Gifts

Photo: Ales aka Dust To Ashes
Photo: Ales aka Dust To Ashes


by “Gentle” Remington Rand

2013 was my first burn. Those who know me well probably figured I was going because of a midlife crisis. An event like this is so out of character for me. Perhaps they would be correct. Regardless I needed something to shake me. Burning Man shook me to my core in many ways.

Like many “virgin burners”, I found myself overwhelmed. My camp mates were very gracious and patient with me. Because of them I was able to explore and experience so much that I never would have. I was stretched both personally and professionally as a photographer. The one thing that left a strong impression on me was the concept of gifting. It blew me away to experience all sorts of gifting, both material and intangible gifts. It is a practice I want to make part of my daily life.

But as great as this was, there was one “negative” experience that threatened to overshadow my memories of the week. One experience that left me feeling confused and angry enough to forget about the beauty that I experienced.

It happened the night they burned The Man.

My good friend and camp mate, Mike guided me to the circle to watch the burn. He knew that I was uncomfortable about a lot that was going on, so he kept close to me as a guide. My first impression was borderline claustrophobia, a little bit of fear, and quite a bit of anxiety. It’s my nature. So I tried to breathe and remember my lesson to “observe without judgement”.

I was doing fairly well, and it was becoming an interesting spectacle. Ahead of us was a group of four middle aged Mad Max types who refused to sit down. People chanted and yelled and tried everything for them to sit down. Their response was to yell at the crowd to “eff off because this is effing burning man! We will do what ever the eff we want”, punctuated with all sorts of obscene gestures to the hundreds of people behind them.

They bugged me. Self centered, pretentious bastards. Didn’t they care about the people behind them? I tried my best to ignore them, but they were right in my field of view and people around me were getting very angry. Eventually throwing trash at them. What happened to the promise to “leave no trace”?

I watched a young bearded man speak with them. He gestured to the crowds behind them, pleaded with his hands in prayer position. They gave him the bird and some choice words. He bowed graciously then left. It didn’t take long before Mike and I worried that the crowd would become ugly.

Looking back on this, it’s difficult to say why I became so bothered. It should have been a simple thing to ignore those annoying people. But it was not possible for me. Maybe it was the crowds, all dressed in strange costumes. And the loud throbbing music, so very loud. And people doing things I had never before seen, like fire dancers, drum circles and I don’t know what else. By the time The Man started to burn, I had entered the freak-out zone. I became afraid. Mike could see that I was very disturbed and suggested that we get out of there. We made our move to leave.

I spun on my butt to see the mob of people behind me. Directly behind me was a beautiful lady dolled up like a flower child. I told her I was afraid. She patted my arm and gently told me it would be okay. Nice try lady, but it didn’t work. My panic mode was in full lift-off. I stood up and shouted that I had to leave. The hordes of people packed like sardines must have seen the fear in my eyes. Somehow they parted the waters to make way for a frightened guy and his buddy to get the heck out of there.

Outside the ring of Art Cars I found a BLM ranger. I stood next to her and felt safe, eventually joking and laughing with her and my friend. I had survived, but a seed of anxiety and anger was planted in my mind. The rest of the night with my camp mates was great, but that seed was germinating. It came to full bloom the next day as I began the long drive home.

During the hours of slow exodus, my mind kept returning to the experience at the burn. I relived the moments of frustration and anger with those idiots. Why were they so inconsiderate? Didn’t they care about the people behind them? How could they be so selfish? I rehearsed angry, even violent confrontations with them in my head. I was enjoying my self-righteousness and imagined delivering retribution that they so deserved. They would regret their behavior by the time I was done. It was delicious feeling angry at those strangers.

But I didn’t stop there. Soon I started to think of other people in my life who were bugging me. I was going one by one thinking of all the angry things I would say to the idiots in my life. I was on a roll.

Eventually I realized what I was doing. I was stewing in anger and resentment, treasuring all the precious grudges that I hold so dearly. I stopped, remembering the practice to redirect my mind toward good things in my life. My dogs who I missed. My partner who was waiting for me at home. My friends. My gracious camp mates. My friend Mike who guided me. I wasn’t very convincing, but I eventually calmed down. My blood pressure dropped. By the time I made it to Gerlach 4 hours later I was singing to some happy songs in my car.

A few days later I was telling a friend about the week. My first story was about the amazing experience of the gifting economy. But it didn’t take long for me to recount my story about the night of The Burn.

My friend kindly and patiently pointed out the obvious. Those obnoxious Mad Max Wannabees? They gave me a tremendous gift. Without them I would have experienced a spectacle. Perhaps more, but not much else. But because of their behavior I was able to experience real beauty in the strangers around me. The humble young man, with his gentle pleading. The calm reassurance of the flower girl. The kindness of hundreds of strangers who made room for me. The cheerful BLM Ranger. And of course the strong, reassuring guidance of my friend Mike. These experiences were a gift. Perhaps the most significant gift of the week. My friend stunned me to silence. I had been so blind.

Now when I think about that week, my dominant memory is the beauty in the strangers and friends I met on the playa. Their actions show me how I can live differently in my daily life. When I’m frustrated, instead of simply trying to redirect my mind away from the frustration, I can look for the hidden gem in the experience. It’s a new concept for me, and a real challenge.

It’s a gift that I will gratefully accept.

About the author: Tales From The Playa

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

17 thoughts on “Gifts

  • Burning Man is a safe place for all those who wish they could lead of life of unconventional uncertainty, to experience that kind of lifestyle for a week.

    It’s unfortunate when people take it too far and dress up like Mad Max and take things too seriously. They should understand this is a type of playland for adults, where everything is safe and sane, but only looks crazy. This is what we pay for, and it’s a damn shame that some people ruin it for the rest of us.

    I pay a lot of money to see the Man burn, and I’ll be damned if anyone will interfere with my immediate experience. People like these Mad Max types should have been tossed in the fire.

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  • “I pay a lot of money to see the Man burn”

    Did you honestly just say that?
    I’m tempted to say that YOU are the one who should be tossed in the fire…. but… you know what, experience whatever the fuck you want.

    It’s a city, go to the neighborhoods that make you happy. I hate the man burn specifically because of the selfish douchebags there. So, I avoid it.

    Maybe you should stop being an entitled arse and find an experience you find more fulfilling.

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  • I have been on both sides of the fence on this one, possibly one blocking the view and one being blocked… There are various reasons why I refuse to sit on the Playa, I try to be courteous enough to be the first row of standees and I make my presents known, anyone who decides to sit behind me it is just your bad luck, you can move ten feet either direction, most burns you have a couple of thousand feet to chose from… Now the people with the LED’s up front (versus EL wire) that is a different matter…

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  • Thank you for your story! You made a good point that the gifts you receive at BM are more than just the obvious things. A gift can also be a negative experience that allows you to work through personal stuff. Perhaps you were meant to reflect on your anger towards others in your life and gain more self awareness on how you handle uncomfortable situations. What a fabulous opportunity for self growth!

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  • It sounds like those mad max douche bags were DPW; basically the scum of the playa. Those gutter rats, with all their BO and pink eye and dysentery are only allowed on the playa because they do all the shit work. They run around assaulting and insulting burners (the very people who pay for their existence on the playa).

    That attitude of these scum is that BM is THEIR city, and everyone else are tourists to be tolerated. That’s why they gave you the finger.

    Don’t worry, though. They’re all back in the Mission with 10 people living in a 1 bedroom apartment, selling skank weed for the rest of the year until BM decides to haul their dirty asses out there again. Nothing of value lost.

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  • @BunnyT

    i don’ think they would have been dpw. most likely they were gate crew = dpw rejects. gate crew is where they send all the dpw who are too incompetent to follow any kind of direction. they’re the worst of the worst, and responsible for the loss of most of the top-shelf liquor that comes through the gate.

    most of dpw on burn night are out slaving to whatever pet project crimson rose (or her cronies) have set out for them to do (mostly extremely hazardous work, frequently resulting in unreported injuries). by the time sat night roles around, gate crew is so jacked up on drugs and with the absence of any responsibility – they turn their aggressions on the the burners themselves. i’ve seen it happen, broken noses, etc.

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  • Y’all are funny!

    After further reflection, I realize that my little essay was not clear on the issue. The issue was with myself, and my reaction to those that annoyed me. I own my own failure to be reconciled with those people and the situation. It was my lesson to learn. In truth, I spent much of the week averting my eyes and my attention away from people who’s idea of “Radical Self-Expression” disturbed me. The concept of self-expression is foreign to me. I’m much more comfortable with the ideas of communal effort and civic responsibility, which I assume to include being considerate of others. I think it’s ironic that I was not able to ignore or avert my attention away from those people who were causing me so much distress. Tell me the universe doesn’t have a sense of humor. I still think that they were obnoxious, inconsiderate jerks. But I had no control over their behavior. What I do have control over, or I should say what I can learn to control is how I react to these situations where I’m annoyed. It’s a lesson that might take a lifetime to learn. Or at least a few more weeks.

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  • Next time I recommend watching the burn from out by the Temple. I’m not a person affected whatsoever by claustrophobia but there’s something about the energy around the man during the burn that has just never worked for me. Watching it with good friends sitting on the playa far far away, however, has been lovely.

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  • Jeez, I scrolled down to read the comments because I enjoyed the mindful ending and I almost wish I hadn’t. This was such a nice share, and it was greeted with so much negativity. Sorry to be sensitive.

    Thank you for sharing gentle remington rand.

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  • I agree, most likely were Gate Crew. Gate Crew likes to dress up and play Mad Max worse than DPW. Also, these were almost certainly newbie poseurs with about 3 burns under their belts.

    No one goes out to the Man on burn night who has been out there more than a few times. It’s amateur hour out there; teacher on spirt quests, hipsters, and wannabe Borg sycophants. So don’t feel bad that they insulted you. They likely never heard of Burning Man before a couple years ago. I can imagine they’re just outside of their Utilikilt phase – the little darlings.

    Next year they will be back out there, though – pretending to be hardcore, complaining about the children running around. Complaining about the ‘tourists’ who are ruining the event that was really cool two years ago when they had a full head of sophomoric megalomania and ecstasy cut with speed, thinking they reached nirvana and that other people just don’t get it.

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  • A few years back, I stood next to an elderly couple. The older man had the same problem as I – a bum knee. We couldn’t really sit too well for too long. It was a lot easier for the both of us to simply stand, so we stood at the back of those sitting.

    Soon, people were filling in behind us and yelling at us to sit down. It was like someone moving next to an airport THEN complaining about the noise. I didn’t understand. It’s a big desert. Why CHOOSE to sit right behind a small group of people standing?

    …but we moved back. It was the polite thing to do.

    People filled in behind us again, we moved back again, only to have it repeat once more.

    Now, we were backed up against the art car circumference. People on the art cars were yelling at us to sit even though most of them were above our heads. Some yelling at us weren’t even behind us. It was like they were trying to blindly enforce an unwritten rule that doesn’t exist.

    Sidebar: Do you know why the Rangers ~encourage~ people to sit? It’s because sitting people don’t move. They don’t slowly migrate. They don’t take off running. It’s a wise way of controlling a crowd without making people feel like they were told what to do.

    Anyway, that’s when I got rude. Of course, none of that helped. I tried to be nice. The last thing I wanted to do was upset anyone. Sorry. I’m more comfortable standing. I’m not taking a wheelchair.

    …and yeah, the rudest anyone has ever been to me in my dozen or so burns was recently, by a gate/perimeter person. That’s a story for another day.

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  • thank you for your honesty “Gentle” Remington. you have been blessed with many gifts as a result of seeing things a little, or maybe a lot differently.

    for myself, the biggest gift & probably the hardest one to give has been the gift of forgiveness. sounds ridiculous I know, but for me, the alternative is resentment and all of the turmoil that comes along with it.

    it’s also a gift for myself when I choose to understand people rather than to be understood, and to love my brothers & sisters know matter how much I would rather just clock them off the back of the skull with a pipe sometimes.

    the gifts that I receive back when I’m on my “A” game are; more patience, more tolerance, way more love, self respect, a sense of accomplishment and a whole shitload of other positive vibes… and guess what? these vibes, in turn attract likeminded positive people into my life. (I’m in a program that is teaching me how to live the exact opposite way than I’ve lived it for most of my life). It’s progress, not perfection and it’s a day at a time for me).

    idealism? sure! you bet! but what is burning man about if it isn’t about seeking a better self awareness and becoming a better person for the other 51 weeks of the year.

    obviously this rant was only for me to apply to myself.

    peace

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  • No sugar coating it, the burn can be a bit aggressive and seemingly antagonistic instead of fun.

    I tire of the “sit down” attitude, the peer pressure to succumb to a numbing down of the revelry that is THE BURN, what is supposed to be a cacophony, an epiphone, a crazy, antediluvian ritual of cathartic release. Save the sitting for the Temple Burn.

    Instead? These friggen passive-aggressive dogooders want THE BURN nicely prepared in a little box, a “just so” end to the week, a quiet wimper. They just have to see every little fire-spinner do their thing, when they’ve been surrounded by it all week. They want to have an unobstructed view of the entire burn….so they can videotape the whole thing and get it up on youtube 1 hr later.

    Please..the revelers “used” to crowd in close ready to run right when the MAN went up in flames, to circumnavigate as close as possible to the extreme dismay of the firecrews. I have been threatened with violence by pa fuks telling me to sit down. And yet i stand, and tell others to stand.

    I STAND UP for my right to experience THE BURN the way I want. Others are free to SIT to enjoy the burn the way they want. I have screamed down entire crowds of dogoodnicks and guess what? I befriended them and we partied like maniacs after. Why? Because they realized their own folly of attempting to constrain folks at the pinnacle of chaos in the most crazy, creative festival in the world, and we all realized the roles we were acting out at that moment. I spend all week giving of myself, and for once i want to scream and yell and jump and cry out “BURN BABY BURN”!!!

    You said it exactly right: “They gave me a tremendous gift. Without them I would have experienced a spectacle. Perhaps more, but not much else”.

    I come to burning man for so many reasons, yet it is the people that teach me the lessons to help me become a better person. To have tolerance, and compassion and pull us outside of ourselves to get perspective is a gift. But please don’t try to tell me how to enjoy my burn.

    I hope I catch you on the playa, and see what new lessons you’ve learned!

    Peace.

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  • Dear Gentle,
    I think without structure our dear burning man would
    be full of more danger but the groupings of that bm can annoy
    even the sanest person into a rage. I`ve noticed the chant to
    sit yearly and my friend was pulled down when she had stated
    she had serious nerve damage. she said she would punch
    the next one who did that and they stopped..we walked away
    but point is a few bad apples won`t stop me..people are
    going to be in bad moods,dont take it personal or judge..walk
    far away and shake off the negitive…burn on. I love me some
    dpw and gate…those jerks are pansy ass sweethearts but shh thats
    a secret and they talk a good game when trying to make you
    mad…I would be bored woth all the feel gooders and no punk
    or strange poly and no longe time life-ers shouting out insults
    it make up charactes to learn from and play with…Up to each to
    interpret.

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