a tale


by James Hogan

Black Rock City is a city; and it feels like it. A city out of some bizarre post-apocalyptic future, perhaps, but a city nonetheless. Not a campground. Not a fairground or a festival. There are streets and addresses. There is an infrastructure. There is law enforcement. There is a post office. There are almost forty thousand people.

It is a city of creativity, openness, and warmth. It was founded as an art festival of sorts, broadly defined; everyone is supposed to participate in some form. Some people build massive five-story wooden dance halls in the desert and set them on fire. Some people open a modest tiki bar and serve mojitos with fresh mint – I mean really fresh – grown in a pot on the bar. Some people just wear wacky costumes. One guy I saw was wearing a suit and tie. Almost every person has come with the intention of giving and receiving self-expression – which makes for a beautifully friendly and warm community of people. Whatever your form of participation is, it’s OK. No, really. I mean it – it’s OK.

I was on the distant outskirts of town one evening, alone, looking at a tiny art piece. Silence and blackness all around. An older guy wandered over from the camps to talk to me. I forget his name, but he was in his sixties. He was a retired third-generation farmer who had just sold the family farm a few years back – an unlikely Black Rock City demographic all around. It was his third time at Burning Man with his wife. We had a good discussion.

“Some of these people have a disdain for ‘normal’ society,” he said, “but this whole event is the product of a very rich society.” And it’s true; Black Rock City is a city of consumption and excess. This I don’t view as a bad thing; in fact, it struck me as profoundly inspirational to see so many people spending so much of their time and wealth on a week of creativity and community. The world is a richer place than if everyone had bought luxury cars and extra value meals instead. Black Rock City made me feel proud and grateful to be part of a capitalist society with the wealth and infrastructure to facilitate such a beautiful event.

Was that ex-farmer a participant? No costume, no art piece, parked in his RV on the dark outskirts of town? To me he was. He didn’t keep a camera lens between him and the event, he reached out to the event – me – and connected in a way that helped define my week. You can participate. Just be yourself. Really. It’s OK.

***

The playa has a way of giving you what you need, if you’re open to receiving it. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the meaning of life or a roll of toilet paper. This effect is so profound and so unintuitive that if I were not passionately scientific, it would seem like magic.

It seems like everyone has a story. The Burning Man website is full of them. Someone needs a glowstick, or extra toothpaste, or a toolkit to fix their bike in the middle of the playa, and poof! A stranger materializes with the goods a few minutes later. A friend and I were trying to have a serious, thoughtful conversation during a bike ride and we came across a sofa in the middle of nowhere – a unique oasis of privacy and comfort, isolated about 1000 feet from the nearest camp. A sofa, in the middle of the fucking desert? We sat down and had a great talk. After a while I found an empty condom wrapper behind one of the cushions. Apparently we weren’t the only couple who found what they needed.

I think humans are generally way too quick to attribute greater meaning to common statistical flukes, but I’m telling you, this shit is weird. I think it’s the result of having so many people in close quarters who are unusually emotionally in tune with themselves and the people around them.

I was lonely at the beginning of the week. I was only close friends with a couple of people in my camp, and their Burning Man experience was fundamentally on a different track than mine; they’re a married couple with a 10-month old son. I’m a single guy. I was kind of clingy for a couple of days before I finally gave up and ventured out on my own. I biked in far, isolated areas of the city, feeling, well, isolated. Like I didn’t fit in. And that people didn’t seem to want to hang out with me.

My first evening alone, I bumped into a couple of acquaintances out in the city. My loneliness must have been palpable. I was met with huge smiles and hugs – just what I needed. Before I left, one of them gave me a necklace – a rainbow of brightly colored plastic beads she draped across my neck. I glowed and felt rejuvenated as we rode our separate ways. Less isolated, and a necklace to prove it. I had two new friends, even if I didn’t bump into them again.

The next day I stop by the Black Rock City Post Office. They let you send postcards to The Outside. There are four windows open, each with a phrase painted next to it: “Nice :-)” “Naughty,” “Love,” and “FUCK YOU.” I’m not really paying much attention, and amble up to the FUCK YOU window somewhat timidly.

“Hi… how does this work? We can send postcards outside the city here, right?” She sort of pauses. The FUCK YOU girl is not very attractive; she’s kind of overweight and looks a little unhappy, or bitter. She doesn’t really react to my question, but I somehow feel like I’ve annoyed her already.

“You have to bribe me,” she says. She doesn’t look like she’s joking. I vaguely have some memory of reading about this bribing game that happens at the post office, except reading about it seemed cute, and now it does not. I kind of don’t get it. I unzip my backpack and start digging around. I’m feeling awkward.

I offer a couple of items I find in my backpack. A cheap crappy photo album with Japanese cartoon characters on it, and a few sets of colorful plastic chopsticks. She doesn’t like them, and not in a comical, over-the-top FUCK YOU way. She’s just being kind of a bitch and acting mean and making me feel unwelcome. Maybe I should leave.

“How about your necklace.” I look down at it – Shit, not the necklace, I think. It’s even prettier during the daytime. But it seems like I’m out of options, so I remove the necklace and hand it over. Why am I doing this? It’s not worth the necklace. Fuck the postcard. I should leave.

Her humanity detects something is amiss and forces her to hesitate. “Is it special to you?” she forces herself to ask. The tone of her voice is far from gentle, but the FUCK YOU armor has shown a chink, and I’m a little surprised. Yeah, the necklace is actually pretty special to me, I realize. It was a meaningful gift at a time when I was feeling lonely.

“No, not really,” I say. The flicker of humanity disappears. She takes the necklace and hands me a stamped postcard in one fluid motion. “NEXT!” she screams.

I turn and walk away from the window, a little confused at what just happened. I sit down on a nearby wooden bench and look at the postcard. I have no desire to write a letter to my friend anymore.

“I can’t believe I just did that,” I breathe to myself. I feel depressed, stupid, and ashamed. But I’m also lying – I can believe I did it – it’s entirely fucking predictable, because I’m often not very good with conflict, and can have trouble asserting to others or even admitting to myself what I want. I know this about myself — but knowing something in your mind and knowing it in your gut are two different things. You can hear the same message a thousand times without having it sink in, but then something happens and you get it in a way you didn’t before.

Burning Man seemed to put me in a state of mind where I was “getting” things about myself on a regular basis, the FUCK YOU booth being one of my first such experiences. The FUCK YOU was a necessary step to get to where I was later in the week – a sense of much greater self-confidence and belonging. Losing the necklace was sad, but like Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was time for it to go. It had more to teach me in the afterlife than it did around my neck.

The playa does have a way of giving you what you need – if you’re really open to receiving it, which includes being honest with yourself and others about what you want. In my case, this phenomenon even extended towards teaching me to be more honest with myself and others about what I want. Did I lose you there? It’s OK, I think I might have lost myself, too. Fortunately the playa doesn’t require our brains to be particularly sharp to work its magic – just honest.

***

On Saturday night they burn The Man, and this is the “main event.” It’s an orgiastic, furious cacophony of fire art, with screaming and cheering from tens of thousands of people as the structure burns and falls. On Sunday they burn the temple, and this is quite different.

The temple is built out of wood each year. It is a vehicle for catharsis. People write their pain on the wood – there are messages written to people who have died; family, friends, lovers, pets. There are notes to people who couldn’t make it to the playa. There are anonymous apologies for past transgressions. On Sunday, the temple – and hopefully some piece of everyone’s pain – is burned, and the smoke rises to the heavens.

Three of us visited the temple on Saturday, the night before it was to burn. We wandered in at around two in the morning on a beautiful warm night. We split up when we entered the temple; reading what’s written there is sort of a solitary experience. It didn’t take long for me to feel like crying. I saw one pretty girl sitting on a bench, a strange expression on her face that looked both sad and peaceful. Someone else was lying on the floor under a bench and sleeping. They both looked like they had been there for hours. I wanted to join them; just being in this place felt somehow cathartic, and I wanted to sit down and not move for a while. It felt like it would be… sad and peaceful.

On Sunday, the temple burns in front of thirty thousand people. It burns for about a half hour before the structure collapses. The fire glows and crackles, and you watch. And reflect. Thirty thousand people sit in silence for a half hour – have you ever experienced that? – while the fire tries to help them move on. To some extent, it doesn’t matter whether you wrote anything there. I think it’s a little cathartic for everyone.

When I’d been in the temple the night before, I saw one of the saddest and most beautiful things of my entire trip:

8/31/06
Three weeks left to live
And I chose to spend one of them at Burning Man

I kept thinking about that message as I watched the temple burn, and wondering what that person was feeling while they watched the burn from elsewhere in the circle. I hope that person’s week was as full of life as they’d hoped. And I hope they found ways to make their final weeks wonderful as well.

To be brutally honest, I’m not sure even a handful of the 1,585 weeks I’ve lived so far would have made the same cut. For me, this was the biggest lesson of Burning Man: more fully coming to terms with this fact. And getting a sense for what I can do to change it.

***

The day after I returned – everything felt different.

The silence was profound. Silence? I forgot what that was – there’s always noise on the playa. Reminded me of the middle of the playa week when I went to fill out a census form and it asked for the date. Date? What’s that? I literally had forgotten we followed a calendar. Talk about a strange feeling. Experiencing silence in suburbia was strange – and thick and oppressive.

Whose house is this? Whose furniture? I felt like I was walking into someone else’s place that I’d seen on TV – and suddenly there it was, in real life. But utterly abandoned, except for me. Surreal. Why does this person own all this shit, anyway?

Did I really change that much while I was at Burning Man?

I guess that’s the next page I need to write.

alone again


by sonja claire


alone again

the dust lies in a haze
at the horizon
pinkpurple rounded mountains
ringing this dried-up lake bed

i m p o s s i b l y f l a t p l a y a
it plays eye games with
my mind

it’s as close to silence as it comes
this week before sunday,
just far-off drums and sunrise
parties
ums-ums-ums-ums
sun up
sun up

dusty crusty funfur clad
twos and threes, walking, biking,
make their way
out
or
home
no-one speaks
no
need

we bathe ourselves in the morning
light stretched over the arc of sky
here where it’s flat you can see
the bend of the world

finally the pink gives way and the firstburst
of yellow rays breach the mountain side

striking minakawa’s mandala
first, then
one by one
each art instill-ation catches its singular
moment to be
lit
alone
with the sun

Glowsticks


by Nicholas McInerny

For JB.

1.

On the edge of the sunlight
I stopped. I thought I saw you in the shimmer.
Before me endlessness; endlessness behind,
The Playa baked flat in a lunar meringue
Stamped down by the feet of all those who had come before, and dreamt,
And sang their ancient songs to the stars.

But no, you weren’t there.

I pushed back off into the parched and brutal air,
Pedals wheezing like landed fish,
Past images of beauty and visions of the damned.
A giant scorpion. Temple of Memories.
Baby Jesus eating Ben and Jerry’s from a cone.
And how exactly do you adopt a gnome?
Each one a different world, a silent wow,
Which only the wide eyed child in us can know,
Until I reached The Man.
Faceless, he stood facing the City
Under the relentless blue of the sky.
An empty vessel to fill, a blank page on which all our histories will be written,
All our hopes and fears,
The thick dust of our significant insignificance.

Live well knowing you will die
Live well knowing you will die

2.

On the edge of the firelight
I stopped, and thought I heard you call me by my name.
Nameless voices swirled around me in a thousand tongues
Each muttering their prayers and curses before this altar of fire
Each gazing on The Man’s blank pain
His martyr’s arms raised high against the hiss of flames.

But no, you weren’t there.

A sudden crack of muscle and snap of bone
And The Man stumbles, goes down into the fiery heart.
A cheer goes up.
And the City runs forward to meet its future,
Each Citizen searching in the white heat for the one true thing.
Some dance naked, bodies golden in the glow.
Others drum or chant or stare.
A woman, unreachable, beats out her agony with sweaty fists.
Nearby a brass band plays – Basin Blues from a tuba on fire!
I circle the fire, my face ablaze, eyeballs boiling in their sockets
And gaze at where He once stood.
But all I see is that moment before, when He stretched out his arms.
Was it defiance or surrender? I don’t know.
A fatal embrace or a setting free?
Which one is it? Must I decide?
Is this the phoenix rising or a funeral pyre?
Sudden tears sting my eyes.
Around me, a million tiny sparks shoot up into the night sky.

Live well knowing you will die
Live well knowing you will die.

3.

On the edge of the moonlight,
I stopped, and thought I felt your heart beat beneath my hand.
Your body shifts and turns, stubble rubbing hard on my chest.
Awakes.
A smile comes out of the darkness.
The glowsticks on your wrists look like slipped halos from fallen angels,
ghostly hoops touched by the divine.
Outside the tent the City’s alive with pleasure.

And yes, we have all that in here.

Dawn creeps, then rushes to be done,
The sun leaping up over the horizon.
But no Man this time to greet it and salute the new day, risen from the ashes.
No still point of a turning world,
Except for me.
I feel the stillness now, this gift you have given me.
You are my history. You are my future. Hopes and fears.
Now you are all my significant insignificance.
You laugh out loud.
I know you think I’m ridiculous and so do I.
But then you pause; you reach up to kiss me; you let me dive deep, deep into
your dark brilliance,
Your wrists glowing softly as you whisper in my ear.

Live well knowing you will die
Live well knowing you will die

After the Burn – a Reverie


by Annie Lalla

For one week I left this planet and traveled to an alien land. Ambassador and adventurer, I discovered a whole new dimension of reality where imagination was the backdrop of everyday experience and love the substrate. Magic infused all matter, light was our mantra, color a prayer and hope and fear became a story that told itself again and again until every mind sparkled in resonance. Consciousness was palpable in the air and all encounters felt laden with meaning and knowledge. You didn’t “make friends” here; you found mirrors in the deep unflinching eyes of others. You became soul mates with all your future and past selves. You danced with demons and cultivated courage. Here you could invite your fears in for tea.

A week long love affair with your own ideas, a wonderland more outlandish than Alice imagined, a stroll through an amusement park whose rides serve existential twists and turns. This is a reckoning like no other. It’s a futuristic world, where cutting edge emotional technology is unleashed unabashed…a place where pioneers of the species’ psyche congregate and trade secrets. Whatever humans are evolving into, this is where those mutants are spawned. It’s not pretend. Nothing here is pretend. That’s what people on the outside do not understand. Every art piece, service, statement, performance is hyper-real, holographic and meant at every level where meaning can roost. Here, reality is manufactured on the fly. Nowhere else can you conjure truth-as-you-go as readily as at Burning Man, where raw materials are free and available at every corner.

This is a place where the unexpected, implausible and seemingly impractical is accepted as baseline. How else could you write the following story, mean every single word and have 40 000 “burners” genuinely believe you?

“the sky is smeared with clouds and my feet -weary with dance- ache for rest. a passing magic carpet takes me over to the sauna where a fairy nymph washes my feet and teaches me to spin fire. she suggests i take the pirate ship to heaven’s chandelier and offer scented blessings at the belgian waffle. space virgins accost me on stilts and bid me follow them to monkey chant. i find myself lost and found at the corner of 3:30 and hope, where a pin-on third nipple is offered in exchange for water. naked red man in bowler hat points his umbrella in my direction and a swarm of glowing insects intersect our path. a phone booth looms ahead, signed ‘talk to god.’ i do, and find him slightly less comedic than i’d hoped. on board an exquisite glowing seahorse, i am ushered towards a giant virus from war of the worlds. i climb up-side it’s dna to gaze out at two simultaneous full moons. the flaming serpent mother raises her metallic head and roars fire into the night. cupcakes whiz by in tandem, escorted in neon by a fallen star. i pass a luminous brain claiming to think hitherto unthought thoughts. nearby an eye-crowned pyramid winks knowingly. through the fog a temple rises and the winds of reverence animate my skin. i pray to a roving praying mantis that he stop for me – my journey home is long and my wings are tired.”

Burning Man isn’t just about mass communal engagements, its real magic lies in the unpredictable power it wields over the subjectivity of each participant. The playa is a synergized school where everything is a teacher and everyone a student. Revelation lurks in all directions. Here are two random lessons that managed to find me:

1. Holding on & Letting Go

One last time I strolled around the temple letting its stillness sink into my bones. Tonight they would burn this castle, freeing the wishes inscribed on its wooden walls. I found a seat beside a young violinist and let her music echo through me. Over to my right a volunteer sculptress carved a single reed – finishing touches on the temple garden. She didn’t see me…so focused she was on her task. I watched her shave the wood with careful strokes, each movement deliberate and smooth. Her face was taut with concentration. This church-of-loss would be set afire in a few hours, and yet the love and skill she brought to her work seemed unshaken by this pending truth.

It was at that moment the essence of burning man first crystallized for me. It didn’t matter whether the temple would burn or not, she was doing her best regardless. And what’s more, these reeds were so many and so small, no one else would ever notice them. But she knew then something I was only beginning to realize: everything we do is for ourselves; her own knowing was enough.

On some level we know all things are ephemeral, they die or disappear eventually – yet we pour our energy, our love and our hopes into them. The temple and everything at Burning Man was a caricature of this truth. The bigger and more profound the art, the more emphatic this statement. “Holding on and letting go – at the same time,” this was my lesson.

Everywhere and at different levels this message asserted itself with the haunting self-similarity of a fractal. People you meet on the playa, once and for all and never again, transform your life forever. Artworks that take thousands of dollars, hundreds of man hours and steadfast resolve exist for less than a week, then vanish in smoke…but each one leaves an indelible mark on your poetic memory.

You are brought face to face with an idea some native tribes take for granted, an idea not accommodated in our language: there are no “things,” only “processes.” Nouns are frozen verbs: no moon, but mooning.

My lady carver placed her last reed among the others and turned away satisfied. She mounted her bike and rode home across the desert. I watched her disappear in a cloud of dust. She never even knew she was my teacher.

2. What you think and feel – you are

“I used to have glasses just like that,” she said, pointing at my heart shaped shades edged with diamonds. “To work. I would wear them to work,” she shrugged in nonchalance. Her claims suggested that what I was sporting as costume wear she pulled off as mainstream fashion.

“Wow,” I responded. “That’s quite brave.” I meant what I said.

She was sparkling, her eyes glossy with softness. I could tell she wanted to talk; something about me reminded her of herself.

“You are so beautiful.” She smiled, calling her nearby friend to back up her claim. They nodded in admiration and I let their eyes move across my body. I was wearing an electric rainbow dress that fit perfectly, and I noticed how much I like to be noticed.

I also saw her clearly. She was a fairy too, but her face was worn with age. Deep wrinkles edged her eyes and lips with tanned skin that had seen too much sun. We talked about her life in San Francisco, my longing to live there, and finally she asked me how old I was.

“32,” I smiled, knowing I looked younger. “What about you?”

“23,” she replied with a girlish curtsey.

“23!” I laughed, my eyes wide with disbelief. There was no way this lady was younger than I, and the ease with which she held her statement left me stunned.

Looking directly into my eyes with knowing delicacy, she said, “You don’t believe me?” I felt a wave of shame ripple through me. Why had I laughed? My reaction had been laced with mockery. Her still dignified smile reflected the subtle ridicule in my response.

This lady was 23 years old and who was I to question her. My disbelief had come from a place of elitism, the arrogance of youth. She was wise, but I was young, and on some unspoken level I was wielding this most precious of human commodities.

I suspect the only reason one ever induces a hierarchy is out of fear. What in the world could I have been afraid of? Aging? mortality? Ah, death – the mother of all fears. Once I realized this, I no longer saw her wrinkled skin, her muted eyes or spotted hands…I saw a gorgeous 23 year old bristling with life. It became clear who she wanted to be was who she was. And then I met myself in her. We recognized each other in that instant and collapsed in a hug of long lost sisters.

Burning Man, my favorite playground, best party on the planet, more magic per square foot than any place I’ve ever been…in your eyes, every sparkle tells a story.

Playa Magic


by Mercy Mee

Sitting on the playa awaiting the temple burn, I noticed the person next to me, English John, click something in his hand and say quietly to himself, “Now this is deserving of a magic moment designation.”

Noting my curiosity, he leaned over and said, “When I first got here my friend Toby gave me this counter, and asked me to click it for every magic moment I experienced.” I asked, “What’s the number at now?” to which he responded, “About 150!” We both sorta laughed and he began clicking it several times rapidly, then said, in a full-on Brit accent “Christ! You could click it a thousand times….every second….every breath is a magic moment!”

As we pondered that thought for a moment, the person sitting in front of John, Simeon, having overheard our conversation, leaned back and said, “Yeah but…John…when you click it…are you counting the magic moments, or are you creating them?”

Nearly Naked-ist


by jlv

Burning Man brought out my inner “nearly naked-ist”!

Let me explain. Burning Man 2006 was the first time for my husband and me. We went there with our friends, Kimberley and Robert, who are veteran burners. They also happen to be nudists, but they did not expect us to be. Having grown up in a Catholic household in the Midwest, I never felt a desire to walk around completely naked in front of anyone but my own husband.

In preparing for Burning Man, we had seen many photos and heard many stories. It was not at all surprising to be greeted by a gentleman in a T-shirt and boots and nothing on in between. It was also not surprising to see a woman carrying a parasol to shade her bare breasts. What was surprising was how much I wanted to take my own clothes off! How shocking for someone who didn’t even lose her virginity until she was 20!

I had packed all kinds of outfits, panties and bras included. Luckily for me, Kimberley had some mesh tops, ruffly panties and sheer silky blouses I could borrow. After Day 1, the only bra I did wear was a black, lacy see thru I had brought “just for fun.” And it was! Though going completely naked was not my style, being “nearly naked” was totally within my comfort zone.

At first, I thought it was the heat or that I was just getting swept up in the spirit of Burning Man. But then it just started to feel good to be free of constricting clothes. Probably the biggest driving force was the fact that I never once felt objectified at Burning Man. I never felt like I was being ogled or that anyone was staring at my breasts (something that happens often in the default world). In a word, I felt comfortable. Comfortable with my body and comfortable with what I was wearing.

To be honest, it was flattering to be in my forties and past my prime, yet hear men much younger than me yell out “You’re beautiful!” as I walked past their campsites. That’s just Burning Man I guess!

All I know is Burning Man has made me feel much less self-conscious about my body and in fact, allowed me to be proud of it and show it off. I got back from Burning Man and wanted to throw out all my old clothes and start again-this time with “nearly naked” in mind!

Burning Man Pictures

by Paul Chhabra

 

    1. Complete

    Somewhere in the middle of my fifth night, living in the dusty chaos of Black Rock City, I find myself out in the deep playa, wheeling through the blessedly cool night air on a bicycle. My pedals, or derailleurs, or some other part, (never did figure that out) squeak familiarly, rhythmically; the air from my speed blows through my hair. A quarter moon flows through the crystalline darkness, illuminating the rare, ghostly clouds, which give depth to the sky and distant stars, making it clear that this star is “near” and that one “far away,” showing the whole universe to be a gemmed sphere, sparkling and translucent, with me somehow lodged directly in its center. It rolls over and around and through me, making my sore ass tremble on the bike seat, making me laugh out loud at nothing.

    Nearby, a fellow human, a woman with dreads falling all the way down her back, whirrs by on a bike, intent on her direction, slipping out of and back into the darkness in an instant. Our teeth shine momentarily, nearly unseen in the moonlight, as we smile and nod slightly in that tiny moment when we pass. And then she is gone.

    Around me in the distance, in nearly every direction, the playa undulates and glows and blares and booms and explodes and burns. The world’s biggest, craziest carnival takes place all around me, though I feel like a man alone in the middle of an endless desert. Lost under the stars.

    Sound systems ring out from everywhere, shaking the ground and stirring the air. Bass lines, some mindless and blocky, some undulating like a jungle snake, some hard like diamonds, some as funky as toe-jam funk, writhe around me, trying, each of them, to pull me in. Drums, and blips, and bleeps and rings and scratching fly in every direction, reminding me that I am no man lost alone in a desert: It wasn’t long ago that I was immersed in a DJ’s sound over at the Hotel Galactica, bouncing around, drunk and grinning, with a couple of hundred other revelers, also warming up for a night of getting down. I feel delicious warmth throbbing in my thigh muscles, from dancing, and from riding through the night.

    I realize that I have been driving blind and directionless: I have pedaled, fast, for the Cathedral, and then, nearing it, wheeled away, thinking, “no, that’s not it at all…” Then I was flying toward the waffle, madly in the night, until I thought, “nah, too early for the waffle…” Then here, then there. Now it seems like an eternity since I was at the Hotel, since I was warm and overwhelmed with sound and dancing. I must make up my mind, pick a direction, and get inside Club Burning Man before it is too late. I must dance, right Now.

    As I fly toward Lotus I am in tears from the wind, but also from the moon, which cannot possibly be so strange and beautiful, and this ground, which cannot possibly be so flat and immense, and these mountains, which cannot possibly be so massive and distant, and all of these people, who cannot possibly be so pretty, and so precious, and so dear, in their mad-max, bondage, hippy, punk, purple-haired, dreaded and shaved, tattooed and pierced finery, and my heart, which I know cannot possibly be so warm and alive.

    Tonight I will dance at Lotus, and then at the Alex Grey dome, and then the waffle, and later, toward dawn, at the Opulent Temple. And when that dawn finally does arise and I slowly pedal (squeak squeak) over the playa and back into the tired streets, nodding and mumbling “good morning” into all of the weary eyes around me, I will feel complete.

    2. Stephanie

    The Ashram was one of my favorite places at Burning Man ’06: A four-star hotel on the playa, it offered luxury suites for newlyweds and other lucky bastards, a fine restaurant, and a day spa. None of this had anything to do with me. I knew this place only because down in the lobby, there was a lovely little bar, contained in a small circus tent, decorated like an ashram, with a glowing, psychedelic altar to Hanuman, and rugs on the ground. This was the only bar at Burning Man where I was always instantly charmed and amazed by the bartender, where I always got the drink that I ordered-because they would ask! they would ask, “and what are you having tonight, sir?”-where everyone was always smiling. The djs at this place, they were the shit. They knew it all, the world stuff, the Indian shit, the stuff that’s going on now, and the history of dance music; they had it down, and the music that they spun was the best. They were the kind of guys who knew the exact moment to throw Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel into the mix.

    So I was dancing there one night, and it was starting to flow; I was feeling real warm, just starting to sweat, when she suddenly appeared.

    She was tiny and beautiful and could move without restriction. She loved to dance. She was the most perfectly undisguised, unpretentious, true being that I had seen all week, and I fell madly in love. I danced near her and hoped she wouldn’t notice, and hoped that she would, and I caught her eye, and danced away, and danced back. It is embarrassing to think that she did not notice any of this, but I am sure that it must be true. This was all just me lost in my own mind.

    But she was so very something, that I did that thing, without premeditation or fear or self-consciousness, that I never do; I danced over to her and looked right into her eyes and smiled broadly as she smiled back at me. I leaned forward and asked, “What is your name?” And heard her voice through the noise. “Stephanie? I’m Paul.” We hugged. We danced around each other a brief while.

    After she was gone, a little voice in the back of my head insisted that I would see her again, in two nights (the night of the burn) and that if I did, it would be a sign. A sign that what I had seen and felt was true.

    Two nights later, late, in the Alex Grey dome, I was in the flow, and I was in the zone, dancing hard. I was painfully aware that the whole shebang was just about over. I was wanting good stuff with an ache. I was dancing on tired feet.

    Suddenly, of course, she was there, not across the room, not in a group standing nearby, but right there: Suddenly she was the person standing right next to me. She was the very next person dancing on my left. I turned, and my eyes lit up, and (dare I say it?) I think hers did too. And she said my name. She remembered my name. “Paul, right?” And there you have it. My sign. Two nights later, just as had been prophesied. So what did I do? Why, I did nothing at all. I just kept dancing, and so did Stephanie.

    Sometimes she would disappear, and I would feel lonely and sad in the crowd, she is gone, I would think, as I danced, but then she would reappear, having only gone to pee or something. Sincerely, I tried not to stalk her, or watch her, or look for her, but somehow, I always knew where she was, or that she was gone, always did I love the way she danced, always was I charmed by the twinkle in her eye. Gratefully did I see the worshipful and protecting way her friends interacted with her, the men as gallant as they could be, all of them dancing like a big, happy unit.

    It all seems a long time ago, and I only saw her for moments at a time, only twice in my life, in the dark, so I cannot be sure what she looked like. Her hair was red, wasn’t it? reddish? dirty blonde? It was parted on the side imprecisely, straight, carelessly falling down to her shoulders. Wasn’t she freckled? freckly? I think that she was. She wasn’t dressed like a burner, or a hippy, or a punk; she wasn’t in a costume, or out of one; she was dressed like Stephanie. She didn’t dance this way, or that way, like the cool people, or like the uncool. She danced like Stephanie. For a few hours, she was the best friend I have never met.

    All night, I had experienced the sadness of seeing her go, only to have her back, but when she really did go, I knew it for sure, for I saw her get all of her stuff: her bag, and her water, and her warm things to wear. I tried not to stare as she made her way out of the dome, sliding between all of the dancing bodies, into the chill morning air, ninety-seven minutes before dawn. She and her people hung out there for a few minutes, while I kept on dancing inside, watching their silhouettes as they slowly put on their things and prepared for the bike ride home.

    And I said, goodnight, Stephanie, to her in my heart, like I was saying goodnight, and goodbye, to every beautiful woman who holds that soft, soothing, fiery, and dangerous thing that I need so badly, and fear I may never again get. And I felt in that spinning, melancholy psychedelia, that it was all alright.

    I danced till dawn that night, went back to camp with the intention of going to sleep, and instead found a friend to go out with again, and so I danced till noon, and didn’t fall asleep till two thirty in the afternoon, when a goddess and friend with an RV gave me another chance at life, and the temple burn, by letting me nap in her cool, darkened space.

    3. Misery

    On a hot, random afternoon, I suddenly find myself unable to go on. What the fuck am I doing out here? What the fuck was I thinking? Because I have come out here, all of my money is now gone, this sun is burning a hole in my very soul, and I have nowhere to go. What the fuck? I can barely move.

    When I say nowhere to go, I mean nowhere to go. You can’t go to your tent in heat like this, can’t walk or ride the streets. (I conveniently forget that I was riding the streets happily in this very same heat, at this very same time of the afternoon, just yesterday.) What can you do? You sit and stare and feel the grime melting over you, running with your sweat. You feel the tiredness. You watch the endless processions of phonies and fakes and pervs, pretending that they are all so fucking special, always and forever hitting on each other in such pathetic and goofy ways. (You need a spanking. Oooh spank me. You seem tense, do you need a massage? Come, take a ride on my friend’s art car. We are having the most special, secret V.I.P. party tonight, wanna come?)

    Hiding in the HeebeeGeebee chill space tent, sitting ramrod straight, in an attempt to silence my mind, and meditate; my annoyance and frustration become a filter, filtering out every charming sight and sound from my perception, and a funnel as well, an amplifier that brings every unwelcome voice and aggravating conversation clearly through the clouds of dust, blinding light, and booming art car sound systems:

    “…So she texts that to me! And sends the picture!”

    “Dude, no…”

    “Dude, yes, and it was during a meeting!

    (Laughter) “Dude, no way.”

    “Way.”

    “He is so totally hot.”

    “Totally.”

    “Did you see what he was wearing? Did you ever see him spin fire?”

    “Oh my god.”

    “Are you going to take Psychic Stimulation through Nibbling and Tickling with Peacock Feathers, First Level, for Bondage Enhancement? 7:30 and Eager, at 2:30.”

    “Isn’t that kind of advanced?”

    “Well, sure, but we’ve already taken the advanced anal stimulation course, with eye-gazing.”

    “That’s true.”

    Exhausted and unable to meditate, I fall, sprawling onto the dusty rug, and close my eyes.

    Someone is leaving this afternoon. He has family obligations, and has to go even before the burn. Everyone commiserates with him, feeling his sorrow, wishing he could stay. Me, I am overcome with jealousy. He gets to ride right on out of here, like it was nothing, take a shower, sit in a cool room, maybe even think a thought, while I remain trapped out here, in the billowing dust and endless heat, surrounded by a billion yuppies and college students, pretending to be weird for a few days, before they cover up their tats and go back to the cubicles and offices and classrooms in which they belong. These people so easily impressed that they think a wild costume or well-lit bike are revolutionary statements, or true works of art.

    My negativity covers me, a second layer of dust over the physical one, and I become dark and invisible, waiting for the night to come.

    4. Dust Cloud

    The whipping wind causes dust devils to rise straight up from the ground, like ghosts arising in the pandemonium of the second coming. These dervishes melt into the sweeping clouds of powdered earth that rip by horizontally in the violent air. All of it lit up red and Halloween orange from the early morning sun.

    Silhouettes, caped, dreaded, and skirted, move through this mysterious ruby shroud, looking beleaguered and battered. Something perfectly post-modern; something perfectly ancient.

    5. Temple Burn Day

    Temple Burn Day is a quiet, peaceful day. All day people are rolling out early; you hear the muted sounds of tear-down from every direction. Flags, banners, tarps, poles, towers, and floors are pulled down or pulled up, packed away, and loaded onto rented box trucks. Open spaces begin to appear, empty places in the blocks, and out on the playa. Familiar landmarks suddenly become empty unmarked playa.

    People are in a state not unlike the default world’s New Year’s Day, that is, the day after the blow-out. Not only that, but they have work to do. And so they do it. Listen to some downbeat shit, and strike camp. If we’re going to do it one more night, that is to say, tonight, we gotta play our cards right today: We gotta conserve the energy we got left, we gotta get some shit done, or we’re just fucked come morning, we gotta have the right attitude. So we gotta keep it cruising. We are professionals, people. We keep it right here.

    When temple burn time finally rolls around, I am feeling so damn good. Delicious. In over drive. A whole group of people is riding out together, the right group of people, and they’re calling, “Come on Paul, ride out with us. Let’s go to the temple burn.” They are making final adjustments on el-wire and tiaras and capes. They are placing the final glowsticks.

    As I begin to roll out of the kitchen, someone stops to say goodbye to me. A beautiful sister. She is leaving now, before the temple burn. I hug her, and say goodbye, and have that conversation, and when I turn away, my group is gone. They have ridden out onto the playa; they are halfway to the temple already.

    I am flooded with melancholy. See, now I am alone again. Now I am all alone again. I ride out there alone, and my eye is like an eagle’s, searching for anyone who is even vaguely familiar. Certainly they will go dancing after the burn, and I want to dance with them. I’ll never know where they went, if I don’t find them now.

    And I ask myself, Why? Why didn’t you call out, Hey guys! Hey guys, wait for me! Like a normal person. Why don’t you admit that you need some folks to ask you to ride with them, lonely boy? Now how are you going to find them?

    Out on the playa, every bike, and every group of walkers, is headed in one direction in the rapidly approaching dusk. The mountains opposite the sun on fire. We are headed to the temple. We are headed, once more, to a Burn. My bike squeaks comfortingly underneath me, and I smile, feeling clean, and rested enough, and ready.

    When I reach the circle, I decide where to ditch my bike, glowing blue, orange, and red, and walk into the huge circular crowd, my heart still aching to find someone I know. So I walk serenely through the warm evening air, feeling warmth and love for all of the people milling around me, keeping my radar high and alert for anyone to connect with, saying in my heart, “One more time people. Let’s do this thing one more time.”

    Finally I find a couple of people I do know, and I am happy. A brother and a sister. We find a place to sit cross-legged in the giant circle, our bodies touching lightly around the edges so that we make a triangular circuit. And someone quietly lights the temple on fire.

    Tens of thousands of people quietly watch it burn.

    I do mean quietly: For the first time since I got here, I hear: No sound systems, no shouting, no whoops, no hollers. Just quiet chatter, and loud above it, the roar and crackle of the temple, gradually burning down. Pure Pleasure courses through my arteries and veins; I am soaring up around the floating moon. I enter timelessness: I am meditation; my mind: silent and still.

    When I return to these particular three dimensions, that is to say, four dimensions, I know that I want to dance a lot longer tonight than my body will allow; I want to stay awake longer than I can. And though I know everyone will be so cruelly tearing it down come morning, I also know this: I don’t ever want to leave my beloved city.

Connecting With The Community: Feedback Loop

Hey, how about that Burning Man 2006? What did you think about the art? Were the toilets clean and easy to find? What were your experiences with law enforcement? Did you find the map, WhatWhereWhen and Survival Guide informative? What about performances in the Cafe? Did you find what you needed in Center Camp?

Every year after the event, Burning Man staff reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we plan to do in the future — changes, improvements, what was right, wrong, etc. First, we attend a meeting in October with the BLM and other agencies to debrief on how the organizers and agencies worked together to fulfill the permit stipulations. At about the same time, staff members submit their feedback in EMBER reports. The reports are read by the Board and discussed at the annual Board Retreat. Then the over 100 reports are read by the Senior Staff in preparation for another off-site debrief in mid-November. A fundamental principle of the Burning Man Project has always been to engage in “self-reflection”. This applies to the individual as much as the Project. We take the body of information we’ve gathered in the fall, and begin planning for the next year immediately.

We want to include YOUR feedback in our planning process. When the event was smaller we held Town Meetings in the winter in San Francisco as a forum for feedback. However, over time this option didn’t prove the most efficient to receive the broadest comments from the community. As in 2004 and 2005, the Project for 2006 is making available to participants an email address for comments on Burning Man. Please email any comments to: feedback(at)burningman(dot)com before November 1, 2006 in order to be included in our retreat process and planning for next year.

Due to the fact we typically get a strong response to this request for feedback, it is not practical to reply directly to everyone. Depending on the nature of the feedback, some participants may receive a direct response. If many feedback emails touch upon similar issues, then we will draft a general response that will be sent on the JRS and posted in the Q&A AfterBurn Report. We DO promise that your email will be read. We want to hear from new and old Burners alike. Starting with the good before the bad is helpful. ;-)

Furthermore, Burning Man staff members are interested in meeting with participants and hearing their thoughts in person during their increasing number of trips to meet with Regional groups year round. We will gladly work with any Regional groups to set up gatherings with participants when Board or Senior Staff members travel. If you would like to find out more about the Regional Network and a group in your area please visit http://regionals.burningman.com.

Thanks for taking the time to contribute your thoughts. We promise we’ll read what you have to say. Looking forward to 2007!

~ The Burning Man Project Staff [para_end]