[Resolution] #26 Go Camping: Orfunner 2012

You know those rare events in life where you walk out of them knowing, feeling, that your life has changed?  It may not be from anything you can pinpoint or specify, but the feeling of being a changed person is unmistakable.

I didn’t know what a Burn was until just a few weeks ago when I was introduced to the idea of Orfunner, a Burning Man event that takes place here, close to Austin, in Dripping Springs.  The idea of any burn event was intimidating to me. Hoards of radically self-expressive people, artists…and a LOT of drugs.  And while I covet the idea of the first two (not particularly interested in lots of drugs, but hey, to each his own) I never considered myself to be quite at the level that would allow me to run with burners.

But, after talking to a few friends who had participated before, and hearing about the culture of acceptance, the gifting economy and the spirit of mutual respect and love, it started to sound more and more like something that was, in fact, right up my alley.

We gathered a group of people, our camping gear, and headed out to Dripping Springs.  I arrived in a group of three: Dru, his friend Jane and I, but there were other mutual friends there that we already knew.  Even so, it didn’t matter who we knew already, because as soon as we drove through the gates of the campgrounds we had come ‘home’ to a new family.

We followed a caravan of other cars to the entrance where we could see people leaning into car windows and talking jovially.  As we finally got to the front of the line, a little sprite of a girl wearing fishnet from head to toe and wearing a fox tail poked her head into my window and demanded we get out of the car.  I got a little nervous, like for sure we’d already done something wrong, but before I even got both feet on the ground she had me in her embrace and exclaimed “Welcome home!”

After a quick rundown of the campground rules we were admitted and found a place to put the car until we could locate our other friend.  All around us were colorful lights, loud music, talking, singing, and laughing. We’d entered an entirely different world, and consequently had no idea where to even begin, where to set up camp or how to find a familiar face.

We stood close to the car, alternating between helping a lost friend find her way to the grounds and discussing what the heck we were supposed to do. I think our confusion and frustration may have been apparent to a fellow camper nearby, because a man wearing a sarong emerged from a clearing near our car asking if we needed a place to set up camp.

He led us into the clearing where he, his friends, and another group had already set up tents.  It was perfect, shaded, and little bit out of the way of all the goings on in the center of the campground.  “You’re welcome to join us,” he said. “There’s more than enough room.” We graciously took him up on his offer and began work on our camp.  It was immediately clear, however, that we were newbies at this.  Among a number of elaborate camps with electricity, banners, artwork and more we set up everything we had which equated to a couple of small tents and a cooler filled with snacks.

“Is this your first burn?” people would ask.  I never knew exactly what about us tipped them off: the lack of preparation, the awestruck looks on our faces, or possibly the extremely modest clothing among a sea of costumes and nudity.  It didn’t matter, as soon as we uttered the words “Yep, first time,” we were suddenly some sort of special guest wherever we were.  Without hesitation people offered us whatever they had: food and drink, cigarettes and drugs, or just a comfortable seat and good company. The gift economy at work.  It didn’t even matter to them that we’d showed up wildly unprepared and with nothing to offer in return…in their eyes, if we were treated right at our first burn then as we became more experienced we were sure to return the favor at our future burns, make others feel just as welcome and facilitate the loving and giving environment that everyone there cherishes so much.

After settling in and acquainting ourselves with our camp and the people in it, Jane and I set out to explore while Dru stayed behind to work on a leather loin cloth he planned to wear for around for the weekend (remember what I said about costumes and nudity? Yep, loin cloth…perfectly acceptable to wear in public here.).  While exploring we managed to find a campsite with a large sign advertising free pancakes in the morning, a camp that had set up an entire night club complete with DJ and dance floor, and another that was in the midst of setting up a community kitchen with food, appliances, and sinks for doing dishes. Others looked like they were completing equally impressive setups but as it was already dark and the night was still young the large field (called the playa) where the largest camps were setting up was still in various forms of construction.

We finally crossed paths with a group of friends and spent the remainder of the evening exploring, making friends with strangers and just enjoying seeing all that each camp had to offer, until finally the sky started lightening around us and we returned to camp to live out the sunrise with the camp next door and crawled into our tent to sleep away the early morning.

For the first time in years, it wasn’t an alarm clock but sun rays and the warmth of early afternoon that woke me.  Jane was already gone and Dru was still asleep, so I crawled out from the quickly warming tent to seek out the site of free pancakes that we’d come across the night before.  Everyone else I knew was already there with plates of half eaten pancakes.  I hopped into line and received my own pancakes from the camp owner, still baffled by the idea that an ordinary guy, asking for nothing in return, was not only willing but happy to stand over a grill in the hot sun to turn out pancakes to as many strangers as he could feed.  Also…they were DELICIOUS.

The weekend proceeded as it had started, filled with friendly strangers and a never-ending string of new sights, sounds and experiences.  We became extremely close with the camp next door which included Adam, the man in the sarong who’d originally led us into their camp area, Mandy, Lauren, and in a brilliant display of the ‘small world’ concept, one of our real-world friends Ryan.  They’d set up a hammock under a large shade and rigged a mister over it so it was the ideal place to spend the afternoon.  We’d step away every so often to see how the camps on the playa were evolving, or going to cool off in or by the pool, but mostly waited out the day in the cover of shade and helped them to prepare for a curry dinner that they’d planned to offer to any hungry passers-by in the evening.

The night is when the campground comes alive.  As the sun goes down, the camp lights up with lanterns, lights and bulk loads of glow sticks which are handed out freely to anyone who can put them to good use.  At one point I wore a belt of linked glow bracelets and wore even more on my arms…a colorful human lantern.

By the evening everyone was fully set-up and everything was in full swing.  We walked endlessly, dipping in and out of completed camps.  A hookah lounge.  A community trampoline, which by the way was not meant to hold 8 people at once, but managed to without death or injury (though I ended up falling off it backwards the next day).  A camp that consisted of seating and one very large pole for pole dancing. A volleyball court that had become a stage for fire performers. The night club camp from the night before and a camp next door that was offering a full bar worth of alcohol for anyone who arrived with their own cup.  All free, and all, as much as I hate to admit, enhanced by us and everyone else being in various forms of inebriation.  It’s just a part of the entire experience, the culture, part of facilitating the mind-opening whole of the event.

As time went on I found that it was all contagious.  I grew more and more comfortable in my own skin, literally and figuratively, and was able to express the creativity and eccentricity that I’d quelled in public for so long in order to ‘fit in’ or ‘be normal.’  The body that I’m usually so uncomfortable with all of its flaws was suddenly something beautiful, not only to me but to everyone around me.  I adorned my head with a mohawk of white feathers, wore bold clothing and bore more skin than I’ve ever been comfortable with in public.  Dru walked beside me in a leather loin cloth and a headdress of ram horns and synthetic deadlocks.  And rather than the looks of scorn, confusion or fear that we may have received anywhere else, we were revered, complimented and praised.  At one point I was pulled aside by a complete stranger who had seen me and could not allow me to walk away without telling me how beautiful I was, but not just physically.  She explained that she was in awe of my inner beauty, the beauty of my soul, something that you don’t hear very often these days, because not many people look inside people anymore. The world is about facades and appearances, and people have forgotten the true brilliance of inner beauty, but not here.

The three days past far too quickly.  As things started winding down I had begun to feel like I’d finally started to get the hang of things and was already getting excited preparing for the next event.  After discovering that Mandy, Lauren, Jane and myself were all Aquarians we begun preliminary plans to gather again in January for “Freezer Burn” and create an Aquarian themed camp and all talked wistfully about camping together at Flipside, one of the larger burn events, down the road.

We woke early the next day to share breakfast together and with the two camps around us, a feast of all the food that we had leftover and didn’t feel like carrying home. We packed our things, helped to clean around our site, abiding by the ‘leave no trace’ rule, and finally said our goodbyes.

I left the camp and headed back to the real world completely exhausted, and yet more completely alive than I’d ever felt before.  My eyes had been permanently opening to a facets of life that I’d lost hope in or never known about at all.  The spirit of trust, respect, love and charity were still alive somewhere. A place where creativity and eccentricity are appreciated and not feared. And people who still bother to look past your exterior and see the soul underneath.  And, from what I hear, Orfunner doesn’t even touch how incredible the bigger burn events are, as far as art, creativity and scale.  I’m counting the days until I get to go ‘home’ again.

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[Resolution(s)] 3, 55 & 100: Tourism, original art, and one BIG burrito. Part One.

So, it all starts with the fact that my normal homebody nature and health nut status have been completely obliterated by everything that’s been going on these last few weeks.  And, kind of ends with the fact that somehow my friends have been better and more diligent than I have at helping me to complete this list of resolutions (thanks guys!).

Resolution 100: Obtain a Piece of Original Art

I thought for sure I was going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars for this, but it turns out all it take is going to the downtown IHOP at 4 in the morning and being somewhat interesting to a homeless man.

Before recently, I rarely went out (and by “out” I mean to Elysium, the goth club downtown, because I really despise the frat boy types at the other bars) and when I did I was out of there before the last-call traffic started.  But…my whole ‘usual’ routine was kind of turned on its head and I’ve been out quite a lot more than usual lately.

Last Saturday, 4 a.m., out with the usual suspects, we found ourselves at the IHOP in full-on vampyre garb, fangs and all.  We were seated together, the 5 of us, in the very back of the restaurant since evidently the staff has figured out that we’re a little too rambunctious for the front.  The back, however, is right up against the window, and tonight there was a very talented homeless man just outside who was staring in and furiously sketching away on a piece of foam board with a ball point pen.

We noted his presence but immediately diverted our attention back to what we would order.  Until a few minutes later…

He was inside the restaurant next to our table, peering at us all with the artist’s eyes, carefully sketching in the details that he was unable to see from the other side of the glass pane.

A few minutes later, he kneeled beside us and said “I think I’ll call it… ‘A Very Us In Austin, Texas …On a Saturday Night. Saturday Night.’ ”  And put it in my hands.

From left to right is Emma, Brandon, Me, Daley and Logan. And ta-da!  Original art.  And, as a sweet and unexpected twist…I’m actually in it. We all gave him the dollars we had left over, around 10 dollars between all of us I think. I trimmed it up and framed it when I got home and it is now proudly displayed on my bed side table.

It turns out he’s got quite a body of work going, because as soon as this went on facebook people started popping up saying “Oh I have one from him too!” I believe is name was Art Randle, but someone correct me if I have that wrong.  It makes me wonder if we could collect his stuff from around Austin and have an exhibit or something.  Get him a little more money than the few dollars he makes on each drawing.  Just a thought.

Resolution 55: Go to a restaurant, order and consume the most calorie heavy item on the menu.

Have you guys ever been to Freebird’s?  Well, if not it’s a national chain that specializes in burritos. Regular burritos, but also larger-than-your-head burritos.

The hybrid up there is your regular ‘ol burrito size.  You know, the size that a person could take down for a casual lunch.  And it goes up from there.  All the way to the Super Monster which takes not one but TWO 13″oversized tortillas to create.  You go down a line, kind of like a cafeteria, dictating to the burrito craftsman what you would like in your behemoth burrito.

Dru, the self proclaimed expert in creating Super Monsters, had the brilliant idea to knock off this particular resultion with said burrito, and insisted that I let him take the lead on its creation.  Most likely to deter my health nut from refusing cheese and sour cream.

The end product contained, among other things: Rice, Black Beans, Steak, Corn, Pico, Peppers, Onions, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Cheese, Lettuce, Cilantro and who knows what else.

The burrito, pre-wrap.  For perspective.  Or this, its size in relation to Dru’s mouth.

It’s a big burrito.

I was hoping I would never know the EXACT amount of damage I did with this thing, but nope…the Freebird’s site has a handy little chart for being able to calculate just how many calories are in that monstrosity. And, while I could have gone with one of those cream laiden dished at Macaroni Grill, or bothered a master chef about the calorie count in his richest concoction…I’m pretty proud (possibly a little ashamed) that I managed to consume the better part of a

2,162 Calorie Burrito

I say the better part because we actually split the thing between the two of us.  It took some real poking, prodding and jeering to get me through the last few bites of just my half. I used to think that I could probably take on competitive eating, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Not if 1,081 calories of burrito can knock me on my ass the way it did. Given, It would have been even better reading to say that I ate the WHOLE Super Monster, but oh well, not everyone can be blessed with super eating powers.  Plus I may have lost a few readers due to sheer disgust.

Anyway. To commemorate a successful burrito feast, our obligatory “Super Monster” made from the burrito’s foil wrapping.  Mission Complete.

In Part Two:  Being a Tourist in My Own City.  Stay tuned.

[Resolution] #24 Paint (with a twist!)

I come from a long line of artists. I even like to call myself one sometimes, but if I’m really honest, I never really honed my “hand” skills like drawing and painting.  I’m much better with a keyboard and mouse which evidently makes me a “designer.” But, artist or designer, or not, painting is one of those universally cathartic activities.

Now, take that catharsis and add red wine…and you have Painting with a Twist.

I know its brilliant, you don’t have to tell me.  Many a famous artist is rumored to have had his drink as close as, if not nearer than his brushes, but Painting with a Twist is not just a clever moniker I made up for getting wine drunk over art, it’s actually a business.  Someone took art and alcohol…and now makes money off of it.  And, I gladly gave them mine.

The lovely ladies in my life (Jenn, Nicole and Bernadette) decided we were long overdue for a girl’s day out, so we put in a reservation for a two hour Saturday class at Painting with a Twist.  For $35 they give you the canvases, the aprons, the paint, the space and the teacher…and you just provide the alcohol.

That’s Bernadette.  She’s happy to be there.

The class went a lot like one of those Bob Ross videos. The painting we were doing even had “happy trees!”  I was a little disappointed when the teacher didn’t actually call them happy trees, but hey, we can’t all be Bob Ross. She did take us through step by step, creating Picasso’s out of all of us non-painters.  In no time we were mixing paints, blending colors, and actually creating something that looked like real art.

Progress Shot

It’s a pretty fast paced class, I’ll admit.  I went in thinking that it was going to be a leisurely paint slinging where I could afford to hold a wine glass in one hand and a brush in the other, but not so.  Perhaps it’s a brilliant method of sobriety control.  We were so absorbed in our artwork that we all managed to get through just about 2 glasses each before the end. I didn’t realize how much you have to cram in to get a whole painting done in 2 hours, but it’s quite a bit.  Even a simple landscape scene has complexities I wouldn’t have even thought about.  Kind of makes me respect painters even more.

Here’s the finished product:

I signed it and everything.  Real artist.  Right here.

Now here’s the twist in the story.  What kind of artist would a be without a tortured soul-wrenching story, right?

Not two hours after I got my painting home, without even enough time to decide what wall to put it on…I stepped into the other room for just a few minutes. When I returned, my dog was laying on top of the canvas, paint chips and canvas shreds everywhere.

I cried.  I’m not joking.  Just flat out broke down over it.  But, luckily, they do another one every single day, and we’re already planning our next ladies’ day out and I’ll get to try again.  And this time will hang it on the wall far far out of my naughty dog’s reach.  And I’ll just have to cherish the memories–and the photograph–of this first go around.

[Resolution] #1 Get an Arm Tattoo

I went back and forth about this for a long time.  There’s a lot less stigma around tattoos these days, but I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t worried about my tattoos drawing judgement from strangers or preventing me from getting future jobs.  And, a tattoo on the arm is–well–not that discrete.  Especially in Texas where long sleeves are appropriate about 3 and a half weeks out of the year.

The thing is, though, what the heck am I doing if I’m prevented from doing something I really want to do because I’m worried about what other people will think or say?  In fact, my boss of all people said it best. In response to the statement “I’m just worried about future jobs and stuff…” he said “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be working for the kind of people who won’t accept you with tattoos.”

I hope he meant it…because today I showed up with one big a** tattoo.

A beautiful one, though.  And, one that I am completely and utterly in love with.  I usually have “tattoo remorse” after I come back home with a pretty big piece.  I stare at it constantly and analyze whether or not I’ll regret it when I’m 40 or 60.  I wonder what my grandkids will think. This one? Not so.  It really is a piece of art and I’m GLAD it’s not discrete.

I have Katja Ramirez at Perfection Tattoo here in Austin to thank for this one.  I searched long and hard for an artist that I thought would really turn my pretty vague idea into something stunning, and by vague I mean I walked in and said “I need a deer, a wolf, and the cosmos.”  She took it from there.

The deer and the wolf and two of my spirit animals, as I know them.  I know, I know.  I actually told that to an older gentleman today (he asked) and he called me a “fucking hippie.”  In a nice way, if that’s possible.  The whole concept of spirit animals is kind of…uncharted, I guess would be the word.  There’s no definitive way of discovering what yours are; it’s mostly animals that you’ve had a strong connection with since childhood, or animals that show up frequently in your dreams, or there’s even a few psychics and clairvoyants who can read them for you.  For me, it was a combination the first two.  But, on top of having a spiritual connection with them, the deer and the wolf are powerful symbols on their own that both have a very special meaning to me.

The Deer

Deer symbolize the powers in nature that are not easily subdued.  They are native to every continent except Australia, thus they are able to adapt very well to many habitats.  They represent instinctual energy, independence, and regeneration…This instinctual energy that deer represent tells us to trust our gut reactions, because those instincts will tell us when to fight or flee.

Deer also symbolizes the gentle, enticing lure of new adventures…But there is also a cautious element to deer.  Their antlers grow behind the eyes and offer protection…

Deer has many sides—deer is powerful and feisty, cautious, adventurous, and protective.  But deer has great individuality, calling for people to trust their instincts and trust themselves.

(via pure-spirit.com)

The deer, I feel is my “full-time” spirit animal.  The animal that I am most like spiritually.  Gentle, a symbol of unconditional love.  They are a symbol, as mentioned above, of independence and the lure of new adventures, a lure that has had its hook in me since it was in my power to seek out adventure on my own. And, protective, looking out for those they love. I feel that I will always have that spirit of the deer in me.

The Wolf

[Wolves] are seen as teachers, instructing us in our daily lives and all the troubles that go with them.  The lessons wolf teaches are not always easy to swallow, but nevertheless necessary.  Wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty, and spirit.  Wolf has the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments, and often need to trust their own instincts.  Thus they teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds, and have control over our own lives.

(via pure-spirit.com)

Unlike the deer, the wolf shows up in my life only sometimes.  Mostly (and by mostly I mean exclusively) in dreams.  Without fail I will dream of a wolf when I am having a hard time listening to my heart and intuition, often when I’m facing a difficult time or life-altering decision.  Why, then, do I have one immortalized on my skin?  A constant reminder.  To listen to my heart and intuition at all times.  It’s the one thing in life that I constantly struggle with, with the exception of my ongoing sugar addiction, but I’ve pretty much given up on curing that.

The placement is symbolic too.  The deer appears on the front of my arm, always visible when I look at my reflection.  The wolf is near the back, not readily visible to me but there when I need him.

The Cosmos

The cosmos are the third symbol in the tattoo.  They’re a simpler symbol to me, just symbolizing my growing interest and understanding of the universe as a whole and all the dimensions in it, including the spirit world.  Like I said, I have a hard time trusting intuition, and therefore have a hard time giving myself completely to a belief in the spirit world at times. Though I’ve always known and believed that it exists, the extent and focus of my beliefs fluctuate dramatically.  The cosmos are less of a reminder and ongoing lesson, and more of a marker of my mindset at this point in time.

Recommended Reading

If you’re interested in more information about spirit animals and symbolism, there are three really great books that I highly recommend:

“So what the hell, leap.”

Happy Leap Day everyone!  The only holiday we get to celebrate only four years.  And happy 10th birthday to anyone out there who is NOT 40 today.

I thought long and hard about how I may commemorate this year’s leap day. I thought about making a ‘leap list’ (the new Bucket List thanks to some sticky Honda marketing) but that’s pretty much what my resolutions are all about.  I thought about cliff diving or something but…I had to work today.

I did take a little leap, or rather a roll, this weekend by rolling down a hill in this thing:

No joke.  It’s called the “Texas Sphere Ride.” You crawl inside that ball, get strapped to the side, and they let you go! Down a hill.  Sounds simple enough, but scared the you know what out of me and was the best adrenaline rush I’ve ever had at the same time.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing we did this BEFORE lunch.

I also celebrated by Mom’s biggest leap by fulfilling Resolution #52 and leaving her book for someone else to read in a coffee shop in Gruene, TX. I watched my mom spend years and years writing her book “Reunion on the Rainbow Bridge” and it took her more courage than I can imagine to publish it and put herself in the public eye with a very personal account of her parents’ unbelievable love story and a number of very personal and sometimes controversial stories of past lives and reincarnation.  I encourage everyone to check it out if any of that sounds awesome to you.  Because it is. 🙂 You can get it at bookstores everywhere (usually in the New Age section) or here on Amazon.com.  Unless of course you live in Gruene.  Then you can pick up a free copy at this coffee shop!

Still nothing for the day-of Leap Day, though. So, I had to settle for stretching my artistic muscles and creating this out of one of my favorite “Leap” quotes. For your Leap Day Pleasure.  Enjoy!