Burning Man, Day 1

i arrive early, packed and ready. there are things everywhere. all over the lawn, the backyard, spilling out of the front door and onto the porch. the bus is not even in front of the house yet. the bus we need to pack and drive away. people are moving slowly, and without apparent purpose. i am confused. i was told to be ready, that we would be leaving in an hour.
this is the conversation i have with myself:
type a, sit down and shut up. there is no need to be on time anymore.

several times, i hear the phrase, "it doesn't matter. we're on vacation". it's true. nothing matters anymore. we are on vacation now.

the bus is loaded. it takes several hours. it takes so long, we won't be able to reach our first destination in time. we drive one half hour south. we stop at a shitty motel. we pile in, three to a bed. some of us sleep in our clothes.
this is the conversation i have with myself:
type a, get ready for all kinds of un-hygiene.

we get up, have breakfast, we get on the road. i miss my boyfriend terribly. i want to cry i miss him so bad. i read my book. i stare out the window and start many letters in my head to him.

there are arguments about the butterflies. where to put them. if we should put them. when we should put them. finally, we decide. we get the butterflies. we put them into the bus. we cram them into the bus. it takes all nine of us to get them in. we get them in. the sky clouds over. the air is cold and damp. soon, i think. soon. soon i will be under a merciless sky. soon the sun will bake my skin. soon i will be brown all over. soon i won't remember the cold.

we arrive at our second hotel. i still don't understand all the inside jokes. i am sad and i miss my boyfriend. i try whittling a crochet hook out of chopstick to keep my hands busy. it doesn't work. i throw newly purchased yarn into a bag half full of oranges and forget about it. we sleep. we awake. we drive.

finally we arrive. the sun is hot. we are greeted by a smiling naked man and two diminutive women in black leather knee high boots and goggles. i am told to make an angel in the dust. i do as i am told. i am told to swing a metal rod at a bell and declare, "i'm a virgin". i do as i am told. everyone tells us, smiling, "welcome home". i don't understand what they mean.
this is the conversation i have with myself:
type a, don't think. just go with it.

we set up in the half-blinding wind. the sun is obscured by the dust. we are cranky. we are tired. we are arguing over the best way to get a tent up. we have forgotten to eat. we cannot tell if we should push on or give up and sleep on the bus.

we work till the sun goes down. we exhale heavily, in between gusts, confounded by the wind. we use makeshift weights to hold things down. we stand with our hands on our hips and we are pushed like sails and we survey, first our camp, then the distance. we estimate what time it is. we estimate how long it will take to set up the other shelters. we pace. we guard our eyes from the dust. we comment about last year's wind. we calculate and re-calculate.

we eat. we take long swigs of water in between short sips of wine. we eat slowly, steadily. we slump in our chairs and lean against one another. we do not speak much except to thank our host for the food. we try to make jokes. we rest. we clean up. we stumble to our tents, to the bus, to the water truck. we try to find what comfort we can. we sleep.

this is the conversation i have with myself:
type a, this is where you will live for the next seven days.

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We Have No Bananas… But We Do Have Fresh Children

Okay, okay. I know I'm supposed to be telling you about Burning Man. And I will, I swear. There is so much to tell you, so you won't be disappointed that you had to wait this long. But, I mean, honestly. How can I possibly start? At what point do I jump in and just start rattling it all off? My plan was to sort of break it down, day by day, make it sequential and all, just to make it easy on us both. Stretch it out and write down the epic adventure that it was. But, because it was just that life-changing, and because I haven't had one spare moment to myself since I got home to really write one single eloquent thought about it, and because, within 72 hours of getting home, I jumped on a plane to NJ to visit my family, and because I have been completely distracted by this gorgeous stretch of beach I am staying on, I am going to stall and tell you about something far more interesting. First, first, I am going to tell you about the meat department at the Strathmere, NJ, Acme Supermarket. But first let me tell you why I'm at the Acme in Strathmere, NJ, in the first place.

My sister and I are visiting CLH's cousin Renee (and her husband Steve) in south Jersey. Renee just had her first baby. Back in February, she asked me to be with her during the first few weeks of the baby's life and I said yes. I was so honored when she asked me I actually broke down in tears. So, being here with my sister is a big deal to me. Renee is the oldest of CLH's gaggle of cousins and I have always felt a special kind of kinship with her.

It's also a big deal, because, up until a few years ago, before my peers started having kids of their own, I was scared to DEATH of having children. I mean, really, really scared. And the fear was multi layered. The first layer had everything to do with my fear of psychologically screwing the kid up. And I had a whole litany of excuses to defend my when-hell-freezes-over answer to the question of motherhood. There was the Well-I-don't-want-to-bring-a-child-up-the way-I-was-brought- up-and-aren't-we-all-destined-to-repeat-the-mistakes-of-our-parents argument that I used for a long time. And then there was Well-there's-so-much-to-know-about childrearing-and-I'll-never-know-it-all-and-i'll-probably-do-something-I-should-have-known-better-about-and-what-lawyer-is going-to-defend-a-mom-that-should-have-known-about-honey-and-botulism-and-newborns? argument.

Several thousand dollars and years of therapy later, my attitude is: it doesn't matter what I do, the kid's gonna need a few years on a leather couch himself to work out all the stuff I've absolutely blown as a mom and it's gonna be okay. He'll have a long list to work on, of course, but, then again, who doesn't? He'll probably cite Mom's annoying ability to deduce that BOTH SIDES of an argument are valid. Her obsession about the order of the spice drawer but utter disregard towards the mold in the shower. Making him eat tofu. FORCING HIM TO LISTEN TO JAZZ.

Whew. So, after that was all cleared up by the psychologists, the second wave of neuroses hit. And these stuck around for years. The ones having to do with my physical ability to actually extrude a living thing from my lady parts. I have a short torso, people. Not exactly baby housing material. I've been known to faint at the thought of getting a paper cut. Cough syrup gets me high, and a single cup of coffee? A single cup of coffee can turn my heart into Kool-Aid Man: it will burst through my ribcage wearing Bermuda shorts and yell "OOOOOOH YEAH!" to thirsty, despondent children. Given all this sensitivity, how in the hell would I be able to withstand hours, nee, DAYS, of excruciating labor pains? How would I be able to endure the morning sickness? The heartburn? The lower back pain? The sleepless nights? Not to mention the parts no one talks about: the way your nipples get cracked and hard from breastfeeding. The perineum tearing and the subsequent stitches. The -gasp- hemorrhoids, people. Let's not forget the hemorrhoids. How could a person whose heart can't handle a common breakfast stimulant handle the endurance needed to squeeze a very large thing from a very small hole?

And then I was invited to witness a live birth. In 2001, my best friend's sister was about to give birth to her second child, and she invited me, CLH, and a choice few other folks to be present for the birth, which was to take place in her home. And sure enough, it was all my worst nightmares come true. I could hear the wails of pain from blocks away. I was nearly frozen with fear before I even stepped foot in the house. When I got inside, I didn't know what to do with myself. My friend's sister volleyed back and forth between gut wrenching moans and making happy, idle chatter as the contractions got closer and closer together. I was beside myself with fear and confusion. My modesty radar self destructed as this naked woman let herself be led from one position to another by the midwife, and finally into the birthing tub by a small army of people. Naked! Naked, pregnant, and wailing and moaning like she was dying. I didn't know what to pass out from, the primal fear this wailing triggered, or having my mind implode at the sight of so much pubic hair in public.

And then the baby came. And no one died. And the sister was in control of her birth experience the whole time. And she was happy afterwards. Really, really happy. And the baby was happy. And both were healthy. And the world didn't explode and no one bled to death and I made it out without fainting.

And it was after that birth that I got to thinking, wait a minute. That wasn't so bad. Which led naturally to, Hmmm. Hold on a second. I could probably do that. Drastic, right? Like, what kind of a logical jump is that? Like, I, too, could probably skydive over an active volcano blindfolded! But I've figured out that it's not logical, this whole child-rearing thing. It's supposed to do things like turn your world upside down and make you think that pushing a wiggly, pokey, bundle of flesh out of your body while being consumed by the worst pain of your life is actually rewarding.

Which is why I eventually had to shove aside the stream of unending questions that issued forth from my over-thinking brain after witnessing this birth. Like how on earth am I going to calm a crying baby in public? A crying baby that doesn't speak English. Or spend leisurely hours in the ethnic food aisle at the supermarket with a toddler? Or listen to This American Life uninterrupted EVER AGAIN? How am I going to take a shower when it is old enough to crawl? Doesn't the baby need 24 hour supervision? Doesn't it have the ability to snap its own neck? Doesn't it suffocate when it's laid on its back before the age of six months? Or is it the stomach? JEEEZUS, I DON'T KNOW, JUST LIKE I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE HONEY AND THE BOTULISM. And the next thing I know, I am tearing my hair out and screaming, Oh Dear God, I've killed my baby because I wanted to take a shower.


And I tell you all this because I feel so honored to be in this baby's life with this entirely new perspective on parenting. It makes being here feel like I've worked through a lot of issues and come out the other side a little more wise, and a little more, well, adult. And it gives me an enormous appreciation for the hard work it takes to be a parent. And that sometimes, despite your best efforts, your kids still do things to disappoint or embarrass you. All your lessons about manners and appropriate public behavior go right out the window and you have to just regroup and start over and that's okay too. And that, sometimes, your greatest work can come undone in the meat department of an Acme Supermarket.

So, my sister and I are standing in front of the fish case at the Acme supermarket here in Strathmere after a long day of driving. We're making a special seafood dinner for Steve and Renee and we're arguing over the amount of shrimp we need. The supermarket is so poorly stocked, we're wondering if there's been a war down here in Strathmere and that Steve and Renee just forgot to tell us. We're hot, we're tired, we've got low blood sugar, and we're trying to make a dinner out of mouthwash, flounder, and ice cream, the only things left in this supermarket. While we're waiting for our fish to be weighed and packaged, a group of three adults and a boy come down an aisle and pause a few feet away. The boy looks to be about five years old or so. He slithers away from the adults, and while they are talking groceries, he furtively writes something in the condensation on the outside of the meat case. He scurries away, thinking that no one has seen him. But of course, having been around a newborn for a few hours, my mommy senses are heightened, my kid-tracking-beam is turned up to eleven, and I have been watching this kid out of the corner of my eye the whole time.

The shrimp is handed to us just as this kid sidles up to his adult supervision, and suddenly, I see what he's written on the glass.

maet butt.

The kid has written "maet butt" on the glass.

I'll spell it once more just in case you're not wiping the tears out of your eyes yet: maet butt.

And suddenly, all the fury inside my sister and I over how much shrimp to buy and the fact that we're starving but there's not one piece of edible produce in the whole joint... well, that just melts right out of us and we are holding our sides we are laughing so hard at maet butt.

Because THAT little prank? That is what makes all the hemorrhoids in the world ALL worth it.

Welcome to the world, little Tre.

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10 Days In The Desert

I'm going to Burning Man. I'm leaving in two hours.

It feels good to get that off my chest.

There is so much to say about it... but right now, my brain is a messy pile of spaghetti, so bear with me as I try to get this all down in one-pre-life-altering-event post.

I'm all atwitter with nervousness. Usually I would liken my emotional highs and lows to the typical roller coaster ride. But this? This has been more like being vaulted off the end of a see-saw at irregular intervals. When I first accepted the invitation (from my charming, freakish friends) they agreed to pay for my ticket if I took care of paying for things like water and gas and the like. And immediately I began my volley into the stratosphere. My first thought upon seeing my printed ticket?


Remember how I loathe the idea of a contrived community? Remember how I hate constant noise? Remember that whole episode in the Flight Path Of An International Airport? Remember how I like to BATHE? And eat fresh fruit? And sleep in a real bed?

Before I saw the ticket though, there was a whole OTHER set of things to worry about . The second I said yes to this whole affair, I became obsessed about one thing and one thing only: sex. All I'd ever heard about Burning Man, and all I knew (from friends who have come back) is that something snaps inside people when they go and they come back wanting to do things like change their names to be more in line with their new-found purposes in life. (Thing like Ruby Greensleeves or FeatherMoonbeam. You know. Totally normal.) They also want to do things like sleep with everyone. EVERYone. Because Burning Man makes them realize how sexually repressed we are as a society. And that we should be boinking a WHOLE lot more. So, why not start with your neighbor? And then your neighbor's girlfriend? And then your neighbor's girlfriend's neighbor?

Did I mention that CLH is not going?

Okay, so I did a little talking with CLH and with my hosts and I think I have calmed down about it. I mean, I didn't say yes to this whole experience so that I could try my hand at polyamory... but I am only human. And I am probably breaking about fifty social taboos right now, but I'm just going to admit that I am human and that I didn't know how resistant I would be to the lure of new ideas about monogamy. I think I can safely say now that, after weighing just how special and unique my relationship with CLH is, and after seriously considering what "experimenting" has done to other couples I know, I am quite sure that my pants are going to stay on the whole time I'm at Burning Man.

So, now that that's all cleared up, there's plenty of room for the next set of neuroses. Enter: how do I live in the desert with no cell phone, no computer, limited resources, and no way to escape the constant visual stimuli? I mean, I have never, ever had to pack, not even on the most "extreme" backpacking trip I have even been on, stuff that would literally make the difference between a good time and a helicopter trip to the hospital. I'm already a Nervous Nelly when it comes to new environments and people I don't know. Add in my-ahem-issues with a certain grain and my intestinal fortitude, a 48 hours bus ride, closed in spaces, and, well, I'm breaking out in hives just typing this sentence. I need to bring EVERYthing I might need to survive (food, shelter, clothing, and a feather boa) for the next ten days. In the extreme heat of the day and the frigid temperatures of the night.

Of course, I love me some heat. But, desert heat? For ten straight days? With no relief except the occasional 75 mile per hour blinding, must-wear-goggles-and-masks windstorm? The kind that has the power to blow coolers and lawn furniture and whole tents into the next state? The tent that is my ONLY PROTECTION FROM THE SUN FOR TEN DAYS?

I've made several dozen packing lists. I've pulled every mumu, every glittery eyeshadow, and every kind of skin lotion out of the closets, stuffed them into four blue totes, and have allowed near-perfect strangers to load them onto a giant yellow school bus festooned in silk butterflies.

Oh. My. God.

I texted my friend Tara yesterday while I shopped for wigs and blinky lights, and she reminded me of my formerly brave self, the self that was not afraid, in 2004, to buy an RV off the side of the road and then drive it home, on a downhill, with no breaks. Tara and I do stuff like that.
We started chatting about what we could have done had that RV actually been drivable.

Tara: I just picture us wicked hot and broken down on Route 66, meeting a guy "selling glass" while he follows Wide Spread Panic or some other jam band. We buy weed off him and then line dance at the biker bar all night. Some guy in tattoos reads us the poetry he recently wrote about open roads and the purr of his Harley.

I hope Burning Man is EXACTLY like that.

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The Other, Not As Rad, Lauren Ziemski

Hey, Twitter followers:
It has come to my attention that there is another Lauren Ziemski out there and that she's an actress living in California and that she Twitters. And that you may have thought she was me, so you started following her, and she's on to you. So sorry to disappoint, but I have not signed up for a Twitter account yet. My iPhone is in the shop (on the shelf, unbought) and, well, do you really want to know what I had for breakfast? Oh, wait. You're the Internets. OF COURSE you want to know what I had for breakfast.

Anywho, I Googled my name and this other Lauren Ziemski showed up first in line. Who would have thought there were two of us? Maybe there is even a THIRD Lauren Ziemski out there, some uber-creative woman with tons of devoted fans who want to know via Twitter what she's having for breakfast. Alas, I am none of these Lauren Ziemskis. And I am definitely not as rad as the actress, Lauren Ziemski. She says so right here:

I am not a stunning actress having a wine pairing party hosted by an amazing chef on Venice Beach. In fact, I am sitting slumped in my office chair, listening to sound of the garbage truck down the street, drinking tea with a moody name like "Earl Grey Skies", or something like it, and Googling my own name. That's right. I am Googling my own name. I don't have anything else to do with my time today. That's what you do in 2009 when you're bored. You try to find yourself on the Internet. That last statement is a hot mess of potential philosophical discussion designed for some we-don't-give-out-grades school, but we don't have time to talk about ideas here. We are busy posting about what we ate for breakfast.

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Electric Stove: 1, Me: 0

So, one of the more unpleasant things about living in a rental unit? Having to get re-used to cooking on an electric stove. I have been cooking with gas for four years now (two years in my prior rental unit, and two years in the house In The Flight Path Of An International Airport), and, boy oh boy, what a difference a flame makes! Everyone warned me that once I went pilot light, I would never go back. Man, were they right.

Last week, I attempted to make my first pot of popcorn on our new electric stove. (Sidenote: CLH and I eat, on average, four bowls of popcorn a week. We've been making it on the stove from scratch for years now. CLH loves the classic melted butter and salt kind, but I fancy the more eclectic toppings... things like olive oil and nutritional yeast.... or sesame oil and minced seaweed. If you've never tried making it from scratch, I highly encourage you. It take minutes, it costs pennies, and believe it or not, it actually fills you up. I especially like to eat it in bed while reading. CLH, however, decidedly DOES NOT LIKE popcorn in the sheets. He's fussy like that.)

So, last week, I made the popcorn the way I have for years. Only, that method DOES NOT WORK on an electric stove. Turns out that the popcorn KEEPS COOKING even after you turn the heat off. Because that coil? That heinous heating element best suited for campstoves? That red hot spiral of menace? IT'S STILL HOT even after you turn it off. So, when I "turned the heat off", what I actually did was change the temperature from "branding-ready hot" to "third degree burns hot". Not much change there, you see. So, the popcorn burned. It burned bad. It burned so bad that, even now, seventeen scourings with white caustic powder and a green scrubbie pad later, it is still encrusted with carbonized corn matter. The pot got so hot (and stinky) that I had to put it out on the steps of the porch to cool it down. Which is where I took this picture.

Since then, the stove and I have made peace. It was actually the tea kettle that made this whole cooking-with-electricity thing clear to me. You're supposed to REMOVE the cooking vessel from the heating element when it is done heating! Otherwise it screeches at you! Now I remember! It's all coming back to me. Next week's lesson: Learning which setting means "not scorched" on the clothes dryer.

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