Posts by Jon Mitchell

May 11th, 2012  |  Filed under Playa Tips

Survival

It has been a long night.

No one is stirring in camp. It is dark and quiet. As quiet as things get, anyway. The dance still rages on in all directions, but it sounds faint now that you’re home again.

The stars have moved a lot. The wind is chilly. Your legs ache, and your eyes are heavy. Take a slug of water. A few drops spill on the dust. Take another swallow.

Read more »

March 18th, 2012  |  Filed under Preparation

Hi, n00bs!

Hey, don’t flinch. It’s a term of endearment. We’re hot, dusty and prickly out here. A little ribbing helps keep the spirits up, that’s all. It’s all love.

So hi, n00bs.

It’s ridiculous how recently I was you.

Anyway, welcome to Burning Man, huh? Interesting times. Bet you weren’t expecting such radical inclusion. Don’t worry. It’s not always like this. Just recently.

So, you saw the Dr. Seuss video, I assume. Pretty cool, right? Yeah, it really is like that. Here’s the thing, though. Those awesome people in the video are you!

You see? One does not simply watch Burning Man. One burns. Like a burnerly Burner, bro. You know?

No. I’m saying you are going to have a camera in your face out there. Every Burner’s face is like a camera lens focused on the most cinematic scene she’s ever seen. And you are the star of the show.

Do you know your lines? No? Good. If you come prepared with lines, you’re gonna screw them up. Someone’s going to zoom in on you and ask, “Have you seen the liger?” And he’ll have this dead-serious look on his face like, “Dude, seriously, there is an 800-pound liger loose out here somewhere and I LOST HIM.”

What are you gonna tell that guy?

He’s scared. Are you? What are you scared of? Ligers? Or not knowing what to say?

You have to improvise at Burning Man. Contingencies come up. Your tent blew onto the roof of the neighbors’ RV. You forgot clean underwear. Somebody lost his liger.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t practice. Oh no. It takes years to get ready for Burning Man. My first burn was in 2008. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. It’s a good thing I fell in with a rock solid camp of desperadoes who were nice enough to adopt me and my East Coast friends. It took us a few years, and some of us had to move Out West, but I’d say we’re part of the family now.

By the way, where are you camping?

Not sure yet? That’s okay. It’s hard to say this year, anyway. The whole city will be different. The ticket troubles this year affected lots of the big camps that are the landmarks out there. Burning Man going viral means there are a lot more n00bs than usual. That will change the tone.

So we’re going to need your help, n00bs. We need you to make this a great year. But that’s nothing new. Burning Man is made of your participation. We need you, not the other way around. We want you to wow us. Bring your bad selves to the playa and make Burning Man completely different.

Guides thrive out there, not tourists. Burners have a tendency to play tricks on tourists. We’ll give you crazy-ass directions that don’t take you anywhere near where you’re going. We’ll pretend we’re meditating and then leap up and scream bloody murder when you walk by. We’ll moon in your photographs and spike your oatmeal with absinthe.

And that might be the highlight of your week. That’s what we want. Roll with it. Be prepared to be surprised. Be open to it. You’re wonderful.

Your iPad will get playafied. Please don’t bring that!

And I’m assuming that you know about MOOP.

I’m just trying to help. I wouldn’t want you to be unprepared or have a bad time. Burning Man is the best thing I do. I want you to experience that. I just want to make sure you do. It’s not a YouTube video. Those Huffington Post people probably don’t even go.

Photos by the divinely inspired Scott London.

December 31st, 2011  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Happy New Year

Happy new year!

The whole shebang

When these words hit the Internet, there was one minute left in 2011 on the East Coast of the U.S. By now, we’re past that, even if only by seconds. We’re in that new chapter of the future, and people don’t call the years “two thousand” anymore. It’s “twenty” from here on out. Quicker. Fewer characters. Faster downloads.

Yeah, it’s the future, baby.

Read more »

November 30th, 2011  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Night At The Bijou

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

It was the most compelling illusion I’d ever seen in my life.

The movie wasn’t any good. Boys in letter jackets, girls with ponytails, drive-thrus, giant cars. Not that I had much to say about chronicity, but their vocabularies were dated. “Golly.” “Swell.” All the while, my mouth was bursting with stars. I was in, all right.

Stars were bursting in my mouth as I scanned the warmth of the theater, the dim, throbbing lamps, the flickering projector. People were kicked back in their seats. Most were still wearing dusty fur coats, even though it was pretty warm in there. A red convertible roared around the corner and skidded to a stop in the middle of the screen.

And the stars kept bursting as I chewed on their flavor, crinkling the paper in my hands. I’m eating star bursts… in a late-night movie theater… in the middle of a dried-up, prehistoric lakebed on a freezing cold night… and I began to snap out of it. The genius of it all began to overwhelm me. Before long, it took every fiber of my being not to shout the truth out to everyone in the theater, but I knew they weren’t in the mood for truth. Read more »

August 10th, 2011  |  Filed under Preparation, The Ten Principles

A Wyrd Year

Photo: Chance

I think we can all sense it. It’s going to be a weird year.

 

Remember the day tickets went on sale? That was crazy. Servers went down in flames, people got bumped out of line, chaos ensued. That was in January. It’s August now. You know what else happens in August?

Yeah.

Tickets sold out for the first time. That’s wild. The streets of Black Rock City go all the way out to freaking L. They added :15 streets and :45 streets. We’re gonna need another airport, y’all.

Who got all these tickets, and who didn’t? Is it going to be more new folks? Mostly veterans? Or just the usual mix? We don’t really know how it’ll break down, but it sure is tempting to wonder. A weird year. Lots of uncertainty.

I’m not saying it doesn’t feel this way every year. Burning Man is always weird. But we don’t always use the proper reverence when we use the word “weird.” It has been diluted over time, and that’s a shame, because it’s a word Burners really need.

Wyrd used to be heavier, more profound. It used to be the exclusive purview of witches and warlocks; good folk were supposed to avoid it.

I’m not even doing it justice. Think about time way back before the universe was created. “Tohu va’vohu,” the Bible calls it: formless and void. That’s wyrd.

It’s going to be a wyrd year.

Tohu va’vohu. Formless and void. Like a prehistoric, dried-up lakebed, the flattest place in the world.

Photo: Chance

And, for good measure, it’s the middle of the night. Just the barest sliver of moon is cradled in the craggy mountains. Stars all over the place. Dead silence. Dust, rocks, nothing else.

Wyrd, man.

Now, start adding people one car at a time. Cars and people, some tents, some rickety lean-tos, stacking up like crooked little teeth, like defective Legos. Getting bigger now, getting closer together. More fires, more lanterns, more LEDs.

Photo: mkgraph

Now start hearing. Start at the lowest, thumping frequencies, lower than your heartbeat. Feel it in your feet. Feel it in your gut. Add in the mid-range now, some melody, some harmony, and now start turning up the gain.

We’re here. Welcome home.

Photo: ADLERPRODUCTIONS.COM

The playa is just a wyrd place. Anything that happens there feels more weighty and portentous, even if it would feel mundane in the default world. Think about trudging to the port-a-potties in the morning, the kinds of macabre, burlesque, perverted little scenes you pass right by in the light of a new day like it’s just your neighbor mowing the lawn. Or sitting in traffic on Exodus day, crawling along that Mosaic commute and thinking about the godforsaken mountains of laundry you have to do.

Burning Man is our annual encounter with the Very Most Weird. Even not getting to go at all is profound.

Photo: mkgraph

This year will be very weird, indeed, in the sense of “weird” that means “novel, peculiar, unprecedented.” The very theme commands it: We’re undergoing a transformation. Division, exclusion, scarcity, these are new and un-Burner-like words, and we have been using them weightily for the first time to describe our culture.

It’s been said on these very pages that Burner culture might need to be dispersed across the land to accommodate this new reality. That would be weird. But it would be really wyrd to think about thousands of Burners across thousands of miles sending up hundreds of remote burns into the same sky on the same night. Good? Bad? Something to think about.

We’ve also seen more sinister reactions to this weird year. People selling tickets at offensive prices, people incensed that celebrity DJs weren’t getting special treatment in the ticket shortage, people believing obviously satirical blog posts and freaking out…

Weird.

But we have our principles. We have to be self-reliant in our response to these wyrd circumstances. We’ve managed our weirdness for 25 years. We can do it again.

See you in a couple weeks, I hope.

And after that, we can start thinking about an even wyrder year:

2012.

July 8th, 2011  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Little Stories

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

That moment when you’re leaning against the railing of some art car, dazed, head lolling to the music. It’s chilly and late, and you wonder if your night is over. Then again, it isn’t up to you. It’s up to the driver of this mutant vehicle, and she doesn’t seem to be very interested in the 3 o’clock plaza, your corridor back to camp. Your fellow Burner pokes you in the ribs.

“Wake up!” he insists.

“I’m awake,” you concede.

Photo: Mischa Steiner

***

The moment a passer-by smiles at you from underneath a carved, wooden wild boar mask with broken, black tusks.

***

The moment the man stands up in the sweat hut, as naked as everyone, and starts singing “Hey Jude.” You wonder what his job is in the default world.

***

Photo: Chance

The moment you slice your knuckle with the dull multi-tool trying to punch the last hole in the last tennis ball to cover the last stake, setting up your tent on the first day.

You would have been done, ready, finally at home, but now you’re washing blood and playa off your hand, opening last year’s dusty first aid kit, swabbing with alcohol, wrapping a bandage, and laughing at yourself. Read more »

June 30th, 2011  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Pen Pals

I have a pen pal.

We’ve never met. Not in person, anyway. Well, not in the flesh, I mean. I find it hard to define what constitutes “in person” lately. It seems like a good bit of my person is having an out-of-body experience in a virtual world. And that’s where I met my pen pal.

We’re both Burners, of course. That’s how it started.

We met by the Internet’s water cooler, reading the same Burning Man posts and feeling giddy about summer coming on. Soon, we were sharing photos, little windows into each other’s days just 600 pixels wide.

That’s actually a pretty wide window into someone’s life, if it’s open and the blinds are drawn. Human beings are pretty vast, but we’re also vivid. A lot of light gets through even a tiny aperture, and our sensors are pretty sensitive.

Burners are not special in this way, but maybe we just tend to focus on the same scenes. It’s a startlingly immediate connection, a confluence of perspective, meeting a fellow Burner in the wild.

Not that I met my pen pal in the “default world” at all. I’m not ready to extend that burnerism to the Internet. That’s a little too @GreatDismal a vision of the future.

But wherever we are, screen names and avatars, we’re still living the principles, making normal moments into works of art and giving them to each other. Just because we can’t feel them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and vice versa.

We can’t be all virtual, though. Our bodies have mass, and the enormous gravity of our eventual meeting at Burning Man exerts a powerful force.

“Will you be my pen pal?”, I asked in a direct message.

She said her heart skipped a beat when she read that. Strong stuff.

And now we make letters and send them to each other. It takes five days for them to traverse the west coast of the United States from south to north, and five again from north to south.

It’s incredible how, in 2011, this still-modern marvel feels like such a long wait. Read more »

June 15th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Passing Through

Photo: mkgraph

How do you know when you’re grown up?

The question may strike you as trivial, but let it sit for a moment. There are clear answers to it in some parts of the world, but the part from which I hail is quite vague on this point.

All the rights of passage in my life so far have been either dully underwhelming (my Bar Mitzvah? my driver’s license? my 18th birthday?), or they’ve been sudden, shocking, and rushed (graduation, first apartment, income taxes). None left me with a sense of having transformed in any believable way. When I have felt initiated, it has typically been into something unwelcome. (Oh, boy. Now I’m a taxpayer.)

Photo: Dave Millar

America doesn’t really have formal initiations. We have prescribed achievements, hoops to jump through, but they don’t come with any kind of clarity or assurance. Our institutions offer us degrees or licenses or certificates, but it’s still up to us to figure out for ourselves what good they are.

When I think of my ideal, romanticized rite of passage I wish I’d had, I wish for two things: some kind of shared experience, in which my community recognizes the occasion together, and some set of values or principles that become mine to live by afterward, so I know what to do.

Whether I imagine some solitary wilderness trial, or a purging, cleansing ritual, or some kind of quest, or some transmission from the elders, whatever exotic, nostalgic rite comes to mind, I want this communal recognition that something BIG has happened, and I want a way to understand what it means.

Read more »