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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Memories of Burning Man 2014 - Black Rock City, Nevada

Time has made writing this somewhat less painful, though no less poignant. The sand and wind may have erased the evidence, but the Playa remembers our footsteps and our stories.  This was my first burn and it's taken over a month for my feelings and perspectives to properly soak in so that I could share them with you.  Enjoy it.  Judge it.  But please at least read it.

I had no idea what to expect. Well, I had some idea that I’d conjured up in my head - a desert of campers half naked, half stoned, sharing the earth for a week.  I'd purposely refused to watch the trailers or read more than I had to to come prepared.  What I wasn't expecting was the openness, the acceptance and the placing aside of the real world's bullshit for a week.

Burning Man came at a time in my life when I needed to cleanse my soul. Ironic in a place where the closest thing to a shower is a foam party.  Sure, what you’ve heard is true…some of the best parts were the drinking and partying and dancing until dawn.  It was a shitload of fun.  But it was the people, the music and the creative abandon of this transient place that truly captured me.

Within hours of arrival, I found myself sitting on a couch next to a guy who must have been growing his wildly colored dreads for a decade.  Every surface covered in tattoos and piercings. He was the guy my mom would've told me never to sit by on the subway.  But Burning Man encouraged me to hug that man and hear his story and walk away thinking he was the most interesting man on Earth.

Whether it was this tattooed man, the bartender who raised llamas or the British lawyer dressed in harem pants...everyone had an amazing story and a different reason for being there.  And the care these people put into celebrating what they have and each other was astonishing.  I don’t care what you've heard, 68,000 people living together without significant crime, no form of currency and very little trace of waste is impressive.  Hats off to us, damnit.  Imagine if every person in the world put that much effort into the world we live in the other 51 weeks of the year.  Fuck the world would be great!

Most of my time was spent mesmerized by the imagination of people.  In the real world you run into brilliance and knowledge and intellect a lot, but you run into less and less creativity.  The real world is tired, sold out, and bored.  Burning Man?  Picture Peter Pan's Neverland... But better. Because the grownups haven't forgotten how to believe in fairies and magic; they've turned a scrap of dirt into a real life Neverland where you could board a plane to Pandora, ride inside a giant glowing fish blaring disco music or dance in homage to the rising sun among monkeys, unicorns and purple dragons.

People who talk about Burning Man reference the movie-themed Thunderdome, the orgy camps and the wasteful, rich camper vans that are "ruining the neighborhood."  

People overlook the smaller theme camps where imagination is living and breeding and spreading.  I walked down the street one day wistfully wishing I’d brought more costumes only to be accosted by a leprechaun who asked me to be in a fashion show. Without question I said “yes” (the favored word of Burning Man) and was led into a room filled with crazy clothes to select an outfit and parade it down a handmade runway.  And after that final twirl, I stepped off the runway and continued down the street ecstatic in my new do that was magically mine to keep! 

And then there’s the Playa, where the million dollar art cars and sound camps and Temple get a lot of the love.  And please believe... I loved them too.


Open your eyes and ears to the random smattering of art structures that appear out of nowhere or the DJ that took his four-wheel van and turned it into a narwhal that played the best beats I heard all week.  Move over Skrillex; meet DJ Little John.

Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

Which brings me to my favorite part: the music. As a rabid music connoisseur, I read through the Burning Man booklet of "DJs and bands" that would be playing throughout the week and of hundreds of artists, I recognized one.  Problem?  Hell no! I was so stoked to see what new tracks I’d uncover.

I've often wish for a "soundtrack to my life” and this was the first time I encountered one. From dawn ‘til dusk ‘til dawn again there was music. Drum lines, acoustic guitar, dance, and deep deep house. 

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

Walk a block; hear something different. And it wasn't just the sound.  It was the feel and visuals of the music…Lasers, lights, smoke and hypnotic soul-soaked bass.  At night, Burning Man became a world of music made physical for us all to share and revel in.  Headphones not included, only music that could be experienced together.


The magic hour was near sunrise when the music lured the faithful out to the deep Playa. I’d look around and see nameless faces on bikes cycling silently towards an unseen destination with only music to light the way.  As the sky turned to pink, the music would change its tempo, its volume, its mood and the crescendo would come to pops of champagne and cheers as the sun crested the flat horizon.   Each dark night leading to another dazzling day.  I’d snatch at that moment like a child chasing glow bugs, hoping to capture the feeling and internalize it deep down inside me where I could turn to it and remember long after this fleeting world was gone.


Some of us came to Burning Man to temporarily run away (I know I did) but I think we can all agree that we found ourselves running TOWARDS something instead - understanding, friendship, love, peace.  At least those are the things I walked away with. An understanding of a world outside of my NYC bubble. Friendship and love for a group of people I’d known for days and will cherish for decades. And an inner peace that I return to on rainy days when work or love or friendship sucks. A peace that reminds me that each day is what I make of it. Whether it's having the balls to make a friend of a subway stranger or be open to love from an unexpected place, I left with my eyes and heart open.  And I count the days until I can cleanse this soul in fire on the sands of the Playa.


The media, the rich, and even the original hippies are all responsible for diluting the meaning of Burning Man.  The media portrays it as a pagan sex camp, the rich introduce campers and showers and waste, and the original hippies bitch about “how it used to be.”  I challenge anyone to say that Burning Man is going to shit.  Maybe for you.  But that doesn’t mean that others can’t experience it and feel something about it for themselves.  For those of you who might only experience it through word of mouth or blogs or YouTube, I implore you to ponder these final thoughts before forming an opinion and maybe, just maybe, try it.  I was scared shitless and I'm SO glad I did it.
  1. We can be whatever community we want to be; we just have to try.
  2. The person you least expect is probably the most interesting one. We all judge. Yes, even you.
  3. You never know when and where love and friendship will find you. Leave yourself open to be surprised.
  4. Spend less time worried about other people’s motives and bullshit. Focus on your own and leave it all on the table.
I'll end with a special shout-out to the artists, musicians and people that I met throughout my week at Burning Man.  Be sure that you each left your unique mark on me and you won't be forgotten.  From family dinners to clumsy bike rides to early mornings dancing to the music of the Narwhal... "Happy New Year."  I look forward to seeing you all again next burn.

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

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