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Response to “Raise Your Hand If You’ve Graduated From Burning Man…”

 

What Comes Next?

 

This post is a response to Caveat Magister’s excellent post “Raise Your Hand If You’ve Graduated From Burning Man” at the following URL:

http://blog.burningman.com/2015/03/afield-in-the-world/raise-your-hand-if-youve-graduated-from-burning-man

You’ll have to read the above post first, to understand this here post.  In fact, I strongly recommend it, especially if you’ve been to the event a few times, or if you’d like a delicious alternative to all of the tedious, mainstream-media, (and quite frankly even jaded-Burner), takes on “What’s Broken With Burning Man?”  

NOTE: Unlike my other, more “General-audience,” posts here, I’d really only expect this one to resonate if you ‘give a whit’ one way or another about Burning Man. I happen to care a lot about its values, and my experience of them.  Mr. or Mrs. Magister addresses for the first time that I’ve read, a feeling that’s been growing on me.  Except, that in his/her post I felt something was missing… so, I joined the conversation.

 


 

Regarding My Ongoing “Graduation” From Burning Man

Dear Caveat,

Thanks for your blog post, acknowledging those of us who are finding the same radical growth that Burning Man once provided, on new personal frontiers.

Yet, I disagree with a fundamental quality of what you’re saying.  I don’t see this as such a clear, “First this, then that” experience — at least taken as a whole. You’re on to something good here, and I want to help grow its scope.

Here’s the case where I feel the analogy needs expansion: I am an “AfterBurner” by your definition, in some areas, and still “Newbie” in others… and, I am still excitedly pursuing growth on each level.

This makes sense to me, and feels natural. I’m like a jet plane with both burners (main engines), and afterburners (massively awesome super boost!). A skilled pilot draws on the strengths of each of them, at appropriate times.

I feel like that pilot. I agree that learning to be the Burner, has enabled me to engage the AfterBurner (and I think that was your main point), your analogy captures that order, but I still want both, when I want them.

Here is a perhaps more inclusive, less black and white alternate view of the transformation you write about.

Burning Man is a conference — a meeting of our collective global tribe whose values are not yet embraced, let alone even understood, by the Default World. It is exciting, and inspiring, to be among our people! Just like any conference in the Default World, the more energy you put into it, the more energy you get out. BMorg gets this, and suggests it as valuable learning with the value of “No Spectators.” Not everyone gets this, but it is an entry level, or at least early, class.

Learning happened for me when I saw this playing out on large scale around me, when my jaw dropped upon living in Burning Man’s Black Rock City for the first time. Speaking personally, it rocked my world. In that blast of inspiration, it expanded me from “Engineer” to “Engineer+Light Sculptor” (PM me and I’ll send you a link if you’d like to see the results), an abrupt path change that continues to this day, decades later, with the added (Default-World-learned) “+Entrepreneur”. Charged with that blast of initial inspiration, and Burning Man’s welcoming (once you’re in) conference to practice my flexing of that muscle, I learned to “Put more in.” Having learned that, like you, and many of the people you call AfterBurners, the natural arc of my own personal evolution, still wants to continue to more advanced learning on the topic — beyond what Burning Man can support. As you aptly suggest to be a commonality — I am now continuing to learn to “Put more in,” year-round. 17 Burns later, with the frontier of my evolution now off-playa, by your definition I’m an “AfterBurner.”  I’ve accomplished something amazing (at least to me), and I am honestly flattered by your (admittedly external) validation.

BUT… as clear, and flattering as your definition is, I want to expand its strength.

I view yours as the best answer I’ve heard to the leading edge question of “What’s Next?” Lots of us experienced Burners are asking this question of ourselves naturally, but some of us have to ask unnaturally, because we didn’t get tickets. To lots of us, it is an important, quite likely even defining, question. The BMorg’s (Burning Man Organization’s) answer is to spread the culture of Burning Man worldwide — a great answer for an organization, but it doesn’t easily translate into personal terms. It leaves us to fill in our own blanks. It leads me to think deeply about blog posts like yours, and what wisdom might found therein that I can use personally. I see wisdom there, but I want to add to it, to help it advance this transformation in myself, and others.

There are so many “Classes” to take in the “School of Life”. The untold unique offerings that the Burn, and the Regionals offer, are literally incomparable, truly ranging from entry-level (Say Hello To An Obviously Friendly Stranger) to advanced (Execute a Large Scale, Remote Team Art Project and Leave No Trace), not excluding the often more vital, internal, and relationship lessons, literally custom-made for each of us.  But the richness of Burning Man’s potentials doesn’t stop, or start, life, or growth everywhere else.  There are countless Non-Burning-Man, opportunities for growth. It is not at all unnatural for our personal frontiers of growth to move back and forth between the Home and Default worlds, or between any other modalities in life. In fact it is unnatural for those frontiers NOT to follow us around where we go.

So, I offer up this enhanced definition of ‘AfterBurner, ‘ building on your wonderful philosophical work here.

It is the massively empowering super-boost that the values, learning and experience of Burning Man CAN gift you with. It includes an advanced course in preparation, among so much other useful knowledge, that can be applied as you quest towards your own evolving off- OR ON-Playa frontiers. It is inclusive, not exclusive, of your past Burning experiences. It wishes you well as you set off, and is rooting for you, but ALSO welcomes you Home again someday, for the loving comfort of that delicious, but ephemeral, home-cooked meal of dust and art, lights and sound, motion and magic, humanity and happenstance.

I wouldn’t call you, or anyone else, an AfterBurner for focusing your efforts outside of the festival. If anything, you demonstrate the mastery of your AfterBurner abilities — and celebrate the attainment of that skill in others — by transcending the incessant “What’s Wrong With BM” conversation, with the positive message hidden therein. You acknowledge the role of even that often-challenging, and divisive conversation as a natural part of the festival’s ability to help us evolve, and offer a beautiful, promising acknowledgement of the positives that can come out of the LIMITATIONS of Burning Man. If I could pick for anyone a sign that you’ve truly enabled your AfterBurner, it would have to include that.

My years of Burning experience is uplifted by it. I feel honored to contribute to the conversation.

While it is not the only one, the Playa is one of my favorite places learn…

I take that wisdom everywhere, but I keep returning…

And I keep learning…

And I keep Burning.

 

With Love,
Homemade Rules


back to burn in a blissful Bali-built bubble…

Its official, I have just brushed American soil after so many months. I am still floating ever so slightly above the this land, still inside of a blissful Bali-built bubble.

As of now, I have rolled through a fantastic wedding of two friends, been coated with a layer of Burning Man playa-magic dust, soaked in sulpher hot springs and am now getting a crackle-wrap of pine needles, in a redwood forest near Booneville, CA. As I write this particular bit, I am here in the forest, staying with a friend, picking up stuff she was storing for me, cleaning off my playa gear and packing everything up again, to head north, next, to Portland, for a little bit. I am looking for work, or my next project. I am also recovering from all the hustle and bustle, and trying to coax and relax my body through a head cold that finally slammed me as I was driving back from the hot springs. Of course, too much dust was again inhaled on the playa. It is nice to be in the redwoods for this, with a mesmerizing view down a valley off of a rather spectacular balcony. I am already receiving facebook friend invites from people I met at Burning Man, but I do not quite feel like I have landed. Rather, I am breathing deep, and in the process of figuring out what, where and who that means for me, this time around. I wonder how long this will take.

I made my pilgrimage to Burning Man as a proxy for a number of you who couldn’t attend… Hey, OK — if I must! Twist my arm. Ha ha. As you might imagine, I also attended for my very own self — for year 14 in a row, for a gentle re-introduction to the USA, and to re-inspire my next chapter by listening directly to sweet serendipity, in a place that honors her so. It also happens to be a prime opportunity to tap into the community in which I continue to enjoy working — highly creative, motivated, skilled artists and organizers. To reconnect with my ‘tribe,’ especially as I look for a new project, a trip to Burning Man has always been much better than any conference I’ve ever found. Hmmm, let’s see… the ‘conference hall booths’ in the desert are certainly a lot more interesting, to say the least and, shit, don’t even ask me where I’d rather be dancing!

Anyhow, yep, I gotz a few playa tales to tell — call it a post-burn report if you will. It is especially for those of you who couldn’t make it…

As it turns out — surprise, surprise — Burning Man this year was awesome.  It always has been for me, so I have come to know that it will be, and then it is, like some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.  So, I’m stuck in a loop and apparently I can’t stop going! 

The Man was so jaunty this year!  He’s all walkin’ around throwin’ his hands up in the air, all tied up wit’ ropes… but man, he just don’t care!!!

In addition to the great art, and the wild, deep-space outpost feel of the alien desert moonscape, both perennial favorites of mine, this year, for me, more than any other, was about rejoining a treasured community of old friends after my time away, and meeting the awesome new friends who are expanding that community in a new and magical way. In Bali, a small and dedicated group of new friends took me in ( rock stars all of them, btw ).  Well, coming back Home, as myself, and many others call the feeling of re-entering this special desert space, was a different kind of good.  Here, I feel the depth of old relationships, and get to witness the passage of time in them across entire eras, as well as to have the pleasure of reconnecting with my magical art tribe. Probably my deepest lasting impression of this year’s burn will come from the many great times I had in camp, with these people I love, both new and old.

The view from my camp in Playa Heights

If you were there with me on the frontier, on the edge in East Black Rock, or in the unencumbered great wide open of Playa Heights, then this means you. You simply ROCK, and rocked my bubble-world so pleasantly, and gently back down to earth in doing so…


A special minty-fresh glow.

It was early afternoon, and I was dead asleep — by day 3 of the week, I was completely dusty, and, let’s face it, I smelled like shit. After an awesome, extensive, super-late dawn patrol with my brother the night before, I had finally gone to sleep after sun was well up. Let me tell you, there ain’t nothing like climbing, all sweaty, into a 20 degree bag, safely above its rating at 100 degrees, and drifting off to dreamland. Heat-miser, you ain’t got nothing on me!  Well, sometime around mid-day I awoke to a dear sparkly soulmate from England shaking me awake. “Quick, wake up!” she says, “We’re in line for the ‘Shower Camp,’ come join us now!” Having no idea who ‘us’ was, or, for that matter, what the hell was even going on all of a sudden, I jumped up by instinct alone at the urgency in her voice. In a puff of dust, she was gone, back to where she’d spoken of.

Well, even to my groggy mind, a shower sounded durn good.

I was still mostly asleep and biked out of my camp actually still dreaming a bit — actually trying hard to resolve what was about to happen in that lingering plot before it was gone. (nope, never did understand it.) As I got down to the shower camp, Temple Of Fauxmitzvah I believe it was called, and dropped my bike, I was immediately pulled to the very front of the hour-long queue, where campmates were naked and just getting ushered into a large plexiglass shower ‘trailer’ (um, for lack of a better description). I ripped off my clothes and tossed them aside, just in time to join them.

I took a mental picture of this moment, so now it will last forever. I will probably bore the next two generations of captive children with this tale, which will undoubtedly be embellished far beyond the truth over the years. But you’re getting it first, so its still pretty darn accurate.

… back to The Moment I snapped in my minds eye… well, it looked something like this:

Yes, less that 5 minutes after waking up, I found myself in a trailer with a few other lucky guys, but otherwise full of beautiful naked women — my sparkly friend, other old friends, new friends — a trio of awesome Canadian women camped with us, and complete strangers.  Suddenly a frenetic, fierce and full-blown minty soap fight with bubbly-peppermint-foam-blasting hoses broke out, then we were all rubbing each other down and rinsing each other off with normal-water showers.

Quick thoughts of baseball (boring!)… and I heard The Universe say in its distinctly profound voice

“Hello Dave! Welcome to your waking dream!”

Hot Damn!!!

Well, then we all danced ourselves dry naked outside the shower trailer, and, fully minty from the soapdown, got back into our playa-wear for the rest of the day’s magic. Ahhh… clean at last! Burning Man is just awesome, but especially in its potential for extremely rewarding spontanaety. Not in my wildest sleeping dreams was I expecting to wake up to a minty-soap goddess scrubdown? When, oh when, can this happen again???

And to my lovely Canadian friends, some of you whom I met for the first time in that magical shower… you are either charmed forever, with a special minty-glow that will never leave you, or there is something strikingly beautiful that is happily peppermint-burned into my retinae.


The Fine Print: The above pix are from a SF Bay Guardian story (here) about a similar bubble trailer, I’m guessing it was the same one.  Also here’s a (comparatively boring, but real) video of the actual bubble trailer, go to 2:10 for the actual bubble-down in the video, except other people are shown doing the spraying from above.  In my waking dream, by contrast, we all sprayed each other with hoses mounted inside the trailer. Very. Good.


Fuck off joggers (all UR base belong to ME)!

Something you may not know if you haven’t been to this festival before… there is something of an ‘everyone-is-your-future-friend’ ethic working there, whereby if someone stops by your shade, and asks directions, or just stops to say hello, they are welcomed in as honored guests. You would invite them in from the sun, you’d pour a cold drink of water, or beer, offer some food, or a smoke and chat for a while. Hell, you’d give them the shirt off you back if that’s what they needed. I wonder if it is the harshness of the desert that instills this in us — the urge to save a fellow human from certain death at the hands of the sun — rather than it being just a Burner thing. It is a noble remnant of the human soul, yet to be evolved away. Indeed, the cultures of the Middle East also put a high value on being hospitable, and offer their guests nothing short of the finest in the house.

In any case, it is one of my favorite aspects at the festival, and I have met some of my favorite people in the world this way. There are moments, however, when I simply can not live up to it. An imperfect one I am, I admit it. There are times when I’m simply not going to be ‘open for business…’

As a setup for this story, observe the photo of my shade structure for this year…

Notice, no privacy… an open wall.

Well, funny that, for I had just bought a tent, with plenty of privacy. But, the playa tends to ruin things, so right after buying it, I decided I was going to try to NOT set it up, so as to ‘keep it nice’ for at least anther year. So why buy it in the first place? Its not like I was suddenly ‘surprised’ at how dirty the playa is!? Good question. I believe I was simply following my fathers time-tested wisdom in this case. Father may not always know best, but he sure has some damn-near irrefutable answers to life’s quandaries. “It was a good value.” or “It was on sale.” Both are fatherly wisdom that would apply equally well in this case. In support of the former timeless argument, in reality, my old tent is darn close to biting the dust, and this one is going to last me for years, so it IS a good value! Also, in a worst case scenario, the temperatures can plummet out in the desert. So, while I might have been fumbling around in the dark, crack-shivering my ass off and trying to set that preciously clean son-of-a-bitch up, at least I would stay alive. One just can’t argue with that!  So yes, I bought a new tent, and then didn’t use it once — perfectly logical! (Right Dad?)

So, too-lazy, or too-prim, for tenting, I just plopped my sleeping bag and pad right there, in the open (see above pic. look closely), smack dab in the middle of my dusty-ass floor tarp. Oh heck, its all dusty out yonder, so its no matter. Also, the view is amazing. The open side of my abode faces the open desert, where much of the art is installed, and the art cars drive around. It is also facing the main road that runs alongside it, but most days there aren’t a lot of people passing by, us being out on the outskirts of town and all. So even when I’m fully mummied-up into my sleeping bag, I can still peek out the mouth-hole and see endless open desert. Its a powerful kind of rapture, all that open space, and the space-wino in me sucks it all right up through that mouth-hole, and then passes on into dreamland. Yeah, all told, I was pretty comfortable with the setup.

So… As is normal for me, my schedule quickly shifted to ‘playa time’ within a couple of days of being there. For me, and many other folks, this means waking up around 4pm when the sun is no longer as hot (“Its practical!” score another one for Dad!). Then its time to get prepped, eat dinner, go out to play all night, watch the sun rise, and then stumble back to shade and bed around 10am, just as the sun starts really cooking again.

Anyhow, there I was, after a long, and crazy night out, so fully-tired-out that I am slumped in my camp chair unable to sleep. Instead I am chain-smoking like a fool (a habit from Bali that I have since kicked, hint for other wannabe quitters: The Yeti eSmoke – worked like a charm). I’m also drinking — an ice cold beer — and eating pop-tarts for breakfast. Yes, it is a classic tragicomic scene. But what’s this I see here? I start noticing random people in all manner of dress running by my camp on the road.

Joggers? What the hell?

Stupid bastards! It is at least 100 degrees out (thats about 38 for you robo-metrics). I’d do just about anything to avoid anyone so healthy, and crazy about it, as to be jogging in the broad daylight and sweltering heat of the harsh desert sun. But especially now. At this particular moment, I am hitting the very trough of my own health, so I’d rather carry on comfortably ignoring my own sorry state, and keep on with what I should be doing — enjoying what’s left of my evening. (Yes, technically its morning, but still the end of my night.) But, there is no cover available to me. I can not avoid the joggers. The joggers are reminding me of my current state.

The section of the Black Rock City Marathon where I ‘cheered the joggers on.’

And here they come, and keep coming… a new jogger every minute, for as long as I can watch. WTF??? I later will find out that it is the day of the Black Rock City marathon, and these are no ordinary joggers. Apparently they will run a full marathon, all 26.1 miles of it, out there in the heat. Fools! (OK I’ll admit it, I wish I could do that too.) But they are also human, these joggers, underneath their super-health. And they know all about playa hospitality. In fact, I am reminding the joggers of their current state.  I swear to you, not a ONE of them jogs up the road looking happy with their decision to run. One after another they gawk at the unavoidable, openly visible ‘splendor’ of my desert hut. Really its quite meager, but relatively speaking, at least, it is a shady respite, comfortable, and with cold drinks in it. Even a nice relaxing cigarette seems to look good to some of them. Fortunately for them, I am there. Yes, I am there in my chair, looking out for them. I am silently, calmly willing them to move along! This is not the shade you are looking for,” I say in my mind, invoking The Force. I am hidden behind only my sunglasses. “Stopping now would ruin your time in the marathon,” I continue, but eventually I crumble to sleep in the face of the onslaught, unable to continue my race-day help. Surely it was only the awkwardness of waking a sleeping stranger that kept the joggers out. Either that or they had their rest stop despite me, and ran off down the road desert-marathon-style.


Ho hum, what else can I report?  A couple of firsts. This is the first year I didn’t make it to the center camp cafe. Woah, that place is awesome… I think.  This is also the first year I didn’t dance on Burn night. Wow, I almost can’t believe myself!

Then again, I love firsts. Even more, I love that I’m still finding them, so many years later. How do I do it?  Hmmm… well I do try to shake things up every year to keep it fresh — try something different, take on something new, change the rules, change my scene. Well, something I’m doing seems to be working. So far I haven’t gone the way of ‘the festival used to be better in the old days,’ and I’ve definitely met my fair share of those naysayers, but I just don’t see it that way. Sure, it used to be different — smaller, cozier and more random — but that’s just different, and different *isn’t* bad. Different means room to grow each year, change and evolve — to affect different people in different ways, and it comes necessarily with some ups and downs along the way. This years festival was awesome, and different, and so will next years be.

In my eyes, the vital questions each year are the following:

Who will have the vision, willpower and awesome spiritual generosity to build and gift this wonderful and mind-blowing art utopia to others?

and

Who will answer when serendipity calls them to come and be moved by it?

Will you? I sure was.

HMR