how i learned to love the playa and hate the game

There are a few things gnawing at me since my return from vacation. I’ve discovered I’ve got issues, and some of these issues also plague others.

Cynicism, overly critical thinking, and downright negativity overwhelmingly permeate society these days.

Conflict is the crux of drama; news organizations, bloggers, and advertisers are all responsible for taking drama’s foundation to create buzz. But, have we entered an era in which everyone is critical of everything?

Over the past eight years, I’ve been a curator and a producer. By nature, these roles require a keen eye and sharp critique. The audience demands it. The curator weeds out bad work and presents the cream of the crop.

Last week, I spent my time at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock, NV. I went with expectations, and if there’s one thing I can encourage of festival newbies: don’t go with any expectations. I thought my mind would be blown at every step of the way, and though many times it was shaken, I found myself criticizing the art with an inner monologue that made me angry. I’d see a giant art car in the shape of a ship sailing across the dark desert, and I’d think, “Hmm…that’s all right, but you can see the wheels when you get up close.”


You seriously aren’t impressed?

This critical nature is a part of me, and I realized as I searched the playa for a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash what a closed minded snob I’ve become about art, performance and theatre. For years, I’d looked at art and wouldn’t even consider it if I’d seen it before. It had to be unique. It had to be earth shattering. It had to be the best thing I’d ever seen.

You know what? That doesn’t exist.

There is nothing new. It’s all a remix. Everything you’ve seen in the art world (whether it be performance, visual or music) has been done before. And, often, it’s been done better than what you’re creating or watching.

It took me the better part of the week to realize this great connection with my soon to be wife, my best friends and the art around me hung in a huge gap of my hyper-critical mind. I spent most of my time theorizing and judging rather than engaging and enjoying. This discovery dawned the day before I left the grand social experiment. I finally found my mind blown. The intense critical eye through which I saw the world became like a child’s, and I soaked up the sun, dust, lights, costumes, art and love completely. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, and I just cried. I apologized to my love and my friends, wishing I could go back to the beginning of the week and experience it all over again with this open heart.

Then, it was over.

It wasn’t until we returned to Brooklyn I discovered @jlbhart and @sparrowhall over on Twitter with this exchange:

@sparrowhall: Does anyone have a #transmedia perspective on Burning Man?

@jlbhart: @sparrowhall talk to @jdcarter, he’s there right now

I read Sparrow’s blog post and shook my head over its ignorant snarky tone. I saw myself in the writing. I realized it was this attitude I feared. The judgment. The elitism. The disconnect. I use to be an open and gregarious person, but these days I spend my time hoping to get the right jab in to get a giggle from some nameless, faceless Twitter follower or blog reader.

Who cares? Really?

I get it if someone doesn’t want to attend a festival like Burning Man because she or he doesn’t want to deal with dust, heat or separation from an iPhone for a week, but why disparage it? The festival didn’t do anything to you. Obviously, everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion; however, creating drama from nothing just to draw people to a news station, blog or Twitter feed is increasingly the norm. Why create drama when there is none?

Often, life is good. Still, people find reasons to destroy and detract – even in one’s own mind – before absorbing the complete experience.

These days, I’m aiming to maintain these fresh eyes opened at Burning Man and look at every aspect of life with love and hope. This isn’t some hippy bullshit programmed from the festival. It’s reviving a memory of how I saw the world before false conflict solidified cynicism in my soul.

I once heard, “If art makes you cry, laugh, dance or think, then there’s something to it. Explore it more.” Burning Man made me do all four. Now, life is, too.


In my previous post, I proclaimed I would write a poem for people I met at Burning Man. Another misunderstanding about how things work. The society is a gifting one, and gifts are more immediate and tangible (like sharing coffee, baked goods and misting strangers with spray bottles filled with water and essential oils). Also, I met few new people. Most of the time, I was with close friends. Still, I felt like sharing a little verse to sum up some of the experience. This is for them:

El Pulpo Mecanico breathes fire from
Golden tentacles.
Bikes kick up earth into
Haze of happy heat.
Banana bread, pop tarts and chocolate
Spin brains into joy.
Art work
Disintegrate to dust.
So long, playa.
See ya, pals.
Till we meet again in
Another phantasm spectacle
In the vast imagination
Of time.

enter the burn

I’m off to Burning Man for five days. This is my first time to the festival of art, self-expression and camping in the desert. I’ve wanted to attend for years, and I’m sort of surprised it’s taken this long for me to take the plunge. It felt like the right time to go, for in October, my ladylove and I tie the knot. Who knows how our lives will change after we’re married, so we’re looking at this as a final hurrah before wedded bliss.

This year’s theme is “Rites of Passage,” which is very appropriate, considering marriage is a huge rite of passage. Experiencing this with Christy is sure to be bonding, and we’re fortunate to be sharing this time with some of our closest friends, Ron, who will officiate our marriage ceremony, and his ladylove, Sharlena, who is baking our wedding cakes. Our other friends, Celena, Jeffrey and Peter, join us as we delve into a wondrous world with a 25-year tradition.

Burning Man is about sharing and gifting, and my gift to the Playa is a poem. I haven’t written the poem yet. It will grow over the following five days. When something exciting or inspiring happens, I’ll pen a line or two and offer it to a new friend or stranger. The paper on which I write will have this blog’s address on the back, and when I return from the burn, I’m going to piece the poem together for all my new friends to discover and enjoy.

Who knows what the week will hold? Plans are to stay open and generous. We’ll see what comes of it. Check back here in a week to see what magic I discover.

Till then…