Mom’s First Burn

“No time to explain, Mom. Take my hand and follow me!”

My family has always been a big part of my Burn.

My brother went with me my first year in 1998, and for the next five.

My Grandpa was the first to call Burning Man my “congregation” and sent heirlooms with me (like his childhood bible) to burn each year.  I placed his ashes in the Temple in 2007.

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Hanging a tribute to Grandpa Caleb in ’08
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Photo by Julian Cash (supersnail.com) Pants by Grandma Shikles

My grandma sewed my first fur pants. (Including a matching fur bag, “because I had left over fabric,” she said.)

And when my grandma passed on, my mom became my go-to seamstress for my Playa creations.

I treasure the bonding experiences that my mom and I share each summer as we craft together in preparation for the Burn.

She helped me sew cushion covers for the Hugmobile, fur covers for my platform boots, and helped create the epic Octobike. (aka “Snuffleoctobike”).

(more…)

Wisdom Has Costs

Photo by Scott London

You know what? I fucked up. I told her, “Don’t worry about your bike.” I honestly thought we’d be able to keep our eye on it. But come on, brother. It was the middle of nowhere out there, and I know better.

Still, seriously, what the fuck, right? Don’t take the material advice of some dust-wizard in the dark of night.

Hold up. Let me begin at the beginning. (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…)

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.” (more…)

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.

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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?” (more…)

Headlight

800px-Sunrise_Lens_FlareSunday night, after dark, I’m walking down 4 o’clock towards the Esplanade.  Deep in unpleasant thoughts, lost in my head already, as I sometimes get at Burning Man.

From the opposite direction, a young woman rides her bike towards me.  I can barely see her in the glare of her headlights.

As we pass each other she calls out “You know you’re going the wrong direction!”

I try to see her, but darkness and light are all I get.  “Which direction should I be going?” I call back.

“All of them!” she shouts, without a moment’s hesitation, and then is gone.

 

 

My Hero’s Journey


by Jordan Nguyen

My first Burning Man experience was the single most transformative event of my life. But I was at a lost when trying to convey just how profound it was to me without sounding crazy. Suddenly I was no longer an atheist? Suddenly I believed in love and magic? And what’s this about a giant rubber duck?

I realized that I needed to tell the whole story. Who I was, how I came to Burning Man, and how that’s made all the difference — essentially, the story of my life. It’s become rather important to me, something I plan to rewrite and recite for the rest of my days. Below is an audio recording of it. Enjoy, and please share if you like it.