Who knew getting hated on could be so rewarding? To date, the essay I wrote about my Burning Man experience (see above) has been read 50,000 + times. This might be normal for other writers, but since I’m usually locked away in a long form narrative, this shit never happens to me.
I’ve felt elated, proud, shocked, seen, and – hurt. Because there’s also been a lot of backlash. By readers who hate Burning Man in general and thus hate the article (which is such a curiosity, to take the time to read AND comment on an event you’ve never attended but loathe intensely … Burning Man is so charged like that). And by Burners themselves who hate – well, me. Or at least what I wrote, what I represent, “everything that’s going downhill about Burning Man.” To get backlash from the community stings a little. Okay, a lot. I got called a Sparklepony. In Burn culture, this is very, very unflattering.
When I look back at what I wrote, in the midst of unpacking the rental van, hair ratted, bike chafed, picking playa dust out of my eyelashes, mourning the loss of my sleep schedule, hoping we wouldn’t get charged a cleaning fee on the van, getting charged anyway, catching up on bills and checking in with family, yeah I cringe at how obnoxious the article is at times. But in that haze of post peak experience deadline drama, I had no time to self-censor, no time to organize my thoughts beyond a brain dump of what the experience was like inside my neurotic, self-judgmental mind.
I agree with some of the detractors. I wasn’t there for my camp as much as I could’ve been, admitting lugging grey water in apocalyptic heat was the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done was a pretty embarrassing window into my privileged existence. But the comments that piss me off are the ones that refer to me as “just another pretty white girl.” This means my experience isn’t valid? This means I can’t have a point of view?
Would it have made a difference if I’d divulged that I’ve spent the last year as caretaker to my very ill father? That getting to spend a week feeling alive in the desert was the antidote to our endless ER visits. And that before that I was holding space for my boyfriend when he got run over by an SUV, breaking both legs and spending months in a wheelchair. And that he and I got our Burning Man tickets as the goal on the horizon when he would walk again. And that even though we’re not together anymore, my ultimate Burn highlight was when we found each other on the playa under the moon, marveling that he could not only walk but dance and ride a bike, and we held the solar shower for each other as we took little bird baths and discussed our favorite art installations.
If I’d shared all that, would it have made a difference?
Or is that just something a pretty white girl would say?
With that said, now I’ll do the only thing you really can do in life: focus on the light.
In this case: the positive feedback the article has generated. Readers who’ve shared El Guaco-esque experiences of their own, and the owner of El Guaco himself, who found me on Facebook to say El Guaco is his playa contribution because he’s an introvert and this is how he feels comfortable interacting with people.
Some other things I need to say:
–My heart is heavy for the man who ran into the fire, for his family, for those who witnessed it. I didn’t address this in the article because I wanted to gently shine a light on all the other aspects of the experience. I don’t have anything poetic to say about it, just had to acknowledge it.
–I love bike culture at Burning Man. It’s such a return to childhood, riding around with your friends, your bike posse. It’s the perfect example of the duality out there, hedonistic activities happening simultaneously as you get in touch with your inner child.
–Something needs to be said about baby wipes at Burning Man. They are a gift from heaven. That’s all.
–To save face, I know I should write more about my previous Burns, in response to the commenters who wrote that it’s sad I’d been 4 times and was still such a “spectator.” But that’s another article for another time. And I’m pretty ready to be done with Burning Man for the year.
The last thing I want to say is I’ve had haters before. I wrote a sex column for a semester in college that was so divisive I got both applauded by my First Amendment and Society professor, and nearly kicked out of school. Being the center of such turmoil was thrilling, and embarrassing. It was right after my mom’s death and I was in a very “fuck it” place in my life. I’d be lying if I said the backlash didn’t affect me deeply. I wanted to hide for the entire year following. What’s changed in ten years? Then I was writing for shock affect, this time I was authentically expressing myself and my experience. I think I just have a somewhat salacious way of moving through life. I’ve also had ten years of rejection and disappointment to get me primed.
Okay, controversy. Okay, Burning Man. I’ve said all I can say. I’m done. For the year. Or longer. Or not.
Last week, I saw myself on the big screen for the first time. I didn’t realize until it happened that it was a moment I’d been waiting for my whole life. Even more radical was the fact that the screening was at the famous Chinese theater in Hollywood, and the piece I had in the festival was an episode of Girl Behind the Glass, something I’d written and created in addition to being on-camera. A surreal experience to be sure, and one I could get used to.
Along with this new milestone, the evening also marked the death of the project. Girl Behind the Glass was the series of videos I filmed as a Box Girl at the Standard Hotel, a performance art installation in the hotel lobby featuring a live model in a glass box going about whatever she feels like doing for all the world to see. I had submitted in the webseries category of HollyShorts Film Festival and by the time I was notified of my acceptance, the series had been put on indefinite hold.
In short, because I told the Standard about my lil guerilla series, hoping to collaborate with them, and their response was to fire me.
I’d loved being a part of the guests’ experience at the Standard. I’d inherited the gig from Beth, who was a Box girl for about a year before me. It was the weekly gig that got me out of my writer’s seclusion and into the glamorous buzz of Sunset Blvd. I finally lived the reality of “If only I was trapped in a box I’d get so much writing done.” And I did. I wrote the pilot of Johnny and the Scams in the Box. I also sketched, painted my nails, caught up on emails, pretended I couldn’t see people seeing me, took selfies, and ultimately — started filming myself.
My vision for Girl Behind the Glass was to create a next-era variety show, featuring clips of artists from around the world, musicians, painters, photographers, hosted by a girl in her white undies in a Hollywood glass box. I pushed myself to finish writing, filming and editing within the four hours of my Box shift, making it a practice in trusting my first creative instincts. I experimented with mediums I’d been itching to explore, like spoken word and video art. I was able to incorporate Machete’s desert video Sleepwalking into the episode that screened at Hollyshorts, so her work got the big screen treatment as well.
Finally, to put it plainly, the Box gig made me feel sexy. And interesting. I’d usually take my comp employee meal in the 24-hour Standard diner after my shift, work on whatever I’d been writing in the Box, have Beth meet me for a milkshake (best in LA!), or just observe the other patrons, who didn’t recognize me with clothes on. Look at those who’d been looking at me. A few times I was asked to model for the official photograph of that month’s installation for the Standard website.
The only thing we couldn’t do in the Box was sleep, though sometimes I got dangerously close. The biggest risk was being too comfortable, forgetting altogether I was on display. Once I remember spying a hair my razor had missed behind my knee and plucking at it, then realizing this wasn’t an attractive activity for the crowd gathered in the lobby.
For me, being the girl in the Box was the sort of artsy, edgy, sexy cool gig my inner Gardnerville girl had always wanted. Along with signing up at Central Casting and being hit on by a slimy producer, being a Box girl is almost a rite of passage, the “ingenue in LA” thing. The gig was validating, literally “be seen, not heard” which felt good in some twisted, objectified way on my nerdy, over-thinking writer’s brain. I did things I never do, like wear black thigh-highs with a bowler hat and shop at American Apparel (for my white undie “uniform”). I also thought the concept was really cool. So simple, just a girl sitting there, but so riveting. Watching a human be a human. Tilda Swinton started sitting in a box at the MOMA the same week I started at the Standard.
You get the picture that I loved the job. So you understand my disappointment when I shared my guerilla webseries with the hotel and they not only didn’t want to collaborate with me, they fired me. At first they said the videos were cute, they just had to make sure I could be filming. They’d “get right back to me.” They never did. Then they took me off the schedule. No explanation, just a stone wall. I was seriously bummed out.
My hunch is it was a legal thing, but I’ll never know. The gig couldn’t have lasted forever, I’ve climbed new rungs of the Hollywood ladder and it’s better to say I was a Box Girl than I still am. At least I went out pitching an idea I believed in. And I certainly had fun. Coming up with the title of the series was hilarious (Hot Box? Fox in a Box?), and once I ran into Josh Hartnett and friend in the lobby and had pizza and beer with them. The show has a life on YouTube, and I’m glad my first big screen moment came out of it. By the way, HollyShorts absolutely rocks, those guys are doing more for emerging filmmakers than anyone out there. The night of my screening I also loved the film Join Us, by writer/actor Brooze Lenzi. It’s about cults, in a way you’ve never seen. Check it out, stat.
I’ll always have those moments when I first hopped into the Box for the night. My shift was 8pm – midnight, and a DJ played in the lobby starting at 9pm. But the first hour was quiet, Zen-like. It was like being hermetically sealed in a fish bowl, or a diorama at a museum. “Observe the 21st century twentysomething female!” And I reflected on my life as such. What was I creating right then? Who was I loving? For much of that year, my life was a series of boxes — the Standard box, hundreds of boxes of books for my non-profit job, the mysterious box that kept popping up in a script I was writing. It’s now tempting to write a wordplay on living “outside the box.” But I won’t, because you get the idea. I do miss being a part of the art, and the vanity validation of it all. But it’s good that I’m out of the box. It’s easier to breathe out here.
You might judge me for posting this. What follows is an email I wrote to Beth while applying for food stamps. It was a very low point for me, inside my mind, my heart, my wallet. I legitimately needed assistance, but my decisions alone had led me there. When I decided to leave my nice steady job doing social media for a non-profit so I could lead the “artist’s life,” (write a book, write a movie, film that movie), I wasn’t truly prepared for what I’d done to myself. Financial instability is normal in your early 20s, forgivable in your mid-20s, and bordering on pathetic in your late-20s. At any point I could cash in my college degree and get a big-kid job, but I’m stubborn. I dream big. They say “You can’t do that” I hear “Prove to us you can.” The three or four less-than-part-time jobs I juggle that cobble together a less-than-livable income means I have freedom and time. Sweet time, the essential ingredient in any creative output. For my writing, I’ve forsaken security, “success,” and at times, sanity. I doubt myself daily. “I might be in the gutter but I’m looking at the stars” is on repeat in my mind. Maybe I’m just an entitled child of the Nineties. I don’t propose an answer, I’m just offering a glimpse at my reality. Maybe I should amend the question: How far is TOO far for your art?
Hello Beth….I am writing you this from the food stamps office of Los Angeles social services, Glendale branch, where all signs are written in English, Armenian, Spanish and Cantonese. I love the diversity of L.A., that never wears off. Im sitting here eating my humble pie and feeling more amongst my peers–the down and out surviving day to day real folk of this city–than I did at the indie music fest i worked over the weekend with the faux dirty hipsters with their complicated haircuts, practiced air of indifference, overdosing on urban outfitters and drunk on smart phones.
I am so relieved something like social services exists…I came straight from a credit counseling appointment in which i was informed i can’t afford credit counseling. Ha! Irony! I am in an income drought and the bar job i killed myself over bounced both their paychecks to me. I have $40 for the next 5 days, which makes it a good week. So i do legitimately need these food stamps. But i was given every advantage a person could want in this life, a happy home, college education, my health. Does it make me an asshole to now be needing this help, or strong for facing my truth and reaching out? i can’t/won’t ask my dad for help. I can’t/won’t go on dates for dinner, because that’s just casual prostitution, trading my sparkle for filet mignon.
The most positive outcome of these last few months in the hard scrabble is I’ve come to view the entertainment industry in a new way. Those nights i would come home from the bar, depressed and exhausted, i found the only relief from my thoughts to be in watching movies. And i didn’t want complicated, artsy fartsy high-minded narratives, but to laugh and be entertained.
I look around this social services lobby and see my audience. I don’t want to make movies for privileged white kids living in fashionable disrepair, for art school graduates and their 10 friends, for snarky internet critics and their need to produce content (negativity sells).
I want to uplift and engage these souls here at social services, not because being poor is noble, but because they deserve relief from the misery that is modern life. You know me, id love to have them over to my place, make them a snack and roll them a joint, but i can’t do that (not enough parking at my apartment/too broke for weed)…but i can plot stories for them, let them live inside magical kingdoms and see the shores of foreign lands. We need to remember THAT’S the power of making films: moving images delivered to those who would otherwise never see/feel/experience what we caught on camera.
When Hollywood makes schlock, slasher flicks, super heroes, video games come to life, they’re making it for these souls. But “entertaining” doesn’t need to mean “dumbed down.” High-concept doesn’t need to be low-soul. Lets strike the balance, make stuff for the film school students AND the immigrant mom of 5 sitting next to me, wrangling her kids in 2 languages.
And lets get ourselves some vegetables at the store, because hopefully Im going to have food stamps when i walk outta here, and I’ll be dammed if i use them on processed meat, refined sugar and the other fake foods I’ve been eating for years, which has kept me contained as an American robot, another cog in the happy meal wheel.
And need to go be in nature, where nothing is rushed, and the moon waxes and wanes, because perfection is the harmony of both darkness and light.