In February, I started a multi-month contract with Burning Man as a content strategist. It’s my first all-in gig with Ablaze Interactions, which is a great feeling, and it’ll keep a roof over my head while I work on my book. But even better, after volunteering on the Burning Blog for three years, this is my first chance to pour a big chunk of time and effort into Burning Man, which is one of my favorite things in the world.
I first attended Burning Man in 2008, and it totally rearranged my priorities. It helped me grow up. It turned me into a journalist. I’ve been writing about Burning Man ever since, as I’ve found Burning Man stories to be a strikingly clear lens into the wealth and poverty, the growth and decay of American culture at large.
Not long after my first public post on the topic in 2010, Burning Man HQ asked me to write from the official platform. In addition to my posts on the Burning Blog, I’ve done plenty of extracurricular Burning Man writing. I covered the event at my former day job, and I collaborated with my friend Sarah on a long-form gonzo story (and accompanying reader-contributed blog) about staying at the Temple at Burning Man 2012 for 24 straight hours. In 2013, I started editing the Burning Blog’s Tales From The Playa section, which lets me work with hundreds of Burners eager to tell their stories of what happened out there.
You’ve probably noticed that I have a thing for portals. That’s Burning Man’s fault, too.
Now my friends at the Org — as the Burning Man organization is often called in a mixture of jocularity and suspicion (and what an eminently Burnerly mixture that is) — have given me a chance to help them tell the redefining story of Burning Man as its fourth decade approaches.
This month, Burning Man announced its transition to non-profit status, which marks the beginning of a transformation of what Burning Man is. For the time being, the annual festival in the desert will continue operating more or less as it has been. But the organization that supports Burning Man is reconstituting itself around the mission of stimulating the year-round, worldwide growth of the kind of culture Burners create. You’ll notice at the bottom of the announcement a mention of a “new website this summer.” That’s what I’m working on.
Without going into too much detail right now, I’d like to share a few things about the job.
- As a five-time Burner who dove face-first into the language and stories of Burning Man culture, I’d say I’m on the skeptical/critical end of the spectrum. While I certainly credit Burning Man for helping me transform, I’m far from sure that it’s changing the world for the better. And all that said, after a month of work, meetings, and conversations about the new direction for the Org, I am beyond stoked.
- I promise you that the new Burning Man is not taking itself too seriously.
- And yet, every person with whom I’m working genuinely feels and has carefully considered the Org’s stated desire to provide art, tools, and practices for healing late-capitalist cultural trauma.
- The Ten Principles are an awesome frame for ethical and inspiring action — especially when we have to deal with how they conflict with each other — and they’re the design mission we’re on for launching this new thing.
I’ll keep you posted about how this work is going as things shape up. I promise to be an accountable man on the inside.
Photos by the great Scott London, used with permission