Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

Why am I making fun of Burners (including you, yes you, personally) and an issue you’re really passionate about?

The Joker (Ceasar Romero)This is a response to the feedback on my list “12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Before I answer the headline, let me clear three things up:

1)      I don’t speak for Burning Man, I’m not part of the Org, I’m not on their payroll, and they had no idea that this post was coming. They don’t edit my stuff and there’s no approval process, so: they found out I’d written this when you did. Nothing I say represents them, or is a statement of what they believe on any issue.

2)      Do I care about the problems caused by commodification camps? Absolutely. In fact, one of my first posts for this blog called for the creation of “Art Vikings” to stop plug-n-play camps. I wrote:

Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor.  Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them.  We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.

So I’m probably more radical on this issue than you are.

 

3)      Do I think the ORG should be more transparent. Yes. Stop. End quote.

 

So why am I making fun of terribly sincere burners with a legitimate grip whose issue I basically agree with?

Because people are demanding that the Org come up with an immediate solution to what is at heart an intractable societal problem: the gentrification caused by income inequality.  (more…)

12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Dollar sign (reflective_metallic)[Note:   I have responded to the comments below with a new post, which can be found here.  Also a reminder that I do not, and never have, spoken for the Org.]

I am as shocked as anyone that rich people came to Burning Man and behaved like rich people.

There’s only one explanation:  it’s a conspiracy, and it goes all the way to the top!  Yes!  The only way people with money could have possibly used that money to try and game the system is if Burning Man was directly involved!  In on it!  We all know it, but you don’t the half of it!

Here are the 5 biggest, most shocking, examples, of plug-and-play malfeasance – and the Burning Man organization’s complicity in it!

  • A group of prominent venture capitalists paid Larry Harvey $6 million to write them an extra-fun 11th principle that no-one else has.

What is it?  I don’t know!  You don’t know!  But it’s got to be amazing, and we’re not living by it!  Only they are!

  • The compound prepared for the Walton family, which owns Wall-Mart, actually paid its greeters

They brought out a bunch of senior citizens to tell everyone on the playa to have-a-nice-day!  They even hugged people!  And then were paid minimum wage!

  • Haliburton’s massive camp art project was really a derrick testing for oil under Black Rock City.

Sure it shot out flames, had a DJ, and Friday night’s Gushing Oil Party was awesome, but that’s not the point!

  • Billionaire Amazon.com owner Jeff Bezos’ theme camp never even came out in physical form, and instead was available only on Kindle.

Anyone who went is now under the terms and conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act!  On the plus side, there was no MOOP.

  • Warren Buffett slipped Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell $10 million to move Burning Man to Omaha, and fix it so nobody noticed.

That giant sculpture with the funky lights that everybody loved?  That was really the Nebraska statehouse.  We were so used!

(more…)

Experiments in Radical Gifting and Ticket Sales

PresentRight now a Bay Area group consisting of a number of past and present Burners is putting together an event so ambitious that I am thrilled to be part of it.

I can’t tell you anything about it. Not what it is, or where, or who else is involved. I can tell you when, but that’s only mostly true. We’re revealing so little, in fact, that we actually sent out a press release announcing that we’ve created the least informative Kickstarter in history.

But what I can tell you … and what makes this an interesting experiment with Burning Man principles … is that there’s only one way to get a ticket. And that’s to be given one by somebody else.

You can’t buy a ticket for yourself.

It might be possible to engage in round-robins where a group of people buy tickets for each other, but we’ll be watching out for that. (I can’t tell you how.) Because the hope, the ideal, is that it will make the experience of going to an arts event more like getting a surprise gift: you have no idea it’s coming, it’s a gesture of thoughtfulness and goodwill because somebody cared enough to think of you, and you honestly don’t know what’s going to be there when you open it up.

Will it have that affect? Will it be possible to actually fund a high-infrastructure event this way?

We’ll find out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I was against the whole idea. (more…)

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?

(more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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.” (more…)