While You Were Burning…

Welcome back! It was very strange not being there with you, and watching the event, vicariously and compulsively, on the streaming feed on the web over the course of a week. For me, Burning Man has been a learning experience from the beginning, and I have learned so much this year, only this time I’ve learned it by not being there.

It has been incredibly painful going through the motions here, maintaining a typical existence, going to work, doing what I normally do. Except it’s been anything but normal, because I wasn’t there, I was here. And I should not have been going to work. I should have been building a dome, contributing to life in our temporary city, hanging out with all of you.

So what did I learn by NOT going to Burning Man this year?

  • I’m a burner. If I ever had any doubt that I was not one of you, it’s gone. These are my people. You are my community. We will grow old together. We will celebrate for each other. We will grieve together when each of us passes.
  • I don’t have to go to the desert to be a burner, or even to experience the burn. Strangely, as much as it pained me not to be there, I think I actually learned more by going through that pain than I would have by being in the desert. After 8 years on the playa, I know what it feels like to be there. It’s part of me. I know what each day of the week feels like. I feel like I lived through it with you this year even though I wasn’t there.
  • The most important thing for us to do is to bring it home. I knew this already, but I’m reminded of it in a big way by missing the event. We have to take the experience of Burning Man, what we learn out there, and find a way to share it as best we can with everyone around us. We have to create experiences in our local communities that start to teach people what it is like to live in a way that is immediate, and self-reliant, and not experienced purely through transactions. And it’s very important that we do this not just for our little burner community, but for as many people around us as we can. See what we’re doing in New York at http://figmentnyc.org.
(c) 2009 (I Am) - from FIGMENT 2009
(c) 2009 (I Am) - from FIGMENT 2009
  • Participation is about more than just showing up, or posting on a blog. One of the many lessons of Burning Man is that the more you participate, the more you learn, the better an experience you have, and the more you contribute to the lives of those around you. Not participating at Burning Man is a squandered opportunity. We need to bring this same spirit of participation home, too. As soon as we leave the playa, it all comes rushing back: obligation, self-interest, limitation, all the baggage you left behind when you went to the desert. We have to remember that the more you give, the more you get. And we have to use our energy to do what we can to fix our society, and our planet. But participating, with our hearts open and our eyes wide, is the first step. We have to do it out here just as much as we do it in the desert.
  • It is important to communicate to non-burners what Burning Man is REALLY about. One thing that has been really hard about this week is seeing all the press about Burning Man, and realizing just how misrepresented our event and culture are by the media. One article about a community event in New York this week actually started with this sentence:

“Every year around this time, thousands of artists, recreational-drug enthusiasts and Phish fans flock to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada for the countercultural fete known as Burning Man—a bastard love child spawned by Hunter S. Thompson, Bozo the Clown and Joan of Arc.”

And that’s just the FIRST sentence… It doesn’t get more accurate (or start to make more sense) from there. People who haven’t experienced Burning Man (or who went to the event, but didn’t really “click in” to the experience) are simply unable to understand it. And the media exists to reduce experiences and concepts to easily digestible soundbytes. So if they don’t understand it, look out.

Spoiler alert: Burning Man is not actually about illicit or hedonistic activity. It’s really about community and personal expression, and through the tremendous personal investment and struggle that people go through to get to the desert, to survive there for a week, to create art there, and to be a member of the community, they learn a lot about themselves, and become better people.

This is the story we need to tell more. To anyone who will listen.

  • I will be back to Burning Man in 2010. If I’m breathing, I’ll be there with you in 2010. Nothing is going to keep me away two years in a row. Yes, it’s a pilgrimage. It’s something that everyone should do at least once, like climbing Mount Fuji or going to the Hajj. But then you get hooked, and you can’t stop.

About the author: David Koren

David Koren (or "not that dave") is the Executive Producer of FIGMENT, which began in 2007 as a free participatory arts event on Governors Island in New York City. By 2012, this annual event involved 25,000 participants and 400 arts projects, and was named the Best Art Festival in NYC by the Village Voice. In 2010, FIGMENT began to spread to other cities and in 2013 FIGMENT events will happen in approximately 10 locations in North America and Australia. FIGMENT has also created several annual summer-long installations on Governors Island, including an interactive sculpture garden, an artist-designed mini golf course, and the City of Dreams Pavilion, the result of an architectural design competition in collaboration with ENYA and SEAoNY. He is also an official Burning Man Contact for New York City and a member of the Meta-Regionals Committee. Professionally, David is the Marketing Director for one of the largest architectural firms in the United States.

11 thoughts on “While You Were Burning…

  • If there is one thing I learned this year (which was my first) is that I AM a burner! I loved every minute I was there at Burning Man 2009 and being back in the default world is the toughest transition ever. When I got invited to Burning Man I was skeptical…..I had never been to such an extreme event. Once I arrived, rolled in the dirt (as the greeters asked me to), and began to set up my “home” for the next 4 days I acclimated quickly, infact faster than I ever thought I would!!! Soon I was in my tutu/costume, running up and down the playa, having the time of my life! Leaving was very painful and all I can think about at home is how MUCH I loved B man. The ART, the PEOPLE, the DESERT, the night life, the wind, the playa dust, and being there with the people I LOVE!! Thank you SOOOOO much for putting on such a life changing, moving, awesome event! I will forever be a changed woman!
    Sincerely,
    Tugger, CA

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  • 1st lesson: In case of FIRE, DANCE!
    2nd lesson I learned this year is Volunteering is awesome at Burning Man. This was my 6th Burn and I have always worked my ass off at my camp. I spent most of my early days constructing our dome or the kitchen/observation structure. However this year I arrived on the Saturday before the event and found my camp mates who arrived even earlier than me had already completed camp set-up…WOW…WHAT…..No ratchets,bolts and nuts!!!! No splinters, bruises or back aches!!!! HUH??? what to do with all this free time now???? I was fortunate enough to land a shift at the Box Office which has been one of the most rewarding experiences at BM for me yet. I mean how cool is it to be the first person many people get to see and to help set the tone for first timers burn! I had so much fun knowing I was giving so little of myself to enhance the experience for others. I have to admit that the hot breakfast of eggs and bacon was plenty of compensation but really I am looking forward to spending much more time next year helping with the inner workings of the project, that is where the real fun is at! Thank you British Hussy for making me feel so comfortable on my first day of work!

    P.S. Being this years theme is Metropolis, Can we actually set the city up like San Fransisco? I mean how cool would it be to have cross streets and central parks with markets and clubs all in a grid system! Just this one year Larry!

    Much Love,
    Eclipse

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  • i too missed going home. i also watched online. it was painful at times, as i have been going for 9 years. this was a one year hiatus; i will be back in 2010 (hopefully as a ranger)

    i burned a popsicle stick man on the same saturday as the “real” burn..he went up in flames much faster than the one at BRC, and went out as fast too! still, it was a neat way to “bring the burn” home..

    is it next year yet?

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  • Thank you for writing this so eloquently and well put. I too missed this year. It was time to focus on my business and life. Missing this year taught me so much as well. Planning! WOW what a new concept. I mean not just planning on going to burning man but plan your life! Have savings, slush funds, medical, etc. I need to be more in charge of my life period. I can not and should not expect someone else to do all that for me. I want freedom and with the freedom comes responsibility.

    Just like it is my responsibility to be active in my community off the playa. Making the changes for the better of all concerned and willing to do the work. I have been to BM for 10 years now: explande camp, and various positions of volunteering for 5 years. I make the commitment there, now I have to bring that back to my everyday life.

    Big lesson, give yourself the freedom and responsibility to take charge of ones direction of life is what I have walked away with from all these burns. The community on the play does exist off the playa, you have to go and find it, create it, and be responsible to it. Then we will have what is out there in our everyday life… minus the dust and tutu wearing everyday.
    Much love to you all,
    Bunny

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  • I also think its like climbing mount fuji or going to hajj
    I think it should be mandatory for every human being to go there once in a life time, like in mid thirty?!!!….
    don’t you agree? I bet it would be much better world to live in

    love and piece

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  • Thank you.
    For me also I missed going home for the first time in 10 years because I went back home to NewZealand.I too watched the live feed,a weird feeling when your far away down under.
    Will be back in 2010 to spend another week in your arms.

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