Ruminations from the playa

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At Burning Man this year, I had one especially rough day, and I think the people I was camping with could tell. As evening settled in, I was standing near the street watching the crowd roll by and the head of our camp came over and said, “Tell me what you think. What do you make of all this?”

I hesitated and said, “You’ve caught me in a pretty cynical moment; I’m not sure you really want to hear what I’m thinking.”

He said, “No, go right ahead, lemme have it.”

I took a deep breath and plunged into it. “Well, I’m thinking about all the time and effort and money it takes for me to come here. And then I multiply that by the 80,000 (more!) people who are on the playa this year. And I can’t help but wonder… really? Is this the best use we can make of all that focus and intention? Surely there’s something bigger and better we could be doing with all those resources.”

He nodded thoughtfully and said, “I hear you. That’s a totally valid question, and one I’ve pondered before.” He paused before continuing, “Here’s the answer I’ve come up with to that question, for myself. When you think about how much time and effort you put into attending the Burn… well, I’ve run this camp for several years now, and there’s a lot of gear and planning that goes into it, so I can assure you I spend a lot of time thinking about whether it’s worth all the hassle.”

(Editorial note: This guy runs a theme camp that is the biggest, baddest BDSM play space on the playa. He constructs a huge public play space, with all manner of associated furniture, gears and toys. Epic in scale.)

He continued, “Each year at Burning Man, I see people come into the camp who have never even considered anything in the realm of BDSM before. And their eyes get as big as saucers. And they end up discovering something about themselves that they never even knew existed, a whole ‘nother side to themselves that they had never even considered before. Something they never had to opportunity to explore, or never felt safe enough to explore, and they found it here. I find that to be pretty amazing. For me, that makes it all worthwhile.”


That thought has really stuck with me. I had already been thinking a lot about how much easier it is being a Portland Burner; we’re physically so close that simply getting to playa (including all your camping gear and toys and art projects) is vastly simpler than it is for someone who lives in Indiana. Or Toronto. Or Israel.


But this is yet a different issue on top of that. I live in Portland. I live in a city that has an annual bike ride of ~10,000 naked people through the heart of town, and it barely makes the papers. I live in a city that has a guy who rides a unicycle, while wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader mask, while playing bagpipes, which also blow flame. And we’re so used to it that we shrug and say “Oh yeah, him.”


The Unipiper


Which is to say, I think it’s easy for me to take for granted how much freedom, how much personal liberty I have to express myself in this town. All things considered, Portland is a pretty supportive environment for radical self expression. And so many people do not have that same confidence about where they live. I met a number of people on the playa who spoke openly about how the playa was the one place where they felt like they can truly express themselves, the one place where they can meet like-minded people, the only place where they can “let my freak flag fly”. It’s good for me to remember that I am in a really fortunate place, compared to such folks.


Oh jeez, did I just write a blog post about “Portland privilege”?

My life doesn’t suck

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This afternoon we walked out the front door and noticed all of the young families on the street; adults making chit chat while their toddlers wobble and weave among them, squealing and shrieking. As we walked to the car, Girlfriend 1 said in a sing-song voice, “Going to the sex sex, we’re going to the sex shop.”

Oneonta Gorge

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One of the items on my list to explore this year was Oneonta Gorge. I finally made it happened, and was so overwhelmed I’ve done it twice more in the last month.

First let’s talk about gorges. Most people in this area are well familiar with the Columbia River Gorge; it’s the river bed between two tall bluffs of stone, right along the border of Oregon and Washington state. And it’s big, massive, large enough for the Columbia River to flow through.

Branching off from the Columbia Rover Gorge is the wee little Oneonta Gorge. By “wee”, I mean it’s a short passage, only one mile back from the road, and it’s a narrow slot of a canyon, only about 30-feet wide for most of the walk. But the slot is deep, well over 150-feet tall. (I’m horrible about estimating distances; don’t hold me to these figures.)

When you leave the road and scramble down the hillside to the creekbed, there’s an immediate log jam to cross. It’s about 20-feet tall and maybe 60-feet long. Slippery rocks and wet, barkless logs make this a non-trivial passage. On the first time I did this hike, there was a fellow nestled in the logs, doing a watercolor painting of the scene.

A fellowing painting at the log jam of Oneonta Gorge


Once you’re past the logjam, the path flattens and there’s a pleasant wade through the deep, mossy ravine.

Mags posing in Oneonta Gorge


As you get even farther back, there are a couple of places where the water gets deeper and you have to wade through fairly deep water, up to your chest. Hold your backpack high if you care to keep it dry!

Kat wading in the deepest part of the Oneonta GorgeOnce you’ve had your adventures in wading, the falls are in sight!

The water from the falls is all snow melt, but wading through the creek isn’t too bad; the water runs through enough shallow creek bed and has a chance to warm up a bit. But the pool at the very back of the gorge, at the base of the falls, I swear it’s a good 10°F colder. Brrr! But it’s so amazing, so stunning that people can’t resist swimming in it. The bravest swim to the back and climb the rock wall to jump into the pool.

Bobo posing at Oneonta Falls


And finally, here is your intrepid blog author, posing at the falls.

browse posing in front of Oneonta Falls

If you’re local and it’s a hot day, I would love to introduce you to this sight; it has become one of my very favorites.

The Green Menace

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I found this site a couple of days ago; it’s scraping streetview data to show the urban decay of various properties in Detroit over the past several years.

Creeping Green Death

I’ve looked at it several times since the initial viewing, and I’ve had very different reactions each time.

First it was just “Ooof, Detroit looks rough, and it seems like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

When I looked a day later, I found it heartening how quickly nature will reclaim a space. Within the space of a year, some of the houses are almost invisible under a layer of foliage.

And then I looked another day later, and I suddenly viewed the encroaching greenery as menacing. Like zombies, the plant kingdom is marching towards us, slowly but surely, trying to choke us out and wrap their creeping vines around our necks. Looking out my back window, there’s a row of raspberries with menacing briars, and past that a line of grape vines that make annual attempts to engulf my trees. “Look out, they’re coming right for us!”

Yesterday I went hiking in Forest Park, and took a break in the middle to lie in the shade under the fronds of a fern. I thought about the vegetal threat, and then started picturing it from the plant’s side. I can just picture the fern cackling to itself. “You fool, you’ve fallen right into my clutches. Yes, that’s right, nap in a carefree fashion while I bring closer your inevitable doom! First I will… hey… where are you going? Come back! Sigh. I almost had that one.”

And then later as I was hiking I could image Carl (the fern’s name was Carl) boring the fuck out of his green brethren for the next month. “Hey, did I tell you guys about the hiker I nearly caught? I swear, he was this big!” “Jeezus Carl, only about a dozen times, give it a rest why don’t you.”

I live an active fantasy life.

On comics

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I read two things today about “comic books” that seemed to be saying separate and contradictory things. And I found myself agreeing with both of them.

Here are the two items:

Superheroes a ‘cultural catastrophe’, says comics guru Alan Moore


It’s hard to speak about these things in public, so he drew this instead

Take a couple of minutes and skim them. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I have some real sympathy for Alan Moore’s position. Comics can be such an expressive medium, it’s sad that (American) comics are predominately focused on superheroes. Such fare is too often dumbed down to adolescent power fantasies and highlights the message that there is no problem so large you can’t punch your way out of it.

But to say that is all there is to be found in superhero comics is too simplistic, almost as two-dimensional as the medium itself.

The genre is also capable of speaking to people who feel powerless, and offering them hope. It can offer the example of someone who fights on in the face of hopeless odds. It can offer moral lessons about helping those people who have less than you, and trying to make the world a better place. And it can offer comfort and hope to people who may feel like they haven’t a friend in the world. And those are the aspects of the genre that Dean Trippe addresses in his piece.

Frankly, Moore’s piece comes off sounding angry, bitter and cynical, while Trippe’s is sad, wistful, and finally just a bit optimistic. I know which essay will echo in my head longer.

Snowpocalypse 2014!

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I’ve been hoping for a good pasting of snow, and February finally delivered! The storm began on Thursday afternoon:

Dangerous Polar Conditions!

Portland Snowpocalypse 2014 Update: Conditions are becoming dire. In addition to heavy snowfall, the polar vortex has raised area winds to dangerous levels. Gusting winds are blowing the whipped cream right off my Spanish coffee. I don’t know how we will survive the night. Send supplies as soon as possible! (Bacardi 151, Tia Maria, TripleSec)

Friday morning came and I decided to fulfill my neighborly duties by clearing the steps and sidewalk of snow.

Melting snow with a flamethrower


Saturday arrived and it is still coming down. Here are a few shots from walking through town.

The Casa in snow

The Casa in snow

NE Sandy

NE Sandy

E Burnside

E Burnside

SE Belmont

SE Belmont

Laurelhurst Park pond

Laurelhurst Park pond












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I’ve been getting more involved with the local Burning Man community in Portland, and for the first time I went to the area regional burn, named SOAK.

Gosh, how to describe it? Imagine if 1200 of your friends went camping together far out in the sticks. With outrageous costumes, fabulous lights, music everywhere, an excess of amazing and sublime artwork. And each night some of the most massive and amazing pieces of art are burning in an unbelievable bonfire. And at the end of the four days, every trace of it is cleaned like we were never there. (You can read more about it here.)



This is my favorite story from SOAK:

Early one morning I’m sitting cross legged outside my tent, tending a campstove. The campground is quiet and still, with only a few people beginning to stir. Down the trail come two girls, and one of them pauses at our camp and looks at me curiously. She says cautiously, “Did I see your taint yesterday?”

I think for a moment. Oh, right. I participated in a “Kilt Walk” the prior day, an event where a collection of kilt-clad men walk over a line of reclining women. “Heh. Yeah, probably. At the kilt walk.”

The other girl looks at me for a second longer and says, “Is your name Robert?”

“Uhh, yeah.”

“You taught me Calculus this Fall!”

Her friend turns towards her with a grin. “I saw your teacher’s taint.”


And that’s how SOAK went for me. 🙂

Lying and Hiding

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately, thinking about deceit in relationships. If you’ve read my previous post, you know why.

Lying was a significant part of my parent’s marriage. My mom was really big on hiding things from my dad. From childhood through my teens, I can remember occasions where I would come home from school and mom would call me from work. “Hey hon, can you do me a favor? Bring in the mail and see if there’s a letter from WhateverCorp. If there is, put it in the top desk drawer and I’ll take care of it. I don’t want your father getting upset.” I can’t even remember where the letters might have been from. I assume it was a past due bill or a credit card charge she wanted to hide or some such. I didn’t ask, she never volunteered.

Which was also a pattern of my family; unasked and unanswered questions. For instance, my dad’s father was just never talked about. I had three grandparents, everyone else had four, and I never asked why. I have a hard time explaining why I never asked. It’s not like I agonized over whether to ask about it or not. It just didn’t seem like an option. It was like some elephant in the corner of the room that no one ever talked about. That’s just how my family was. (And let’s not even talk about the child mom put up for adoption before I was born, that I never found out about until I was 30.)


I never thought lying or hiding was an issue in my relationship with my ex. Until we were splitting up and I discovered the smoldering shambles that was our shared finances. By the time she moved out, I found myself with no car, no assets, and $40K of credit card debt. And support payments, naturally. I slept on the floor for months, because I didn’t even have a bed to sleep in. It took me years to dig out from under that debt. And it left me with anxieties and distrust around money that I struggle with to this day.


There’s a quote that is allegedly from Nietzsche, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” (For what it’s worth, that’s not really what Fred said. His real quote was, “Not that you lied to me but that I no longer believe you has shaken me.” from Beyond Good and Evil. *)

And that’s where I’m stuck right now. I can’t help but think, “This time, when you tell me you’ll never lie to me or hide things from me again, why should I believe you? What makes this time different from the last time? (Or the time before that?)” I haven’t heard an answer to that yet.

Crying Monkey

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My name is browse. (Hi, browse!) And I am struggling with my relationship with an alcoholic.

For a long time, it never would have occurred to me that this person was an alcoholic. And in hindsight I feel pretty stupid about that. There was a history of alcoholism in their family. A large portion of their family … enjoys alcohol very thoroughly. I know this person drank in a very significant fashion in college and after. Multiple times I’ve had to pull over the car so they could throw up on the side of the road the morning after “a little too much”. Multiple times I’ve had them fail to meet me or pick me up the morning after “a little too much”.

Still, I don’t think I really woke up to “this person really has a problem with alcohol” until they became very loud, irrational, manic, and verbally abusive after a long day of drinking. That was the event that really opened my eyes and led me to start piecing together the pattern of behavior. And that realization helped me understand other events that, in hindsight, were largely driven by this person’s drinking.

Thankfully, very soon after that, this person stopped drinking of their own volition. Cold turkey, they stopped for a solid year. And from my external perspective, it was an unquestioned positive change. The manic mood swings smoothed out. The irrational belligerence and confrontations went away. Their physical health improved as well, in a fairly dramatic fashion.

And then, to my profound heart break, this year they started drinking again. There have been some significant external stressors that contributed to their craving for alcohol, for that perceived comfort and numbness that alcohol provides. But it’s been scary. I’ve seen them with a bottle of booze in the car. Drinking in the morning. Drinking on a longish drive. Behavior that scared the hell out of me.

I (foolishly) thought I could help control it. I thought I could say “No more”, and that this person would trust me enough, respect me enough to listen. They swore they would stop, done, no more. And a month later I caught them with alcohol on their breath, drinking behind my back. There was anger and shame and tears and heartfelt apologies and solemn vows that it would never happen again. And then it did happen again. More tears, more shame. But also more drinking, always very carefully out of my sight.

I’m at my breaking point, and I really have no idea what to do. This person continues to be in deep denial that there is a problem. They even bristle and argue when I characterize it as “lying” about their drinking or “hiding” their drinking. For my own emotional well-being, I have all but ended my relationship with them. And that’s killing me. I love them and care about them so very deeply. It’s so hard for me to imagine my life and my future without this person in it. Part of me wonders if I’ve made a huge mistake. I wonder if it would be better if I kept them close, so I could help care for them when they inevitably crash and burn (and crash and burn, and crash and burn). Part of me desperately wants to hear renewed heartfelt apologies and promises it’ll never happen again. But when I’ve been lied to repeatedly before… I don’t know how to get past that, and how to trust them again.


I went to my first Al-Anon meeting this morning. It was a mixed bag, at best. The incessant references to god and “put it into god’s hands” and… it really doesn’t work for this staunch atheist. I’m going to look for a meeting that is minimally religious, but I’m not exactly filled with optimism.

And it’s not like I’m a big believer in Alcoholics Anonymous at all. Other models of treatment seem to have similar or better success rates. I think it’s steeped in dogma, platitudes and religion.

And it’s not like I’m a crusader for sobriety. Certainly, I do not abstain. I drink occasionally, and when I do it’s with the definite intention of feeling some amount of intoxication from it. I don’t see anything wrong with responsibly enjoying alcohol (or marijuana, for that matter).

But I don’t drink alone. I don’t hide it. I don’t think it makes me argumentative or belligerent. I haven’t gotten sick from it or felt ill the next day in… 20 years or more? I don’t drink daily, and in fact often go weeks without a drink without particularly thinking about it.


What really kills me more than the drinking is the lying and the hiding. I look back at various arguments and conflicts we’ve had this year and I can’t help but wonder “Huh, was that a real issue, or was that the booze talking?” And if they are willing to lie to me about drinking, how much else are they lying to me about?


So that’s where I’m at. There has been unfathomable amounts of crying this week. I feel like I have a hole in my chest about a mile wide. I am overflowing with fear and doubt and worry and second guessing and uncertainty.

Bicycling is inherently sexy

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Bicycling is inherently sexy.

This occurred to me as I was commuting home from campus this week. A cyclist was ahead of me, and I found myself mesmerized by the side-to-side rocking of their ass. Okay sure, pedestrians have asses too. But they’re often hidden under a coat or an untucked shirt, sort of flat and just… there. A bicyclist’s ass is on display. It’s lifted up, pushed back, often clad in lycra or spandex, swaying, rocking back and forth. And if they’ve been biking long, their ass probably looks pretty damn good.

The person in the car up there? Hell, I don’t even know if they have an ass. All I can see are torso and arms. For all I know, they lost their ass in a horrible farming accident.

And don’t even get me started on drop bars and cleavage.

Bicyclists. Hell yeah.