Burning Man 2012

25 August - 4 September 2012. Filed under category Personal.
Burning Man, 2012

Burning Man, 2012

I am a nomad, and thus I am free to be where I want to be. Once a year, for one magical week, there is only one place where I want to be, and that is Burning Man.

If you don’t know what Burning Man is, I recommend that you first read my Guide to Burning Man and the Ten Principles of Burning Man before reading this more personal reflection on my burn, 2012.

Writing about one’s personal experience of Burning Man is daunting. The week is a maelstrom of impressions and adventures, most of which make absolutely no sense out of the context of Black Rock City. I could spend months describing the spinning hyper-symmetrical cube-thing that works as a calendar, the view from the top of Anubis, the sight of a thousand naked butts wiggling in unison as the naked bike ride cuts through the desert, the black semi-sentient dust-bunnies growing in your sinuses or the warm feeling of love spreading through your belly as you become the recipient of yet another random act of kindness from one of your fellow burners. But these are direct experiences best discovered first-hand. Just listing them would be dull. Instead, I will focus on a few things that differentiated this burn from my previous three.

The Black Rock Cock

The Black Rock Cock

The Black Rock Cock

Imagine that you walk far into the desert, late at night. You can still see the distant lights of the city and hear the soft thumping of bass from a handful of dance parties, but out here, you are quite alone. The wind suddenly strengthens. The lights are all gone and the bass is drowned out by the howling dust storm that came from nowhere. You get on your bike and head in the direction that you think you last saw the city, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that you are entirely lost. You can barely see your hand in front of you. How long will the storm last? There is no telling. It could be hours. If only you hadn’t forgotten your dust-mask and goggles! The dust is making it hard to breathe. You’re in trouble. All you want to do is crouch down and hide your face from the dust, but your handful of glow sticks won’t be enough to keep an errant art car from running you over.

The Ballroom

The Ballroom

The wind lightens up for a few seconds, but it is enough to reveal two blinking red lights in the distance. You stumble towards it and find a large squat wooden structure, chest high and eight foot by eight foot, shaped like a Tetris T. On the white wood are several large paintings of cocks and you realize that the shape is not of a Tetris T but a cock, lying down. You walk around it and find that at the top of the cock, there is an opening. You crouch down and crawl through the silver-lined shaft with blinking white EL-wire into the balls (ballroom?), lined with dark fur. In the ceiling, white lights blink softly, like stars in the night sky.

You’re safe. The winds cannot touch you here in this warm and cosy cock. There is even a blanket to keep you warm. As you snuggle into it you discovered a journal hidden beneath it. You turn on your headlight and start reading, realizing that you are not the first to have sought shelter in this mysterious cock box.

Doing my bit

Our Placement in the Deep Playa

Our Placement in the Deep Playa

Burning Man is created by the voluntary participation of its residents. In previous years, I’ve often felt guilty for not bringing more to the event. I do a few volunteering shifts as a lamplighter or a barista at Center Camp, but on the grand scheme of things, I have been too much of a passive observer. That changed this year as I helped bring art to the deep playa in the form of the Black Rock Cock, an eight by eight foot warming hut in the shape of a large cock, far out in the deep playa.

Don, my cowboy friend from Long Beach, came up with the idea and built it together with Dick and Jeff, two friends we made in Palm Springs when I was last in the US for my birthday. While those three did all the manly lifting and building, Jamison (of Los Angeles), Sylvia (old friend from London) and I decorated the inside with fur, silver fabric, lights and carpets.

The response from the public was overwhelmingly awesome. I spent a whole night sitting in the ballroom and watch people’s reactions, not telling them that I was involved in the construction. Everyone loved it, and I heard several stories of people escaping bad storms by seeking shelter in the cock as well as several stories of people coming there to find some privacy. I would not be surprised if a baby was conceived in there.

All this made me feel very proud of having brought something new and creative to the playa. A big thank you to Don for including me in the project as well as the rest of the BRC crew.

Two Farewells

The Temple

The Temple

My Grandmother, Alice

My Grandmother, Alice

A couple of weeks before I left for Burning Man, my grandmother, Alice, passed away. It was expected after a relatively short period of sickness, but it still hurt.

The Temple is the spiritual centre of Burning Man. This is where citizens bring the memories of their loved ones to both honour and say farewell to them. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral of my grandmother, but I said goodbye in my own way by leaving her photo at the Temple.

On Sunday evening, the Temple burnt during a silent vigil. Just before the burn started, the Black Rock City choir sang a few hymns, and one of them brought back memories from when my grandmother sang at our small country church in Kånna, Sweden. That, even more than the burn itself, was the cathartic goodbye that I needed. It was beautiful beyond words.



My grandmother died a natural death at old age after a full and good life. It is sad, but it is not tragic. Unfortunately, I also brought with me the memories of a young man who should not have left this earth so early. His name was Josh, and he took his own life after a long battle with mental illness. His mother and sister have impressed me greatly by raising awareness of mental illness and break the stigma attached to suicide by talking openly about the incident and partaking in events such as the ‘Out of the Darkness’ charity walk, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Knowing that Josh loved Burning Man as much as I do, I asked his mother and sister if I could do for Josh what I wish someone will do for me when I die, namely bring his memory to the Temple. They sent me a beautiful collage of Josh along with a favourite poem, and I brought both to the Temple.

The night after the Temple burnt, I got an unexpected opportunity to further honour Josh. Burning Man had officially ended by then and most people had left the city, but I remained for one more night. Cycling around the half-abandoned city, I came across a wooden structure of the Golden Gate Bridge at the site of the Man. Turns out that a man whose son jumped off the bridge has erected and burnt a symbol of the bridge every year since then in his son’s memory. When it was time for this unscheduled burn to start, the artist asked if someone felt moved to start the fire. I stepped forward and explained that I carried the memory of another suicide victim, and thus I got to light the memorial in Josh’s name. Serendipity had led me to exactly the place where I needed to be, and as I held the torch to the diesel-soaked wood, I said a few words to both Josh and his family.

Occupy the Imagination: Modern Nomadic Lifestyles

The busy Center Camp staged a speaker series called ‘Occupy the Imagination’. Think of it as Burning Man’s answer to the TED talks, only much smaller. I had the pleasure of giving a talk on modern nomadic living, my first public speech on the topic. I recorded it, and though I cringe at seeing myself talk, I’ve included it below.

Burning Man 2012 in Pictures

These are my favourite photos from this year, some courtesy of Jamison Goei.


Sylvia, Dick, Jeff, Me, Don, Jamison

Sylvia, Dick, Jeff, Me, Don, Jamison

I have to give a shout out to a few amazing people who made my burn possible. First and foremost, Don Kendrick deserves a standing ovation for tirelessly keeping our motorhome functioning despite the destructive powers of the three other residents of the motorhome, Jamison, Sylvia and I. We could not do it without you, and neither would we want to.

Jamison brought the party to the motorhome with a never-ending stream of great music, bitchy one-liners that had me on the floor laughing and a parade of random people picked up from the playa. He also brought the fur and interior cosy to the Black Rock Cock!

Sylvia was our surprise houseguest when, after riding up with us, she found out that her designated tent had blown away. Never has there been such a fortunate accident as Sylvia was a radiant reactor of positive energy in the RV. She absolutely made my burn this year, and I’m already planning to kidnap her for next year. (Dixie, awesome to meet you too! Take care of each other!)

Dick and Jeff, who Don and I met in Palm Spring six months ago, were indispensable in the construction of the Black Rock Cock, and credit for the beautifully painted cocks on the outside goes to them.

Finally, I made a new friend on the playa this year. Ian, I had a blast every time I ran into you and I hope to see you in the magical land of Oz soon.


The pictures of me as a clown are from when I was made an honourable payaso for a day. The Payasos are a fascinating group of sexy gay men in Los Angeles who raise money for charity, primarily children’s charities. They do so by throwing fundraising events where they put on their distinctive clown faces and usually not much more than a jock strap. Visit their website or Facebook page to find out more about these sexy clowns and their important work for a better tomorrow.


TED is an organization dedicated to spreading good ideas. Some of the most fascinating speakers give engrossing talks on diverse topics and these are freely available online. TED is one of those sites that you need to be afraid of as the presentations are highly addictive and you could easily spend days listening to these great talks.

Travel Updates

I’m back in Long Beach for now. I’ll stay in California until mid-October when I will go to Hawaii for a week or two before continuing to New Zealand and Australia. If anyone lives in or knows someone in Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia, please let me know!


What is your favourite TED talk?

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  1. Brother Henrik says:

    Greate pictures as usual i will read this post on saturday or sunday

  2. PoppaSmurf says:

    So glad you made it Home to BRC again this year. I regret not bumping into you out there. We did cross paths Im sure as I did see the “Cock Box” but didn’t venture inside as it didn’t appear to be finished when I came across it. I also spent some time at Glam Cocks and Comfort and Joy. This was my second Burn and as with you I have felt sort of guilty to be more of a tourist and less of a participant. Glade to read that you made the transformation, I hope to on my next Burn. I was aslo moved by your sharing a really good explanation of “The Temple”. I left a photo of my best friend who past away, way to early in his young life, as well. Unfortunantly I was not able to stay for the Temple Burn and feel like I let my friend down sort of. He would have loved BRC and all its life and wanted to go with me one day so at least I got him there in spirit if nothing else…

    Any way as always you are an inspiration. Keep up the good work.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Thank you for the comment! I sure hope that next time, we get to meet somewhere in the maelstrom. Also, let me know if you bring some art to the playa so I can go and check it out!

  3. Craig says:

    I thought I might not comment this time and then you go and ask THAT question! http://blog.ted.com/2008/03/12/jill_bolte_tayl/

  4. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    Gustav, wow, even though you said you were going to include mention of Josh in your Burning Man blog, I am still moved to tears. To see the picture of your Grandmother and to fully realize how recently you had lost her and to know you shared the experience of placing your memorial and ours in the Temple, quite overwhelming. Thank you again and my condolences on your loss.
    Love the Burning Man pictures. The only thing we ever really could see from the live feed was the pirate ship so it was nice to see it up close.
    I loved listening to your presentation. The attire was slightly distracting, your exercise program paid off nicely 🙂
    I am still smiling over the Cock Box. My hat is off to you and the others for a truly Burning Man worthy art project.
    I want to say, again, how blessed I feel to have stumbled across this blog and to be able to stay in touch with you, however sporadic it may be. I have grown in ways I would not have thought possible. You, ( and Craig ) were exactly the people I needed to meet at that point in my life and the path I am on would be so different if I had stayed scared and defeated in my little box.
    I love the line in your presentation, ” don’t waste time.” No, not any more.
    One small correction. The charity walk we do for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( AFSP) is called ” Out of the Darkness.” I am somedays in the darkness, but I always am looking towards the light.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      As you’ve noticed, I’ve made the correction. Thanks for pointing it out. Also, I am happy to have you on board as a subscriber and really glad that I could do something for you and Josh this year. It feels good to know that there are a few people out there that I know will stay with me, each step of the way. Real good.

  5. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    Gustav, <3 for the correction… 🙂

  6. Jon says:

    The exercise regimen makes even more sense now!

    I can sort you out with accommodation close to Wellington. I have half an empty house and sure you can get some home cooked meals from my mum. Dad would find your stories fascinating.

    Of course you have Mike in Auckland but one of my best mates is there too. He is always willing to help a fellow gamer.

  7. Tobias says:

    I live in Sydney and have lived in NZ before. I can’t offer a place to sleep, but please do feel free to say hi when you’re here. You could come for lunch at my workplace, if you like, or I could show you around the city.

What is your favourite TED talk?

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