Reflections from an old, grizzly veteran burner.
“This is going to be an awesome Burn! Epic.” That is thought that crosses my mind when I lock the door to my house and head down the road for the journey that is Burning Man. Aw hell, even the years in between, when I had to find other ways to “participate” from a distance, I would say the same thing to myself on behalf of my brothers and sisters in flame.
As benign or silly as it seems, those simple words are a good start to making my burn, and the burn for those around me, a truly “epic” burn. Every one of them has been epic in their own, unique way. Every year the 10 Principles, or certain ones, become more apparent. Sometimes this is because they “find me” out there in the dust, waiting for the right moment to present itself. Other times, I am reminded through the ignorance of another “burner.”
I like to use quotation marks for emphasis and I realized that in the first two paragraphs I may have used my writer’s quota of them. However, I hope you, the reader, will cut me some slack, read on, and begin to understand “why’ I use them instead of hard to read italics or bold face type. You see, I use them, in most cases, to emphasize sarcasm. When I want to get geeky, you might find my code version of: <sarcasm></sarcasm>. The words, participate, epic, find me, and burner used in the context of Burning Man have all earned their sarcastic quotation marks around them. Allow me to explain.
Participate. See what I did there? No sarcasm this time. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word first as “to possess some attributes of a person, thing or quality.” I will leave that there for you, the reader, to ponder. The second, more widely used definition states, “to take part, to have part or share in something.” As Burning Man developed, co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the 10 Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. “They are crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.” (Burning Man website). 2004 was also the year of this writer’s first burn. I remember receiving these virgin principles upon entering the gate – a virgin to the burn and the organic nature of the environment that fostered said principles.
The first thing I remember thinking is that in order for these 10 Principles to work, the community will need to have a share in it - some sort of ownership. By the time I left the burn in 2004, the ownership was the incredible energy the community of 35,664 (Burning Man Archives) gave back to the Universe. Participation is one of the principles and states, “We make the world real through actions that open the heart.” Although being a specific principle, participation is a key element to the other nine principles. For example, Leave No Trace is more successful the more people practice and participate in it. However, being that the 10 Principles are not crafted as a dictate towards the citizens of Black Rock City it is expected that there will be a few people who choose not to participate in the Leave No Trace principle.
That being said, Burners who have all the good intentions of following the 10 Principles, and most of these Burners are successful in doing so, tend to have a favorite or one that appeals the most to them. Gifting is a great example. Some burners really get into Gifting and others get into Radical Self-Expression. I am marginal, at best, with either, but my intention is always there. Though, Radical Inclusion is near and dear to my heart, I kind of find that as a given. I would just add, “as long as one has the means to get here…” to it. The principle that appeals to me the most is Radical Self-Reliance.
The principle is simple: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.” That speaks to me. As a US Army Veteran (Panama), that mentality was ingrained both individually and in a fraternity, of sorts. Fast forward to my 2013 Burn and some readers may remember a project I was working on with a focus on Radical Self-Reliance. One Gift I gave out that year was a marble. I had a bag of marbles and I would ask people to pick one – the one that gravitates to them. Some picked a random marble without peeking, while others want to see them first and pick one out visually. Once the person selected their Gift, I would engage in a discussion about the 10 Principles, Radical Self-Reliance more specifically and their marble selection.
Find Me. The discussions were fascinating, awesome and sometimes heartbreaking or challenging. The fascinating aspect was how I learned that people truly did tend to gravitate towards specific principles. It was awesome how much these principles meant to them and how a principle found them too. Heartbreak were the stories of lost loves and the deaths of past participants who gave so much to this culture and community. That’s right. I defined Burning Man as a culture. I used this word ambiguously as culture can means different things to different people. I did not put quotes around the word as there is no sarcasm here. What was challenging to me were the number of people with a blank expression when the words “10 Principles” left my lips, entered their ears, went through the neurological and cognitive processes to produce a mere blink of the eyes. Just like that, I was disappointed. After a few marbles of this, I could almost see it coming. “This person has NO IDEA what I am talking about with the 10 Principles” I would think to myself.
Lost in Translation and somewhere between Center Camp and the Plug n Play camps is our “culture” in flames. It’s back. Sarcasm. Just like a coinsure of Italian food finding cottage cheese in lasagna, a burner oblivious to the 10 Principles makes me puke. The organically created principles were that “reflection of the community’s ethos and culture.” Though not mandated or dictated to the community, it is a fair expectation that burners joining in would take a vested interest to know what they’re getting themselves into. There is a guide with the 10 Principles printed out and handed to every burner TWICE, for the love of humanity!
Contributing to the challenging discussion were the creation of Plug n Play camps that shut their doors and guarded their camps from Participation. These camps represented everything that was going wrong with the burn, in my humble opinion. That was until I heard “fuck your burn” for the billionth time. Whoever came up with that saying must have had a miserable time or is just plain miserable. My standard reaction to this strange expression of angst is, “Everybody hurts.”
One might think that I am getting too negative and on the verge of being the “damn kids, get off my lawn” old and grizzly veteran Burner at this point. Then again, you might have been thinking that for more than a few paragraphs by now.
Wait, there are no lawns (okay we have Astro turf in front of the house structures in camp) at Burning Man. What does exist at Burning Man is the thought almost all of us veteran Burners have had cross our mind, “what has the Burn come to?” Funny thing is that this has been the case at Burning Man for years. I had the chance to read through some old issues of the Black Rock City rag Piss Clear at Center Camp during a recent Burn. I read article after article from burners who expressed their opinion of what was wrong with the Burn. Many repeats year after year. Then it dawned on me. “What are you going to do about it?” I thought to myself. “Sit and complain?”
As Burning Man grows, there is more of everything – the awesome and the not-so awesome. Whisky and Dust is an exceptional camp and my success with the 10 Principles is multiplied by my campmates who apply them at various levels. More importantly, Radical Self-Reliance is not something one can easily achieve alone. Especially in the environment that is the Playa. We stick together and invite other burners to join in. Yet we have unwritten expectations and part of that is an understanding of how the 10 Principles apply to the camp. We help each other, when learn from each other and we sure do know how to have a good time. That is what keeps me coming back and being able to focus on the fascinating and awesome, while nurturing the heartbroken. With a community like Whiskey and Dust and Burning Man proper, the challenges are just dealt with and we move on.
Burner. This year, in 2017, I am bringing my step-son with me to Burning Man. He just graduated from High School and the first thing we have been going over in preparation for our journey into the dust are the 10 Principles. What can I do? I can constructively and appropriately cultivate the 10 Principles and prepare another fantastic soul with the ethos that is Burning Man. To all Whiskey and Dusters and to all Burners – I am really looking forward to future burns with you all and this one will be special. I can’t wat to see which principles appeal to my step-son the most. Thank you, ahead of time, for being part of our journeys…
It is going to be an awesome Burn! Epic.
Wait a minute, I haven’t left, yet.
<sarcasm>Fuck Your Burn!</sarcasm>