08 January, 2008

Burning Man (or Plans vs. Power)

I discovered Burning Man last fall-ish. I had heard about it prior to that, but I hadn't really paid any attention to it, or really understood what it was. But searching for information on alternative lifestyles after accepting paganism and nudism into my life, I took the time to find out what Burning Man was all about. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to describe just what Burning Man is all about, since different people seem to take different things away from it, and so much of its alleged appeal goes beyond words. But what I came to understand from my preliminary investigation is that it's a radical weeklong arts festival in the middle of the desert, where the participants actually form their own society for the week, creating their own laws and living off of the desert. To me, that sounds incredible. A place where all the unnecessary constraints of society are lifted. It's a social experiment, and one that I would feel honored to be a part of.

So I told my brother about it, since I thought he'd be into the whole anti-Establishment aspect of it. I think he was initially interested, but then got kind of disappointed when I told him about the details and he realized that it was just a different kind of Establishment. He's extreme like that, and I definitely felt that he was being excessively harsh on it, and not really seeing it for what it was, and only punishing it because it couldn't live up to his personal ideals - which, frankly, I don't think he should have any realistic expectations of finding in the real world, unless created by his own hands. Anyhow, I think he realized this, as he has since changed his tune, and has decided that Burning Man is totally something that he wants to experience. And now he's pushing me to join in on the adventure. Since tickets go on sale in a week.

I get the feeling that for most people in my exact situation, this would be a no-brainer. Fuck yeah, go for it! And I totally want to. But I'm a methodical planner, and there are so many unknowns about this kind of an adventure, as well as some potentially unsettling knowns, that I have a hard time making the commitment. I don't want to try for it, then get out there, and find out that I don't have what it takes, or something, you know? Like my brother, he's not afraid of dying, and he doesn't seem to be particularly afraid of pain, either. He doesn't care what happens to him, and he's not particularly picky about certain kinds of creature comforts, either. For him, it's just a matter of, go out, and do it. What will be, will be. Not prepared enough? Fuck it, we'll get by. Not strong enough to survive the desert? Oh well, we'll just die, then.

Well, I have a lot of respect for the kind of strength of will a person needs to just go out and do something he wants to do regardless of the risks and unknowns, but it's not the kind of person I am. I would feel a lot better about the whole affair if there was another methodical planner in the group, so we could bounce ideas off of each other, and so I wouldn't have to feel the uncertainty of being the only one controlling the factors that could determine my very survival. What if I forget something? What if I don't know about something? I mean, is it really such a bad thing to be a planning type? I don't want to criticize my bro for being so "man of action" about the whole affair, but I have to admit, it puts a lot of pressure on me.

Then again, there are lots of things in life that I would have and will never experience without a lot of pressure. So maybe it's not all bad. Like I said, I just wish there was someone else I could help plan with. Somebody who's actually concerned about questions like, how will we have enough food and water to survive? How are we gonna manage a cross-country road trip in addition to the week-long festival? How tough is it really going to be in the desert for a week, with porta-potties and no showers? And what can we do to make it a little more bearable?

On the one hand, I think this could be an amazing experience. Living free without the rules that tear us down in everyday life in normal society. Experiencing abstract art exhibitions in the middle of the desert. Getting down to the basics of survival and seeing just what we are made of, at the core of things.

On the other hand, I foresee the possibility of things going terribly wrong. What if it just turns out to be sitting in an unbearable desert for a week bored with all the 'art'? What if I end up getting sick and the whole thing becomes miserable? What if getting down to the basics and being lost in a crowd of radicals where you have to ask somebody if you want something just ends up breaking me physically and/or psychologically? Not everybody reacts positively to extreme duress. Furthermore, what if there really are a lot of people taking drugs and having sex 24/7? I have very little problem with either of those things (as long as they leave me reasonably and respectfully alone, when I'm not in the mood), but I also don't particularly plan on taking part in either one. Finally, speaking of being left alone, can I cope with having potentially no privacy at all for a week?

And that doesn't even get into the logistics of making this trip happen. People say it's a couple hundred bucks for an all-access pass to this amazing experience. What about driving cross-country? What about stocking up on food and water and other supplies to survive the desert climate? I get the impression that there's a lot of sharing that goes along during the festival - people working together and helping each other out to survive - if you need something, ask and somebody will give it to you - but somebody's gotta have these things to begin with. And you're probably gonna need a lot of charisma or a lot of luck if you expect to walk into the festival empty-handed and just get everything you need from the good will of other people, with little or nothing to give in return.

Are you beginning to see the sort of issues that this affair raises? Now tell me, am I being crazy with all this worrying and planning, and should I just let go and let the spirit of the festival inspire me? Or is there something to my cautious instinct?


  1. One of the interesting things about taking trips with you is that you're pretty much everything I ever thought it would be a good idea to be in terms of an organized planner. I'm sort of half-and-half, I think -- a bit of action here, a bit of planning here, and a willingness to do what has to be done.

    You know, there was a story a while back about a guy who went to Burning Man without a single thing and enjoyed the entire festival bumming off of others. It might have been in one of those two links I sent you, too. It's an interesting idea, though I've never really cared for (oddly enough) living off of other people.

    One of the major concerns in addition to the lack of privacy is the noise... if people are up day and night, it'll be pretty noisy all the time.

    As far as privacy goes, you could just drive to the edge of the whole thing, pitch your tent, and sleep out there.

    Water... invest in some water coolers, I guess. If you could take enough water, you could put a rubbermaid container on the top of the van, line the outside of it with aluminum foil, and use that to bathe Japanese-style. That is to say, splash yourself, soap, splash yourself to get rid of the soap, and splash yourself for fun.

    Take your guitar too, play some tunes, put your own art on display.

    Not that I have anything about the hiki lifestyle, but it would probably be a good idea to get out and take a risk. When was your last major trip -- with me to see The Machine last year?

    You could always leave early if it sucked too much... though that would be a bit of a waste of money.

    Hell, with gas and supply prices, you could probably buy a ticket to Japan...

  2. I don't think lack of realistic potential is any reason to stop being harsh on reality. That's what's called "selling out." If somebody claims to be a humanity-loving free spirit, and they're a neo-nazi, I'm gonna raise some questions.

    Anyway, if I can get Levi to go along for this trip then you'd have your methodical planner. Ali might be like that too, she's very much a person who plans out. But Levi especially is a no-nonesense, 'get to the facts' kind of person. I can imagine if I was talking to him about Burning Man in person the first thing he would say is "How are we going to survive?"

    Anyway, I'd have a lot more to say, but I have to go walk to Destina right now and I'm going to be too late....

  3. Honestly, I don't think leaving in the middle of it is really much of an option. Once you go in and set up camp, there's no more driving, as I understand it. Unless you have a specially designated art vehicle. Safety concerns and such. Once you're in, you're in.