Posts by Caveat Magister

September 16th, 2014  |  Filed under Participate!, The Ten Principles

The 10 Principles are most potent when offered to Strangers

StrangerDangerLast year I brought an art project with me to the playa – my first. It was a piece of “oracular playa magic” in which I would offer someone a personal experience: we would combine the serendipitous power of the playa with the deep insights provided by art to discover the person’s destiny and true nature.

It did not go the way I expected. Instead of being a fun little gift I could offer people, more often than not it stopped their burn in its tracks. I had people burst into tears; people go into deep conversations about their lives; one guy literally ran away. Other people told me, long after Burning Man, that they were still thinking about what I had “shown” then.

That was not supposed to happen. You can read about the whole experience here.

A number of people who witnessed this last year or read the story asked me if I was going to bring the project back for the 2014 burn. After a great deal of thought, I did. Unchanged except for the addition of a couple of new stories tacked on to the end.

The “divination game” was an immediate hit this year, and in my first few days I had a lot of people ask to participate, or bring me friends or people from their camps who were having various kinds of problems and therefore “needed” a reading.

But it wasn’t like last year: the effect was completely different. Instead of being an experience that stopped people in their tracks, my art project was a fun art gift that people really enjoyed and recommended to their friends. Which is great – I’m not complaining – but it made me wonder: why was it so different? Why was the exact same project getting a 180 degree response from the year before?

Part of it, surely, is just that no two years are alike – a fact that I gratefully acknowledge. But was that all there is?

Read more »

September 5th, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir: It’s Raining Art

IMG_6386After the rainstorm cleared it was pretty easy to find anyone who wasn’t huddled in a building: with no cars on the streets and no bikes that could get traction in ground this muddy we were all out walking, but the mud stuck to our shoes so quickly that we didn’t get far. Augustus St. James actually came to me, collapsing next to me on still-dry couch inside BMIR’s shade structure. We were both waiting for the ground to harden, so he had nothing to do but tell me his story.

Read all the entries in the Burning Noir series here.

 

The art bus picked me up just before sundown and we started touring around the metal insects, glowing skulls, giant flowers and strange geometric shapes that had been stationed out in the desert. A number of pieces weren’t even up yet, which was good for me, but it still looks like Hieronymus Bosch designed a playground out there. There’s something a little threatening about art that isn’t kept in a museum, but I suppose that’s the point.

What I didn’t see was anything that someone who believed he had the secret to happiness would obsess over. What are happy people even obsessed by? Is happiness like money or sex, where you just keep wanting more because enough is never enough? Or is happiness the one thing that can extinguish the desire for itself?

No, I didn’t go to college. But I once watched a YouTube clip about Schopenhauer. Also vacuum cleaner repair. Read more »

September 3rd, 2014  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Grover Norquist gets Burning Man – do we?

IMG_9529Every year hundreds of Burners-0n-the-internet are shocked to discover that someone they don’t like might come to Burning Man.

2014 was a big year for this, as many of the very same people who excoriate the rich for trying to turn Burning Man into a private club demanded that only people who think like they do should be allowed through the gates, because this isn’t a party for people with multiple opinions.

It’s all so much bullshit – but the internet amplifies bullshit and so we have to have this debate over and over again.  So once more with feeling:  the fact that Burning Man can attract people from all walks of life is a virtue.  It is a strength.  It is part of why our community works.

Grover Norquist has made this point perfectly.  He published his recollections of Burning Man on the website of the London Guardian, and while you may disagree with him about aspects of Burning Man, and while his experiences of 2014′s Burning Man may not be your experiences, there’s absolutely no doubt that he did, in fact, experience Burning Man:  that he got out of it what the rest of us get out of it, and that he wants more the same way we all do. Read more »

August 31st, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Cruelest Hug of All

Free HugsI’m catching a ride out with a friend whose plans are less like clockwork and more like cats chasing a laser pointer.  So once we started talking about “when we’re going to leave” I started making some rounds, telling people “this might not actually be the last time I see you this year, but it also might be, so let’s make the formal goodbye now.”

I was at BMIR:  my home away from home on the playa.  I said goodbye to Kanizzle.  I said goodbye to Decibel, and to Ben, and to Mao, and even to that one girl who keeps sneaking up behind me and cupping my ear.  I don’t know what her deal is, but she’s definitely been part of my experience.  We all hugged it out in tender, sad, moments.  None of us have ever seen each other outside of Burning Man.

Then a guy I didn’t recognize looked up from a coach.  “Oh no!” he said.  “You’re LEAVING?”

I felt pretty guilty about not recognizing him, but I don’t actually have a great head for faces or names, so I know there are people who I should recognize at BMIR but don’t.  “Well, sort of,” I said.  “I might be back later, but I don’t know for sure, so I’m making sure I hit everybody …”

“C’mere,” he said.  He stood up and gave me a passionate embrace.  I hugged him back.  He was obviously so affected by whatever moments we had shared.

“Listen,” he said.  “Don’t ever forget that what you do is so, so, important.”

“I won’t.”

“Making this radio station run … a gift for every listener out there on the playa … it’s just such an amazing thing you do …”

I paused the hug.  “You … you don’t actually know what I do, do you.” Read more »

August 30th, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir: The Happiest Secret Stays That Way

Black Rock City 2013 (by Mark Harmon)Augustus St. George is never easy to track down, but fortunately I know all his favorite bartenders.  Playing a lucky hunch, I was able to find him at the Jazz Cafe in Center Camp late the other night.  I found him saying terrible things about Miles Davis to the patrons and staff in an attempt to get kicked out.  He’d only tell me what happened to him after I agreed with him about Fusion Jazz.  This has made my friends at BMIR very upset with me, but I think it was worth it.

See other entries in the Burning Noir series here.

Everyone who knows anything about First Camp knows that it has two levels.

Two levels.  Sure.  And David Best doesn’t lace the temple with Illuminati Symbols.  Uh huh.  Of course not.

Two levels are for chumps.  The Rangers took me to the third level – an underground bunker beneath the playa built out of 100% recycled materials by a special “black ops” squadron of the DPW.  I don’t know what their call sign is, but I’ve seen them at work:  they can do things with rebar and plywood that prove there is no God.

The bunker goes down beneath the Black Rock Subway system and into what I’ve since learned that Burning Man calls its “War Room” – a collection of conference tables, computer monitors, and translucent naked statues representing the eternal feminine.  Together it looks like a cross between the Pentagon and an art history teacher’s sex dungeon.

Big Bear, who’s responsible for connections with law enforcement, and Board member Harley DuBois were there waiting for me. Read more »

August 28th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Anatomy of a prank gone wrong

Rockstar Librarian GuideBMIR is a major distribution site for the Rockstar Librarian Guide, which means they have people coming in and asking for it all the time.

Last year, the prevailing way to handle it was to shout “BOX!” over and over again at anyone who came in and asked for a guide.  “BOX!” we’d shout at them.  “BOX!” until they’d realize that the box they were standing right next to had a bunch in it.  Only then would we explain the rules about limiting them to one per camp to make sure they get the widest possible distribution.

That’s still happening this year, but there’s a lot of other approaches too.  BMIR Station Manager Mao’s favorite, when I’m around, is to tell them “Sorry, we just ran out.  We don’t have anymore.  But Caveat’s got it all in his head.  He’s basically the living Rockstar Librarian database.  So you can take him.”

They always give me a strange once over.  “What, you mean, like, ask him what shows we want to know about?”

“No,” says  Mao.  “Take him to your camp!  Go ahead.  It’s fine.  He’ll fill everybody at your camp in on whatever you need to know, and then you can send him back.  Keep him as long as you need.  He’ll be really good.”

This goes on for a while, but no one actually takes the bait, and eventually we tell them where the guidebooks are and give them the “one-per-camp” spiel.

But the other day, a young woman desperate to bring a Rockstar Librarian Guide back to her camp said.  “Um … okay.”

“Great,” I said, picking up my backpack.  “Where are we going?”

“Okay,” she said again, as though trying to convince herself.  “We’ll, um, take you back to camp.” Read more »

August 26th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Respecting the badge

Zecon_Toll_BoothA sweltering 4 p.m. at 8:15 and A.  I’m sitting in a stranger’s camp recovering from the heat – they have been kind enough to mist me and offer water.  Across the street, I see something funny.

A young man and woman – in their early 20s if they were a day – have opened up a toll plaza at the side of the road.  They have a surprisingly realistic toll booth, including an arm that rises and lowers mechanically, that the young woman is manning, while the young man is out in the street in a cap and uniform demanding that bicyclists and pedestrians going one way stop and pay the toll.

It’s a classic bit, and well executed.  But, I think, they could use a couple of pro-tips.  The first one is that if you’re going to pull this off you really have to commandeer a part of the road.  Having their toll booth off to the side makes it too easy to ignore – and you really should have more than one person in the middle of the street trying to stop traffic.  I don’t mean to sound preachy on this, but trust me, it makes all the difference.

The second tip I offer to him as I step out of the shade and into the line to pay the toll:  you need to give people a reason to stop beyond just the fact that a toll exists.  Believe it or not it really makes a difference to some people.  “Come on you guys,” I shout at some bicyclists ignoring the bit.  “The toll supports the roads!  If you want roads at Burning Man, you’ve got to pay the toll!  Come on, how else can they maintain the roads?”

He gives me a look and picks it up immediately, adding it to his patter.  “Toll for road maintenance!” he calls out.  “Traffic going this way needs to pay the toll so that Burning Man can have roads next year!”

The kid’s good, I think.  Got a promising future.  

Standing in line, I see what the “toll” is.  You have to display a talent.  The young woman behind the booth is great at coaxing the people who have stopped into dancing, or singing, or doing a flip.  This is a great bit, and I start thinking about what I’ll do when my turn comes up.

“Road toll!” the young man shouts.  “All traffic going in this direction has to stop!  Don’t you want to support the roads in Black Rock City?”

Then a cop car … going this direction … pulls up and stops right next to him.  The officer rolls downy the window and leans out of it.

Read more »

August 26th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

A Magician Explores the Souk

A map of the Souk (your results may vary)

A map of the Souk (your results may vary)

Walking towards the Man in the darkness, Lyn said “Can we veer over in this direction?  I want to see that … that … thing.  It looks like an interesting thing.”

They all do.  We veered, and were confronted by a large circular structure with an impossible number of doors in.  How many were there?  12?  20?  30?  We didn’t count, instead focusing on the fact that there was nothing to distinguish one door from another – or what happened when you chose one over another.

There was nothing to do but choose … and hope.  We each picked different doors and walked in.

Inside, the back of each door was beautifully printed with an image of one of the Tarot deck’s major arcana, along with the card’s name and a brief description.  Lyn had walked in through The Devil.  I had walked in through Death.

We shivered, looked at the center of the room – a kind of contemplative shrine – and then examined the beautiful artwork on the doors.  Because having just come in randomly, we now had to deliberately choose which way to exit.

The choice was relatively easy for me.  Lyn, however, was giving it great deliberation.  “I’ll see you outside,” I said at last.

She nodded, I opened my door, and was through.  The desert air was still warm – it was a beautiful night.

Waiting, I looked around at some of the other blinking/shinning/fiery/musical art pieces that people were dancing around, without too much interest. I’ve always had a take it or leave it attitude towards playa art that tries to stun you with visual effects, and a strong preference for playa art that asks you to make relevant choices.  I had just finished the thought when I saw Lyn, having chosen her exit, walking around the circular building looking for me.

We proceeded to the Man.  “I knew you’d choose the Magician,” she said as we walked.  “Guess what I chose?” Read more »