Experimenting with Burning Man literary culture – is this what success looks like?

Cigars at Totem of ConfessionMunney and I were walking around the Totem of Confession, marveling at the intricacy and imaginative power of the surreal black-and-white photos that covered its façade. On the side facing away from Center Camp and out towards deep playa, we saw two metal chairs had been incongruously placed inside one of the alcoves.

“Hey,” Munny said to me, “let’s sit inside the art.” So we did.

The dust started to kick up, so we put our goggles on.

I got out two cigars, and we smoked in our goggles in the dust, sitting in the alcove of the Totem of Confession.

We must have been a sight, because people walking by started taking pictures of us. I kept thinking someone was going to say “hey, get the hell out of the way of the art so I can see what’s behind you!” but no one did. Our own incongruous image was now part of the experience, an encounter with an impossible moment that makes Burning Man so potent.

No one, that is, until a dark haired woman in a white dress walked up to me and asked “Excuse me, but, could we get you to move in about 10 minutes so I can get married here?”

I puffed on my cigar and turned my head to face her. “I dunno,” I said. “Is it important?”

It was a moment balanced on a knife blade – was I being funny, or an asshole? Sometimes you’re the last one to know.

She burst out laughing. Everyone around us took their cue.

Her playa name (if memory serves) was “Black Johnny,” she was in a high-five themed camp, and we were suddenly best friends. I offered her a cigar while we waited for the rest of her party to make it through the dust, and she sat on my lap, proclaiming “I want yours to be the last lap I sit on while I’m still single.” We kept laughing.

Then I said “Can I offer you a wedding gift?”


Black Rock City 2015, this is your Moop Map! (and your Auntie)

Hello all you moop maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire, and welcome to the very last installment of Moop Map 2015! That’s right, I’ve got the complete (though not FINAL-final) results for the entire city grid of Burning Man 2015, all mapped for you.

I’ve also got one more person to introduce you to – though there are countless amazing, fascinating people out here working Playa Restoration, I can’t introduce you to each of them. Luckily, miss Auntie Social speaks for many of us.

Auntie Selfie!
Auntie Selfie!

Auntie Social was the Man Base Stage Manager this year, and has been a member of the DPW since 2009. She does many amazing things in the outside world as well, so I’ll be sharing some of her photos of a truly creative, original life. Get inspired!


Playa Restoration: Special Forces


This is a guest post from Shalaco, who has worked Playa Restoration the past couple of years and whose Instagram contains more Resto goodies. Thanks Shalaco! – Hun



Playa Restoration is divided into two specialized teams: Line Sweeps Division and Special Forces.

The line sweeps walk the city streets, arms length apart in groups of 30 with their well trained MOOP eyes that can spot a single sequin, wood chip or piece of carpet fuzz on the open playa. But when they find something that’s too BIG, too gross, or there’s just too dang many of it, they raise their MOOP stick to flag an oscillator to “cone it”. Taking a few minutes to cleanup what they can, then they walk-on, and keep the line moving. Special Forces will come in for the kill. “Killin Cones” is what these self described “Cone Killas” do.

Wee Heavy raises his MOOP stick to alert an oscillator of a ‘hot spot’.
Wee Heavy raises his MOOP stick to alert an oscillator of a ‘hot spot’.
Line Sweeps’ oscillator Eff’n Andy drops a traffic pylon on a ‘hot spot’
Line Sweeps’ oscillator Eff’n Andy drops a traffic pylon on a ‘hot spot’

So, who is special forces and what does it mean to be a ‘cone killa’ anyways?
Special Forces Manager Phoenix Firestarter breaks it down for us.

Phoenix Firestarter surveys the rapidly vanishing city for any remaining cones.
Phoenix Firestarter surveys the rapidly vanishing city for any remaining cones.


Moop Map 2015: Day 7, and BLUE

That's a good shirt.
Buena Chica, that’s a good shirt.

What up my moop maniacs & line sweepers extraordinaire!

For the past couple of days, we’ve been gleefully celebrating Black Rock City’s successful inspection, meaning Burning Man 2016 is like. SO. on. However, many of you don’t yet know how your individual camps scored! It is time to release the penultimate iteration of the Moop Map: Day Seven is here for you.

Jake Kaos and his perfickly safe survey flag slingshot.
Jake Kaos and his perfickly safe survey flag slingshot.

First, though, I want to continue introducing you to a few of the fascinating people of Resto. (Read about Major Buzzkill, DA, Pocket and Rando if you haven’t yet).

In truth, the reason I keep coming back to this place is for the people. THESE people. And today I’m sharing a story from one of the seriously undersung heroes of Burning Dude: Mr. Blue. This is a man who, if he took a day off, the whole thing might actually implode.

Mr. Blue as hood ornament.
Mr. Blue, sitting still for a rare brief moment.

Mr. Blue’s current job titles:

  • Man Pavilion Lighting Manager
  • Project Manager, Recycle Camp
  • Waste Stream Logistics Manager
  • Black Rock Trucking Manager
  • Facilities Manager, Burning Man HQ

I believe he’s the most managerial manager in the Borg. But what’s cool about Blue is that he’s a really good dude, and that’s why he ended up with all the titles. He just kept volunteering. To wit:

I left Michigan in 1995 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, oddly enough because after twelve years of working in the entertainment business, nightclubs, bars, rock&roll shows, production companies and throwing events…I was tired of, if you can believe it, cleaning up after events.

The vibe there was: four to six people threw a party, 400 people came, four to six people cleaned up. I said, ‘I’m done with this, I’m going to go do something else.’

In 1996 I saw a flyer for Burning Man Decompression, and I went. It was nothing like Burning Man, though I talked with some friends who went to Burning Man. The more I learned from them, the more I thought I didn’t want to do this.

I actually think I said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go out in the middle of nowhere and pay $75 to go to a rave, no way.’

The photo that changed Blue's mind. Black Rock City 2000 by Gabe Kirchheimer.
The photo that changed Blue’s mind. Black Rock City 2000 by Gabe Kirchheimer.


Burning Confessions — My First Regional Burn (in Japan!)

I have a confession to make. As a full time member of Burning Man’s Communications Team, I’ve spoken and written quite a bit about the growing network of Burning Man events across the United States and around the world. ‘The future of Burning Man is in the Regionals’ is heard with some regularity here at BMHQ.

And yet, until just a few weeks ago, I had never actually participated in a ‘regional event’. The Burning Man Regional Network of events and community leaders is growing steadily. Today there are 265 official regional contacts in 125 locations and 65 events held annually in more than 15 countries on 5 continents.

This year’s Burning Japan was held at Iwafune-san, a rock quarry dating back to the Edo era. Photo by Kiruke.
This year’s Burning Japan was held at Iwafune-san, a rock quarry dating back to the Edo era. Photo by Kiruke.

Happily, in a post Black Rock City dusty-eyed haze, I pulled myself away from day-to-day Burning Man communications long enough to experience one of them – in Japan. Now in its 4th year (3rd as an “official” regional event), Burning Japan is a 4-day event produced by a year-round core team of 20ish Japanese Burners, with the help of 50+ onsite volunteers.

So my colleague Iris Yee and I were pleased to pack our bags and set off across the Pacific to check out how the Japanese are manifesting Burning Man in their home country.

If you’ve traveled overseas to get to Black Rock City, you know the quandaries – how can you bring something to the burn with nearly nothing in hand? What can you contribute to the community? How will you transport yourself and everything you need to be self-reliant on your back?

Welcome home! Megan and Iris pause in their uphill walk to the Gate after being greeted by Japan Regional Contact Makibee (on the right) and volunteers. Photo by Iris Yee.
Welcome home! Megan and Iris are greeted by Japan Regional Contact Makibee (right) and volunteers.

Trips to grocery stores and convenience stores were followed by furious packing and repacking, followed by planes, trains, and a hike.

But we made it.

And boy am I glad we did. What unfolded over the next few days was nothing short of beautiful. Inspiring. Heartwarming.

Japanese Regional Contact Makibee and her team dreamed, planned and then co-created the experience with the 400 participants of all ages, roughly ¾ of which were Japanese, the rest being expats from countries including England, Ireland, Israel, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia and the US.

I was delighted to discover that Burning Japan was full of the same kinds of interactions, creations, and transformations based on mutual respect and curiosity that we’ve come to expect in Black Rock City.

Sound camp foam party, a crowd favorite a Burning Japan, for obvious reasons. Photo by Kiruke.
Sound camp foam party, a crowd favorite at Burning Japan, for obvious reasons. Photo by Kiruke.

Confession number two: my expectations for this gathering were, well, moderate. I assumed I might be going to a campout. But this was a full-on burn. Participants were pushing themselves and their creative limits, connecting and collaborating — they were exploring new ways of relating to themselves and the world around them.

People were literally moved to tears by a newfound freedom they felt hard to describe. They were doing in community what they could not do alone.

On day one we came upon the group building the Phoenix effigy together (Burning Japan’s answer to the Man) —- they were co-creating, addressing problems, searching for solutions —- all while laughing, connecting, celebrating. This is it, I thought. The same framework. The same basic elements. And it’s working. In Japan.

Phoenix Effigy. Photo by Kiruke.
Phoenix Effigy. Photo by Kiruke.

Burning Japan may seem primitive in comparison to the extravagant and complex projects and camps one finds in Black Rock City. The bar there has been set really, really high. At Burning Japan, there is just enough to spark the imagination but it all seems doable and everyone is welcome to jump in. Not too expensive. Not too complicated. Accessible. Possible.

Getting back to basics can be powerful. I watched a father help his young son approach a new group of people carrying a bag of lollipops. “Just ask if they want one,” he said. Once the boy got up the courage to do so, and the response was so positive, his light turned on. Gifting just feels good. And it really can be that simple.

Several participants actually expressed, in various ways, that they felt people living in Japan might actually need this more than those in other parts of the world. The freedom. The permission to let go, to tap into what you know to be true and and to share it – to celebrate who you are and what you have to offer the world. As it happens, Burners from Japan were some of the first far-flung visitors that began showing up in Black Rock City in the late 90s and expressing a keen interest in all things Burning Man.

Gate & Greeters volunteers pause for a team photo op. Photo by Megan Miller.
Gate & Greeters volunteers pause for a team photo op. Photo by Megan Miller.

On day two I worked a shift at the Gate/Greeters (one and the same here at Burning Japan). Confession three: as I’ve learned from my late night shifts on Gate Road, I love working gate. That day I got to welcome a family to their first (last-minute) burn. When I asked the Dad of three (ages eight, six and three) what motivated them to come, he said that he wants his kids to be exposed to new ideas. He hoped the event would ‘plant a seed’ so that when they have an idea, when they want to play or build or make something, they will feel like they can do it because they experienced this.

Our Burning Japan neighbor Daisuke went to Black Rock City in 2004 and 2005. In high school he saw a photograph in a magazine — it was a of a bicycle ‘covered in fur’ and he decided he needed to see this. To go there.  I love this. This is Daisuke’s first Burning Japan. “I can’t believe it’s the same [as BRC]” he says, the disbelief and wonder of it hanging between the two of us for a moment. We agree: there’s something of everything here. One tiny art car (ok, it’s a tricycle), a beautiful little temple, an art installation, a couple of music camps, food camps, lights blinking, music thumping, kids running around exploring, laughter everywhere, gifting everything. But most important is the feeling. The warmth, the openness, the spontaneity.

Participants enjoying the band Sp.monk & the Funky Sausage featuring some Burning friends at Center Camp
Participants enjoying the band Sp.monk & the Funky Sausage featuring some Burning friends at Center Camp. Photo by Kiruke.

Connecting human to human is simple but powerful stuff, and Burning Japan was a moving reminder of this. The journey was long. Our  backpacks were heavy. But our arrival was celebrated. Tickets were torn. Tutus were donned. Hugs received. Shouts of “Welcome Home!” and “Happy Burn!” standing out among other indecipherable chatter in a beautiful but distinctly foreign language.

It was as though they’d been waiting for us the whole time. And I felt absolutely welcome. Here in this country oceans away from the one I’m from, I am a part of something. I belong.

We also met a participant named James, a Brit living in Hong Kong who has always wanted to go to BRC but hasn’t made it yet. When I ask him what he thinks about his first burn, he says the feeling is what he had hoped for. People want to talk, he says, about lots of things. They want to engage with each other, with him. And it feels wonderful.

James. Photo by Megan Miller.
James. Photo by Megan Miller.

And in that moment I’m reminded that Burning Man inspires people to change their lives for the better – to be more authentic, to learn new skills, to connect with others, to collaborate and breathe life into their dreams. And the world, I think, needs more of that.

On the last night of the burn, Iris and I hosted a “What is Burning Man?” discussion at Center Camp. One participant asked about Burning Man’s staying power: “In light of so many movements and happenings that have come and gone over the years, why does Burning Man’s momentum and influence continue to grow?”

Surely there are many answers to that question, but I think Burning Man may have longevity precisely because it can be reinvented – it can change but still maintain something fundamental to its nature. Burning Man is only a context, a canvas, a blank slate waiting to be made meaningful.

The content changes over time and space. It can be applied to any situation, by anyone. It’s a way of relating person to person that is based on what is essentially human – the desire to connect. To see and be seen. To feel just a little less alone.

Participants gather for a group photo on burn night. Photo by Kiruke.
Participants gather for a group photo on burn night. Photo by Kiruke.

And now, with so many Burners doing so many burner-y things in far corners of the world, that experience is accessible to more people than ever before. The future of Burning Man just might really be in the Regionals. Before I’d been, it was difficult to truly trust that the spirit of the dusty thing lives on elsewhere. But I’m certain of it now.

It’s at Midburn. AfrikaBurn. Burning Seed and Blazing Swan. It’s at The Borderland and Frostburn and Burn in the Fraser and Element 11. It’s most definitely at Burning Flipside.

It’s out there, not in here. Black Rock City may be the cauldron but, I confess, the culture of Burning Man is alive and well year-round and around the world.

line sweeps: tactical information

Line sweeps are the DPW’s primary method of cleaning the desert after Burning Man. Participants well-educated in the event’s Leave No Trace philosophy know to pack out every single bit of their trash with them — but at the dirt rave, people lose pieces of themselves in high winds without knowing it.

Something incredible happens after the Man burns, Collexodus insures the DPW stays fed, and participants enter the default world: Playa Restoration. During this cleanup process, the DPW scans the desert for microtrash we call MOOP — any Matter that’s Out Of Place — in formations we’ve honed so much we feel they’re worth sharing to the larger world.

So this document is meant to demystify MOOPing for the people. Why? Open source, yall. Alternate applications of tactical line sweep deployment include:

  • post-festival or -gathering cleanup
  • clearing underbrush from a local neglected public space
  • search and rescue
  • LNT-ing at rights-exercising protests or temporary autonomous zones
  • finding a lost engagement ring in a field (why not moop too while you’re at it; don’t be a jerk)
  • removing party trash and tweaker camps from your favorite park or riverbank
  • etc
line up
line up

How to do line sweeps

Moopers line up with only enough space to stretch out their arms. They cover areas in large rectangular swathes, mapped and delineated in advance with cones set to coordinates marked on GPS devices. Do the math as far as how many people you have vs. how many feet your parallel line will be on the grid.

The best moop buckets are made from two-gallon water jugs with handles; cut out a square in the top front of the plastic in order to make it a ‘bucket.’ The top handles provide maximum comfort and the small hole in front of the handle prevents trash from blowing out in high winds.

(For alternate events with more potential large trash, such as cleaning disaster areas or mooping tweaker camps from the riverbank, you may want to use five-gallon buckets instead. If your trash volume will be high, maybe have oscillators running 55-gallon trash cans from the lines on dollies, then dumping those cans into other cans in back of central trucks in the parking lot, with transpo dump-runners allocated to drive the big stuff away.)


As a line sweeper, if you don’t have moop sticks, and your knees are okay, try to get in the habit of squatting instead of bending over, unless you’ve taken the appropriate posture and movement classes. You want to develop a slightly serpentine gait, turning at different S-curves as you walk your straight line.

Maybe even turn around in a little circle to look behind you every few swishes. Why? Because sunlight and shadows are tricky. Some bits of moop are barely seen from where you stand, but then become completely obvious when viewed from the other direction.

Line sweepers function under the traffic-control of their line bosses, who either use a megaphone or enjoy hollering. Line bosses must be tough, genial benevolent dictators — possessing a quasi-military attitude of ego-free tactical facilitation, combined with enough comical aggression to keep a volunteer labor force entertained in order to continue to do what the line bosses say.

Starchild. Photo by @JHFearless

What are some important things for line bosses to know, Starchild?:

BLM Inspection Passed. #BM2016 is a GO.

The combination DPW-BLM team.
The combination DPW-BLM team.


A great big CONGRATULATIONS to all of you moop maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire – we did it!

Awww, ya did it. Actual moop found today. Photo by Summer Burkes.
Awww, ya did it. Actual moop found today. Photo by @Summer_Burkes.
This morning dawned beautiful and clear, just in time for our Bureau of Land Management representatives to meet the DPW Playa Restoration team and review the site that once was Black Rock City.

Here’s what they found: very little. And that’s a good thing: once again, Burning Man has confirmed its reputation as the world’s largest Leave No Trace event.

The results of today’s inspection are NOT official. We’ll find out for sure, in writing, in a few months. However, I can tell you right now that – psst – we totally passed with flying colors.


“Hold on! But you haven’t finished mooping!”

Actually, we have finished line sweeping our way through the streets of Black Rock City – just yesterday, in fact. However, it takes us several days to produce the Moop Map images for you. So, for example, the map I posted yesterday reflected the results of last Monday’s line sweeps.

(Sorry for the confusion. Have you ever tried computering in this desert? It’s a slow process.)


“OK that makes sense. So what is this inspection again?”

NBD. This is only the most important part of the whole process. Each year, the Bureau of Land Management assesses how well Burning Man treated the Black Rock Desert (which is, of course, public land). The results of this inspection determine whether we will receive a permit to hold the event here next year.

In other words, if we fail, we can not return to the playa.

The BLM can’t inspect the entire 4.5 square mile event site in a single day, so 60 randomly-selected points throughout the city are chosen as a sampling. Each inspection point is one tenth of an acre. They cover all parts of the city, from the streets, to the Man and art sites, to the open playa.



Panorama shot of an inspection site (click to enlarge). Photo by @SFSlim.
Panorama shot of an inspection site (click to enlarge). Photo by @SFSlim.
Inspection tools: map, GPS readers, stakes and flags. Photo by @Shalaco.
Inspection tools: map, GPS readers, stakes and flags. Photo by @Shalaco.
Wee Heavy, Starchild and Kentucky with a flag marking one of the 60 inspection sites. Photo by @SFSlim.
Wee Heavy, Starchild and Kentucky with a flag marking one of the 60 inspection sites. Photo by @SFSlim.



In order to achieve success, there must be less than one square foot of moop found per acre. Therefore, each inspection point must produce less than one tenth of a square foot of moop. That’s a 3.8 inch wide square. It’s small.

And yet, once again, we passed with a visibly wide margin. Do you know how big a deal that is? It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something we all did together, as the community of Black Rock City.

From the BLM perspective, this is the most important thing. We share the same goal here, which is to return the Black Rock Desert to the way it was before Burning Man. We share your goals and the ‘leave no trace’ ethic. Thanks to all of you for this monumental effort.
— David, BLM Project Manager


A "full" baggie from one of the sites. Photo by @SFSlim.
A “full” baggie from one of the sites. Photo by @SFSlim.

“So how do we know we passed?”

It’s very scientific: each site gets a baggie, and into the baggie goes all the moop. Ten inspection teams, composed of Burning Man and BLM representatives, each cover about six different sites. They systematically line sweep the site, then seal the baggie and submit it.

The BLM then looks over everything that was found, and gives us the preliminary, unofficial result. Which, again, is a total pass for 2015.

Now they will go back to a laboratory somewhere and measure it all, create a detailed and much more official report, and send it to Burning Man as part of next year’s permitting process.


Phoenix Firestarter, Restoration Special Forces Manager, shows off the results of all our hard work. Photo by @Shalaco.
Phoenix Firestarter, Restoration Special Forces Manager, shows off the results of all our hard work. Photo by @Shalaco.


So first of all, let’s all thank the BLM representatives who joined us today, because they didn’t make us wait months to find out whether we passed!

And then, let’s thank our campmates, our neighbors, and our friends who took the time to moop their camps, pack it out, and Leave No Trace.

Finally, let’s give a big HURRAH for the Playa Restoration forces, who continually brave some pretty crazy conditions and do some rather brutal work in order to make sure that Burning Man keeps on rising from the dust.




As the inspection drew to a close, the BLM reps laid out all the baggies so we could see just how little was left behind from this city of 70,000. Champagne was popped and passed around. The cork landed on the playa.

“Pick it up!” someone yelled.

“No way, the inspection’s over,” said Summer. “That’s job security for next year.”

See you there.

How I fell out of love with The Latitude Society – and what Burning Man can learn from it.

Latitude ID card (front)
A well worn Latitude Society ID card. It’s not just a prop – it could literally open doors.

I’ve wanted to write about a piece examining Burning Man through the lens of The Latitude Society (or vice-versa) for some time. But I’m the kind of old-school that believes that when you join a secret society you goddamn well don’t go around saying “Hey, have you heard about this cool secret society?” Because dammit, words mean things. Maybe not when they’re written on t-shirts, or bumper stickers, but, otherwise.

However, now that The Latitude Society’s architect has opened a series of meetings up to a reporter for LongReads.com and gone on record about his plans for expansion – because apparently it’s damn hard to expand your secret society if people don’t know about it – I consider honor satisfied.

(UPDATE: Between the time I wrote this and the time I’m publishing it, The Latitude appears to have also shut down. More on this at the end.)

So hey, what do you think Burning Man can learn from an experiential arts community centered in the same place, involving many of the same kinds of people (or the very same people in many cases), but that does everything almost entirely differently from Burning Man?

I don’t have any data on this (The Latitude is a secret society, after all), but I’d be stunned if a working majority of its hundreds of members weren’t Burners. Literally every member of The Latitude I know personally (myself, obviously, included) has been to Burning Man and has at one time been active in Burner culture.

So the appeal, to at least a sub-section of Burners, of an organization almost wholly unlike Burning Man is clear. This isn’t a problem, exactly: most Burners belong to some organization that does things differently from Burning Man. The Republican Party. The Democratic Party. The AARP. Harvard. The SEIU. Christianity – Burners belong to a whole host of cultural institutions that have little in common with Burning Man, and that’s fine. That diversity, in fact, is both a strength and a precious commodity.

But The Latitude Society is an organization that is, at some level, dedicated to the same purpose as Burning Man: creating extraordinary arts experiences that will, over time, change the world. That mission statement doesn’t fit either organization exactly, but it’s certainly close to the heart of both. And it is in that context specifically that The Lattitude takes a 180 degree swing from Burning Man’s approach to … well … just about everything.