There’s a Black Dot in the Middle of Everything I See

Ranger Halston
Ranger Halston

Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.

But not anymore.

At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.

Ranger Halston, after the injury
Ranger Halston, after the injury

That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.

Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.

Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger
Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger

Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”

Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.

It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Halston at Rangers HQ
Halston at Rangers HQ

I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.

Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.

But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.

Major Laser Bummer

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Laser Show, 2003 from Erick Leskinen

 

You can do almost anything you want at Burning Man. But there are some important don’ts.

Like, “Don’t shine lasers at people’s eyes.”

Seriously.


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Ranger Halston was permanently blinded in her left eye at last year’s burn.

11082770_10153163472751575_503569414_nThat is WAY too much to give up.

And now she has mounting doctors fees and lost wages.

“It’s all fun and games until…”

I like to think that If I accidentally drop my scarf on the playa, a fellow burner will pick it up.

That if I am thirsty in deep playa, a fellow burner will give me water.

That if I hurt my leg on rebar, a fellow burner will help me back to camp.

And if I damage my sight while serving as a Ranger, fellow burners will help me out.

If you can, please gift to her fundraiser.

UPDATE:  Will Chase has posted a more in depth look at Ranger Halston’s situation.

 

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The Man Glows, 2002 from Lewis Jacobs

 

 

Primal Screaming over Burning Man (and the war of cultural appropriation)

The_ScreamOne gets the impression that many Burners thought that when Burning Man got big enough for the forces of liberal consumer capitalism to notice it, that those forces would just roll over and plead for Larry Harvey to rub their belly. Or that the New York Stock Exchange would hang the 10 Principles on the wall and replace the opening bell with dub-step.

That was never going to happen. Burning Man’s entry into the world as a genuinely large scale movement was always going to be a complicated, messy, clash of ideas.

And now that Burning Man has grown big enough and popular enough to be co-opted by market forces, those forces are trying their level best.

Burning Man has been imitated – on the surface – by people trying to make money for some time. This attempt at full-on appropriation is beginning in earnest now, as opposed to 10 years ago, because without a merchandizing arm (which Burning Man has always refused to do, its recent asinine experimentation with scarves as donation premiums aside), it is difficult for appropriators to make money without scarcity. Not impossible, but difficult enough that the massive machine of the marketing/lifestyle complex didn’t really turn its sights on Burning Man.

Now that we’re living in an era of ticket scarcity, however …

Yet as the conflict is joined, the many Burners who talk about Burning Man as though it had “sold out” – as though it had been defeated – are confusing the ending with the beginning.   They are declaring that the civil war has been lost because shots have just been fired against Fort Sumter, when in fact this is a prelude to the massive conflict to come.

Burning Man culture and the Burning Man organization haven’t lost a fight against liberal consumer capitalism – they’ve only just begun it.

This – what Burning Man is going through right now – is what that looks like at the beginning. The early stages.   When market forces decide not to care that we have 10 Principles or that some people put their life into a theme camp for others to enjoy and now can’t get tickets.

What’s happening now was not only inevitable, but predictable: from Walter Benjamin to Theador Adorno to every fucking post-structuralist some of us were forced to study because we took an English class in the 90s, there is a huge body of literature and research showing that yes – yes indeed – when a counter-culture gets big enough, the forces of liberal consumer capitalism try to appropriate it for their own ends. And, so far, they have been successful every time. That’s how Che Guavara ends up on T-shirts made in third world factories and sold to college students whose dorms are cleaned by immigrants making minimum wage.

The fact that it’s happening is why discussion about Burning Man has largely transformed from a dialogue into a primal scream. (more…)

Corpus Christi BWB Beach Clean-Up Nets 8,000 Pounds of MOOP

Sound Stage at sunset (Photo by Jessica Richman)
Sound Stage at sunset (Photo by Jessica Richman)

“My burn name is Parsec,” Patrick Brown of Corpus Christi, Texas told me. “I am previously of Arcattack, still fart around with them but doing chemistry full time at the moment. Been doing BWB events since right after Katrina. Brought 300 pounds of meat to feed the town of Pearlington at the one-year anniversary of the Katrina effort.”

This is exactly the (gender-neutral) cowboy way Burners talk about their adventures, and it was music to my ears. But Parsec isn’t talking about the town-sized bacon party in the Black Rock Desert. He’s talking about disaster relief efforts with Burners Without Borders, which is increasingly part of the Burner job description these days. (more…)

Artist Update: The Empire of Dirt

The Empire of Dirt — the artists of beloved mutant vehicles The Golden Mean (The Snail Art Car) and the Serpent Twins, and recipients Black Rock City Honoraria grants in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — share with us a few intriguing clues about their next project destined for Black Rock City.

This just in from the Empire of Dirt Headquarters:

Six months ago, we intercepted an odd radio signal that seemed to emanate from deep space. The signal was garbled, but after much audio enhancement we could discern the phrase “This is Empire. We’re coming home.” Could this be the rumored secret lost space mission from the 1960′s; code name EMPIRE? If so, and they are coming back to earth 50 years later, what will they be arriving in? Their Saturn V powered rocket ship… or some alien vehicle they have managed to drag out of the stars?

Empire of Dirt Headquarters
Empire of Dirt Headquarters

The crew is now assembling to undertake the extraordinary task of bringing this mysterious spaceship and its crew back to Earth.

What could it be? Stay tuned! For more information about their project, and to learn how to support the project, visit their website.

Envision, Burning Man, and Beyond: One Worldwide Movement?

There’s something special happening in Costa Rica.

I recently participated in my first Envision festival on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, just outside of the small town of Uvita. Now in its fifth year, Envision came into being in 2011 as a gathering of about 100 people in the nearby town of Dominical. This year, population neared 6,000 and tickets sold out several days before the gates opened.

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Envision event site (Photo by Aerial Media Costa Rica).

For those that planned ahead or were lucky enough to score a last-minute ticket, the experience was well worth the trip.

Envision offers a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and learning opportunities: stellar musical artists, yoga classes, workshops, a series of talks and panels, large-scale works of art, and delicious organic food and bevies. All set in the lush Costa Rican jungle, on a protected wildlife preserve owned by a local family. And yes, there’s a beach.

At Burning Man, we go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from other ‘festivals’. We don’t allow vending or have corporate sponsorships – Burners are not passive recipients of an experience; they are active co-creators. And we are proud of this. But some events are starting to blur this line, and sometimes in quite powerful ways.

For its part, Envision seeks to encourage people to take stock of themselves – materially, emotionally and spiritually, to think about the impact of their lifestyle on the world around them, and to make very deliberate choices about consumption.

By bringing people together through music, art and sacred movement Envision presents opportunities to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls to face the challenges and realize the opportunities of our rapidly changing world.” [From the Envision website]

 

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Luna stage design by Tigre, Hoodie, and crew. (Photo by Luke GS)

Envision places a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-consciousness. With deliberate messaging and design, the festival encourages participants to consider their use and disposal of resources. Single use is decidedly out. Everyone is asked to bring a water bottle and reusable cutlery of their own. Those that don’t can participate in a dish rental program (for a $2 deposit you’re given a plate to use at any of the event’s vendors and return to a dish washing station when you’re done).

I was deeply impressed with the way people at Envision took responsibility for the environment around them, and for the experience had by themselves and others. I didn’t see a single piece of out of place trash on the ground (also called ‘MOOP’ by Envision-ers). I saw people jumping in, helping out, and bringing what they had to offer the collective experience.

While there were goods available for purchase in the tasteful marketplace and food stalls (no huge corporate banners, here), everywhere I turned I witnessed people genuinely enjoying acts of gifting. At times I found myself searching for price listings only to realize the activities didn’t cost any money – these included a face painting booth, a place to immerse yourself in blue clay, and a treehouse slide made of bamboo straight out of some kind of Swiss Family Robinson jungle paradise.

 

Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgenson)
Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgensen)

The connections between Envision and Burning Man run deep. One of Envision’s 6 Co-founders, Stephen Brooks, has been attending Burning Man for the past 14 years (his father has been ten times!), and you could see and feel the connection between the two communities everywhere.

Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

There’s a strong theme camp presence – leadership from Fractal Nation, Sacred Spaces, Abraxas, and others are interwoven into the fabric of Envision. Members of various on-playa departments work as Envision staff and volunteers – DPW, Gate, Rangers, Café, Media Mecca, ESD – they’re all there, putting to use the skills they’ve mastered on the playa. In the Costa Rican jungle.

It’s not a tough sell, really. “Sort of like Burning Man? But on the beach?” Say no more.

Being at Envision gave me the immediate sense of being part of a large family – similar to the sensation I often have on playa, it truly felt as though we were ‘all in it together’ and that the actions of one affected – and mattered – to the many. It is also a decidedly kid-friendly affair. Everywhere I looked, the little ones were laughing and playing, taking in the sights and sounds around them. And, like Burning Man, there was also a strong element of whimsy. People were consistently engaging each other in playful and spontaneous interactions, such as carrying nonsensical signs just for the heck of it.

But Envision isn’t just about having a good time. Like Burning Man’s year-round nonprofit efforts, the intention is clearly to have an impact beyond the event.

The event organizes beach clean-ups, boasts several banks of compostable toilets, and for those who signed up ahead of time, the Polish Ambassador (a favorite artist at Envision and many music festivals) led an Action Day – a hands on opportunity for festival goers to learn about permaculture through participating in a day of community service at a local school.

"Designing our Future" panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Burning Man's Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
“Designing our Future” panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

And on Saturday of the event I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion titled “Designing our Future” along with Stephen Brooks, Daniel Pinchbeck, Klaudia Oliver and Elias Cattan. I was inspired by the work these incredible activists, authors and thought-leaders doing for our global community.

Burning Man has been referred to as a ‘permission engine’ or a ‘container of possibility’. It gives people opportunities to realize dreams that previously seemed unachievable.

But we are certainly not the only one.

In Costa Rica people are waking up to their own potential. They’re building community, collaborating on powerful projects and enabling each other to accomplish more than they thought possible. They are radically expressing themselves. They are setting aside differences in social and economic status in order to connect human to human. They are tapping into the creative potential of the collective whole. It’s pretty special stuff, really.

Unlike Burning Man, the Envision experience is intentionally curated. While there’s plenty of room for exploration, the speakers and the teachers, the food, the music, and the artists are carefully selected to take people on a journey, to open their eyes to new things and to give them a new lens through which to see themselves and their relationship to the world around them.

While I take great pride in the fact that Burning Man doesn’t book acts or build a ‘main stage’, at Envision I came to have a new respect for events that have more intentional focus. This gives Envision the ability to educate and challenge participants in a particular direction, in contrast to the completely Choose Your Own Adventure experience of Black Rock City. And I truly believe we – the big we – are stronger with both kinds (and all types of personally transformative experiences. We are more together than we are apart.

There is a hunger for this kind of community, for ritual and connection, and for time away from the ever-growing insistence of electronic communications. Different events may have their own unique flavor and focus, but there is strength in this diversity. To build the resilient communities of the future we need all kinds – all skills, all people, all points of entry. Taken together, this ecosystem of events is helping lead us to that brighter future. We have a long way to go, but I see evidence of progress everywhere.

 

Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)
Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)

As the sun rose on the last morning of Envision, I looked out over the joyous crowd and the gravity of the work we all are doing suddenly washed over me. The impact we are making collectively on thousands, arguably millions of lives. They are waking up. They are reaching out. They are connecting the dots and encouraging each other to dig deeper, reach further, and become more than they thought possible. We are all helping to build what might become a truly global cultural movement.

From Burning Man to Envision, we tip our dusty hats to you.

The Temple of Promise

temple

For four years in a row, the temples of Black Rock City have been palatial, romantic, classical in design. Time’s up. Some members of the 2015 Temple crew worked on the enchantingly abstract, boundary-pushing Temple of Flux five years ago, and they have brought that same fluid, organic inspiration to this year’s design: the Temple of Promise.

templemid

The Temple of Promise is a guide. It’s a calming hand, and it’s a listening ear. Nestled in its center is a grove of trees. It’s no tower or pyramid or other such shape dictated by logic alone. It is no less a temple for its lifelike forms. It is more.

Scattered amidst the flow of the Temple area, wooden sculptures shaped like stones form a soft boundary. The tapering spiral of the main structure provides shelter and quiet. The lobed spire at its opening will tower 97 feet high. The tail of the building curls into a circle around the open-air grove, a container well suited for gatherings. The trees will be bare at the beginning of the week, but participants will leave their messages on strips of white cloth, which they will hang from the trees like the leaves of a weeping willow.

templegrove

In addition to the 2010 Temple of Flux, team members have worked in the past with artist Dan Fox on some of the playa’s most imposing and impressive sculptures ever: the Trojan Horse in 2011, Anubis in 2012, and the Alien Siege Machine in 2014. Others have volunteered on past temples in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013. This practice and expertise will serve them well. But it is clear from the design of the Temple of Promise that this team brings with it another complementary power that cannot be learned, only listened to: intuition.

Want to get involved? The team is working on their website and volunteer intake process, but in the meantime, like their Facebook page to stay in the loop.

Raise your hand if you’ve “graduated” from Burning Man

Has this been you?  (Photo by AlphaSpirit)
Has this been you? (Photo by AlphaSpirit)

A few years ago Sondra Carr, the artist who first introduced me to Burning Man, said that she had reached a poignant new milestone: she was done with Burning Man, and ready to move on.

Now most of the people who you hear saying things like this are angry: they say “I am DONE with Burning Man!” and will tell you, at length, that their readiness to move on from Burning Man is entirely Burning Man’s fault, because they’ve got ROADS now, or because too many of THOSE people are here, or because the organization ISN’T LISTENING!”

That is to say, they talk about Burning Man as though the decision to move on from it is the result of a terrible mistake, even an injury, and that in the normal course of events we would all keep doing it for the rest of our lives.

That’s not what Sondra meant. Just the opposite.

She’s not angry at Burning Man. She doesn’t agree with everything the Org has done, but she doesn’t expect to agree with everything anybody does. She has had very good experiences here, a few really terrible experiences, and is ultimately very grateful for Burning Man providing her with the opportunity to engage in tremendous personal and artistic growth.

It’s just that, having grown, she believes it is time to move on. This doesn’t mean never coming back: “I’ll come back if I have a particular art piece that I think should happen there, or if a ticket happens to come my way,” she tells me. But it does mean that going to Burning Man for its own sake is no longer a priority: rather, she needs to refocus her efforts .. and all that growth … on making the magic she discovered at Burning Man happen in the rest of the world.

She sees it as graduating from high school: you don’t stop going to high school because goddamit high school did something terrible to you … you stop going to high school because you are ready for other things. There is no ideal world (except on TV) where people never stop going to high school. It exists for you to be done with it. If it’s done its job well, it will show in the way you live through the rest of your life. (more…)