The Experience of a 12-Time, 15 Year-Old Burner

Furthering the dialogue about Kids at Burning Man that Caveat resurrected in his post Growing Up Burning, I’d like to present the perspective of a 15 year old Burner who has attended the event 12 times. Her name is Sydney, and she’s no longer attending the Burn while she’s in high school (apparently, it’s a big deal to miss the first week of high school), but has plans to return as soon as she is able.

Sydney in 2002. Photo by her dad, CTP.
Sydney in 2002. Photo by her dad, CTP.

I’ve known Sydney since she was 8 years old, and I’ve always been impressed at how easily she seemed to adapt on playa. She had an ever-rotating cast of friends who were delighted to take her on adventures, entire camps that considered her their mascot, and a camp-family who adored her and tolerated her terrible manicures.

I sat down with her recently (blue hair, cool glasses, brace on her knee from a snowboarding accident) to ask about her experiences growing up a Burner. The following interview is edited for clarity only based on the transcript of our discussion. The words are hers. Questions in bold are mine.

Is there a good time for kids to start going to Burning Man? Should you take them when they’re babies, or wait until they’re a certain age?

I started going when I was 1 year old, and I went all the way until I was 12. For me it was just a normal thing; my brain had adjusted. That’s how I grew up. The more that kids only see the real world before going to Burning Man, they might not take in the deeper meaning of the event and might think it’s just a party in the desert. Meeting all these great people and see all this interesting art … it really affected me.

I think a lot of my art interest comes from Burning Man, all the kinds of art I do. But I’ve also met a bunch of amazing people at Burning Man, and I think that changed me in terms of experiencing lots of things. I’ve done so many things I wouldn’t have been able to do in Oakland.

What are some of the best things you remember doing at Burning Man, that you could only have done at Burning Man?

I really enjoyed volunteering in the Black Rock Boutique. I got to help sort clothes, but I also got to take the clothes I wanted! Getting to see the Man and the Temple burn are really big parts of Burning Man that I’ll always remember. I also got to meet PeeWee Herman.

Growing up at Burning Man and seeing people naked, in costumes, cross-dressing…does that translate to real life at all?

I see pretty much everything as normal. If I see a guy in a skirt, I pretty much don’t think anything except that he chose to wear a skirt that day … like I got up and chose to put on these socks this morning. I’m not going to get judged for wearing these socks, why should he get judged for wearing a skirt?

Does this kind of acceptance you’ve learned at Burning Man help you out in high school, something that is a traditionally difficult time for people?

It makes it easier and harder: I’m really open-minded, but when I see that other people aren’t as open-minded, and I can’t MAKE them be open-minded, it’s frustrating. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be so open. My friends are also really open, though, and I learn from them and they learn from me. We’ll go up to strangers in Berkeley and just start having a conversation with them — I think that Burning Man has helped me do this. But Burning Man has also made me a bit closed-minded towards “average” people — I’ll look at them and think “ooo, they’re not going to be cool, I have to find the weird, cool people” … but then I imagine the normal people are also thinking the same thing about us. So I talk to them anyway.

We’re open to hanging out with whoever. My friend group has a punk, two hippies, and then my friend and I who aren’t … anything in particular … but we’re all just coming together and having a good time. Our differences don’t matter.

Were there any downsides to growing up at Burning Man?

I was always the weird kid in class when I was 7 … short dyed hair, glasses, braces, I was the underdog. I was bullied for a couple of years for being weird. The bullies didn’t like that. I wouldn’t blame that on Burning Man though, it’s just more my specific experience, and my willingness to be a weird kid.

When you were out exploring Burning Man, were you treated well by strangers?

Everyone was really nice to me. If I was biking along, people would come invite me to do things, I’d just start talking to people in line. People would always ask me about being a kid at Burning Man — I got a lot of attention for it. I felt like the VIP of Burning Man!

Did they seem to enjoy the fact that there were kids at Burning Man?

YES! When I was little, I’d tell them “I’ve been to Burning Man 7 times!” and they’d say things like “it’s my first time! And you’re 7 and you’ve been to Burning Man a lot more than me!” I felt super cool for that. I’d talk to someone who looked like a hard-core Burner and they’d tell me it was their 3rd time, and I’d say “it’s my 12th burn”. I had a lot of confidence for having gone to Burning Man so many times. It was my place.

What about the people who say that Burning Man is not as cool as it used to be?

There’s a lot more people recently who have been going just for the party, and not for the art. It’s an ART FESTIVAL. If you just come to party and get wasted, that’s not what Burning Man is about. If you’re seeing it as a big party … it sort of is, but it’s an ART party. It’s not just for coming to drink.

Is there anything else you’d want to say to people attending Burning Man?

Take risks. Don’t take BIG risks, but take … a good amount of risks. If you’re going to go to Burning Man, be open-minded. Push your boundaries. If you’re not comfortable with something, try it anyway. Explore, experiment, try new things. Get to know yourself.

————-
Sydney is a high school student in Oakland, California.
Brody is a year-round member of the Art Department who likes ponies and is searching for someone to teach her how to chainsaw-carve wooden bears.

“Taking My Parents to Burning Man” Screening at BMHQ

Do not try this at home ...
Do not try this at home …

WHAT: “Taking My Parents to Burning Man” Screening plus Q&A with Filmmaker and Artist, Bryant Boesen
WHEN: Tuesday, April 1st, 2014, 7:30pm – 10pm
WHERE: Burning Man HQ, 660 Alabama Street, 4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94110
RSVP: rsvp here: rsvp (at) burningman.com

Burning Man, known to many as a debaucherous arts event, isn’t your average family vacation destination. Meet Bry, artist, provocateur, son. Now meet Bry’s nearly-retired parents, Lilice and Charles. Immersed in Burning Man culture year round, inspired by the community, artistry, and frivolity, “Taking My Parents to Burning Man” is a parental coming-of-age story. Follow our three heroes as they depart Canada and set out to tame the vacant heart of the wild west.

Doors open at 7:30pm. The ninety minute film begins at 8pm and will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker, Bryant Boesen. Light appetizers and a wine and beer bar will be open during the first thirty minutes of the event.

Space is limited and all guests must RSVP to rsvp here: rsvp (at) burningman.com no later than Monday, March 31st, 2014.

To learn more and watch the trailer, check out the film’s website.

Growing Up Burning

The Catch - Norman RockwellThe last time a debate about children at Burning Man flared up, I asked one of the people I knew who had grown up as a “burner kid” what she thought about the question.  Electra Carr went to her first Burning Man when she was 11.  Now 21, she sent an eloquent response to my question … which got lost between inboxes for a year-and-a-half because I really am that bad at getting back to people sometimes.  

So this is a horribly late addition to the debate, but is still worth reading.  

Other kids of burners want to weigh in?  Leave a comment at the bottom, or if you had a growing up experience at Burning Man and want to write a guest essay about it, send me a message.  (Caveat at BurningMan dot com).  I’ll try to get back to you a little sooner.  I swear.

From here on, the words you read are Electra’s.

- Caveat

 

There has been endless discussion about the subject of children attending Burning Man. I have heard the many opinions scattered across the board, from people who do take their kids and think its vital part of their childhood and parents who can’t imagine bringing their children into the desert. People who think it should be each person’s choice, others who rally for a committee to decide. There are those who are uncomfortable with the thought of a kid wandering past while they may be doing something they deem inappropriate for young eyes and people who are fine with having kids attend as long as they’re cordoned off in Kidsville. And of course, people who really don’t care and wish everyone would just stop talking about it.

However, at the focal point of this topic there is an opinion that has been greatly overlooked.  What about the children themselves who had grown up amongst the culture? It is a voice worth exploring, and as no two experiences are ever the same at Burning Man, I’d like to encourage everyone to talk to a Burner kid about it. I was such a child and while I’ve grown away from the Burning Man culture and rarely make the pilgrimage out to the Playa, I was there, I experienced, and I was changed.

(more…)

Youth Educational Spaceship Lands in Vegas on November 15!

Youth Education Spaceship at Maker Faire 2013
Kids enjoy the Youth Education Spaceship at Maker Faire 2013 (photo by Heather White)

Las Vegas, NV – The Youth Educational Spaceship (Y.E.S.) project is landing in Las Vegas! Y.E.S. is a mobile spaceship classroom built from repurposed and found objects by artist Dana Albany, together with kids from San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Hunters Point neighborhoods. This collaborative art program for youth gives them time and space to create, participate, and then exhibit their work, while engaging children in hands-on experience focusing on art and technology.

Y.E.S. will be open to the public at the Learning Village, 727 Fremont Street, starting Friday November 15, with a variety of family-friendly programming including spaceship tours, mosaic workshops with recycled materials, wiring demos and interactive robotic demos, culminating in a closing ceremony and children’s art show on December 8. For more information about programming, please click here.

This program is a collaboration between Burning Man Project and Las Vegas’ Downtown Project. (more…)

Kidsville, Black Rock Scouts and FUN Program for Families

[Judes has been a Burner since 1999 and an advocate for playa families. She first brought her son Dexter to BRC when he was 16-months-old, who has 8 Burns under his belt. For 4 years, Judes hosted Hot Monkey Sox, a popular sock monkey workshop camp in Kidsville. In 2010, she founded the Black Rock Scouts program so kids could attend playa-cational events, volunteer with BRC Departments and learn to give back to the BRC community.]

Bringing your kids along to this year’s Burn? There are some great resources and programs for Burner Families that we want you to know about. Kidsville, Black Rock Scouts and the new FUN Child ID Program run by Black Rock Rangers are here to support every burning family, including yours! (more…)

Playa Survival Guide for Families

[Judes has been a Burner since 1999 and an advocate for playa families. She first brought her son Dexter to BRC when he was 16-months-old, who has 8 Burns under his belt. For 4 years, Judes hosted Hot Monkey Sox, a popular sock monkey workshop camp in Kidsville. In 2010, she founded the Black Rock Scouts program so kids could attend playa-cational events, volunteer with BRC Departments and learn to give back to the BRC community.]

Surviving at Black Rock City is difficult enough, and now you want to bring your kids? That’s great!

It can certainly be daunting the first time, but children actually thrive in the playa environment. It just takes some extra preparation, planning and diligence. Trying to get a toddler to drink her weight in water isn’t easy, but lots of families have found ways to not only survive, but flourish on the playa. Speaking as a parent, I truly believe that the Black Rock City experience and the Ten Principles provide an amazing educational immersion that can’t be found anywhere else.

So where do parents find the best information on how to prepare for a successful burn?

The Burning Man website’s section on Kids at Burning Man is a great place to start, but it doesn’t have all the info you may want.

That’s why Kidsville parents (myself included) have collaborated on a thorough and detailed guide for Burner families. Jesper from Kidsville has kindly put it all together into a single, helpful, and entertaining Kidsville Survival Guide.

It covers everything from child safety, playa clothes, kid food and taking the kids out of school for the Burn. While it has information specific to camping in Kidsville, it’s got a ton of useful information for all families. Check it out!

Camping With Baby Burners: Kids at Burning Man

[Judes is the Burner mom of an 11-year old baby-Burner, and founder of Black Rock Scouts.]

Burning Man has been a family affair from the very beginning. When Jerry James and Larry Harvey burned the first Man in 1986, their 5-year old sons Robin and Trey built a Burning Dog alongside their dads.

PHOTO: A baby-Burner art car. Photo Georgie.

Because the playa is a colossal day-glow playground, children feel right at home. Kids already live in make-believe worlds, so when they experience the magic of Black Rock City, it feels natural to the way they view the world. Tots know how to play and have fun without inhibition, hesitation or fear of judgment. Follow that Art car! As a parent, I know it’s really my reaction that colors my kid’s reaction to something. Us grownups can learn a few things from tiny folk and how they embrace the art and culture of Black Rock City. (more…)

Burning Man with Kids: Guide to the Playa

Stretching on the Trampoline in Kidsville photo: Steven Fritz

A friend of mine and her colleague have written an informative post about bringing your kids to [BM].  Red Tricycle is in the business of sharing information about kids and I think you may find it useful. Burning Man with Kids: Guide to the Playa.

In addition to article, check out Burning Man’s page: Kids at Burning Man.  Have fun with your kids at Burning Man!