Friday, 19 October 2012

Strange Serendipity in San Francisco: Love on Haight

This time last week, something pretty cool happened. The call went out on Shrine's Facebook page, saying he needed some help to paint a store mere blocks from my house. Shrine's work is beautiful, and he created one of my favorite pieces of art at last year's Burning Man. The art car was like a dream, so intricate and gorgeous--it's actually been on this blog before, in a previous post about Burning Man. Here it is:

So I was tremendously excited to go help him make some art happen in my neighborhood. I got the details, and headed his way the next afternoon. Much to my delight, I spotted the project right away: a landmark Victorian, right on the corner of Haight and Masonic. There were lines stencilled all over the outside of the portion that had previously housed a payday check place, and I was given instructions and a pot of paint. I very happily went to work.

While I was intently avoiding blunders in black paint, I started hearing a familiar name. People were looking for Nera. Hmm. I know a lot of people, but I can say with a great degree of certainty that I've only met one Nera. She was a clothing designer I met in Paris, while teaching and performing in the inaugural BellyFusions Festival, years ago. Shortly after our meeting in Paris, we caught up for drinks in London. After that, I spent some crazy years travelling for workshops, moving repeatedly, and was generally pretty bad at keeping in touch.

Imagine my surprise when it turns out that the Nera I had met all that time ago had moved back to San Francisco, not far from the time I also returned, and it was actually her store that I was painting.

There's a lot that I love about this beautiful little city, but serendipity like this seems to be woven into its social fabric. My quest to chase down the magic of a Burning Man art car resulted in a very surprising reunion, and also satisfied my dream of reinvigorating one of our iconic Victorian ladies alongside an artist I admire. As a gentleman said, admiring our work in the rain: "She sure does deserve the love, doesn't she?"

To see more of Shrine's work, go here:

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Burning Man problems.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Let's Save A Beautiful Expanse of Sacred Land!!

Right now, there are two campaigns on Indiegogo that are raising funds to preserve land that has historical resonance for lots of people. These campaigns are of similar size, in terms of their fundraising goals, and both are noble in their aims. One is still a month away from its deadline; the other is two days shy of the finish line.

This is where the differences start. One campaign has gotten lots of attention on social media sites, and has rapidly become a call to action amongst the geek elite. It's in the top results for Indiegogo campaigns. This is, of course, the effort to buy Tesla's lab building and its land. It has spread like wildfire, and the contributions are already stacking up--this campaign will succeed in its fundraising goals, and it will be a victory for people who long to see Tesla's lasting legacy properly recognised and protected in history.

The other campaign is the effort of the Lakota Sioux to buy 2,000 acres of their sacred land in the Black Hills, to ensure that they will still be able to access it for ceremonial purposes. For years, the land has been owned by a family who have allowed the Lakota access. Now, it will likely be sold for "development", and a major road will cut through it. 

While I've read a number of articles on the tragedy of this land's imminent sale, almost none of them had prominent links to the IndieGoGo campaign where the Lakota group is fundraising. I had to dig to find it myself, and since then I've been trying to share it as widely as I can. There are two days left to contribute to the fundraising effort, going on here:

This is a big deal. And it is a goal that is totally possible to reach. It's just much trickier to get the Lakota campaign as much attention as the Tesla one has gotten. As a Tesla geek myself, I can understand why his fundraising has caught on so fast.

And yet--surely the preservation of the sacred lands of an entire nation should be an even more worthy cause to support? It is equally as doable. The story of a charismatic lone wolf is able to inspire action--surely the heritage of a people, and the protection of a rich environment and historical site, should be at least as inspiring. 

Both of these stories are about righting historical injustices, to the extent that we can in the present. However, one of these stories is still alive, in the children of a nation who deserve to live in a world where their cultural heritage is worth saving.

In one of the updates on the campaign, the organiser shares her feelings on the sale of the land:

"When someone asked me today, how would I feel if Pe’ Sla were to be bought by a developer, and destroyed, or paved with a road…. I couldn’t talk for awhile – I couldn’t speak – there was a pain in my chest, and I cried….the person on the phone thought I had hung up 'Hello, hello'. 'Yes, I am here.' How I would feel? How would you feel if your whole way of life was threatened? If a place that was holy and mysterious was covered up by a parking lot? Bethlehem was an amusement park?"

Here is the campaign. Please contribute what you can, and share it on Facebook and Twitter, and wherever else you can.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Burning Man, Tickets and Keeping Bitterness at Bay

Fairness is a loaded concept. In the context of an event that is created from scratch by a committed battalion of artists, visionaries, fundraisers and participants, considering the investment of time and energy that veteran Burners have put in, often over the course of many years, to the creation of the Burning Man phenomenon is crucial. And it’s true—a lottery doesn’t care about that. For many of us, heading out to the dusty desert is going home, and leaving that to apparent chance is a weighty thing. But, changes are upon us, lottery or not.

For all that Burners are often radical and open-minded, when it comes to change, they are pretty much the same as everybody else. When the event sold out for the first time in its history last year, there was a generous amount of talk about the death of the event, that 2011 would be the last year it happened, it was forever changed, etc, etc. There were a lot of people and camps that were shocked to find themselves without the tickets they needed for projects that they’d already sunk money into.

The old way of waiting until the last minute to get tickets sorted was over. Ticket prices climbed and climbed as sales knocked through the tiered price scale. When the event sold out, immediately the cry went up that people didn’t have tickets they desperately needed. And this revealed, I think, that lots would have to change in the future. Among other things, budgets for essential tickets needed to be allocated, and enlarged, before thousands of dollars were spent on projects.

And scalpers. For years, people have been saying how “commercialized” Burning Man has been becoming—and most of these people have never been, and really have no idea what they are talking about. Commercializing Burning Man is a tough notion, what with the near-complete absence of commerce in the place. There are no official sponsors, no advertisements. There is increasing demand from first-timers, however. A lot of these are would-be tourists, adventurous frat-boys and festival enthusiasts who want to head out to the desert on a lark.

Demand is now greater than supply. There is a limit on how many people can be on-site for Burning Man each year; the calls for more tickets to be released smacks of ignorance regarding the delicate desert environment that sustains the festival. Contrast the leave-no-trace ethos of Burning Man with the filth, destruction and thousands of abandoned tents after each Glastonbury Festival—Burning Man needs to be about leaving a small footprint, otherwise the event will lose its permit. So there’s a cap on total numbers of attendees.

And the question has now become: How can Burning Man tickets be distributed to the community that makes the event happen, and how can those tickets be kept out of the hands of scalpers?

The truth is, for Burning Man, more than for any other festival, who goes really does matter. For all of the first-timers, there needs to be a weighty balance of patient veteran Burners who make sure that the virgins learn how things work; that those baby Burners are respectful of the environment, and don’t bring loads of trash to throw on burn piles. Veteran Burners know what it takes to build a camp, assemble an art installation, organize a clean-up crew and look out for each other’s safety in an extreme environment. They set the tone of the community, among all of those having their first transformative excursion.

In this game of chance, the lottery has probably gone some way to keep tickets out of the hands of scalpers, who really would make Burning Man only a game for the wealthy. The first-come, first-served method doesn’t work for an event that has proved it will sell out—scalpers, whose business revolves around getting tickets faster and in greater quantities than any average attendee of the event, will win that game every time. And that would destroy the event. Truly.

Because, you know what? For all that a lottery doesn’t care about your years of investment in the event, a scalper sure as hell doesn’t, and scalpers won’t care for a price many times higher than the face value of the ticket. And, the price of scalped tickets aggressively selects for a demographic that is less concerned with living light on the land; Burning Man becomes a luxury safari in this scenario.

If Burning Man attendance is determined solely by the market (read: scalpers), it will be an ecological nightmare. This is to say nothing of the content of the community itself; as a friend noted, “I fear this year might end up being a lot of people in RVs waiting around all week for the event to show up.” We really need for the people that make the event to be there.

So, I propose a few solutions. The first, and perhaps least palatable, is that those with extra tickets should prioritize veteran Burners over first-timers. Period. While I have lots of friends I would love to have out there with me in the Black Rock Desert, I wouldn’t want to have them out there for a big, touristey shitshow. I’ve heard people say that, in the past few years, there seems to be more and more first-timers and fewer veterans. Quite frankly, we need the veterans. We need people who prioritize the hard-won glories of building a city in the desert over the comforts of an RV. We need the crazy luminaries who throw thousands of their own dollars into constructing monumental art in which we are all immersed. These same people keep the fire burning year round, holding regional events and installing art in new homes after their desert glory. They positively change the world around them by being steadfast, and they have earned priority in this ticket scrum.

Secondly, everyone needs to commit to linking the right people to the right resources. If you don’t have spare tickets, your job isn’t over. Right now, the likeliest scenario is that extra tickets are around you, as are people who need them. Keep your ear to the ground, and stay true to keeping tickets in the community. Out of tens of thousands of tickets sold this week, I have only seen about one hundred listed opportunistically on StubHub. While those few are disheartening, they are few. The rest of the allocated tickets are likely in the hands of family and friends, who are also likely faced with some tough choices about who gets to go. While this may be hard or seem unfair, it’s probably better that people with an actual interest in the event are tasked with helping get people through the gate.

Thirdly, if you don’t have a ticket this week, don’t give up. Register for Burning Man’s secondary sale system (STEP), and try to get a ticket in the March sale. Don’t give into pessimism—the dust has not yet settled, and however disappointing and suspenseful this process has been, bear in mind that it’s not over.

Finally, we need to reassess how we approach big projects and planning—and entitlement. Let’s not spend our time crying about chickens we counted before they hatched. Instead, let’s figure out how to get manpower to projects that need it, and let those with tickets be mightily invigorated to do something great for Black Rock City. Because if you have a ticket right now, you now have the responsibility to do something awesome and contribute. Big time. Starting now. Build something. Collaborate with projects that are underway. Think about your investment in the community. Rethink how much of your budget is about your own comfort, and reallocate resources to making this city spring up in all its fantastic glory. This event literally is only what we make it.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Faux Neverland

Getting ready to Peter Pan around the wilds of San Francisco.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sh!tshow: Or, a Poop Helmet Party

Some time ago, I promised to follow up my blog post on tricks for keeping skin happy despite the rigors of performance makeup with a post on hair. As ever, I am late with this, but I hope that a flamboyant title and photos of me covered in what appears to be goose poop will make up for the delay.

For years, my hair has been a key identifying feature—when there’s more than one Kim around, I’m usually the redheaded one. It may be of some surprise that my natural hair color is not in fact red, but rather blonde.

I grew up with inspiring redheads like Red Fraggle, Ariel, Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking. My first foray into the ginger realm was at the age of twelve, when I used a temporary red coloring to great comic effect. It wasn’t until much later, when I was out just out of high school, that I revisited red hair, and that time it went much better. Thus began a longstanding relationship with Feria, which I broke off over three years ago in favor of henna, which is the topic of this post. (For those who have met my husband: our natural coloring is nearly identical, which has of course led to more than one joke about our potential relation to each other. But I digress.)

Henna is a plant—lawsonia inermis—which has been used for thousands of years to color skin, hair and nails. It works by releasing an organic compound, lawsone, which is able to bind to keratin, a protein present in hair, skin and nails. Henna has gotten an undeserved bad rep, thanks mostly to the impatience of the 20th Century, but prior to that it had a long and illustrious history as a beauty aid and auspicious ornamentation for special occasions.

Henna is not to be taken lightly, however. The only method of henna coloring I’d recommend is using either pure henna powder or Lush’s wonderful henna bars. Anything else, and especially anything that comes in a box marketed as “natural” hair coloring, I’d avoid like the plague. Most of the horror stories about henna turning hair green or frying hair come from the admixture of chemicals, especially metallic salts, which are meant to reduce the time it takes for henna color to develop on the hair. (In some of these boxed “herbal” hair colorants, there may be little to no henna at all.) When using pure henna, be prepared to allow several hours for the lawsone to saturate the hair; anything that promises to do the same job in less time is using chemical trickery which can produce very mysterious results should you decide to change hair color down the road. (It is chemical reactions between the hidden nasties in these “natural” colorants and other products like peroxide which has lead so many stylists to be negative about the use of henna.)

The single best reference I’d recommend to anyone contemplating the use of henna is Catherine Cartwright-Jones’s Henna for Hair, which is available as a free ebook from her website of the same name. Cartwright-Jones has devoted herself to the research of henna’s history and use, and her reference is an excellent guide to those curious about using this ancient method of beautification. The Wikipedia entry on henna is also a good place to start—in fact, the section detailing henna’s history as a hair dye features a photo of the very henna bar I use on my own hair.

Henna is for the dedicated. I started researching henna for hair after several years of using synthetic dyes. I did lots of testing on samples of my hair to see how the color looked over the synthetic dyes, and I also tested re-coloring over hennaed samples to be sure that I wouldn’t have any surprise chemical reactions should I decide to change my color down the road.

I would not recommend henna to anyone who changes her hair color frequently; however, if you are interested in a lovely, stable, conditioning red color without the use of burning synthetic dyes, it is a fantastic choice. With henna, my hair has never had the instability of color that I battled with synthetic dyes, and the dryness and breakage I used to experience is a fading memory. My long hair has more shine and life in it now than it ever did before.

Okay. Onto the poopy stuff.
I use Lush’s Caca Rouge bar to get my hair as red as can be. Lush’s bars have some advantages over powdered henna, in my opinion: they are pure henna powder, with fragrant spices, bound together with cocoa butter. This makes them wonderfully conditioning, and the scent is more akin to a spice cabinet than the usual freshly cut hay aroma of henna alone. Also, Lush’s bars (which look like giant blocks of chocolate) have lines that allow the savvy user to chop off just the right amount, or come up with recipes for colors by incorporating bits of various shades. (There’s also a Caca Brun, Caca Marron, and Caca Noir, which are more brunette, chestnut and black-blue, respectively. These mixtures contain coffee or indigo to balance the coppery red of the henna and produce different hues.)

Aside from the henna block, there’s some other equipment required. A metal bowl that can double as a bain marie is handy. A grater is good for taking that brick of henna down into a powdery form. Rubber gloves will keep the henna from coloring hands while grating and applying it. A pick or sectioning comb is good for parting the hair as henna is dolloped onto roots. I also use two black hand towels, plastic wrap, and duct tape—we’ll get to that later.

The first thing I do is get all my equipment lined up. Once all the henna is on, I want to be able to grab everything quickly and easily, or have it prepared for my lovely assistant. (I highly recommend having one of these handy as well—my husband is usually drafted for duty.) Also, do any damage control necessary before starting. Henna doesn’t stain most surfaces as fast as synthetic dyes, but it does make a mess, especially on fabrics. Henna’s lawsone pigment doesn’t turn things orange as much as one might expect, but the leafy greens do come out on towels, sheets and fabric shower curtains, making tenacious stains. I have a special pillow that’s reserved for henna nights, and I also put dark sheets on the bed just in case. While I’m getting my equipment ready, I also safety pin one of my black hand towels around my pillow.

If this talk of pillows and bed linens has raised an eyebrow, let me explain—I’m going to sleep in the henna. In order to get my deep red color, I leave the henna on for at least eight hours. Like I said, this is hair color for the hardcore.

Next, I put the kettle on. I boil a lot of water, and I make a cup of tea. Then, I get my gloves on and grate that bar of henna down to nothing. I recommend watching TED talks while doing this; it takes a while, and is a bit of a workout.
When it’s all done, I have a bowl of fragrant green powder. This bowl goes on top of a pot with about an inch of hot water, which I then simmer to gently heat the henna in the bowl. To this, I gradually add enough of my (now slightly cooled) hot water to form a paste—and I have to be careful. All of the liquid I add to the mixture will eventually be on my head, and it can drip throughout the night. Since the Lush henna bars are full of cocoa butter, the warm water and gentle heating will melt the solid fats in the powder, so less water is necessary than one might initially expect. I keep adding water and stirring until I have a thick paste, something like a cake batter or thick yogurt.

I should emphasize that this is really the tricky part. Boiling water (or boiling the paste) brings out brassy tones in the henna, so it’s important to be gentle and not overcook it. Also, getting the consistency right is crucial for all that comes after—too thick and there’s less henna to go around and poor coverage, too thin and the henna is tricky to put on and prone to running. However, this is also one of my favorite bits, because I feel like a witch, stirring my cauldron of fragrant herbal magic. Y'know... poopy magic, but magic nonetheless.
While waiting for the henna to reach a less torturous temperature for my scalp, I divide my hair into two sections—one from ear to ear over the crown, and the other gathered into a ponytail at the back. Henna paste doesn’t slide down the hair shaft the way that runnier synthetic dyes do, so I have to be more attentive to the distribution along the roots. As the henna heats, the paste gradually releases the lawsone pigment, and the color changes from mostly green to more of a brownish red. (This takes 20 minutes or so.) Once it’s a good consistency and reddish, I turn the heat off and let the henna cool a bit before I move the show to the bathroom.

I start with the top section of the hair, beginning at my usual part and working in rows down toward one ear. At each exposed section of root, I dollop henna to either side of the part, and then use my pick to flip the newly poopy hair out of the way, smooshing it flat against the head as I go. I take the hair a little at a time, and try to be thorough, making sure there’s good coverage and that the line between the crown and back sections is also covered. Once I’ve gotten all the way down to one ear, I go back up to the original part, flip the poopy hair over and repeat the process on the other side. Once the whole front of the head is done from the roots, I pile the hair up on top and double check my hairline, making sure that the areas around the forehead and ears look sensible and don’t have any big splotches waiting to happen.

I should mention here that this is a messy process, and there is a risk of dyeing skin if care isn’t taken. However, I haven’t found that henna takes to my skin quickly enough to warrant smearing Vaseline (or similar) around my hairline. Some would say this is risky--do as I do only at your own risk. With mixtures containing indigo, a protective barrier seems to be more important. If in doubt, definitely apply a layer of heavy protective goop to prevent coloring outside the lines, and clean up any plops of henna as quickly as possible.

Once I’ve reached the back section, I call my lovely assistant in from his Xbox. It’s also possible to do this alone, but with eyes mounted on the front of the head, it’s often easier to have a helping hand or two. Applying henna to the back is much the same as the top—starting at the part between the crown and the back ponytailed section, apply the henna, flip the hair up, repeat. Once the whole back section is done, hairline checked, I flip my head upside down and work the remaining henna paste through the length of my hair with my hands. Once the length is saturated with henna, I wind it into a poopy coil on top of my head and pop a hair elastic over it to keep it from shifting around. This is a very, very poopy process. By the end, I have a complete poop helmet. It smells great, though.

Now, I get ready for bed. I have my lovely assistant grab the plastic wrap, and we wind it around the poop helmet to contain any drips. (I prefer to keep the wrap tucked under my ears, which seems to seal tighter and prevents leaks from dribbling directly into my ears.) Then, I use the other black towel to construct a classic post-shower wrap, with a twist—this one gets duct taped in place. Starting with the back, where the longest bit of towel drapes down, my lovely assistant helps me tape around the base of this flattering headgear, making sure it’s snug but not overly tight.

Fully glamorous, it is now time to clean off any wayward henna before accidental tattoos become set. Then, I go to bed as quickly as possible--as the henna sits on my head, gravity starts to pull the excess liquid down, so getting horizontal prevents the drips from escaping from my protective headgear.

Rinsing henna out is an art in itself. The plant matter is like sawdust; in the Lush bars, there’s also cocoa butter to rinse, which requires warm water and patience. My best method for this bit is to run a shallow, warm bath, which I allow myself to enjoy for a moment before dunking my poop helmet in to dissolve. This gets the bulk of it out of my hair. I then drain this mightily green bath (seriously, it looks like Swamp Thing hit it) and then work a generous amount of conditioner through my hair, easing out the little leafy bits. Then, a quick shower with shampoo and conditioner gets everything back to normal. And then I scrub the bathtub.

The color one gets with henna only grows richer over time. With successive application, the color deepens, and even on very dark hair it can add a breathtaking glow that it at its peak in sunshine. There’s also something fabulously particular about how henna looks on any individual’s hair—the tone of your natural highlights combines in a unique way with the lawsone stain, so results vary. The natural red undertones in my hair, which made it a golden blonde in my youth, now layer with the red of the henna to create a deep, natural red that withstands the sun’s rays, chlorine in swimming pools and repeated shampooing. No synthetic dye I ever used could match it.

While this process may seem a bit over the top, in reality the “active time” is about the same as dyeing my hair with a synthetic boxed dye—I sleep through the long part. (As is traditional—often, when North African women do their henna, they indulge themselves in a women’s day full of bathing and napping.)

For all of this henna magic, I have to thank my gorgeous friend Natalia for being the brave pioneer amongst my pals. Without her experimentation with the best ways of wrangling the stuff, I would have stained a lot of things and might have missed out on years of witchery and gorgeous hair. And of course, I owe many thanks to Catherine Cartwright-Jones for resurrecting henna’s history and repairing its reputation. These days, my red hair puts me in solidarity with a fine line of fabulous women, from Fatima to the Pre-Raphaelite beauties and Lucille Ball, and I think that’s worth the effort.