[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.]
di-as-po-ra noun 2. the dispersion of any people from their original homeland
It should be no surprise that Flipside was the first Burning Man regional event. Of course it would be the Texans to be the first to secede. I remember feeling slightly cheated on when we started catching wind of their “anti” event. How dare they just dump us like last week’s boyfriend and have a burning event of their own! Even the name, “Flipside”, implied that they were some sort of Yin to our Yang. Like jilted lovers we started watching close while pretending not to care. But as we watched, something new started to occur to us. Maybe they weren’t defecting – maybe they were just simply taking our seeds and planting them into new pastures.
It was as if we now had a twin and through this we were seeing the threads of similarities. Both were amassing communal bodies that were gaining strength in numbers with a refreshing free-spirited mindset. But because of this grand flourish, both were starting to feel the fast mounting pinch of growing pains. We could see our two events busting their seams and things were starting to spin out of control. They were taking off at an exponential gallop and the buckboard was getting away from us as the horses started racing toward the mirage – and like a mirage it was in all directions. Isn’t this the part of the movie where the wagon wheel flies off and the buckboard smashes into the ravine? Scrambling to find the reins, we were trying to pull the horses into a direction, but which direction? It was becoming clear that if we were going to right our spinning compass, we were going to have to polarize our energies and define its sources.
Why were our events growing so rapidly? What was it that was becoming literally life changing for so many? Why was the most popular conversation in camp about next year’s Burn? Watching the vitality of spirit burning in people’s camps was like peering into a kiln and seeing the glaze of our credos baking into the pottery. You could see a principled nation forming and needing guidance.
The first Regional event I attended was the one in southwest Michigan called “Lakes of Fire” back in 2008. My wife and I both grew up in Michigan and were sturdy woods campers, so the notion of enjoying a Burner fueled event on a lake in the back woods was enchanting. So, we bought the tickets, booked the flight, and sent word to our small posse of friends and family that we were heading their way. Lakes of Fire was in its second year at the time and was still framing its foundations, but they had done their homework and had succeeded in sticking a mini-Black Rock City into the hot summer backwoods of Michigan.
Most everything was there even though at times there was only one or two of each – one quarter mile of gate road – one trailer at the gate – one pop up shade for Greeters – one theme camp placer on one golf cart – one naked guy – one body painter – one camp devoted to bacon – a couple of sparkle ponies – one drum circle – a small troop of Rangers and DPW, and so on. It was like having the spark and machinery of Black Rock City scaled way down and imprinted onto a pine needle. We followed the line of lumbering RVs and such down the muddy trail and into the woods where we were met by a couple of semi-gruff gate guys wearing the appropriate black and skull with some highly carbonated Greeters just beyond ready to hug the “welcome home” right out of us. It was like seeing the unmistakable sprout of Burning Man grafted into the bark of a backyard Michigan birch tree.
That night found us in the heart of exuberance that matched any soaring high that I had ever had in my long history with Black Rock City. How refreshing to revisit our desert ways that had been reduced to their essence – one person at a time!
“Tick Town” was the name of the theme camp we were camping with. It was one of the four theme camps of this up-and-coming event and had been created through a collaborative effort by my sister and brother-in-law, and a small group of awesome friends that were all seasoned playa Burners. They had learned their interactive lessons well and were eager to bring these igneous coals to un-cut territory. They were like the ancient nomads packing the embers of their campfires along with them to spark the next lodge. One of the burning embers that my campmates had brought was that of “gifting”. This credo was already working its wizardry as we opened a bar without a cash register. It was called “The Snickering Tick” and I had the honors of manning it that first night. I spent the evening disquieting newbies into blank stupors as I told them to put their money away as they approached the bar. Their stares would momentarily turn into spinning rainbow icons as their processors searched for missing files. Could it be that they had wandered into a vortex where money had no worth? Could it be that they were seeing that the great and powerful Oz of finance was made of paper after all?
“Then how do I get a drink?”
“Spin the wheel! – see which outlandish antic you land on. Are you sport enough?” For the first time in their recent memories, they were being asked to do something instead of pay for something. A second burning ember had fallen at their feet, prompting them to dance – the spark of human interaction. Having all the playa-tested components of a thriving theme camp in place, word spread and we became the providers of permission for the city. The many who had only heard of Burning Man were now given the opportunity to experience its rocket ride through a local regional. We soared through the night!
“Gifting” is a leap of faith. The “giver” has much to learn as well. It’s hard to maintain last night’s high of giving when faced with a completely drained bar the next day and it’s only Thursday morning. I woke to the rant of an angry campmate that had warned us that this would happen! It was true that we wouldn’t be able to open the bar again without passing the hat and another trip to Muskegon.
Then the grand director of this play brought in the main character, right on cue.
It was a young lady with a timid step coming into our camp, pulling a red wagon. The wagon was crammed with booze. “I had a totally awesome time in your camp last night” she said, “and I’ll probably be back here again tonight. You guys are a blast! We had this booze for our camp but we might as well bring it here to your camp.”
We had several visits that day. By days end, we had thrice the hooch and no trip to Muskegon was needed. The simple human act of unconditional caring had been easily uncovered and was as contagious as laughter. The principle of gifting was being fostered. It was wrapping itself around our roots.
That night I lay thinking about what fuels our events. What brings people back and why do we continue to grow? It seemed to me that we humans are inherently good people. We want to contribute and want to belong. But our ingrained compassions for one another are forever being crushed under the tractors of greed. No wonder our inner horses want to gallop toward the waters of common decency and good cheer. No wonder nomads were starting to travel the globe with their backpacks full of our embers, sparking regionals everywhere! Our challenge has been to fan these embers with a collective bellows forging them into the graspable principles that we wish to live by so when we finally cross into the Greeters’ threshold, it really does feel welcome to be home.