Burning Man Is — and there’s nothing you can do about it.

24 August 2013 § 6 Comments

Burning Man is not about being cool. You should make a note of that on the list of cultural insights you’ve learned from travelling. Burning Man is an adult playground for people who remember what it’s like to be a kid. It is not just a party in the desert with lots of sex and drugs; though if you wanted it to be that, the Orgy Dome and Thunderdome are easy to find. The Burn is not just anything; it is experience itself, in whatever form you can imagine, and many that you have not. People of action and people of experience converge on the blank canvas of Black Rock City under banners of radical inclusion, self-reliance, expression, participation, decommodification, community. Radical everything. But what do these tenets mean, and how do they show up on the playa, and – far more important – in the world?

One of the most beautiful things about the Burning Man – literally, the giant man in the center of the playa who burns on Saturday night – is that he is a blank face, without meaning, but for what is projected upon him. They (or we), “the Burners,” attribute significance to the man, or not. For the copious energy expended for the week of the burn, it’s reasonable to assume that the meaning is great.

What is the quantitative value of energy expended, I wonder. Personally, I’ve been haemorrhaging money for a week now, a hundred bucks here, another two there, on things that I neither want nor will use more than one week of the year. The stress of organizing our Joy.Co camper to suit the playa – packing it with lights, extra batteries, coconut water, bungee cords, costumes, rebar, and more lights has taken its toll on my attitude as well as my relationship: Debates rile up over return policies, whether a plate was placed in the right drawer, and do you remember what happened last year?

A kiwi friend named John showed up the other day, fresh off a plane from Australia. For the second year in a row, he appeared as if from air just before the Burn, and within two days had a van and most of his gear together. A resourceful and kind man whose dreadlocks reach his knees, he would never admit to being one of the best musicians from New Zealand’s South Island. I’m honored to know and host him.

We’re to depart in ten hours, and little questions like how are we going to tie the bikes down, and are the rideshare people going to get along pop in my head as I pack every available cubic inch with STUFF that might improve the experience.

Not once, I noticed today, somewhere between another trip to REI and another trip to Fred Meyer, do I question if this is all worthwhile. Of course it is. And then, western guilt. Loads of it. Burning Man is a capitalist playground: tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the name of a gift economy. For a social experiment in an uninhabitable desert. A city where no one takes shortcuts to extravagance: you might find skate parks and elaborate public spaces, phone booths where you can converse with God, shipwrecks and temples, climbable art installations, and every form of entertainment, from improv acting, to a modern day Roman Coliseum.

One justification for such dusty opulence might suggest that the Burn is the only one of its kind in the world. A chance to do culture differently. With respect for the individual, and insistence that each one of us show up on the playa – and, indeed, the world – as our truest self. No holds barred. In fact, take the bars, and create art with them.

A great amount of what I’ve heard from the playa this year has been an astounding, invasive law enforcement presence. Government agencies enforcing fear- and money-based laws. Apparently it’s gotten out of hand. DPW is spreading word of a general strike as of Friday night until the Law departs the playa. Which means, with the exception of looking out for critical safety measures, DPW won’t be around for the major burns. Will the Man burn this year? The temple? Will police lay psychological ruin to Burning Man?

Perhaps that is their objective.

Nevertheless. We are prepared – to say nothing of readiness – for a road trip to Black Rock City, and for what chaosbliss might ensue. It’s time, finally, to sleep, for the last time.

Good night, default world. Dream lovely.


Zeus on the doorstep.

19 August 2013 § Leave a comment

“Come on, Zeus,” said the woman. “Let’s go.”

An ancient canine energy stood at the front door of the pop-up camper, glazed eyes looking through the door. Not at me, I thought. Somewhere far beyond me. Maybe for him the camper and I weren’t there, yet something made him stop.

“Sometimes he refuses to move until he’s seen,” said the woman, whose useless leash hung limp from her hand.

“I see you, buddy; do you see me?” I asked Zeus, slowly moving my hand toward his nose. He did not move his head, or any part of his massive Shepherd/Golden Retriever body, but accepted my attention. I massaged behind his ear and felt the years of his loyalty peaking through the bone atop his head.

He continued to gaze into the camper, our Burning Man home, psychedelic lights and all, set up in a down-home Portland neighborhood. An anomaly? A threat to his decades of leashed walks down Southeast 13th, this pink and purple welcome mat set upon the grass?

I did not bend to meet his eyes; we both stood tall and as proud as we could in the moment, and his woman patiently watched our interaction, made no move to pull the god dog away. Her behavior was for me a sign of true companionship, of an intimate knowing of her friend whose twilight was passing quickly.

“Have a good life,” I said to the dog, who, like the tiger Richard Parker, did not look back at me before he walked out of my life forever. We had had our time, like he’d had his, and I was no threat to him.

As if out of respect, the woman looked me in the eye before she led him (or he led her?) home. “Thank you for your affection,” she said warmly.




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