Because I can't ever just tell a goddamn story in the right order

This continues the story I started to tell in my previous post

For me, the extent to which I find myself entangled with people I know because of things that happened on the Internet has served as a kind of constant reminder of the forces of chaos constantly at  work in our lives. Hell, the result of the random number generator behind the "Next Blog" button has led to palpable real-world consequences for me. Which, in the scheme of things, is unremarkable. Random events govern what happens on any given day in any given life, but individually they can be easy to miss. On the Internet, however, there are records, and you can find your way back to the literally random input that changed everything with a good enough memory and, of course, Google.

As it happens, the story that I kind-of-sort-of started to recount the other day happened because of a hat. More specifically, because I decided to change my profile picture on the dating site that I only ever joined because of a test that Bone posted about on his blog, which Pia also took and posted about on her blog.

Did uh, did anyone else do anything with that site besides take the quiz?

The photo in question is the one that I've been using for my avatar. As it happens, when you change anything in your profile on OKCupid, its algorithm gives you a bump. One of the people to whom my profile was bumped clicked through specifically because of the hat, the long hair, and the pirate flag. Her name is Emily, and she's a human statue performer, a leatherworker, a filmmaker, and a firespinner. The first time we hung out, about a year or two ago, we spoke for two solid hours sitting atop a 300 year-old crypt. The second time was at Figment Boston, where we sat in a dome littered with rose petals, pedaled to keep the music playing while people danced, and just generally appreciated the fuck out of the various works of guerrilla art taking up temporary residency on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. She told me that there was a sort of bigger, week-long version of Figment that happened every year out in the woods of Vermont called Firefly, and that she'd be going for the first time next month.

A month later, it did not take very long at all for her to convince me that I needed to be at the next one. Really all it took was the name drop of the camp I mentioned in the previous post. She and a few others had formed a small sub-camp within it called the Bad Faeries, a concept which she intended to visit upon next years festival in full form. A plan slowly took form over the course of the year, and three art grants were applied for and received. There would be a hookah lounge, a faerie wing creation station, a dj setup, a dance floor, a bar, and a horde of mythological creatures shrunken and suspended in light-reactive liquid hanging in jars all over the camp. The bar was my responsibility.

At first, when I thought I'd have funding (or the spare cash to underwrite the project myself), I'd intended on building a machine out of wood, rope, and pulleys that would, from the perspective of the thirsty visitor, pour measured amounts of uncooled booze at the pull of a lever into a bubbling cauldron spewing colored mist, from whereupon a straight-up, undiluted, cold drink would be conjured. It's a marriage of barcraft and stagecraft I had wanted an excuse to build for some time, but which ultimately wasn't in the cards. As plans shifted, it also became clear that there wasn't room for, well, anything else in any of the cars or trucks going up to Vermont. I would be heading up with six buckets, some twine, some duct tape, and twelve pounds of dry ice. I would, presumably, figure it out when I got there.

I was riding with Helen, who I would also be bunking with for the trip.

Oh, that's right, I haven't introduced you all to Helen. Dear readers, this is Helen. We've been together since November of 08

She moved to the Boston area after having traveled to the city the previous September, along with about a thousand other nerds (myself included) from various locales who showed up at the coordinates cited in this xkcd comic. She and five other people who met there moved into an apartment in Somerville, which became one of the main places where people in the newly formed social circle of xkcd fans in the area gathered. Yadda yadda yadda now we live together. Anyways, there was time during the drive up to experiment with the excess dry ice that didn't fit inside the foil-and-styrofoam box that actually stood a chance of keeping it in solid form for the duration of the trip. I learned two things.

(1) dry ice is awesome
(2) carbonated iced coffee is weird.

When we neared the location, there was some signage to the effect that The Event was in the direction that an arrow was pointing. Attendees were forbidden from posting the address or coordinates anywhere publicly, as part of the idea of a Temporary Autonomous Zone is that nobody goes there who isn't on the bus, so to speak.

Writing this now, it seems obvious that there would be parallels between Firefly and the many, many mass camping events I attended as a Boy Scout, but upon arrival the familiarity came as something of a surprise. The slow line of cars filing into the dusty parking area, lugging equipment and supplies uphill in a hurry, encountering people at various stages of the same process that you're undertaking and receiving/offering assistance to strangers at random... the principal difference was that there were no adult leaders to tell us that our entirely functional methods of setting up camp were wrong, and no Tenderfoots who needed their hands held. Indeed, there some were inexperienced campers around, and I did offer my assistance to a few of them, but not one of them was my responsibility, and as I had been Senior Patrol Leader the last time I had been in a similar situation, that was refreshing.

The other difference, of course, is that some people had already begun to eschew clothing.

While it's true that the Scout motto is "Be Prepared," the most important thing I learned as a Scout was how to compensate for my own under-preparation. For instance, while Helen and I had a camp stove to work with, we (I) had forgotten to do anything to, you know, make sure we could still cook food if it was raining. We did, however, have a poncho, some trash bags, some duct tape, and some twine, so I made this.

It worked alright, but I'm still a little embarrassed by my overuse of the clove hitch

There is something intensely satisfying to me about just fucking winging it that I wonder how much of my life can be explained by my subconscious actively seeking that "hey, look! I didn't fuck up!" high that comes when you pull something useful and functional directly from your ass at the last minute

And I do mean the last minute. It started hailing soon after I got that stupid thing done.

Which brings us back to the fucking bar.

I was in the middle of a full-on panic about the prospect that I would have nothing to show for Friday's Wild Faerie Rumpus until I finished building the above-pictured makeshift shelter for the stove. At that point, it dawned on me that I had retained the ability to make shit happen in the middle of the woods with few tools. Plans to go around seeing if anyone had an extra table were shelved and I gathered some branches.

The thing one needs to remember about building things out of things you find in nature is that there is a limit to the extent to which you get to have a plan. The shapes of tree branches are formed by chaos, much like anything that grows. Also, you should probably be using actual rope to tie the branches together, and not weak-ass' twine. So while this project started with me lashing together what would be the legs and securing a basic shape of a frame in a manner that one generally ascribes to someone who knows what he's doing, it eventually became a matter of weaving branches together and shoving sticks into empty spaces until nothing moved (in carpentry, this is referred to as "shimming," and is done with a great deal more precision). When the structure was done, it looked like this

Two of those legs were added after it became apparent that it wouldn't stand with only 4

Once I was convinced that it wasn't going to collapse , I hung buckets from some of the branches that were left sticking out behind the bar, in which I placed liquor bottles. The buckets were then filled with water, and, when nighttime came, adorned with different glowsticks. To chill the booze, and produce a visual effect that I neglected to photograph because I had gotten too caught up in the realization that I had made something almost as cool as what I'd originally intended, the dry ice was added to the water. The mist from the buckets was lit up by the glowsticks and it looked like I was practicing some form of mystical arcane art. You know, besides mixology.

It was rad. Y'all are just gonna have to trust me.

Instead, here it is in daylight minus the special effects, from the front

...and the back

I got the bar set up in time for the party, where I served a total of about six people.

Yeah, not as many showed up as we'd hoped. This was the first year at Firefly for the Bad Faeries, and there were some hiccups that cost us in terms of visibility. Most notably, the generator that Emily-- who due to an emergency didn't make it to camp until Friday-- broke the bank to acquire didn't make it to our site. As such, the lights weren't on for the first couple of days and we didn't get a lot of attention. Those who did come by liked what they saw, and for good reason. Check out the hookah lounge

Now, the reason events like Firefly are called "burns," is because, like Burning Man, the two main gatherings involve the burning of effigies. The first effigy, burned on Friday, was, wait for it, a Firefly.

This photo was taken before the bug was finished, but you get the idea. Wings and lights were added (though the lights were removed before anything was lit), and the hollow space inside the head became a treehouse. There's something more than a little neat about being able to hang out inside a future bonfire.

On Friday night, there was acrobatics performance to live jazz, followed by a parade of spinners dancing around the bug twirling flame swords (and one huge fire axe), fire fans, rope darts, and flaming hoops there were also a couple of firebreathers, as well as a dude with a flaming skeleton marionette.

After some pretty fucking astounding fire dancing, one spinner let out a war cry and lit it ablaze, at which point the dancers joined the crowd. One by one, the limbs burned off, followed by the wings. After the structure was no longer recognizable as a bug, a drum beat began, and everyone who was still there began to dance around the fire, getting closer and progressively less clothed as the flames burned down.

At some point, I had to ditch, because I thought there were going to be people who were going to want their whistles wet. It is entirely possible that other things happened after that, but I cannot report them.

The second burn is of a temple. This is a smaller structure, made of store-bought wood rather than branches, which had been standing since the start of the event, with markers provided so that people could write their anxieties on the walls.

I didn't write anything down, but I did make my own contribution to the blaze. After the temple had been consumed beyond recognition, I tossed the bar into the fire. The temple burn is about unburdening, and while I was proud of the thing, it had been a major source of stress for me leading up to and during Firefly.

A moment later I exhaled and it all left me. We sat around the fire, howled at the moon, and eventually headed back into the woods to see what was left to be experienced


  1. Cooper5:10 PM

    Ah, you are experiencing life. That is good. That is an awesome creature created for burning. I imagine it is something of nightmares.

  2. Aw, were you worried I wasn't?

    It was absolutely stunning to watch it burn. I can't speak to it being nightmare fuel as I've never had nightmares involving bugs or fire, but it's certainly not something that's easily forgotten

  3. So this all started (for you) because Bone took a test and I wrote about it whether I took it or not. Wow!

    Haven't read  the first part yet but will.

    And loved finally seeing Helen :) The room took me totally back in time