Oct 9 2011

Glow in the Desert

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s not what you’d expect to see in the middle of a still, starless night in the Arizona desert …

Dimly lit turquoise and purple paper lanterns rocking in the wind. A family of four draped in six feet of neon yellow glow rope, moving as one like a snake among the outbuildings of a local ranch. A young woman in tights walking the dusty desert soil, an oversized blue-and-white lighted hula-hoop in her hands.

But that’s exactly what I saw a few weekends ago. And more.

GLOW – A Nighttime Art Experience, is held annually at a nearby ranch and features multimedia art displays scattered among dimly lit paths edged by prickly pear cacti, mesquite trees, agave and palo verdes. Click to enlarge.

“Be the glow you wish to see in the world,” the GLOW event advertisements read. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. And once hubby and I were there, I still didn’t know what to think, except: Wow.

What did I see, besides the multimedia art? I saw an adult woman in a fluffy, hoop-skirt pink prom gown and flip-flops, continually sneaking into a storage building to refill her wine glass. I saw glow bracelets dancing through the darkness, though I knew they were wrapped around ankles and wrists. I saw a real-life Urkel in skinny jeans cut off at the knees, Mork suspenders completing the ensemble. I saw lights peeking from creosote bushes and mesquite. I heard music floating on the thirsty desert air.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. You do see headless Barbies in this piece of artwork that depicts an umbrella of brains. Your interpretation? I’m not sure I have one. Click to enlarge.

I saw a plump woman in a Viking style gown with coins sewn to the thick maroon fabric at the small of her back. I listened to the haunting notes of a violinist, who played before the backdrop of a giant, dancing Windows 98 screensaver. I watched Dr. Seuss cartoons from an old reel-to-reel projector perched high atop a small storage shed and aimed at the ground, bringing the settled dirt to animated life.

More artwork on display in a wonderful old brick outbuilding on the ranch. Click to enlarge.

I saw metal barrels soldered and sculpted and lit from within, listened to a band singing about falling cats (really!), inhaled the aroma of Mexican and Italian food from local restaurants, and watched a man in a King Tut costume strut his stuff. I’m serious. I couldn’t possibly make this up.

But what I felt? What I felt was a peaceful calm. I relished the cool breeze, void of moths and mosquitoes, void of the rush of everyday life. I felt my imagination come to life.

We were seated at a small table when I took this photo; a man played tunes on an old player piano behind us, his dog sitting by the piano bench waiting patiently. The softness of this photo captures some of the ambiance I felt. Notice the glowing outfits. Click to enlarge.

As we headed home for the evening, I floated hypnotically down the dimly lit path, under the paper lanterns that greeted us when we first arrived. It felt as though I’d been transported to some eccentric magical land of make-believe – adults lit up like Christmas trees, children wearing Pippi Longstocking stockings, wizard hats and fairy costumes, wings pinned to their backs. It was Halloween meets art. Desert breeze meets artistic calm. Harry Potter meets Renaissance.

And it made me wonder, later: Did I really see the dozen or so snakes strewn all over the winding rural desert roads as I drove the pickup home? Was there really a great horned owl waiting at the horse stables at our house, greeting us with an impressive wing span, stilled, watching us just as curiously as we watched him?

For Writers: Do you find material for your stories in unexpected places? It wasn’t my intention to gather fiction fodder this evening, but you betcha’ that a scene from this night will be in my WIP. I’m not sure how this artistic event morphed into the potpourri of eclecticism that it has, but my mind was – is – spinning with ideas, just like that reel-to-reel movie projector.


35 Responses to “Glow in the Desert”

  • avatar Kimberly Brock Says:

    I love this post! What a wonderful event and what a lovely way you have of sharing it with us. Talk about a Night Circus. I will put my head to my pillow tonight with glow-stick visions dancing in my head. I think the wonder of being a writer is very much wrapped up in being an observer, and appreciating the eccentricities of being human. Sometimes life comes in neon colors and I imagine you, Melissa, taking it all in, lifting the veil, and finding the stories underneath.
    Beautiful post.
    XO

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    “Night Circus” is the perfect way to describe this event, Kimberly. I couldn’t agree with you more about the ability of writers to observe and experience life a bit differently than others. It’s really a gift, isn’t it?

    Just as I am moved by the writing on your blog, I am moved, also, by your response on my blog: “… lifting the veil and finding the stories underneath.” So beautiful!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I love quirky events like that. Sounds like an amazing experience. And how great to leave the surreal and come home to the natural creatures who share your space with you.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, I have to say that the snakes and the owl really capped off the night! Quirky is another very good way to describe the event :-).

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, that really does sound cool — a perfect event for an evening in the desert with the glow. Was it performative art or did the attendees also come dressed up for the event? (If so what did *you* wear?)

    I can totally see how this would end up being fodder for fiction! As you said, after being there, it was hard to distinguish fact from fantasy! I haven’t been to this much of a fantastical event recently, but often I’ll be at an event which is pretty mainstream (a museum, sporting event, celebration or even out to dinner) and hear or see things that simply amaze me and give me some pretty wild ideas for fiction. So I can see how this one, as you say, must have your head spinning like a projector! Way cool! And you’ve inspired me to look for some events that I wouldn’t normally attend!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well – as you can tell, lots of the attendees dressed up (in bizarre attire), but given that we’d never been to the event before, we wore traditional garb. I think next year, I will dress up as a Kindle of iPad – since they have a lit up screen, and I love books. Oh wait … I’m still a paper/ink purist…

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    Whoa! The first photo “Glow” is spectacular. I’m mesmerized!

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    Alright, I would be totally into this! You had me at headless barbie. What a unique event. You desert folks get all the good stuff 🙂
    I’m glad it was so inspirational to you. It was a night circus meant to be.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha ha. Did you notice the Barbie arms and legs sticking out of the eye sockets of the mannequin head? Unique is right! Again – yes, night circus is the best description for it! Of course, that pales in comparison to your goat circus.

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  • avatar Erika Robuck Says:

    What a beautiful, hypnotic post. You’ve captured something very special and I thank you for sharing it with us. Fabulous!

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  • avatar Jessica McCann Says:

    This is awesome, Melissa. You have such a way with description. Can’t wait to see what you do with this in your WIP!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, just you wait! 🙂

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    That sounds amazing, Melissa! It reminds me of a night in Miami Beach a couple of years back. It was full of eclectic art and street performance, and paired with the ocean breeze, it was truly enchanting. I completely understand what you mean when you say you felt at peace. I think creative souls are at their most peaceful when they’re being inspired. I didn’t attend any events quite as amazing as yours this weekend, but I did find that inner calm through arts and crafts in my apartment.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I never looked at it like that: “creative souls are at their most peaceful when being inspired.” You may be on to something! Do tell! Arts and crafs in your apartment?

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, Melissa. I see stuff like this every night in our back yard.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You see headless Barbies and Barbie legs sticking out of the eye sockets of mannequin heads? Oh my… 🙂

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What can I say, my husband loves Barbies. He only poses as a mountain man. 😉

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Wow, what a great event and so inspiring! I love things like this. I’m sure you had lots of inspiration that evening.

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  • avatar Nina B Says:

    Honestly, this post reminds how important it is for writers of fiction (non-fiction, too, of course) to get out there and try new things, see new places, meet random people, and eat new foods. Otherwise all of our settings, characters, etc. start sounding the same. Events (like the one you went to) doesn’t have to be the POINT of a scene, but it could serve as a cool backdrop . . . it could give the character a new place to meet someone who could further the plot and so on. Great reminder! Thanks! And creepy Barbies!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You aren’t the only one creeped out by the Barbies! But you’re so right — the value of putting yourself in unfamiliar situations is really valuable to your fiction.

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    That sounds like a seriously cool art experience! And I’ll bet it will make a seriously cool addition to your WIP!

    I also get inspiration for scenes and characters at events like that. The unconscious is always seeking events like this, I think, so it can spin some wild tales.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think when we start thinking as writers, we see so much more.

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh, Melissa–I am so envious of this experience. I think I’m ready to pack up my family and move. It reminds me of festivals in New Orleans, that kind of energy and intensity. Just fabulous. (Love those hanging pieces on the brick–is that a local artist? Would love to find those…)

    And I couldn’t agree more about the surprise element. You NEVER know where or when a seed for a story/character will be planted. As writers, we need to be sponges for that very reason.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes,the alien-like critters are local artist-produced. If you really want info, I am sure I can track it down. Let me know. Oh – I bet New Orleans was a cornucopia of ideas and energy! I hope you’ve found something akin in your new home? I guess you just have to look (and ask around), because another commenter alerted me to a similar event in my old home of Phoenix that I never, ever knew existed!

    Sponges! Yes!

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  • avatar Liz @ Creative Liberty Says:

    This event sounds a lot like the festivals held at Alwun House in the Garfield Neighborhood of Phoenix. Definitely story fodder!

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    Melissa Reply:

    How did I never know about this? Garfield is downtown, not far from where I lived (I think?)

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    How wonderful an evening! I love how you wrote your experience and brought it to us.So magical. Love the pictures. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Tracy. You never know, when writing, if you’ve managed to capture what was really before your eyes. I’m so glad you liked it.

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  • avatar Susan Okaty Says:

    How could you not get ideas for your fiction after what you saw and felt? Fabulous descriptions.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hi Susan! Thanks for stopping by … yes, it was a feast of sensory expression – something I’d never experienced before; that’s for sure!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Oh…this sounds like one of those weirdly cool nights that happen every once in a while in our lives. Doesn’t it leave you with a lingering feeling of the unreal? I love it!! Lucky you to get to experience this, Melissa. The desert must lend it an even more intense surrealness.
    And yes, I hope it turns up in your writing somewhere…I’m sure it will, since it made such an impression.
    I think that long yellow thing in the brain & Barbie piece looks like the thing we use to empty our camper septic. Wild! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Total lingering feeling of the ‘unreal’ or surreal.. I’m still not really sure! But I AM sure that you are correct: that pipe IS what you use to drain the septic on campers (we have a camper and I grew up camping!)

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  • avatar Marianne Smith Says:

    Now this is my kind of party, Melissa! And who would be expecting this in the desert? You have really outdone yourself with the incredible photos! Your world never ceases to amaze me. And yes, weirdness always provides creativity for my writing 🙂 Readers want something out of the ordinary, and man do you give it to ’em!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Marianne! “Weirdness provides creativity for writing.” That should be a bumper sticker, but it’s SO true. Something else happened this week (weird, as well) that made me think: somehow, that has to make it into a future novel.

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  • avatar Thelma Zirkelbach Says:

    Hi, just got back in town and found your message. Please email me Mr. Bacon’s schedule. I’m sure we’d enjoy spending some time together. There are loads of things for a bacon strip to do in Houston.

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