- Greggory Moore
By Greggory Moore
It was impossible to miss. Mere meters off the beaten beach bike path was a pint-sized Polynesian fantasy. Grass skirts, tiki torches, colored lamps, hula dancing, silver pinwheels twirling in the breeze. I didn’t linger long enough to observe the full range of activities, but it looked like there were crafts and a magic show for the primary-school-aged attendees. There was “refreshment” bar for parents.
The whole business was charming enough in its own right. But considering the timing of the tiny fete, I couldn’t help viewing it as a theme camp, a kiddie version of one of the hundreds of theme camps being enjoyed right now by over 50,000 people at Burning Man. It stood as a fine reminder of the ability that exists in day-to-day life to create positive pockets of experience for others, wherever you are.
For those of you who don’t know, for one week each year thousands of people gather on an ancient dry lakebed in Black Rock City, Nevada, and erect a veritable-yet-transitory city populated with a wide variety of theme camps. Coffeehouse? Jazz bar? Mad Hatter’s tea party? Thunderdome? Atlantis? Barbarella? Roller disco? Gypsies? Legos? This doesn’t begin to impart the variety of experience you can step into out there, an opportunity available to you simply because someone desired to offer it.
Although there are no rules regarding how one must participate at Burning Man (save non-violently, etc.), attendees are encouraged to contribute as much to the overall ambiance as they would like. Hence the almost inconceivable array of costumes and lights adorning the Burners and their vehicles throughout the day and night. You might say that Burning Man itself is a single, gigantic theme camp, the individuals therein creating a milieu of warmth, acceptance, freedom, and spectacle.
There’s no way to emulate such a broadly immersive experience back here in the “default world” (as Burners call the quotidian society inhabited by most all of us). But what is easily attainable is to create pockets of it. The little luau is one example. An even simpler one is lighting up your bicycle with more than just the requisite head-/taillights. Over the last year or two I’ve seen an increasing number of bicyclists doing just that, putting on a little show in downtown Long Beach at night by simply riding along. It sounds silly, yet it makes me smile every time I catch sight of one such bike rolling along. Even such little things make a difference.
There’s an important inverse to contributing to others’ positive experience: don’t selfishly screw it up. After all, in some sense lots of everyday places can be seen as theme camps. If I walk into a coffeehouse, for example, clearly I am seeking a world in which I can lounge around and drink coffee, maybe get something to eat, read a book, write an article, etc.
What I don’t want to find is the sound of the stupid YouTube video you’re checking out on your laptop or iPhone, tinny speakers distortedly broadcasting music that clashes with the music provided by the establishment. Just like how at the cinema I don’t want to hear your running commentary on the film, commentary so loud that the dozen rows between us is not far enough to keep me from being distracted from the audiovisual world I’m there to take in. Ditto for the “theme camp” that is the theatre, where the same such negative creation is not uncommon, disrespecting the poor actors who are laboring right before our eyes to give us an escape from the world outside.
There are myriad ways we can, and do, create for each other. And because we share the world at large, as well as innumerable islands floating within it, only the true hermit does not routinely find herself contributing to the experience of others, actively or passively, for good or ill. It’s a position of power, really. And as with any power, a little mindfulness goes a long way.