Mom’s First Burn

“No time to explain, Mom. Take my hand and follow me!”

My family has always been a big part of my Burn.

My brother went with me my first year in 1998, and for the next five.

My Grandpa was the first to call Burning Man my “congregation” and sent heirlooms with me (like his childhood bible) to burn each year.  I placed his ashes in the Temple in 2007.

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Hanging a tribute to Grandpa Caleb in ’08
Photo by Julian Cash ( Pants by Grandma Shikles

My grandma sewed my first fur pants. (Including a matching fur bag, “because I had left over fabric,” she said.)

And when my grandma passed on, my mom became my go-to seamstress for my Playa creations.

I treasure the bonding experiences that my mom and I share each summer as we craft together in preparation for the Burn.

She helped me sew cushion covers for the Hugmobile, fur covers for my platform boots, and helped create the epic Octobike. (aka “Snuffleoctobike”).


Every couple years I half-heartedly asked if she would ever want to go to Burning Man.   Truthfully, I didn’t sell it very well – and she showed no interest.

But something happened this summer.

I showed my mom a video called “Charlie goes to Burning Man.” It showed a man 10 years older than her who gushed about his experience. Then I showed her photos including one of a man wearing a “Halcyon’s Dad” t-shirt. (It was NOT my dad. Just a beautiful white-haired man who painted his hair pink and donned a pink tutu..)

She said, “If I went, would I get a t-shirt?”

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Looking good, Pop!

Wait. What?! The door was cracked open and I quickly started on preparations to get my mom to the Burn.   (She had a friend that wanted to go badly -an old PTA mom that I grew up with. I realized that if I could make it easy for both of them, it just might happen. )

I had access to 2 tickets. A campmate had decided they did not need a Sani-hut that was reserved (A mobile bungalow with AC). And I figured that with minimal stress, no mechanical requirements, and zero lines, Mom & a friend could shuttle in from Reno on Monday and fly out of BRC on Thursday.

Mom (Susie) and Dee came to our last camp meeting in late August. They met campmates and asked lots of questions. “If you are serious,” I told them, “you should come to our last work party.” Susie and Dee showed up early wearing work gloves and spent half a day glue-gunning pink fur to the last of our camp couches. They were participating.

They were welcomed into Pink Heart completely.

A magical moment with Mom and Dee. (And, yes, her shirt says, “Halcyon’s Mom.”)

It is hard to explain what sharing Burning Man with my mom was like.

My brother has a beautiful family and has given my mom 2 amazing grandsons.

I, on the other hand,  have given my mom a box of pink hair dye and a pink motorhome. Oh, she loves me dearly and is very proud of me. It’s just that, how can a non-Burner ever fully understand that part of your life?

Photo by Karl Baba. Bliss by BRC.

But I finally got to share my “baby” with her.

Introducing her to my camp and campmates was like inviting her to meet my secret half-brothers and sisters.
I may not be able to give her grandkids, but I can extend her family.

It was a feeling beyond words to be able to invite her “Home” to meet the larger community that I feel so deeply connected to. She quickly felt like they were her family, too.

And she got to see me on the Playa.  My highest self.  The way I help lead the camp. The way I gift and hug and love. She got to see the Playa through my eyes and it helped her see me in a way she never had before.

Mom had a brief stay, but she dove right in. She went on ice runs for our iced cucumber water bar. She served vegan ice cream. She shared wisdom with my campmates. Together we shared tears.

We cried together at the Man. We cried together at the Temple. We cried together quite a bit.

But the most emotional part was when she helped me co-lead my annual Pink Ride.   It is always a highlight for me, but this one was extra special. She rode a pink fur bike by my side as several hundred people dressed in pink rode behind us. All of us saying, “I love you!” to everyone we passed.

The parade begins

We descended upon Center Camp and filled it with a glorious pink spiral of love. My Playa family and my mom mixed together in tear-flowing, heart-soaring bliss.

A week later, when we both had returned to the default world, I told her, “That ride with you…it was one of the highlights of my entire life.”

We were both already crying when she said, “It was for me, too.”

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See my mom and me on the upper left? Check out the glorious pink swirl at minute 10:00 (click to play)

Burning Man Website Undergoing Magical Transformation — time for an overhaul! — time for an overhaul!

A hard working crew of writers and geeks at BMHQ have teamed up to build a brand spankin’ new website for Burning Man. This has been a long time coming and we’re soooo looking forward to sharing it with you.

As you know, earlier this year Burning Man became a non-profit. As part of our evolution from an organization dedicated solely to producing the annual event in the desert to a global network fostering Burning Man culture near and far, we are transitioning from to

In order to make this grand leap, certain portions of the current site are going to be unavailable for short periods of time later this week. We know there are very important conversations happening in the community right now and we in no way want to stifle them.

We believe the blog will only need to be ‘pulled’ for several hours on Friday. If it were possible, we’d love to make the transition from to without disrupting current communication channels, but we’re working with a lot of moving bits and pieces and this is a necessary part of the process.

We also know there are lots of folks wondering about the theme for 2015 and the new process for applying for art grants. All of these details will be included on the new site, so we’re working fast and furiously to get it up and ready as soon as possible.

You can expect some parts of the current site to be unavailable at certain times later this week, and we look forward to sharing the new one with you very soon!

Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling. (more…)

Why am I making fun of Burners (including you, yes you, personally) and an issue you’re really passionate about?

The Joker (Ceasar Romero)This is a response to the feedback on my list “12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Before I answer the headline, let me clear three things up:

1)      I don’t speak for Burning Man, I’m not part of the Org, I’m not on their payroll, and they had no idea that this post was coming. They don’t edit my stuff and there’s no approval process, so: they found out I’d written this when you did. Nothing I say represents them, or is a statement of what they believe on any issue.

2)      Do I care about the problems caused by commodification camps? Absolutely. In fact, one of my first posts for this blog called for the creation of “Art Vikings” to stop plug-n-play camps. I wrote:

Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor.  Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them.  We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.

So I’m probably more radical on this issue than you are.


3)      Do I think the ORG should be more transparent. Yes. Stop. End quote.


So why am I making fun of terribly sincere burners with a legitimate grip whose issue I basically agree with?

Because people are demanding that the Org come up with an immediate solution to what is at heart an intractable societal problem: the gentrification caused by income inequality.  (more…)

12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Dollar sign (reflective_metallic)[Note:   I have responded to the comments below with a new post, which can be found here.  Also a reminder that I do not, and never have, spoken for the Org.]

I am as shocked as anyone that rich people came to Burning Man and behaved like rich people.

There’s only one explanation:  it’s a conspiracy, and it goes all the way to the top!  Yes!  The only way people with money could have possibly used that money to try and game the system is if Burning Man was directly involved!  In on it!  We all know it, but you don’t the half of it!

Here are the 5 biggest, most shocking, examples, of plug-and-play malfeasance – and the Burning Man organization’s complicity in it!

  • A group of prominent venture capitalists paid Larry Harvey $6 million to write them an extra-fun 11th principle that no-one else has.

What is it?  I don’t know!  You don’t know!  But it’s got to be amazing, and we’re not living by it!  Only they are!

  • The compound prepared for the Walton family, which owns Wall-Mart, actually paid its greeters

They brought out a bunch of senior citizens to tell everyone on the playa to have-a-nice-day!  They even hugged people!  And then were paid minimum wage!

  • Haliburton’s massive camp art project was really a derrick testing for oil under Black Rock City.

Sure it shot out flames, had a DJ, and Friday night’s Gushing Oil Party was awesome, but that’s not the point!

  • Billionaire owner Jeff Bezos’ theme camp never even came out in physical form, and instead was available only on Kindle.

Anyone who went is now under the terms and conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act!  On the plus side, there was no MOOP.

  • Warren Buffett slipped Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell $10 million to move Burning Man to Omaha, and fix it so nobody noticed.

That giant sculpture with the funky lights that everybody loved?  That was really the Nebraska statehouse.  We were so used!


Burning Cake (A Cautionary Tale)

My experiences for the last 17 years at Burning Man have been so amazing and transformative that I have a hard time seeing any shifts in the event as a real threat. “Bring on P.Diddy and the Turnkey Camps!” I said.   I still believe that.  But I also am able to understand the current fear more clearly now than I once did.  

Like everyone, I am eagerly awaiting the official response to the recent controversies.   I do *not* think Burning Man is doomed.  Quite the contrary.  I have faith we will figure this out and thrive.

Once we get a handle on the current challenges and correct the course, the magic will shine as bright as ever.

The fable below is fictional.  Take it with a grain of dust.


Once upon a time there was food enthusiast who hosted a fantastic baked goods potluck.

He invited 10 adventurous cooks he knew and they started gathering each month to share delights.

Their culinary skills were varied…but they all sure loved food.

The spreads were AMAZING!

People went WAY over-the-top.

Exotic ingredients, rare fruits, fine wines.

For some participants it became almost a game: who could produce the most fantastic dessert?

MC Escher Cakes, Donut Macramé, Ghost Orchid Truffles.

Not all the dishes were so insane.  The host baked the same modest (but delicious) raspberry drizzle brownies every month.

There was no animosity between  Jenny who brought an intricate ‘Bacon Coliseum” 8 layer cake and Tony who brought a simple angel food cake.  It was even cool that Edward purchased and brought a pre-made dragon fruit tart from his local bakery.  The point was that everyone contributed towards the experience.

Very quickly, the event grew.  People started bringing their culinary-minded friends.

Occasionally people would misunderstand and show up without a dish.   They quickly felt uncomfortable and usually offered to help with dishes or something…then made sure they brought something awesome the next time.

Word started to spread of this amazing potluck with the life size Miley Cirus-sized peanut brittle and wasabi saffron pudding.

The host started asking everyone to chip in $5 to pay for table rentals and a next day maid service. Some of the original participants thought that was uncool.  But most people had no problem paying a little (on top of whatever they were already spending to create their own dishes) for this unbelievable food extravaganza.

Many of the average chefs got inspired to study the baking arts.  The desserts got better and better. And attendees started to bring more and more friends.

Until the host’s villa was filled to capacity.

So the host implemented a system: To reserve your space  at the potluck, you paypal in your cleaning fee in advance and received an entrance ticket in exchange. (The fee had been raised to $10)

He gave away the tickets by way of a lottery – with some spots reserved for the OG cake masters who made the event what it was.  The lottery was…well, that is a tale for a different day.

Not soon after the first lottery, a long time attendee brought a respected food writer from the local paper. The writer did not bring a dish.

Most attendees were fine with this.  It was an honor to have the writer there and who knows, maybe she would be inspired by what they were doing and bring something special to the next potluck. And, in fact, thanks to an article and the writers introductions, several attendees got hired at restaurants and booked to make dishes for fancy events.

The gathering was special to all who attended.  It felt like their potluck was the center of the dessert universe.  The event became an important part of attendees lives and identities.

Unbeknownst to the other attendees, one old timer, Beatrice, made an announcement at her Ladies League meeting.  “For $100 I will bring you to the most amazing tasting party in the world.  Don’t worry about baking anything, I’ll make something and you can just come with me. “  Quite a few people in the League took her up on the offer.  Beatrice paid the hostess an extra cleaning fee, but otherwise did not share the funds with anyone else in the potluck group.

At first nobody noticed.  Or didn’t care.  It wasn’t that a big deal that some of the attendees were not contributing in the same way.   They seem like good people and maybe attending would inspire them to create a dish next time.  Many of them were the type that might hire an attendee to cater a private tea party, in fact.

But as word spread of this new wave of “tourist” attendees, the original attendees started to feel taken advantage of.  They felt like suckers. What was once a joyful experience of sharing their talents now felt, well, commodified. Why would they go to the store, buy all the ingredients with their own money, and invest all their labor just so Beatrice could make a buck off of them?

A number of the original attendees dropped out.  More and more bakers started to look for ways to get compensated.  But still, the waiting list to attend grew and grew.

What many considered the final blow was when people found out that the host was reserving spots for Beatrices’s League friends.  While everyone else stressed and struggled to get in, the non-contributing newbie’s were able to buy their way in via Beatrice.  Apparently they pledged big chunks of cash towards the host’s ever-growing “cleaning fund” established back in the day.

It was even discovered that Beatrice went so far as to bring a thermos of gourmet coffee to the potluck but only shared it with her League friends who had paid her.

The joy of gifting had become corrupted.  The magic faded.

Attendees started to use the potluck as a way to advertise their catering businesses.  Or would “partner with” (aka sell their spots) to retail bakeries.  The food was still delicious, but things were different.  It wasn’t fueled by mutual respect and a desire to share. It felt more like a trade show.  Attendees started to question the return on their investment and rarely contributed out of their own pocket unless they could justify the promotional value.

The potluck is still going, but the original experience is long dead. People still gather once a month to sample yummy treats and most enjoy it.  You may still hear someone say, that was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

But you rarely hear anymore, “That potluck changed my life.”


“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot



Turnkey Camps: Moving Towards Effective Solutions

bm_logoWe are aware that many of you are waiting for a response to a number of questions concerning theme camps, turnkey camps, placement of camps, access to tickets, decommodification and a potential erosion of our culture.

These are some of the questions members of our community have raised:

Is the Burning Man organization profiting off turnkey camps?
How did turnkey camps get all their tickets?
Do turnkey camps get preferential treatment?
Were people buying blocks of tickets through the Burning Man Project donation ticket program in the days before the event? If so, why?
Are turnkey camps undermining the practice of Decommodification and Self-Reliance?
What is going to happen to the turnkey camps going forward? Is there accountability for poor behavior?

The importance of these questions requires collaboration and input from a wide variety of people including staff, theme camp leaders, artists, Regional Network leaders, turnkey camp producers, and participants. We are still gathering information and identifying the most effective solutions.

We assure you we are listening and discussing real reforms.

Burning Man Lives

This continues to be a tough year of post-Playa bumps and bruises. (And I don’t mean the black and blue Xmas toenails.)  Amidst all the controversy I was asked, “Is Burning Man dead?”  

NOTE:  I am a 17 year Burning Man Participant and Theme Camp organizer.  I do not speak as an official rep of the Burning Man Organization.

Burning Man's Death has been greatly exaggerated

P.S. Yes, that is my 71 year old mom on the right of the screen, enjoying her first-ever Playa visit.  Her experience was amazing and has made our relationship even closer.  But that, too, is a topic for another post.  Long Live Burning Man.