Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Parents Went to Burning Man

What you see here is a picture of my parents at Burning Man.

Allow me to repeat that for you. My parents went to Burning Man.

My parents. They're both over traditional retirement age. She teaches science at a Catholic grammar school and he's a retired phone guy.

And they went to Burning Man.

On purpose.

It's OK. It's funny now. They're home and undamaged.

They knew what they were getting into. My brother and his fiancee have been burners for years. In fact, that's how they met.

That's them. Before you make any snap judgements, I'll just quote my brother, "We're not hippies, we're artists, man."

Glad to have that cleared up.

(In all fairness, that's what they look like after spending several weeks on the playa. Even an insurance actuary would be that shaggy and dusty under the circumstances. And I may have just added the "man" there because my memory added it because it's funnier that way.)

So the reason that my parents went to Burning Man is that the two adorable artists up there got the contract to build the Temple. (Details and amazing photos on their site. Go and look, but don't forget to come back. Those are some memerizingly beautiful pictures.) This is a huge deal and my parents wanted to be supportive and be there for the burn.* (They were there for only a few days and not the whole week. There are limits to their crazy, apparently.) Also? My Dad really wanted to go. My brother got an air conditioned trailer for them because he knew better than to break the parents.

(* Yes, they spent months building this thing just to burn it. It's their thing. Just go with it. Or you can find videos of past burns on You Tube and get an feel for the whole thing. They're not just subverting the concept of ownership and art, it also looks really cool.)

OK, so first thing that happens when my parents arrive at the gates of Burning Man? A lady offers my mom a spanking. My mom. Who teaches Catholic school. A spanking.

I'm told this is the traditional greeting. Welcome to Burning Man. Would you like to get out of your car and roll around in the dust? How about a spanking?

So my mom gives the woman one of her Don't Fuck With Me. I Teach Junior High looks. And the woman directs them to the correct campsite.

OK, so the Temple. It's a very spiritual thing. People write on it, leave meaningful objects in it to be burned, and so on. I'm told that the ashes of several pets and one human being (a burner herself) were placed in the Temple. So the Temple is like Burning Man church. And my parents spent most of their time around the Temple talking to people who were in the middle of most spiritual part of their week, if not their year, discussing what sacred is and how after the Temple has been burned, the ground won't be sacred because everything that was sacred about the space will have been burned and blown away by the wind.

Prolonged exposure to that particular corner of Black Rock City seems to have effected a spiritual conversion. They saw more devotion there than they're ever seen in a church (to paraphrase and greatly abridge what they've both said). So now they've been converted to the Church of Burning Man. Ask them about their trip and they'll get so blissed out that it's a little scary. And now I'm concerned that they're going to start incorporating burns into family gatherings (a large flammable sculpture of Santa for Christmas/Hannukah, etc.).

To quote my brother again, "They'll burn the house down."

I'm not sure they'd mind. It'd look awesome and it would save them from having to go through all the junk in the basement. It would also be very embarrassing, since my dad is a former volunteer fire fighter.

My brother thinks that in that case, they'll move in with me, since I live closer. But I think they'd just pack up and move to Austin to be near him and their Burning Man friends because they've been bitten by the bug.

I don't know what to expect, anymore. Will they start braiding their hair in interesting ways? Make glow sticks part of their daily wardrobe? Will my dad start trying to throw fire even though he knows damn well that an old shoulder injury makes that an incredibly bad idea? Will they start playing hacky sack in the back yard?

I have no problem with any of these things, but how am I supposed to explain it to the neighbors?

Kiddies, don't let your mommas grow up to be hippies.


  1. Lord, I wish my parents would do something like that instead of just sitting around watching Glenn Beck.

  2. Wonderful. Best thing I've read in ages. It sounds like your parents are making the best of semi-retirement and it's great that you and your brother are so encouraging about the whole thing.

    Groovy, man.

  3. There is so much awesomesauce here I don't even know where to begin. Kudos to your parents for being so adventurous and openminded to try something new!

  4. Sorry, Jen; Dave is really a thinly-veneered hippie.

  5. Your parents are officially oodles cooler than me. I am off to shoot myself now.

  6. Something tells me that I'd really like your parents.

  7. Jen, pitch this! this is such an alternative, vantage point to a Burning Man story. Next time we meet, we should discuss where to pitch it! Also, I was speaking to a guy last month and he was talkin about Burning Man and he mentioned THIS temple!!!! small world. Left an impact on him.

  8. Jen, pitch this! this is such an alternative, vantage point to a Burning Man story. Next time we meet, we should discuss where to pitch it! Also, I was speaking to a guy last month and he was talkin about Burning Man and he mentioned THIS temple!!!! small world. Left an impact on him.

  9. I like your blog

  10. there are a lot of people at burning man in that age group. most of the founders of the event are as old as your parents. so it's quite normal.

    that being said, the whole thing is one big cult and should be avoided. it sells itself as some kind of counter-cultural spiritual movement, when in fact it's a for profit business that exploits the free labor of the participants to create the spectacle that in-turn increases ticket sales.


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