Way back in who knows when now – November? – Patrick asked me if I wanted to be involved with Fractal Planet – the final iteration of Fractal Nation – a Burning Man village bringing together artists, designers, musicians, from around the world – and throughout our multi-headed, multi-skirted tribe.
Maybe… I replied, hesitantly.
A few months later, and a bit more talk, and I was agreeing to design the main stage for the village which was ending up on the corner of the 2 and the Esplanade. How’d that happen? I have no idea. But I like big stuff so there’s that.
So on a park bench in Santa Cruz drinking coffee one sunny afternoon, we discussed the reason for the whole thing – the mission, the vision. What’s the theme? Cargo Cult. How does it relate? We – this community – pick through the detritus of religions, societies, science, etc, reappropriating, celebrating, often misunderstanding, the bits and pieces that have washed up on the shores of our lives, creating a culture, a movement, even what seems like a religion, out of all of the myriad things of the past coupled with our own beliefs, dreams, and desires. It seemed so fitting. So I agreed.
Time… It flies by. Drawings sent now and again. To the ‘Team’. Responses. Bigger! Bigger is better! Anyways, I was also finishing a book, dealing with Moontribe and the much smaller deco shade thing we were doing there and then, towards the end of June, Violet and I went to Thailand. Throughout that trip there’s intermittent discussion – from hotels and beaches. I stick to the boundaries of my involvement. See, I’m really wary of getting involved in villages. They are so much work. They always have too few volunteers and budgets that spiral upwards and then suddenly crash, etc etc… This isn’t my first rodeo! There’s a reason Violet and I have been a small camp for the past many years we’ve gone… It’s so intimate and building a small art project with a dedicated team is greatly rewarding and not nearly as exhausting. Bigger is not always better.
So we returned from Thailand on Aug 1 and I was immediately sucked into it all… into Fractal HQ, so to speak, up in Sherman Oaks, CA and there’s a bunch of us – Patrick, Jimmy, Liana, Francios, Angelo, all in and out and working furiously on a thousand details. Some who are involved have never been to Burning Man and it’s so hard to explain that it’s NOT another festival. That they need to rethink how they think about events, festivals, the whole nine yards. That it’s fucking Burning Man and it isn’t going to go like they want and the more they control, the more they stress, the less they are going to be able to inspire others, and themselves. And, really, I think, that is the point. Inspiration through experimentation. And when people say “I don’t care if ‘it’s fucking Burning Man’, I’m tired of that!” Well… they just don’t get it… But they will…
In any case, I designed these big pillars, a general look of the space, the backdrop of the stage with these wheels that were supposed to turn but it turned out the person in charge of making that happen… couldn’t…. Along the way, it gets called ‘Michael’s stage’ and I really do my best to kill THAT idea. It’s OUR stage. I’m not building it all. I’m not raising money for it all… It’s a group effort and I’m just another cog in that wheel.
And then, mid-August I was pulled away again for Rootwire, an awesome festival put on by awesome people out in Ohio. That was a great weekend and, in the midst of it, people went to San Francisco to do all the CNC cutting and pre-building with Rob Bell who also makes amazing art pieces out on the playa – these beautiful onion dome structures…
So Violet and I had driven from LA to Reno, left our Burning Man stuff there to fly to Ohio and then we took a flight back to Reno, with a plan to drop in at the Grand Sierra for a couple of nights. I could go shopping while Violet finished a paper for school. It turns out that our early early arrival tickets aren’t happening so we have to wait an extra day. Then our car window got smashed. Thieves made off with a couple bags of grocery items, a camelpack with random shit and Violet’s long time poetry journal, an entire bag of climbing gear – our harnesses, rope, quickdraws, EVERYTHING, and our car registration and insurance card. The motherfuckers.
So that set us back another day. We finally arrive on Thursday. Spend the next day setting up camp – it’s possibly one of the most important things one can do at Burning Man – setting up camp that first day. Having a home space is of super importance. Our situation isn’t elaborate: a 10×20 carport and the starpod – our little shade space where we circle our tents around for our little camp – for Amanda, Jimmy, Imagika, Patrick, Brian, Elena, and others who joined us – Jill, Jess, Francios, Valentina, Trey, Aalex, and more… It makes for a sweet sweet space. And a sweet bubble in the midst of all the craziness. This is our community within the community. Trust, love, support, all of the things…
After that, on Saturday, the truck with the stage materials finally arrives. By then, the truss is up, the bamboo for the total shade is up, etc. So it’s build build build. Unload and build build build. Delegate and build build build. Duststorms? Who cares! Windy? Better hold on! Hot? Fuck the shade! Who took our materials? The drill? There was this rash of ‘burglary’ of materials. People would just come by and take stuff. Even stuff that was pre-cut. Without asking. Ever. And if they did ask and I said ‘no’ then they’d look at me like I was a cheapskate. Some kind of miser. Cripes. The sense of entitlement in this community is so very strong.
It’s interesting being in charge of building stuff like this – everyone else can come and go but the leader needs to be there, on point, the whole time, even if I was totally light headed and hungry and maybe going to fall off the ladder if I wasn’t careful. Because even at 1am, people would come up and volunteer their help. So I would keep going. Because they kept going. In any case, a huge thanks to Angelo, Falcor, Emma, Ed, Dustin, George, Marley, Hoodie, and the others who all showed up – really showed up – and helped make this facet of the grand vision of Fractal happen. THANK YOU. o so much.
It’s crazy how long this stuff takes… From the DJ booth to the backdrop to the pillars to the stage facade… It’s all so simple looking, and light. But it is an effort to construct. The other thing I’ve learned from this kind of thing is to not have expectations of others – that if you tell them they are free to go, that they should take care of themselves first and foremost, that you speak with people from a place of love and respect – tho sometimes straight direction – and get rid of all the anxiety and stress – people will join in and work their hardest because they see the vision and the vision – it is simply to create more love (and something awesome that reflects that).
Because it really is all about the Love. There’s no money here. I’m not getting paid. I just want to do something cool. And that inspires people in a real way. That, for me, for this Burning Man, was the most inspirational thing – the community that joined together to build all this stuff. Not the people who feel they paid their camp dues, did their four hours of work, and left. I’ll share some thoughts on THAT aspect another time. No, the thing that inspired me was the community of DOERS. The hard working women and men in every aspect – the water, the compost, showers, kitchen, art domes, music, lights, fabric, EVERYTHING built in a week and a half, used for a week, torn down in another week. And so much deep deep love that goes into it.
It all came together… magically, organically, and beautifully. (And, I think, mostly stress-free.)
Patrick said to me at one point – Did you think it’d be this much work when you signed on?
Yep, I said. Because I did know. And that was my hesitancy early on. I am all or nothing. And when I commit – and I’m there to build – I am THERE.
All the while Violet was running around with a walkie talkie putting out fires, helping AJ, doing WHATEVER – and all the while we both looked at each other every so often and said ‘Fuck Villages’. Because, man o man what a lot of work and drama… For a huge community with a huge sense of entitlement…
In any case… It all Happened. Then the heat, the stresses on my body – the playa is an intense environment – left me passing out on Thursday morning. My body, spleenless that it is, went into overdrive… and I spent several hours almost forgetting to breath while a strange warm wave tried to pass over me and a friend fanned me and I scraped bottom. With the fine edge of a sword I cut through all the voices, ideas, angers, frustrations, of the past week. Sometimes I forgot to breath. Then the warm wave would pass. And my friend would remind me – Breathe… Just Breathe…
And then, eventually, we went for a walk. Eventually, I was coming back to myself. We talked and laughed with strangers along the dusty windy streets, shaded by a parasol, wandering nowhere. We ended up at the Dr. Bronner’s Tent… had soapy foamy baths… And were revived. And alive.
Burning Man – it’s all the edges, all the facets. It hits so many different parts of us and every place along the spectrum of the human experience. It’s not about how grand or bright or crazy your thing is or how sexy your outfit or how many drugs – but how much you can inspire – play, laughter, joy, sadness… all of it. It’s about the kind of space you can create…. the connections you make… with yourself and others. It’s about the dust and the pinnacles and all the space in between. Like everything else, it’s about how much you can love.
We slept through the night of the burn. We missed the Temple burn. Life goes on!
Then, on Monday, when it came time to tear it all down, that same dedicated team showed up – ready to work. We’d connected all week. There was love and respect between us. Others come and go but you know – when you see the same faces – the same people doing – that these are your people. And, with the same dance… it all came down, beautifully, cleanly, magically.
And, you know, I’d probably do it all over again. Just to play with those lovely souls.
Thanks for the opportunity to share, to participate, to build something great with you all.
Live in love.
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