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.