Make it real

Sweet thing is there to turn plans into reality
Sweetthang is the person who draws the lines in the sand

Take your plans and make them real.

For a lot of Burners, it’s a yearlong task. You plot and plan and meet and talk. You have an idea for an art car, and you wrestle with the logistics and the money and the know-how, and sometimes it comes out great and sometimes … well, it’ll be better next year. It’s an evolutionary thing. Same thing with art projects. Oh yeah, it was all going to fit together just fine. Except it didn’t. And then you had to adjust.

It’s like that for a lot of people in the Burning Man organization, too. A lot like that. And no one knows  it better than Sweetthang.

It’s Sweetthang’s job to translate the map of the playa, and the flags on the ground, into actual camp layouts. She has to adjudicate border disputes. She has to confirm (or deny!) where your theme camp begins and ends.

The task  has to be daunting. You know how hard it is to make what appears on your planning sheets actually show up in the desert dust. No, the DJ booth goes over HERE.  And it faces THAT WAY, not like this. And the sun showers go BEHIND the recycle stuff, not in front of them! Sheesh!

Ok, now exponentially increase the complexity of the undertaking. Imagine trying to figure out where it ALL goes, what ALL those flags in the ground are supposed to mean. Oh, the electrical wires are buried here? The spider box goes over there? Oh, then we can’t have the Airstream park like that. It’s got to go over here.

You get the idea.  40,000 people showing up with there own ideas about how it’s all supposed to come together, about where they’re going to set up, but the map says no. And you’re the person who has to figure it out. That’s Sweetthang.

Of course, things happen. Adjustments must be made. Because really, one of the best things about having a plan is changing it.

So the question is this: How’d you do? Did it all come together the way you thought it would? What did you learn this year that’s going to come in handy next year? Tips and tricks for playa preparation are most welcome …

sweet thing 2-1 copy

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

46 Comments on “Make it real

  • Buzz says:

    (3) stay flexible, because stuff is going to happen differently than you thought it would.
    (4) join a team/crew/camp, because they’ll have lots of advice/help when the going gets tough
    (2) be informed. read a lot and talk to people.
    (1) start. now.

    Report comment

  • JV says:

    Come up with a detailed budget.

    Now double it.

    Report comment

  • Sean says:

    Be prepared for anything that can happen. You need to be flexible.

    This year, me and my friend were going to drive out together, till he realized he didn’t have the funds to go out early like we were planning on, and ended up going with a friend. So 2 weeks before the burn, I was looking for a ride, and found one through some common friends of friends.

    Also, don’t be intimated by the $300 ticket to get in. That’s one of the cheapest parts of the journey.

    Report comment

  • I had been planning for a year for this trip. I did my homework and was rewarded appropriately, however, no amount of preparation can subdue the excitement and wonder of being on the playa, and no amount of prior plans will take priority over the current five minutes of existence you’re swimming in at any given moment.

    I now have another life and another family. And it was even worth the harassment of rural sheriffs trolling for revenue on the highways nearby.

    Report comment

  • Miss Fushia Lamour says:

    We planned, and revised, then revised again. Packed, unpacked, switched cars, packed again, but made it to the playa!

    Always expect the unexpected.

    All those obstacles that make it hard make you appreciate everything else so much more!

    Report comment

  • Naniagan says:

    Don’t do what we did…….Move Cities the day before leaving………We only uttered “I want a divorce” Three times.

    Report comment

  • Neon Emu says:

    I spent my tax return on my ticket – Got that out of the way with absolutely no idea how I would get there or if any of my friends were even interested in going.

    Talked about it non-stop until I inspired some friends to go… All together we made it happen. We filled an RV with 6 people, ALL virgins, and made it to the playa. We now know where to not rent an RV from, to take before pictures of our RV and any rentables, to walk more than bike next year… The first trip is always the most overwhelming but I look forward to my second trip to the playa, and I hope it’s sooner rather than later. =)

    Report comment

  • Samsa says:

    Theme camps should know who and where their neighbors will be as soon as they are placed, and theme camp organizers should take into account that space sharing with the neighbor a bit more from my experience. That way the flow from one camp to the next will work out better. (sound, space, vibe, etc) Im sure some theme camps pay attention to this, but more need to it seems.
    But thats just the politics…..the most beautiful thing is when everyone can really work with what happens when you ACTUALLY GET OUT THERE, when it all makes a new sense. You can only prepare so much!
    I guess this is when you let playa serendipity run it’s course and hope for sparks to fly, which you can almost expect.

    Report comment

  • Sarah says:

    I made the last minute decision to go the day Burning man opened. My burner friends convinced me that I had to go…..I had never been. So of course I only had so much $ to buy a ticket and could not find a ticket for less than $300. On Tuesday I posted an ad on craigslist “VIRGIN BURNER NEEDS TICKET ASAP”. About an hour or two later, I got a call on my cell from a wonderful man named Sid. He is from Alaska and I am in Reno. He told me he was going to miss his 8th burn because his wife was ill. He sent me his ticket for the base price without expecting me to send $ right away. I cried after I got off the phone with him. My ticket showed up Thursday morning and I had the best weekend of my life. THANK YOU to Sid, the unknown man who changed my life…..for the better. Even though we haven’t met…..I know I have a friend for life!!

    Report comment

  • Mike says:

    Be willing to be unreasonable with yourself and follow a dream that may never happen. It probably won’t happen the way you think. Plan as if you were going in the middle of the desert and you would see no one. Prepare to be with 1000’s of people expressing themselves in ways you could never imagine and then only desire to experience more. Allow yourself to accept whatever experience you have and learn from the entire journey.

    Get ready for the time of your life and something that will probably change your view on life forever.

    Report comment

  • Dana says:

    WIth about two weeks to go before Burning Man, I decided to go. For the first time. With no preparation. I don’t own camping gear, I didn’t have a ticket, but I was going. Did I mention I’m unemployed and really didn’t have the funds?

    So I mentioned to a few friends I was going and one of them offered up camping gear. Yay! I went to her place to pick up the tent and miscellaneous odds and ends when she introduces me to another of her friends. She mentioned I was a BM virgin and the new friend asks “You have your ticket?” I told her I didn’t and she says “You do now!” I was gifted a ticket!!!

    Serendipity was huge for me this year, but I will plan my butt off next year!

    Report comment

  • Dirty Sanchez says:

    I had to drive out to the playa and I walked up to the lil booth and bought myself a ticket then I had to drive all the way back in to Reno to go to work the next day and then that night I drove out to Fernley and went major shopping @ Wal-Mart and THEN I drove out to the Playa all by myself @ 2am in the middle of the night…but the whole time while I was doing all of this….I WAS SO EXCITED!!!!!!! Nothing mattered the whole week. Once I arrived up to the bell I jumped out and went CRAZY!!!!!!! AND…..2009 was….yes my first year!!!!!!!!

    I will be on the Playa next year going harder and celebrating FREEDOM!!!!! and LIFE!!!!!

    ~2010~ Metropolis Baby!!!!!!!

    )'( D.S. )'(

    Report comment

  • I anguished over what my contribution would before my first year at Burning Man. What should I do? I’m not an artist. Who should I be? I’m just a chef and owner of a couple of restaurants. Would I serve eggs (that’s what I do for a living)? Would I serve food (I serve a lot of it). Did I really want to do what I do everyday while I was at Burning Man for a week? I do that all of my other waking hours. Then it hit me…I’ll be Jewish Mother at Burning Man. That’s what I am, but I can’t really be it in the real world. Jewish Mothers are too weird. They’re too crazy. So I decided to be the essence of what I really am and set up a Jewish Mother booth at Burning Man. Designed my sign along with my friend George. Got it printed. Shopped for my outfit at Goodwill. Put it all together. As we headed out for Burning Man and halfway into our 12 hour trip, I realized I forgot my sign. The one I designed. The one I had printed on plastic. The one in Portland with me in California. Called my friend Jeff Bale who hadn’t left Portland yet, had an employee deliver it to his door and then spent the next three days trying to find him at his camp to retrieve it. Got it. Dressed up. !5 minutes as the Jewish Mother at Burning Man, a guy walks by and asks if he can video tape me for the Jewish Press. I’m thinking it’s the Burning Man Jewish Press (why not?) Turns out it’s a national blog called the “Wandering Jew.” And here I am…a Jewish Mother at Burning Man, 2009. My very first (but won’t be my last) Burning Man.

    Report comment

  • Barbie says:

    My name is Barb..and I’m a repeat burner. (Is case there is a Burning man AA.)

    This past burn was the best for me. No worries, no theme camp, no art car..gave me time to spend with the hubby and our 3 boys. I recommend to not ‘burn’ yourself out before the burn and during. Relax and enjoy your friends and new ones.

    Report comment

  • Barbie says:

    My name is Barb..and I’m a repeat burner. (Is case there is a Burning man AA.)

    This past burn was the best for me. No worries, no theme camp, no art car..gave me time to spend with the hubby and our 3 boys. I recommend to not ‘burn’ yourself out before the burn and during. Relax and enjoy your friends and new ones.

    Report comment

  • Oso says:

    How I Lived The Dream Within A Dream While Wide Awake

    I’d been fascinated by The Burning Man Festival since I discovered it about 5 years ago, and had been actively planning to go there for the past 3 years. I finally made it – and upon arrival, what I discovered was far more intense, meaningful, transforming and exciting than what I had imagined it would be. It’s a dream within a dream, but so real that it’s clearly not an illusion. The default world pales.

    Report comment

  • Chip Jarman says:

    Below is an excerpt from a story I wrote of my art installation experience this year. It’s a humorous insight into how my plans to attend Burning Man this past year evolved.

    “The posting on Facebook’s Burning Man blog by a biology student in Victoria, B.C. caught my eye because of one word – “transmit”. I had finally committed myself to attend Burning Man 2009 only 2 months earlier and was not planning on creating an artwork or volunteering for the Black Rock City Emergency Services as I did in 2007. I was just reading the discussion threads to see what kinds of things Burners were talking about this year. I’m a radio enthusiast and my trip to BRC in 2007 involved my setting up a special event station at the corner of 7:30 and Kelp Forest complete with a myriad of whiz-bang radio electronics gear.

    So when I saw the word “transmit”, I read a little closer. The college student, Mitch, had an idea. He was interested in creating some sort of artwork, maybe something that might resemble a double-helix, which would transmit a recording of voices reading off the amino acids that make up human mitochondria DNA. He was wondering if anyone knew how this audio could be transmitted.

    I couldn’t resist.

    Several emails later, I’m suggesting a way to work a radio transmission of the DNA sequence into the “Evolution” theme of Burning Man 2009. Why the monolith came to my mind as the vehicle from which to transmit the signal, I would not realize until a few weeks before Burning Man. The plan was to build a 12 ft high monolith, plant it on the playa, and have a workstation about 30 ft away monitoring a signal that was being sent by it. The workstation would become the “interactive” part of the artwork by allowing participants to dial up and locate the transmissions on vintage radio receivers built into the workstation. I would build the workstation and Mitch and his friends in Victoria would build the Monolith.

    It didn’t quite work that way.”

    (from The Story of TMA-3)
    www dot burningmanzeroseven dot com

    Report comment

  • Nick/Spaghetti Cowboy says:

    Sweetthang is awesome!

    Report comment

  • mark d says:

    i wanted to go to Burning Man for several years now. Then one day at work the most straight laced person i work with started talking about his experiences at burning man. I was shocked. After talking for awhile he said “you just have to do it”. So, I said I was going by myself if I have to. Well, my brother told his wife he had to go to keep me out of trouble and we both arrived. No know what to expect. then came the greeters, the people telling us to roll in the dust becuase we were virgins and finly people helping us find space for our tent. That was just the beginning. The rest was more than I would have expected. We made friends, hugged many more and found new experiences. We will be back next year. I miss those people I met and can’t wait to see them again and share some new experiences. I just have to stay for the temple burn and see at least one sunrise from the temple or burning man. Oh yah, also not drink so much because it is way to easy to get carried away by all of the friendly people. Thank god for Burning Man!!!!

    Report comment

  • Playa Tigerlily says:

    The first year I went (2001), it was because I had recently been laid off from my job and I decided to try something new before going back to the grind of a 9 to 5. I had a friend who had gone the previous year, so she gave me the run down and I was able to join her camp and got the scoop on what to expect (athough nothing really prepares you for how mind blowing it truly is!)

    I basically got together the required camping gear/food/water for really cheap – mostly by telling my Mom who LOVES rummage sales that I needed some gear and the next thing you know she shows up with this GREAT gear-such as a big, nice tent she bought for $1 and a $3 Campstove, etc. I totally went minimalist on the costumes the first year, but it all worked out so I was pretty much set up with what I needed anyway. I crammed it all in the back of my aging Mazda Truck Topper and went up to San Francisco to meet up and drive out with my friend, who was a lead Greeter that year. She was working on costumes and said “I’ll follow you out in a couple of hours after I finish this costume.” She showed up 2 days later. On my own I found our camp, worked as a Greeter, and had the chance to meet some of the incredible Playa Denizens whilewaiting around to see when she would show. I am still friends with a lot of them 8 years later-I run into them at other events-“The Gathering of the Tribes”-I consider them some of the best people on earth and always love to see them!

    I’ve been 4 times so far and my heart is always there on the years I can’t go. I met Sweet Thang my first year and will always luv her and Winnemucca Dave even though I haven’t run into them on Playa since 2002-two of the best people on earth!

    The ticket is really reasonable if you consider the add-on costs of most events once you get there-it works out to about $45-50 a day if you go for the whole time and if you volunteer you’ll get the most out of it. It is definitely worth the (LONG) trip from where I live.

    Now the disclaimer-if you think you are going to hate it-DON’T GO! You WILL hate it. It’s a tough place to survive, and unless you have a good atitude and are open to its possibilities, you will be miserable. I don’t think anyone out there wants to put up with a bunch of drama, so if it’s drama you want, go to a rave. Your stuff will pretty much get ruined by the dust and wind and in some years rain and mud. The weather is harsh, everything and everyone is pretty much out of your control. If you have the wrong attitude or control issues, I really don’t think you will enjoy it….but then, I could be wrong ;-)

    Report comment

  • Juan Ramon says:

    Monday morning, 600 miles to go. My car brakes down on the interstate by the sign “No stopping. Prison Area.” Cell phone says, “No service.” Highway Patrol notes expired plate on trailer. Tow truck breaks down within 5 miles. Car on tow truck on really big tow truck arrive Wells, NV. No mechanic available. Arrive Elko and find it is high season at the repair shop: Burners filling out the schedule. Tuesday, fly home and borrow friend’s truck. Wednesday, midnight, arrive BRC. Awaken from nightmare, I guess, because people are saying, “Welcome home.”

    Report comment

  • Leona says:

    In 2002 I saw a theatre production in the Camden Roundhouse London, UK, that blew my mind. I got chatting with the organisers after the show who said that they had first performed it at Burning Man and then taken it around the world. I got home and read the Burning man website over and over again, thinking, this is the most amazing place in the world…I have to go! I made a print out of the ‘What is Burning man’ section from the site and kept it in a safe place. Now and again I would get it out and dream of how I could get to the festival and what I could do when I did…

    Then I forgot about it, focusing on bringing public art to London and landing my first major commission. You know how it is, balancing bringing in the money and doing what you love. However I wanted more and Burning Man came back into my mind.

    My boyfriends dad then moved to California and after a couple more years and missing out on my regular ticket for Glastonbury Festival that year, I thought – ‘What is the only festival I know of that is better than Glastonbury?’ and the answer – BURNING MAN!!! And that was that! The tickets were bought, the flight booked and we made our way to the desert. It went so smooth, so easy, like, I was meant to go. And of course, it was
    A M A Z I N G!

    When arriving back home in London, UK, I had a massive clear out of all my old stuff, getting rid of the old and making way for the new. And there it was, the original printout of ‘What is Burning Man’. I read it again and tears welled up in my eyes. At last! Now I know what its like! Now… I am a burner! x

    Report comment

  • Green Monkey says:

    Truth is……. there is NO EASY WAY TO DO IT. If you go expecting it to be effortless, you will be disappointed. This was my 7th year in a row, and each year I do it differently. In my mind I think it will be “easier” but in the end there is always room for more tweaking…. I’ve slept in my car, in a tent, and in an RV. I’ve flown into Reno, Sacramento, San Fransisco and even Vegas. 2009 was extra plush. Flew into Sacramento, did Tahoe for a few days before driving out and meeting our trailer which was delivered to our campsite. It doesn’t get any easier than that! if something went wrong the powers that be were close by and (get this) we didn’t have to clean it! Even so, we ran out of water and had problems with our generator and it was so loud we felt guilty turning it on. but the lack of fussing gave me more energy for mischief and dancing…. awh….nothing beats a full length mirror AND not having to get ice AND kick ass camp mates!!! except maybe…an art car. NEXT YEAR…. ART CAR!!!! ……

    Report comment

  • Buzz says:

    Barb above asks (In case there is a Burning man AA.)

    There is.

    We meet once a year.

    In the Black Rock desert.

    Labor day weekend.

    Report comment

  • Jell says:

    This was our first burn and I can’t seem to stop planning for next year. It was everything and more I’d ever hoped for. Dancing in the dust all night long and seeing the black rock sunrise happily haunts my dreams :).
    Burner for life

    Report comment

  • Simon Edwards says:

    This was our first burn, 4 Brits coming from London. Despite being virgins we felt like a challenge and decided to build a huge maze (“The Care Factor Nil Maze”), similar to the perimeter fence in appearance. It was in the deep playa at 1.30 from the man. Hopefully some of you got lost in it.

    Organizing it and trying to plan when you have no real idea what the playa is like was a bit of a nightmare, especially when you’re doing it all from the UK. Lots of people told us we were crazy, it wouldn’t work, etc, but we managed it. We even built it in less time than we thought and kept it relatively to budget – it can be done!
    Our only stress in building it was when we ran out of cable ties and luckily Black Rock Hardware helped out there – cheers guys! Typical, you spend $$$ and then don’t have enough of probably the cheapest component!

    Was it worth it? Hell, yeah! BRC rocks and my only problem now is that it’s whetted my appetite and I’m thinking, how can we out-do that in the future? I’d like to build a bigger, more complex and more art-y maze. One day it’ll happen folks!

    Report comment

  • Maaaaark says:

    Often overlooked in planning for BM is designing for mobility. It’s as if you’ll be traveling miles in-between parties. What do you need during that time? Is it easy to carry? Is it easy to gather? etc.

    Report comment

  • Ranger Brother says:

    Every year it just gets better. You can be sure that something life-changing is out there just waiting to happen, and it’s your responsibility to be there when it hits!

    Report comment

  • Affinity says:

    What Nick/Spaghetti Cowboy said! “Sweetthang is awesome!”

    Report comment

  • Brunox says:

    Well my third Burning Man, and two weeks before I wasn’t sure about Burning man this year due of shortge of money. My friend invited me to sleep over at his house so we could leave ealy money for surf, while we were at his house watching tv, he turn to me and told me: Dude you must come with me, because I just bought your ticket. That is not awseome?

    Report comment

  • Buy your 40 foot school bus early because it’s going to take you 8 months to turn that sucker into a giant victorian airship. Mostly because those Brass Tax jokers will keep shoving Malibu down your throat and blasting music at you when you’re trying to work.

    Report comment

  • yrlttlpwny says:

    What did it take to land at SFO after bicycling in the Indian Himalayas for 4 months, then 36 hours later be back in the saddle riding our bikes from Redding to BRC? A commitment to insanity and a whole lot of help and support from our friends.

    I want to use this space to give thanks to Conexus, formed of friends past and future, who, by saying “yes” to us joining their camp from abroad. We told them; We are in India! We will have only 5 days between coming home and the start of the burn. We desire, sooo desire to ride our bicycles to the playa. We will not be able to attend any planning meetings, or physically prep for the burn. But we were committing to tons of energy setting up and striking. And they said “yes!” Thank you Conexus, for making our dream possible, we had a wonderful, organized, cozy camp and beautiful people to enjoy and be part of.

    Other friends helped too! We couldn’t have done it without my pickup truck in the states being driven with our personal BM gear by our good friend and truck foster-daddy Shots. He met us at the airport, we drove the truck to Davis, loaded it, took off on our bicycles, and Shots grabbed the truck on his way to BM and met us there, and we drove it back while he traveled home with his friends. What an absolute ANGEL.

    As for the ride, we got lost, pretty much ran out of water (twice), had to ride in the pitch dark, thought we would not make it by midnight Monday, thought we might not make it at ALL! Slept outdoors every night with the pine trees, Susanville hobos, then coyotes, jackrabbits and wild burros.

    In the middle of nowhere on a dirt road, the only truck of the day passed us in the other direction. 30 minutes later, way down the road, it cruises up to me. The window rolls down, “You dropped your phone.” Says the driver — holy crap, it’s Edmundo’s cell phone! These people actually noticed it in the middle of the road, stopped for it and drove all the way back to give it to us. I cried tears of joy and gratitude and thanked them at least 5 times.

    On Monday, the last half of the day brought us an amazingly strong tailwind that allowed us to sail into Gerlach right around sunset. We were so enthralled because we were certain we had 20-30 more miles than was actually true, and we got pushed along by the wind! (That happened to be blowing the Conexus dome 50 ft in the air simultaneously) It was magical, under pink and orange skies, to actually be there. To be at the end of our 4-month cycling tour, and to begin our burn, my 4th after a 5-year hiatus. (Why did I stay away for so long?)

    What did it take to get us to BM 2009? The love of our friends. Thank you all for being a part of our dreams.

    Report comment

  • Jim Vassar says:

    Fellow Burners,

    To everyone we had a chance to share our first experience with…thank you! We hope to see every one of you next year and meet a whole bunch of new cool people.

    It’s amazing the posibilites when you simply open your mind!

    JV Dirt Pickle

    Report comment

  • Turner Burner says:

    Below are a few random lessons that I learned from my 5 days at Burning Man as a Virgin Burner. I shall add to them when I feel the urge. Please also add to this what Burning Man means/meant to you! This is my gift to you all:

    – Never, ever refuse a gift. The importance of the gift lies not in the gift as type but in the gift as token. The value of the gift inheres only in the process of gifting that ‘thing’ from one person to another. When the value of the gift is conflated with its monetary worth, the act of gifting becomes transactional and, therefore, worthless. Gifts received that are not utilised by the recipient shall always be passed on.

    – Be self-reliant. Always pick up one’s waste. The more we are able to care for ourselves, the less we need ‘the man/the state’ to do our job for us. Complete self-reliance renders both ‘the man/the state’ unnecessary and, therefore, obsolete. It empowers the individual and not ‘the man/the state’.

    – Get rid of what you don’t need. Holding on to what you don’t need is the self-imposition of unnecessary obstacles to what is truly important.

    – Embrace all that cultivates and inspires the imagination/creativity. The power of creativity via the use of the imagination is self defining and liberating insofar as it enables the expression of the individual. It is beautiful insofar as each individual’s expression is unique. However, it also unifies each individual with something larger and greater than that individual. It aligns each individual with something greater than the sum of its parts. This is felt as a connection to something whole, cosmic and universal. I think the Christians describes it as ‘grace’!

    – Realise that around us are institutions/power structures that are purposely instituted to control us and to prevent self-realisation. Imagination, expression, individualism are all stifled because they represent a threat to the power structures of our society. Look around us: we wear the same clothes, buy the same brands, drive the same cars. Things are provided for us and copied over and over. We are being conditioned to similarity and conformity because this is the most effective method of keeping us ‘in our place’. I think this is called post modernism.

    – The burning of the man represents many things to many people but I took from it the following: During the whole week of Burning Man, the Man acts as our guide – if we become lost or disorientated, all we need do is search for the Man – we rely on him for self-orientation/definition. In a world of constant change and transience (weather, colours, night, day, outfits!), the Man represent constance, security, tradition perhaps and authority. He is the centric, controlling influence that guides our daily lives, the primary institution of Burning Man. His (perceived) importance is heightened by the fact that (the idea of) Time is subverted: Time is used to orientate the City’s street plan and not in its usual, conventional sense. Throughout the week we learn the power of self-reliance, expression and community: we learn to survive the hardships of the desert and how to orientate ourselves in an unfamiliar land. This empowers us to the realisation that the Man is not longer required for his power resides within each and every one of us. We learn that he is, in fact, a straw man that we have both created and destroyed. His power is illusory – we create him because we think we need to…but, guess what, we get rid of what we don’t need – all we need is ourselves, and, each other. The Man is a metaphor for societal power structures: for Gods, Presidents, Kings and Queens, for hierarchies in general. The realisation that power resides with us is Beautiful and the burning of the Man represents the catharsis/release from prior held beliefs in the necessity of His existence.

    – Never be scared to be different – it’s what makes us beautiful!

    – The Universe will provide if and only when you are open to it.

    – Coincidences are usually more than simply ‘lucky’ occurrences.

    – ‘A fucking good party and the tart of a new year’ according to Bill (Coalition of the Chilling).

    – Music, Art, Community/Friendship, Shelter and Sustenance are necessities for a fulfilling society.

    – There aren’t much better feelings in life than gifting whilst raving in an open air dance arena whilst the sun comes up with the stars and the moon still in view. It makes you feel small but ironically significant as you realise you are part of something great.

    Report comment

  • 2009 was my first burn. Saw The Hand of Man on Daily Planet in October of 2008, Googled Burning Man and HAD to go.
    Our first hurdle was accommodations. Our PT Cruiser couldn’t haul anything worth owning so we sold it and bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee, then a 16″ Trav-L Mate Trailer. But we’d never travelled by trailer before so we had to outfit and upgrade the 32 yr old trailer – new tires, propane tanks, roof vents, new hitch ball for the Jeep – you get the idea. Then we needed all the self-sufficiency gear. Water bladders, first aid stuff, plastic plates, cups, jugs, baggies, etc. Then we set to work deciding who we most wanted to be on the Playa. Clothing, hats, make up, goggles, masks, glo-sticks and most important: our gift to the community.

    Report comment

  • 2009 was my first burn. Saw The Hand of Man on Daily Planet in October of 2008, Googled Burning Man and HAD to go.
    Our first hurdle was accommodations. Our PT Cruiser couldn’t haul anything worth owning so we sold it and bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee, then a 16″ Trav-L Mate Trailer. But we’d never travelled by trailer before so we had to outfit and upgrade the 32 yr old trailer – new tires, propane tanks, roof vents, new hitch ball for the Jeep – you get the idea.
    Then we needed all the self-sufficiency gear. Water bladders, first aid stuff, plastic plates, cups, jugs, baggies, small generator, solar cells, kinetic energy flashlights, etc.
    Then we set to work deciding who we most wanted to be on the Playa. Clothing, hats, make up, goggles, masks, glo-sticks and most important: our gift to the community.
    We were so organized and so unprepared for this experience. It’s mid-November now and not a day goes by when the Playa doesn’t call to me. I see reminders everywhere – glimples of the Playa show up on TV, a picture shows up on my screen saver, and the smell of the dust still lingers in my sheets and my clothes. The essence lives inside me, available any moment of every day.
    We’re coming back in 2010 and have a whole new list of things to bring and a renewed determination to take even more pictures to get us through the long months between Burns.
    Thank you everyone for this community. Now I know why they welcome you home upon arrival. Next year I can tell them how glad I am to be back. See you all there!

    Report comment

  • WT says:

    2009 was my first burn…went with friends who’d gone before but none of us were good planners and 85% of our prep was the day before we took off. I was even more underperepared since I was never prepared…but it didn’t matter once I saw the words “welcome home.” Shortly after, my friends sold me out for a few dollars to the gatekeeper…they were hoping I would have to tea-bag the bell as they had to do at their first burn.

    Coming back into the real world was a bit of a culture shock. My tentmate and I couldn’t stop laughing for an hour at the iHop in Reno, and that was after laughing for an hour at Sparks. If you see a fellow burner on the road, wave and honk!

    Most importantly, if you enjoyed burning man let that be yours. Don’t let someone who has never gone and plans never to go (on the account that it’s too corporate or ‘says one thing and does another’) tell you otherwise.

    Report comment

  • Lots of of people write about this issue but you wrote down really true words.

    Report comment

  • edmundo says:

    i went on the bicycle trip with yrlttlpwny to india and then riding from redding, ca to brc by bicycle fully loaded with our gear we had been traveling with for four months. this was my 10th burn, i finally skipped a year in 2008. after 10 years, you do start to get some expectations of what is to come. but every year i have learned something that i did not know before. two things that struck me this year.

    #1) honestly i did not see this one coming! we were actually the 1st two people though the BM gate since we were at the official opening time (sunday, 11:59pm) and we biked while everyone else (except one other cyclist) had to get in their vehicles and get in line and you know, wait in their car in line (cars that arrival early and dont have early passes stage in a big parking lot till 1159am). We got to the gate and like 5 of our friends were greeters! We hadnt seen anyone since leaving the US 4 months back. So that was amazing…then all the art cars were there waiting for us. i have never arrived at this time.. always early or later. never on time – lol :)

    #2) so there is something about my first day on the playa… well, you know, i’m TIRED…yes, i tried to plan the year and that certainly helped, but in the end its a mad scramble usually in the last week for the final push. you know what that means-? you are seriously sleep deprived upon arrival – a place where you never want to sleep at all. BUT, if you cycle 7-9hrs a day, your body will give you no choice to immed pass out in the first wam sleeping bag and soft pillow that comes your way. so, we basically exercised and slept out each night (no tents even, although we had ours) and i got like a full 9hrs in each night. I’ve never had that kind of a Monday on the playa!

    #3) the geography is always a bit of shock. most of us dont live anywhere near a place like BRC or if we did, don’t go out for survival camping all that much. by biking, we were already in the “playa” leaving susanville ca on smoke creed canyon rd. i had a couple of days to watch the scenery change, and it made for an unusual peacefulness upon arrival.

    if you want more information about our trip, check out

    dusty love,

    Report comment

  • Let’s take a short trip back to 2007, the year I thought I’d never come back to the playa.

    In 2007, it was my senior year. I’d been going since 2004, and I thought I had everything sorted and set. I knew what my vehicle could tow, what I could handle, and I was ready to drop a theme camp of AWESOME onto the playa, replete with something nobody else had thought of, nobody else had DREAMED of. I went with the intent and idea that the death of my dear friend would be assauged with the completion of my theme camp, that the dream we had together would come full circle. Our vision of a camp where people would casually drop in, have a drink, listen to some really good music, have a really good time, and meander on out into the night, mellowed by our awesomeness and our pure hipcat cool, would be fulfilled. In point of fact, that is exactly what I expected.

    Fate, it would seem, is a motherfucking bitch when it comes to things you expect out of The Event In The Desert.

    I drove down with someone who convinced me, one hundred percent, that my vehicle could tow a trailer of steel and outweighing my vehicle’s tow rating by over 3,000 lbs. I dealt with him harassing campmates, with expecting preferential treatment, with being, in short, the bane of my existence during 2007. I had to wonder if he was around. At the end of the event, I found myself apologizing to campmates for my inability to pull it out at the last minute. Needless to say my camp, my intended homage to my friend, my entire development didn’t happen. I wound up alienating people by trying to hold everything together, by trying to provide experiences for other people, by being something other than what I wanted to be. I nearly hit the guy who drove down with me. I had deep abiding depression during the event, and lo and behold, I even got laid off the day before the event actually started at the pay phone in Empire talking to my boss, who said, “Monkey, I’m really sorry I have to tell you this. Right now. But we have to lay you off due to a lack of funding for the position.”

    Yes, I rode down with a complete and utter jerk who wound up trying to scam free meals off of people in our camp, who offended people left and right. I knew what I was doing, right? I mean, I’d been a theme camp lead. I’d worked bars. I knew my community. I had it under control. I was there and I was totally on board with everything. I knew nothing that the playa could throw at me could diss my experience.

    Oh yeah, that trailer that my co-rider convinced me to drive down with? Burned out my brakes and left me stranded in Cedarville for forty-eight hours. It took a dear friend who found the part for my vehicle, drove it TO Cedarville, and an hour later helped me get back on the road with completely AWESOME mechanics busting their chops to get me moving that I was even able to make it to the playa that year.

    That’s even BEFORE I got laid off in Empire at the phone booth on a prepaid card, finding out that I was once again one of America’s early 10% unemployed. I pulled into to Black Rock City exhausted, tired, not even wanting to deal with the people who cheerfully greeted me. I said, “yeah, yeah, happy welcome home, lemme get to my camp and fuck the hell off,” or something similar.

    Then during the week, I wound up trying to run a theme camp, work a volunteer gig, be a stage manager, and party all night until 3AM, go home run myself ragged, AND try to hook up with at least one or four playa hotties. That’s not even keeping out the four playa dates I had scheduled, the three major events, and the support roles I’d done for friends. Oh, and the Boys Night Out – a tradition held with friends from my hometown starting at sundown Wednesday night at the base of the Man and continuing until the Last Man Standing fell asleep – usually around 10PM the next day.

    Who wants to call me an insane beeyotch? Go ahead. I TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU.

    Let’s be clear here, though. I could have dialed my commitments down. I could have said, “I’m not going to ride with anyone else.” I could have dropped theme camp lead, volunteer position, and finished out all of the things I “needed” to do at the event. I could have canceled my traditional Sunday Bacon Bacon Bacon breakfast, not gone out hunting for my friends from Germany, Greece, London, Denver, and Chicago. I could have stopped my role as an MC for a talent show, cut back on my hours as a volunteer and not gone out until 3AM.

    I could, upon hearing that I was laid off from a job I utterly loved with all my heart and soul, that I was perfect for, have turned around and gone home.

    I could have called it a day.

    I could have called it an event. I could have said “I’m done.”

    I was sorely tempted. I cried on the phone to my father in a tiny motel room in a tiny town on the Oregon border, who has never been to the event, doesn’t understand a single whit of what TEITD is or does or will be and can’t stand temperatures over 80 degrees F, (which explains why I grew up in the Pacific Northwest). I could have dropped that pseudo-poet Jim Morrison wannabe asshat on his ass on the side of the road the minute he decided that the destination, not the journey, was more important. My friends could have failed to come through for me, the friends who I found and forged through this event over the years not because of how superficially awesome they are, but how much they truly care for one another. I could have walked away at the end of the event thinking, “Damn, that was not my year, and that year would always haunt me for life.”

    And then I had a friend say, “Hey, you doing Burning Man in 2008*?”

    I dropped a lot of preconceptions. I got involved, seriously, with a non-Burner who will never go to the event. I dialed back who I thought I was at TEITD, and who I thought I needed to be.

    And I had the best time of my life in 2008. Everything that could go right did. Every excess of the year before was cautioned, the negative aspects cauterized, the jackasses and jackassery of the year before ignored and conditioned. I drove down with an acquaintance and came back with a deep and meaningful friend. I went to bed early and awoke in time for the sunrise each day. I got my life back in order, and I reconnected with what the playa dust means to me.

    Whether this is your first year or your twentieth year, it doesn’t matter. Your experience is purely what you make of it. In 2007, I had my hell year, my year of intense fear, of intense worry, of doubt, of repudiation, of anger, of distaste, of pity, and of deep anxiety for the future. In 2008, many of the things that happened the year before hadn’t changed, but the way I went most certainly did.

    Whether you want to look at my tales of 2008 and 2009 as warning, cautionary tales for your own experience is something I can’t give any creedence to. My experience is not going to be your experience. Your Mileage May Radically Vary.

    I can honestly say I’ll never allow a poetry-spouting wannabe beatnik halfassed foreign-language English teacher back into my playa vehicle again, but I will always allow the warmth of the people who deal honestly and openly with the problems of the open road into my life and my van.

    I can honestly say in a pinch, the men and women of Cedarville are good, decent folks who will always go the extra mile for a Burner in need.

    I can honestly say that I don’t know what I’ll expect out of 2010, 2011, or 2012. But I can say that in every aspect of these years, I know what I expect of myself, and that is that the desert calls to me for the week prior to Labor Day.

    I hope I’ll see you there. If the journey is hard, just remember that sometimes the journey takes longer than a year to make it to the playa. And even then, it’s not always what you might expect it to be.a

    Report comment

  • As a side note, I should mention that the Hell Year for me was 2008, not 2007, and 2009 was completely awesome.

    Report comment






    Report comment

  • BrotherMichael says:

    Here I sit, patiently waiting for John Curley to resume his Building Black Rock City blog for 2010, detailing the rise of our city… connecting us to the playa before we even get there. Last year, your posts were pure poetry.

    I hope there is a repeat performance.


    Report comment

  • john curley says:

    Wow. What an incredibly kind thing to say, Brother Michael! Thank you!

    I’m really happy to be able to say that the final details were worked out just yesterday, and I will in fact have a repeat performance. :) A three-peat, actually.

    You should start hearing from me when they start pounding the stakes in the ground for the fence, a week from Monday.

    Thanks again.

    Report comment

  • Bob says:

    Woo hoo! Congratulations on the conclusion of this phase of your pojcert! Wishing you a wonderful time at Burning Man experiencing the playa with your family (yay, first-timer, Darwin!), and gifting your GF paintings.

    Report comment

  • That’s way the bestest answer so far!

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.