Why I don’t wear costumes at Burning Man

Burning Man

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Why I don’t wear costumes at Burning Man

I’m the Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist. I’m that guy who will show up to your party, a business meeting, or a first date wearing pantyhose, heels, tailored shorts and a blazer. When people find out that I’m a Burner, they almost always include, “I want to see all of the pics of you in your costumes at Burning Man!”

I hope you are ready to be underwhelmed by my answer.  I think most people assume I’ll take my normal look:

and multiply it by BURNING MAN YEAAAAHH!!!!

They conjure me in ridiculously flamboyant heels, weirder tights, skirts, all manner of sartorial debauchery.

At the risk of disappointing you all, Here is a picture of my typical Burning Man attire:

There are two basic reasons I don’t wear crazy costumes at Burning Man:

  1. I’ve already Radically Self Expressed all year long: Radical Self Expression is one of the “Ten Principles of Burning Man“, it’s the one that gives permission to people wear whatever they please – or nothing at all.  Most people spend their days wearing clothes they’d rather not be in, to jobs they’d rather not do – I understand their intense desire to let loose and wear all kinds of weird shit. Hell, back in my mail man days, a part of me died when I had to start wearing a uniform for 60 – 70 hours out of my life every week. I was like a broken stallion. In a mail truck. Bringing you pizza coupons every Tuesday. And your power bill.  Conformity for conformity’s sake has always made my guts uneasy.  I radically self express every day, all year long – I spend my days doing work I love, dressing exactly how I want to. I don’t have any fashion wiggles to get out of my system when I arrive in Black Rock City.
  2. Style vs Fashion: Burning Man is an opportunity to be completely genuine, to abandon social norms.  This includes dressing like the masses. See point #1.  There is a growing “Burner Look” in Black Rock City. Function gave way to form, which gave way to fashion. It’s kind of a cool look – don’t get me wrong. And, there are so many sexy people out there – holy shit. That being said, “the burner look” is a thing. It’s becoming more and more of a fashion show. While I’ve always loved style, I’ve never cared for fashion – they are two very different things.  Style is rooted in a deep knowing of one’s self and the boldness to be it. Fashion is all about following instructions. Dress the way the fashionistas have instructed you, and you too, can be cool. We are social animals – the temptation to fit in with the crowd is deep in our DNA. For me, Black Rock City is the one place where that thought should be the furthest from my mind. Hence, my completely boring, functional desert style.

Nevertheless, Black Rock City is still the most inclusive, loving, open minded, egalitarian city on Earth. Being mindful of these things is how we’ll keep it that way.  Fortunately, the worst judgement that gets passed on me for being a dude out there with a decent haircut,  normal clothes and horrible dance moves, is that people often think I’m an undercover cop. (Yes, there are cops everywhere out there, and a surprising number of them are undercover).  Not my favorite thing – I guess that’s the price I pay for being authentic.

Not gonna lie though. Just the thought that some might think I’m a cop is enough to severely tempt me to don some glittery fairy wings, striped tights, pink tutu, and a sequined captain’s hat.

Happy Burn!

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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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F.O.M.O. is a force of nature

FOMO:  Fear Of Missing Out – is a powerful force. It springs from a seemingly good place – a recognition that we are finite beings with a finite amount of time, but it can become a cruel master. I naively thought I had mastered it after Burning Man 2013, but Burning Man 2015 was a reminder that it’s alive and well in me still.

When you pass through the ticketing gate upon arrival at Black Rock City, a greeter gives you a copy of the What, When, Where Guide. It’s a book ½ inch thick with an hour by hour, day by day listing of every registered activity that’s happening during the week.

Want to meditate with Buddhist Monks while listening to Janet Jackson? It’s in there.

Looking for a place to eat Mickey Mouse shaped waffles any time of day? It’s in there.

Group masturbation class? Got it.

Skrillex? He’s playing on Thursday night.

Your other favorite DJ? She’s also playing. Same time as Skrillex.

Want to gaze at Saturn’s Moons through the huge telescopes at the Black Rock City Observatory?  Got that, too.

Need help fixing your broken bicycle? No problem. There’s a camp set up for that. It’s in the book.

20150906_215130Whatever you can imagine or desire… chances are, there’s a camp that has also thought of it, and has come prepared to offer that experience to you as their “Playa Gift”. It’s tempting to think you’ll experience it all.  I had to confront the reality that I’ll never see it all.  I realized I had two choices out there…

  1. Cruise around the city as fast as possible and have short, fleeting tastes of about 20% of Burning Man, and still miss 80% of it, while having no real deep experiences anywhere…
  2. Allow myself to sink deeply into certain experiences, go slower, and miss perhaps 90% of Burning Man, but have rich experiences that would inform my mind and heart for the rest of my life.

In 2013, I made the decision to go with option #2 and sink deeply into a few select experiences. I’m glad I did because I had some awesome experiences that changed my life. I also learned that you’ve got to be prepared for the temptation to feel regret as you later hear about all of the amazing things that you missed, because you were busy doing something else.

Keep in mind, whatever you were doing, was also probably pretty damn amazing.

You’ve got 7 days at Burning Man. It’s a city of 70,000 of the most brilliant, creative, charismatic, inventive, unique humans on Spaceship Planet Earth.  There are thousands of pieces of art to experience. Countless amazing musical performances. Innumerable human interactions that could potentially change your life. It’s impossible to experience it all.

I find that my time at Burning Man becomes a powerful symbol for the rest of my existence in the “default world”.  I’ll never taste every kind of cuisine, I’ll never read every book, never make love to every woman, never see every concert… The typical human life is about 29,000 days. Deduct the futility of childhood and your twilight years, and you’ve got about 18,000 serviceable days to partake in the joys of Spaceship Planet Earth.  It’s not much.

My seasoned Burner friend Jared shared this wisdom:

“Sure, there are AMAZING things happening on the other side of the City right now. But guess what? Equally amazing things are happening 10 feet away from you, RIGHT NOW.”

This made me think a lot about how to spend my 18,000 days. Do I want to waste unnecessary time chasing down amazing things waaaay over there, or do I want to save the time and energy and dive into the incredible beauty that’s sitting right in front of me? Consider that the people waaaay over there are looking at what’s in front of you, and having the exact same dilemma. We humans are a strange bunch.

_DSC7210Fear Of Missing Out is a disease of our time. We are a generation plagued by the idea of choice.  Social media has made keeping up with the Joneses a thing we do while pooping.  Tinder (and everything like it) has turned us all into horrible dating partners.  How many of you have checked your Tinder while on a first, second, or third date? At what point do we stop dwelling on our choices, become present and experience what’s in front of us?

I know very few things, but here’s one thing I know for damn sure, thanks to Burning Man:

It is impossible to be fully present and truly experience what’s happening in front of you, if you are, in any way, simultaneously contemplating your options. Option contemplation and presence cannot coexist.

Get in or get out. You don’t have to STAY in, but while you are in, BE IN.

One of my goals for living, post-Burning Man 2015, is to be a “Fuck YES” or “Fuck No” kind of person. It’s hard. The world of choices and the Fear Of Missing Out is powerful.  It’s changed the way I view interactions with friends, dates, lovers, business partners.  Are you IN or are you OUT?  In the words of the great Neil Peart, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!”

The “Fuck Yessers” are the only ones for me.   Life is too short to have it any other way.

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Burning Man Recap with Steve Conlin

On today’s show, I give a recap of SOME of my experiences and thoughts on Burning Man.  Check out photos and essays from Burning Man 2013 here: www.paulduane.net/tag/burning-man-2013

And check back periodically for updates- I’ll be posting photos, interviews, essays, etc, from Burning Man 2015 here:  www.paulduane.net/tag/burning-man-2015

Check out Steve Conlin’s photographs of Burning Man here: http://midlifesimplicity.com/2015/09/burning-man/