I was honored to have my friend Rem join us at camp this year. It was his first burn, although he’d been threatening to visit for a while. I expected him to have a good time, but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how good. The second I saw him on the playa, it was clear he was a natural.
Now that we’re back in Reality Camp, Rem’s had a chance to file his two-part Burning Man chronicle over at Grantland, and I’m getting all verklempt about how clearly he Got It. I’m going to be pointing first-time Burners to these stories for a long time.
Did the sideways attempt by an astringent horse-meat peddler to associate its tacos with Burning Man on a television commercial get your ears burning?
It did mine.
And then there was a New York Times article suggesting that Burning Man is “running on fumes” because Paris Hilton tweeted about it.
Really, New York Times? You’re a newspaper quoting Paris Hilton’s tweets, and *we’re* the ones who are running on fumes? I’d humbly suggest that the Principles of Burning Man are a lot more stable than the pillars of journalism just at the moment, thanks.
Then there was P. Diddy. Then there was Stacy Kiebler (full disclosure: I don’t know who that is) talking about Burning Man on “Live with Kelly and Michael.” (I’m assuming that’s actually a real show, and not a clever prank. It sounds fake).
Then there was the photo spread on The Atlantic’s site. And the photo spread in Business Insider. And the animated GIFFs on Buzzfeed. And what I’m just going to assume were dozens of photo spreads on the Huffington Post, because honest-to-God do I not have time to actually check.
And then there was what’s-his-name … the internet billionaire … and then the other internet billionaire (I have a hard time telling them apart). And the twins from the movie about the website.
And then there was the sorta-outrage that Mark Zuckerberg would helicopter in and help give away grilled cheese sandwiches. Which is baffling, because: is there actually a better use of his time? Anything that keeps him from working on Facebook is a win.
And then John Stewart made a crack about Burning Man on the Daily Show …
Yep: our ears are burning. When titans of industry come looking for something that a guy with a tutu and a tent has been rocking for years, you know you’ve got the world’s attention. Read more »
[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man's 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]
I spent some time today reflecting on Radical Inclusion in a Post-P.Diddy-Playa. If you’d rather read these ideas than watch a video, just skip below. (Video begins with 2:16 of mindfulness that you can skip if you are “sparkle-averse.”)
“How many veteran Burners found this year to be like Disneyland? Waiting in line to see the man then once in seeing it filled with tourists, ravers and MOOP.
I think this may be the last year I’m going…”
“I’m so sick of those elitist jerks with their Plug-and-play camps…”
Let’s all take a breath together.
As we breath out, let’s say, “Radical Inclusion.”
This is one of the 10 Principles, and it is important.
It is tempting to feel like we know what is the right way to do things.
But all we can ever know is what is best for us. Actually, it is a lifelong journey to figure out what is best for us.
Socialization covers us with layers and layers of shoulds. Eventually we live a life of patterns that may have no relationship to the true desires of our heart.
One of the transformative gifts of Burning Man is that it pushes us to question our patterns. The challenges and discomfort make us act in ways outside our patterns. In that space of questioning & floating, we sometimes hear our heartsongs. We sometimes feel desires, inspiration, and direction coming from INSIDE us. For many of us, this is a direction we have never experienced. After a lifetime of aiming towards goals given to us by well meaning parents & teachers (and less-benign marketers and politicians) – we may have lost the connection with the inner voice that that says, “This is my bliss. Follow this.” We had it in the crib. We had it on the playground. When did we lose it?
(Not actually my dad)
The gift of rediscovering that connection can be so profound. It can also turn us into zealots and make us overly-defensive of the circumstances that broke us free. It can be tempting to feel like the way WE got to that rediscovery is the right way.
There is nothing in the Principles about the size of your tent, the absence of air conditioning, or what tasks you must do yourself in order to qualify as “self reliant.” Must you mine the metal used in your bike? Must you weld it yourself? How about attach it to your bike rack or decorate it?
Or is it self-reliant enough to make the arrangements so that your needs are met?
I much prefer the attitude of a wealthy participant who makes arrangements than a “The Playa Will Provide” drifter who confuses “trusting the Universe” with “Being a burden on others.”
There is a tone of anger sometimes against “plug-and-play” camps. And I understand the fear. The real danger is a separation from participation. But who are any of us to define what the right way to participate is?
Do DPW participate better than Temple Builders? Who participate better than small sculpture artists? Who participate better than art car creators? Who participate better than theme camp organizers? Who participate better than costume artists?
The beauty of Burning Man is that we all find the best ways for us to gift. We all figure out the best way to play our role. The system works because we all answer the question differently. We are all unique cells within a massive organism. Our job is not to define how others should act – our role is to get clear & healthy and help the whole organism thrive.
It may be massage, sculpture, cooking, mechanical advice, attentive listening, carpentry, or philosophy. Whatever it is, it is important to find a way to participate and share your gifts.
Our camp gifted iced cucumber water & love
In my camp, we demand a high level of participation from every member. This is not because we need lots of labor for the camp to function. While this *is* true, the reason we demand participation is because we know better. After 16 years I can say with a rare confidence, “The more you participate, the more you will get out of the experience.”
Showing up to the party of the year may give you a head full of great memories. But feeling like you are co-hosting this event changes something inside you. Being of service tunes you in to a level of purpose that changes you – or recharges you – in truly profound ways.
Do I worry about the Plug-And-Play camps? Only to the degree that some people may not be pushed hard enough outside their bubble to recieve the gifts available to them in this magical place. They may not get far enough outside of what is normally expected of them to recognize the dormant gifts aching to be shared.
But even then, I do not worry. Because even having a slight brush with this place can change you.
I know because it happened to me.
My first burn was in 1998. I showed up Thursday afternoon, late in the week. I avoided most responsibilities and did very little to help with the camp breakdown. I took much more than I gave. I bet a veteran would have considered me a tourist.
Feeling deeply grateful
But it changed me. I started to learn more about the event. I started to learn more about myself.
I learned what my gifts were.
I learned to start listening for, and listening to that voice that steered me towards my Joy.
It changed my life. It changed my world. It changed my burn.
Burning Man changes people. When it changes people who have control over significant resources, that bodes well for the planet. I want every CEO and Prince to experience the Playa. I want them to dance on an art car, be gifted pancakes and say what P. Diddy said upon returning from the dust: “#BurningMan Words cannot explain! I’ll never be the same”
This is not a silly idea. More and more I have been asked to speak to business people about the value of Burning Man ideals. They may not even know that they are BM ideals, but they know that being in alignment with integrity and purpose is important. After long careers where the bottom line was everything, they know, deep down, that it isn’t enough.
When I was recruited for my current job, it was based on videos I did about Burning man. The CEO told me, “We are are group of people who have had successful careers. We have built our empires…but now we want to build our legacy.”
So bring on the ravers, frat-boys, tourists & elitists. As each one of us gets in tune with who we truly are, it benefits us all. As each cell gets healthy, it advances the health of the entire body.
We’ve built an empire of dust…now we build our legacy.
Would you lie down next to a clown in the White Forest? photo credit: Candace Locklear
Holy wow, what a week! Let it be known: 2013 was one of the greats. I am in awe of the energy and ideas that swirl and pollinate to create Burning Man. I hopped on art cars, I danced at sunrise, I did an afternoon bike tour — all in full clown-face. I was surrounded by friends and new hires for epic days and nights. I even managed to get some sleep. The weather was belissimo and the dust was mild. What. A. Playa.
Some of the best conversations of my life have taken place on the playa. These conversations can be as brief as a call-and-response to honking the horn on my bike (“Dirty clowns make great dust fellows!”) or as long as a sunrise session out at The Office. One topic kept popping up: Have you had many interactions with newbies?
We can all agree that Black Rock City is huge. First-timers are gobsmacked by the scale of it and old-timers are too. The 2013 Burning Man event population was 69,613 (editor’s note: this figure was updated Sept. 14).
It seems like a lot of you were there for the first time. Welcome.
The redux: I first attended Burning Man in 1998 (population: 15,000). I’ve felt like a new-comer and an old broad. I’ve lived on both sides of the curtain –blissed-out in ruby slippers at sunset or setting an alarm clock so I could work the all-day Media Mecca shift. My friends are a mix of old-timers, volunteers, artists, occasional attendees and newer burners. One friend asked, “Are we all in this together?” Another wondered “Who are all these people and why aren’t they talking? Is it because I’m old?” Our greatest concern: Are first-timers having the same random magic playa moments that we are? I’m curious about the answers to these questions. I had a few people run away from my attempts at conversation in the porta-potty line (usually a source of great stranger entertainment).
Join the adventure, don’t just create your own.
The mega-camp is one way Burning Man has evolved with the growing population. This is a different way to attend Burning Man than when many of us started coming. There have always been camps that provide food and shade. But it wasn’t until I started reading blogs and news stories after this year’s event that I understood how prevalent it is to have meals and water and showers and bikes and sleeping arrangements provided. $1000 for a Burning Man experience? It sounds like making a reservation at a resort. I read about someone organizing a camp that almost ran out of water mid-week for 150 people. My first thought was, 150 people came to Burning Man without their own water? The Black Rock Desert is a harsh and sometimes unsafe environment. What about Radical Self-Reliance? The pamphlet that comes with your ticket is called the Survival Guide for a reason. These “turnkey” camps are housing part of the newer population yet they have created a subculture that relies on someone else for survival and fun.
Another Burning Man tenant is Radical Inclusion. Basically: We are all in this together and we respect each others creativity. I may not like your shiny hot pants unicorn costume and you may not be down with my kazoo or beige granny panties, but we can dance side by side and maybe I’ll randomly cruise through your camp with a tray of bacon and we can share a laugh. That is radical inclusion: a laissez faire attitude that is friendly and open and neighborly. If your tent is blowing over, I am going to run over and help. If you’re making margaritas, let me grab my cup. I wonder if the newer burners know the joy of passing out chilled avocado slices to strangers on a hot afternoon. Radical Inclusion is not exclusive dinners or cocktail parties. The artists who build those big, amazing wood-burning bulls or spinning coyotes want you to interact with their art. They didn’t build art for people to gawk; the art is part of a larger community.
I had a weird interaction that made me question how we are acculturating newer burners regarding Radical Inclusion. Is Radical Inclusion being misconstrued as anything-goes behavior? Let me say: If someone doesn’t want to hug you, that is their choice. Being at Burning Man doesn’t mean you get to do what you want. Not everyone wants a hug. You have to take “no” for an answer. What transpired Friday night was a super-bummer and my friends helped me rally, but still: we could have done without that scene. Burning Man is about creating your ideal self and opening up to further possibility and sharing it with the people around you. It isn’t about anarchy or secret clubs or us versus them.
During our eight-hour exodus to the gate, my BFF & I put costumes back on. “We are still at Burning Man!” was our rally cry. People gave us frozen popsicles, food and shade. Candace, also known as Evil Pippi, says she feels like her most authentic self on the playa. If she had her way, we’d still be at Burning Man. As we worked our way through the parking-lot line we asked people about their experience. Most of the people were first- or second- time burners. Some people were friendly, others seemed uncomfortable when we approached. Was that their Burning Man, staying in an RV and not interacting?
In the years I worked for The Man we talked about not hand-holding people through the burn and leading by example. Do it yourself, it’s more fun that way! But 10 years ago we weren’t thinking about a population this large and turnkey camps on this scale. The Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, the Survival Guide and the official website are wonderful resources but they aren’t reaching people who don’t even bring their own water. How do we bridge this divide? One friend suggested all turnkey camps register and get a BM101 lesson on arrival. Another suggested we let these burners drive the event into the ground until we’re selling condo plots. Another suggested an acculturation committee. UGH! I love Burning Man and want it to thrive. That’s why I’m reaching out to you, the community.
Dear readers, these are the questions I’m pondering after being off the desert for almost a week. Black Rock City is going through a boom phase. We aren’t a normal city and we need to treat our social experiment with care. I’m hoping to tap into the city’s consciousness for some ideas.
How do we acculturate people who are having such disparate experiences? How do new burners feel about their experience? How do repeat burners feel about this year’s event? Can we get new blood to start volunteering during the event?
Comments are open. Be nice, no spitting.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago when everyone at Burning Man came from California and the only language spoken was English. This year, in a single night, I overheard conversations in Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, and a half-dozen other tongues I couldn’t ID. I clinked glasses with a cider-maker from England, an architecture student from Russia, and an intrepid young South African named Kayden, who had ridden his bicycle all the way to Black Rock City from the RSA.
According to early census numbers, nearly a quarter of our city’s population now comes from outside the US, or roughly 17,000 people this year. And for every one who makes it to BRC, how many friends did they leave back home who would love to join us if they could? Though now written on a global canvas, it’s an old story: people come to BRC and get their lives changed, and they take that experience home to whatever part of everywhere they came from. Maybe they’ll be back next year or maybe they won’t, but they can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, and wanting to live this way year-round.
Regional burner groups
Small wonder, then, that the Regional Network has grown so dramatically over the past few years, with hundreds of sanctioned groups now hosting scores of burnerish events around the globe. Afrikaburn alone had over 7,000 attendees this year. Whatever it is we’ve built here in the desert, demand clearly outstrips supply. The playa can only hold so many, but we’re not just the playa anymore – we’re the planet.
This global spread of our culture – organic, viral, and largely unplanned – is where all the action is. On a personal level, it’s why I chose to rejoin the Burning Man Project after a long hiatus. How do we channel and fuel that mad growth? How do we translate the Ten Principles, and stay true to their spirit as we cross cultural and linguistic boundaries? How can we continue to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the world? From the beginning, we’ve always viewed our event as an experimental community – but who could have guessed that the subjects would assimilate so completely with the observers, burn down the lab, and take the experiment to so many corners of the globe?
If you’re wondering what part you can play in all this, I have a few suggestions. Pick a region – any region – and get involved with your local burners. Maybe it’s just an afterburn they’re after, or maybe it’s something more ambitious, like the YES project or the Carver Garden Alliance, two great examples of how burners are working with kids in their local communities. If there isn’t a regional group yet in your area, think about starting one. And if you’re short on free time, but still want to add a little fuel to the fire, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit Burning Man Project. Your dollars – or yen or rubles or pounds – will help keep things burning those other 51 weeks of the year.
Thanks to all of you. Danke, merci, xiexie, and gracias. Wherever you live in the default world, you are part of an amazing global community. The playa speaks, and the world is listening.
Stuart Mangrum coined the phrase “TTITD” and claims to have seen the Playa Chicken. He works for the Burning Man Project.
This is the last information I have on Augustus St. George. By the time you read this, he’ll be in the exodus. Find links to the rest of this series here. – Caveat
Photo by Polaris
I’ll be drinking at the jazz bar for a while. Too many memories in the French Quarter right now: too much heat. I don’t know whether some of the people there got played by Duchamp or if they’re members of his orchestra. I don’t know if Tanya will feel betrayed when she finds out her tip led to Crispy Crown’s arrest. I don’t want to watch my back in my favorite bar.
So I listen to a quartet on old instruments scratch some classics out of the dust and nurse a gin and tonic because they don’t have the whiskey I like, and wonder what might have been. That’s a dangerous place to visit. It’s even worse to live there.
The city’s closing down around me. The Temple doesn’t burn for another hour or so, but you can see the empty spaces where sculptures used to be and hear drills pull screws out of camp facades.
Maybe it’s all a façade. In a couple of months, when everything and everybody’s gone and the desert is the way it was when we got here, who’s to say different? The trouble with a Leave No Trace event is that you can’t count on the things you leave behind to tell your story.
This will be my last Burning Man. That’s what I tell myself. That’s what I always tell myself. The heat gets to me. So does the noise. So does the lack of sleep. The people are always smiling. Everyone always looks like they’re having more fun than me. “Screw it,” I tell myself every year. “They’re just not savvy enough, not sophisticated enough, to see through it all like I do.” Read more »
What if you dreamed up the most impossibly beautiful and perfectly timed thing you could summon your heart and mind to imagine? And what if you labored all year to pull the strings and find the money and overcome the forces who would defeat you? And what if somehow, once again, you persuaded all your friends to help?
And then what if you actually watched it all taking shape, agonizingly slowly and with great effort, rising in the bright white heat of the desert?
And then what if it finally stood there, appearing and disappearing majestically between whiteouts, and in the evenings glowing with a mesmerizing tranquility against the purple of the hills?
And then what if in that moment of triumph of will and sweat, of tears and blood, what if you said, ok, that’s it. That’s enough. We are done with this. We dreamed it and we did it and now it is time to be done with it. So you lit the torch and set fire to the thing, and you watched the flames consume that which had consumed you.
That was our Saturday night, and we wish you were here.
And if you were here, thank you very much, nothing more to see here; time to move on.
Oh yes, there is still a Temple to burn tonight, but the apex of Burning Man has been reached, and just like that, it is time to get back to the present, and to the immediate future, and then maybe, some time later, to think about what will come next. But for now, strike the tent, literally pull up the stakes, sort your trash and get the hell out of Dodge. It is time to get back into the moment.
Weather reports Sunday morning were scaring the general population, and we secretly thought that this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. People being in a hurry to leave was ok with us. We don’t mean to be harsh, and we mean this in the most loving way possible, but we are tired of your face and it’s time for you to go.
This giant Burning Man has almost come to a close, and it is going to take a long time to get everyone out of boomtown Black Rock City, and the sooner some people hit the road, the better for all concerned. So here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?
In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds