Hefner, Creativity, and the Purpose of Life

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Hefner, Creativity, and the Purpose of Life

One hot summer day in the desert, my friend Adam and I happened upon a camp offering refreshments of the palate and the eyes: delicious, ice cold cocktails, tea, and an assortment of vintage Playboys ranging from the late 70’s through early 2000’s, piled high on a coffee table between two dusty sofas. Oh, Burning Man… how I love you – a place where everything is possible and no idea is too silly to bring forth.
I’d like to muse over the act of creation for a moment:
Consider a jazz musician who will take the stage later tonight and thrill the audience with flashes of blazing improvisation – music that is spontaneously created on the fly – one of the most spectacilar feats of human creativity. That same musician is practicing scales, with a metronome, right now, in a highly controlled way. Working in an environment of temporary restraint has a way of preparing for blast off later.
I believe that we are higher dimensional beings having a temporarily downgraded three dimensional experience, for the purpose of learning. I believe that the purpose of life is to refine our ability to take a non-material idea, and bring it into the world of “material” three dimensions.
That’s it.
I don’t care what it is you create… whether it’s an accounting firm, or a sculpture, or a baby human, or some weird poems – everthing we do as humans is an act of creation.
When you endeavor to move something from the realm of idea into the physical plane, all manner of challenges must be overcome – several varieties of fear, being chief among them. Overcoming fear is the most fundamental goal of the human experience. Being creative is the vehicle for that.
Occasionally we encounter humans who have GRAND visions of something that never existed before, and they proceed to bring it from the realm of idea, into the world of “reality”. These creators know things about the human condition and their relationship to the abundant Universe that, statistically speaking, few other humans know.
Hugh Hefner passed away yesterday. Regardless of what you think of the merrits of his work – one must concede – this man was a master creator, conjuring an entirely new reality in his mind and bringing to fruition. How many people do that?
If I were at your funeral, Mr. Hefner, I would simply stand with ovation and clap slow claps of awe and admiration.
Well done, sir!
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Burning Man 2017

Memories from Burning Man 2017.

Trying to explain what Burning Man is, visually, or with words, is like peeping through a pinhole at the night sky and trying to describe the heavens.



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Radical Self Reliance: thoughts from Burning Man 2015

It’s Burning Man season! Be warned: This is all I’ll be talking about until mid Feb 2018. With that, let’s get on to tonight’s thought:

There are a lot of people who are super sad these days. Angry. Offended. Scared. I feel bad for them, because I’ve seen this other way of living:

Burning Man is a brilliant primordial soup of human potential, creativity, and possibility unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never seen so many people acting in so many beautiful ways. Our dusty home in the desert is governed by 10 Principles. Principle #4 is “Radical Self Reliance” and it goes like this:

“Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

On the surface, this means that you are solely in charge of bringing your own:

  • water
  • food
  • shelter
  • fuel
  • electricity
  • sunscreen

Burning Man is a place of abundance! There is always extra to go around, and usually extra stuff to bring home. When you get 75,000 people together who have all taken seriously the idea of self reliance, synergies occur and tremendous excess is the result. If someone happens to fall on hard times once out there – like, if your tent burns down – chances are that people around you will have you taken care of in no time at all and back to the party.

“Radical self reliance” goes beyond physical provisions: it’s about taking responsibility for my own experience. Not just on the Playa, but in the rest of life as well. I am in charge of my own feelings. Nobody can “make me” feel anything unless I allow them to. Being offended is a choice. Being happy and blissfully content is a choice.

A wise old desert dweller once said,

“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

(B. Young)

Anyway – that’s it for now. I’ll be posting more from my last burn as I get packed up during the next few days.

THE MAN burns in 16 days!!

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Building Man 2017

A few photos and thoughts from Building Man 2017 at Jenkstar Ranch in Green River, Utah:

Tonight our tribe will dance to pulsing anthems of modernity, fueled by electrons harvested from the sun this day. We will give and receive sacraments that pull us into the present, healing our addiction to the past and future. The cliffs and buttes are the elder statesmen of the desert – their billion year old wrinkles a constant reminder to be humble.

Much love to the Jenkstars for making this happen.

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No Idea Too Silly

Do you ever find yourself listening to someone talk, and it’s painfully obvious that they are choosing their words so carefully that they start feeling inauthentic? Have you ever caught yourself being that person?

I have a listener named “Red”  that has an uncanny ability to hear right through my voice when I’m on the radio. He’s incredibly tactless and does not hesitate to call in and call me out on my bullshit, live on the air. This can be a challenging experience, sometimes downright humiliating.  Several months ago, I was going through some  substantial personal challenges. I was feeling really insecure about the quality of my work. Red could hear it in my voice.  He called in, I took his call live on the air:20150831_183513

“You’re really struggling, aren’t you?”

His indictment continued…

“You are holding back. Why don’t you tell us what you really think? You aren’t giving us the whole story Paul. You are measuring your words, and it’s boring.”

His criticism was devastatingly accurate, sending me into a downward spiral of cancerous self-awareness. I had this nagging knowing that I was not fully utilizing my mind and voice in the air. When you are a broadcaster, there are a number of people you have to keep happy:  The FCC,  the station owner, and the listeners. You HAVE to color inside certain lines, so watching one’s words is a necessity. You can’t curse on the air, for instance.  I regularly pushed the envelope of what I could and could not talk about, which means that you have to be very aware of that line in the sand between kosher and unacceptable.  This becomes a slippery slope of self-censorship. One minute I’m trying to avoid saying “shit” on the air, the next moment I find myself failing to say what I really think about Bernie Sanders.

fire breathing medusa head at burning man

Want to go dancing around a giant Medusa Head DJ booth with fire breathing snakes? No problem. We’ve got one of those.

One of my main objectives for Burning Man was to let go of the self imposed barriers to communicating with my full voice.  In the past two years, I’ve come a LONG way in finding my voice, but I knew that some weird kind of glass ceiling still needed to be broken through.

The art at Burning Man has a particular quality to it.  There is a purity to the ideas and execution of those ideas that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  The ideas are bigger, more extreme, more absurd, and have passed through zero filters.


Wednesday morning I was en route to the porta potties for my morning ritual. I overheard two girls talking. Though they were obviously virgin burners, they had been on the playa long enough to see and experience a few things. They were discussing the art; one girl said:

“You know what it is… No idea is too silly. Nothing is off the table out here.”

Her words have been bouncing around in my soul ever since.  She nailed it.

No idea too silly.

Every idea is fair game.

That’s it. That’s the glass ceiling.


Burning Man 2015 was a grand epiphany that freed me from feeling compelled to send every idea, word, impulse, though an exhaustive committee in my head, before letting it come out of my head.  I learned to trust that I am a good person. I’m not a dangerous person – and therefore, I can just let it flow. Sure some of it may be weird, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s AWESOME. Let’s get weird. That’s where the gold is.  The pasteurization of weird ideas  causes artist’s block. Every idea is a worthy seed. Not all of them must be acted on – one must carefully choose how to spend time and resources, and that’s okay too. It feels amazing to be able to sit at the drawing board of my mind and just let the ideas flow, as silly as they may be.

Accept that you have a filter.

Make peace with yourself. Understand you are inherently good.

Fire the censorship committee in your head.

Watch your creative life bloom.





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3 Things: The Collected Bucket Lists of Burners at Burning Man 2015

In 2013, I did a project called “3 Things: The Collected Wisdom of Burners at Burning Man 2013“. It proved to be such an awesome experience, both on, and off the Playa, that I decided to do a follow up project in 2015.

I wandered around Black Rock City and met people from all over the world. I asked them

“What are three things you want to do before you die, that you have not done yet?”

Here are their answers.

Recommended listening while you are perusing the images… a gorgeous set by Hernan Cattaneo, performed at the iconic White Ocean 2015 sound camp:


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Writing On The Wall

Porta Potties are an integral part of the Burning Man experience. Obviously.

One must piss and shit.

One must also leave no trace on the desert floor… that’s one of the 10 Principles of Burning Man. Hence, porta potties.  One of the things I adore about Burner culture is the way it embraces both the profane and the profound and lets them co-exist, simultaneously.  I thought the porta potties were a poetic, if not stinky, example of this ethos.  Nearly every porta potty interior is adorned with some kind of graffiti. Here are some of my favorite moments from inner walls of the 2015 Porta Potties:

See more of my Burning Man 2015 experience here.


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A Carnival Of Mirrors

Ladies, Gentlemen, Everyone in between… I’ve been home from Burning Man for a MONTH now and I’m just now getting some words ready to share. I’ve tried to write an account of Burning Man a hundred and seventeen times, and I never feel like I do it any justice. It’s just too big of an idea.  Even if I were to write a perfectly worded treatise, I would still fail to fully communicate to you what Burning Man is. It’s futile – like trying to explain what the color purple is to a blind person.

_DSC8104Burning Man is a magical oasis in the Desert. Beautiful serendipities are inevitable when you bring together 70,000 highly intentional creative beings into a temporary city and empower them with the 10 Principles of Burning Man. Things happen out there that defy description. Every. Single. Day.

I went out there with one basic goal in mind: to have experiences that would help me connect more clearly to my artistic voice.  For the past two years, I have been working in radio at KTALK 630 AM. It has been an amazing opportunity to learn how to produce a show, learn to broadcast, and most importantly, to find my voice. Although I have made a ton of progress, I have felt like somehow I was still holding myself back. I hadn’t quite found my groove.  I wasn’t placing demands on Burning Man to deliver this epiphany to me, but I certainly hoped for it. _DSC7295The art theme for Burning Man 2015 was “Carnival Of Mirrors” – an apropos theme for a guy who’s trying to gain more artistic clarity.  Black Rock City was fashioned into a whimsical carnival midway of sorts.  The inhabitants of this BRC came not just as spectators, but as participants, in a mystical carnival in the desert where the people, places, things, ideas, conversations, and experiences that your soul needs, are reflected back to you.

“If we do not fashion for ourselves a picture of the world, we do not see ourselves either, who are the faithful reflections of that world. Only when mirrored in our picture of the world can we see ourselves in the round. Only in our creative acts do we step forth into the light and see ourselves whole and complete. Never shall we put any face on the world other than our own, and we have to do this precisely in order to find ourselves. For higher than science or art as an end in itself stands man, the creator of his instruments.” –  Carl Jung

Come along as I tell tales of the carnies, gurus, and travellers I met during my week in the desert.


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Burning Man 2014 wrap up with Sarah Berry

The Man Burns in 367 Days!

Though Burning Man just finished, a countdown is always in motion. For the devout, Burning Man is more than the best party of the year… it is a way of life.  Preparations for each upcoming burn happen all year long, from the Burning Man Organization office in San Francisco, to the lives of the individuals who make the trek out into the Black Rock Desert every year.

I didn’t make it to the Burn this year. The reasons are several and more complicated than I care to discuss here; it may suffice to say that I did not prepare well and I was fucking horribly depressed last week. During the week of the Burn, I made a month by schedule of preparations which will ensure that in 2015, I will be watching The Man burn in person. #lessonlearned

It’s also the 1 year anniversary of the show! My experience at Burning Man last year was a key factor in my decision to take over The Jake Shannon show and turn it into The Paul Duane Show.  That year went by FAST….


On today’s show, Utah Burner Sarah Berry joined me in the studio to tell tales from the Playa.  Now that Burners are arriving home, dusting off their gear and uploading photos, some great galleries of images are starting to emerge that give us a glimpse into the sights that emerged in the desert for one week and then disappeared into the ether…

Check out some of the great photo galleries that are showing up on the Burning Man blog:



… and some other photos by two of my favorite Burner photographers, Jashua Grover and Trey Ratcliff:

manburns by jashua grover

Photo by Jahshua Gorver. See more of his work and join him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jahshua.grover


embrace by trey ratcliff

Photo of the “Embrace” sculpture by Trey Ratcliff.  Over the years, he has created some absolutely incredible images from Burning Man.

embrace burns by trey ratcliff

Embrace burning.  Photo by Trey Ratcliff. Check out his website:  http://www.stuckincustoms.com

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Burning Stan

Okay. I just had to share something awesome with you…

Some of you may have seen the little photo essay I did while at Burning Man, the “3 Things” project:  http://www.paulduane.net/2013/09/3-things-burning-man-2013/

Two weeks later, I got word that a teacher in North Carolina had seen my project and was inspired to have her kids do likewise: http://olivetorun.com/2013/09/19/what-would-you-say/

Today, the Official Burning Man Blog featured this whole story: http://blog.burningman.com/2013/09/culture-art-music/3-things/

Before I share what happened next, I should explain one aspect of the Burning Man experience for those who have not yet been.  The drive into Black Rock City is arduous. From SLC, it’s an 8 hour drive along I-80 toward Reno.  Just before arriving into Reno, you exit onto a small road called Route 447 that proceeds north for 97 miles, deep into the northern Nevada desert.  That 97 mile drive happens along a 2 lane road (one lane each direction) and 68,000 other Burners are making the same trek. It took me from 6 pm until 3 am to complete that leg of the journey.  When you arrive at the Black Rock Desert, you can start to see the lights of Burning Man off in the distance. the anticipation is tedious yet kind of delicious. The one lane of traffic divides into 4 lanes, which divides into 8, and into 12, or something close to that. A huge swath of vehicles slowly proceed along the entrance route toward the gate. After presenting your ticket, you proceed to the final stage of the journey before finding your camp: the welcome gate. The person at the welcome gate asks you to get out of your car, and gives you a HUGE hug and says, “Welcome Home!” It’s quite a remarkable initiation into what will prove to be the most remarkable week of your year. You are given a map of the city and a schedule of all the happenings – and then you drive toward your camp.   Hopefully this next part will make more sense now.

A few minutes ago, I received the following email:

Hi Paul —

Just wanted to share a brief anecdote about the guy in this picture (Caveat: I’m 98% certain it was this guy, but with the burn… sometimes hard to be 100% on anything):


It was my third year at the burn. Our camp always does a greeter shift. This was my third. This year it was Wednesday 4am-8am. In the “organizer” role for my camp, I didn’t actually man a gate — I spent most of my time walking back and forth, directing traffic, making sure everything was moving fine.  What that really means is: anytime a line of cars started to develop I’d talk to the people in cars to keep their stress level low.

This guy was in a truck. I walked up, started talking, and it was his turn to pull up to the greeter gate.

I asked if he wanted a hug.

“Sure!” He didn’t just say it, he sort of flung it out there. At greeter gate, not everyone actually wants to get out for a hug. But this guy… He was downright gleeful on the prospect.

He opens his car door and then starts to pull pieces of metal from the passenger seat. It takes me a moment to realize…

…this guy is putting together his wheelchair.

In my cumulative 12 hours working greeter shift, he is the only guy I have ever seen who is wheelchair bound and drove himself into BRC [Black Rock City].

He hoists himself from the driver’s seat to the wheelchair, gives us all hugs, then gets back into the car, disassembles the wheelchair, and drives off into the city.

And he was *boisterous* — literally, filled with JOY — the entire time.

I’ve greeted bus loads of people. I’ve greeted hundreds of virgins. Hundreds and hundreds of Burners.

But this guy will always stand out in my mind. Because he didn’t just overcome his hardship, he straight up murdered it; and because he was so filled with joy at being home, at being back in BRC, at being part of the community.

Thanks again for reminding me, and of giving me a picture of him to keep.

In that vein…

Thanks so much for your project!  I hope you had an amazing virgin burn and hope to see you out on the Playa next year — my camp is the Mystikal Misfits and we are generally located at either 4:30 & B or (as was the case this year) at 4:30 & C.

With hugs,


 Here is the photo that he was referring to:

This is Stan Clawson. He is a burner from Salt Lake City, and was one of the participants in my “3 Things” photo essay. Though I’ve only met him twice, I can vouch for the abundant good energy this guy packs along. I was really moved by this story, especially because I was in such a crabby mood when I got to the welcome gate where this story took place, where Stan was so joyous.

I was hesitant to blog and talk about Burning Man yet AGAIN… but how could I get an email like this and not share it with you guys? This is just another small slice of heaven that happens out on the Playa. Stan is an awesome guy, and I had to share this. I hope it doesn’t embarrass him too much.  I am so grateful to everyone and everything that made it possible for me to experience Burning Man this year.  The moral of the story here?

Always say YES, especially to hugs and guys with cameras that want to take your picture.

Share your gift, whatever it is.

You never know how your story, your smile, hug,  or experience, will help someone out.

Be like Stan.


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