I’m scared to go to Burning Man

Burning Man 2011

I’m scared to go back.

I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.

There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.

(more…)

How [freespace] Challenges Burning Man’s Emergent Principles

In San Francisco Burner circles, close to the source, I often hear the Burner’s Dream expressed thusly: Our dream is to bring the principles we embody out on the playa back to the default world.

We want to be as awesome as we are at Burning Man all the time, and we want our cities and towns and neighborhoods to be that awesome as well.

freespace

This June, a bunch of San Francisco Burners fell into the opportunity to take over a 14,000-square-foot SOMA warehouse for $1 and turn it into [freespace], a three-story blank canvas for artists, hackers, farmers, builders, and whoever else wanders in, meant to be a staging ground for inspired experiments in hacking on the meaning of urban space.

Sounds like that Burner’s Dream come to life, right? Naturally, Burning Man got involved. But what does that even mean? Who is this “Burning Man?” Is it the Burning Man organization? is it the fledgling non-profit Burning Man Project? Is it Burning Man participants acting of their own accord?

Yes.

(more…)

Burning Man is a story field

From high above, you’d think Burning Man was just a bunch of objects.

You take the vast, blank field of the Black Rock Desert, place items and humans in a C-shaped formation, and you have yourself a Burning Man.

Now that Black Rock City has found its shape, it looks more or less the same from orbit year over year, although it scoots around the playa a little bit. Our festival of spontaneity begins to look pretty repetitive from high up.

How much more Cargo Cult does it get? We build our city of cars and altar of sticks, we burn the altar, we demolish the city, and then we do it again. We keep having this festival to blow up reality or whatever we’re doing, but reality keeps on being real, and we keep building this C-shaped pile of objects over and over again. Does this not meet the definition of insanity?

(more…)

Harvesting Brains Around Group Ticketing

On the night before Halloween, Burning Man ate our brains.

Ticket maven Nimbus and tech wizard CameraGirl gathered a group of Burners into a room in San Francisco and asked us to brainstorm about that bugbear, that boogeyman of challenges we face as a culture: Group Ticketing. The meeting of the minds included game theorists, theme camp leaders, artists, volunteers, families, senior staff, and ticket industry experts.

Braaains!!! Photo by Leori Gill

This wasn’t a meeting for hashing out the details of a ticket distribution process. It was a way for the people who run the ticket process to harness some of the energy and ideas of a diverse bunch of Burners (as described in the “WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF BURNING MAN LOOK LIKE” section of “Rebuilding BRC 2012″).

By the time we were done, our brains were literally gone, eaten from our heads by zombies. In case you didn’t realize it, Burning Man ticketing is HARD.

Now that Burning Man tickets can be expected to sell out each year, we need new, creative solutions to address the challenges of ticketing. Burners are smart people, by and large, so the organization figures we’re the right people to ask.

This wasn’t the first such salon. They even held one on playa this year with a bunch of techies. The conversation started in January, right after IT happened. The lottery had unintended social consequences — the fear-driven ticket orgy at the beginning of the process left organizers of key groups without tickets. Even if some group members did get tickets, the groups couldn’t pull off their projects without every key member present. Since they didn’t all have tickets, planning became really difficult.

Even though it all worked out pretty much okay, thanks to Burning Man’s decision to carefully delegate 10,000 tickets to camps and other groups, this uncertainty and the shift from how things had always been caused fear and anxiety in our community.

In the good old days, we could just sell individual tickets and be fine. But now that everyone and their stepcousin wants to go to Burning Man, we have to plan for the inevitability that tickets will be scarce. We have to find a way to make sure that the groups who make Black Rock City what it is — theme camps, art teams, mutant vehicles, families, what-have-you — get their people to the playa, or else they may not be able to make their contribution at all.

We considered many thorny dilemmas. How do we preserve groups that form the city’s institutions, like the Temple crew or your favorite art car, while still allowing for the evolution of new groups and the entropy of dying ones? How do we quantify the merit of a group? Do we ask its neighbors? Track it on the MOOP Map?

How do we make sure groups are taken care of as well as individuals without groups? Do we even need to protect groups, or can we just go back to individual tickets and trust that new groups will naturally organize and take care of themselves?

When you dig into it, and we did, you quickly come to realize that there ARE no easy answers. Like I said, this stuff is hard. But it’s good to see the hard work being done, and it’s reassuring that Burning Man’s picking our brains as part of the process.

24 Hours At The Temple Of Juno

My friend Sarah and I just published a story called 24 Hours At The Temple Of Juno.

Guess what it’s about.

To get you hot and bothered, here’s a little excerpt:

Jon:

Sarah and I are coming to you live at high noon from the Temple courtyard, our first position in this 24-hour mission. We’re not concerned with the precise time. Burning Man time is obvious. It’s day. Then it will be evening, then night, then sunrise, then morning, then day, and then we can leave. No problem.

Sarah:

We enter the Temple, setting down our stuff. Our mission hasn’t sunk in yet. When was the last time you spent 24 hours in a single location?

I’ve spent part of every day here so far, including a volunteer shift as a Temple Guardian. I thought four hours was a long time to spend here, surrounded by the intense emotions of the place. When I got back, people asked me, “How was your shift?” I told them, “Imagine spending four hours at the Temple. It was intense.”

This time, I expected to feel my usual reactions to the Temple: pain, loss, joy, hope, and every emotion in between. But I feel almost nothing. “This is the only time I’ve felt like it’s just a building,” I tell Jon.

Yeah. That’s what we thought then. Wanna see what happens next?

It’s available from TempleStories.com as an illustrated text and a SoundCloud podcast. You can listen along, or you can download the audio and listen at your leisure. You’ll want to listen; it includes some sounds of Home.

Our deepest thanks to those of you who responded to our call for submissions. We included three of your contributions in our story. And this is just the beginning. Now that our first Temple story is live, we will collect more of them and share them on the Temple Stories blog. We encourage you to submit your stories to us at blog.templestories.com/submit.

Remember, it’s not just about the Temple at Burning Man. It’s about temples everywhere. Wherever you find a sacred spot in your community, keep your eyes and ears open for good stories. If you find them, share them with us. If you need help crafting your story, we’ll help you.

We welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions. Email us at us {{at}} templestories.com.

You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+.

Eternal thanks to Scott London and Rod Hoekstra for sharing some amazing photographs with us.