Please enjoy another guest post from my Kansas buddy, Sara Nicole Glass, telling all about her adventures at Burning Man.
The first time I rolled up to Burning Man in 2013, fresh off the festival circuit, I arrived at 6AM. After being on the road for three days and in line for 10 hours, it got real. I jumped out of my car and the first thing I did was say to a stranger, “I really like your necklace.” Shyly, just trying to drum up conversation. He looked at me and said, “Ugh fine. Take it.” And he handed me the necklace, exasperated. Two strangers offered me some chocolates, I politely declined, and then promptly hopped on my bike and rode towards “The Man” like I was supposed to.
The first thing I encountered? A scene of people, full blown working out with barbells and equipment in front of these giant BELIEVE letters, as the sun was rising; I knew this wasn’t just a party or an experience to be taken lightly. This was evolution in motion.
Burning Man Unusual Art
This year (2018), the art was unlike anything I’d ever fathomed before. There was the iSheep, a roaming pack of sheep that would let you ride them if you were nice to them. If you didn’t ask consent, they were mean sheep, and would yell at you, so I am told. Could never find those buggers.
If you were lucky enough to find “The Pole”–a random lit up pole–and you were also lucky enough to know just the right way to shake your head, you would see the most incredible faces within the motion of your eyeballs. What!? Etipado, as it was called, is a mysterious strobing pole. It displays images captured from an antique camera; however, the secret to viewing them must be discovered.
Meanwhile, these poles were also amazing… and much easier to see. Made of 11,000 hanging LEDs in a volumetric field, these concentric pathways of light interpret movement and sound, and mimicked shadows in a visual form throughout.
And More Art…
I found out the rainbow runway arches were actually demonstrating the speed of sound, and that art cars could actually hook up to the runway with a software that Robot Heart developed and play their set. Then the music that plays shows the wave frequencies that are displayed in lights down the whole row.
Then there was the polar bear, made out of white car hoods, advocating for polar bear environmental safety. “Singularity” was the house, in a birdcage, in a house, inside a birdcage inside a house, and it was burned in the name of dispelling depression and honoring those who have suffered. “Let U.S. Prey” was made out of pennies, nickels, and dimes. 27,000 coins to be exact, or so I heard.
Burning Man, the Beautiful Train Wreck
Burning Man really is like a beautiful train wreck that you can’t stop watching, even though you know it might not end well. Maybe it’s not as big of a crash as expected, but worth watching nonetheless. Even those who have chosen not to return after “burning” for however many years, are still watching, because they know the magic of Black Rock City. This year, even Skirllex was amazing. You really never know with this place…
The drone light show from Amsterdam was an absolutely mind-blowing performative artwork at the interface between technology, science, and art. “Franchise Freedom” exposed the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers, and was choreographed to music composed and played by Joep Beving. The patterned movements of the 600 drones apparently were based on the patterns of bird flights. I saw a hand beckoning the crowd to approach the Mayan Warrior…. Or perhaps I was just hallucinating?
At sunrise on Tuesday morning, some circus friends I know presented a performance art piece called “Strait No Chaser – The Great Strait Escape”. An escape artist was hanging upside down from a hot air balloon near the temple. And she succeeded!
Burning Man, Freedom to Become Me
Over the past four years, this ridiculous city has taught me more about freedom and about who I never would’ve thought I would become. I’ve showered with total strangers (in a completely non-sexualized way) and felt so empowered afterwards. #carcuswash I’ve eaten ribs and salmon on top of a giant glowing pirate ship at five in the morning while the artist Crystal Method danced beside me. #pearlnecklace And I’ve had more synchronistic and unexpected magical experiences in the middle of nowhere in one week then I probably had in my whole life prior to Burning Man. #ttitd
There was a circus of light-up wheels that had traveled five desserts and was destined for Black Rock City. Every night, 15 volunteers committed four plus hours of their time to walk these wheels to the larger inner playa installation and danced in loincloths for onlookers. What a spectacle! I still don’t know what to call it.
That’s How You Get Your Name
Speaking of names, one day, while hanging at my camp (Pandora’s Lounge and Fix-It Shoppe bar), a woman came up to me. When I asked what her name was, she said she didn’t have a playa name. My co-bartender “Bish” said, as she poured the girl a drink, “Well Silverbell, it’ll come when you’re ready.” The girl and I looked at each other and I said, “That’s it! That’s your name!” She said she liked it, and then I reached down and pulled off the bracelet of silver bells I had just put on minutes earlier, which I hadn’t worn in years, and promptly handed her the bracelet, officially deeming her Silverbell. And that’s how they get you… before you know it, you’re covered in dust and loving it.
The Dust of Burning Man
Oh yes, I have fallen in love with the dust… just the smell of it turns me on. This strong, smooth and sultry salt bed dust gets into everything, and yet I still can’t get enough of it. It’s in the air you breathe and the food you eat. And it’s definitely in the places you sleep and play and worship and dance and s**t and cry and bathe… It becomes a part of you. It connects you to everything else; through the vibrations you can literally see the musical waves pulsating through a dust storm. In the morning light you can see the dust kicking up off of art car wheels as they roll five miles an hour across the playa, spiraling out into fractals; it’s really a sight for sore eyes. #goggles.
This dust reminds me of sugar, and every other white powder that’s worth indulging in. It serves a purpose and an important one at that. This dusty powder is a way of life; it is a medicine. And while it may not be the most logical, rational or economical “medicine” you’ve ever heard of, once you’ve tried this Kool-Aid, you’re going to want to go deeper. Down whichever rabbit hole you choose! There’s lots to explore. Even sober ones, it’s true.
The Burning Man Religious Experience
This year, I was biking Sunday pre-event, alone, across the playa under the stars, the first night of my 2018 adventure. I realized that I was laughing and crying and singing and dancing, sweating and breathing heavy, and jumping while riding my bike. All at once. And I couldn’t help but think, “This is the closest to a religious experience as anyone in this day and age will ever get.” In that moment I felt invincible and ecstatic, like I hadn’t felt since I was a little girl. I felt like my true self, finally coming into perfect alignment. How long can it last?
Two weeks later, in the throes of decompression and after-burn withdrawal, I still think that it’s worth every bit of energy and sacrifice, though a harder pill to swallow in my grumpy state. If you’ve never gone from hell to heaven and back again in two week’s time, it’s impossible to fathom the gravity of the circumstances. If you haven’t at least considered quitting your job and going to Burning Man, then this might not be for you.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. And I’ve lost 15 pounds! Burning Man is truly the pilgrimage of many lifetimes that I waited way too long to take. Black Rock City is forever etched onto my heart and pulses through my veins daily, calling me to return home as soon as possible. 360 days we must wait! But the burn doesn’t just stop there, you know… #opensesame
Burning Man Afterburn
One of the most important facets of deeming yourself a burner is taking these principles that you operate under out into the world, pre and post burn. Otherwise, what is the point? Many of us struggle with the dreaded “exclusiveness” and “waste of resources” dilemma.
Believe me, us burners are well aware of the discrepancies and issues within our community that are all over the news. “With all that money spent on a 747, we could have fed hundreds of starving children.” It is an absolutely valid argument that many of us within and outside the organization have voiced and battled with each other about, but it’s really not up for anyone to decide whether or not something is art.
The point is, we are out there, pushing the envelope in a very raw and real way. We build a community from scratch, and with that comes all kinds of pulses. The challenge with any community, and especially one of this force, is that you have the best of humanity, and also the worst of humanity, all under one roof. I do want to point out that “radically inclusive” does not mean you have to include the rapist or the thief; however, discovering who these people are is the hard part, as people are good at hiding in a crowd.
The Burning Man Utopia?
As you’ll see within any city, you’ll find just about everything you look for. Bars, yoga studios, dance parties, parades, restaurants, balloon rides, roller skating rinks, temples. You name it, it’s at Black Rock City. Funnily enough, this year and last year I had my megaphone stolen right out of my bag on burn night, when I wasn’t looking. It’s a small price to pay for a week of fulfilling magic, but still, it is a reality we are facing as a community. Just because you’re in a utopian society doesn’t mean you don’t still have to watch your back.
***WANTED: Silver megaphone, small frame, connected to swell rainbow water bottle inside a hemp-laced carrying case. REWARD IF FOUND***
Every Burn has its Thorn
One night an obviously disheveled woman came into my camp. She asked if she could buy a drink, to which we explained to her there was no money used at Burning Man once you arrive. I asked her how she got there and she explained that her boyfriend had brought her. She had never heard of Burning Man. Nor had she ever heard of the ten principles, and she wasn’t sure where she was going to sleep that night, since her boyfriend had kicked her out and left her. She disappeared before I could get a ranger, after she realized she was most certainly out of her element.
It was a tragic story and situation that really hurt my heart. But that’s what happens; you get all walks of life.
Burning Man, in the Eye of the Beholder
Every year the playa energy changes, physically, emotionally, spiritually. And weather-wise, of course. This year, the pulse was running hot, in my opinion. The virgin burners were prepared, the veterans seemed patient, lines were shorter than ever, and the flow was smooth. At least mostly, until Wednesday night. I could feel a very direct shift in attitude once the city went from the week-long committed artists and city builders to the weekend warriors, who just show up to party. It’s an interesting observation to attend to.
Still, it’s important to recognize that what you choose to pay attention to is what you will find at the burn. If you want to stay cranky at entitled assholes all week long, then that’s what you’ll see. I choose to focus on the art, music, and friendships that we build. The best part about Black Rock City is the intensity to which things happen. Time speeds up. Emotions are heightened. Strength gets stronger. Weaknesses become glaringly obvious.
Anything you haven’t dealt with in your immediate forcefield will rear it’s little head and say, “You better check this right now or we’re gonna ruin your burn.” Happens every year, even to the best of us. The burn you want and the burn you need are never the same thing. Usually they balance each other out.
You Provide the Burn
They say “the playa provides” blah blah blah… I say, YOU provide. For yourself and for your community. Almost every time I indeed needed something, it was right there. All I had to do was voice my desire out loud. I came as self prepared as possible, and then went out of my way to help others, because that’s what you do with communal effort and civic responsibility. It’s a team effort, when it comes to building a city, running it, and then also tearing it down. It requires everyone’s help. If you don’t give, you won’t get. Everything is temporary here, and that’s part of the magic.
The Burning Man Temple
Speaking of magic, or the unexplainable, the Temple comes to mind. Never before in my four years of Burning Man have I felt a connection to the Temple. I would go, stop in, look around, and leave feeling sad for others and underwhelmed for myself. I didn’t get it. But everything changed this year.
This year I took my broken ass heart to the Temple and gave it away… By that I mean I took a paper flower for every man who has ever broken my heart and released it into the spiral abyss of the flame. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this train of thought, as the Temple was filled with wedding dresses, old letters from ex lovers, and notes to abusive partners saying, “We will no longer stand for this treatment”, “F**k your narcissism”, and “F**k cancer”.
It was so powerful, you could feel the thickness of tension. And when it burned on Sunday night, I could also feel the release. The vortex was undeniable, and some of us swore that Larry was even there, in the dust. Check out this video of the dirt devil tornado that surprised us all towards the end of the temple burn. I learned that at Burning Man people call these tornados “ancestors”.
The Burning Man iRobot
Now I’d like to tell those who don’t know that the “theme” of Burning Man this year was iRobot, which didn’t please my tastebuds at all, initially. In response, I chose to moonlight as Dorothy, the Burning Man iRobot, who was created thanks to the Radicals Brining Back Ritual campaign, and she was sent to Burning Man to protest robots. Sponsored by the Anti Bot Coalition, the ABC didn’t end up having to protest in the end, when it seemed to be that the humans were a bigger part of the problem than the bots; however, I felt like my mission was a valid one. “Who are these robots, and why are they taking over my burn? I miss Radical Ritual…”
In the end, iRobot did turn out to have a very certain charm, and certainly put the tech folk to work. Thank you Silicon Valley. These are our hard-earned tax dollars at work here folks.
The Burn of Burning Man
Back to the tornados: As a lady who comes from the Land of Oz, I used to think tornados were terrifying; these ones are adorable. People chase them around, they carry dust and sparks and ashes with them sometimes. There truly is something for everyone at Burning Man, and these ancestors are for me. It was love at first sight.
As in love with this aspect of the burn as I was, there were others who chose never to attend the massive fires. For some, it’s too crowded. Others, too painful. And it’s my responsibly to accept that and support their decisions, as much as they don’t make sense to me. Everyone is there for a particular reason and season… No judgment. No blame. And no shame. As long as you’re participating as best as you can, then you are welcome
Pre-Burn and After-Burn
I chose to spend my pre-burn doing placement for my camp (Pandora’s Lounge and Fix-It Shoppe), working for the Artery (the art placement department, where we also do artist hospitality and give art tours for the mobility challenged), as well as performing several shows too, at center camp, theme camps, and beyond. Learning about the art and being able to share with others was invaluable. I sacrificed sleep for sunrises and moments with family that I will cherish forever.
I learned so much. Most of all, what I took away from this year’s burn was that all you can do is “Let it go”. Memories can live on, but the emotion and attachment to all things material and even surreal, we must let it go. And it felt real damn good to let s**t go. I had a lot of s**t and I feel 800 times lighter. I feel like myself again, and I am so grateful for all the souls I encountered who made sure to tell me that I was on track and in alignment. Thank you! You know who you are.
To Burn or Not to Burn?
I learned the first year I went, in 2013, not to come to something of this magnitude without your best friends around you. You’re going to want them there. And every year, I leave the burn thinking, “God, I totally have to bring my mom to this.” Maybe next year, ma?
Now, if you think you can’t make it to Burning Man, you know your options, right? First of all, set an intention to go, take off work, and try to get a ticket. Pay attention. See what happens. If it comes easy, then it’s a go. And if there’s resistance, listen! Next year will be better anyway!
Second mission: Find a regional, or start your own if you must, even if it’s in your backyard. Build something. Burn. It. Do something weird. Dress up. Go out. Start conversations. Be YOU.
Burners Without Borders
Third, check out Burners Without Borders, or just start researching the burn culture in general and see where it takes you. Pick a principle and dive in unpacking it. People make all sorts of sacrifices to attend a burn. I always say, “Some people choose football, some people play golf, some join a gym… I choose to burn.” It’s become a way of life, like having breakfast, or playing tennis. The sacrifices I’ve made are always outweighed by the benefits.
And every single day I think, “How can I turn the default world into a real life burn?” Maybe it already is… but one person can’t play this game alone. It takes a communal effort. If the world is your burn, what’s your next move? Be bold. No apologies. Go after what you believe in. And don’t ever let anybody tell you how to live your life. Especially burners, if it doesn’t jive with your soul.
The Evolution of Burning Man
Burning Man started as a social experiment, and continues to unfold and evolve at it’s own pace and stride. Sure, there are organizations and the organization itself, but nobody is in the captain’s chair saying, “This is who we are booking and this is the kind of art we are going to make.” Nope. That’s up to us. And that’s where we need to take the power and make it something we can be proud of. I’m talking about functional art. Art that serves a purpose and makes the city or world a better place.
For instance, I’d like to see an art installation grant for a composting and decorative bathroom for deep playa that is burned at the end of the week (waste removed). Or maybe a water fill-up oasis in the middle of the dessert, with water goddesses reciting poetry, filling up your hearts and your drink vessels at once. I’m not sure if or when I’ll have the resources to do such activities, but it’s fun to fantasize.
(I haven’t even gotten started on the art car scene… To be continued!)
Burning Man: Where To?
City-wise, San Francisco and Reno are both already doing a stellar job of incorporating burner art and functions into their city, and so I challenge you to look around at your community and your city of choice. Where is the need? What are the needs? What are your resources? And how can we turn this s**t up a notch. Because the dial is going to keep moving, it’s just a matter of which direction.
Buckle up buttercup. And burn bright friends.
The Burn You Need
Yeah Burning Man 2018 dang came and went.
It’s been a good run, time and play well spent
The gate was on point and the greeters greeting blow for blow
With so many more virgins there was lots of room to grow
Watching the sunrise never gets cold
With your new best friends, but especially the old.
The dance floors were banging, the fires, oh so lit
“Hey can I borrow some self reliance a bit?”
I brought a band of newbies and they did just fine…
(except one of them) leaving no trace, most of the time.
We all get a bit sloppy sometimes, it’s true
but it’s our civic responsibility to take care of all our moop.
So I’ll look after you, you look after me, too
as this cultural utopia blooms into an interfuse
That connects us to our art, our heart, also our dark
and is there no safer way to explore this part?
Surrounded by radical self whatever you call it
making it a point to give freely, no wallet.
It’s an exchange of wonder, magical by design empowerment…
Show me your tricks and I’ll show you mine, with consent.
Whatever intention you put into the effigy or temple
let it unfold, truth be told, baby steps, keep it simple
Usually the burn you want isn’t the thing you need,
but if you pay attention to the lessons and processing
With our reflections can grow what’s been unfurled
as we take these teachings from the burn into the real world.
So thanks for playing. Better luck next year’s turn.
And if you don’t mind, would y’all quit f**king my burn?
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