YOU ARE BURNING MAN
While many participants at Burning Man help create theme camps, art projects, special events, performances and the city infrastructure, an overwhelming percentage of Black Rock's citizenry spend a great deal of time just being good participants. In other words, they create their own form of participation. A little personal story might make this idea clearer for you.
I arrived in Black Rock City many years ago dazed and confused. I started wandering around checking out the art and the life, but my enthusiasm waned because I was starting to feel overwhelmed and a bit ashamed. What if all these people knew that I couldn't even draw a stick figure or hammer a nail? They would throw me out, label me a spectator, and most importantly, cut me off from this vibrant community that I was growing to love. Surely this open-to-all community didn't mean to make me feel ill at ease? In the end, it sort of worked itself out over time. The community pushed and pulled at me over the years until finally I crawled out of my shell and did something I had never done before. I did something that I really enjoyed, and I did something that other people liked a lot.
During one of the I-just-need-to-be-in-the-shade moments, I looked at a comrade and I asked him if he wanted a shave. "Yes" was the reply, and a few minutes later I was lathering up his face and wielding a razor. Using the scantest amount of water, I shaved his face and my friend was ecstatic. A new lease on life in the hot desert is such a thrill!
Well, the next year I arrived at Burning Man prepared: I brought a pack of 20 razors and several kinds of shaving cream. When people visited our camp, I sometimes offered them a shave. It was an impulse item. I wasn't a theme camp or an art project. I didn't have a sign that said "Free Shaves." It was a personal opportunity bestowed on but a few, and no one I asked said no. What a variety of ages and chin shapesoh my! While the guys I shaved had their minds blown that someone would give them a shave, I blew my own mind when I realized how much I enjoyed it. (The Marxist interpretation of this enjoyment lies in the fact that I spend most of my life utterly disconnected from the fruits of my labor, but alas, we are on a different topic.) My shaves were giftsone way streets. I liked it best that way. One of my recipients, a certain Reverend Dave, really wanted to give me something in return. Perhaps a Burning Man tattoo? I declined, but some other people in my camp took him up on the offer. Those tattoos are still there....
The next year, things got a little intense when some media folks found our camp one lazy afternoon. A German reporter was posing as mister "i don't get this whole participation thing," and asking us a bunch of annoying questions. Finally I got him to shut up by asking him if he wanted a shave. "In fact, YES!" he replied. He had been so busy trying to "get the story about the event", he was ignoring his body's needs, he explained. Having a razor close to your throat will make you shut up, I thought. By the time our dear German reporter was finished with his shave, a campmate had started cleaning noses with the use of a nettie pot: a teapot filled with warm saltwater that gets poured into your nose, cleaning out the playa dust as it flows through your sinuses and out the other nostril. Well, our lucky German got his nose cleaned, too. Slowly, then suddenly, he was transformed. At last, he was part of the event, not a spectator.
He came back to our camp over and over again, expressing thanks and gratitude for helping him "get it", and to "get the story". We became friends. He gave us some fruit. I remember a sunset when we talked about the meaning of temporary community for a long time.
Whether you make a cup of coffee for the folks camped next door or help someone you hardly know unzip the back of their costume in preparation to use the port-a-potty, you can be a participant of Burning Man. Maybe you don't want to shave strangers or do a nettie pot, instead maybe you want to deliver Christmas gifts on roller skates or sing opera on stilts. I really don't know. If you reach inside yourself and figure out that part of you that can be shared with others around you, chances are you will enjoy Burning Man. I hate to make it sound so easy-but it really is simple, and it really is fun. The only way to avoid having fun is to bring nothing of yourself to the event. If you just try to take everything in, you won't "get" anything. You must give and then you get, remember? It took me some time to figure it out for myself, and I wish you well on your own journey towards self-expression and the experience of community.