The Powerbear Press

A peek into a perhaps non-typical California mind

Holiday Haze – part 2

December 25th, 2010

Uh, yeah it’s Christmas already. We don’t do a lot of shopping since our families aren’t large and most of our friends don’t exchange gifts, but still the time flies by. We had our video night, went to a midnight movie premier, juggled both a birthday party and a holiday party on the same night, and next thing you know it’s Christmas evening.

Oh, in the middle of all that was the Great Deluge of 2010 – a series of back to back storms that had the San Diego River overflowing into most of Mission Valley. Fortunately our neighborhood is named “Mira Mesa” for a reason – we’re on a mesa – and there was little issue with the rain up here. We did, of course, miss the solstice lunar eclipse because of the storm.

Some of our friends are in the second year of an emerging tradition, that of going to Six Flags a few days before Christmas. This year it was fortuitous that the date picked several weeks earlier turned out to be the first day in nearly a week that the park was opened (see Great Deluge of 2010) and it was sunny. That meant there were more crowds than last year, but it was still a fun day. The only downside of this tradition is that the traffic on the way home can be really bad, so we had dinner to let rush hour pass before we headed south; traffic was smooth all the way to San Diego.

We went to the zoo Safari Park on Christmas Eve day. The highlight was taking the (tethered) balloon ride. Really cool. John was determined to stay on his diet since we knew today would be a bust in that area, so we stayed home last night. Today too. And was great to have some quiet time. We ended up planning a few trips we’re going to take next year. Christmas dinner was wonderful; we went to the Prado for their special Christmas prix fixe menu.

So now it’s back to the regular hectic pace.

Holiday Haze

December 13th, 2010

Wow, I can’t believe the last post was before Thanksgiving. We have a lot to be thankful for this year – both of us in the same city, a home that we could afford on one income if we had, both of us working, and no major health issues. We celebrated with our friends the Mikes, then we got to work – we painted the office and the guest room, installed track lights in the kitchen, and even got the Christmas newsletter done before the end of the long weekend.

Good thing, too as a few days later we had a houseguest. A local theater sent out an e-mail asking if anyone could host a visiting actor for a week or so. Apparently I was the only reply, because they asked me if we could host for the entire run (a little over three weeks). Fortunately he’s very low impact. Unfortunately we don’t really get to see him a lot since he’s working when we’re free. We did get to see the (one man) show and it’s really great.

Speaking of theater, I went on two auditions in the last two weeks. One was definitely a long shot and I didn’t get it. The other is a slightly better fit for my nascent skills, but it is on the far side of town; I’ll hear about it later this week. In the mean time I did pretty well with my monologue for the acting class I’ve been taking and I signed up for another class with the same teacher in the winter. Then in the spring, they’ll be doing a “method” workshop which sounds like a lot of fun.

I took another Disney day. While I was up there anyway, I also stopped by a special shop set up to promote the new Tron movie. Much of the stuff was way too expensive, but I picked up a nice shirt. It started raining later in the evening, so I didn’t feel like spending a lot of time at the Tron dance event at California Adventure, but I could see how much fun it would be a) when it’s dry and b) with a group of friends. Actually I’m enjoying watching the Tron hype machine in action. We’re even joining in a bit – we decided that we should refresh our memory of the old film before seeing the new one, so we’re hosting a bears video night to watch it. I hope the new movie is better than the old one.

Probably the strangest thing we did since my last post was to go to a pizza party at a laundromat. Our friend Tyler bought the business back in the spring, and he was hosting a party to celebrate the new look he’s been working on since.

The big thing careerwise is that I passed the Project Management Institute certification exam. It doesn’t mean any new responsibilities or salary yet, but it gives a little heft to the job title, resume, etc.

On the blog front, I stopped allowing comments. I apologize if I deleted your legitimate comment, but I was getting so much spam that I had to do something. Next time you want to make a comment, e-mail me.

So in a nutshell, that’s the first half of the holiday season. The rest might actually be a little less hectic. We’ve got the gifts purchased, just need to mail a few, and aside from dinner at a nice restaurant, we don’t have a lot of fixed-in-stone plans. Yeah, right.

Bears as Trendsetters – or are we in a post club world?

November 21st, 2010

Earlier this week I went to an event at the LGBT Center where Aaron (from a local internet TV show) interviewed my friends who do the 619BearCast podcast. Part of the discussion centered on the formation of bear culture and one person made a comment to the effect of “we’re moving into a post bear club world”. That got me thinking about how bear culture has evolved over the years. While bears are not known as trendsetters (particularly in the fashion sense), we seem to have been ‘ahead of the curve’ more often than not socially.

Flash back to the late 1980s… Internet access was primarily available only to universities and research labs. Guys that would later adopt the “bear” identification, many of whom worked in the computer industry, began to tinker with the emerging computer bulletin board software packages of the time. By today’s standards they were crude: typically someone would set up a computer with a modem and allow people to dial in (yes, dial in – this was the age of modems) to the bulletin board system and leave messages for others. At certain intervals (usually nightly) these systems would call each other and exchange messages between themselves, so you could literally send a message around the world to other bear oriented sites. Bears began to establish social networks that extended to people they’d never met in person; today we take extended Facebook friends for granted, but then it was an entirely new concept, pioneered mostly by bears.

Skip ahead a few years to the formation of the first bear clubs. The primary models for gay social organizations were leather clubs, the court system, both of which required a pledge period. Some early bear clubs used the leather club model, but most took a less hierarchical approach – the board basically facilitated communication between members who organized group events. I first saw this model with the outdoors club “Adventuring” in DC, and we applied it when creating the Front Range Bears in Denver. Look at modern social organizations – they tend to have more in common with this model than the traditional leather clubs.

The term ‘flash mob’ didn’t exist when bears organized one at the 1993 March on Washington (,_Gay_and_Bi_Equal_Rights_and_Liberation). Through messages on bear bulletin boards and the Bears Mailing List (an early internet bear forum), it was agreed that several bears would meet at the Lincoln Memorial at noon on the day before the March (i.e. April 24). The Park Service employees at the Lincoln Memorial were nonplussed – here was a group of several hundred men with no discernible organizer, yet the all seemed to know each other.

Beauty contests are another area where bears stepped ahead of the curve. Recognizing that every subculture needs to create its own icons, many early bear ‘runs’ (a term borrowed from gay motorcycle club culture, meaning a weekend long event) included some form of a beauty contest. One of the earliest, and the most influential, was the International Mister Bear contest in San Francisco. It established not one, but four “titles” – International Mister Bear, International Grizzly Bear, International Daddy Bear, and International Bear Cub – in recognition of the diversity of ‘bear’ types. This was previously unheard of – in the leather world there was IML, IMsL and Mr. Drummer, but no such thing a Leather Boy contest as there is today; likewise many cities had a Mr. and Ms. Gay Pride, but no Mr. Latino Pride or Mr. Black Pride, as they often do today. Another ‘innovation’ in this area is that the International Mister Bear contest did not (and does not) require ‘feeder’ contests like those in the leather world. Then again, the organizers of many bear runs decided to drop the whole beauty contest idea altogether, or to morph it a less serious form, presaging the parody contests we see today.

With a strong social club structure, online networking, and a calendar of weekend events to choose from, bear culture began to see bars less as places to meet sex partners and more as places to meet friends as early as the mid to late 1990s. This was well before that shift began to occur in other areas of LGBT culture.

As noted above, bears have been social networking leaders for many years. Recently we have seen bears lead the move to location based electronic social networking. The first major phone app for locating men near you was Grindr – and bears represented a large proportion of the first wave of adopters. Even more recently we’re seeing bear-specific apps such as Scruff; I expect to see similar apps for other LGBT subgroups appearing soon.

So, what about the “post bear club world” comment? Yes, in many ways bears have moved past the traditional club concept. I describe San Diego as having “one and two half bear clubs”, the “two half” clubs being internet based networks of guys who organize events for each other. I predict that once again bears are prescient and we will see other LGBT organizations being replaced by online equivalents. Still, there are some bear clubs (Denver comes to mind) that are evolving into umbrella organizations with many subgroups (e.g. book groups, hiking groups, etc.). Likewise some bear runs (which of course require a more traditional club to organize) are floundering (or have already folded) while others are flourishing. As with the internet, it seems that critical mass (the largest events continue to grow) or special niches (e.g. Tucson, whose run is built around Tucson area attractions) appear to be the key to survival.

Maybe trendwatchers should watch bears after all.

Thanksgiving already?

November 19th, 2010

Here we are at the Friday before Thanksgiving. I am amazed at how fast the month is flying by. General recap – we installed track lights in the kitchen (what a difference!), I had a 30 second, non speaking part in a music video, we had a friend from Tucson visit, and I racewalked a 5K, coming in under 35 minutes (that’s about 11:15 per mile – walking).

John is doing really well on the medically supervised diet – he’s lost over 20lbs (9kg) in 5 weeks. He will probably take a day “off” for Thanksgiving, which we’re planning to share with the Mikes and several other friends.

So we’re poised to begin the always-rushed Christmas season a week from today. Wow I hope I can remember to do at least a few posts during all that.

October Recap

November 2nd, 2010

This is the second post today but as noted in the previous post, it’s been a few weeks since I posted. So to recap…..

Not quite done with the Burning Man experience for 2010, I went to the San Diego “Decompression” (a.k.a. “De-Com”), which is a weekend in north county. In many ways it was as great an event as Burning Man proper. Between the shorter time period, having my car available for storage and power, the smaller venue and a less severe environment, I found myself more relaxed right from the start than I was the first day at Burning Man. One of the things I wanted to accomplish at the weekend was to meet some of the local groups and I did that. I will probably ask to join one of the camps at Burning Man next year. I had not expected to see anyone I know, but on Saturday morning I ran into a guy from my acting class. The BRC rangers had a ‘bring your own sausage’ dinner, so I got to meet several of them. My Facebook post when I got back: “Took yoga class on a hillside, rode in car w/ astroturf seats, attended tea party & got blasted w/ soap foam. How was your weekend?”

The following Monday, I went to DMV to switch my plates, and on Friday I donated the Mercedes to the local public radio station. This was a bittersweet decision. I do love convertibles, especially living in Southern California where we can drive topless pretty much all year. But the top hydraulics needed repair and that would have been the third major repair this calendar year. We only have two parking spaces, so one car needs to be on the street; I usually take the Prius on long trips or when there’s both of us, so it just didn’t really make sense to keep another car. Toyota – if you’re reading this, please make a hybrid, four seater, convertible.

San Diego Pride had plans for me on Saturday the 23rd in form of the leadership program they do for coordinators (I’m the co-coordinator of the information booth). That gave John time to work on homework for an online class he’s taking.

On Halloween we went to Universal Studios with Jan from Belgium, who John met in Austin when Jan was visiting there. Our friend Dave joined us for a while; he was a tour guide in the park years ago, so he filled us in on all sorts of background information. Also that weekend, a friend invited me to his 12 step meeting where they were celebrating his one year anniversary of sobriety – congrats to him.

In between all of this, John started a medically supervised diet. In the initial phase, he must eat food and shakes that the program provides and lots of fruits and vegetables. He’s lost 17 pounds in three weeks; his goal is 60. To support him, I’m eating similar foods, although I’m not on a formal diet. We’re not going out to restaurants much, which I think is a good thing.

And so that brings us up to the first week of November. Yikes, holidays are just around the corner.


November 2nd, 2010

Well I’ve let another few weeks go by without posting. I was thinking about that this morning and realized there are a few reasons this happens on a regular basis.

First is the obvious effect of Facebook and Twitter – all the moment-to-moment musings go there because it’s so immediate. But there are times – such as the last few days – when I don’t even post on those. In large part this is because I don’t have a need to broadcast my every move. I look at the “I’m a the grocery store” Facebook posts and have to wonder why the person would think anyone else would care. Unless of course someone is supposed to meet them there, in which case a simple text message would be more efficient.

Second, I’m having less and less tolerance for being in a group of people who are all somewhere else electronically. Sure, we all joke about everyone pulling out their cell phones as soon as they get together, but it’s not really funny. Actually I think future etiquette guides will say connecting electronically with people not in the conversation is as rude as sneezing on another person is today.

I’m also making an effort to cut down on my late night online time. I still occasionally find myself at the keyboard after midnight, but I’m trying to have some non-media time before bed most nights; I find that I sleep much sounder. So, when the “I should update my blog” thought occurs at 11PM, it often doesn’t lead to the keyboard.

Last but not least, there is no urgency to this blog. I’m not reporting and commenting on pressing issues of the day; I’m not promoting a major cause or a new book; I’m not engaged in a monumental task of personal achievement that required a daily update. And most importantly, I’m not trying to drive traffic. People who know me can read to keep relatively up to date with what’s going on in my life, but I’m not looking to collect followers.

Certainly everything can be looked at in multiple ways, and this post could be interpreted as a list of excuses why I don’t post more often, but I prefer to think of it as setting expectations. I’m not online all the time, get over it.

‘Someday’ is not on the calendar

October 11th, 2010

In the 13 years we lived in Denver, we took several weekend trips to Albuquerque. Our motorcycle club was had many friends in a club down there, so we used to do joint rides. Every time we’d go, we’d say “someday we should come down for the Balloon Fiesta”, and every year the Balloon Fiesta would come and go without a visit from us. Early this year I realized that a major air show was going to be right next to our neighborhood the first weekend of October and started looking for a place to be “away” that weekend. Conveniently the Albuquerque gay square dance club had a weekend event the same time. Even better, it coincided with the first weekend of Balloon Fiesta (yes, they planned it that way).

The Balloon Fiesta was as cool as we expected – better in one way since we didn’t realize how close we were allowed to get to the balloons before takeoff. We didn’t actually take a ride, but it was a lot of fun to be there and watch all the preparation, the take-offs, the mid-air jockeying and the landings. I’d like to do it again, but instead of the early morning event, I think I’d like to see one of the evening events. We danced on the Balloon Fiesta grounds. Actually we danced a lot; the local club put on a great event. We also were able to catch up with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while, including a lovely evening in the foothills watching some spectacular New Mexico lightning. While there were some minor travel issues, overall this was a long overdue “someday” that I’m glad we finally did.

Shortly after moving to San Diego, we did our own tour of the local gay bars. One dance club was particularly off the beaten path, so we said we’d get to it “someday”. It was over three years later when some friends were going there and someday came – I really loved the space, and will be looking for other events to go there.

Those small “somedays” got me thinking about the big “somedays” John and I have had in our 21 years together. When we were dating long distance, both of us wanted to leave our respective cities (DC for me, Akron for him) “someday”. We finally agreed that we didn’t “want to turn 40 and wonder what might have been” and decided to move to Denver. Likewise for years we said “someday we have to live in San Francisco”, so when IBM presented an opportunity to do so, we did. Although that didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped, I don’t regret doing it.

This week I’m going to pay more attention to those casual “someday we should” phrases we toss around, and I’m going to and stop and think about whether that “someday” needs to be planned. After all, “Someday” is not on any calendar.

Mouse Musing

September 27th, 2010

I figured out a long time ago that the perceived speed of time passage increases with age, and as usual, the last few weeks moved too fast. We’ve had the square dance weekend, a day trip to OC for dancing & catching up with a friend who is moving, a museum day, theater, dancing, a day working on the condo, a bear party. Wasn’t I just at Burning Man?

So yesterday I took a Disney day on my own. I always say that because I have a pass I can go anytime, but the truth is there are a limited number of days when it is practical to go. Still I treat my solo days at the park as a sort of recharge time; it’s less about the rides than it is about getting away from my to-do list. I have done the drive so many times that it’s almost relaxing. I make a point of not planning the day’s activities too far ahead, and if its crowded I’m not disappointed if I don’t get on all my favorite rides, because after all “I can go anytime”.

So I took the day as an opportunity for contemplation time. Yes it does seem strange to ‘contemplate’ in the middle of a theme park crowd, but to me it’s no different than meditating at Burning Man, which I was able to handle. I can’t say any major revelations came out of the day, but there was some clarification of my frustration with my work. I’m appreciating the reasons why I stay, and I -still- don’t have a clear idea what the next direction is but thinking about what needs to change is a good start. Still the biggest thing was just having an unstructured day – I need more of those.

The Surreal World

September 12th, 2010

The trip to the Burning Man playa started with a trip to LA. I had to stop off at a friend’s house and pick up him and his bike. Oops, his dog had a medical emergency a few days before the trip, so it was just picking up his bike. Oh wait, the dog is out of immediate danger, so he can get a way for a weekend but not the entire week, and I’m picking up his bike, but he’s driving to San Francisco and my friend Trey is using the bike. Hmm, first lesson of Burning Man – nothing is set in stone.

I had a great visit with Cal and Richard in Oakland. Both had been to Burning Man before; Richard wanted to go this year (I even ordered a ticket for him), but was not able to for a variety of reasons. Still they gave me lots of good advice and loaned me a camelback pack, which proved invaluable.

I decided to make part of the trip square dance business – I’m responsible for drumming up LGBT registrations for the (straight) convention in San Diego next year, so I visited the Midnight Squares on Sunday; this also meant I was able to catch up with some friends. Monday I went wine tasting in Sonoma County. I actually only got to two wineries (Sebastiani and Harvest Moon) but enjoyed just being in the valley. I stopped at Sabastiani when I did a motorcycle trip from Denver in 1993, so it was time to reflect on the 17 years since. After dinner in Guerneville, I went square dancing with the Redwood Rainbows in Sebastopol.

Tuesday we went to the Museum of Modern Art. They had two shows – a highlights from the permanent collection to mark the 75th anniversary of the museum and a showcase of pieces from a major collection they just acquired (and will be building a new gallery to house). The appropriateness of going to a contemporary art museum just before Burning Man didn’t really sink in until the second day on the playa. In the Fischer collection show, I was struck by the seemingly unfinished quality of several pieces. That sort of prepared me for something I would take away from the art at Burning Man – that sometimes art doesn’t have to be perfect to be done.

The Green Tortoise bus runs overnight to the playa, so you actually arrive early in the morning on Wednesday. Trey (who had been several times and was my guide for a good portion of the experience) and I did a familiarization bike ride, then later I went for another ride on my own. First impressions were not great – yes, the city is big, but a lot of it looked like something out of a Mad Max film. The newspaper pictures focused on the spectacular pieces of art not the yurts constructed of building insulation and the tarps tied asymmetrically over PVC frames.

I was feeling sort of out of place – I don’t really want to wear fairy wings or a tutu, both of which seemed near ubiquitous; it seemed like there was a ‘Burning Man uniform’ and I didn’t fit it in my shorts and t-shirt. But this is supposed to be ‘festival of extreme self expression’ – and my self expression doesn’t really extend to dress. Still determined to be a part of Black Rock City and not just a tourist, I dutifully studied the schedules (both printed and downloaded) and planned my evening. An old movie here, a tango lesson there, things that interested me without regard for what anyone would think of my choices. I hopped on the bike (now adorned with decorative lights – thanks Richard) and set out for an exciting evening. After all, like any desert city, Black Rock City sleeps a lot of the day and becomes active at night. I rode almost from one end of the city to the other and found…. pretty much everything I’d planned to do was either cancelled, moved or changed. I got back to camp about one AM. I’m not a late night person, so the constant dance music from the next camp was a problem for me, but I did get to sleep.

On Thursday, when people asked me how my evening was, I had to be honest (this is an event all about being your true self after all) and say it was pretty much a bust. Then something happened. I went for a walk. I went for a walk to the inner playa and something changed. I realized it made no sense to try and ‘see’ all of Black Rock City any more than you can really ‘see’ all of Paris or London; instead I needed to let the city find me. I walked with no destination and realized how seldom I do that. I walked through Center Camp and saw dozens of details I’d missed the previous day. Perhaps it was the absurdity of finding a phone booth on the inner playa – and it ringing when I stopped to take a picture (yes I answered it), but something shook me and by the time I went to a gay camp’s happy hour cocktail party, I was starting to change my mindset.

Burning Man is not about costumes and dances and alcohol/drugs, although all those things are there and in abundance if desired. It’s about possibilities, about asking “what if”; what if we all contribute to the community without expecting an even return? what if we create for the sheer joy of creating without worrying about what will happen to the creation? what if we remove layers of social convention about how we should look or act and just go on about our business? It’s about our core – when the environment is harsh, we are forced to confront our inner strength and more importantly, the source of that strength. It’s about the realization that you only get out of the experience what you put into it. It’s about being in the moment. And when the Man burns, it reminds us that nothing is permanent; everything can and will be different tomorrow.

I would be lying if I said I recognized all that while on the playa or that I had a complete change of mindset in two days. I keep a daily journal on longer trips and nothing like the previous paragraph is anywhere in it. On Saturday I was still making lists of events that I wanted to attend. But the subtle change was that I didn’t mind missing something on the plan, whether because I chose not to do it after all or whether I got there and it wasn’t happening. Everything will be different tomorrow; sometimes it will even be different today.

Still Burning Man is no surreal paradise. It is not sustainable – if allowed to exist beyond a few weeks would rapidly see clashes between its highly vaunted principles and baser human nature. But it steps us so far out of our regular daily lives that we can look back and see what we want to do differently and how we want our communities to be different.

Everyone has burnout point during Burning Man. Mine was Sunday afternoon when I was trying to pack up my tent in one dust storm too many. For two hours my main thought was “I am ready to go home NOW”. But like the Man, nothing is permanent and the storms subsided for a final walk through and goodbye to Center Camp.

The bus ran overnight back to San Francisco. My husband John flew up to spend the weekend in the city and meet me for the drive home. The drive was uneventful. We shared stories of the previous week (although I have to say mine were somewhat more interesting) and watched the landscape slip by. We dropped of the bike in LA and finally got home at about 10:30. Back to the real world. Or is it the surreal world? – there are as many things on the asphalt playas of San Diego as there is in Black Rock City that don’t make sense when viewed from the right angle. I guess that’s another lesson of Burning Man.

Burning Questions 2010

August 27th, 2010

In August in San Francisco, all conversation turns toward Burning Man. I wrote about that in 2006 when we were pretty disillusioned with the city in general, and the whole Burning Man conversation just seemed to add (pardon the pun) fuel to that fire. Still, the pictures on the SF Chronicle’s web page have fascinated me, though I have been put off by the tales of apparently nearly requisite drug use as part of the experience.

When Burning Man announced this year’s theme of “Metropolis”, my mind immediately flashed to the Fritz Lang film and I imagined what sort of cool art might spring from that, and decided to go. I figured that even without mind altering chemicals I’d enjoy the Raygun Gothic designs that are sure to be prevalent. Alas, the official interpretation of the theme is more mundane – more “generic big city” – but I still am excited about going.

In that post four years ago I noted that although the event is promoted as being environmentally friendly, there was a lot of energy consumed in the transportation of so many people to the desert; since then I’ve seen an emphasis on carpooling and carbon offsets. I also noted the lack of tangible lasting effects outside of the event itself; again I’m seeing some changes there – solar energy projects for communities nearby, etc. I still question whether those efforts are as far-reaching as the Burning Man community believes, but I applaud them.

I am extremely curious to see how the community is created and functions. The logistics of it all fascinates me. Even though I am going what is commonly called ‘the tourista route’ (i.e. a tour company that is providing the food and water), packing has been a unique challenge. ‘Radical self-reliance’ is of the principles of the event. I am usually the master at minimalist packing – I once did a 10 day trip to Paris with just a carry on bag – but for this trip I found I had to say “I need to take along an X because Y may happen” rather than my usual “if I need an X, they have stores there”. The result is my large wheeled bag is probably packed as heavy as it ever has been and still I feel like I’m missing something.

I don’t have any illusions that Burning Man is a utopia, nor do I feel like I’m doing anything significant for either the environment or society by going. Rather I see it as a personal challenge to thrive in the desert, an extremely unique art tour, a visit to a place I’ve never been, and most importantly, a few days cut off from the world.