Let It Burn

It was a Thursday. We waited in line for about an hour and a half.

Steve, Jessie and I had driven four hours from Kansas City to Laquey, Missouri, home of ... nothing. Laquey is the type of town that descends from a 50 mph highway into a 20 mph road on a hill. Just before this obsequent speed trap, we made a right turn into the Shriner's Lodge campground, where Interfuse was being held.

Interfuse is hosted by Burners from Kansas City, a group of hippies, slackers, software engineers, and/or serial Utopians who gather at Burns, embracing a culture of what effectively amounts to benevolent hedonism staged in a temporary commune, whether it be in the woods or in the desert, embracing a lifestyle of post-scarcity Humanist values. The foundation of these values is the Ten Principles, created by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004.

After waiting in line while the gate staff entered in the confirmation information for each attendee, Steve, Jessie and I got back into our cars and drove through the gate and were wrangled by a group of unruly people hurling commands.


I felt threatened and unsafe by their tone, but was curious by what they meant. I got out of the car and was greeted by a gentleman with a large gold necklace, jacket and shorts. "Would you like a gummy pirate?"

"What?" I asked, confused and dazed.

"If you have a green wristband, you can have a gummy pirate soaked in vodka. If you don't want an alcoholic one, we have normal gummy pirates too. Since you have a green wristband, would you like an alcoholic one?"


So it began. He pulled a stack of laminated papers off the picnic table next to him. "Do you know our policy on moop?" He was reading from the papers.

"It's matter out of place and must be picked up and put in the trash." I had done my research after being told to do so by an admin on the "Midwest Newbie Burner Edumacation" group on Facebook.

"Good. Where are trash cans?"

"There are no trash cans on the playa. We must bring our own trash bags and haul them out with us." The playa is the land upon which a Burn takes place. It's Spanish for "beach," and the Big Burn takes place in Black Rock City, a sandy desert. This is an example of the 8th Principle: Leave No Trace. We leave the environment in the same state or better than we found it.

He continued. "Good. Are you familiar with the 10 Principles?"


"Which is your favorite?"

"Immediacy." Immediacy is a hard principle to explain. It stands in the same realm as "carpe diem," "be in the moment," and "live without fear." I'm a huge fan of leaving no trace and the other principles because they have literal definitions and instructions that can be followed. Immediacy, on the other hand, while it seems like common sense for the centered mind, involves a bit of magic interwoven with fate and your mindset. It's the Law of Attraction framed in a way that defies pure logic.

"That's a good one. Can I hug you?" He paused. "What do we ask consent for?"

"Everything. Consent is important."

"There we go. Can I hug you?"


Consent is very important. Burns rely on a set of ideals hardly expressed in such literal terms in everyday life. And that hug that this shiny gentleman asked me for was the warmest, most genuinely welcoming hug I had felt in a long time. After our embrace, he smiled at me and said words that I didn't understand until after I got back to Kansas City the following Sunday: "Welcome home."

The three of us got in our vehicles and drove down the hill to our campsite. We had entered from the southwestern end of a rectangular compound and were headed to the northeastern corner. We parked our cars, unpacked and assembled our tents, and met our neighbors. The rest of the weekend, we met so many more people. There were 1200 there that weekend all from different walks of life, and some had flown in from as far as Boston to attend an event in Laquey, Missouri.


After I got back the following Sunday, I unpacked my tent, coolers, blankets, clothes, costumes, quest items and gifts, called my parents, and fell asleep, exhausted from sleep deprivation over the weekend. Each night I had fallen asleep after 1 am and woke up around 8 am or 9 am the next day. On Saturday night, I stayed up until 5 am after the effigy had been burned and I wandered the playa with Jessie and our new friends Coy, Rena, and Brendon. At one point, we walked into a PVC pipe and tarp-covered dome tent with awful, droning dubstep (or something*step) music playing. Coy, Rena and Brendon sat on the cuddle cushions to the right of the DJ while Jessie and I stood in the rear of the dome. Jessie left and I went back to camp to get a drink and returned to the dome, where I saw Coy, Rena and Brendon walking across the road to the Whaaat! circus tent, part of four theme camps brought by friends from Kansas City and built by TLA, the pre- and post-burn construction and deconstruction crew. I waved to Brendon as I approached them and he exclaimed, "I thought you had left!" I told him I had gone back to my camp to get a refill and he hugged me. Thirty minutes before that I had asked him if he thought plants had some form of consciousness. He replied he wouldn't care if they did because they don't have eyes. Brendon is a vegan.

Fast-forward again.

Monday morning I went to work and said hi to our two new interns and the rest of my team. I had only been gone since Thursday, but I truly felt like I had gone into a completely different world. Over the weekend, I had seen what life would be like if Radical Self-expression (Principle #5) were met with Radical Inclusion (Principle #1). I went to a place where although almost everyone (except for Sparkle PoniesTM) practiced Radical Self-reliance (Principle #4), they altruistically Gifted (Principle #2) each other things they had in abundance and wanted to share. On Friday and Saturday, our neighbors were cooking brats one night and chili the next and offered us hospitality I have only seen on TV shows. Thanks Shane and John. And Jason and Danny. And Doug and Dylan. We couldn't have asked for better neighbors.

Fast-forward one last time.

Monday evening I went to my yoga class, came home and did laundry and reheated leftover food from the weekend. I got on my Macbook and watched computer vision lectures on Udacity and intermittently hopped onto Facebook, watching dozens of people praising the organization of the event (hats off to you, Tiny) and thanking those that had made the event what it was. People created new "seeking" groups for people who were looking to reconnect after the Burn, pen pal groups for those who wanted to keep in touch, and folks in Kansas City created a Decompression and May Birthdays Event for the following Sunday to relive memories, eat a picnic, spin fire, and jam out.

After the event passes and feelings are shared, people bring the the ethos of Burner Culture back to a world that fears fire, united by Principles followed in earnest. Directly asking for gifts is greeted with a cocked eyebrow and a roundabout explanation of why the gift simply ... isn't available.

Today I thought about learning to juggle or doing acro yoga or enjoying dubstep (that last one is highly improbable) while playing cornhole with my coworkers and waiting for our lunch to arrive. Although it is admittedly unreasonable to apply the Ten Principles wholly in a pre-scarcity world focused on employing delayed gratification in order to build a better future for us all, we can learn from the Ten Principles of Burning Man for a real reminder of why we do the work we do.

Published May 19, 2016