Burning Man with My Mom
It was on my mom's bucket list to go to Burning Man because she wanted to know what it was about, experience it, and say that she had rode her bike on the playa. The queen of touching her foot in a state to say she's done so and also the mother who took me to Amsterdam's Red Light District when I was in grade school so that I could see "that other people have different lifestyles", Burning Man was clearly on her list. So she bought 4 tickets with great plans to go with 3 of her friends.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Well the friend who had the RV, her RV broke down in Idaho. Her two other friends just plain backed out and my mom was left with 4 tickets and 2 parking passes.
So we sold off half, to a man who wasn't planning to go to Burning Man but then decided to when 'a gypsy woman entered his life'. We sold the tickets for less than half off what we paid for them but my mom took pleasure in the idea that he could now rock her gypsy soul, just like way back in the days of old ;)
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Thankfully Kyle let me trade off the two A's games I had planned for the weekend so that I could drive straight from the A's v Red Sox Thursday night game, and to Vacaville. Sleep for a few hours and then hit the road before 5am for our 24 hour Burning Man whirlwind.
We arrived at Burning Man in the morning asking the gate attendant for any tips since we were first timers and she responded "get her earlier" and told us to go to the greeter station where we could get more info. Of course, no one was at the greeter station, just an empty portable with the packets that would have been handed out had we arrived earlier in the week. Burning Man does not take kindly to people who have jobs and can only participate on the weekend... though flying in to their private airport for a night is perfectly acceptable :P
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. We used the map (and I use map generously, especially given that the "streets" are NOT well or consistently marked) to figure out where we could park that wasn't reserved and then got on our bikes to hit the playa of Black Rock City.
The artwork was so impressive, so fun, so beautiful, some of the artists were there and so proud to share their work with you. People passed you with a smile and a bracelet or a fan. Mutant vehicles roamed around offering rides.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Photo credit: Colleen Cox Then the Temple, which was overwhelming and emotional. Many people were crying as they left remembrances of loved ones, or some, needed to let go of bad relationships as a block read "I'm tired you and your lie". We left a shamrock sticker for my grandma :) My mom was moved by the people in all their funky outfits, who were there crying and she said she realized "no matter who you are, everyone has lost someone they love and we all have emotions" I don't think she needed Burning Man to realize that, but it's always a nice reminder.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. We rode our bikes to the outermost edge and my mom was so pleased to feel like she had done what she came there to do, ride her bike on the playa.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. We retired to the truck for a bit for some a/c and a quick nap before hitting the playa again to hang out in center camp, where we lounged and chatted. We took some fun sunset photos and planned to head back to camp before the man was supposed to burn at 10pm. But then everyone told us the festivities would begin at sundown, and all the mutant vehicles started getting into position, so we hung around, without our jackets, lights, or bikes (whoops!) but thankfully, and I mean, critically, with our goggles and face masks for when the dust storm REALLY hit...
We sat for 2 hours waiting for the burning man of Burning Man to light. And whoa did all the love and hugs and community vibes disappeared! People were yelling "sit down mother f*cker" to an old grandma well over an hour before the fire dancers even came out (and let me tell you the ground was no a fun place to sit) and others arrived 20 minutes before the man was to burn, and would sit right in front of other people, in their giant costume hats, perfectly blocking the view, not to join a group of friends, just finding the best place to sit as everyone became very restless waiting for the man to be lit.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. We finally gave up, feeling like this was bad news waiting to happen and tried to make our way out. People did not lean ever so slightly as me and my mom tried to walk out of the crowd. As she tried to pass between a bike and man, he wouldn't budge, I tapped him assuming he just didn't realize we were behind him trying to pass to get out and politely said "excuse me can we sneak behind you" and he replied "I'm not going anywhere".... not even a slight lean forward so that, in darkness, we wouldn't trip over the strewn about bikes. So moral is, very glad we got out when we did because I can't imagine exiting while a larger group of these mean people were trying to leave. We finally got to the space between the standing burners and mutant vehicles and overhead the head of the mutant vehicle that was a grandstand for viewing "we don't want to commodify Burning Man, but this cost us fifteen grand to make so if you would like to sit here we require a donation, it's not to exclude, only to honor the donation of those who contribute".
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Then the burning man went off and we still had a great, more overall, view of the scene. We rode our bikes back to camp, made a quick pot of mac n cheese (thanks Colin for letting us borrow your backpacking stove) and hit the road. Luckily it only took an hour from BRC to the highway and as we took turns napping and driving made it back to Vacaville just before 5am!
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Overall, I'm glad I went. Mostly for my mom to say she's been. Also for myself to experience it. I wouldn't say we experienced it on the same level as many of the other burners, nor the burners of years before. Presently so many of the burners are just in their RVs, showering, getting pump outs, putting on make up and going to be seen more than to see or experience. Though there are definitely some burners who still live it!
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. My biggest takeaway is not that it was a transformative experience, but that is made me so grateful because I realized, I don't need Burning Man to find a sense of community, I was raised by parents who (without knowing and somewhat unintentionally) live by many of the Burning Man principles and currently live in a Berkeley Bay Area bubble with someone who helps me to live these values.
Radical Inclusion: Since a child, I have always had to invite everyone to my birthday parties, even still when I have house parties it's always been an open invite... perhaps not advertised publicly only for space, but certainly no one is ever excluded from joining. At Burning Man you need a $400 ticket, and while there is a low income offering, it is certainly not for everyone, and I felt excluded at the gate by the attendant who was upset I hadn't arrived sooner (she doesn't know my life or why I am arriving late!) And certainly inclusion is lacking in the tents that host exclusive parties.
Gifting: I try to give gifts to friends when someone reminds me of them, whether or not it's their birthday or other reason to gift them and also perform favors without expecting anything in return. At Burning Man, people are giving gifts just on whims or as a gesture, this is where Burning Man did seem to live up to it's principles as our most appreciated gift was oranges and followed by someone with a bag to tag the peels which was the biggest gift of all!
Decommodification: I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Cuba before travel regulations were lifted, when there are no ads, and there is nearly no money and people have dirt floors not for a week, but as permanent residences that they sweep and sustain as home. But like Cuba, decommodification relies on outside source sustaining your commodities, food and shelter, and allows for a black market of privileged few. At Burning Man, no money is exchanged on-site beyond ice, coffee, tea, lemonade, but people are talking about money, showing off money, on their iPads (seriously?!) and posting to instagram the sponsored post that their outfit was made by xyz brand while trailer tents have links to their websites.
Radical Self-Reliance: I've experience more self-reliance in backpacking than I saw anyone experience at Burning Man. (To be fair it was mostly Colin-reliance) No services, no running water, no toilets, just me, him, the Kalalau Trail... and helicopters of the privileged circling overhead :P At Burning Man, an RV with a pump out service constantly circling is NOT radical self-reliance.
Radical Self-Expression: I live in Berkeley. I can walk around in the strangest outfit and chant or sing whatever I please as so long as I'm not disrupting anyone or breaking any laws... no one will even look twice! At Burning Man sure you can be naked, but look out for the creepers who pass camps with a camera and stop at the ones with topless woman to take Peeping Tom type photos without introducing or engaging in conversation with the woman.
Communal Effort: My neighbor reminds me when it's street sweeping, my friends all got together to help another friend make a wedding cake, wedding beer, wedding arch. At Burning Man, the community exists... until the community doesn't serve their individual desires. The hostility prior to the man burning was actually shocking. I've seen people line up for a Disneyland parade with more courtesy to their fellow man.
Civic Responsibility: I try to be a good human, informed voter, hard worker, though I'm sure I could contribute more. At Burning Man, the number of pamphlets that emphasize the need for affirmative consent, make me very concerned. Maybe it's a comment on society, affirmative consent is really only a concern when you've created an atmosphere where consent has often been disregarded. Also seeing the number of people in headwear to emulate the cultures of indigenous peoples... you had to drive through a reservation to get here, do you not realize the cultural misappropriation?!? It's important to think about the community outside of Burning Man while attending the bubble of Burning Man.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Leaving No Trace: When camping, we pack in, pack out. We have a fire to cook our food and maybe keep it going for a campfire and add our teabags to the pit. At Burning Man, leave no trace is wonderful in the idea that there are no trash cans allowed and no one is littering (for the most part, though I did see it) but how can you leave no trace on the overall environment when you are running generators for a week between the 5 hours you spent idling in your car to get from the gate to the freeway and not just burning what you've created, but creating things for the sole purpose of burning, lighting off fireworks and driving around what I'm sure are not clean energy efficient vehicles.
Burning ManSeptember 3, 2016; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Burning Man. Participation: I try to participate within my community be it family, neighbors, photographers. Obviously within limits. At Burning Man, encouraged participation is great, but often I found it was more performance than participation. While the roller skating rink invited participation, and many of the structures offered you to climb and interact, the acroyoga that filled the communal space of center camp was not meant to interact with outsiders, only to perform and when another set of acroyoga participants who were skilled but not as skilled, joined the center area, the other acroyoga performers did not even say hello!
Immediacy: I'm not sure if this is living in the "now" and connecting to our immediate world. At Burning Man, it apparently means "Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.". Sure.
So my challenge to any of you who bothered to read this entire post. Live the intended principles of Burning Man. Year round. As much as you can. We shouldn't need to drive to desert to find ourselves and find our community. Live your experiences and allow yourself to express and create. Participate and encourage others to participate in a way that doesn't hurt others or our overall earth. Forgive yourself when you aren't the perfect version of your ideal self and continue striving to be better than you've been before. And forgive yourself for posting a silly photo you had your mom take of you on the playa because you, like your mother, still feel pretty cool that you can say you went. ;)
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