That is the greeting you are welcomed with at the entrance gate. Kind of quaint was my first thought. Now that I am back “home” (as in my apartment), I realize how true that greeting rings. Home isn’t Kansas anymore Dorothy.
When I first felt the need to experience Burning Man, I kept it to myself. After all, who wants to be labeled by people who don’t understand, or even wish to? Am I not enough of a martyr (computer nerd, gaming geek, magician, juggler, Mac guru, web technician, D&D player, chess player, editor, photographer, et al) as it is? Eventually I came to terms with it, and now speak openly about it. Most people have no idea as to what it is about. Art? Community? Performance? Drugs? Spiritual journey? An insane asylum on a dried lake-bed in the desert? Simultaneously all and none of the above. People don’t understand because they haven’t been. Its very much the conundrum of the Matrix. You can’t be told what Burning Man is, you need to experience it for yourself. Once you “get it” it is the eureka that Einstein shouted when relativity made sense to him. It is why Macs are the coolest computers, why games are so entertaining, why your favorite movie or song rocks your world. Once you understand, these things speak to your soul. Outsiders don’t understand. They need to participate before they can contemplate. But since many of you reading this never will partake, I’ll offer a hint at its broader aspects. Keep in mind that Burning Man is many things to many prople. Take the diverse elements in: Halloween; SciFi Conventions; Renaissance Faires; Vegas; Carnival Sideshows; Art Museums; Raves; Science Fairs; and Performance Art (note the big A). Arrange the varied specialities ever so delicately and then place a C4 charge under them and light the fuse.
I initially felt quite out of sorts in the community, like an outsider looking in. I had trouble getting the cargo van that would be my shelter for the event. The drive was long and lonely. When I arrived at the entrance, there was a terrible dust storm (the worst of the week). I could barely see a car three feet in front of me. The playa is a desert, hot during the day and cold at night. The desert isn’t kind to me. I don’t tan, I burn (of course, that is kind of appropriate, given the gathering's namesake). The heat evaporated my appetite. I think I ate two pop-tarts, one can of potato chips and some meat one night from the kind folks in our camp. The rest was water and juice for the week, which felt rather purifying in the end. All around me were strangers that were wearing all manner of costumes (or lack thereof), doing odd things, living outside the confinement of their “normal” lives. I felt ever so isolated, a stranger in a stranger land. The Wild Animal Sanctuary Space really made me feel welcome when I showed up. And there are three people who really made me feel at home: DaBomb; Chai Guy and Roo. Without my brief interactions with them, my burn would have been fueled by an ember instead of a pyre.
I don’t know that I’ve learned anything from Burning Man. It isn’t about learning as much as it is about participation. Wait. I did learn a few things. Beware of flowers lying in the dessert. They most likely are attached to a string that will be pulled away when you reach for the flower. This is called Hippie Bait. Beware of candy ravers offering treats. Those little M&Ms with smiley faces aren’t as innocent as they seem. And when you think you have a grip on everything, you just need to explore more in order to realize that you don’t even have the slightest of grasps.
As with any culture that matures, Burning Man is evolving. Political statements are being made by the participants, sides being taken. Not just by one or two, but many (just look at bmorg vs borg2 as an example). Political correctness is seeping in. I only wish I could have partaken when there were no speed limits, dogs could play Frisbee and drive-by shootings were commonplace. I truly get the sense that there will be change in the relative future. Even if the current embodiment implodes, I’m sure the spirit will mutate into a new form from the ashes.
One of the common adjectives is “playa” something. If someone is late, they are on playa time. If someone isn’t cognizant, they have playa brain. It is sort of a culture shock to experience Burning Man. First you have to let go of common conveniences. Then say goodbye to your old community standards. Instead of economy, there is gifting. People just give you trinkets, keepsakes or necessities. Need a can opener? Just shout out your desire and magically, someone will walk up with it. Imagine being in the middle of the dessert, a complete stranger walks up to you, says “pizza delivery!” hands you a piping hot pizza, and walks off with nary a comment....
I had the pleasure of helping out the Kissing Bandits. The KBs would approach a willing victim, steal a kiss, and vanish into the night. I was helping as a “Lip Blocker” just in case one of the victims was in a altered state of consciousness, and didn’t realize that in this case, a kiss was in fact, just a kiss.
Upon examination of my camera, I took over twelve hundred photos. Most of them are personal and won’t be shown. Consider yourself blessed. Of the ones here, many probably won’t make sense to you. Thats ok. I didn’t take them for you. Or for anyone in particular for that matter. They are simply records of moments that spoke to me. They just are. Accept them simply as that. Some of the photos will have commentary under them, while others speak for themselves. Only a handful are decadent, so consider yourself warned (if you can’t handle a handful, then you probably shouldn’t be on the internet in the first place). All manner of activities take place at Burning Man, and they will remain a mystery until you attend. Sure, I could tell you about Critical Tits and show you some delightful photos, but until you experience the half hour long parade, it just wouldn’t have the same impact.
The dust. I need to mention the playa dust. It is everywhere. Omnipresent. Alkaline in nature, persistent in spirit. Shower after shower and it is still here. It seems to have embedded itself into my core. I can still see it, smell it, feel it. I have a feeling that it is a part of me now. And strangely, I’m fine with that.
Will I return home? If you asked me a week ago, amid transportation issues, violent dust storms and sunburn invoking heat, I would have said no. As of the moment, I still feel like I haven’t left. Besides, it isn’t really a decision that is made. It just happens. Its funny that way.
If you are moved by what you read or see, you should consider letting the decision happen for you. The journey isn't easy. The playa can be a fierce companion, and it is brutally honest. It will tear you down to your foundation. If you go with an open mind and heart, you will find inspiration, debaucheries, wonders, amusements and mysteries. Maybe something deeper. Pretty much anything you could dream of. And some of the stuff you dare not think about. Don't over-think it.
Don't expect anything.
Just experience it.
Monday, September 12, 2005