Why I don’t talk about Israel & Palestine on the Internet

Why I don’t talk about Israel & Palestine on the Internet

It is my policy not to discuss Israel and Palestine on the Internet. The weaponized, propaganda-tipped arguments of foreigners are one of the many brutal classes of weapon employed in the Middle East conflict. I am a conscientious objector. After a blood relative called me a vicious name during the last escalation of conflict, I don’t participate in that anymore.

Moreover, my partner is entering the Conservative rabbinate, so I have chosen to end my days of taking fearless, privileged, visible stances on any issue I choose. She is taking on a public role in Jewish life, a sensitive position that demans inclusiveness across a broad spectrum of beliefs, and I support her with my whole heart.

Yet this life transition, which begins in just two weeks, feels all the more poignant because of the current escalation of ongoing violence in the Holy Land. It is frightening to be diving head-first into Jewish religious life from the height of this 21st-century emergency of Jewishness. While they’re separate issues in my heart, various stances on the politics of the state of Israel are assumed to be essential components of Jewish identity by many Jews and non-Jews alike. So through my religious choices, I’m forced to confront these politics.

Read More

Sabbath on the Playa


Friday evening of my second Burn, I had one of the holiest meals I can remember. As the stars came out, a big group gathered at camp Sukkat Shalom, lit candles, gave blessings, drank wine, and fried up crispy, savory latkes for each other to eat. It was an ideal way to ground the frenetic energy of the week in preparation for the following night’s burn. The cross-section of Burners interested in gathering to welcome the Sabbath was unlike that of any other on-playa scene. The wine, talk, and song flowed late into the night.

In subsequent years, the scene has been crazy. An overwhelming number of people show up. While I think that’s a great sign, it overloads the camp, and food is scarce. No theme camp’s gift is inexhaustible. But this year, Sukkat Shalom is crowd-funding a blowout Shabbat dinner experience. Here’s why I hope you’ll support it. Disclosure: I know and love lots of the people who run Sukkat Shalom.

Read more on the official Burning Man blog.

Climbing the Holy Mountain

I feel grateful every day for how much adventure I’ve been blessed with in my life. I was scared of adventure as a kid, even though I yearned for it, so adventures are accompanied by a sense of relief now, of confidence, of not being (as) scared anymore. That keeps me from taking adventures for granted. The adrenaline hum at the beginning of an adventure is as strong as ever, but I’ve learned to direct it productively.

My whole body is humming right now.

I’m about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life. I’m writing here to inform my great, sprawling community of online neighbors about this big offline change. May all the emotions stirred up by this news be catalysts for healing.

Where I’m Going

In August, I’m moving to Los Angeles. My partner, Ariel Root Wolpe, is enrolling at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, and I’m going with her. It’s a five-year program, and she will — we will — spend the third year abroad in Israel.

I don’t think LA is going to be a permanent home for us, but I’m open to getting to know it. I know the Bay Area pretty well by now, and I’m not sure it’s home, either. I’m ready to feel out a new city. I still miss Portland, and I know I’ll miss the Bay even more, since I found a big nest of dear friends here. But I’ll be back up here on a regular basis. I’ve signed on with Burning Man indefinitely as Managing Editor, and there’s more music brewing with my collaborator-in-chief up here. But it's time to move south for a while, and I’m ready to go.

What We’re Doing

Ariel comes from a family of great rabbis, and she has been called to join their ranks. The signs, as well as the responses from our religious community, have strongly supported this decision. And I support it wholeheartedly. When she speaks about her visions for Conservative Judaism, I feel a draw I’ve never felt before to the tradition in which I was raised. I know her well by now, and I believe she has the capacity to be the kind of religious leader I’ve always sought. So I want to follow her.

My spiritual path has involved many high-G turns. Judaism has stood as this tall, imposing mountain in the center of my continent, and I’ve walked many times around its base. I made an inspired effort to climb it back in college, but I turned back. But this year with Ariel has been filled with exhilarating climbs at the mountain’s craggy feet, purifying swims in its lakes and streams, and tantalizing stories of what’s at the top. I’m taking her hand now and going up the mountain.

I have to come prepared this time, though. We’ll have a kosher home. We’ll observe all the festivals and holidays and keep Shabbat every week. All of that will be new for me. But this year, I’ve started to see how Jewish traditions — and the right kinds of Jewish communities, such as Wilderness Torah, to which Ariel introduced me — can support my other practices and beliefs. It’s just about finding the language that works to quiet the mind and the practices that work to open the heart. Every tradition in which I’ve ever dabbled agrees on that.

Photo by Tom Levy

Photo by Tom Levy

What I’m sure of now is that I need a fully religious life in order to be okay. There’s no turning back. So I’m all the way open to learning from Ariel, from her teachers, and from the religious community we’re joining together. And I’ll still have plenty of Buddhism, Burning Man, and magic to fill in the gaps.

I’ll be spending my time working for Burning Man, seeing what happens with my book, making more music, and climbing that holy mountain.

What I Am Leaving

I came to the Bay Area two years ago, single, seeking home in the two communities I had: the tech industry where I worked, and Burning Man, where I make my annual pilgrimage to remember why I do what I do. That worked out beautifully. I got the skills and experience I needed from the tech world, which led me to the job I’ve always wanted supporting the communication efforts at Burning Man.

My people and my work here have enabled me to fulfill two lifelong dreams, making a record and writing a book, and those will hopefully lead to more waking dreams. And I found a counterpart who has brought me outside of my solitary story and shared hers with me. Our shared story sounds even more mine than the one I had before.

Ariel and I will both miss dear friends and beloved places in the Bay Area, including the heart of the Wilderness Torah community that has sparked such religious life in us.

But there’s another wing of that community in LA. We’re excited to be the bridge, and we’ll all see each other for the festivals. My Bay Area Burning Man people have been my second family, and I know that festival alone won’t be enough. But I’ll be back often, like I said, and I’m going to be thrilled to see you every time.

To the Silicon Valley/SF tech world: bye. TTYL.

To the deep connections waiting to be made in LA, I wave hello from the past! I look forward to making you.

P.S: In order to help me understand my coming change of context, I’ve started a Tumblr blog called City Dreams ๛ to collect urban sensations. Check it out and share your city dreams.

Several Educations on Introspection

After absorbing this dharma talk: Kim Allen, “Resolve”

It makes me sad that I never learned useful techniques for introspection until I encountered Buddhism. Where was my civilization when I needed it?

I’m getting to be a pretty religious Jewish person by now. That tradition teaches me where I’m coming from generation by generation. But I haven’t learned from it where I’m coming from moment by moment.

The secular school in which I grew up was remarkable, and it did at least teach emotional reflection. By now, for all I know, they teach meditation there. But they didn't in the '90s. Paideia taught me to see my feelings, but it didn't teach me to feel them.

When my teachers asked me to share how I felt, all I knew how to do was explain what I thought. I didn’t know my feelings arose inside my body or had sensations attached to them. I didn’t know that these inward states sang with information about my nature and could tell me whether I was aligned with it or not. I just felt things wildly and muddled through.

I encountered Buddhism at a Western university, and I’m endlessly grateful for that. But by then, I had 20 years of cobwebs to clear out. I’m 26 now, and I feel like I’m just learning to walk.

When I listen to Buddhist teachers, it’s like looking into a mirror for the first time in my life. When I sit, it’s like meeting myself. And on days like today, when I get up from sitting, I wonder, “Why have I never met myself before?”

I mourn for the moments of wholeness I’ve missed so far in my life. But I don’t regret missing them. The sadness of this missed opportunity strengthens my resolve to heal our civilization. That’s where I’m coming from.

The Complete Über-Geek’s Guide to Reading Online

The Complete Über-Geek’s Guide to Reading Online

Even during my years blogging in the eyeball mines, I never lost sight of the fact that the Internet is the Great Library of All Humankind. I always strive to take full advantage of that. Web literacy skills used to be essential to my work, but they matter to me in a more well-rounded way. After a day of good Internet, I feel good when I finally unplug to process it all. I’m the good kind of tired, like my mind has been properly exercised.

Once I grew sensitized to this, I realized that I felt like crap after a day of unhealthy info. And most days were like that. So I went on a diet, completely abandoning television, and I started working on an information exercise routine.

Last year, I posted my first über-geek’s guide to reading online on ReadWrite, and people seemed to appreciate it. My routine was rickety, but it was also rigorous. In the ensuing year, I’ve jacked out of the Matrix and become a sane person, but I’ve also refined my online reading process, and I’ve expanded and clarified my thinking about it. Über-geeks have called for an update to the guide. So here, now on my own domain, is my guide to reading online in 2014.

Read More

Humans do not own themselves

The concept of human autonomy within society is beginning to seem like willful self-deception to me.

The self in society depends on others, it owes its character and self-image to others, and it relies on gifts from others to meet its needs.

And, by its very embodied presence, as well as its every word, gesture, and action, the self causes experiences that constantly affect other selves.

It’s greedy to take all that for granted and then say, “I am my own person,” isn’t it? It’s not even just greedy; it’s demonstrably untrue. And think about what that means for notions of property, ownership, authorship, originality, and so on!

— A train of thought that left the station while reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein

Making a record


For the last few months, I’ve been making a record. It’s not my first, technically, but it’s my first full-length studio album. It’s called Portal, and I’ll release it in the early days of 2014.

The primordial soup of this record has been bubbling all year, but the lightning bolt that brought it to life struck in May 2013. My friends threw a big shindig in the woods in northern California. I played guitar in my friend Nat’s band, and we debuted there. My friend Kirk was the drummer, and he was also the MC of a pretty special part of the whole event. We blasted a lot of love and music on that mountain that evening.

The next thing I knew, I was falling in love with one of the singers in the band, and a whole solo record had been downloaded into my head.

Photo by Justin Benttinen

The title and all the track names came first. I wrote the songs over the next few months. As they started to come together, Kirk decided he wanted to join me on this trip, and he started playing the drums with me and developing the songs. Before long, he had us rehearsing every day. By the end, he was producing the record. I couldn’t have done it without him.


As the dream got realer and realer, the little music jokes with God started to pile up. New and old friends started coming out of the woodwork to make this happen.

One of the new friends was Stephen Feinberg. He went to college with Ariel, the aforementioned singer in the band, who was, by this point in the story, infinitely more to me than that. He works at Tiny Telephone Recording in San Francisco, and he called out of the blue to see if Ariel wanted to book some recording time. While she definitely intends to make an awesome record very soon, she figured I’d want to go first, so she arranged for me and Stephen to meet.

It wasn’t long before he and John Vanderslice were showing me around Tiny, and I was booking studio time in November. Oh, boy! A deadline! And even though I ended up hiring Tiny Telephone engineer Ian Pellicci to call the shots, Stephen manned the controls a lot of the time, and he even sang on the record.


One of the old friends was Michael Feinberg (no relation). We’ve been friends since high school, and until recently, that was the last time we had played music together. He went on to be a pro jazz bass player in New York City, and I went on to blog about telephone computers until I remembered my rock and roll destiny. He happened to be playing a gig in Oakland — during my recording session, of course — and he asked if he could stay with us. I said yes hoping I could get him to play on one song. He ended up playing bass on every song except the one I insisted on playing myself.


Then it turned out that Mike’s drummer couldn’t make it to the second gig in Santa Cruz, so Kirk had to sit in on drums. That was pretty cool.


I really can’t speak highly enough of Ian Pellicci and Tiny Telephone. Yeah, Kirk and I had practiced the tunes, but we’d never done a studio project of anywhere close to this magnitude, especially by ourselves, and I had no idea we were even capable of it until it was almost done. That’s because Ian was such a masterful engineer, and Tiny’s facilities were absolutely magical. I believe in the analog dream! Eight or nine days into the session, I started to realize that the record sounded even better than I dreamed it would. So I’m deeply grateful to Ian, and I’d recommend him and Tiny to anyone.


As the first recording date loomed, I had the good sense to ask JV — as John Vanderslice is known around the studio — if he knew any pro guitar teachers who could help me polish up the material. His sources recommended Travis Andrews. I met with Travis for a few weeks before the session, and his lessons completely transformed me. Not only did he help me write some of the best guitar parts on the record, he introduced me to some new techniques and gadgets that will change my playing for good.


My heartfelt thanks go out to all these people. But I saved a special thanks for my friends on the ground. Track 8 is called “Friends On The Ground,” and it contains one of my favorite moments on the whole record. From the moment I wrote it, I knew I needed a huge chorus of my friends to sing it with me. I asked, and they showed up and rocked. Thank you so much to Irina Alexander, Josh Cohen, Megan Doak, Randall Leeds, Jenna Rose Marek, Sam Mitchell, and Jesse Alexander Eunoia Wolfe, and especially Nat Rosenzweig and Lauren Thomas, who also played piano and violin (respectively) on the record.


Deepest, realest thanks to Ariel Root Wolpe, one of my favorite musicians, for singing so beautifully throughout the record. Most of the songs are about you, anyway, so it’s fitting. You’re not just a brilliant collaborator and irresistible muse, you’re my partner all the way, and I love you so.

2013-11-11 14.03.59.jpg

Kirk, my brother, I saved you for last. For a while, I didn’t know why you were giving me so much time, energy, and music to help me make this record, but now I do. It’s a profound joy to collaborate with you. We make amazing things together. I owe the completion of this record to you, and I can’t wait to give you every sound I’ve got when it’s time to make yours.


The record is almost done. After a few weeks off, we’re going back to Tiny in December to finish mixing, then we ship it off for mastering, then it’s done. Listen up for Portal early in the new year.

And you won’t want to miss the release party.

Holy War in Black Rock City

One hot Thursday afternoon in Black Rock City, Root and I stopped at Center Camp to catch some shade. We lucked out; the first Jamaican reggae band to ever play Burning Man was on stage, and people were getting down. I danced by the stage while she hung out in the front row. There’s nothing better than the ecstasy on dusty faces when a live band breaks through the week-long fog of indistinguishable DJ sets.

The band finished playing, and we all rejoiced. Wiped out, I sat down next to Root to watch the next act, a couple of lawyers dressed like ancient Egyptians who were there to tell us how to deal with law enforcement on the playa. That sounded useful.

After all, it had been a big year for run-ins with law enforcement on the playa. We had read plenty of stories about severe and surprising busts in the run-up to Burning Man, and we heard more tales of woe from friends after we arrived. The Bureau of Land Management had insisted on tighter control at the gate. It seemed like a good year to brush up on our rights.

For a while, this talk felt righteous. We were becoming better citizens. But the conversation gradually turned toward philosophical pronouncements, indignant rants, and wild warnings about undercover narcs. “This is a little too us-versus-them for my taste,” Root said to me. “Plus, I’m getting kind of paranoid about there being cops everywhere. Aren’t you?”

I sure was. So we hopped up off our floor cushion, hoisted our packs, and stepped out of Center Camp into the afternoon heat, only to be greeted by an enormous convoy of federal agents in SUVs with their lights flashing, rolling right through the middle of Black Rock City.


Does Burning Man culture make us feel better?

It’s always nice when science has your back, isn’t it?

The journal Frontiers in Emotion Science, a section of Frontiers in Psychologypublished a paper last month showing that people deal with their emotions differently at Burning Man than they do in the default world. I doubt there’s a burner who didn’t already know that intuitively, but numbers are reassuring.

Read more on the official Burning Man blog.


I'm scared to go to Burning Man

I’m scared to go back.

I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.

There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.

 Read more on the official Burning Man blog.

How [freespace] Challenges Burning Man’s Emergent Principles

In San Francisco Burner circles, close to the source, I often hear the Burner’s Dream expressed thusly: Our dream is to bring the principles we embody out on the playa back to the default world.

We want to be as awesome as we are at Burning Man all the time, and we want our cities and towns and neighborhoods to be that awesome as well.


This June, a bunch of San Francisco Burners fell into the opportunity to take over a 14,000-square-foot SOMA warehouse for $1 and turn it into [freespace], a three-story blank canvas for artists, hackers, farmers, builders, and whoever else wanders in, meant to be a staging ground for inspired experiments in hacking on the meaning of urban space.

Sounds like that Burner’s Dream come to life, right? Naturally, Burning Man got involved. But what does that even mean? Who is this “Burning Man?” Is it the Burning Man organization? is it the fledgling non-profit Burning Man Project? Is it Burning Man participants acting of their own accord?


Read more on the official Burning Man Blog.


The frog

Good morning.
It's a sunny day
in Bushrod Community Park.
A Sunday morning.
The birds and squirrels are up.
What are you, poet?
What's your story?
Got anything? No?

This is how you saw it, right?
25, sleepless, sexless
beard and hair everywhere
trying to write himself
on a war-torn green picnic table
in the park in the neighborhood
sure of only one thing:

The last demon
to sit down
at this picnic table
was a hell of a lot scarier
than you are.

This is what you dreamt of, yes?

Well, did you wake up yet?

Can't wake up if you never slept, right?

Cute answer, but wrong.

You love to sleep.

You just can't.

I left the portal on
back at home
while you went for this
adorable little walk.
Cold comfort for when you get back,
I know,
but it's home. Right?

Last night,
you thought you heard this signal
that wrote over the last noise,
whatever it was,
and then wrote over it again.
The sound of the
delete key
on a blinking red
emergency panel.
You pushed the button
again and again
expecting the screen
to go blank
but it didn't.
It wouldn't shut off.

Now it's just morning again.

Just this. Yawn.

The kids are learning baseball
from the dads and other men.

People are holding cell phones
up to their ears
wobbling around by themselves
pretending to have something to do
pacing back and forth
just looking at cracked, green paint
seeing how deep the cracks are.

Yeah, he's doing it. Yep.
A grown-up with a blue polo shirt
tucked into his jeans,
after doing his arm stretches,
is climbing onto the jungle gym
right in front of you
to swing from the monkey bars
just one time.
And now he's off the playground
walking back onto the court
to practice his pitching motion
like nobody's watching.

Oh, but he knows you're there.
He's going to walk by you now
on the way to his car.
You're twiddling your beard,
and he's nodding to you.
Quit touching your face
and say it,
croak "Good morning,"
sounding just like the frog
you ate for dinner
last night,
crunching up the bones in
your teeth.

Now hop home,
back through Bushrod,
past the Beautiful Gate Church
cross Shattuck
without getting splattered,
crawl back into your portal,
and don't wake the stranger
sleeping in your living room.

Stop telling us what to do


When I can't deal with reality, I go stand in the shower. I think any body of water would do, but my shower happens to be the closest one. I had to do that today.

I can't deal with reality today, specifically virtual reality. It's the day after a tragedy, just like every day, but one of yesterday's tragedies was a bombing in public in America, which always has a devastating effect on virtual reality.

That's probably why terrorism is effective. Its effects are amplified by the media megaphone all the scared, affluent people carry around. Terrorism is a way to create a culture of extreme violence in places where the baseline level of violence is relatively low. To some people from cultures of extreme violence, especially ones caused by violence sent from those very same, less violent places, it's only fair.


There's a lot of macho talk in virtual reality today. On the one hand, there's "Refuse to be terrorized, or the terrorists win." On the other, there's "Wake up to the reality of this violent world! You have to see the bloody truth!" Both of these straw people think they're helping. They both think the way to help in a crisis is to tell people what to do.

The media have assumed the role of telling people what to do in an emergency. It's a way to manage panic and chaos. And now that the broadcaster job has shifted out of the newsroom and onto everybody's phone, people are psyched to play that role for all their friends and followers. People love a chance to boss each other around.

I don't think that's helping. I don't think telling people how they should deal with a violent reality helps them do so. I don't think yelling heals trauma, let alone showing images of trauma over and over and over again. That sounds like more trauma. That sounds like abuse. And victims of abuse do not get better through further abuse. They get worse.

I've never been a victim of extreme violence, the kind we saw in Boston and Iraq yesterday. But I've had enough of the rusty taste of the kinds of emotional violence we act out on each other at our worst, and I know this: seeing it, being reminded of it over and over in the media does not help make it better, especially when those media are also your friends.

I'm supposed to be working today. I'm supposed to be writing the introductory post for my new media operation. I'm supposed to be explaining what it stands for. But I can't type because I'm shaking with anger at the whole world of online media for being so ill prepared to deal with reality. When I eventually got out of the shower, I had to write this by hand.

The chauvinist, mansplaining media apparatus is a weapon. It has to be disarmed. It did not escape my notice that the most violent messages I saw yesterday came from men, and almost all the supportive responses to my plea for harm reduction came from women.

Media are a distorted reflection of the diabolical power structure of real life, and the distortion makes it worse. It makes us — beautiful, tragic humankind — look into the mirror and see only ugly tragedy. And then, feeling ugly, we behave as ugly, we express ourselves as ugly, and the world gets more distorted.

Break that mirror. We are not ugly.

We are fucking beautiful.

On reporting violent news without worsening the trauma

This is a standalone version of a comment originally posted in a Facebook discussion. It resulted from the sharing of a violent image from the bombing at the Boston Marathon today.

Images of violence should be preceded with a trigger warning. Otherwise, the trauma they can induce in viewers only serves to heighten the impact of the violence.

We are all journalists now, and the most important job of a journalist is to put facts into context. The violence of a news event is a fact of a serious nature, and so it should be reported carefully and in context.

The real-time social streams from which we get our information are challenging places to provide context. Attention is scarce there. Sensationalism is tempting. But attention garnered that way comes at a cost. When that cost is the amplification of trauma, I think that's too high.

I understand the argument that privileged people should be confronted with the violent reality of day-to-day life. It is easy to ignore news of violence for those to whom violence is an abstract idea. Comfortable people will go to great lengths to remain comfortable, even going so far as to ignore uncomfortable news. I agree that news media are ineffective if they allow violence to go ignored. But a violent photo is not the news. It's violence out of context.

The problem with forcing violent images on people is not mere discomfort. The problem is trauma. There are plenty of images that can be used responsibly to package the facts with the right amount of discomfort. The line not to cross is further traumatizing victims of violence. That is, after all, the goal of those who engage in mass violence.

The Temple of Whollyness


The Temple of Whollyness has been revealed. It’s a massive pyramidal complex made entirely of interlocking puzzle pieces of wood, without any metal hardware. This kind of construction looks and feels organic, like something naturally produced by intelligent life forms — because, of course, it is.

It’ll also go up like the Fourth of July.

Read more on the official Burning Man Blog.