The therapeutic power of Radical Self-Expression

Embrace by The Pier GroupChip Conley, a member of Burning Man’s board, frequently likes to say:  “The more digital we get, the more ritual we need.”

I thought of that when I read about a new strategy for fighting depression – one that involves no pills, no brain scans … virtually no technology of any kind – and is incredibly affective.  In some studies, 94% of patients report an end to depression in six months or less.  In other studies, 97%.

What is this miraculous new cure?  This brain-hacking innovation?  It’s getting people to talk with each other.  Essentially peer lead group therapy.

The research is being conducted in the developing world, in areas where mental health treatment options are extremely scarce … and so far it’s focusing on women, because it’s possible to circumvent the cultural proscriptions against seeking mental health treatment by telling them that having their symptoms addressed is good for their children.  So the sample group is limited.  But the staggeringly good results strongly suggest that it is our approach to mental health in the first world … our privatizing organic “social networks” and replacing them with network of insurance providers dictating terms to health care professionals who emphasize the pill popping for mood adjustment at the expense of actually talking to people … that gets it all wrong.

With depression rates rising significantly in much of the modern world – even as more and more mood altering drugs are prescribed – it may be that it is modern culture itself which has so degraded our ability to have routine, deep, in person connections with one another, and that this is creating a crisis in mental health.

(The other option – that we have not lost the capacity to have deep, in person, connections with one another in the developed world, but that life here is so toxic that the only way masses of people can tolerate existence in the industrialized world is through medication – actually scares me much more.  But while possible (brrrr) I think that stretches past what the research so far is telling us.  Still, makes you wonder.)

Thinking of this, I am reminded of the way so many people believe that Burning Man … a camping trip that costs excess money and includes a higher chance of being run over by a mechanical octopus … is a crucial part of their mental health regimen.    Kinda ridiculous –  but people swear by the therapeutic power of Burning Man so much that I’ve had to write entire screeds reminding people that Burning Man is not “therapy Disneyland” and that it’s okay to be unhappy when you’re here.

Yet it may very well be … humanistic psychology has often said so … that what we call “radical self-expression” is in fact a vital component of mental health.  While the public perception of creative genius ties it to madness and mental illness, research actually suggests that it is human beings who lack an outlet for their creativity – in whatever form is meaningful to them – who are at a higher risk of depression and mental illness. (more…)

Building a Temple

[Shalaco Wordsmith is your typical Bay Area Renaissance man: he dabbles in web design, writing, photography, art, Burning Man, adventure and zombies. He contributed this piece about his involvement with the construction of the Temple of Whollyness in 2013.]

I’d like to tell you the story of what happened when I set out to do something I dreamed about doing, but thought I couldn’t, and what I discovered along the way.

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Intention
Arrival in Gerlach
Arrival on Playa
Temple’s Arrival
Temple Build
Transition Ceremony
Temple Burn

Intention

I’ve been to That Thing in the Desert (TTITD) a handful of times and very much wanted to make that leap from attendee to participant by playing a part in creating the event. I dreamed of being on Man Krew (the crew that builds the Man), but felt it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would never happen. I decided, however, to simply put my intentions out there and see what happens, instead of reciting to myself all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I didn’t make Man Krew. Instead I am approached with a role as ‘Internet Wizard’ for Temple Crew. I think to myself, “Establish an internet connection essential for the AutoCAD-based assembly of a massive pyramidal complex comprised of interlocking puzzle pieces of precision-machined wood, 80 miles from the nearest broadband-capable infrastructure, in the enormous, flat, dry, endorheic Pleistocene lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan? Sure, why not. I hear it’ll be a plug-and-play setup.” (more…)

Burning Man Now Accepts Bitcoin Donations

bitcoinStarting today, you can donate to Burning Man with Bitcoin. This makes it easy for anyone in the world to support Burning Man’s year-round programs using cryptocurrency, which is private, secure and untethered to any national currency.

Because Burning Man is a recognized non-profit, donations are tax-deductible, and there are no transaction fees for donating in Bitcoin thanks to our payment processing partner, Coinbase.

Ticket sales — which do not yet support Bitcoin — cover the cost of producing the event in Black Rock City, but Burning Man needs the help of donors to fund its projects and initiatives during the rest of the year.

Burning Man’s Marian Goodell said “Donations will help provide more grants, training and support to creators of radically interactive art and events on and off the playa, fund civic programs, teach communities the power of collaboration, strengthen our infrastructure and make the Burning Man experience accessible year-round.”

Your donations support Burning Man’s Global Art Grants, the Big Art for Small Towns program and art honorariums for Black Rock City. Burning Man also supports civic art programs, Burners Without Borders and grants for community initiatives. Around the world, Burning Man facilitates a regional network of more than 250 volunteer regional contacts on five continents, hosts an annual Global Leadership Conference and a European Leadership Conference scheduled for February 2015.

“Accepting Bitcoin for donations is an experimental first step,” Goodell says. “We plan to explore other possibilities in the future, including expanding Bitcoin to the ticket-buying process.”

Donations to Burning Man can be made online by visiting donate.burningman.org.

For more information about how Burning Man uses Bitcoin donations, check out our Bitcoin FAQ.

A Statement from Jim Tananbaum

Burning Man Project board member and Caravancicle founder Jim Tananbaum has addressed questions raised about his 2014 camp in Black Rock City.

The following was posted today on Caravancicle.com … we’re reposting it here for your convenience:

I am writing to respond to a number of posts regarding Caravancicle, a camp of which I was a member in 2014 – I also helped envision and fund the camp.

 

I first want to apologize broadly to anyone who felt disrespected by our camp or concerned about the implications of our camp’s operation to the long-term health of Burning Man.

 

I have been attending Burning Man every year since 2009. Burning Man is a singularly impactful event for me and, since first attending, I have become deeply moved by the 10 Principles, the potential for these principles to change the world, and the environment of the playa as an embodiment of the principles. This is the reason I joined the Burning Man Board of Directors. It is also the reason why I wanted to create a camp environment that would help enable my friends to share the transformative experience of Burning Man. In addition, we wanted to introduce a more sustainable, communal and aesthetically pleasing alternative to RVs to the playa. It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man. It is clear based on blog posts and comments made online that not everyone experienced what we intended.

 

For that, I would like to apologize. Despite our best intentions and efforts, some things did not turn out as planned.

 

Caravancicle is the third camp I have been involved with at Burning Man. My experience has been with larger camps requiring some workers to provide the infrastructure. Our camp was constructed by a long-term Burner with deep respect and care for the community, who was hired to manage the camp. He also led the build for the camp we did the year before. We have worked with people in the past to build out our camp who were hired by the camp organizers and then would enjoy the Burning Man experience when they were not working. Our campmates would staff the bar, greet people, give out gifts, etc.  This year, our plan was to gift a neighboring camp infrastructure in exchange for their assistance in building ours. We were trying to build community through sharing resources.

 

To make a long and painful story short, our partners were not able to complete our build and our remaining staff was left having to build out toilets, showers and other infrastructure (without having planned to and therefore not having the proper resources to do so). During this crisis, many people in our camp rose to the occasion, but a few, like “SherpaGirl,” decided to leave and then wrote a disappointing account of her few hours in our camp. Another person in camp posted a sign asking for help without asking anyone else. We had some first time Burners in the camp, including the person who posted the sign. We also had many return Burners in the camp.  I think most people attending Burning Man have had some unexpected situations; we did, and we tried to adjust to these in the moment.

 

The hero of this unfortunate situation was our camp’s manager who worked tirelessly for 2 days along with other camp members to help provide basic infrastructure for all of us. While the crisis was going on, all of us were greatly distracted and weren’t able to properly respond to the many people coming through our camp. Our supplies were also dwindling. Since the camp was so large, we used wristbands to help manage the food, water, and booze supply during non-public hours. It was really sad for me to read the accounts of people who visited our camp and were turned down for drinks during the day (including a number of my friends). Ughh….  If we had simply posted a sign providing details on camp gift times, it would have made a big difference.

 

Our camp breakdown was also compromised because the group responsible for providing the infrastructure was also responsible for part of the breakdown. In the end, our camp manager and some other members of the camp, plus breakdown staff, cleaned up our camp by Saturday after the event. We took a photo of our campsite before we left the playa and it was free of MOOP. We then learned that a camp next door was having significant issues with clean up and we sent trucks back to help them. It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.

 

To specifically answer questions:  I did not profit from Caravancicle (in fact I gifted money, as I do every year). Our bar was open to the public at night but not during the day. We should have posted a sign to make this clear. On Friday night, used up all of our booze to gift a huge party for anyone who visited our camp. We regularly gifted very yummy homemade popsicles and herbal tea but were not able to set up the gift stand in front of the camp as originally envisioned because of the build crisis we had. We regularly gifted drinks, water, and electrolytes at night.

 

Regarding questions on the 10 Principles of Burning Man:

 

1. Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes people from all walks of life. Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community. Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life. Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others. During other parts of the days, these art cars welcomed anyone to come on board until they were filled to safe capacity.

 

2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. Caravancicle gifted popsicles, tea, booze, water and electrolytes, but at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks. We could have greatly improved our communications on this matter.

 

3. Decommodification: Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. Caravancicle was in no way affiliated with any third party sponsorships. We hired a team to produce the camp (as many camps do), but Caravancicle did not participate in any advertising. The ‘promotional materials’ and website were sent to guests who were invited to join the camp. We did not actively promote the camp. No one in Caravancicle made money off of the camp.

 

4. Radical Self-reliance: Although many of the more physical aspects of self-reliance were lost on the Caravanciclers, camp members were encouraged to exercise and rely on their inner resources. Just as in other camps, many members spent extensive amounts of time reflecting and self-exploring out on the playa. They faced many of the same challenges every other Burner faces at the event.

 

5. Radical Self-expression: Caravancicle was an act of creative expression in and of itself. The camp had months and months of planning and effort put into it, including help from many of its members. While not all members of the camp participated in the creative aspect of building the camp, each brought their own unique personality, costumes and contributions to Burning Man.

 

6. Communal Effort: While I can’t argue that Caravancicle members had significantly less work to do as far as cooking and maintenance, all members were still responsible for chores around camp including, but not limited to, picking up trash and being responsible for washing their own dishes. We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.

 

7. Civic Responsibility: Caravancicle assumed responsibility for the conduct of our events. We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP. On one specific instance there were so many bikes parked outside one of our parties that the Rangers had to come inside and let us know. We killed the music and shut down the party immediately, making sure the mess was cleared up right away.

 

8. Leaving No Trace: Our clean up was delayed because of our co-dependency on a partner camp. We were able to clean our site, with pictures taken that document a clean site on Saturday after the event. It is unclear to me why we received red marks on the MOOP map, but I think we were generally docked points because we were late in leaving. We also sent back help for a neighbor camp that was having difficulties cleaning up.

 

9. Participation: Members of Caravancicle participated and achieved through “doing”. I urge everyone to remember that for some of our campers, this was their first burn. Personally, I contributed substantially less my first year than I have in years since. This year, however, I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.

 

10. Immediacy: Most Burners agree that Immediacy is the touchstone of value in our culture. Just like every other participant in this community, I wish to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. I did not get it perfectly right, but I did make my best effort to create something beautiful and creative, unique and innovative.

 

Regarding other questions that have been raised about me and my camp:

 

Plug and Play: While a lot of personal responsibility was deflected onto camp employees, I have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year planning, organizing and executing a camp that brought beauty and value to the playa. Although some of our campers were “plug and play” participants per se, the act of judging them or excluding them goes against everything that Burning Man stands for regarding radical inclusion.

 

Profit: There have been suggestions that our camp was for profit. I can assure you our camp generated no money and was not, in any way, a money making venture. Additionally, the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the planning or production of the camp – it was an entirely personal project.  Our website was meant to be viewed by 60 or so people who were planning to participate in our camp and was password protected. The material which referred to artists was produced by our partner camp and not us as a way of describing what they envisioned. Our partner camp described this as fully endorsed by the artists they included. I am sorry that people outside of Caravancicle camp were able to gain access to our website and share our draft material without our authorization. I am also sorry about artists whose names they included without their authorization. Caravancicle was trying to create an environment which shared the beauty of our architecture and design with other creative forces on the playa.

 

Burning Man Project Board of Directors: I joined the board of directors because I’m passionate about the impact Burning Man culture can have on the world, and because I believe my professional experience and perspective is valuable to the new nonprofit at this early stage of its development. I believe Burning Man and what it has to offer the world is still very nascent and am thrilled to be working with other board members to steward its growth and development.

 

I believe there is a silver lining in the discussion our camp has engendered because it has caused a healthy dialog about the implications for Burning Man’s evolution. I am proud to be a Burner. I am proud that my fellow Burners felt passionate enough about the sanctity of Burning Man to push this discussion, and I look forward to taking new ideas and lessons learned into the future.

Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

The Bay Lights Will Blink On as a Permanent Installation

Image courtesy of thebaylights.org

The Bay Lights, which first started sparkling across the Bay Bridge in March 2013, just hit its funding goal and will now be a permanent installation. The 1.8 mile-wide, 500-foot-high LED sculpture is the world’s largest, made of 25,000 white LEDs whose patterns glow from sundown to sunrise and never repeat. It will stay lit until 2026 at least.

In an email to supporters, Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts and big-time Burner, says that the $2 million raised so far was matched by philanthropist Tad Taube, bringing the organization to the $4 million baseline goal.

The Bay Lights installation is the brainchild of Leo Villareal, a world-renowned artist with many equally dazzling installations under his belt. He’s also one of the founders of Disorient, which is a Burning Man camp that, even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely heard. You know the blinky orange-y camp on the 3-o’-clock side of the Esplanade? Used to rock a giant orange traffic cone-looking thing? Yeah, them. Leo joined the inaugural Burning Man Board of Directors in 2011, and he re-upped after his initial term ended, continuing to serve on the Board today.

Villareal has been coming to Black Rock City since 1994, and he brought his first blinky installation in 1997 to solve a clear, simple problem: he had trouble finding his camp at night. That drove him to build his first large-scale piece in New York in 2003, and it just got more ambitious and beautiful from there. As a Burning Man veteran, Villareal is surely used to having to take apart his art and pack it up, but now he’s built the largest LED sculpture in the world, and the people have raised the money to keep it lit.

The piece has to be taken down for bridge maintenance next year, but the New York Times arts blog reports that the piece will be up again by January 2016.

Thank you to everyone who donated to keep this beautiful piece alight in the cities from which the global Burning Man culture has spread.

Welcome Back, Lake Lahontan!

Our man Taz, who holds down the technological fort year-round in Gerlach, sent us word today that the great Lake Lahontan has returned! Luckily, he sent not only word, but pictures!

Wait, what’s Lake Lahontan, you may ask? Well, our beloved Black Rock Desert is actually a dry ancient lakebed – the lake that was once Lake Lahontan (take a look at the dark rings around the mountains surrounding the playa and you’ll see where the waterline was). And during wet years, water flows from up north and fills – very thinly, it’s cool and creepy – some or all of the playa basin.

Now, given the historical drought that the Western United States has been experiencing this year (historic as in the worst since Charlemagne was emperor of Europe – like not fooling around historic), this is fantastic news. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop nonetheless, and we’ll take it.

All it’s gonna take is a helluva lot more to give us higher hopes of having a smooth, solid playa surface for Burning Man 2015. Keep your fingers crossed. (Click to embiggen the images.)

Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)

Welcome to Burningman.org

Burningman.com circa 1997
Burningman.com circa 1997

The first Burning Man website — a page, really — appeared in 1994 on the WeLL, a Sausalito-based Internet provider. That held down the fort until a 100% volunteer team comprised of Eric Waterman, Rusty Hodge, Scott Beale and Marian Goodell launched the first use of the Burning Man domain Burningman.com on April 1, 1997. The site went through a number of rapid iterations as the technology evolved and the community’s population exploded. This rapid growth evened out in 2001, and the last time Burning Man’s website got a facelift was in 2003.

RIP Burningman.comUntil today. Now that tectonic technological shifts have left Burningman.com verging on obsolescence, and the Burning Man organization has transitioned into a non-profit (some would say an equally earth-shaking occurrence), it was time to bring the site — and our story — into the modern era.

While the dream of Burningman.org started bouncing around our brains years ago, we kicked off the daunting process of creating it about 12 months ago. It would require the marrying of Burningman.com, Burningmanproject.org, Blackrockarts.org, and bringing a number of other Burning Man website properties into the fold. And, it would require sewing them all together into an information architecture that would create a seamless, sensible whole.

We chose to go with WordPress, and Burning Man’s tech team went to work making it do a whole host of amazing and unnatural things, including crafting it into a robust, customized publishing system. Our design team was determined not only to bring the site up to modern standards (responsive design, for instance), but to surpass them. The content team dug through an absolute mountain of content — a mountain sitting atop a massive underground cavern, filled with historical treasures that many of us didn’t even know existed. And we went about surfacing the rich visual history of this culture, thanks to the amazing photographers and videographers in our community.

Welcome Home
Long live burningman.org!

Our goal with Burningman.org was to create the ultimate storytelling tool for Burning Man — to support and honor its growth as a global culture making a significant impact in the world. Burning Man is no longer just about the event in Black Rock City. It’s about people living Burning Man every day, everywhere. Burningman.org tells the story of an event that spawned a culture that is supported and spread by a network of like-minded, interconnected individuals on five continents around the world.

Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.
Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.

A key part of that story is our historical roots, knowledge of which is important for anybody wanting to be a part of this grand experiment, even if you never attend the event in Black Rock City. So we unearthed all that historical treasure from beneath the mountain of content, and we brought it out into the light — we’re especially excited about our Historical Timeline and Event Archives.

Another key aspect of our culture is participation. You’ll find opportunities — and inspiration — to participate throughout the site, whether in person or online, in Black Rock City or your home town. Over time, we’ll add more features that engage and encourage direct participation, including new ways to join discussions about the information, ideas and issues that affect our community, whether that’s “what’s the best way to build a shade structure?” or “how do I build a real-world business that rhymes with the Ten Principles?”.

Get inspired!In taking nearly 5,000 pages (yes, really) and consolidating them into 1,800, we endeavored to balance what our website visitors want to know with what would inspire them about being a part of this culture. We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we hope it makes you proud to be a Burner.

If you experience any problems with the site, or see something we missed, please let us know through the Contact Us page. And if you want to know who worked on this complex project, check out the (very short, relative to the immensity of the project) list of folks who built this thing.

[Editor’s Note: We’ve been typing “burningman.com” about 50 times a day, every day for the last 11 years — possibly the hardest part of this project will be breaking that habit.]