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.


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§ 6 Responses to Burning Man Is — and there’s nothing you can do about it.

  • Ed Gish says:

    For me, Burning Man has always been a reason and a venue where warriors of the soul go to engage in that most courageous of all battles: to confront, not the actuality of others, but the truth of ones self. A place where our inherent aptitude can be unleashed and our id openly displayed. I wondered how long it would take the profit takers and the power fakers to descend upon this bastion of humanity to order and regulate, to preside over this dream as it descends into a hit, a bump and a hump. A new Disney World of commercial sex, drugs and rock and roll. You can take that last trip into the unrealness of reality and witness the destruction of this vision and remain perfectly sober. Will the seekers of beyond fight, flight or flounder? A bit of all three, I imagine. The purpose of it all is to disorganize not organize. Nothing meaningful lasts forever. The meaningless will not allow it. Remember this journey and record it. It will be a historical moment.

  • Caroshine says:

    Did I meet you on playa? After an emotional story you told at The Story Portal? I thanked you for reminding me why we do what we do and we talked for a short while.

    You and your stories have stuck with me, through the dust, and across the West, as I drove home. So, I googled a few themes you spoke about and this blog popped up. I guess I just didn’t get enough.

    And, if this is the wrong person, you write beautifully. Maybe I’ll stick around anyway…


    • Caroshine,

      We did meet on the playa. Thanks for following up. Thanks for building the Story Portal, for bringing it out. Multiple times this year that stage brought me balance and solace; easily the highlight of my Burn. I felt most in my element there, so much that when I found that a Moth StorySlam event was taking place an hour after I returned to Portland, I nearly cried at its having sold out.

      I wanted the feeling back of giving stories a venue to purge, to come out raw and authentic. For years this blog has been that venue, and for the time being it shall be still. Welcome. Thank you for sticking around. It’s nice to think that someone’s reading.

      So much gratitude and love,

  • Caroshine says:

    Oh, Sean, I’m so glad this is you. I’m really honored to have been a hearing for your words and I look forward to standing witness to what you share here.

    One of the big takeaways for me at the Burn this year was my connection to narrative art. I’m cutting out activities that aren’t serving me and turning my attention back to writing, reading, and film. I’m even inspired to pick back up with my own blog–it feels good. So, thank you for the part that you played in me getting that insight.

    I’m so proud of the Story Portal project, I’m happy that it made an impact. May I share what you wrote with the crew?

    Happy to be here and sending big, big love your way,

    • Please feel free to share what you like with the crew. I cannot express enough how much I loved that stage, and what magic I experienced there. Please send them my gratitude and appreciation for the project.

      much love. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.


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