Feb 14

A process of refining the truths two people tell each other

By Adrienne Rich:

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.

Nov 28

Wanderer, Worshiper, Lover of Leaving

I’ve been getting really into the 1200s Persian poet Rumi lately. Here’s a favorite poem:

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
A thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

~ quoted from The Forty Words of Love, by Elif Shafak (a historical novel about the Sufi mystics Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, which I read during Burning Man)


Fire in a Burning Man sculpture
Fire spreads across the roof of a sculpture at Burning Man


This year, I’ve gained a new interest in personal spiritual experience — so my approach to Burning Man 2016 was very different. In the past, I’ve focused on art and dancing and stuff, with triumphant articles like The Best Art At Burning Man 2015. (Note: Anything I say about Burning Man that includes the word “best” is a joke.)

So this year I did less art-hunting, but there’s always plenty to see. On my way to the desert, I was reading Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I encountered a section with this heading:

No Trace: When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

One of Burning Man’s Ten Principles is Leaving No Trace. Officially, this is about our environmental impact — we don’t want to leave a mess in the fragile desert. But Suzuki started the San Francisco Zen Center, which became active before Burning Man began in San Francisco, and someone in the original Burning Man crew probably read the book.

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April 23, 2016

When I was small, I dreamed of getting lost, alone, in every major city in the world. When I grew up, I realized that this was not the best plan, but it felt surprisingly doable in Venice.


Venice by Lydia Laurenson
Venice. View on Instagram


I took a couple of days on my own in Venice, and it was everything I imagined and more. Venice is so unrelentingly beautiful and aesthetically consistent. It’s hard to photograph the narrow, cobblestoned streets — lined in wrought-iron ornamentation and arches, surrounded by slender canals — but I did my best! (You can find my full set of 48 photos on Facebook here.)


Painting by Andy Fluon
A painting by Andy Fluon, displayed at Contini Art Factory. View on Instagram

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SHHHH sign from the Latitude Society receiving room
The “SHHHH” sign in the Latitude Society receiving room


Today, I published a long article in Vice about the Latitude Society, a now-closed San Francisco art project that was developed by a company called Nonchalance. I loved the Latitude Society; it was one of the most brilliant, boundary-pushing, and genre-defying art pieces I have ever experienced. My article is intended to be both a critique and a celebration of the Latitude, and I poured my heart into it.

I’m proud of that article, but I had some narrative and space constraints while writing it. Here are some responses to questions people have asked me, which I wasn’t able to answer fully in the article. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter: @lydialaurenson.


Original Latitude Society invitation - front
The invitation card I received to the San Francisco House of the Latitude


Question #1: Did I talk to Jeff Hull in person after the Society closed?

I knew Jeff while the Society was running, and I worked on a couple of projects for Nonchalance (nothing big, so don’t give me too much credit!). As I explain in the article, I reached out to Jeff after he ended the project. I really think Jeff is brilliant, although I didn’t agree with all the decisions he made; I wanted to talk to him and get a better understanding of his perspective.

Jeff agreed to an email interview, and I sent him a whole bunch of questions. He answered three of the questions I asked. Here is his email to me, in full:

Hi Lydia,

I think most of your questions were covered in either the Long Read piece or my epilogue on the Latitude site. [Note from Lydia: he’s referring to this article written by Rick Paulas for Longreads. Jeff also posted an epilogue on the Latitude website, which isn’t loading right now, so there’s a screenshot here.]

The only thing that wasn’t really covered was the future of the content (IP).

> – Are you thinking of using the IP for anything else?

Yes, the Storyworld of the Latitude will emerge in other mediums. The book will be released, and there’s talk of developing a fiction film, and potentially a VR interactive series. It’s a rich universe that people really connect with, so there is no limit to the applications of it.

> – Do you feel that anything about the Society should remain secret?

I don’t think any of the released material needs to be a secret. It’s out there already. But there was so much unreleased content, concepts, teachings, and experiences. People really only glimpsed a small fraction of what the world was. These elements remain hidden.

> – Are there any specific pictures or recordings that you would like to get out into the world?

I’m fond of The Walk of the Guardians. [Note from Lydia: The Walk of the Guardians is an audio recording, and a Society member named The Mister was kind enough to send me a copy. There is about a minute of audio instructions here, while the longer Walk of the Guardians can be accessed here. You can listen from anywhere.]

Otherwise, I do not have much to add that hasn’t already been covered. Hope it goes well, and let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.


I sent Jeff some followup questions, and he never got back to me. It’s clear that the Latitude Society experience was ultimately painful for Jeff, so I understand why he wouldn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Still, I’m truly sad that I wasn’t able to include more of his perspective in my article.

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Feb 14

I Live In Your Eyes

This is part of a poem by Farouk Goweedah. It was originally written in Arabic and translated by someone named Fisal, whose last name I regrettably do not know, and who posted his translation of Goweedah’s poem here, under the title “I Live In Your Eyes.” (I slightly modified a few lines.)

​Your love is my faith,
my forgiveness and my disobedience.
I met you with hope
remaining in my arms
like spring without a bird.
On the ruins of a garden,
the winds of sadness squeeze me
and laugh in my chest.
I love you like an oasis
on which all my sorrows have calmed.
I love you like an aura
that sings my songs to people’s silence.
I love you like an ecstasy that runs and fires my volcano.
I love you, meeting me like morning light.
Love has killed many lovers,
and your love has given life to me.
And if I were to choose a home,
I would say:
My home is your love.
And if I were to forget you,
my heart would forget me.
And if I lost my way,
I would live in your eyes.

Foxes have nice tails

October 17, 2015

This story will be true until the night ends; only if the night ends will you know the story wasn’t true.

* * *

There is a type of fox spirit whose power is measured in their tails. A three-tailed fox is adolescent, while a nine-tail is ancient and powerful. Still, even the weakest fox spirits have power. They send dreams, bend minds, take any shape they like. They can look like anyone, even your child or closest friend.

Naturally, such spirits are mischievous and mercurial.

There was a young three-tail who fell in love with a mortal noble’s son. While passing through the forest near his home, she saw him rescue a wounded rabbit and was intrigued. She followed him silently for a time, watched him go home and take care of the animal. But she had to take the form of a bird, and watch him from the air outside his window, because the boy’s family had invested in powerful spirit-wards.

The wards were thorough; every door and window was like a solid wall to the fox-girl. Soon she realized that around his neck, the boy wore a protective charm so that he wouldn’t see or hear spirits.

The three-tail fell so quickly that she could hardly think, hardly breathe. The world only held color when she was near him. Soon, she haunted the boy’s home. She wept at the threshold and she slept, night after night, in the nearby wood. She tried to speak with him, but of course his protections rendered her invisible; he thought her voice was only the wind.

The fox-girl could only reach the boy through his dreams. Even there, she saw him rarely, for he almost always wore his charm while asleep. And he almost never recalled his dreams upon waking. After speaking to him there, she realized that although he could learn things in dreams, he rarely remembered her at all.

After months of this, the fox-girl became so distraught that her father noticed and decided to rid the world of this pesky mortal. Yet although her father was a powerful eight-tail, he could not himself penetrate the wards, so he sought other spirits to do the dirty work. He found a lowly river spirit who specialized in water-borne illness, and he ordered the spirit to contaminate the river for miles around and thereby poison the noble’s son. But the three-tailed fox-girl — ever-watchful at the boy’s house — saw the water spirit sneaking about, and she threw herself on the ground to beg mercy.

The water spirit told the fox-girl: “My river is blocked, and this pains me. If my river is unblocked I will spare the boy,” and so she worked for weeks to open the river. She made alliances with animal spirits, to move stones and branches. She sowed omens in human dreams, showed them visions of clear-flowing water. The river was soon cleared, so the river spirit defied her eight-tailed father, and the boy was spared.

Several times, her father tried to arrange the boy’s destruction, and several times she outmaneuvered him. The fox-girl grew in cunning and influence as she built her network across the realm. Soon, she had another tail: she was a four-tail now.

Eventually, her father tired of trying to outsmart his obsessed daughter, and he took a new tack. He went to spirits all over the world to find new suitors for the girl. He told them that she was creative and charming and clever, and some of them believed him. The fox-girl received visits from handsome spirits, noble spirits, brilliant spirits. Star spirits came to shine with her, and air spirits made her laugh.

Yet none of those spirits held the humanity of the noble’s son. So, still, her heart remained with the compassionate boy.

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Here’s why Burning Man is worth a week without showers, and also maybe hypothermia.

Love by Alexandr Milov, Burning Man 2015
“Love,” a sculpture by Alexandr Milov. View on Instagram


I have this friend who always says, “I could never go to Burning Man. I like showering.” He rolls his eyes at the dust-covered mayhem; he disdains the desert’s lack of amenities.

And if you’re getting your info from the terribly lazy Burning Man slideshows produced by mainstream media outlets, then it’s reasonable to conclude that Burning Man isn’t worth a week without showers.

Besides, it’s just so easy to hate Burning Man. The dust is toxic, the trip is a giant expensive hassle, there are class issues, and other issues too.

But there’s also nothing else like Burning Man. The festival is a remarkable expression of serendipity, connection, innovation, and openness.


Flaming manticore from Mazu, Burning Man 2015
This manticore was part of Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea, a temple that was built by The Department of Public Arts from New Xishi City, Taiwan. View on Instagram


Last year, I felt so good afterwards that I came right home and wrote The Best Art of Burning Man 2014. So, here you go: The Best Art Of Burning Man 2015.

Before I get started, though, I gotta admit. 2015 would have been a great year to miss Burning Man.

First there was the plague of horrifying bugs, which was celebrated with glee among the schadenfreuding press. Luckily for me, by the time I got to the desert, the bugs had been swept away by 55-mph winds… which destroyed a huge part of our camp before the festival started. Throughout the week, there were uncountable whiteout dust storms, including one that lasted literally all day Friday. (I spent the time in my tent reading a heretofore undiscovered CJ Cherryh book, so that was all right.)

Then Saturday, the night of the Man Burn, was 28° Fahrenheit. The cold was unprecedented in my experience. It was so cold that by 4am, when we all walked back to camp, the city was nearly deserted. The only people we saw were huddled around firepits and burn barrels in a post-apocalyptic fashion. I was honestly concerned that there’d be hypothermia deaths that night.

Why does anyone go to this stupid festival, anyway?


Another giant cat art car, Burning Man 2015
This giant cat art car is named Xuza. View on Instagram

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Aug 14

The invisible city of Zobeide

From Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities:

You arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound around themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive’s trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city’s streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten.

New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.

Jul 23

Aphorisms about conversation

Years ago, while working in a bookstore, I discovered an obscure little book called Conversation by André Maurois (translated from the French by Yvonne Dufour). It’s from 1930, and it’s full of wonderful observations about interaction.

Some of these aphorisms seem obvious; some impenetrable; some culturally defined and no longer applicable; some ironic; some calculated to inspire disagreement. I enjoy them all. Here are some favorites:

I like this saying from Stevenson: “There are but three subjects of conversation: I am I, you are you, and others are strangers.”

An anecdote must be introduced at the very moment it illustrates what has just been said. The pointless anecdote is offensive.

Men so like to be talked about that a discussion of their faults delights them.

The most secretive of men are given to confidences, but this under the form of general ideas. Even I … as I write this …

We can speak frankly of our faults only to those who acknowledge our qualities.

Advice is always a confession.

What men are slower to forgive is the evil they have spoken of you.

A good argument too often repeated loses its strength. It seems that the mind, like the blood, produces antitoxin and can be rendered immune even to evidence.

Both started a conversation other than they wished. Now they are powerless to stop it. Their sentences, like a train, pass before them noisily, and they — belated, careless switchmen — watch it run on the wrong track, to sure disaster.

It happens that, when with some people, we play a certain part. Through a sort of indolence we fall back into this part whenever such people appear, and they are right when they judge us as wholly different from what we are.

One might well believe that mutual confidences are in themselves a safeguard against indiscretion. Yet such is not the case. Men think that their own affairs are so different from those of others, that they find it natural to betray while they hope to be served.

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