For those who don’t know Burning Man is a wild event that happens in the desert of Nevada at the end of the August. For 7 dusty days participants show up in one of the most inhospitable places in the world to build a city filled with art, music, and just about anything else you can think up.
I went this year for the first time and i’m still processing the experience. I saw the most awe-inspiring fires, the wackiest art, the most splendid random acts of kindness, and so much more. A big important part of Burning Man, which adds to its uniqueness, is that everything in the city is gifted. People bring what they bring to share with friends and strangers alike. Food, games, workshops, access to the art, drink…. its all given away. Its super neat! As a participant I also brought a gift. I made about a hundred fabric flower hair clips. Looking good is very important to me, even if I am in the middle of nowhere covered in dirt. And so I wanted to bestow a little color and artistry on the people I met.
Here are a few that came home with me from the desert. Some were damaged so I couldn’t give them away. Others I was too attached to…
For the first few days I went out of my way to give flowers to people I met, who interested me, who wore costumes I admired, who gifted me something I truly enjoyed and so on. I found actively gifting pushed my edges. I had to breach verbal or physical barriers to initiate the gift giving. To go up to someone and pin a flower to their hair or hat, having just met them, was hard for me. It surprised me a lot.
I also would offer my gift to people, which felt a little closer to traditional social dynamics. It also felt like it was somehow missing the point of the exercise. Asking someone if they want a gift is really different from just giving a gift. You don’t always want or need the gift that you receive, but thats part of the fun.
By the end of the week I still had a lot of flowers. Even though I really liked them all, and they were all unique little pieces of art I did not want to take home 50 something flowers. So I created a gifting booth. I pinned all my remaining flowers to the booth and invited people to take one. And if they wanted I offered a notebook for people to leave a note.
Here are some of the lovely notes I got.
Math Love Note
French Love Poem
Some of the time I stood at my booth and heckled people. I said they needed a flower for their hat or hair or bike or overall, and for the most part people stopped riding their bikes and happily took a flower. Having my place to offer from was much easier for me. I much preferred people coming to me to get a gift than going out and finding people to give to.
I plan to go back to Burning Man again. I learned a lot about how to comfortably live in the desert, how to navigate the breadth of things to do in the city, and how I want to participate, contribute, and gift while there.