just so happens to be my favourite number. I look around, wonder if I’m forgetting anything, then chuckle because I know that forgetting stuff is inevitable and that whatever I’m missing I either won’t need or will figure out. The essentials, the essentials are taken care of.

I go into this burn with very few expectations, a few fears, but also a lot of excitement. Its only the second time I’m going with a lover, this time a lover that I met at Burning Man. Our anniversary will be in the very place that it began.

The fear, the fear is justified. In many lives including my own there is turmoil and uncertainty. That means there will be tensions, and hard decisions. It also means there will be tremendous opportunity for growth and discovery.

The excitement also comes from the unknown, the unknown matched with the knowledge that whatever the world holds around the corner, we will handle and excel.

There are many people I look forward to seeing again, and many people I will be meeting for the first and perhaps only time. I’m especially excited about the virgins I know. Oh the things they will discover and experience. The shifts that will occur inside of them when they encounter a moment so tuned to their particularities that transcendence is the only option.

And yes I’m worried and stressed about all the logistics, transportation, shopping and packing, but that too is a part of it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So Burning Man again. Nobody knows what it holds for us this year. I’m excited for the journey. A week in the desert is like a year in the default world. Let us pass through this whirlwind with exuberance and grace!

Doing One Thing

Ever find yourself in a funk where you feel like there’s a thousand things to do and you don’t know where to start so you just start drinking and then pass out and wake up on the front lawn with a kazoo hanging out of your mouth? No? Me neither, but I can certainly relate. Its easy for me to get stuck and intimidated by the list of unfun things that need to get done. Dread as a seemingly impermeable barrier between me and happiness.

But here’s the thing. The way out of that funk is the simplest thing in the world. Just do one of those dreaded things. Because the truth is, once done, I almost always realise that what I was dreading wasn’t really that bad. Like just now. I’ve been putting off calling a restaurant supplier for a couple of weeks to clarify how we purchase from them. I don’t like talking on the phone and even more I hate trying to explain to corporate drones that I need to buy a bunch of stuff without a business license or non-profit status because I want to give away 1200 bowls of this French Canadian thing called poutine to drunk people in the desert. No really. So where do I sign?

I hate that stuff. And yet when I finally did call all of the hassle and insanity that I’d imagined melted away and he was able to answer my questions quickly and simply without any fuss or calling for the manager or faxing of any ID or criminal records or anything crazy like that. Hallelujah!

And now that the block has been breached its so much easier to get on with all of the other dreaded stuff because, y’know, its probably not going to be that bad.

Whose Eyes?

All over the world big brother is expanding his surveillance network. Cameras on every corner, aerial drones patrolling the skies beneath omniscient satellites, telephones are tapped, web traffic scanned and machines see you naked in airport security lineups. And yet we’re not allowed to videotape police or take pictures of national monuments. Clearly something is up.

Today I went down to the Canal Lachine with my camera because I heard that there was going to be a parade of sorts of classic boats arrived for the Classic Boat Show this weekend in the old port. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get started on my project to create artistic portraits of various Montreal landmarks, neighbourhoods, etc. I walked all the way to the Cote St-Paul Lock with my heavy tripod and got setup just in time for a boat to be coming out of the opening locks. A great shot. Until…

“Monsieur! Monsieur! Tu ne peut pas faire ca!”

Seriously? I can’t film a boat coming out of the locks? I can’t film something in a National Parc that my tax dollars go towards? I can’t film something that thousands of tourists film each year, just because I’m using more professional looking equipment?

Now I could have argued with him on these and numerous other grounds, he was afterall on the other side of the lock and about to open the gates. He’s also a parc staffer, not a cop, he can’t take my camera away or really demand anything of me. Still, I wasn’t in the mood for getting into a rout with someone, especially when I still want to contact the Parc Service and get some insider’s access to make this documentary segment on the canal. I’m trying to promote them for goodness sake! Fuck.

This is a problem that photographers and videographers are running into all the time, and yet cameras are more ubiquitous than ever. Your cellphone surely has a camera doesn’t it? There’s those security cameras everywhere. Face facts. Nobody can control images anymore, so quit picking on those of us who do it openly, do it well, even do it for a living. If anyone’s got the right to be persnickity about unauthorized filming it should be all of us who’re monitored walking down the street, buying groceries, checking email, etc. etc. Wake up people. THEY are watching us, yet they’re afraid of us watching back.

So now I’m trying to decide whether to let this afternoon’s incident at the lock roll off my back and talk to them about this video project in glowing tones like a good little citizen, or whether I should raise a little stink about my rights to take pictures of what I damn well please without some staffer getting in my face. I think I’ll go for the former just for my professional interests, but damn I’m still kinda pissed off.


So I shot a video for my roommate and friend Keith last night. He was doing standup comedy at Comedy Works and y’know, he’s pretty damn funny. Anyway I was feeling a bit self-conscious about filming without asking management and I didn’t know the space, or Keith’s material, and I was lazy, add it all up and you get the video you get. Not bad, but it could certainly be better. Its shaky, the focus *might* be a bit out (or maybe that’s just junk from compression) and the audio pops in a few spots. Totally fine for an amateur YouTube ha ha, but not for someone who’s aiming to be a professional videographer/photographer. Yes, its time to bring out the big guns, or rather the big stick, sticks, the tripod. The BIG tripod. I hate it, I mean I hate carrying it and setting it up. I feel like the native guide tagging along with the gentleman hunter in search of elephants and other big majestic animals to kill with this impossibly large and awkward device. But you can’t really argue with the results.

So its going to be time to lug the big pod around soon. Fine, at least I can work with a drink in hand.

Same story for the videos I shot for Darling Ghost, a band here in Montreal. Tried doing that gig with the monopod and it came off pretty well, but the big Manfrotto would have been better. The audio was okay but it’ll be better once I get the Zoom H1. The real killer though was the lighting. The bar they played their gig in was terribly lit for a performance and so they all came out pretty dark, particularly the lead singer. It might be that I have to bring lights with me in the future or just tell them that I can’t shoot under those conditions.

Finally I’m going to be photographing TEDxMcGill later this fall, so I’m going to have to up the ante there as well. I need to write a bio as well as make up an invoice. I don’t really know what I’m doing but if I’m to be a professional I need to figure this stuff out. I also need to get myself a flash and really master using it. Its a good opportunity to learn, develop and grow, but… yeah, its work. I need a website and cards too. I should at least reserve a domain name, but here I’m starting to second guess Astral Projections Film & Video Werx as a name. I mean I don’t really plan on using film professionally, there’s nothing about photography in that name, and Astral Projections what? *sigh*

All this mere days before leaving for Burning Man, where I’m tempted to shoot a bunch of footage except for the fact that it may well mess up my camera and lenses. Unnngh!

Still these are all positive developments. Work for sure, but I need work to keep me from going crazy. Right now I feel kind of crazy anyway though. Go figure.

That old familiar feeling

Now that I think about it I think I went through a similar graph of stress, clarity and relief with Midnight Poutine last year. When there’s a pattern to be found, there’s knowledge to be gained. So I think its worth looking at this with respect not only to Midnight Poutine, but all projects I undertake that are of a complicated nature.

Right now I feel great because I can see the end and the steps required to get to the goal are fairly clear. I can comprehend all the steps involved. Its doable. Its happening.

As recently as last week the whole thing seemed overwhelming. Lots needed to be done and I wasn’t really clear on who was doing what, how or when it was all going to happen.

Part of it I think has to do with deadlines. When you get close to a deadline it becomes a lot easier to prioritize. The things that aren’t essential just fall away. If they get done great, but they aren’t worth worrying about. Finding a way to cultivate that sense of priorities earlier in the game would make a big difference to my mental health during a project.

Another is just working. Loading Jody’s van, cutting plywood at Ryan’s, these things gave me a tangible sense that shit was actually happening. As important as planning, spreadsheets, meetings and all these other things are they just don’t provide the same satisfaction and reassurance as sweat, sore muscles and a solid piece of finished work that you can look at and touch. So, tangible benchmarks should exist throughout the project instead of just at the end. Its always nice to work on things, even nicer to finish them.

Work with other people. Its damn easy to feel frustrated and alone when working on a project alone. If there’s someone else in the room it feels a lot better, even if the work itself is tedious sometimes. Also, its much harder to find busy work or to slack off if there’s someone else working alongside you. Finally fresh blood always means fresh energy. There’s a thousand reasons to work with other people.

These are a few of the lessons learned. The trick is to remember them and practice them and watch for more. There’s always more lessons. 🙂

I am not the Junk Raider

Finally found out that I’m not going to be on the next season of Junk Raiders – which is fair enough because I’m pretty invested in Burning Man now. Am I disappointed? Yes. But it serves as a bit of a lesson I think. I need to actually build more stuff. I think that the greatest flaw with my application was the lack of tangible things I had available to show off my imagination and my talents. This isn’t a kind of beat myself up over it moment, rather its more of a calm acceptance. Being on the show would be hard without more construction experience, and if its on again next year I’ll have that experience. Plus, its time to start filling up my ETSY store (you didn’t even know I had one did you?) with lamps, bongs, furniture, you name it.

Building stuff is something that has always intrigued me, but for a long time I had this story running in my head that I wasn’t actually that good at building things. When I was young I built some stuff with my dad. The Boy Scout pinewood derby springs immediately to mind. We had some innovative design ideas (namely adding heavy metal to the car since its a gravity powered race) but our execution lacked the proper care. Again I had similar problems in shop class with minor details resulting in flaws. So of course my young mind began to think that I was bad at making stuff. In truth I think I just didn’t have enough patience with myself to do a good job, or I was rebellious and tried to use my own ideas and techniques before I even understood the basics.

I have matured since then. I’m better at being patient, at learning from my mentors, of thinking things through and finally, most importantly, of accepting things that are imperfect but forging ahead anyways, knowing that the experience will bring me closer to perfection the next time.

For me ideas are easy. My brain swells with ideas all the time. Finally I am learning how to actualize some of those ideas. So I’m not going to be on a reality TV show this fall, the principle benefit wasn’t money or fame, but rather time spent working on these things. Working with my hands. Working with my mind. Working through my fear of not being perfect. Applying to be on the show inspired me to revive the builder and designer inside of me. I’ve started to work on creating again and I’m happy as a result. So I won’t be building a loft or a condo from scrap, that’s fine, I’ll be doing things that are more personal and specific to me, and I will enjoy the benefits as well.

Who knows, maybe there’ll be a Junk Raiders 3 and I’ll be ready.

Va Va Voom!

I seem to be approaching a kind of personal singularity here, a convergence of many, many threads of my life, culminating in some sort of simultaneous super event. I wonder whether it’ll be an explosion or what…

Burning Man, aka: Midnight Poutine is eating up a lot of my time. Which would be fine. If I weren’t simultaneously trying to start my own business, work odd jobs to cover the rent, maintain a beautiful and harmonious long distance relationship, watch my health and everything else. Yes everyone in Western society is expected to juggle a thousand simultaneous commitments and work themselves bare, but that’s not my style and I’m starting to not enjoy it. I need days off where I actually just go to the parc or read a book rather than building playa furniture, editing videos or gobbling flu medication. Really I need those off days and I haven’t been getting them. Its hard to be organized and efficient when I’m torn in so many directions, and so many have looming deadlines.

The nearest deadline is for something really cool, The Chicago Museum of Science and Technology’s Month in the Museum contest. If I win I spend a month living in the museum, checking everything out, blogging about it, interacting with the public and media. Good fun. But the deadline is in two days and I’ve been too sick until now to really think about it much. Then there’s all the playa preparations which are a week or two out at best, and after that TEDxMcGill and all the associated small business stuff I need to do before then. Its daunting. Somewhere in there I’m supposed to go to Hawaii with Star to relax, which will be well needed, but damn its going to be big busy bookends on either side of it. Go go go!

I don’t even have time to properly describe all these little projects and things I’m working on right now. 9 to 5 is in many ways easier than this, but its also soul sucking and I know that if I went back I’d just get frustrated and quit again. I think if I just keep at it over the next few months I’ll be stable enough by the end of the year that I can let back on the reigns a bit and just coast for a while before tackling anything new. There will always be something new. Hell, there’s taBURNak! Deux! in November. Something for Nuit Blanche in February… unnnngh. I mean I love it. But shit…

At least I have good people around me, lots of support and a great home. Star’s arriving in a few minutes and that’ll be a really wonderful reprieve. Sure relationships are work too, but they can also give such comfort and rest. That’s what I need right now.