The best way to get me to do a task I'd never have the guts to do on my own, apparently, is for friends to join the game on the condition that they start with a specific task they can't do on their own. I am terrified of asking anything of strangers, even in the mini-playa of a regional Burning Man event. They harangued, harassed, and cajoled me into doing just that; sending postcards to our families and friends, from Playa del Fuego, written on request by complete strangers. I was terrified. So I harangued, harassed, and cajoled them into doing it as well, peer pressure being the effective tasking motivation that it is. In the process we picked up another new player excited by the idea even without the promise of Points: ashre/Emma.
My friends have far outdone me and my five meager posted cards (plus one accidentally set on fire), sending 37 cards themselves and had several more promised to be posted later. Still, I had a wonderful time, talked to more people than I would have even at an event about welcoming the stranger, and most importantly, faced my fears. But really, check out what they did.
This task isn't what I'd normally describe as "my thing," but it took my fancy, perhaps because it was so well suited to the event we were going to. I also am perennially bad at talking to strangers, and was quite nervous about doing this task. That being said, I had a great time doing this. I started out by buying 50 stamped post cards at the post office. I learned a little about the history of stamped cards, and discovered that up until 1952 they cost only a penny. These days, the postage is 28 cents, and the card costs an additional 5 cents, for a total of 33 cents (If I remember correctly). Like the main Burning Man event, this one runs on a gift economy, and I was prepared to offer blank cards to people for free if they wanted. A few took me up on that, and one person even took a blank card, put their address on it and gave it back to me, allowing me to also play "Missives to strangers from friends."
Friday I didn't have the energy to attempt the task, after arriving on site and setting up. Saturday, I wandered around with the cards and the camera and got a few people to write out a few, and one or two more who were walking by camp. By Sunday morning, I was beginning to worry that I'd only get a handful of cards done, and set off with my camera and a stack of the dozen or so remaining, not intending to return to camp until they were all filled out. Fortunately for me, I was able to get a few groups of people who were enjoying various shade providing structures to write out cards. I think the time of day (the hottest part of the afternoon) help with finding people not in the middle of activities.
Most people were willing to participate and amused by the task. In general, I didn't volunteer any information about the people they were writing to, but answered questions if asked. The cards I got seemed to fall into three categories: People writing about what was going on, like a postcard to someone they knew; people playing with the anonymous aspect of it to try to prank people (like the person who tried to pretend she knew my aunt from some unspecified camp some unspecified time ago); and the truly surreal. I've included some examples in the photographs, and have the text of a few more that I'd like to share:
Perhaps the best of the prank-ish was Alison's postcard to Mike:
It's been so long dear why haven't you called? Today I had an awful lot of meat, but sadly not yours. Call me!
I predict Mike will be freaked out by this, and his wife will think it's hilarious.
From the more surreal end, Matt's postcard to Andy:
Hey, there, Andy!
You don't know who I am, but that's okay, some days I don't either. Anyway, just thought I'd write to say hello and... Oh my god, look out behind you! wait... no, false alarm. It was only a figment of my deranged imagination.
Well, that's all. Have a great day!
Another good surrealist was Sara's card to Helen, seen pictured below with the hand drawn fish, which simply read "The friendly fish of fortune wishes you a wonderful day."
My favorite, from the border between the regular postcards and the surrealists, was Mungo's card, also pictured below:
Well, here it is, Sunday... It's massively hot and The Peacock keeps coming through our camp, displaying his battered feathers and seeking a non-existent mate. It's always the same here. Mungo
I should point out that his account is completely factually accurate, and there was a peacock wandering through their camp while he wrote out the card.
All told, 37 postcards were returned to us, and several more people kept cards to fill out, promising to send them. Two of the cards returned were analyzed and discovered to contain coded messages designed to send their targets into homicidal and/or depressive fits, but serendipitously those same two cards were accidentally destroyed in a fire. I've had three people guess that I was responsible for the cards, but I may yet be implicated in more.
While I don't consider this Praxis iconic of who I am or what I hope to get out of and/or put into this game, I think it made an excellent introduction for me. I went out and did something I would never normally do, added a bit of surreality to my friend's lives (and some of them really need it), and got closer to my personal goal of communicating more by non-electronic means. Thanks to everyone who helped out with this task, and let's get together and do some more fun stuff soon!
I had a tremendous amount of fun with this one. I brought 20 addressed cards to the playa and added only about 11 to the pile to be dropped in a mail box before driving back to NY, as some people wished to take the cards with them and ponder what to write, dropping them in their own mailboxes. I do hope most of them get dropped off.
I did not wish to alert my victi--err, friends, to my mischief and surreal fun, and thus have not heard if they've all made it to their destinations. But many have, and my friends have come to me, amused and wondering if I knew anything about this. Some of these are cards I never got to see be filled out, so that was heartening. As well as quite entertaining.
Some of the cards did mention the Playa by name, and thus any of my friends who knew I'd been to Playa del Fuego this year had no doubt that I was behind it, or at least partly responsible. Others that were less place-connected could be guessed if I used nicknames in the address, and still others guessed simply because it's something I would do.
A couple of our cards had to be accidentally set on fire instead of being sent, as the recipients would truly not have appreciated the sentiments involved, but for the most part, the postcards were full of awesome and gave me a lot to enjoy, think about, and laugh with.
An online friend of mine was finishing up a small term as a guest of the state, and I took particular joy in giving him a mystery to mull over for a bit.
Overall everyone I've spoken to who has mentioned the cards has been bemused, amused, and in some cases down right thrilled by their postcards from strangers. Interestingly this is quite similar to the responses I got from the strangers I approached on the playa and explained my mission. Some thought it was kooky and fun, some that it was a brilliant way of creating community and reaching out to others, and some decided that I was insane, but harmless. I believe this was a grand success.