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September 27, 2005

Burning Man 2005

For years, people have been telling me that I need to go to Burning Man... And finally, in 2005, the timing worked out. The decision to go was another one of those "I-would-regret-it-if-I-didn't" decisions. From most of the descriptions I have heard, it would be somewhat out of character for me to go; on the surface, it is not at all the kind of thing I like. But.. it's only a week, how bad can it be? Besides, even those friends who thought they would hate it came back recommending it. Since I still have that nice 34ft RV in storage (that's another story), it was an easy decision to go: If it sucked, or there were white-outs, or both, I could always hide in my bedroom and write code, without any distractions. That did not happen...


It would not exactly be burning man spirit to go by myself, and this year, for various reasons, none of my friends were able to go. So I turned to craigslist, and after many emails and a few interviews, a wonderful group came together.

My main motivation was to see and be part of a community that supposedly was so different from the rest of the US culture. A temporary community of 40,000, in the US, with values that seemed closer to mine than those in the mainstream US society (the real world, or "other world", as some prefer).

Second came the art; I have always had a thing for creative, interactive and unique pieces of art, particularly if they had a certain geek factor.

And yes, I admit it, after 4 years of not really letting go, partying a little was ok too... I did manage to not consume any illegal drugs (there really was no pressure to do so, and I certainly wasn't interested), but still ended up enjoying the partying more than I thought I would.


Not much point in describing the event itself - plenty of people do that. I enjoyed early morning and sunset playa tours more than anything else... and even though I am not all that much into people watching, this certainly was a place for it. Not necessarily for the more liberal interpretation of self-expression, but for the types of interactions people have.

My greatest concern was probably my complete inability to "radically express myself". I have no taste, or what little I may have I feel extremely insecure about. I can't even buy clothes unless I judge them by how practical they would be outdoors. I am *so* not about presenting myself, particularly not about my appearance. Anyway.. my concern was that I would be insecure and uncomfortable, and had horror visions of feeling completely out of place. (But then, I could have just gone and written code in my air-conditioned bedroom) As it turned out, this was no problem. Sarongs went a long way (there! all about practical clothing...), and it was ok to look quite normal. I did mess around with EL-wire, but mostly for safety at night.

In a way, Burning Man was helpful in the appearance insecurities department... Learning to not care in a place that is all about expressing yourself is quite helpful!


My favorite piece of art was probably the Passage... mostly for its sheer beauty, especially at night, and its many possible interpretations.

Project X was also somewhat interesting... it was a partially buried man, a reference to the ending scene of Planet of the Apes.


Another favorite was the Bed In Your Head... I really enjoyed chatting with the artist, Max, and hearing about how it came together. I had heard an interview on KQED/NPR the week before, so that was a good starting point. I loved the tastebuds on the blanket and the gold fillings in some teeth.

And then there was the guy handing out light sabres... I am really not into Starwars, but thought that was kind of cute. The guy was highly energetic... too bad it seemed like the big battle he was trying to organize never happened.




The temple burn was also very beautiful; I enjoyed it much more than the Man burn.

We decided to bring an inflatable trampoline to the burns, to have something to sit on. I had bought it the week before to take it to Panama (so the guys there could have their wrestling competitions without bonking their heads on the dock), and spontaneously decided to take it along to Black Rock City. That turned out to be a great idea... The trampoline was highly popular with the people around us; at one point we probably had 30 people on it. Most people called it a life raft (next time we will all wear life vests to make being in the desert even more surreal), but we also dubbed it the black hole (because if you sat on the rim and lost your balance, it sucked you in and you couldn't get back out.

At one point, we were peacefully sitting in the 'line, and a group of people climbed on and starting jumping on the side... a huge dogpile of people formed, and we all had some great laughs. Sounds silly now, but it was so spontaneous, and we were drunk enough to find all this really funny at the time, and met a bunch of nice (though, of course, random) people that way.
Probably the most disappointing installation was the life-sized mouse trap game... waiting through an hour of a really lame show where you could not understand anything because of a sound system that makes Chilean bus driver announcements seem as crisp as the Vogon's final announcement of the destruction of earth, and because of the dumbest generator placement ever. And after less than a minute, the whole thing was finally over. Of course, they had to cheat to keep it running. How lame.

     

The vastness of the playa was an experience in itself; and I was definitely amused to find plant life in the middle of it. Identifying the plant in question is left as an easy exercise to the reader. Your first guess is probably correct.


        

I very much enjoyed this activity, though I was told I had poor form. Oh well.

I also climbed the large moving rock sculpture and scratched myself quite badly, and pulled a muscle on hand. Pretty dumb, but I did get some cheers and the view was nice.

Overall, I would have hoped for more stuff like this. Maybe next year...


So to summarize... I am definitely glad I went. I don't have to go again, but if the opportunity arises, I would like to. People have called Burning Man a life changing experience... it wasn't for me, but I can see why it would be for some people, for example those who have never been in a culture significantly different from their own. Many things in BRC reminded me of travelling.. most of all, the incredible feeling when something wonderful, unexpected, and spontaneous happens.

I think I would have enjoyed burning man a lot more when I was about 20... I was very shy then. and this experience would have helped me break out and be more open and less insecure about myself.

Next year, if I go back, I think I will set up my own piece of art, based on some books I designed many years ago... I have some vague ideas around a single image stereographic transparent sculpture designed for the vast playa backdrop. If you have any idea what I am talking about, email me and help!

Posted by rick at September 27, 2005 02:31 AM

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