From the Mind of: Kiki Nelson
It’s never easy being a newb. The new face in the community, the new kid at school – where do you eat your lunch? What do you talk about? How will you remember anyone’s name? So, when I decided to dive head into the AZ Burning Man community, I was pretty freaked out. This tribe of people are tight, right? They go into the desert for days together to survive and thrive and make amazing art and dance and burn crazy structures to the ground in a near ritualistic celebration of release and renewal. I don’t even know the secret handshake. (I don’t think there is one, but my guess is, for these folks it would be a hug).
It’s like a baby Burning Man with a Southwestern flavor
AZ burners throw this event each year in the mountains of North Central, AZ called Saguaro Man. It’s like a baby Burning Man with a Southwestern flavor. Drawing a little over 500 people, these folks come together for music, art, and the most beautiful expression of community I’ve experienced in a really, really long time. So when the first thing you see is a sign with a UFO welcoming you home, and then you’re hugged into camp by a large grey bearded man in a shiny pink cape and a unicorn hat, well – if you’re anything like me – you get pretty darned excited about the road ahead.
Saguaro Man is more about radical expression of individuality than it is about stereotypes.
Most people assume all Burners are hippies, but I would never be able to label any of the people at Saguaro Man with one type or genre. Everyone is there – from the tiniest baby I’ve ever seen in a wilderness setting, to grandparents on the dance floor way past the gate curfew of any active adult community you’ve ever been to. Saguaro Man is more about radical expression of individuality than it is about stereotypes.
Within that beautiful bubble of timeless community emerges a complete acceptance and appreciation for each other, for why we’re here, and what it is that we have to offer others and the gifts we’re given in return. Kinda far out, huh?
It’s amazingly organized!
A criticism I’ve heard is that radical self-expression should not have rules and should be this anarchist anything goes approach. This isn’t how it is at this event.
The Burners have their own police – Rangers – who are more like mediators. They really are just there to make sure you don’t get yourself killed or burn the place down, and aren’t really interested in interfering with your self-expression unless you need them to save you from yourself. It’s amazingly organized: art events and DJ’s and porta-potties that get cleaned daily (to appreciative cheers and thanks to the folks cleaning them).
Respec-tations: Don’t be a jerk
There are a few expectations in place for hanging out with this community. Most of them boil down to one thing: Be responsible for your stuff. What you bring, you take – down to the cigarette butt and the sequin off your best booty shaking miniskirt. Don’t get naked if you’re not allowed to (there are littles present and you have to respect that, dig)? Don’t be a jerk to anyone else. If something is heavy, lift the other end and make it lighter. If you have enough, share. Don’t laugh or mock anyone; marvel at how different and amazing and wonderful they are. Treat life with joy and respect. Use your words. It’s pretty much like preschool for grownups.
And play is HUGE at Saguaro Man. This year, there was an amazing swing set that lit up curls of metal with LEDs from the motion of the swing. I spun around in a forest of cool green pool noodles while listening to the piped in sounds of Nature and got lost in a sensory experience I can only describe as magically disorienting. Balloons with tiny little lights inside lit the pathway toward the temple in a fairy dance of twinkle and just plain oooh-ahhh beautiful.
These wonderfully mad makers and creators astounded me with their ideas and executions of some of the most randomly cool stuff I’ve seen in my lifetime.
One of the greatest experiences I took away from this weekend came after seeing first-hand the amazing things humans are capable of dreaming up. These wonderfully mad makers and creators astounded me with their ideas and executions of some of the most randomly cool stuff I’ve seen in my lifetime. And in a world that tells us that people are nothing but mouth-breathing meatballs, it’s really amazing to be reminded of how magnificent they really are.
No money? No problem.
Oh and no one uses money at this thing, yet every single day I was there I was offered food, drink, art and experiences just because people wanted me to experience them. I shared shade and amazing conversation with a camp while I worked on my art final for Picture School. I painted part of the temple and made art in a circle that started out as strangers but ended in friendships. Friday morning, I woke at dawn and went out in search for coffee. I had been told by neighbors that all I needed to do was wander into a camp and ask for what I needed.
I had been told by neighbors that all I needed to do was wander into a camp and ask for what I needed.
It’s surprisingly hard to go to strangers and ask for food (or in my case, hot water). It feels strange – like you’re using them somehow or taking advantage of their generosity because they have bacon and you don’t. But, if you let go of that other programing from your typical way of thinking, it’s a pretty awesome way to get to know people. I ended up having champagne mimosas and strawberries that morning. It wasn’t exactly coffee, but my cup was full. If you surrender to the experience and participate fully, you will never cease to be amazed at how beautiful and random life in this environment can be. And, if you’re ever walking down the road and a skipping girl grabs your hand and says “Come with me!” take my advice: Go.
Burn Baby Burn
Then, there’s the ritual itself. Call me emo, but I can’t even write about it without getting a little verklempt. The Temple is built lovingly by a dedicated team of craftspeople just for this wonderful week for everyone to use as they need to – to remember, release, call to, let go of and transform. It was designed with cut outs that let in a kaleidoscope of light patterns and forms that represent all that is beautiful and holy within us.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of that much fire carrying your wishes to the stars.
Everyone at the event was encouraged to go to the temple – markers are there to write with, treasures are left inside. All week long it stands and gathers and soaks and on the final night, complete with fire spinners and cheers and bass fed dancing, it is burned to the ground. Maybe it’s the Fire sign in me, but damn, baby! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of that much fire carrying your wishes to the stars.
These Are My People
These are my people – the freaks, the hippies, the radical individuals and mad DIY makers. These people understand me – they don’t laugh when they see my fat body Goth dancing ecstatically and will dress up like a faerie with me and read long lost stories on shared pillows in the shade. They feed me and laugh with me and invite me to their fire even when I don’t know any of them. And pretty soon, you find yourself wanting to have things to offer back.
For me, I’m offering the community my words and my pictures and my complete and total thanks. I’m offering my inspiration – I’m already dreaming of the art I can take to the next event in the Fall. And I’m offering my place in the community to share the joy of surviving and thriving and making art in the desert.