Tag Archives: Burning Man

Skin In the Game

A dog in the fight. A horse in the race. Colloquialisms for a vested interest. Recently it occurred to me that this (these?) sentiment is what can be the difference between an event and a memorable event. If you’ll pardon the sports analogy.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been at a few parties that restored my faith in…yeah, parties. In nightlife. Last night I hosted the launch party for the Figment book and the author, David Koren, read a chapter to the guests about “metrics” or numbers. About how we attempt to quantify everything. And as I was laying awake in bed, mulling over the evening and my recent successful forays into nightlife and the many events that vie for our attentions — and our dollars — and what it takes to make them “good” it felt like all the tumblers in the lock clicked.

Skin in the game. A dog in the fight. And not just by the event’s producers. That would be an easy thing. No, magic happens when everyone in attendance has some sort of vested interest. When everyone contributes. Participates. Is dedicated to the night being a success. For not only the producers but for them. The paying public.

My tired little brain and its tumbling lock parts made a mental note: Write a blog post about this. It is everything. It is why Burning Man works. It’s why Figment works. It’s why House of Yes is a huge success. And it is also why so many events that look great on paper fall as flat as…paper. Without passion they are all sports commentator and no sport.

So what were my recent experiences that brought me to this realization? One was a Rubulad. Yes, there have been Rubulads for years. I’ve been to many but certainly not all. As with any recurring events, some have been more successful than others. What made this one feel so…warm? I will chalk it up to the collaboration between Rubulad and JunXion, the many musicians and performers, the artists who had created art for the event and the venue. There were so many people who had a dog in the fight that just about everyone there was tangentially invested in the night being awesome. And it was. People danced. People smiled. It felt like…old times? I dunno. But wonderful. Dare I say…ecstatic.

Also recently I co-emceed the annual twirl-a-thon that is Night of a Thousand Stevies, “the largest and most beloved Stevie Nicks fan event in the world.” It is one of my favorite nights of the year because it is such a lovefest. The glow lasts for weeks afterward. I look at the photos and feel my heart expand in my chest. Everyone in the place — and it now sells out a pretty big place: Irving Plaza — is soooooo happy to be there. They are so excited to catch the tambourines we toss. They lavish those onstage with shrieks of enthusiasm and So. Much. Love. It’s difficult to explain. There are three full acts with dozens of performers: dancers and singers and puppeteers and lip sync-ers, each with at least one friend or “dresser” but more likely a bunch of friends. Some people have been attending NOTS (as it is affectionately known) for many of its 26 years. Yes, 26 years. The event itself is older than some of its fans. I’m sure I don’t need to point out that this is a rare thing. And in my late-night reverie I thought, this night succeeds so brilliantly because everyone in the building is seriously passionate about the party. No one is half-assing it. You can’t half-ass an evening of non-stop Stevie Nicks.

Obviously one also cannot half-ass Burning Man. The scare tactics of “the desert will kill you” aside, this is not an event that you bumble through. It takes planning, supplies and water. Lots of water. And while people have been lamenting that there are more and more “spectators” every year, the scales are still substantially tipped toward participation. There are more burners who bring or build, serve or spin fire. Who show the fuck up. All to make the week a success. Not just for themselves but for the 69,999 other adventurers out there.

Yet how do you get everyone invested? It isn’t an easy equation. And I certainly don’t have the answer. But when the room — or the acreage — fills up with nothing but people who can’t think of anywhere else they’d rather be and anyone else they’d rather be doing it with — drinking or dancing, painting, playing or pillow fighting — you will feel the love. You will look across the room — or the bonfire — and see the sparkle in the eyes of others and think “I am in exactly the right place.” There is nothing better. Nothing. So for a rapturous experience, make sure you have a horse in the race.

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Makin’ Signs

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I’m sitting in an office. Not a normal office, with cubicles and doors, elevators and ladies rooms. It’s an office in a 100-year-old ranch house. The property is remote: 24 miles outside a town with fewer than 200 year-round residents. Our facilities feature two fabulous porta-potties and a pretty powerful swamp cooler. I manage the Sign Shop for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

I manage a talented crew of people who are conveniently my friends. Our work allows us to be artistically creative. With spray paint and stencils, exacto blades and transfer tape, metal sign blanks and vinyl, we produce over 2000 signs for the city, plus handfuls of stickers to give as gifts. We work with a few hundred other skilled carnies to produce one of the biggest parties on the planet.

Every day I experience the feeling of mastery. I’m adept at designing the signs; I get into a great flow of click this, cut that, scrawl with a Sharpie on something else and multitasking like mad. I like to think I’m a good manager. The fact that my crew has remained mostly intact for the past seven years may be a testament to that, as well as people clamoring to join us, either as full-season crew or for a cameo appearance. I empower each crew member; by designing a sign, beginning to end, they have ownership of a project and, as a result, pride in their work. I give gifts. And I buy beer. I’m good at this job.

I have a boss who’s always had my back. Unlike other jobs, the opportunities to get into trouble are never ending, since we live, work, eat, play and party together, 24 hours a day for almost three months. I can get mouthy after a few beers, which is pretty much every day. I enjoy ribbing people and sometimes they don’t take it the way it was intended. So yeah. I get in trouble a lot. And my boss gets me out of it. He’s the only boss I’ve ever felt comfortable speaking to honestly. Which is a testament to how great a manager he is.

I’m having a bit of a tough time this year because it will be my last. I’ve got plans that don’t include trekking out to this godforsaken desert for three months a year. Yup, I’m gonna be an “afterburner.” But I’m gonna miss this more than I’ve ever missed anything.

There are phases to what we do here and, with every phase, it strikes me that it will be the last time I experience it: The silence on the ranch before all the other crews arrive. The forlorn way the trailer park feels before it fills up with folks eager to pound t-stakes and “get ‘er done.” The madness of moving trailers and containers and a couple hundred hard workers from one place to another. Acres of dry alkali lake bed stretching out in front of our shade trailer as we install our signs. Waving at arriving participants and accepting cold beers from them.

Before we know it, 70,000 people will be here for the big dirt rave. And then, in the blink of an eye, they’ll be gone and my crew will be taking down our signs. Then comes the final phase — Playa Restoration — when a smaller group combs every square foot of the city, picking up bottle caps and bobby pins, broken glass and cigarette butts. That last bit is the best because we work as one united crew with one goal. As my boss says, “Pre-event we get to know each other but Playa Restoration is when we fall in love.” It all ends in October.

I’ve dissolved into a puddle of tears a number of times already and we’re barely halfway through the process. Yes, I will be heading back to the big city — the other big city — to pursue my dream. But this experience — and these people — are irreplaceable.

Why Re-entry Is So Fucking Hard

After a mind-blowing week in the desert, people who attend Burning Man often experience difficulty readjusting to the “real world.” “Decompression” events, usually held within a month after The Man burns, help to ease their re-entry, offering them the opportunity to gather and recapture some of the magic. Ah for the days when it was only a week in the desert!

I spend almost three months out there. I head up in July to begin production, work through August and then, once the event is over and the city has all but disappeared, am part of the Playa Restoration crew, making sure Burning Man is the Leave No Trace event it promises to be. I return to that “real world” in early October. And man, re-entry is a bitch. For so many reasons.

MONEY
The most obvious adjustment, and probably the toughest for non-burners to grasp, is having to carry money. On the playa, cocktails are complimentary. People are passing out free food, draping you with jewelry, pinning buttons onto your fake fur. Those one-week “participants” find commerce odd enough upon their return. Imagine not needing to reach into your wallet for weeks on end. Delicious meals. A bar where no cash changes hands. New T-shirts. Yup, room and board and…more! All of your needs taken care of. In fact, catered to by a crew of “fluffers.” Want your water bottle re-filled? Need a salty snack? Vodka drink or ice cold beer? Suddenly, jarringly, things cost money. Ack!

SPACE
For three months I live in an 8-by-20-foot box. Outside that box? Hundreds of square miles of wide open space. A cavernous sky brimming with stars. A moon that casts shadows. I can drive my car with my eyes closed. Fast. Or sit in a hot spring and listen to the wind rustling in the leaves. Back home, my apartment feels strangely spacious. But beyond my walls the world is extremely…close.

PEOPLE
Three months of work, three meals a day, spent with familiar faces — some of whom have become more familiar over a number of years — culminates with our final two weeks, during which we never see a stranger.  Finding myself in a city is understandably overwhelming. Everyone is a stranger. Gerlach provides a comfort level that feels wonderfully insular, like a warm, snuggly blanket. And now I’m shivering.

CLOTHES
My feet have been in flip-flops pretty much since June so putting on shoes feels confining as hell. Not to mention painful. And clothes? I got lazy, running around in, essentially, my underwear. All I had to do was, maybe, match my polka dots. Aside from having to wear something more than wacky, scanty costumes, there’s the shift in seasons. I left in the heat of summer for 100 degree-plus days in the desert; back in “Reality Camp” it’s the cool damp of San Francisco followed by the humid autumn of Manhattan. In addition to the seasonal shift there’s suddenly needing to dress, well, like a normal person. After all that time in either bra and panties or a DPW hoodie, I’ve found myself positively boggled, trying to decide what to wear to semi-formal charity functions where I’ll be sitting with millionaires. What fits? What’s fashionable? And how realistic is it to try to look like a normal person anyway? Yup, I wound up with rhinestones glued to my face…

SOBRIETY
Even if I’d been losing my mind out there in Nevada, I probably wouldn’t have noticed since I was shit-faced drunk most of the time. Daily drinking is almost a must; there isn’t much else to do. During clean-up it’s practically enforced alcoholism. So sobriety, even for just 48 hours, feels…foreign. Falling asleep is a chore, since passing out drunk is…easier. I have yet to spot any pink elephants but they certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

SANITY
When I experienced a rare moment of clarity, I considered doubting my sanity. Fortunately there was always another drink not too far in the future. Now, as I sit here in an extended state of sobriety, I can actually “hear” what’s going on in my head. Which means bigger worries than where my next beer’s coming from. Holy crap! What am I doing with my life? And if that isn’t horrifying enough, there are the little things…like keys. Leaving the car keys in the ignition, not locking anything, means you don’t have to carry them. You don’t have to carry anything, really, except for your water bottle. Within my first week “back,” I left my wallet and phone in a shopping cart and lost my keys multiple times. I felt like I was losing my mind.

Which leads me to, all in all, re-entry IS like losing your mind. Being out on the playa, whether for the week of Burning Man or the extended luxury of assisting in its production, is a certain sort of temporary insanity. Or intense uber-sanity, depending upon how you look at it. You experience the highest of highs, even without mind-altering substances, and the lowest of lows. You push yourself to the brink — physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally — and return to that hard-packed alkali with a THUMP! only to realize you’re a bigger, better more badass version of yourself. It is the closest to living the fuck out of life that most of us get to experience. Some are successful, to varying degrees, in carrying over that creative magic into “Reality Camp.” But regardless of those levels of success there is always the cruelty of cash. The terror of traffic. Smells and sounds and all sorts of shit that clogs up the works between What Can Be and What Fucking Is. And that jumbled up string of senseless sentences just about sums up why re-entry is so fucking hard. Burning Man is over. The Man Burns in 312 Days. Thank fucking god.

Season’s End

I’m home. And oh, WordPress, how I’ve missed you! I’ve been away for a full three months, most of which was spent in the Nevada desert, working for Burning Man. It’s the end of the season and more than just the end of summer. Those months in the middle of nowhere are always a life-changing experience, a time to confront all my bullshit to an uncomfortable degree, and this year was no different.

I feel like I have so much catching up to do that I won’t be able to do it. I “write” in my head all the time and it’s been ages since I put anything down on paper. Er, on the interwebz, that is. I spin such beautiful bullshit in my mind and when I find myself in front of a keyboard, those elegant words elude me. Sometimes I just feel like everything has been said. And written. If not by me, then by someone far more talented. I discourage myself before I’ve even begun. How to reprogram one’s mind?

Anyway, I wanted to say hello to those of you who are still out there…let you know I’ve come out the other side, yet again, and am ready to get back to the work of being a writer. I have a few projects to noodle and an intention to be more disciplined. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, have a look at the controlled insanity that were my months in the desert: https://www.facebook.com/editrix.abby/photos_albums
Any of the DPW (pre, post or Playa Restoration) are indicative; the actual Burning Man photos, slightly less so.

Flow

Yesterday, in the depths of my meltdown, “The Mayor” instructed me to show up at the bar even if I wasn’t working, since the emails had gone out and people would be expecting me. So I made myself presentable, in the previous day’s mostly un-seen cute ensemble, and walked the two blocks. When he overheard me apologizing for my screw-up, the bartender said I was welcome to join him behind the bar. So from 6 til 8 I worked. And it was awesome! Also while I was whining about my scrambled sense of time, the assistant manager asked, “Can you work tomorrow night?” So I picked up another shift! I’m so glad I was “forced” to get out of the house.

Walking home, I blurted to my friend Kaspur that I’d rather be tending bar than doing just about anything else. “Really?” he asked me. “I didn’t know you were so passionate about it.” And I realized that I rarely admit to my passions, probably out of fear that I won’t be able to fulfill them. Hmm. Sad face.

Every summer I get to bartend at The Black Rock Saloon, the bar in Gerlach that is, essentially, a private club for the DPW. As at Burning Man, no money changes hands, but serving up free beverages to my co-workers is gratifying enough. And behind “our” bar, I experience that elusive sense of “flow.”

I asked Kaspur, “Have you ever had that feeling of being in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing?” and described how when I’m working the bar in Gerlach, I feel as though every move I make has been choreographed, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing just what I’m meant to be doing. I guess you could call it a feeling of “mastery,” though I’m nowhere near a “master bartender.” It is a sense of existential peacefulness that is often referenced when people experience déja vu. Behind the bar last night — even though I was just learning where everything was, the booze prices and the buttons to push — felt…right. I can’t tell you how excited I am about doing it again tonight!

Day 8, January 18
1. 20 minutes of meditating. I cheated again, doing it in bed even before I got up. What can I say? My bed is comfy and my doggy is snuggly!
2. 90 minutes of working out.
3. Blogging/writing. I wrote yesterday’s somewhat painful “Scary Senior Moment” post in the middle of a total meltdown.
4. I can’t remember what I watched on TV… I think I allowed it to drone in the background. Bah!
5. I brought up a box but was too lazy to unpack it. It’s one of two (the other is under my bed) that is full of shit I just tossed in, two years ago, random crap I couldn’t throw away yet wasn’t ready to part with. Perhaps I’ll open it today and be more prepared…
6. Socializing: 5 hours at the bar!

Like Riding a Bike

When I disappeared into the desert, I was determined to have sex again. It had been so long I was worried I wouldn’t remember how. I was also concerned about the whole “use it or lose it” thing, afraid that, er, lubrication would be a problem, as my gynecologist had warned me it might. In the end, it wound up being close to a year and a half, the longest I’ve gone without getting laid since I began keeping track. Decades, in other words. I don’t know how I made it those many months with my sanity intact.

So yeah. I finally got laid.

There was a guy — another DPW guy (hey, that’s all there is out there!) — who I’d been kinda flirting with. It had been ages since I’d needed to “work” at sex so I wasn’t even sure that I was flirting. It would be more accurate to say I was enjoying this guy’s company. And he seemed to be enjoying mine. I’d noticed him when he initially arrived in town; he was tall and attractive, in that outdoorsy sort of way that you rarely see in NYC.

Over the weeks of the pre-event build we engaged in witty banter and word play. Then, on the Sunday night the Gate opened and after a long evening of drinking a bunch of us wound up at the Ghetto. Er, Doomtown. I got up the courage — yes, liquid, I know — to say to him, “So, I don’t like hearing no, but do ya wanna make out?” He said, “Sure!” and we scrambled up the stairs to the fancy deck overlooking Black Rock City, a romantic vantage point, even if we weren’t actually looking at it. We made out on the couch like a couple of teenagers for a not-very-long time before I invited him back to my trailer. I’m sure I probably said something along the lines of, “Wanna go have sex?” We stumbled the short distance between Doomtown and Commissary Camp, climbed into my box and ripped off our clothes. I can’t quite recall who ripped what off of whom, but the job got done.

The sex was athletic and energetic. I got spun around like a baton! And all the metal signs I had shimmied into my windows to keep out the sun wound up rattling and falling. We both laughed a lot and he expressed plenty of enthusiasm. One of his best lines, blurted while he was between my legs, I believe, was, “Wow I have missed this!” Which led me to believe that it had been a while since his last lay as well. It was fun.

I woke up to a morning wood quickie, he got back into his Carharts, and we both went about our day, a bleary-eyed Monday and the first day of Burning Man. I don’t quite recall when I saw him next but when I did, I said something like, “That was fun. If the timing works out, I’d be up for doing it again.” He agreed.

The timing worked out just over a week later, the night of the last Ghetto party. I’d had a long day of rolling around nudging loiterers to leave, enjoying a few beers along the way. By the time the party happened, I was pretty happy. I was equally pleased when, if I recall correctly, he seemed into it. I can’t remember who had the perverse idea of leaving the party for a quickie and then coming back.

We stumbled in the direction of my trailer and managed to get about half undressed. It was a frenzied fuck, more hilarity than horny. I think. It’s all a little blurry. This time it was me slipping back into the Carharts and we bumbled back to Doomtown. I was pleased to be sportin’ a “freshly fucked” look; my hair was a total mess. But he disappeared shortly thereafter, which struck me as a little weird but whatever. I danced late into the night and went home alone.

The next day, a bunch of us were hangin’ out after work, having a few beers, and I took the opportunity to ask him, “So, are you socially inept or just an asshole?” Without missing a beat — or sounding surprised — he answered, “Probably both. Why?” I told him that our mid-party interlude felt sorta like hooker sex, that without any kissing at all maybe he should’ve left me $250 on my nightstand. “Yeah, my ex-wife complained about that too,” he admitted, somewhat sheepishly. “Well, you might wanna work on that,” I told him.

Social ineptitude or assholery notwithstanding, we continued our flirtations over the two weeks until Line Sweeps. One evening in the Saloon he informed me that he was going home to bed. “Are you telling me this just to let me know or would you like me to join you?” I asked him. “Both,” he replied. We walked back to my trailer together and tried to watch a movie before passing out. We had sex in the morning – cute, cuddly sex — but still, no kissing.

Another week went by and it was Mutiny, a long day of drinking and debauchery. Still somewhat shy, I could sense him sort of orbiting around me and there were a few moments of semi-PDA. Long after the sun had gone down I somehow wound up as the sober-est driver, transporting a truckload of crew from Frog Pond back into town. I don’t know how we managed but there was an impressive session of exhausted intercourse. Yet, once more, no making out.

Back in Reality Camp, he stayed with me a few nights but nothing more happened. We slept in separate beds. After expressing an ambivalence about dogs he was really great with the puppy. And he continued to say lovely things. Aside from the fact that we were going to be living on opposite coasts, in the end, the lack of romance — specifically any kissing, at all — was a deal breaker for me. It was one thing to do most of the “work,” meaning making the first moves. Even without his ever being the aggressor it was evident that he was interested. But I really, really enjoy making out. So without that, I couldn’t see the point. The few  times we fucked were most definitely fun and it was awesome to get back into the saddle, so to speak. It was like ridin’ a bike. At this point I’m just looking forward to my next opportunity!

Editor’s note (actually, writer’s note): My apologies to this particular gentleman if his feelings are hurt or whatever. He knows how I felt cause I told him, a few times. It’s up to him to either change his anti-kissing ways or, better yet, I suppose, find a woman who shares his aversion. Best of luck to both of us!

I’m Back!

It’s been about 48 hours since I landed and I am SOOOO happy to be home! Though it’s a grey day, it’s still New York City, with bustling sidewalks, a staggering array of humanity, friends dropping by and shit happening and…YAY! I’m already too busy to blog just yet but that should change after Halloween blows over. I’m co-producing Ghostlight with Chi Chi Valenti and it should be a gorgeous evening. I’m planning on attending SMack! on Saturday night and will do my best to get out and party Friday and Sunday nights as well. Like I said, it’s already a whirlwind!

In addition to the other general blogging topics, I should add “I (finally) Got Laid!” That alone will be worth the wait! Did I also mention that I’m back on the dating sites? More hilarity will ensue, I’m sure. Hmm, what else?

Did I point you all in the direction of “How I Spent My Summer Vacation?”
DPW Sign Shop
Playa Restoration
Both are blogs on the Burning Man site that give a pretty great picture of what goes on out there!

Anyway, I am looking forward to being cyber-productive again and hearing from all of you in my personal peanut gallery! Til November…