Posts by Jennifer Raiser

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Afield in the World, The Ten Principles

To Our Coy Mistress

Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariots hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

– Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” 1650

San Francisco, early September, 2013. I awake before dawn to the sound of the garbage truck lurching and braking a staccato samba up my steep street. The clearest confirmation of returning from the land of Leave No Trace is being roused by a heaving, clattering garbage truck, dragging my recyclables of melancholy to the curb. Inside the bin lies the low, slow ache of having to wait another forty-nine trash pick-ups to reconstitute that other awakening experience from which I’ve recently returned. It’s never perfect out there, to be fair; each year it gets harder to inhale the dun-colored dust,  to tolerate the all-night electronica at twentysomething volumes, to flaunt the corsetry of a coy matron.  But it is more perfect than many places on earth, perhaps because it exists in suspended time. The days flow longer and shorter out there, so crammed with dazzle and depth that the sacrifice of sleep feels noble and necessary, and being awakened presents an opportunity to discover new wonders. Adrenaline and cooler-chilled cans of coffee fuel marathon days and nights, punctuated by protein bars and ambrosial encounters with soft-scrambled eggs and maple bacon ice cream. Despite its hardships, it is still the place that rouses my psyche year-round, the week that slowly brakes and lurches up the calendar until it mysteriously crests and suddenly barrels down the hill with unstoppable momentum. Which happened a few weeks ago. Now I am making the jerking, awkward journey up the hill once more.

Black Rock City has a curious relationship with time.  It is unsurprising that navigation in Black Rock City is marked by the face of a clock; in a place where time is so fluid and compressed, the rhythmic cycle of twelve hours is appropriated for other uses. A man base that takes four months and four days to build is dispatched in less than an hour. A relationship that has taken five years to coalesce is witnessed and sanctified in a brief ceremony. An art installation that has been imagined for a decade is auditioned, funded and accomplished in eight months, and evaporated in a flamethrowing fifteen minutes. We wait all year for our seven days in the desert, our touchstone of timelessness. We are willing to abandon most commitments and comforts to spend evanescent hours with dear soulmates, remarkable art, transcendent music, even our imperfect selves.

We want time to speed up so that Burning Man will come again, but once we are in the desert, we want time to slow down to appreciate every moment. Marvell tells his coy mistress, “Though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Once there, we don’t want the Man to Burn because that means we have to begin counting the days until the Man Burns again.

Once there, we wait at the gate, in line for gifted chai, on the queue for our turn on the teeter-totter of death. But we wait in Black Rock City with an enthusiasm that should be bottled and gifted to every parent of a tired toddler at the grocery store, every arid airport bar, every applicant at the Department of Motor, not Mutant, Vehicles. In our temporary city, time passes with speed and delight because we handle the experience of waiting as an opportunity. We engage with our tutu-bearing comrades, we appreciate our surroundings, we challenge ourselves to celebrate the principle of immediacy. Time becomes an opportunity rather than a penance or a means.

Coyote, artist Brian Tedrick

Coyote, artist Brian Tedrick

Being generous with the time span of the early years, the actual Burning Man event has occurred for around 150 chronological days.  “Had we but world enough, and time,” Andrew Marvell pleads with his love interest, we would be able to be patient for the thing we desire, but our life span does not afford us that luxury. For all of the miscommunications and buzzing generators, the funky smells and rebel yells, Black Rock City is our coy mistress, flirting with the moment. Had we but world enough and time…we could actually make it to all of the things we circled in the What/Where/When. We could encounter every single piece of art in deep playa. We could catch the early early show at the Bijou. We could learn to make kombucha, join a drum circle, and volunteer with the Lamplighters.

We dally with this inamorata for seven, or five, or three days, and impossibly try to cram in a year’s worth of imaginary encounters into that time. We ride from the three to six to nine o’clock plaza on our wheeled chariots, but we never manage to make our sun stand still. It beats down too hard and sets too swiftly, and hurtles us back into the rest of our lives with an abrupt and noisy awakening.

Temple of Whollyness, artist Gregg Fleishman, Syn Barron, and Lightning Clearwater

Temple of Whollyness, artist Gregg Fleishman, Syn Barron, and Lightning Clearwater

So we must bring the light of that sun back to break through the fog of everyday life. The desert has taught us how to radically include, express, and rely. Now is the time to apply the alchemy we have tested in our desert crucible. Now is the time to treat  Starbucks like Center Camp Café, to acknowledge our fellow caffeinators with enthusiasm. Now is the time to rediscover the local newspaper as our resource for a workshop. Now is the time to become a Greeter at the bus stop, the hardware store, the office lunchroom. We cannot wait another year for this ravishing mistress to enrapture us with a mere seven nights of her delights; we must incorporate what we love about her into our lives, to adopt her characteristics, to make her run and not stand still.  We must ride time’s winged bicycle, or its garbage truck, into every rising of the sun, so that our awakening in the desert does not make this year a vast eternity.

Photos: Sidney Erthal

April 18th, 2013  |  Filed under Participate!, Preparation, Tales From The Playa

Happy (Theme) Campers

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

The Vault of Hivin’ (photo by Phoebee McAfee)

The camp fell together by happy accident. At a dinner in 2003, I seated my brother the construction guy next to my BFF the drag a capella singer, hoping their shared love of Burning Man would get them through a meal. Over that meal they conjured The Vault of Hivin’, a bewinged VW beetle towing chalkboards for a spelling bee, and a sound system that blasted the Bee-gees, the B-52’s, and Sting. They decided to collaborate on this vision and camp together, reasoning that the construction gearheads needed artistic vision, and the drag queens needed a ratchet up with implementation. After a decade of sticking together, we are truly a ragtag, multigenerational family of folks who love our annual reinvention fest. Having campmates with wildly diverse skills is a gift – somebody has to remember how to put up the shade structure, and somebody else has to make it blingy but not moopy.

Miajuana! (photo by Ralph Davila)

Our best theme was probably Miajuana! which combined Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling with a Titty Tequila bar festooned with a whole laundry line of the largest and smallest bras we could scavenge (until the big bras all got appropriated as costumes.) Our construction wizards built a regulation-size wrestling ring on two trailers, surrounded by a two-story viewing platform and a repurposed tiki bar. The drag queens pumped lavender mist water on the shockingly large crowds who came, while the gearheads offered goopy-cheese nachos, and tang-and-tequila margaritas; we had colorful ringside commentary and interactive NSFW “burro rides” during intermission. We poured through gallons of booze and bales of chips, but the canned ‘cheez’ and pickled jalapenos never seemed to run out. Wrestlers of both genders showed up with their own multicolored masks. When it rained, it deteriorated into clothing-optional mud wrestling which ended when we all stopped to watch the double rainbow. It took us eight months to develop amnesia over that one. Read more »

December 3rd, 2012  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Getting Dusty With Sandy

The line between light and dark. The anatomy of a New York City blackout.

At the end of October, a San Francisco-based group from the Burning Man Project traveled to New York City. We had planned four days of meetings with the thriving Burner community, and were eager to engage with new friends. What we hadn’t planned on was engaging with Hurricane Sandy. Which is how our intrepid crew from San Francisco found ourselves discovering unexpected playa lessons on a very urban landscape.

The Burning Man Project nonprofit seeks to extend the Burning Man ethos beyond the desert, and New Yorkers have some good ideas about how to do that. We had made plans to meet with regional contacts, to see Board Member Leo Villareal’s newest art installation, to host a participant discussion about the Project, and to attend a local theme-camp-inspired Halloween party.

Thrust into the eye of the storm, we found ourselves without power or water, unable to leave the City and largely unable to communicate back to California. Fortunately, we also found ourselves witnessing Burners helping each other through, conducting meetings by candlelight, respecting the resilience of New Yorkers, and affirming the importance of shawarma.

Continue reading for an account of our big learning Big Apple adventure … Read more »

September 14th, 2012  |  Filed under Afield in the World, Culture (Art & Music)

Opera de la Playa

[Jennifer Raiser is an avid long-time Burner, Burning Man Project board member, theme camp leader, and Black Rock Ranger. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Nob Hill Gazette and most often for her publication, SFWire.]

 “How was Burning Man?” they inquire as I ascend the shallow red-carpeted stairs leading up to the Opera House. It is five days after Exodus, and I am reluctantly back in San Francisco, Center Camp of the default domain. I am here to mark the festive highlight of another tribe, the ninetieth annual Opening Night at the Opera. To some, this happy occasion commands the same kind of importance that we associate with Burn night. Tonight’s task is to write about the grand gesture of opera and the people who are its patrons. I am charged with distilling and interpreting the evening into an article to be read by those who attend, and those who do not. The dual role as enthusiast and observer is familiar. On playa, I am a passionate participant, a Ranger, a theme camp leader, a volunteer and an author; here, I am a friendly alien who comes from that arid planet near Gerlach and happens to pen a social column.

Acquaintances here are polite and prodding about the desert. They indulgently inquire about Burning Man in the same way you might bring up a shared alma mater, or a mutual love of licorice, knowing it is a certain conversation starter. Some truly want to know, some want me to know that they know, or think they know, about my annual retreat to my happiest (and saddest, and most demanding) place on earth. I try to disarm their suspicion with the comparisons between tonight and the burning of the Man. In both places, I remind them, like-minded spirits gather to share a communal dinner, enthusiastic dancing, and well-stocked bars openly coursing with goodwill. We are corseted and costumed in ensembles carefully curated for the occasion.  We mark this artistic triumph with the biggest party of the year. Read more »