I start Fires. On Purpose.
Now that the festival season is winding down and the mornings are a little chillier than the day before, I have the time to re-focus on my Fellowship proposal, Everybody Park Project. Back in April, before
- my department creatively placed the highest number of camps and art in our ten year history,
- working 50 hours of security, ticketing and traffic control during my vacation,
- Impact House took place,
- I knew about the NAS Fellowship,
I was invited to attend the Global Leadership Conference by the organization I have worked with for two years, Burning Man Portland. This was such an honor.
I was invited moments after it had first occurred to me that this thing called "Leadership", well, I had been doing that for years without thinking of it that way. When something needed to happen but was not happening, I would step up and lead, often reluctantly. Considering how long I had been playing leadership roles, the sudden realization followed directly by the GLC invite, felt like kudos for finally recognizing a path in my life.
The gift I received? An intense, powerful glimpse into what our world looks like when we command ourselves to ignore constraint, or allow ourselves to grow from it instead. Insight on what the world could look like, if it were a little bit more like TTITD, Burning Man.
The GLC is held yearly in San Francisco and Oakland, centered in and near the Burning Man headquarters in the Mission District. HQ is pretty much the coolest office you may ever encounter, which, of course, was a surprise to no one. Regional representatives from across the nation and around the globe came together to teach and listen, to share their exciting adventures, bisecting the divide between our chosen default cities and Burning Man culture.
We heard from Hippy Tim of Christchurch, New Zealand. After Earthquakes leveled most of his city in 2011, he lead the charge to create a Temple from the ruins. The Community at first scorned the project but eventually accepted, mourned with and loved the Temple, as it went up in flames.
For people who had lost so much, choosing to release their sadness in flames, having that choice, may have provided much needed healing. Inspired by a city becoming ‘full of Burners’ who have never been to Burning Man, Tim believes we can "weave Burner culture into Civic Fabric" anywhere in the world.
We heard from Mumbles, who gave a charming if rushed five minute Ignite presentation on the science of Non-Violent Communication and Cognitive Linguistics. From the bits I grasped, it was fascinating. But my favorite aspect, besides him trooping on despite his nerves, was his off-the-cuff response to an audience question. He said, "Non-violent communication almost saved my last three relationships." The audience moaned and giggled sympathetically.
His admission, that ideals fail but we keep attempting to live them anyway, sounded familiar to those of us pursuing these strange careers in the arts, carnivals, event management, manifesto creation, education, perception shifting, construction, bureaucracy, hospitality, parade leadership and the like.
On a personal level, it was a reminder that some people work as hard as I do to maintain, nurture and explore their relationships. It was a reminder that the passion for working on love knows no limits, if we place no limitations upon love.
We heard from Marian Goodall, one of the original Founders and CEO of Burning Man Project. She called out the majority of the representatives of Burning Man as Introverts, reminding everyone that those of us with big ideas, don't always have loud voices and shiny presentations. We participate in what is perceived as an Extroverted event but the numbers of Introverts behind the velvet curtain, making the event happen, is very high. She used the term “Servant Leaders” for the type of work we sometimes do. We serve those we “lead”.
After her talk, I gave Marian a sticker from my camp, Introvert Camp. It features a girl whispering through a megaphone and reads "Participate. Recharge. Repeat." Marian teared up a little and hugged me. She totally "got it" and I’m pretty sure she is the only CEO I’ve ever hugged.
Ten years of attending Burning Man lead to that moment. If I had not had a terrible time and come to terms with my overwhelmed social stamina by day three of my first year, I may have never figured out how to make it, socially, not only though Burning Man but through life.
We heard from Ben Davis, who conceived of the Bay Lights, the largest, radically accessible, light sculpture in the world. Illuminating the Bay Bridge, the work is 1.8 miles long and 500 feet tall. Active from dusk until 2am, the project only costs $15-30 dollars a day in electricity. Incredible.
Ben talked about sitting on his idea for a while, calling it impossible and crazy but unable to let the idea go. And then he faced his real fear around the project: He made the distinction between the idea, himself and craziness. "It wasn't that the idea was crazy. It was that I was afraid of being judged as crazy for having the idea...it's a beautiful idea".
Some of us know what it is like to be the only one in the room offering loyalty to an idea no-one can yet understand. Cheers to those of us who know the feeling!
Months later, it is that quote that keeps bringing me back to my own project in embryonic form. A project I conceived of in the afterglow of the conference, where I was lit up and full of inspiration. I can see that same kind of excitement and connection in the videos from Impact House. I can tell how much influence you have all had on each other, you have confidence that your ideas can work, that the people around you can support your visions, that set-backs or obstacles can be our shining, guiding light.
Everybody Park Project seems like a crazy idea. But it is not. It's a highly complex and beautiful idea involving cooperation, urban or rural dead zones, art for the masses and business in cahoots with gardens. It is the kind of idea our society needs more of. Because we have to learn to live together, keep each other in mind, and grow our communities through culture. We must give everybody a piece of the park. We must remind each other of the value our neighborhoods have.
I want to share Everybody Park Project like a spark at a campfire. I want to cultivate it and let it grow or change as it needs to, depending on who is involved or where we locate or how it comes to life. I too, don't want to be judged as being crazy for having my idea.
First, I learn not to judge myself for being new at this type of creative placemaking and having a full schedule of caregiving and volunteer work. It is okay that I don’t know what comes next. I celebrate letting go of that pressure to know what I do not yet know. I bask in the brilliant work of my fellow Fellows as well as my Burner Community worldwide. I catch up on homework. I storm ahead.
Good ideas are like campfires: They start small, sputtering perhaps and need a lot of care to catch and spread. And once they do get bigger, brighter and stronger, good ideas bring people in closer, hypnotizing them with warmth and light and bright visions of what could be.
Let’s fan the flames, shall we?
For more on:
Temple for Christchurch: templeforchristchurch.org
Bay Lights: thebaylights.org/about
Introverts and Burning Man: Google any combination of those words 🙂
Servant Leadership: forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/05/01/why-isnt-servant-leadership-more-prevalent/
Non Violent Communication: wikihow.com/Practice-Nonviolent-Communication