Burning Man starts in 15 days.

I already have ideas for how I want to do it differently next time.

First, let’s review the decisions I made about this year, on my sophomore Burn.

  1. I was bringing my girlfriend (Nooo! they told me. Danger! they warned me).
  2. I was volunteering at least two days (Playa Naming Booth, set-up and Tuesday from 1230-330, stop by).
  3. I was renting a car to get there (Noooo! I heard, Big fines and cleaning fees! they warned me).
  4. I was building a Camp Danger Folding Hexayurt. And strapping it to the top of our rented SUV. As the event approaches, this is the decision that’s got me most worried, not the above.
  5. I was going to get a cohesive, high-quality costume, in theme, and wear it most of the week . . . well actually two costumes, including one for night. I was going to do the costuming thing RIGHT. Yeah. Right. (This isn’t going to happen).
  6. I was going to use a CamelBak instead of carrying around  a water bottle. (Thumbs up).
  7. I was going to have my OWN camp, rather than join a theme camp or buddy up with some vets.
  8. I was going to buy a more suitable and rideable bike, and trick it out with big wheels, bell, basket, lights and lamp. (Done).
It remains to be seen how well these decisions will work out. For many of them, though, I have a pretty good idea, and so I’m going to write my list of things I want to try, or do, next year (or the next couple years).
  1. Go ultra-lightfoot: rent a compact hybrid car, pack a tiny 1-man tent or bivy, a modest shade structure, no shower or evap, no costumes, and camp minimalist, literally in a slice between two bigger camps.
  2. Alternatively: build a bigger, better Hexayurt next year with 3″ Thermax instead of 1″, a full-size door, a swamp cooler or two, and rent a cargo van to transport it all in (maybe a sound system?)
  3. I’d love to volunteer and somehow get myself onto the City Building Crew (Department of Public Works?) And be the one pounding rebar and rolling out the trash fence. That just looks so glamorous. Also, clean-up after it’s over.
  4. I’d like to get some of those stilts. But only if they were part of a bigger costume. Maybe a top hat and tails — the longest tails ever?
  5. I’d like to bring an upright piano. (In the cargo van?) And give Piano Lessons.
  6. I’d love to buy a good Canon digital SLR and take some really high quality pictures. (Yeah, Michael Holden is pretty much my hero, I doubt I could ever match his skill, but I can try!)
  7. Costume idea: Samurai.
  8. Costume AND Theme camp idea: TRON. (TRON and Burning Man: match made in Heaven).
The thing I love about Burning Man (apart from the community, the freedom, the people, the blinky, the boom, the whoosh, the fire, the nudity, and the hassle of getting there, of course) is that it’s a totally blank canvas, and the creativity of others that I see really just inspires me to think outside the box and project my own creativity into the world, whether that be through costuming, bike deco, radical self-reliance in shelter, or other.

Last night I attended my first Burning Man Decompression / Burnout in Portland.

This was on Saturday, October 23rd, one of those mid-fall nights where Portland received approximately 1 inch of rain in a 6-hour period. The event was held, appropriately, on SE Water avenue, in a few empty lots.

This was Burning Man in a swamp. Without the Man, the Temple, the community, or the playa.

I wondered, prior to attending this event, if the spirit of Eternus Metropolis could really be re-created anywhere else. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the spirit of Burning Man living on year-round, wherever Burners may be, without respect to their geography. Would this ideal hold up? Was this actually possible? Could you hold a Burning Man event next to a freeway off-ramp, in freezing drizzle, across the way from a transient camp, under the dim glare of vapor streetlights, and have just as much fun and wonder as you did on the playa? Could you rekindle that spark of community, despite the perennial dampness of the Pacific Northwest?

My answer is no. Or at least, not with the amount of effort that was brought to the party last night. The costumes were there, yes. The blinky lights and electronic music, and the dome tents. There was fire. There were alcohol and drugs. There was dancing. There were goggles and bandannas. And lots of awkward attempts to find pretenses under which to start and continue conversations. But there was very little real joy.

On the playa, I didn’t need any excuse to talk to anyone. Everyone I met was maximally open and maximally comfortable in their own skin.

Not so at Decompression. I arrived at around 8pm and found barely two dozen people there. My friend arrived closer to 9pm. Although we met and talked to many people, our conversation never got into the high territory of genuine connection. Our attempts to connect were stutter-starts. The interactions were thin, barely-there. People would utter a few words, make a few jokes that fell flat, and fall back into their own introspective reverie. Despite the trappings of the event, we weren’t having much fun.

My friend got hit on, and asked to go to a nearby dance club. Oh, right, this is Portland; if you don’t like the scene you’re in, just walk down the street a little ways, pay a cover charge, and enter a different environment. You can enter a different environment, but you won’t necessarily have a different experience. There is a fog of discontent nestled snugly around every “party” taking place in Portland tonight. Individual groups of party-goers may be having a grand time, but on the whole, we’re not really happy.

It’s okay; just change the channel. The illusion of choice leaves us thinking we’re staying entertained, but we’re really just staying unhappy — a fact that is masked by the illusion of our own agency.

The playa makes the event. It is the blank slate upon which everyone can project their dreams. When you arrive at the playa, you know for sure that you are sufficiently far away from the rest of the world that you truly are free to do anything you want (within reason). It does not matter that law enforcement is all around you at BRC; what matters is that you could walk miles in any direction and not encounter a Starbucks, or any other depressing reminder of our consumerist society.

The trappings of our society oppress us. At Decompression, it was impossible to get too heady or out-of-mind, because all you had to do was look up 30 degrees from the horizon, and there was a huge Verizon billboard. I am beginning to believe that it is only in the deep desert, or the great wilderness, that the anchors of mediocrity can be fully uprooted, and the human spirit can be released into its greatness.

This may be why so much hope and optimism is found in accounts from frontier settlers and geographic pioneers. They were the ones who confronted the undiscovered vistas, and ultimately confronted the terror of their own freedom under vast new skies.

The challenge of Burning Man is bringing the spirit of freedom that so liberates us on the playa back into a geography of oppression, when the modern concrete jungle closes in on us from every side. It’s like trying to keep a candle burning in a monsoon.

That is why nobody’s done it; that is why somebody must.

Hypersex and Sensuality

Posted: October 18, 2010 in sensuality, the body, the burn

Burning Man woke me up to real sensuality.

I observed my male friends, and to a certain extent myself, approaching the event focused on the sex experience. Once the event started, we began chasing the sex experience almost immediately.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dust and Illusions: A Film Review

Posted: October 16, 2010 in art, the burn

On Thursday night, I went to a screening of Olivier Bonin’s documentary on Burning Man, Dust and Illusions.

This was at Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon, one of the only independent movie theaters in the state. The showing was at 9pm. The line — which wrapped around the block in both directions — was sprinkled with not a few blinky lights and furry costumes. An Amazonian woman in green fluorescent fishnets tore my ticket.

Read the rest of this entry »

The modern world encourages our isolation.

As long as you are addicted to screen time, and plugged in to your work computer, your home computer, and your hours of TV as a method of relaxing, you will remain locked into your own limited world, where your every whim is pandered to by a complicit media empire.

The isolation of the modern world is changing your brain. It is preparing you for more isolation. The personal audio device and the personal video device you carry with you at all times are conspiring to turn your world into a limited and limitless matrix of narcissistic self-indulgence. They cut you off from your friends, your neighbors, and “strangers”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Favorite Art from Metropolis

Posted: October 9, 2010 in art, Burning Man 2010

I don’t know how Metropolis compared to past years — it was my first year — but the art blew me away.

Below are photos and brief descriptions of some of my favorites.


Bliss Dance by Marco Cochrane (photo by Michael Holden)


Bliss Dance. This was one of the most jaw-dropping things I saw at Burning Man, period. I could go on and on about the Belle of the Ball — how animated she was, what a powerful magnetic force her mere presence exerted, how she oriented me no matter where I was on the playa, how she changed at night; this was sculpture at its finest. I have barely seen anything as impressive in the Default World, and I have been to the Uffizi, the Met, and MoMa.

Read the rest of this entry »

It used to be that I spent money for the feel of it.

When I spent money, it was with a vicious thrill. I felt shameful, as if I was squandering a precious resource. I felt an emotional ripple with every dollar I parted with. When I made large, unplanned purchases, I felt an intense rush. Sometimes, I felt depressed.
Read the rest of this entry »