Thursday, September 6, 2012


Okay, so I'm actually back from Burning Man, but they don't have internet there (bliss!), so I'm writing it now.

This is my first time to the crazy art festival city in the desert, and if I only have a couple words to describe it: AMAZINGLY OVERWHELMING.
And that, my friends is a compliment.

The Man on Burn Night

Other words could be: Beautiful, bright lights, noisy, music, cacophony of sound, 360 degrees of crazy, up all night, up all day, hot, dusty, exhausting, cold, lonely, friendly, filled with adventure, shocking, naked, drunk, sober, mellow, high energy, educational, uplifting, energizing, filled with sorrow, filled with bliss, revealing, borderline unsafe, blissfully unregulated, still in America--barely, mars, the moon, another planet, filled with love, friendship, joy, stimulation, giving, gifting, stories, dancing, biking, dust storm, porta-potti, baby-wipe bath, Thunderdome, pirate ship, art cars, neon, burn, burn burn, firestorm, explosion, wall street, graffiti, sculpture, painting, body painting, body art, orgy dome, poly-camp, kidsville (yes, I just typed those words in a row), and more....

But we don't want just words, do we? We want some stories. So here goes.

This is my first time on the Playa. I've known about it for a number of years because my roommate Brian has gone 10 times. So I've seen pictures, heard stories, met other burners. But I can tell you NONE OF THAT WILL PREPARE YOU FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF BURNING MAN.

 I've been fortunate enough to travel a bit and have been to some totally amazing places, and I have to say that I've never experienced anything like Burning Man. It. Is. Insane.

And that, too, is a compliment. Experiencing new things, breaking out of the ever-limiting comfort zone, meeting new and interesting people...these are all reasons I travel. And I sure did all of these things at Burning Man.

And to answer the question that is on everyone's mind who has heard of Burning Man: No, I did not do any drugs. There were drugs available, had I wanted to experiment with a wide range of options, but I've never been inclined to do them in the past, and didn't feel the need to now. If that's what folks wanted to do out there, I wasn't about to judge them for it. Everyone seeks experience in their own way, and as long as you aren't endangering each other, then I'm in no place to tell you it's wrong. But for myself, I wanted to engage in what was going on in a way I felt comfortable. (Yes, I did drink! More than usual in fact). Technically drugs are not condoned at Burning Man, but the authorities seem to not come down to hard unless you're being a dick, or doing it in the open. Enough about that, it's not really what Burning Man is about.

So Burning Man operates on 10 principals. These are important for understanding what it is you're getting into. You can read about them in more detail on the Burning Man site (
The Human river around the was HOT!
. Principals that stuck out to me, are

LEAVE NO TRACE: It's hard to believe that a temporary city of 50,000-60,000 people can be built and removed completely every year, leaving no garbage, but it's one of the main principals, and it happens. People take every little scrap home with them. Sure, it uses a ton of gas to get there and lots of shit burns (though all the burn scars are maticulously cleaned), but it is still pretty amazing.

RADICAL INCLUSION: Anyone can participate. There's no VIP status here. (Though, human beings are human beings, and people still won't always let you enter their camp to play). Still, if you want to battle in the Thunderdome, you can. (yes, there's a Thunderdome, very similar to the Mad Max movie...and you may battle. Though it's not to the death. :) If you want to ride an art car, or dance at a club, or take a class, you can.

GIFTING: I thought it was a barter system before I read the survival guide. (Yes, when you get your ticket, you get a survival guide. You need to read it, because you are entering a very unforgiving environment. The back of the ticket says you could experience serious injury or death as a result of coming to this...and it's no bullshit. Take care of yourself out there.) But Back to Gifting. This isn't a "I'll give you this if you give me that" system. It's literally, "I have something to give you, enjoy." With no thought of getting anything in return. ie: "Here, have some booze" or "Would you like to join us for dinner, we just made steak". It's really amazing and one of the coolest things about it. The generosity of people: Have a meal, enjoy a shower, join our class, get a massage, listen to a chior sing, climb on our art car and dance, enjoy world famous DJ's spinning music all night long.

But Craig, didn't you have to buy a ticket? Yes.
Doesn't that money go to paying for all this? No.
As far as I can tell, that money goes to paying for the permit to hold this crazy event, and the additional police officers and rangers out there. Also the awesome porta potti cleaners (they do it VERY regularly, thank god), as well as some other infastructure things. But otherwise, everything else is done by volunteers or gifted by the community in whatever ways they want.

RADICAL SELF-RELIANCE: As much as people gift and will help you (like one day I forgot to fill my camel-back before going out for the day. Dumb mistake. But I wasn't worried. I simply asked some folks at a camp if I could have some water, and they gave it to me with a smile). But despite are on your own. You bring EVERYTHING to the playa. Shelter, food, fire, water, goggles, what not. I like this principal a lot, as I feel in the real world a lot of people don't take responsibility for themselves and their actions: here, you have too.

PARTICIPATION: You can come to Burning Man to watch, lord knows its some of the best people watching ever, but that's not the point. Join in. Play. Dance. Cheer. Paint. Roller Skate (yep, there is a roller rink complete with skates and 80's tunes). Don't be a douche and watch the "crazy" folks and take pictures...join in. Truth is, we're all crazy and weird in our own ways, this is a place where you can be crazy and weird and (almost) no one will judge you.

One of the best things I learned was about Judgement. I try to keep an open mind to things in life, but I find that I can be critical of people at times (Some of my friends are probably saying "yeah, no shit Craig!"). I don't like that I do this, and I think it has to do with expecting the best (perfection perhaps?) from myself. On Sunday morning I was watching the Playa Choir tear the roof off the dome they were in, and the director said something like this about judgement: (I paraphrase and embellish here)

Judgement is a bastard. You can't fire it. It won't go away. If you try it will come back and go postal on you. Instead you have to transform it into something else. For me, that is curiosity. Instead of judging, I will be curious: why does it work like that? how do people create that? what the fuck is going on? :)

 I'm sort of doing these emails backwards, as I just gave a big lesson I learned at the end of the trip in the first email. Oh well, if I learned one thing from Burning Man it's that things don't always go according to plan.

Hopefully this overview gets you in the right headspace for some of the stories that will come in the next few emails.

Burn baby, Burn,
Yes, that's a pirate ship sunk in the Playa