Metamorphoses

With the announcement of “Metamorphoses” as next year’s theme, a vision of Burning Man 2019 begins to emerge from the dusty remains of BRC.  The theme was unveiled in the Burning Man Journal and while I find the idea fascinating and filled with possibilities, it’s nonetheless reminiscent of two earlier themes – Evolution and Rites of Passage — both of which featured imagery consistent with nascent butterflies and historical alterations in the natural world.

The introduction of next year’s theme may not seem like a big deal, but in fact, it affects the Burner community like a giant starter’s gun, alerting everyone that it’s time to begin working on the upcoming Burn.  Many of the major art projects for Burning Man are based on the theme; art cars are built that represent it, and events are planned by various camp reflecting their interpretation of the word.  Hence, unveiling the theme is the true beginning of Burning Man 2019.

For us, it’s a definitive starting point for the planning process and turns “thinking about” Burning Man into an action plan.  What are we going to do at our camp next year?  Are we going to design a new flag?  How are we going to assign out the different jobs?  What costumes would we like to bring?  What did we forget last year that we need to add to our packing list?

In my time at Burning Man, the theme has sometimes been revealed earlier and sometimes later than this one.  When I first came, next year’s theme was announced at the end of the current Burn.  Then it wasn’t and we had to wait for Larry Harvey to decide.  Or, at least, that’s what most of us thought was happening.  It’s part of the lore of Burning Man that Larry chose each year’s theme himself and he did it when the spirit moved him.  That may or may not be true, but much of Burning Man mythology revolves around Larry.

I was actually surprised at how early the new theme was revealed.  Perhaps now that Larry has passed away the team leading Burning Man decided to act more quickly, thus providing additional prep time.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this theme was already in the hopper and ready to go, which means Larry’s spirit continues to guide us.

Here’s the thing.  If the Metamorphoses theme inspires you, then take advantage of that inspiration and do something with it.  Perhaps it speaks to you so strongly that you will decide to make this your first Burn, or return after a long absence.  Perhaps it will inspire you to create art for the 2019 Burn.  After all, metamorphoses is one of the most image-eliciting words in the English languages.  It always makes me think about the caterpillar-to-butterfly miracle and the personal change in my life because of Burning Man.

Whatever the effect of seeing the new theme is on others, it impacts me in a very particular way by re-igniting my passion for Burning Man and letting me know that the on-ramp to Black Rock City has re-opened.

 

 

 

Couch Potato Alert

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m vegging out in front of the TV watching college football.  It’s not easy to resist this and similar diversions – especially when all you have to do is reach for a remote control to do so.  In fact, it seems as if I couldn’t live without TV to entertain me.  But I do live without it in the desert.  And, unlike my sense of urgency to catch the shows and games that I’ve declared to be important to me, I suffer no pangs of withdrawal at Burning Man.  I’m otherwise engaged.

One of the healthiest aspects of Burning Man is that I get to live without mind-numbing escapism for a week or more.  It’s not like there’s nothing fun to do out there; there’s an entire book full of activities (see my earlier post on the What, When, Where Guide).  But none of it can be done with the press of a button while in resting mode on the couch.  You have to find out what’s going on, get your ass up to walk or bike there, and usually participate to get the most out of it.  Once in the habit of doing so, you begin to wonder the exact opposite of what you thought sitting in front of the TV:  who would ever want to go back to being a couch potato?

That’s one of the things that makes it hard to decompress from a week living within Burning Man’s Ten Principles.  What was enticing at home seems not simply boring, but a complete waste of time compared to the surfeit of fascinating hour-by-hour choices in Black Rock City.  And most of it is off the charts different from what’s available to you in the day-to-day (aka default) world.

I’m already sucked back in to couch potato heaven (especially during football/basketball/baseball/hockey season), but I miss the adventures I experience at Burning Man.  One of the best ways to get out of this rut is to engage with activities that re-ignite my passion for all things BRC – such as Decompressions and working on next year’s Burn.  Also, I’m considering putting together my own slideshow about Burning Man to share with friends and neighbors who might not understand why I go.

My wife stays occupied year-round with the event because of her role as our camp’s mayor.  I do what I can to support her in this work, such as helping her edit or craft communications to our campers.  I’m also part of the Temple Guardians communications team, so I remain in touch with this aspect of my Burning Man experience year-round.  Staying active preparing for next year keeps Burning Man alive in my mind, constantly reminding me that while I may be old, I still have a lot to look forward to.  That fact alone makes me feel good – and younger.

Of course, there’s also this blog.  Even though I’ve posted only intermittently over the past year (with the exception of my almost daily posts from BRC), I’m now determined to keep Sunrise Burners active throughout the year.  That requires me to think of new topics, and write regularly – something else that keeps me feeling vital.  Overall, then, Burning Man activities appear to be far better for my mental well-being than watching sports (or anything else) on television.  I’m determined to keep in mind how good life can be even if I don’t have access creature comforts and diversionary tactics.  I’m at my best without them … in the desert.

What’s Wrong with This Picture

I was reading a contentious discussion thread on one of the many Burning Man sites the other day, shaking my head in wonder at the energy put into proving that the event was bad in one way or another.  Here’s the gist (these are not precise quotes):

“The art’s too big”

“The art’s not good”

“The people are too rich”

“There are too many hippies”

“There are too many people”

“I don’t like the politics”

And, my personal favorite:

“It’s just a cock measuring contest”

It’s not the least bit troubling to hear all of these opinions, but most of the writers seemed hell-bent on convincing others not to attend Burning Man for the reasons they stated.  Here’s the way I see it:  Burning Man is whatever it is to an individual.  It is not the same for everyone.  If people don’t find what they’re looking for, they shouldn’t come back.  If they’re unwilling to put up with the harsh environment and the need to bring everything with you, they shouldn’t go in the first place.  But please don’t try to tell me what I should or shouldn’t like about the event, or convince me I shouldn’t go because of your experience.

Art or Fun? Who cares?

For me, every complaint I hear has validity for the individual voicing it; but it doesn’t matter.  I love Burning Man for the effect it has on my life.  I have always loved the art, but I recognize that much of it is gimmicky and fun rather than aesthetically important.  If people are wealthy out there, I don’t notice it.  Since there’s nothing but coffee and ice to spend money on, nobody’s walking around conspicuously consuming in front of me.  If someone has a better costume than me, I’m more likely to admire it than feel I have to compete with it.  And if there are lots of people there, it just makes the week more exciting from my perspective.  Since I don’t walk around naked, I’m not involved in any measurement competitions, and I haven’t seen anyone walking around with a ruler.

Hippies?  Not sure I can identify the look, speech pattern, or attire that would clue me in.  But I am certain that every year I’ll encounter people who are different from those I meet on a daily basis.

Dressed for Burning Man Success

I see the world turned on its head every day I’m on the Playa.  People are acting in ways that are different from how they act back home.  They’re more carefree, less concerned about how they look to others or whether they’re “dressed for success.”  People are invariably nice to each other at Burning Man, but they don’t twist themselves into pretzels to be who they’re not.

Burners are often overtly sexual – wearing provocative clothing (both men and women) and loving how that makes them and others feel.  They touch, they hug, they kiss.  But they do not debate the minutia of whether the hull of a 747 is art or not, whether it’s ruining their life that someone with lots of money is there, or whether they have adequately sized genitalia.  They just have a great time … or, they never return.

Decompression Blues

I don’t think I’ve understood the concept of “decompression” until this year.  After returning from a great Burn, and rushing into an array of planned activities, I found myself out of sorts.  I didn’t feel like my feet could touch the ground.  I missed the Playa and the freedom from anxiety that I felt while out there.  On Playa, I wrote with abandon; at home, I felt inhibited and unsure.  My thoughts constantly returned to BRC and the childlike sense of wonder I felt there; and I was (and still am) clinging to my Guardian bracelet, which is showing serious signs of wear.

Ready to depart the Playa

What I eventually concluded is I needed to get busy if I was going to successfully re-enter the default world.  There was certainly plenty to do.  Between the multitude of bills eagerly waiting to be paid and the chores, delayed appointments, and the Jewish High Holidays, I barely had time to breathe.  That busy-ness became an excuse in itself for doing nothing consequential and avoiding the challenging stuff.

Encouraged by friends, including some Burners, I’ve decided to explore a hobby that combines my love of coffee and technology. I’m now the proud owner of a coffee roaster and am diligently developing my skills at turning green beans into dark brown delights of aroma and flavor.  The roaster was a birthday gift from my kids (not exactly a surprise – I had hinted broadly that it was what I wanted), and, at the rate I’m going, I’ll have figured out how to use it properly by next year’s Burn.

I realized as I studied coffee roasting on the web and in print that doing something was far better than struggling to get my feet back on the ground.  But it hasn’t resolved everything.  I’m still feeling lethargic and unmotivated – longing for the sense of excitement that I awoke to daily during my 17 days in Black Rock City.  I loved knowing that I was “of use” (anybody who’s read Cider House Rules by John Irving will know what I mean).  Very few days went by where I didn’t contribute in a substantive way to the mission of the Temple Guardians, help with our camp, or assist a virgin Burner struggling to acclimate to the Playa.

What’s surprising about all of my struggles to come back to earth since the end of the Burn is that I’m actually a homebody who resists going almost anywhere.  So, I suppose I’ve not only gained an understanding of the difficulties of decompression, but also of the meaning of the greeting we get at Burning Man: “welcome home.”  The desert may well have become the home I never want to leave.

Mementos and Memories

When I left my first Burning Man in 2005 I was wearing a Lamplighter charm on a thin leather strap around my neck.  I promised myself I would keep wearing that memento as long as I could to remind myself that I had stopped gaining years and started losing them because of a few days in the desert. I wore it faithfully until the leather strap frayed and the charm fell off.

As I prepare this post, I’m still wearing my Temple Guardian bracelet from this year’s Burn, reminding me that although 13 physical years have passed since I began my Burning Man adventures, I’m feeling younger than ever.  Physical evidence notwithstanding, the glow of Burning Man remains with me in the default world.

On rare occasions, my Burning Man swag initiates a conversation that includes questions about why I go and what it’s like.  More often, such dialogues begin after I’ve said something about my experiences in the desert.  It’s always fun to hear responses, which range from neutral to negative, with only occasional spates of genuine admiration and interest.  What’s most fascinating is how quick people are to give me their opinions of Burning Man even when they’ve never gone.  One person told me that Burning Man might be all right if it was free, but charging for it made it a “one percenter’s thing.”  She had already judged that a “hippy event” that wasn’t free was immoral.  Okay.

I’ve also noticed how many media stories written about Burning Man are by reporters who have never gone.  As a result, these stories are filled with inaccuracies, reek of preconceived notions about the Burn, and are entirely too reliant on a single interviewee’s point of view.  Message to reporters:  you have to go to Burning Man to write about Burning Man.  Otherwise, your stories will lack authenticity.

I don’t just carry a physical remembrance of the Burn; I carry its memory in my heart and my soul.  Even if I lose my pieces of Burner swag, I’ll never lose the feelings I brought back with me.  Although wearing my Guardian bracelet arouses some wonderful feelings deep inside me, those feelings are present not because of the swag, but because I served in the Temple and saw Burners become emotionally engaged with those they had lost.

But there’s so much more to remember and keep close to me about the Burn.  The incredible kids who camped with us, the birth of a city out of nothing and its dissolution back into the land only days later; the art, the energy, the fire, the joy.  The first time I wrote about Burning Man I said it was indescribable because it seemed to go on forever.  Now I know that my inability to find the right words was less about Burning Man’s size and more about its scope.

I am floating in a cloud of my memories, and I hope this high continues for a while; and that even when it ends, I’ll still long to return to the magical place that is Black Rock City.

Want to Burn? Commit now!

Heading home from Burning Man 2018, we had hours to talk about whatever was on our minds.  So, what did we discuss?  Next year’s Burn and what we’d do differently.  If you’re going to BRC, you have to plan, and that planning should start now.

Because you’ve been reading this blog, I’m assuming you have at least a passing interest in Burning Man. If reading the posts has inspired and excited you about attending next year, it’s time to do something about it.  First things first.  Commit to going.  It’s easy to say, “I want to go next year,” then do nothing because it’s so far in the future.  Such delays often extend until it’s too late to prepare adequately, until you miss key deadlines, or until you just lose your sense of enthusiasm.  But committing to Burning Man now is the only way to be sure that when August 25, 2019 arrives, you’ll be heading for or in Black Rock City.

Put it on your calendar now.  Not just the dates of the event (August 25 – September 2, 2019), but some time beforehand to pack up, and a day or two at the end to clean off the playa dust and undo the rigging.

In addition to committing, there are steps you can take beginning now to get you there.  Start by going here, the Burning Man website for valuable information.  While it’s way too early to find details about ticketing for next year, you can sign up for the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, one of the best sources of information about the upcoming Burn and related activities.  You’ll also see on the site announcements about Decompressions – events in various locations that follow the Burn.  We’ll be going to the San Francisco Decompression on October 20.  While Decompressions and other parties throughout the year are not the Burn, they give you an idea of what to expect and allow you to network with other Burners and get an introduction to some of the major theme camps.  It’s important to decide early whether you’re going to camp on your own or join a theme camp.  More about that later.

A yurt is another alternative for living at Burning Man

One of the most important early decisions is whether you’re going to tent camp or bring an RV or camper.  If you already own what you need to go either way, then you’re in great shape.  But many people rent campers for Burning Man.  Do it now.  It’s next to impossible to rent an RV or pull trailer late in the game.  Look into it immediately.  Reserve what you need with a reputable dealer that is used to renting to Burners.  It’s going to cost more to rent a vehicle for Burning Man than for normal camping (probably double the cost) because of the wear and tear and the cost of clean-up. But delaying your decision will almost certainly cause you to lose out.

For older people, I strongly recommend bringing a trailer or an RV with air-conditioning and a few creature comforts. You’ll need a generator to power the A/C, so make sure one in included with the rental and that it’s in excellent working order.  Signing a rental agreement for a Burning Man RV or trailer, even if it is cancellable, will feel like a commitment to attending the 2019 Burn.  Take that step now.

By the way, there are alternatives to RVs, trailers, etc. including innovative devices like Shift Pods (actually invented by a Burner).  Shift pods are aluminum living units that can be air-conditioned or equipped with a swamp cooler.  Given the low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, swamp coolers are excellent alternatives to A/C.

Also on the Burning Man site, you can investigate the various theme camps you might join (https://burningman.org/event/brc/2018-theme-camps/).  The long-term camps include camps supporting the major activities, including Greeter’s Camp, Center Camp Café Camp, Lamplighter’s Village and others.  You can read more about the various camps online and contact mayors or group managers for more information.  A theme camp gives you a ready-made community, particularly helpful if it’s your first year at Burning Man.  The larger camps serve at least some meals and provide other services, but require a work commitment.  So, check carefully before you choose one.

There’s lots more preparation I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks, but I can’t urge you strongly enough to make that commitment now so when next August rolls around you’re ready to become a Burner.

Watch This Space

In the next few days, I’ll publish a piece on preparing for next year’s Burn.  If you’re interested in going, you can start now to strategize on tickets and begin to slowly build up the supplies and material that are needed.  I’ll share tips that we’ve learned over years of attending so that you can use the short-cuts that we (and others) have discovered.  By working ahead, you’ll avoid last-minute panic and over-spending on goods that can be purchased when items go on sale.  More to come.  Meanwhile, if you have specifics that you’d like me to address, send your comments through the site.

 

Four Reasons Burning Man Makes Us Feel Young

The 2018 Burn is behind us, but still fresh in our memories.  It was one of our best Burns ever:  good weather (for Black Rock City), a happy group of campers, more than our usual number of showers, an abundance of good food (we both actually gained a little weight), and an array of art beyond anything we have previously experienced.  Best of all, we celebrated the wedding of our son and new daughter at the Temple – a great moment for them and us.

The last piece of our campsite was this box of recyclable cardboard. The rest has faded into the Playa

Although we were eager to get home to friends, family, and dogs (we really missed those guys), we spent much of our drive from the desert to our home in Northern California planning for next year’s event.  After 11 Burns over the past 13 years, the magic and mystery of Black Rock City is rooted in our systems and an important aspect of our lives.  It’s why I have written and published Sunrise Burners for years.  We believe Burning Man has had a positive impact on our lives and our marriage, and we want other people who are 50 and older to enjoy those benefits as well.

The over-arching reason we keep returning to Burning Man is that it makes us feel younger.  We always come back energized, refreshed, and excited about life.  That’s a good thing for people who are approaching their mid-70s, and, we believe, would be similarly good for anyone with a few miles on them.  Younger attendees may see Burning Man as a gigantic party, but it’s so much more than that to mature people.  I’ll list what I view as the underlying reasons that we seem to grow younger after each Burn.

  1. We meet and get to know hundreds of people at Burning Man who are well outside of the norms of the rest of our lives.   I spent more than 30 years as a corporate executive and saw nary a tattoo or shaved head in the boardroom.  We all dressed alike, spoke alike, and competed for our piece of the pie.  At Burning Man, I meet people who would never pass muster in the look-alike world of big business and who aren’t interested in how much I earn or what toys I own.  So, getting to know individuals who look and act un-corporate forces me out of my comfort zone and into a broader world.  Because of Burning Man, I have learned to love and embrace people who I might otherwise have seen as anathema to my way of life.
  2. The creative intensity of Burning Man is both inspiring and stimulating.  It makes me want to grow creatively rather than sit back and retire from innovative thinking.  Burning Man reminds me that while I’m retired, I’m still alive and still capable of contributing to the world.
  3. Burning Man is hilarious.  The people, the art, even the way people cope with the harsh desert environment are full of whimsy and wonder.  Every time I see an art car that skewers life and the human condition, I feel joyful to be in the presence of people who refuse to take themselves and their lives too seriously.
  4. There’s always an undertone of Eros at Burning Man.  In my early years, I remember that each day was named for a sex act.  While that’s not done anymore, Burning Man’s embrace of sexuality is a constant presence.  From partial to full nudity to the many sexually-oriented camps and events, Burning Man deals more openly with our sexual selves than anyplace else in the world.  I believe that eroticism is a life force, especially important for older people.  Going to Burning Man has enhanced our intimacy in astounding ways.  We don’t do swaps, orgies, public sex, or anything of the sort.  But Burning Man has helped us keep our sex life vibrant.  Not bad for a couple in their 52nd year of marriage.

All of these factors combine to – essentially – subtract years from our metaphysical age each time we attend.  Will it do the same for you?  I can’t guarantee that.  But what’s the harm in finding out?  See you at the next Burn.

Going, going …

The city is disappearing, returning to its desert roots.  Driving along the now unmarked roads in Monday’s pre-dawn darkness ferrying one of our campers to the Burner Express bus stop for the start of his trip home, I was struck by the evanescent nature of BRC.  What had been bright, lively bars and theme camps had devolved into piles of packed gear set beside dust-laden vehicles ready to take on Burning Man’s legendary Exodus.  It had once again become difficult to navigate a city whose landmarks were rapidly vanishing.  The connection between our first day here more than two weeks ago and today was striking.  Déjà vu all over again.

The Temple ablaze

Last night’s Temple burn was the opposite of the previous night’s raucous celebration of the Man burn.  There were no fireworks or exploding propane bombs to ignite the structure.  A group of Lamplighters carrying torches marched to the front of the Temple and touched fire to wood.  The structure was soon engulfed in flames; it would take only a few minutes for the tower to collapse in on itself.

Most of the Burners watched reverentially.  When a few started hooting and hollering, no one picked up their cause and the sounds quickly died back down toward silence.  The Temple experience continued into its destruction, which seemed as spiritual as the building that is Burning Man’s center of spirituality.  It had been a beautiful Temple, and it was an equally beautiful ending.

We noted with some bemusement and wonder that we kept seeing art and art cars that we hadn’t seen previously.  It’s hard to fathom the breadth of art and creativity on the Playa, but you know it’s extraordinary when at the end of the event you’re seeing what appears to be new art.

Perky and Lashes in the afterglow of Burning Man. We’ll soon transform into our default selves

Catching up on some events this week, our new Temple Guardians portal received an accolade from Burning Man that is so rare I had never previously heard of it.  The award was for creativity that added substantively to the Burning Man culture.  It was presented to our portal designer, artist, and builder who took on the Playa name “Portal” with joy and pride.

I’ve read a number of major media articles about Burning Man this week, some positive but some otherwise, and occasionally had to wonder if I was at the same event being described.  So, I thought I’d address some of the negative issues.  First, the “sparkle pony” presence.  We did not come into contact with a single member of the glitterati that we could identify.  I’m sure they were here, but their presence was invisible to us.  The so-called concierge camps were also completely transparent to us.  I don’t even know where they were located.  Everyone we saw just looked like a Burner.  Lashes did meet a tech billionaire at the Temple, and while she bonded with him and his girlfriend (that’s how she found out he was so rich), she was not made wealthy or changed in any way by the encounter.  Also, on the racial diversity issue, we saw and met more African-Americans this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if the census reveals that fact.  There was even a Black Lives Matter camp.

Time to clean up our campsite, so I’ll stop here for now.  If I still have internet tomorrow, I’ll recap the reasons I believe Burning Man is so good for older people.

 

Sadly, It’s Almost Over

The Man is now a smoldering pile of rubble on the open Playa, which means – unbelievably enough – that Burning Man is nearly over.  The only major event ahead is the Temple Burn tonight (Sunday) at 8 p.m., after which it’s all about packing up, cleaning up, and making the two-part drive from Black Rock City to Tahoe, then on to our final destination in Lincoln, CA – a little east of Sacramento.

Man on Fire

At this point in the process, the Burning Man principle that is top of mind is Leave No Trace.  It is always our intention to leave the Black Rock Desert in its original, pristine condition.  We rake through every inch of Playa surface for which we’re responsible searching for anything that is foreign to the land, removing it, and repairing any damage it may have caused.  Our goal is a totally “green” site rating on the annual Moop Map.  A good rating helps ensure us our same spot in the city next year.

Campers cleaning up what was our camp kitchen

Last night’s Man Burn was phenomenal.  Because our son is part of the Burn team, he was able to snag “inner circle” seating for the two of us and his new wife.  That put us as close as anyone other than staff is allowed to the burn itself, so we had our best view ever of the Man burn.  The drama begins with the raising of the man’s arms, followed by performances by fire spinners who populate the burn perimeter.  Once the fire spinners have doused their flames, the crowd quiets awaiting the burn itself.  The team directing the show lets the anticipation build for a few minutes before the first fireworks go off.  Then it’s the 4th of July plus New Year’s Eve rolled into one elaborate fireworks show.  The first sparkles come off of the Man himself, followed by a series of rocket launches from the four corners of the building, a light show from just below the Man, and a series of propane bombs that set the entire structure ablaze.

The building that supports the Man is nearly gone

During most Burns you see frequent “firenadoes”, mini smoke spouts that flow outward from the fire’s center.  But because there was almost no wind on Burn night, we experienced none of these phenomena.  Instead, we watched a fairly peaceful event leading to the eventual collapse of first the Man, then the building that surrounded him.   It was difficult to ignore the poignancy of this moment: the first Burn without Larry Harvey, Burning Man’s founder and leading light, who died this year.

Last night from 3 to 7 a.m. we stood our final watch as Temple Guardians.  These quiet, late-night hours gave us plenty of opportunity to see the Temple in all of its glory and to share in the grief expressed through thousands of personal monuments and statements lovingly placed within the structure.  I was particularly struck by the number of premature deaths – young people in the 30s and 40s who had gone too early because of illness, accidents, overdoses, or bad luck.  It made me appreciate the good fortune we have experienced in our lives and the lives of our children.

As we approach the end of the Burn, we realize once again why we remain enthusiastic participants.  We seem to grow younger with every Burn as opposed to aging as we’re “expected” to do.  Although we understand the reality of the situation, we feel more like peers with our young campers than their seniors.  Given our ages, that way of seeing ourselves feels incredibly good.