Archive for the ‘Burning Man 2010’ Category

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.


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.


What Metropolis Taught Me

Posted: September 19, 2010 in Burning Man 2010
"Home" by Michael Christian - HDR photo by Hunter Luisi

"Home" by Michael Christian - HDR photo by Hunter Luisi

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Burning Man was much different than I imagined. Of course. How could it be otherwise? But what it left me with, how it changed me, can barely be put into words, which won’t stop me from trying my very best.

I thought I was going to get laid. I’ll be up front about that. I thought BM was going to allow me to satisfy my own desires. I thought I was going to be able to get what I wanted. But the playa is not about satisfying your own needs. What is the playa about?

My first stab is that the playa is about impermanence. The city rises and falls in 7 days, or about 3 months, depending on when you start counting. The man stands for 2 weeks and burns in 15 minutes. People are not supposed to live on the desert.

The playa has her own plan for your shit. As soon as we arrived I started losing shit. Some of it I got back later; some of it was gone forever.

This lead me to a sense of non-attachment. It’s just stuff. We are attached to a sense of control in the default world. We experience this illusion of control mostly because generations of us have dedicated our lives to building an artificial system on top of the system of nature, an artificial system we fight to uphold because it gives us an illusory sense of mastery over a chaotic and unpredictable natural world. Oh, there’s a skyscraper — a city built vertically in the clouds. Oh, there’s an airplane, it defies gravity.  Oh, there’s an economic system, built on the unnatural ideas of infinite growth and infinite waste (to say nothing of plundering the wealth of the ages).

There is no controlling the natural world (which is itself an illusion). There is also no need to fear the natural world. We humans have preoccupied ourselves for thousands of generations with building layer upon layer of circuitous, self-referential abstraction. We have been building a labryinth behind us as we tunnel deeper and deeper into narcissistic illusion, not realizing that we are constructing our own prison as we go, and forgetting that that which we are afraid of, that which we are really trying to escape, will always be with us, since it is part of us. We will never be able to divide ourselves away from it.

That is why the wilderness restores us and frightens us. It strips away the labryinth of abstraction we think of as the “real” world and reveals to us our selves, without the masks and costumes. It makes it easier for us to see ourselves as we truly are and harder for us to drown out the inner voice that speaks to us constantly of our true fears.

The playa showed me the true natural way of living. The true natural way of life is giving up our attempts to hide, and releasing our fear of reality. When we can stand true, fearless and open-hearted, in the presence and full glory of that which we most fear, then we will be free, and nothing in this wicked illusion will be able to threaten our peace, ever again.

This is what I learned at Burning Man: that the world is so full of beauty, brightness, openness, and forgiveness, and so totally accepting of us, that none of us need do anything but from total fearless love, ever again.

I want to meet others on this path. I want to build fearless  communities with economic systems that aren’t broken. I want to connect with those seeking a better way, and invite them to build a city with me, where fear has no home and love is abundant.

That is why I am here.  I am playa hanjin, the playa navigator, and I am here to navigate this bright future.