Apr 122018
 

I recently won a Writers of the Future award for my story “Flee, My Pretty One.” The award comes with publication in their anthology, a cash prize, a nice trophy at an award ceremony, and (most importantly by far) a week-long workshop with big names in the industry.

But y’all want to hear about the Scientology thing, so let’s talk about that first. :)

1. The Contest

Everyone in the SF community knows that Writers of the Future (WotF) is funded by the Scientologists, and used by them for PR. And everyone smiles and accepts that and agrees not to talk about it in public, because the Scientologists do a good job of staying the hell out of the contest itself. All the judging and every major decision is made by respected professionals in the field, none of whom are affiliated with the church. And behind the scenes, yeah, we talk about it. When the WotF staff wasn’t around and we were all drinking, there was quite a bit of chat about it. Because it is kinda weird, and we all feel a bit weird about it. But ultimately, they just provided a huge paycheck to the SF community without asking very much in return.

One of my fellow winners even pointed out that it’s almost a scam in the other direction. The Scientologists take a lot of money from rich Hollywood celebrities, and they take that and funnel it back into funding new up-and-coming SF writers and illustrators, all of whom are mildly-to-strongly anti-Scientology. It’s a weird arts-funding program that uses Scientology money for an actual good cause (assuming one considers SF arts a good cause).

They certainly get something out of it too. The big awards ceremony, while it was certainly a lot of fun and made us all free great and important, was very obviously for them. It talked up L. Ron Hubbard quite a bit. I heard more about him in the two hours of the event than in the entire four days of workshop before then. All the content was geared at making the audience of Scientologists feel good about themselves and assure them they’re being good Hubbard disciples. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s their party. They’ve been super nice and very supportive, and they’re allowed to have a big party and feel good! So what if they’re using us as an excuse to celebrate? They’ve spent a ton of money on all of us, they’re allowed. We’re getting a lot out of it in exchange. Let’s not shit on someone else being happy.

This hangs on the side of their publishing building. I imagine most of the employees inside are pretty embarrassed by it.

2. The People

The Scientologists, at least the ones on the ground, are all super nice and polite. They never treated us with anything but respect and friendliness. And, aside from being the biggest Hubbard fanboys/fangirls I’ve ever seen, never even mentioned Scientology. There were no attempts at recruitment. We’re valuable to them as PR, not as new members.

You could always tell who was a Scientologist and who was an outside professional, though. There’s something about the Scientologists. They’re very tightly wound. They hide behind niceness and smiles, never comfortable. I didn’t like being around them, and I ended up feeling very bad for them. In my opinion, they act like people who aren’t sure how to interface with the outside world, and have been hurt by it so much that they expect only more abuse and more pain, and the only way they’ve found to deal with this is to withdraw. When forced to interact with the muggles, they smile past the fear and hope it’s over soon.

I know a lot of people like this. I used to be a person like this. This is a common experience for young nerds. Yes, it was uncomfortable being around the, because they are bad at social skills, and they’re hurt. But by god, who beats up on these sort of people? Spreading tales of how awful and creepy they are is no different from nerd-bashing. Do you talk about how gross aspies are? Then don’t do it to Scientologists.

The church of Scientology may be ridiculous and/or evil, but most of the people in it are just as innocent as most Catholics. Be kind to people. Don’t trust anyone who gives you weird vibes, of course, your instincts are a good first-defense. But man, it’s possible to treat people with decency without going into secluded places with them, ya know?

They keep display copies of everything Hubbard has ever published. Even the Lisa Frank versions.

3. The Cult

When I first saw the crazy devotion the people here have to Hubbard’s work I was downright envious. They adore him, and as long as they’re around, his memory and his works will be kept alive. In that moment I wanted a cult of my own.

It didn’t last very long though. There isn’t any real memory of Hubbard being preserved here. It’s a weird, idolized version of him, drastically disconnected from whatever real person he might have been. There’s only a story that strangers have built a community around, and recognizing him as he was doesn’t advance that purpose. This is a poor imitation of immortality-through-remembrance. It felt lonely.

Of course, when the publicity crew was following us around all week, and constantly snapping pictures of everything we do, that felt right. It was fitting that everything I do be documented, because I’m totes a big deal in my own mind. :) I finally had that “constant watching presence” that I’d been missing since I realized there ain’t no god. Most of my co-winners didn’t like it as much, though.

I will say I was surprised by how conservative they are! With their reputation as a crazy cult in the middle of Hollywood, I expected them to basically be a bunch of liberals. They don’t drink, frown on bad language, and basically reminded me of strict Christians. They wanted everyone to dress conservatively, including strongly requesting the women wear gowns to the award ceremony. That’s a heckuva an ask for 24 artsy types, you’ll almost always get someone for whom that is not OK. I’ve heard about this being a problem in past years, and they seem to have eased up a bit, because our resident “I don’t do dresses” artist ended up going in a red suit instead, which suited her very well! And it sounded like there wasn’t too much kerfuffle about it.

So yeah, I dislike their religion, they can be off-putting, and I hear their leadership has done shitty things. But the people on the ground are nice, they mostly kept to themselves, and they won me over. Given how much I distrust the media when it comes to their portrayal of weird fringe groups, I’m gonna default to not being a dick on this one.

Seriously though, what writer doesn’t want people to love his work so much they enshrine it like this?

Over the next few days I’ll talk about the workshop itself, as well as the award ceremony. Plus more pictures!

You can buy the anthology, containing my latest short story, at Amazon and most book stores.

 

Apr 012018
 

I’ve noticed a few of my FB friends still participate in Liars Day. >:(

I hate April Fool’s Day. I’m fairly trusting and I take people at their face. I consider it a better way to live and structure society. Plus, I can’t really help it, I feel like a damn puppy sometimes. Today is a day that celebrates mocking that way of life/neural architecture.  It says “Haha, high-trust culture is for suckers, look at those cooperating idiots over there. What rubes. Defecting FTW!”

I guess everyone needs a day off, where they revel in turning the social order on it’s head. Mardi Gras, or Halloween, or whatever. It’s a good release valve. Or maybe today can be used to caution everyone, once a year, how horrible a world it would be if everything was low-trust. Or to remind us that almost all news on the internet is just a year-round Liar’s Day.

Whatever. I still hate the day. I’m going to go be grumpy in a corner.

Feb 162018
 

I graduated high school the year before the Columbine shooting. Columbine was a neighboring high school, only a few miles from mine. That day was a bad day for me. I kept thinking “that could have been me.” In retrospect, I don’t think it could have. I don’t think I could’ve ever brought myself to do such a thing. But I understood the urge. The despair and the rage.

The initial post that started this semi-diary blog was an emotion dump after a mass shooting. I guess here’s another one.

I feel lucky to have survived high school. Many of my peers feel the same way. High school is torturous on many levels, and it’s commonly accepted that analogies to prison aren’t far off, though not to the same scale. Sleep deprivation, social gangs, enforced idleness, and helplessness rule the day. I’ve never heard anyone in high school say it was anything but various levels of awful. I have heard someone say “I wrote myself a letter about high school when I graduated, because I knew it was likely that in the future I would look back on that time with rose-colored glasses. I’m glad I did, it helps me to remember how bad that place is.”

Yes, “depression,” granted. But depression isn’t one-way. It’s not only causal, it’s also caused, and the high school experience certainly kindled my years of depression just as much as the depression made high school worse. High school shouldn’t have to be a thing that young people must survive. Even if nearly all of them do manage it.

I have a friend a couple years younger than me with a complicated relationship with Columbine. After the shooting, life in school got significantly better for [them]. Because now other social gangs were far more reluctant to engage in abuse of [their] social group. It feels disgusting to say anything that can be mistaken as an implication that Columbine was justified. Murder is monstrous. How fucked up is the situation in our high schools if an act of terrorism can make life better for a significant percentage of students?

Among all the calls for gun control and mental health services, no one is saying anything about what it is that breaks a lot of people. No one mentions this environment, which many people have to spend untold dollars and many years of therapy recovering from once they escape. No one talks about what could drive someone to pick up that gun and lash out in rage at the place and the people they view as responsible for their pain.

I know, this isn’t the only cause of school shootings, nor the only type of shooter. And even for those who may fit this template, there are many inputs that lead to this, from our American history of violence, to social contagion, to personal psychological pathology, among dozens more. Yet high school remains horrible and torturous for many young people. And it should not be this way.

I don’t have much faith in my society to fix this. We’ve known for at least a decade that simply pushing back the start time of high schools leads to improved mental and physical health for teenagers, as well as improved education outcomes. And yet we can’t even manage to take that first, simple, step. Instead, our schools become more and more like prisons every year, with stricter security and greater authoritarian control. Things are trending the wrong way.

But for the first time in my life, I think I am at a point where I can actually say this sort of thing out loud, rather than just emotion-dumping on a blog. Our schools must stop being places that damage those people we force into them.

Nov 212017
 

[epistemic status: just an emotion dump. sorry.]

I dislike men. The entire gender skeeves me out.

I’m not sure what caused this. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get along with my father, and I often saw him hurt my mother (with words, never with violence, but they were deep hurts). Maybe its because during my childhood and adolescence, our hated out-group was “Old White Men.” The bastards who ruined everything, enslaved the rest of the world, grew fat with their wealth, and then rewrote history and hid all their misdeeds, never to pay for them. God how I hated them. Maybe it was because I saw first-hand how awful boys are too each other, especially in the middle-school-age demographic. It’s fuckin’ Lord of The Flies out there.

Regardless, I dislike men. The entire gender is, in my view, a collection of predators. Driven by an animal nature to destroy and defile and consume. It’s not that they’re evil, per se, it’s just that their biology doesn’t permit for anything else.

Half the reason I don’t want to have children is that I run a 50% risk of having a boy for each child-attempt. I do not wish to bring a predator into my home. I don’t want to raise a predator, to set loose upon society. And it’s considered impolite to sex-select your children in our society.

I work in an industry that’s predominantly female (accounting), and glad for it. I tend to seek out female friends. But I’m very aware that I’m an outsider from the only good gender.

Of course, I know plenty of good men. Some of them are very close friends of mine. I know these feelings of dislike aren’t rational, and that attitude is sexist. But knowing it doesn’t make the feeling go away.

I realized a few years back that I’ve been pitching my voice a bit higher my whole life in an attempt to be less threatening. I discovered that when I learned that most people don’t need a day to recover after talking for an extended period, and can often read aloud for a full hour without any pain.

I’m jealous of the trans people I know. I understand that there is a very strong sense of being female-gendered, and stuck in the wrong body, and an awful sense of disphoria. Anyone feeling those things would want to be the correct gender. But a deep, intuitive part of me keeps insisting that it’s a tactic to flee from being part of the oppressor class. And that the non-binary friends I have are doing the same thing. That it’s all to stop being the vile male sex. It feels like cheating. It feels like the thing I should do, if I had enough courage to go through with it. It feels like it’d be betraying the minority decent people left in this gender, and truly abandoning it to the predators. But I don’t want to be too slow about it either, languishing here long after there’s only animals left.

I’m starting to avoid triggers. I now refuse to read anything that headlines how awful men are as a group. Just today I saw “What To Do We Do With The Art Of Monstrous Men?” I don’t know what to do with something like that. I guess I’ll just stay silent, because I sure as hell don’t want to defend any of these rapists or predators. I’m ashamed enough to be associated with them due to my gender.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to be part of this group I can’t stand, and can’t leave.

Oct 082017
 

I didn’t want to go see Blade Runner 2049.

I saw it has Harrison Ford in it, and it shouldn’t. There’s always been a large contingent of people who are adamant that Deckard is a replicant, and that this is what makes the first Blade Runner so good. Which is also why one shouldn’t watch the Theatrical Release, because that has a voice-over which basically asserts “He’s totally human.”

I don’t think it matters if Deckard is a human or a replicant, but I despise the Theatrical Release if it does assert things one way or the other (haven’t actually seen it, myself). The implication that he could be is what is important. It works so well because it doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t… even if he’s not a replicant, he might as well be. Social isolation and official mediation of experience have brought him to the point where he only exists as far as the system says he does. Reality is out of his control. Which goes hand in hand with Phillip K Dick’s general philosophy and is a theme in a number of his works. So, yeah, a version which steamrolls that to say “NOPE, DEFINITELY HUMAN!” is kinda missing the whole point.

And then I saw that an old Harrison Ford is in Blade Runner 2049. Bleh. So I simply wasn’t going to watch it. The original Blade Runner is one of the best movies ever made, IMO. We’re approaching an infinite number of forgettable sequels and remakes that should simply be considered non-canon by anyone who cares about artistic integrity. This would be just another one of those, and I’d treat it as such. Bite me, Hollywood.

And then I kept hearing how amazing BR2049 is. /sigh. Fine. Went to see it. Still had some reservations, but also some hope.

Visually it is stunning. Literally worth it to go see it for the visuals alone. And the music accompaniment is perfect. This movie has atmosphere and style galore. So very beautiful.

BR2049’s biggest failing is the villain. I *love* fiction where I find the villain sympathetic. Where I honestly can say that if I was in the villains position, I would do exactly what they had done. Roy Batty is a fucking masterpiece, and I love him, and I kinda wish he’d won Blade Runner, except then it wouldn’t be a tragedy, would it? The villain in 2049 is ridiculously one-dimensional and stupid. Like, so, soooo stupid. “Allow me to put you in an easily escapable situation while I leave you unwatched, Mr. Bond” levels of stupid. So, that kinda annoyed me.

The story’s alright. It tries hard. And it provides a good framework for the beautiful visuals. It feels a lot like late-90s anime actually. Come to think of it, I think that’s a fantastic analogy. Gorgeous, a plot that is earnest if flawed, and one glaring bad note.

All in all, BR2049 is one of the best animes I’ve seen. It’s no Blade Runner, but then again, what is? Totally worth 3 hours of my life, I like it.

Oct 072017
 

I was recently selected as a winner of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest (2Q, 3rd place)! In addition to a nice cash prize and future publication, this is a fairly well-regarded award for new SF writers, because the organization hires well-known SF authors to act as the final judges. The combination of these two factors leads SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to count it as a qualifying professional market.

After Asimov’s and Analog, that makes my third sale to a pro market. Which means… I’m now a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America!! :D This has been a dream of mine for ages, I count SFWA membership as my personal mark of “being legit.” Woooo!!!

Sep 112017
 

I don’t know what I was expecting from Burning Man, but what I got really surprised me. At about hour 12 of driving home–physically and emotionally exhausted, and feeling a bit light-headed from constant heat, minor sleep deprivation, and overwhelming gratitude–I realized why they say that the drive in/out is part of the Burning Man experience.

Burning Man isn’t just an event. It can be a pilgrimage. It was for me. And an important part of a pilgrimage is the road back home, where you mentally distance yourself from the strange dream-land where everything is different, and return to the solidity of the real world. A tried-and-true way of doing that involves actually putting physical distance between yourself and the dream-land. It allows you time to ruminate, and differentiates the two places.

As it stands, Burning Man isn’t remotely sustainable. The society is optimized for human social flourishing, rather than creating wealth. Trying to do work in such an environment would be extremely inefficient, if not impossible. One burns through previously-stored up wealth to enjoy Burning Man. The only way this could possibly persist is in a literal post-scarcity society, where all wealth is created by autonomous non-sapient robots and distributed to humans to enjoy.

Burning Man is also uncomfortable. This is a feature, not a bug. You no longer take anything for granted when you have nothing and the desert is trying to kill you. Even getting cold water or a brief shower feels immensely satisfying. Everything is more intense.

But pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be comfortable, or sustainable. They are supposed to be different worlds, set aside from the rest of reality. Burning Man achieves this in spades.

It feels weird to see so much effort and labor, so many resources, being put into creating a city in the desert… knowing that it’s designed to be destroyed. After a few weeks a fair bit of wealth will be intentionally destroyed in rituals of fire-sacrifice, and everything else will be disassembled and taken away again. But this extreme impermanence, the embrace of temporariness, is much of the driving force of the Burning Man ethos. It is worth the cost, to create this dreamtime for a week each year. To be in a different place, and to get a taste of what a post-scarcity future society could look like.

I strongly recommend that everyone go at least once in their lifetime. Obviously for some people it’s just not their thing, and I imagine those people already know who they are. But for everyone else, consider this some evidence strengthening your “I should try this” intuition. If you somehow get a ticket but don’t know anyone else going and are at a loss for what to do next, contact me and I’ll do what I can to provide guidance. :)

Sep 102017
 

A few things that didn’t fit elsewhere:

I.

The first night there, I watched the Opening Ceremonies, which included a cool performative dance around The Man involving a long, red silk banner. Like, a couple yards across and at least thirty yards long. The dancers swirled and swished it through the air. As the dance wound down, the lead dancer performed a solo piece at each of the four entrances to The Man’s pagoda (this year there was a structure built around Him). The entrance I was watching from (viewing space was VERY limited, I was outside the pagoda with a number of others, peering in through this entrance) was the last of the four, and the dancer slowly sashayed out into the watch crowd. We made way for her and once she broke free of us she yelled “Follow me!” and kept going, holding one end of the silk banner overhead.

I decided I wanted in on this, and this sound like an invitation, and dammit, the end of the banner was dragging on the ground, and that is not appropriate for a ceremonial artifact! So I grabbed one corner and followed. About 8-10 other people followed suit, and soon we were marching out into the Playa, banner stretched out to it’s full length and lifted overhead. None of us knew were we were going, but it was a ways. I began talking to one of my neighbors after a while, and made an exploration-friend for the night. Eventually we reached The Temple, were we concluded the Opening Ceremony by delivering the banner to it’s entrance (only the dancer and two helpers were allowed in the perimeter, it was still under construction).

And that’s how I became one of a handful of people that was a part of the Opening Ceremonies. All it took was luck, and openness to jumping into something new. It set the tone for my week, and it’s a great encapsulation of the ethos that makes Burning Man what it is.

II.

When anyone asks me what’s the most powerful thing at Burning Man, I always answer “The Temple.” I went to visit it on my third day. I did not know what it was. I thought it was just another art installation (albeit a gigantic one). I did not except to find what I did, right in the middle of this gigantic celebration of art and joy and partying. The fact that I didn’t know what I was walking into amplified the impact of the place, so I won’t say much about it, or post pictures. It was intense. I had to eventually just walk away, because I realized I would not come to grips with anything for as long as I stayed there. I will go back every year, but I will only go once per year. I encourage everyone to visit it at least once if/when they attend, preferably after it’s been open for a couple days.

III.

Our camp gathered to watch the climactic burning of The Man as a group. Afterwards, we trekked to just outside The Temple for a camp tradition, which I guess one could call a mini-ritual. Basically it consisted of gathering around a campfire and briefly speaking about what we’re grateful for. It was joyous and felt very intimate, and was the second-best event of the week for me (behind my initial visit to The Temple detailed above).

IV.

cw: this next part addresses a death at Burning Man

This isn’t a highlight, but I guess it has to be addressed somewhere. I did see the guy who ran into the fire. At first I thought he was just a streaker that broke through the perimeter. But he ran almost directly toward the flames, ducking and weaving past the emergency personnel that attempted to stop him. I think I realized when he was a few paces away what was going to happen, and I saw him flop right into the fire. They say he “dived in”, and I guess that’s true, but it was really more of an arms-outstretched full-frontal flop. As soon as he went down I figured he was gone. The fire is INSANELY hot. It was (mildly) painful even from the perimeter a hundred yards away. I can’t imagine anyone surviving for even a few seconds in that blaze.

I guess a lot of people took this hard, but I dunno. It was at a distance of a hundred yards, and it was all in silhouette. And to run into that hot of a fire takes serious determination. I want everyone to live as long as they’d like, even if that’s infinitely long (I hope to be around for thousands of years, at least). And with that comes the acceptance that some people will want to stop going on at some point, and they have the right to end their lives when they want. It’s a basic human right. I can understand wanting to go out in such a glorious way. So I didn’t have any negative emotional repercussions from this myself.

I’m close to someone who’s served in a warzone, and has seen friends involuntarily blown into multiple pieces. I’ve watched bloody depictions of death in Hollywood full-color close-ups. This just didn’t compare. I fervently hope that that man actually made an informed, rational decision, rather than losing control of his emotions while under the influence of too many unfamiliar drugs. But in terms of emotional hurt, this didn’t remotely compare to the ocean of grief that drowned me when I visited The Temple.

I feel sorry for that man’s family, especially if he didn’t warn them what he planned. And I’m upset that emergency personnel were injured pulling him from the fire. But I think only extraordinarily delicate people would have been traumatized by witnessing this. Or I dunno, maybe I’m just callous.

V.

It was interesting watching how humans act in an environment where there is almost nothing to fear, no resources to fight over, and no material wants. I realize this is just one small aspect of how people will choose to act once free of fear and want. But it gives me a lot of hope for how well we’ll handle a post-scarcity future. I no longer fear that we’ll degenerate into ennui and nihilism. As Cory Doctorow said, Burning Man is a trial-run for a post-scarcity society. And it is glorious, and fun, and I think humanity will love it. I am, for the first time, earnestly looking forward to it. :)

Sep 092017
 

I.

Before I left to Burning Man, I expected most of the people there to be hippies and stoners, with some party girls/boys mixed in. And to be fair, there’s certainly a fair share of those people. But I was surprised just how many very accomplished and respectable people attend!

In hindsight, I’m a bit ashamed of this prejudice. First, there’s no reason accomplished, successful people wouldn’t enjoy Burning Man. The perpetual group-flow-state of the entire festival is enjoyable regardless of one’s background. The excitement of temporary deprivation is probably more appealing to people who usually have plenty. And there are a great many highly intelligent people who consider psychedelics to be a useful tool for self-knowledge and various mental tasks (Sam Harris comes to mind immediately as a strong proponent).

Furthermore, I probably should have expected this, because Burning Man isn’t exactly cheap. The total cost of going for someone going extremely low-end (like I did) is about $1000. It just goes up from there. Even low-income tickets only help a bit, because the ticket was a bit less than half of my cost. Plus most people in lower-income jobs can’t just take eight days off of work. So yeah, someone really dedicated could save up and go, and I met several starving-artist types who did exactly that. But most of the people were professionals of some sort. And getting to meet them was an absolute treat. Here’s a sampling:

I met a rocket scientist who’d worked for NORAD. He related the tale of how his participation in a system-wide WWIII-simulation scenario caused him to reevaluate his life.

I met a scientist that’s recently made waves with his hypothesis of land-based origins of life on Earth. He’s a member of the groups advising/pitching NASA on where to land the next Mars rover. He let me hold a rock he brought that is 3.5 billion years old, and contains fossilized traces of the proto-life on earth!

I stood within arm’s reach of a professional opera singer as she performed a brief, beautiful piece for me and eight other people in our camp. You don’t really get any more intimate of a venue than that. :)

It wasn’t all great – I met a shamanistic healing guru who traveled the world spreading woo. At one point he expressed delight at what had happened in Houston, because that city had “toxic energy” and this would help everyone who lived there to get in touch with their spiritual lives. I was playing host at the tea house, so I couldn’t be too confrontational, but I let him know that glee at human misery is wrong. Also the culture of togetherness and understanding made it very hard to be contradictory. I should have pushed back sooner. I wish I had been more forceful. A thing to remember for next time.

Overall, though, lots of positive experiences with meeting people. Between the Art and the People, this is an awesome experience for those of us going straight-edge. :)

II.

The Playa is the term for the Burning Man grounds (spanish for “beach”). At night it transforms into a completely different place. First, ALL the lights come out. There is no public lighting, so it’s your civic duty to keep yourself lit up so people on bikes or art-cars don’t crash into you. And this is a place of art and beauty, so everyone is encouraged to light up in pretty colors and patterns. The effect is DAZZLING. I took a few pictures, but I really cannot do the effect justice, so I won’t post them. Maybe an actual photographer can capture it. Imagine a sea of neon-glowing life criss-crossing the dessert and congregating in clumps.

The sea analogy actually isn’t bad. Some of the sound cars start near the city at sundown and then slowly drive out to Deep Playa where they can blast music a great volume. The weave back and forth slowly, like an angler fish luring prey. Great numbers of humans in lit-up bikes swarm along side them, pulsing in and out like a school of minnows keeping pace. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

The inner-most road of the city is Burning Man’s main strip. It is the boardwalk. The camps that get these high-profile spots always put great effort into creating amazing frontage, full of lights and music, often several stories tall. Not only do they glow and gleam, but every one of them has true heart and emotion in their creation.

All these lights and sights and sounds make one feel like you are living in a post-human cyber-paradise. The Playa at night makes Las Vegas look like a pile of shit. And I realize that’s not hard to do, what with Vegas being kinda shitty anyway. But man, I don’t know how to put into words the neon-electric awesome.

The city has a heartbeat at night. There is music pulsing from all over, and across a distance the bass all melds into a low-level thruming rush. The land itself feels alive.

Much of the music is basic-as-fuck House, unfortunately. I understand why, it’s easy as hell for anyone to dance to. I said earlier that Burning Man is what you make of it, and I’m sure if I went looking I could have found music more to my taste. There was at least one Jazz camp, and one Goth/Industrial camp. But that wasn’t really what I was there for this year, so I didn’t seek it out and I was mostly inundated with boring House. Could be worse. I could be stuck in a dust-bowl desert. :)

Sep 082017
 

In my post on luck, I stressed the importance of openness. But openness invites vulnerability, so people are generally unwilling to be very open unless they first feel safe. This is part of what makes Burning Man one of the luckiest places on earth – the entire event is one of the safest places I’ve been. This is achieved entirely through the culture.

Firstly, with a few extremely narrow exceptions, nothing can be bought or sold at Burning Man. Everything is given away as a gift without obligation. This decommodification of everything removes the status of having things. Almost all the value at Burning Man is found in interaction with other people, and you can’t really steal that. Also, everyone is living in faux-poverty anyway, there isn’t anything valuable around to take! And even if you did take it, what would you do with it? Pile it up next to your tent?

Secondly, because it is such a harsh environment, people are always looking out for one another. No one has to worry overly much about going hungry or thirsty, because there will always be someone giving away food or water, or happy to share what they have. Passing around snacks is a common activity in lines. When someone’s bike jammed near my tent, I gave them all the lube they needed to get going again. I saw one lady having a bad skin reaction in a dust storm, her hands were getting very chapped. A fellow Burner gave her moderately-fancy gloves with lights in the fingers, to protect her skin. The lady protested, but the Burner said “Take them, you need them more than I do.” This sort of thing happens regularly. In the desert everyone helps each other constantly.

This leads to a feeling of safety. You know that no matter what should happen, there are people around you that have your well-being as a priority. The sense of safety allows you to talk to new people easily, and explore things without worry. It, paradoxically, leads to the rallying cry of “Safety Third!”, which is a bit of an exhortation to try things that may scare you for not being perfectly safe – such as jumping between the slabs in the Temple of Gravity. There is an understanding that even if you get hurt, the people around you will immediately come to your aid. It’s what makes people comfortable stripping off all their clothes and having a naked dance/shower party.

I regularly saw women walking alone in the dark of night without any worry. That’s the kind of place this is.

When my bike popped a tire, it was repaired for free in a jiffy. When I was hungry, I was given food.

This openness extends to the interpersonal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a very hard time speaking with people I don’t yet know. All my life I’ve felt basically unwanted. Yet at Burning Man, when I showed up at a random fire-spinning event alone, the people next to me struck up a conversation. They made me feel welcome, we had a good talk, and later that evening we met up to dance. As a single dorky male, I’ve never in my life felt like people wanted me to approach them. Dancing in the desert, the pretty young thing from the fire-spinning was delighted to see me, and afterwards thanked me. I still can’t entirely believe it. I was valued just for being me. It was bizarre, and wonderful.

This care-for-others thing is super-charged at your home camp. I camped with a group of 30-40 people, two of whom I’d met for less than five hours previous to this, and the rest strangers. Yet everyone treated me incredibly warmly. The standard greeting to Burning Man virgins (possibly everyone?) is “Welcome Home.” It sounds weird at first, but quickly you understand it. Your camp WILL take care of you. They will show you around and take you places. They’ll sit and chat with you when you need to rest, and they’ll give you food or water if you need it.

Of course nothing is completely without obligation. I learned my first night out that one doesn’t simply show up at a bar and ask for food or alcohol. Well, one can ask for food or water if in need, of course. But in the normal course of events, one is expected to make the provider’s day a little better in thanks, and that is done by socializing with them. When you first reach the counter, you do not just slap down a cup or a plate. You chat first. Recount what new or exciting thing you saw today, or what you’re looking forward to, or what interests you in life. Did you recently take a trip to Russia? Lets talk about that! Are you working on a new song or story? Tell me! You’re a Burning Man virgin? How does it compare to what you were expecting? etc.

At Burning Man, no one is a part of an economic transfer process, simply there to facilitate the exchange of currency. Everyone is a person, a full human being, and the only way to acknowledge that and be present in the community is to treat them as a person rather than an economic unit. And that means creating a relationship, however fleeting. It means socializing with them.

A note – while this is beautiful and very fulfilling, it’s also inefficient. Imagine going to Starbucks and having to chat with your barista for four or five minutes each time you go. If there’s a line of four people in front of you, you’ll be there for twenty minutes before you even get to order. So… not workable if you have other things to do. While you’re in Burning Man, chat and art is why you are here, so it’s fine. Delightful, even. But for modern-day efficiency, dehumanization of human labor inputs seems necessary.

This also means there’s lines for most things at Burning Man. They aren’t too long, because there’s people giving away alcohol or other stuff EVERYWHERE. But they exist. Fortunately, the people standing next to you in line are just as interesting as the servers! Everywhere you go you’ll be striking up conversations with the people beside you in line. You’ll talk about gender, or their camp theme, or dozens of other things. You may share snacks or gifts. It will be a good time. This is not like the lines in the grocery store, or Disneyland, where people are silent and can’t wait to leave, and the waiting is awful and hateful. This is just another place to discover the coolness and intricacy of the human beings around you. Take advantage of it!