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THIS is #BurningMan2017

7 Sep

While the interwebs are filled with photos of glamorous, hot, sexy, booty-short-wearing women (and men) at #BurningMan… women with inexplicably clean hair, with boots they couldn’t walk more than 20 yards in (and never ride a bike in), and with outfits often looking like hundreds of dollars of designer-wear fashion went into their making, I offer what I think is one of the BEST photos I’ve seen from Burning Man this year.

It’s a photo of my friend Matthew Gordon (and a woman whose playa name is “Not Dead Yet”), and I’m sharing it with his permission.

For all you lovely sparkle ponies who think #BurningMan is a fashion festival, your beauty is wonderful AND we are a community event built on The 10 Principles. (Read the Survival Guide and get acculturated.) And most importantly, get dusty!

So much of what Burning Man is about is surviving and thriving amidst harsh circumstances and a desert that has no interest in supporting your survival.

Surving (thriving in) Frostburn 2015

17 Feb

I have always considered myself someone who doesn’t like the cold. And so it was with trepidation, fear and excitement, that I decided to accompany a handful of friends to the mountains of West Virginia for an outdoor, cold-weather camping trip to a regional Burning Man event called Frostburn. My friends, all experienced burners, were all Frostburn virgins as well.

I’d been hoping for unseasonably warm weather for the weekend trip, but that quickly became a fantasy as the weather predictions called for increasingly cold (record-breaking from 1905 type of cold) weather and severe winds. Yet I continued to pack and prepare. I was even going in early to volunteer at the gate and greet people as they arrived. (This I did for four hours, outside, in the winds and cold … and I loved it.)

My experience at Frostburn was so unexepectedly satisfying, soulful, expansive, wonderful and fun … or just EPIC! as I’ve been saying to those who asked, but this post isn’t about my experience. It’s about my packing and prep, and my notes to myself (and others) for when I return again next year and beyond.

Listed below is what I *wore*! I had many extras of every category of clothing. And I’ve included some notes about other items I packed. I definitely lean toward overpacking, and I didn’t disappoint here, though I have to say, in terms of warmth and layers, it’s almost impossible to overpack. Once I put something on, though, it stayed on and I didn’t switch out my layers.

From the bottom up, on my feet I wore —

  • Smartwool tights
  • Smartwool thin socks
  • Smartwool thick socks
  • Alpaca thick socks
  • An alpaca foot pad/warmer
  • Bogs boots
  • Crocs, for inside the tent when my boots were off

On my legs, I wore, in order —

  • Smartwool tights (as noted above)
  • Merino wool stretch leggings (thick)
  • A merino wool (thick) full-length skirt
  • A vintage 1970s very thick wool, full-length skirt

On my torso, I wore —

  • A light bra; no underwire, shape or metal (something I could sleep in and move in)
  • An athletic Tee for wicking any moisture away
  • A medium-weight merino sweater
  • A thick cashmere turtleneck
  • A thick lambwool + acrylic sweater
  • A full-length comfy soft material jacket (more light a bathrobe)
  • An oversized vintage thick wool calf-length coat with a full collar and more of fur

On my hands, I had —

  • Upcycled merino wool wrist warmers / fingerless gloves
  • Mittens with pop-off tops for finger access (not very useful without an available thumb)
  • Two Zippo handwarmers in my coat pockets (more on this later)


I did not win when it came to my hands, keeping them warm or being dexterous in the cold (and one does need to be dexterous quite often). Finding a miracle glove that provides a layer of some wind protection and warmth while being an underlayer for an even warmer pair of gloves or mittens over top would be fantastic!

On my neck and head, I wore —

  • The turtleneck (as referenced above)
  • Two gators/duff masks that I could pull up or down on my face.
  • A scarf (which I lost … anyone have word on a lovely light mint green wool scarf?)
  • A loose-knit wool cowl (great for hanging things on, such as my mug on a retractable string)
  • A small wool afghan blanket worn as a shawl and safety-pinned closed
  • Two hats at most times, layered

Personal Care

  • Tea tree oil toothpicks (in lieu of brushing my teeth as much as I might do so regularly)
  • Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste (my toothpaste didn’t freeze, thank goodness)
  • Lip balm
  • Eye drops (Similisan)
  • Nose spray
  • TP (Always bring and carry on oneself extra TP)


I didn’t wash my face and my skin oils naturally protected my skin; the area where I could have used some TLC was my chin: the moisture from my breath and the gators/neck warmth rubbing against my chin caused some chafing. I used a disposable cup when brushing my teeth (anything to avoid dishes to wash). Should have trimmed my toenails — wearing four pairs of socks plus a thick padding inside my boots made for a tight fit and the ends of my toes were a bit sore by the final day. I pre-treated my whole body several times in the week prior to the burn with Nerium Night Treatment.

Food & Cooking — This is what I ate & drank

  • Beef bone broth (home-made … YES!)
  • Ham stew (home-made; brought a lot)
  • A bag of potato chips
  • A handful of almonds
  • Bratwurst (cooked over the fire)
  • Sour chewy candies
  • Water – it all froze
  • Alcohol – little bits here and there; not much

I ate very, very little, and I ate infrequently. I drank very little quantity of liquids,  though I had some nice servings of warm bone broth. I had visions of always having hot tea in a thermos: totally didn’t happen. Definitely put the kitchen area inside a shelter/tent. Only bring teflon/nonstick pans for easy cleaning. Clean immediately after use with a paper towel. Tea (never made any … and I drink tea daily; the hassle of heating up water and exposing my fingers … not worth it) Bring nothing that requires prep or creates extra dishes. There is little not-frozen water and who wants to do dishes! (No one!) Paper plates, disposable insulated cups and silverware. Put everything you hope won’t freeze in a good-quality cooler. (It will probably still freeze … just not solidly.) Propane and fuel gets cold. Lighters (even high-powered propane lighters) won’t work well in the cold. Keep JetBoil inside yurt to keep fuel from freezing / getting too cold. Keep water inside yurt.

Shelter & Sleeping

  • Wolf brought his amazing velcro-binding yurt which was sturdy, beautiful and easy to set up.
  • Propane heater for inside.
  • Cot to elevate off the cold (and wet) ground.
  • Sleeping pad, plus two sleeping bags.
  • Many wool blankets.
  • My memory foam pillow froze(!) though it warmed where I laid my head.

My campmates brought the structures, heat, lights, generator, fire pit and many, many other items I didn’t have. I brought my REI Kingdom 6 tent, which was used as the kitchen tent. I’ve been to the playa and Burning Man five times with this tent, but I don’t think it was ever buffeted around as much as it was at this event. I slept in all my clothes minus my coat, the overskirt and my boots. I added another layer of socks while sleeping and wore soft mittens, too … and always a hat.

Zippo Handwarmers: My thoughts

They’re great when they work. They’re seemingly temperamental and certainly inconsistent. Definitely “season” your warmers ahead of time and use them prior to an event where you need them. Light/start them an hour or two before you think you’ll need them. Share them with friends, for a few moments. Keep them in your coat pocket and help dry out/keep warm wet mittens or gloves. Do not put them directly against your skin.

Notes for next year

Get a small propane lighter I can wear around my neck and keep warm with my body heat. “Season” my Zippo hand warmers before going to the event. Get more fuel for the handwarmers; always keep them going, even while sleeping so that they are warm when I wake up. Definitely make more bone broth and stew. Figure something out with my fingers and keeping them warm. Bring plenty of windproof matches. Lots of ultra large safety pins are good for keeping on my clothing to use when needed, e.g. when going into a dance space and/or bar and wanting to take off some layers; it’s super helpful to be able to be able to clip my items together.


Culture and acculturation

3 Oct

Culture and acculturation

Burning Man MOOP map, 2006 – 2013

Burning Man is the world’s largest Leave No Trace (LNT) event. Each year, after the attendees depart and go back home, a crew of people scan the entire 5-/6-square mile space, a person’s-length apart from the next, and they pick up all leftover trash … including sequins, feathers and plywood “shards.” It’s amazing. At the end of this process, a MOOP (Matter out of Place) map is created, providing feedback to all who attended. The color coding is pretty obvious given our cultural references for what these colors mean: green, yellow, red; go, caution, stop; good, meh, no way!

It’s not just trash that’s noted and marked (and cleaned up!). Any gray water dumps are a big no-no. Divots from rebar stakes count as negative marks in a Leave No Trace environment. And small dunes and places where the surface is uneven also count against the Cherished Green Star. This year, much of what I did at the close of the event was to walk around a large area where my home village had camped, and, metal rake in hand, I smoothed out uneven playa dust. For hours. And I did so lovingly and out of choice to do my best to restore the land to how I/we had found it.

I find this collection of maps and progression fascinating and uplifting, as the increased mass of green areas shows that the values and culture around LNT is spreading, being adopted and being cherished by the community promulgating the values and principles. Seems it’s possible, indeed, for great change to occur when people care about a place.



20 Sep

I do believe, that in each of us — and in the human experience — is hardwired the joy of giving. And receiving.

Giving is an interesting thing in that in order for a giver to experience giving, there must be a receiver who experiences receiving. At one end of the spectrum, the giving transaction is specific, known and simultaneous, e.g. I give a friend coming down a ladder a hand to help steady herself. At another end, giving is general, unknown and diffused: I write a blog post, someone looks at a subject from a different angle than they’d previously seen, and their own thinking shifts a fraction of a fraction of a degree. I don’t need to know that such a gift was received. It’s diffused, unknown what I’ve given. There is no knowledge or need that anyone has taken what is offered.

Receiving is also an interesting concept. In order to receive, there must be 1) desire for the thing being offered and 2) capacity to receive it. If someone is offering a tasty cold beverage on a hot and dusty day, and I’m thirsty and have a cup, that’s awesome. If they want to give me 20 ounces but I only want 8, and they insist that I take all 20 in order to get the 8; that’s not so great.

In other words — and obviously — giving requires balance with receiving. Yet it’s not so clean and easy in many situations. There’s expectation, need, want, guilt, manipulation and a host of other less-than-wholesome emotions that attach themselves with ease to many transactions between people. Gifts that aren’t wanted. Receiving that has layers of expectation about what is owed built in. Greater-than-thou-ness around giving, but refusal to receive (as if that is a sin). Folks got all kinds of messed-up-ness around giving and receiving. And I can count myself among the many who’ve had challenges here.

One of the aspects of Burning Man that I ever so enjoy is the principle of gifting. 50,000 people co-creare an environment in which giving and receiving is part and parcel of the day. There are two things for sale at Burning Man: 1) ice and 2) coffee (well, and tea).  Beyond that it’s very much about communal effort, radical self-reliance and gifting: Gifting, as in I give you this thing-service-smile with no strings attached, which is distinctly and specifically different than bartering, as in you and I will find a balance point in which what I give, what I receive, what you give, what you receive will be considered equal and fair by both of us,

Imagine, a week in a city in which all transactions are gifts. And the gifting at Burning Man is extensive, robust, luxurious, kind, useful, functional, abundant, artistic, sweet and loads more. My camp, The More Carrots, gifts a farmers market replete with fresh produce, ready-to-eat wholesome goodness and bicycle-powered smoothies. Others provide live music, art cars, solar power, pickle martinis, foot soaks, tours of well-designed kitchens, movies, shade, bike repair … you name it. Volunteers (people outside our camp of 29) helped with our camp build, at our market, making dinner.

Individually, I was gifted jewelry, happy/relaxing-making things, a shower, lots of food, lotions and massages, an application of lip balm, a fiercely kind guide to get me out of the camp (where I was the leader and asked many a question) so that we could explore art on my birthday, and much more.

I gave, too: moisturizing eye drops to people sitting near me at a bar on a dusty day, fresh cut and cold orange slices, a foot massage, a hug, tissues, counsel, directions to the porta-potties down the way. I set up my “refreshing drink” stand on the dustiest of dusty afternoons and offered — in the company of a dear and engaging friend — a cup of refreshment and a bit of TLC for people to move on to their next adventure or destination.

And, of course, I received that which was offered communally: art projects, live music, respite from the sun in some camp or another’s shade structures, and the specific offerings of the many camps I visited and hung out at: the perfect drink  at Golden Cafe on a hot afternoon, a view of the burn from the top of the French Quarter, a ride on Gon Kirin, There’s a flow and rhythm when giving underlies the experience.

Yet gifting, twisted or misunderstood, can create an expectation in which the unguided believe that need=result or desire=obligation. Boo on that.

I’d like to tell a short story of one experience that jarred me momentarily and reminded me of how important it is with any community to help the newly arrived understand the principles and guiding values that make a place/group of people attractive and desirous to the new-comer in the first place. This story is around the complexity and simplicity of the principle of gifting at Burning Man.

Here goes …

I was out one night at a bar called Wanted. It was a Wild West on the Moon-like sort of place, deeper out and away from “the city” … definitely inside the party scene part of “town.” Waiting for a friend to get us a drink at the bar (yes, of course, it was gifted and free), I was dancing when a young man pointed to my Camelback mouthpiece and then to himself; then he made the universal drinking sign of tipping his head back, hands up to his lips as if holding a cup.

Huuunnnhhh!? If there was a movie soundtrack, that would have been the moment you’d heard the screech of a record needle sliding wildly across a record. I stopped and stared at him.

“You’re a virgin, aren’t you?” I inquired. Knowing the answer.

“Yes,” he responded.

“Where’s your water?” I asked him.

Mind you, this was only about 10 pm in the evening, very early for playa time. We were far, far away from the rest of the city and there was a full-on, night-long, fierce dust storm raging.

“Oh, I left it back at camp,” he said, throwing his head back as if this was funny.

“You need your water,” I stated. “You should go back to camp and get some water.”

“I don’t understand why you can’t give me some of yours,” he pleaded. “You have plenty to share.”

I was not amused. Aghast might be a better word to describe how I was feeling.

“You’re asking me to share my water with you? In a desert?” I said. “… When you didn’t pack any of your own?”

He repeated his point about how he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t share with him when I clearly had what he wanted. I did not feel like lecturing him on the 10 principles. Instead, I poured into the lid of a water bottle (an ounce, two at the most) and gave that to him to sip. I encouraged him to see if he could get ice in his drinks tonight and more specifically, suggested he go back to his camp and get his own water.

His journey, his experience … those are his memories to take or forget. For me, It made me pensive about Burning Man, the magic of gifting and how the “magic” happens when people are also prepared (radical self-reliance). Had my gift that night been water, or perhaps had we spoken for awhile, connected, laughed and then he’d asked, I might have been more generous. But my first interaction with him was Gimme. And Gimme and Gifting, they aren’t in the same ball park.

I do believe that each and all of us, whether it’s with a charity, a homeless person, a friend in need, or a stranger whose path we cross … we all intuitively assess whether the situation is one of gifting and receiving or whether there’s a Gimme underneath.

Giving and receiving, the transaction, is a deeply human experience, one that fills and fulfills both the giver and receiver. Gimme, on the other hand, leaves, I believe, both parties emptier than when they started.

May your cup runneth over … All ways. Always. 

On dust

16 Sep

There is much talk of dust at, about and around Burning Man. As there should be. Burning Man and dust go hand in hand. But note the word; it’s “dust,” not “dirt.” Dust, not sand.

When I was still a virgin and people would speak to me of this dust, I could only think of airborne dirt, fine particles. I had no idea what they meant. I couldn’t. I hadn’t been there. Yet on my first day on the playa, exhausted beyond measure from preparations that taxed me, a night-long drive that stretched me and a full-day of camp build — in a dust storm — that had me pushing beyond limits I didn’t know I had, I sat in my tent for a few minutes, breathed in the air and said to myself and the place, “I get it.”

What I got was the ancient memory associated with a “dust” formed from a dry  seabed. I got the memory of a place and time in which floating in the sea, in some form or another, was my existence … “my,” of course, being a rather difficult word to use as Jessie Newburn, born August 28, 1963, wasn’t there, per se. Yet I was. Some part of some part of me was. And I — along with everyone else who goes to Burning Man — feels it at some level. We give it different words and ascribe it different meanings. We try to wrap our minds around it and explain it someone who hasn’t been there; and our paths and means are as individual as the people who attend. Yet, we all come to a conclusion and greet each other by saying, “Welcome home.” 


In the most alien of places. A place with not a life form on it. Where the alkalinity of the “soil” can burn you. Where the days are hotter than hot; and the nights, colder than cold. Where dust storms transform the landscape and space into an even more alien and inhospitable environment, this place we call home feels more human, more humane, more civil, more natural, more right, balanced, fluid, loving, expansive, accepting, receiving and able than any other place or space I’ve known.

The dust: once sea water; turned to “soil’ (earth), whipped into the air, met by Burners who bring the most exquisite fire art with both metal and wood at its base; we experience the elements in an exotic and alien, yet somehow utterly natural and right way: water, earth, air and fire. Smell triggers memories, and the ancient sea bed, made of countless now-dead sea beings and life, enters our airways through our nose and reminds us of what we already know.

Today, I picked up the boxes I’d shipped out on the DC container to Burning Man. As I approached the container and items being unloaded, I took a deep breath and let my hands lovingly brush across dusty boxes and equipment. The touch, the sensation, the smell! The dust. The dust. The dust. The dust.

Clean-cut Burners, fuzzy normals and blinkies everywhere

15 Feb

This post will mean little to one who is not a Burner (or raver, per Mona). I’m going to make a claim about something I’ve been seeing trending and how it aligns with generations. I’d guess that in three to five  years, my claims today will seem then like, “duh, yeah, of course … like, everyone could see that coming,” but I’ll say them anyway.

Here goes:

The edge-y, Mad-Max, raver-hippie, sparkle-pony, dust-loving extremeness of the Burning Man community’s dress will chill. And not just chill, but it will become chic to wear in the desert a suit, a cocktail dress, a classic, elegant, even preppy bit of attire. The sparkle ponies will always be cute and sexy. There will always be hippies who appear not to have showered in ages. And Burning Man will always attract artistic, awesome people who live big, create the most awesome costumes, and do what needs to be done to survive and thrive for a week in the moon dessert storms that so define and make Burning Man at Black Rock City, Nev., the place that it is.

But the stuff of which Burning Man fashion has been so quirkily specific — the furry boots, the neon pink furry animal-like hats, the faux fur endlessly covering ones body — this has started to move mainstream, and thus Burners will need to redefine Burner fashion, lest they look like the vacuous 11-year-old I saw the other weekend sporting major Burnerific faux fur fashions. How not hip to be like everyone else.

Oh, (she catches herself as she writes.) Wait, I’m thinking like a GenXer preferring the edge vs the center. Never mind, if Millennials in their same-sameness (which they don’t see  about themselves but which all other generations do) bring the fur en masse, it will be, indeed, en masse, and worn without meaning except to be like their generational brethren. Again, to my point: the fur will lose its meaning at Burning Man. And being preppy and clean cut in the desert will ride on the wings of the younger GenXers wishing to be different (not like the older grungier GenXers) and leaning toward  and meeting the style leaders of the Millennials with their fresh clean-cut, upbeat and redefined metro preppy attire.

And while Burning Man will get a cleaner, sharper look, the suburbs will be filled with pink-faux-fur wearing teens and moms.

Black Rock City, where the Burning Man festival is held, will find its streets lined increasingly each year with more and more clean cut, urban-leaning young folk. Not hipsters: for Millennials are not hipsters; they don’t need to try to BE anything. By virtue of their peer focus, they choose, and choose en masse, making all of them the same at once; distinction by difference is not their game; distinction by earned rank is.

And what of blinkies? These array of lights-lights-lights everywhere on bodies, bikes, art cars and more that are not just found but required at Burning Man lest one be called a “dark tard” and put oneself and others in danger of injury.

Blinkies will be everywhere. The cultural mood will shift, and more swiftly than you can imagine. It is winter, my dears: society’s winter, and a 20-year phase of an 80-(or so)-year cycle. We need lights in winter, as the days are short, the nights are long and our part of the earth is further from the warming sun.

In less than five years, we will see LED lights all over. Nary a bike will be ridden at night without the rider (the person) and the bike (the vehicle) bedecked in LED lights. And each unique. Backpacks for children (and adults) will have built-in LEDs. Clothing will have lights. City-scaping (and even the faux pastural suburban environments) will have streets, parks and public areas lit with colorful LEDs. And it will all seem natural and right, and it will be, for cycles are cycles and they can be ignored, but they cannot be stopped.

It’s already happening in shoes for little ones, these blinkies. Of course, these litte ones are our Homeland gen children, suffocated by the encroaching fear their parents carry to raise their children in Winter. GenX parents were themselves the children of Summer, neglected in an era of adult self-indulgence, so they swing in the other direction as parents, as do all genarations. Our Homelanders will have no choice, for they are the generation that silently receives this suffocating parenting of their stealth-fighter GenX parents. But again, this will be right and timely. As we protect our Homelander children with lights so that they can be watched with fierce diligence by their parents, these same lights will make young Millennials in cities safer, and the street-scaping will make us all want to be out more, close to home and our kin and country people. The lights will call us out, making it safe to leave the McMansions and lonelier days of Bowling Alone.

And so, I believe, it will be: Metro preppy Burners (trust me: the Burners will cry out and call me wrong); Burner-ific faux-fur-covered suburbanites and blinkie LED lights everywhere. I could always be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. Then again, I could be more right than you could possible even foresee now.

Time will tell.

GenX and Boom : Burning Man and Woodstock

13 Oct

I’ve just come from a mild version of Burning Man, the east coast event called Playa del Fuego. It was my first such event, and I generally find Burners my kind of people. It was pretty easy for me to conclude that Burning Man is mostly organized and attended by Gen Xers — duh — though it was initiated by Boomers who, in good Boomer fashion, pointed to something important and believed in it.

Here’s an overly simplified version of Burning Man: It’s a city accommodating 40,000+ people; it’s  built, occupied and then completely dismantled in the desert. Everyone who attends is self-responsible for their health, safety and behavior. Everyone contributes. Some of the underlying principles include: Do-ocracy (Do what needs to be done … don’t talk about it), manage your Moop (you’re responsible for all your trash … no public trash cans or dumpsters … and that includes no dumping of gray water), Bring everything you need (nothing is sold or allowed to be sold at the event other than ice and coffee), and basically, “You can die here in the desert, so, plan well, pack well and be really, really smart about your choices.” In short, Burner events are astoundingly well-organized, and the people who attend are astoundingly well-prepared.

Let’s go back almost 40 years to Woodstock: Absolutely filthy living conditions. Poor planning. Bad onsite management. And very little self-responsibility of the attendees for food, water, hygiene or behavior. Oh, and it was a one-time event, never to be repeated with any degree of seriousness. Now, Woodstock was a high point for the Boomer generation, and, of course, there was a ton of good from the experience. Both for those who were there and for the generation that called the event theirs.

But, man-oh-man, when I look at these two events through a generational diversity lens, it’s just so clear. Woodstock represented all the good and the bad of the Boomers: Let’s come together for vision and values and religion. Let’s not tend to those nasty details (like food, water and sanitation). The Prophet generations (today’s Boomers) are marked by a belief that moral leadership will solve nasty problems. Who could argue with a love-in? Right?

Fast forward to the Gen Xers getting together around art, music, love and such, and you get Burning Man, an extreme venture to an extreme environment where the logistics are profound, the systems for learning and bettering the event each year are tight and where each participant has to actually be self-responsible in order to survive and walk out of the desert alive. It also has the downside of GenX: extreme everything. *Extreme* is too much for many people.

The subject and comparison deserves a much more thorough analysis, and if anyone knows of any writing on the subject, I’d love to read it. Pass it along in the comments section with a link to the site. I’d appreciate it.

Love in. Rock on.

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