I have a new metaphor for the way Burning Man changes.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been part of the team at BMIR This is on the air while the man is burning. I started working as a color commentator, then gradually became the broadcast host as the other team members left. In the end, I was the only member left in that original group – everyone else had something better to do.
The last person in this broadcast crew, beside me, who was involved the whole time was my friend Polaris. I loved broadcasting with him: he’s sharp, funny, very talented on air, and we have a great relationship. But in 2019, it wasn’t there. Bend over. I never knew why
The show went on anyway – I brought another friend, we had a great time, and we did a great show. But I missed the last point of contact with the old crew, the way things were. When I saw Polaris at this year’s playa, I mentioned to him that I would be hosting the Man Burn broadcast again, and said I hope he comes back.
“I can’t do that anymore,” he said.
“why not?” I asked. It was a question I should have asked him years ago, but here we are seeing each other for the first time since then.
“Because my son is now old enough that he can get something out of watching the guy burn up close, and then we can just walk around together and look at all the artwork. That’s what I want to do now,” Polaris said.
And huh. this they change in Burning Man. Sadly for me, I’m no longer doing something fun with my boyfriend, but he and his son got a lot out of it. It’s different, but it’s not a loss in any way. Polaris hasn’t lost the mission or run out: he realizes he’s a different person now, at a different stage in life. He did the right thing.
Which brings me to Burning Man 2022, the deep ways that were very different (as they always have been).
* * *
Burn’s is not only different, but also different in very personal ways. The more effective our experiences in the desert city we co-create, the more unique and individual they become. But from my point of view, 2022 was the burn that had many grizzly veterans shaking their heads and wondering “Wait, what’s that?” And then: “Can I still do that? Absolutely?”
Even for an experiment that is always deeply marked, this Burn was different.
It started with the physical environment, which if it hadn’t been there it would have been just as harsh as I’ve heard. The heat made routine activities difficult or even impossible. Not only did the gate shut down all day and make travel nearly impossible in the city for extended periods, but high winds of up to 50 mph devastated the campgrounds.
The combination of heat and dust meant that many of us couldn’t burn the way we used to. This led to a strange split between the new flames and the veteran warrior. Time and time again, I’d watch new Burners with bright eyes recalling how awesome and magical the experience was, while veteran Burners (myself included) kept struggling because we had an idea of how we were supposed to do it, and we couldn’t do it anymore. You have confused our live predictions.
But it wasn’t just external circumstances: Burning Man is a very personal experience, which is why it tends to create so many existential crises. Life imitates art, and we bring all our art to this. Many veteran Berners were struggling not only because circumstances were different but because of it we She is now different. Three years after the plague and the apocalypse, we are different people – often in ways we don’t yet understand. And these differences changed everything in the Burning Man experience, turning something lovable into something unfamiliar.
Something we had to re-acquaint with if we wanted to move forward. This is always a strange and uncomfortable process.
We had to find out, under heavy pressure, who we were here now – despite our expectations. What is the way to discover deeper: who we have become? How do we not know ourselves?
For me, this was such a burn that I had to learn to cut back – and I know that if I didn’t do it willingly, the desert would do it for me. I missed a wedding. I missed a memorial to a friend’s son, not because I didn’t want to or intended to be there, but because I was trying to do everything and fell apart too soon.
However, despite my best efforts to do it all, this was also the quietest burn. My lowest performing burn. I’m used to starting wars and creating weird public experiences…but this time I didn’t. Yes, I had some magical art projects, but I hardly show them to anyone. Only if the moment seemed just right, I asked, “Would you like to try an artistic experiment?” And each time it was a powerful and wonderful connection moment, but I never did.
I also sang quite a bit. I do not know why. The magic was still as real, persuasive, and powerful as ever. It was a lot softer for me, in part because I no longer screamed for attention. The magical moments passed, but so many of them were so personal that I don’t want to talk about them — or I don’t even know how.
This burning man was like I had never known him before, and he was mostly the same but I was a stranger to myself.
Yet it happened. And many of us, near the end of the damn two weeks in hell, felt the difference. Edit us. We figured out how to burn as the people we are now, and in doing so learned a lot about who we are now. By the end of last week, many of us were able to drop our expectations of ourselves and house the people we were already here in this magical environment, and that changed everything.
This was my hardest burn, no question. It was also probably my worst burn, by most conventional standards. But this strange, quiet, and brutal burn has given me so much joy and a whole hell of a lot of powerful thoughts for which I am deeply grateful. In fact, even though it was all my “worst” burn, it may also be the burn that evokes the most gratitude in me. It’s a strange irony, but that’s what we’re making out there.
I didn’t really know how to handle that, and I still don’t know him, but I just sit with him. And of course I am grateful. I spent two weeks in hell, and I’m just grateful.
* * *
The 2019 Man Burn broadcast, hosted by Hot Damn and myself and our board operator Jex, was a series of frivolous. We were constantly laughing, telling jokes, making fun of ourselves and Black Rock City as we approached our moment of awe and awe. This was exemplified by a conversation we had in which Haruk’s lead songs that year were Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and the Saturday morning children’s show “The Gummy Bears.” I was challenged to sing the Gummy Bears song right there, live on the radio. So I did. And just as I came into the luminous choir, the studio door opened and a complete stranger rushed over and sang with me. Amazing.
The 2022 Man Burn broadcast had an entirely different tone. I should have been on the board, because our boardroom operator tested positive for COVID Friday night and was isolated for the rest of Burn. Hot Damn was still around, but rather than laying a monument to the absurd, our tone was more serious, more contemplative: Think of NPR as produced on the last day of the school year by an assistant professor of philosophy and a sinister mathematician. sense of sarcasm.
We laughed, but asked a more serious question: What just happened? Why was it so difficult? What have we been missing out on not having this for the past three years? Why is this still important?
I didn’t mean for the broadcast to be more bleak, but it happened, I did. It was completely different from any Man Burn broadcast we’ve done before. Since then I’ve had a lot of messages from people who’ve heard her say yes – yes, that was the right tune. Yes, it had to be different – not because we were trying to make it different but because it was different, and acknowledging that everything made everything better. Ironically, it makes her even more like herself.
Some things in life become less like them the longer you hold on to them, and more like them when you allow them to grow.
If I go back again, I will do it differently. I can no longer camp in these difficult conditions the way I used to. Beware: Black Rock City is less intimate than it ever was. But it’s also full of grace, and I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed. And this burning man.
Cover image for “Re: Emergence” by ArtBuilds, 2022 (Photo by Gurps Chawla)