If you haven’t heard about Burning Man by now, you really need to get out more. If you haven’t been and you are trying to explain to someone else what burning man is, or what you think it might be like, you are probably very wrong. I’ve been involved in the “Burning Man Culture” for over 5 years now (hardly anything to write home about compared to many people who have been Black Rock City – bound for four times as long.) and even I cannot fully express what Burning means to me, but I’ll try my best.
This may be a long, rambling blog post, but honestly, this one is more for me – to begin unpacking my emotions and considering my intentions for Burning Man 2019 – Metamorphesis.
You Are a Part of This.
I first heard about Burning Man in 2014 while the event was happening and really didn’t know how big of a deal it was. I assumed, like most other people that it was just another music festival. (I laugh at how silly that seems now). Later that year, I was introduced to my first art car, Kalliope. An art car, or mutant vehicle is exactly what it sounds like: a vehicle that has been modified in some artistic way to be or look completely different. Kalliope, of Camp Walter is “70,000 watts of high fidelity audio, dynamic lasers, flame effects and a sea of multi-colored LEDs, Kalliope is a fully immersive experience of light and sound inviting you to climb aboard her stage and groove to her bass-pounding music. ” In short, she is a music box of epic proportions. If Kalliope herself didn’t draw me in, the people that ran this stunning piece of machinery were so uplifting and inclusive did.
I was introduced, first to Robert who later became my spiritual mentor, and an uncle figure to me – guiding me through many years of growth. He hugged me immediately upon meeting me and handed me a metal medallion that looked like a figure with angel wings and little devil horns. He then brought me around to the back of Kalliope and pointed at the metal design cut from the steal panel. He pointed to one of the holes that matched perfectly with the piece I was holding and said “Now you are a part of this.”
I was so stunned at how welcoming this human was. It had to be a fluke, right? Wrong. As I became more involved in this group of people I realized that their generosity and community was something that I not only could use in my life, but I knew I could contribute to their positive energy force . (Special shout out to Kirk and Mary for creating a space full of inspiring people doing inspiring things!!)
2015 rolled around and by then I was fully immersed into this group. I had moved in with my now best friend, Elyse, who was extremely involved in Camp Walter, I was volunteering to work events with Kalliope and other art cars, and I even went to the Regional Burning man event for Arizona called Saguaro Man.
Going to this regional burn was very enlightening. It gave me a small taste of what it would be like to go to the “Big Burn”. If you are interested in burning man culture but are unable to go to the event (due to work, or money or whatever other reasons) I highly recommend going to a smaller burning man sanctioned event. Going to this event not only prepared me for the amount of preparation that goes into ensuring that I was Radically Self Reliant – it also gave me a chance to understand just how overwhelming burning man can be with so much going on everywhere you go. And the gifting!! It was so foreign to me that there was no “transaction” so to speak. This was no barter system. If someone could or wanted to contribute, they would without expectation of something in return. My sweet friends Oceana and Ashley were the ones that convinced me to go to this small burn event. I actually had purchased the last ticket available online, which made it feel even more serendipitous. The first gift that I received was from them as they rolled up to camp in Snowflake, AZ. When they arrived, they pulled a fur jacket out of their car and handed it to me. It is common at burning man that at night people wear warm fur coats as it gets so cold. They knew that I didn’t have one. I cherish this coat today as it holds so much love for these two. (and it was even more perfect because that year was super cold and rainy and I definitely did not pack enough warm, dry clothes so this saved me!)
This lesson in gifting was so important to me – This gift was so thoughtful and exactly what I needed for that moment. I later learned that a gift doesn’t have to be planned out. It can be as small as participating or giving someone some sunscreen or as big as helping someone with a broken bike.
My First Burn
My first burn was definitely the hardest so far on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. I was not planning on attending, but when a ticket was reserved for me to buy by a friend who really encouraged me to go. This was only two weeks prior to burning man in 2015. Of course I single-handedly kept Amazon’s doors open by buying “All the things” and brought way too much.
Nothing I had done before could have prepared me for burning man. Everything there is larger than life. The art is so wild and interactive, begging people to be a part of it all. The fires were huge and absolutely stunning.
Anything that you are interested in, you can find at burning man. Sure, you hear about all the drugs and craziness but unless that’s why you go to burning man, it’s not as prevalent as it’s made out to be. This temporary city has so many unique cultural experiences to partake in. If you like music, you can definitely find that, including little jazz cafes, belly dancing or twerking classes, big DJ stages (brought not by burning man but by the participants) or even make your own drum. If you enjoy crafting, there are camps all over that you can learn different crafts – metal working, leather working, or even painting (on canvases or people!). There is no denying that sometimes it gets weird, but no one is forcing you to partake in an activity that doesn’t interest you!
I think my favorite part of burning man is that you work really hard and get to help contribute to this incredible city and then you get to explore all the different ways other people wanted to share an experience with total strangers. The group effort and community it takes to build what burning man is really awe-inspiring. After leaving my first full burning man event, I knew I had to get more involved!
2nd is the Best (so far!)
Full steam ahead!! I met a few people after my first burn – Sam Ogden and Mark Hegenbart who were starting a project of building a new art car, which later became known as HeadSpace. This car was designed to challenge your perception and it definitely did just that.
Now, I have absolutely no skills in building anything, especially a double-decker party bus style art car. But with this project I grew to realize that the skills that I did have were just as crucial to this machine getting built as the welder or the mechanic. While the guys worked through a brutal Arizona summer, in the sun (no shade) in 115 degree weather, I was good at making sure they had (and actually drank) cold water, ordering food when they forgot to eat, running and getting tools or parts that were needed for the next challenge, but most importantly, spreading the word online to share this experience with anyone that wanted to help! My title per ‘Captain Mark’ was “Dazzling Do’er of Everything”. If I couldn’t do it myself, I found someone that could. I found a part of me that I never knew I had. My resourcefulness muscles were flexed for the first time in my life and I found a passion for helping people accomplish the impossible.
One of my favorite moments on HeadSpace that year was when a couple girls ran up to me and asked if they could get on board with their friends who were coming just behind them. Of course my answer was yes, and I questioned why they had asked. Then I noticed that their friend was mobility challenged and in a wheelchair. On most other art cars, her chair was not able to be hoisted up and oftentimes wouldn’t fit anywhere. However, on HeadSpace, there was more than enough room. After chatting with the group as we drove around I found that they had felt un-included with the are car community simply from lack of thought in making them accessible to everyone. They were so grateful for the opportunity to feel included and their gratitude sparked something in the HeadSpace team. The following year, HeadSpace was enhanced to be even more accessible to anyone and everyone.
I now knew what it was like to be the person including other people. It came full circle for me to be welcomed in and now I was the veteran welcoming the newcomers in.
After my first two burns I took two years off – one intentionally in order to meet some of my financial goals and one unintentionally as I was diagnosed with Crohns and hospitalized for a week just before the event. I am very grateful for the online burning man community especially Motorbike Matt, who hosts the live feed every year and Professor Pickles who hosts “Camp Envy” which is honestly the perfect name. Especially during my second missed burn due to my health — I was feeling so left out. FOMO is absolutely a real thing but being connected to this community even over the internet made me feel apart of it all.
Looking back on my time off, I now see this as a blessing. I was able to focus on my finances and my health and even though the later was unexpected, it was still my own choice to take time away from burning man.
Happy New Year!
During those two years away from Black Rock City, I’ve moved to LA from Phoenix, I now use my resourceful skills in my job as a corporate flight attendant sourcing unique catering and passenger requests among other odd tasks, and my health is definitely more in control now than 1 year ago.
There has been so much growth, and now I’m ready to return to this inspiring desert to stoke the fire within me, to challenge myself spiritually, mentally and physically yet again and to survive for a week in the desert with 80,000 of my closest friends who follow principles like “Radical Self-Expression”, “Communal Effort” and “Leave No Trace” (see more about those here).
This year, I am bringing a friend that has never been to burning man and I can’t wait to blow her mind!! I’m very excited to experience burning man with her and to return “home”.
So here is my intention for this year: I will share my knowledge and love of burning man to newcomers who seek it. I will make space within me for inspiration to flourish which will in turn promote growth. I will take time for myself to acknowledge and let go of any emotions that I’ve held onto that no longer serve me. And most importantly, I will have a really amazing week celebrating life, love and Metamorphasis.
See you in the dust, my friend!!