Maybe Everything We Believe About the Universe is True

By John Curley and Hannah Miller

The Global Leadership Conference is about a lot of things. That was never more true than what took place on Friday afternoon at the Ignite session, where all the conference attendees sat in an auditorium-like space and listened to one speaker after another talk about what inspired them, what motivated them, what they had learned as they pursued life and the arts.


Brady Forrest
Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest
The Evolution of Ignite Talks
Brady Forrest introduced the audience to the concept of the Ignite talk: five minutes, with 20 mandatory slides. The format encourages speakers to keep moving and use visuals, and has now been used in 50 Ignite talks around the country. The real point of Ignite, said Brady, is that “anyone can be a rockstar.”

Danielle Leong
Corpse Party Bugs
Danielle laid down the ecosystem your body turns into after death. Within 10 days, it teems with maggots, ants, carrion beetles, and then a long beautiful process of increasing putrefaction: putrefaction (when your body bloats), black putrefaction (when your body explodes) and butyric fermentation, when your body starts to smell like cheese. (Danielle did not specify which cheese.) It’s transformation in reverse. Starting with the end at the beginning.

A Human/ Robert MacPherson
Robert related the staging of a successful event like Burning Man to raising a successful garden. First, you have to put the right things in the right places. You don’t plants ferns in the desert, for example. Not going to work. Then, you must value the diversity of different plants, because some will let you do things that others won’t. But one of his underlying beliefs was that to have success, you really need to find the lazy way of doing things; they make the most sense, and you don’t wind up fighting yourself or the environment. Let the site – and the event – find its own way. It’ll be the strongest it can be.

Danielle Leong
Danielle Leong

Ben Rudnick/Captain Gonzo
FIGMENT – Water, Fire & Taking Over the World one heart at a time
Captain Gonzo spoke of the miracle that is Figment, at 11 cities and counting. Figment New York, where adults and children are stranded on an island with only art to look at. Figment Jackson, Mississippi: created from one sole Burner. Pittsburgh, Philly, Detroit, Chicago, DC – and in Boston, where it was adopted by the city government and made into the official, municipal New Years’ celebration. Their newest creation, Figment Alpha, is centered on the idea that everyone is a leader.

Taylor Bollinger
Burn Feels/Burn Speak
Bollinger is a cognitive linguist who shared with the Ignite crowd ideas on handling the inevitable conflicts that arise in even the most collaborative settings. He put together a toolkit that participants could take back to their Regionals, or onto the play.  Alas, even his most powerful tools, he said, were not enough to save his most recent relationship. But let’s press onward anyway; here are the approaches he encourages people to use:
1) Mindfulness: keep things in the present tense, and stay focused on the problem in front of you
2) Intentional: When you are arguing, don’t say things you don’t mean
3) Responsible: Maintain your internal locus of control
4) Grateful: Find something that is not so bad about the situation, and everyone, including yourself, will feel better about it.

Schuyler Earl
The First Moment in the Universe
Schuyler Earl started with a viral Youtube video of an astrophysicist receiving confirmation that his theory was correct. You might have seen it. (Watch it first.) Then he took us back to the era, about 100 years ago, when human beings thought that the Milky Way was the entire universe, but then started noticing spiral nebulae out there in the distance. From there it was a story of human beings staring farther and farther into space, following light back through billions of years, finally reaching the farthest reaches of the universe, thereby returning to the beginning of time.


Stefan Pildes
Stefan Pildes

Stefan Pildes
Hula Hoops
Passion can flow through anything. It can be about anything. It can go around and around your body with rainbow colored electric lights. In Stefan Pildes’ demonstration/talk, he covered the Big Bang of the Hula Hoop movement, which in his case was sparked by a bunch of New Yorkers convening on a park after 9-11 and responding by – hula hooping. “I don’t care what your passion is,” he said. “Find it and use it to change the world.”

Paul Salazar
The Beauty of Eclipses
Here was another panelist who had never been to Burning Man, and yet the enthusiasm and energy that powered his talk was infectious, and he was preaching to a sympathetic crowd. … The playa is full of serendipitous moments, and Salazar noted the serendipity of the sun being 400 times larger than the Earth, because when the moon crosses between the two bodies, the corona that forms is just perfect, and it wouldn’t happen if the sun were any bigger or smaller. There’s a moment that eclipse aficionados love, the “diamond ring” they call it, when the last rays of the sun pass through the mountains of the moon, and shine brilliantly atop the ring of the moon. Then, totality, and the transformation is complete. Again with the transformation – a common theme with many of the Ignite presentations.


Adam Ebel
Adam Ebel

Adam Ebel
My Evolution as an Artist
Adam started with a revoked citizenship and ended in the Playa. He talked about his grandfatherbeing stripped of German citizenship by the Nazis because he was Jewish, but then went through his career on the Playa: robots emerging from the ground, the Heart Deco bus, and culminating in the Phoenix imagery (which is on the flag of San Francisco). “Never forget the beauty inside you,” he said.

Paul Weir
All Souls
In 1983, Paul was legally dead for 17 minutes, and since that time his life has been … you guessed it … transformed. He has taken that energy and poured it into the All Souls Procession in Tucson, a heartfelt outpouring of civic engagement centered around one of the few things we all share – death. In the leadup to the event, 10,000 mementos are gathered – they could be anything; bits of clothing, papers, notes, letters, any reminder of someone who has left us. These fragments of lives are gathered into a huge urn that is torched on the last night of the All Souls event. “It’s very beautiful, and it’s very deep,” Weir said. The big burn isn’t the only thing that happens; there are eight weeks of workshops that residents can take for free, and the city has responded. Attendance has reached 10,000 people.

Bobby Hedglin
Virgin Outings
New York City has developed an airlock for virgin Burners: a months long acculturation process to bring in the virgins, rub them until they are warm, and get them in the mood. “I asked so many questions my first year, that’s how I ended up doing this,” Bobby said. “We get them to ask their Burning questions.” They do boozy brunches, and the usual camping trip, but what really makes it work are the mani/pedis they go get at a local salon. “The straight guys loved the manipedis,” he said, showing a slide of yes, a line of assumably straight dudes getting pedicures.

Wally Bomgaars (Odwally)
Interjecting Positive Messages
What if the next message that appeared on your cellphone screen didn’t say that someone has connected with you on LinkedIn or commented on your post on Facebook or that you are supposed to be in a meeting in 10 minutes. What if that pop-up said something like, “Make someone feel awesome right now,” or “Breathe,” or “Be Grateful for your Friends.” Do you think it would make a difference in your life? Wally says yes. “Positive thinking has a powerful effect on our lives,” he said, and he displayed a helpful graphic with a very strong arrow pointing upwards. At the end of his speech, he had the crowd stand and breathe. “Doesn’t that feel good?” Why yes it did.

Karen Cheng
How I Learned to Dance in a Year
How many times have you tried to do something that you weren’t very good at? The last thing you want is for someone to see you trying. Karen put her embarrassing first try at really complicated dance moves on a giant screen in front of a roomful of tragically hip people, and then the progression to knowing what she’s doing. There’s nothing so cool as someone who will purposefully fall on her ass in public to make all the rest of us feel capable. That is an act of love.

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.

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