Burning Man Live | Episode 56 | 07|20|2022

Kay Morrison and the Overall Wonderment Quotient

Guests: Kay Morrison, Stuart Mangrum

Who can share about the beginnings of Burning Man Project’s Board of Directors, the Meta-Regional Committee, and a blacksmithing collective? Kay Morrison can.
Who can tell of getting banned from a country, cooking at Fly Ranch, and hosting a croquet match between Army burners and Navy burners? Kay Morrison can.
She laughs with Stuart Mangrum about how everything in Black Rock City (in VR and in IRL) is seven times greater, be it a win, a loss, or a sandwich.

Warning: This eloquent and expressive conversation contains many casual curse words.

Iron Monkey Arts

Burning Man Project Board of Directors

Burning Man Regional Network

Burning Man Meta-Regional Committee


Stories Around the Burn Barrel (Burning Man Live)

Fly Ranch

Land Art Generator Initiative

Burning Man Global Leadership Conference

Our guests

Based in Seattle, Kay Morrison has been honing her skills in community business development since 2000, which was also the first year she ventured into the Black Rock Desert. In 2005 she helped found Ignition Northwest, a 501c3 organization whose mission is to fuel community through participatory arts, events, and education. She has been supporting the Burning Man Regional Network for many years in her former role as a Co-Regional Contact for Seattle, and also as a current member of the Meta Regional Committee. When not helping start or maintain businesses Kay can be found in the workshop with the Iron Monkeys, a blacksmithing collective that builds stuff out of steel and then sets it on fire. The Iron Monkeys have displayed their art in Black Rock City, Reno, Seattle, and at many local Burner events.



KAY: Okay.

STUART: This is the part where I do the intro.

KAY: Do the intro, Stuart.

STUART: Welcome back, invisible friends, happy glampers, insomniacs who just need some dulcet tones to lull you into sleep, and those of you who are just way too into Burning Man. This is another episode of Burning Man Live. I am Stuart Mangrum. I am so excited to have the guest that we have with us today.

She is a lot of things. It’s gonna take me about 10 minutes just to read her CV. First of all, she’s an artist. She is a longtime member of the metal art collective, the Iron Monkeys. She is a member of the Burning Man Meta Regionals Committee. If you don’t know what that is, we’ll ask, we’ll find out about it. She is a co-host of The Burn Barrel podcast, which is why you’ve probably heard her voice before I believe, not too long ago, she was here on this program talking about that. And she is — little drum roll — she is a member of the Board of Directors of Burning Man Project.

And I just wanna say, in addition to all that, she’s a lady; and not just because her pronouns are she and her, which they are, but because she is really, she’s really a lady in the best possible sense of the word: Kay Morrison.

KAY: Thank you, ladies. 

STUART: Hi Kay. 

KAY: Hey Stuart.

STUART: Very glad you could join me today. This is great. You’re in Seattle. Is that right?

KAY: I am. I’m in sunny Seattle, Washington. It’s beautiful here today. 

STUART: Now that’s unusual. Was there some kind of deal with dark powers to get that weather for you? 

KAY: Yeah, it’s gonna to absolutely pour rain for the next three days, so this just makes us have a little bit of hope that the sun is actually out there, and then all of our hopes and dreams are crushed.

STUART: Drenched in a downpour, in an onslaught or downpour or a downslaught. Yeah. 

KAY: Downslaught sounds a little dodgy.

STUART: Downslaught? Yeah. Okay. Let’s just leave that. Edit that out, Vav. That’s not a word, not a word. Word Police will say no.

Why don’t we start with The Burn Barrel because I heard it was off, and now I hear that it’s on again, or is it off? Is it on? And if it’s on, who are you gonna talk to in this coming season?

KAY: Well, we hasten to be dependable, and isn’t that sort of some of the ethos of Burning Man stay on your toes and don’t get too comfy in your camp chair around The Burn Barrel?

So yeah, we started The Burn Barre; Peter Durand, who’s the longtime community leader out of Boston and Doxie from Detroit who’s also a longtime leader, not out of Boston, but out of Detroit. And then also some fun support from our friend Preamble in DC, and the one and only Caveat. We started this back at the beginning of the pandemic because we missed our people and we were like, “Okay, we’re all stuck in our houses. What are we gonna do to stay connected to the people that inspire us, the things that make us laugh, and just all of those connections that make all of this ridiculously stupid stuff that we do really worthwhile?” We decided we wanted to…

STUART: Can I just… Vav, can we copy that and have me say that? Cause that’s why we do a podcast too, but please go on.

KAY: You’re welcome. You can speak with my agents about my fees for these kinds of things. 

We wanted to get people that we admired, were curious about, were intrigued by, around The Burn Barrel, and just shoot the shit like you do around The Burn Barrel. It’s completely unscripted. We don’t edit anything. What you see is what you get. And it has turned into a really important connection for Peter, Doxie and me, but also it’s a fascinating history of some of the people and places of Burning Man.

We really built our friendship up, but we have also learned so much about the world of Burning Man. We joke a lot that our show is the show that more people wanna be on than wanna listen to because we’ll get like six to 20 people watching live. But what we’re seeing is that folks are going back and watching them later, which is great. I think we’re building a cool, fun history of the people and places that make Burning Man so unique. 

STUART: And what’s up for the coming season? Can you spill the beans on any upcoming guests? 

KAY: I could give a little bit of a hint. Yes. There had been talk that maybe we were gonna let the embers die out on ye old Burn Barrel, but Peter Durand can’t let a good thing not rise again, so… We’ve been chatting with some of the folks down at Fly Ranch, some of the Land Stewards down there who helped to protect Fly Geyser about coming and telling us stories about what it’s like to be the person at the gate of Fly Geyser when people randomly show up and wanna come in.

We’ve been talking to some other Board Members to come on and tell their stories about how they became Board Members, and what it is that lights their fire. And you know, maybe also some people who work with Burning Man Live, we might invite them to come on. Not you, Stuart, ‘cause you’ve already been on, but some other folks who work…

STUART: Vav? Vav, are you going over to the other side? Are you gonna be on their podcast?

VAV: Yes, they asked me before and I canceled because I wasn’t ready; I hadn’t done my vocal warm ups. I’ll be ready this time. 

STUART: Bumble bee, bumble bee, bumble bee. Yeah. OK. 

KAY: Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather.

VAV: Sally sells sea shanties.

STUART: Keep at it. Well, that sounds fun. I look forward to listening to some of those. I’m glad that you’re keeping on doing it because there’s a whole lot of people out there who are unsung heroes of the Burning Man world, and you’re talking to a lot of them. We can’t talk to all of them, so thank you.

KAY: Yeah, we wanted to talk to the people who were kind of famous at Burning Man. I have a sticker for you that says that, Stuart, I think. Instead of the folks that you normally see, we wanted, like you say, the unsung heroes of what makes the culture happen.

STUART: Yeah. Okay. You mentioned “The Board.” I’m sure a lot of our listeners, they’re like scratching their heads and going, “What? Burning Man has a board?” or they’ve fallen prey to the conspiracy theory. You know, they believe there our Board is a bunch of perverted tech billionaires who meet under a full moon at Fly Ranch for toad-licking parties. Is that true?

KAY: If it is, I haven’t been invited. 

STUART: You’re a tech billionaire, right? Isn’t that the whole Board?

KAY: Oh yeah. Yeah. I’ve made my tens of dollars in the tech industry, for sure. Yeah, the board is made up of a really diverse group of Burners. They’re theme camp leaders, they’re scrappy artists, there’s some scrappy artists who are maybe a little less scrappy now. But all really unified under this real belief that something important is happening with this culture. 

I think it’s really easy to other the board, to make that assumption that everybody is a tech billionaire who’s unreachable, and they camp and plug and play camps, and, you know, they don’t really get Burning Man, and it’s just not true. It’s a much more complicated story than that. I’ve been going since 2000, I have organized theme camps. I have run arts collectives. I’ve started nonprofits. I am the opposite of a tech billionaire. All sorts of people are represented economically, identity wise, genders, orientations, professions. 

We are ever increasing the responsibleness that we have towards that diversity. Did we do it right out the gates? Probably not. Did anything in Burning Man happen correctly right out the gate? Of course not. But we’re really dedicated to continuing, having a great, weird-ass pie slice of burner culture that holds true and works towards the values that our organization holds dear.

STUART: How many people are on the board right now?

KAY: I think it’s 19.

STUART: Wow. You’re one of the originals though. You were one of those people who, uh, didn’t necessarily get it right the first time. No, I mean…

KAY: That’s not wrong.

STUART: Originally it was the six founders of Black Rock City, LLC, and another half dozen of you or something like that.

KAY: Yeah, maybe eight. I came in as the Regional, as the person who really spoke towards the Regional Network in the global community, because that’s what my history in Burning Man is, is the Regional Network. I still hold that role in a lot of ways. 

STUART: That’s a great lead in, into telling people about the Meta Regional Committee, which is another thing that doesn’t get a lot of sunshine on it. And what’s that work like? 

KAY: The Meta Regional Committee was started — I never exactly remember the year, let’s just for shits and giggles say it was 2007. It was born out of a conversation a bunch of regional leaders had at the, the (rest in peace) Global Leadership Conference 

STUART: Amen. 

KAY: that used to happen annually that gathered leaders from around the world to talk about leader-y stuff. And there was a conversation that was like, “Well, if we have this global body of community leaders, local leaders, event producers, nonprofit board members, regional contacts, what is that interface that they get to have with the Burning Man organization? Because we both lean on each other for validity. The Burning Man organization leans on the global network to speak to how this is a global movement, that is more than an event in the desert ,that look at the input and impact this creative wonderland is having on business, politics, economics, culture around the world. And the Regional Network also leans on Burning Man and the organization to say, “We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are part of a global movement.” So the Meta Regional Committee was started to be sort of an interface between the Global Network and the Burning Man Organization. 

We’ve done a lot of things over the years. We’re really excellent at being sounding boards, and interpreters of culture for Burning Man in both directions. We work to select new Regional Contacts around the world. We’ve helped spin off two more volunteer leadership organizations: the Volunteer Leadership Council and the Events Council. Those are two bodies that advocate and steward and assist in volunteer development and maintenance, and also that same thing with the events. Really, we are in some ways sort of a brain trust of the culture that has grown out of the Regional Network. And we’re recruiting new members right this second, so hoping to grow that up as well.

STUART: Well, that’s exciting. My experience with the Meta Regionals had a lot to do with co-learning events, like the Global Leadership Conference, and I know you folks were pretty heavily involved in that. I think that’s where we met, wasn’t it? In working on one of the leadership tracks for one of those conferences? 

KAY: I blocked it outta my mind entirely. 

STUART: Yeah. Too traumatic. Okay.

KAY: No, I think that’s true. I think that’s where we met.

STUART: It was some pretty, fun and amazing work. And I too hope that we will get back to that one of these days.

KAY: Me too.

STUART: So you’re not a tech billionaire. You don’t camp in a plug and play camp. I’ve seen your camp, though, it’s pretty nice. 

KAY: Hey, thanks.

STUART: Tell me about Iron Monkeys. 

KAY: The Iron Monkeys. You know, back when I was a Burner who liked to go dance all night and wear short skirts and big shoes, and went to less meetings, I always said that I would never camp in the camp called Camp Big Heavy Stuff. And then I fucked that up royally. The Iron Monkeys is Camp Big Heavy Stuff.

STUART: How big? How heavy? 

KAY: It’s hard to say because we’re also not Camp One Big Heavy Thing, we’re Camp Lots of Big Heavy Things. You know, we load a 25-foot truck full of steel, and then a 16-foot trailer and drive it to Burning Man and set it up, because we’re a blacksmithing crew. The Iron Monkeys were started in about 2007 in Seattle, through the benevolent leadership of Tabasco Mills, who also works with Crimson and the Fire Conclave Council. 

STUART: Hey Tabasco. 

KAY: Hey Tabasco. And we started building art projects at that point in time. We’ve sort of refined what we do now: We build community spaces. Our whole goal of building art is to invite people to gather and to stay a while, to get to know the person standing next to them, to talk to the artists, to, you know, bring your weird sound car over and have a dance party in the space. It’s to create momentary permanence in a place that is so ephemeral. That’s sort of what we do as a group as well. We start building early in the Spring, and we work all year with a crew. We’re small, like in Seattle, we’re probably 14, 15 people. And we work all summer together.

So there’s no like show up on playa and you don’t know who you’re working with. We build these behaviors, and we build respect levels, and we build understanding throughout the entire summer in an effort to create a community that allows people to really have a hand in making something, of place-making. And we pass that on through the art that we make.

STUART: Now, when you talk about creating a space for people out there, what does that look like on the ground? What kind of spaces have you created or what are you working on now?

KAY: This coming year we’re creating a piece called the REM Café & Croquet.

STUART: The what? Say that again?

KAY: It’s REM Café & Croquet.

STUART: Okay. So naps and, uh, mallets. REM as in Rapid Eye Movement, Waking Dreams? By the way, Vav, you owe me a dollar for every time I say the theme name on the podcast. No, tell me more about this. 

KAY: We designed a piece in 2020, when the theme was The Multiverse (Thanks a lot, Stuart. Appreciate that you did that.)

STUART: Ahem. Another dollar. 

KAY: called The Restaurant At The End Of The Multiverse. So, you know, a little spin on “Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” We talked about it quite a bit and then pandemic. And then we talked about it again in 2021. And by the time 2022 happened, we were really tired of that idea, but we wanted to keep the feeling of having tables and places where people could come and sit or throw their own party. We’re not gonna provide food of any kind, but if you wanna bring your wedding party over to the Cafe, you can utilize the space. We realized that “Restaurant at the End of the Multiverse” is REM.

STUART: Very clever there. Look at you. Anacro… Acronymizing. That’s the word. 

KAY: Is it?

STUART: Acronymization. That’s another one we’ll have to look up, Vav.

KAY: And so with Waking Dreams… so we decided that we’d build on that, REM Café & Croquet. So a little less formal, a little more casual. And also we wanted something that was just silly and fun. There’s so much weightiness in the world right now and the Iron Monkeys have a tendency to build really philosophical projects. We just didn’t have it this year. We wanted to play croquet. So we’re gonna build a croquet course through the café. So you can play croquet through people sitting at tables and will probably move the wickets every day and whatnot.

And the tables are not traditional tables. If you imagine, sort of a Dr. Suessian, Alice in Wonderland kind of thing. Like we have see-saw tables, we have a table that’s a four-sided maze, that four people will sit around and operate the table with their feet like those games you had as a kid where you could change the planes on four sides, but you do it with your feet, and you need four people to be able to operate it. We have another sort of stilt table that’s a stair step seating up in a, like, think of a spiral staircase, but with seating. And the centerpiece is a big 10-foot tall candelabra. We’re putting a poofer in it this year. We’ll light everything else with fire. And we’re bringing back our standard Flaming Zen gardens which are big bowls of fire that you can draw in, and a bunch of benches, so people can come and warm up and sit down and play some frickin’ croquet. 

STUART: I’m there. I’m packing my whites right now. I have to say that croquet with flamingos is my favorite part of Alice in Wonderland, so. 

KAY: You’re not alone. We’ve been wondering if we can do something like that, if we could build croquet mallets, that sort of nod to that. We’ll see. 

STUART: Well, I can’t wait to see. 

KAY: That might be scope creep.

STUART: Scope Creep. There’s a playa name for you? Scope Creep. Do you over-volunteer much, Kay?

KAY: What, what? I can’t make your meeting. Sorry. I’m in another meeting. Yes.

STUART: So, Iron Monkeys, though. One more thing. I know you guys haul tons of stuff and anvils and forges and all that stuff out there, but I also know that you’ve been doing this long enough that you guys are set up kind of like that. You even have time sometimes to do some Robin-Hooding and helping out other artists. Caveat loves to tell a story about that. You know what story I’m talking about?

KAY: I do know which story you’re talking about. Yeah. 

CAVEAT: It’s about an artist named Sarah. She was out in the desert during build week, desperately trying to get her sculpture to stand up in the playa. It was her first time at Burning Man. She had no idea what she was getting into. The person who was supposed to go out there and help her had flaked on her, and so she was out there all alone. She did not have the right tools. She did not know how to get these lag screws into the ground and get this freestanding piece to stand up. 

This was a piece on sexual identity and the disappearance of a whole set of stories as a result of the AIDS crisis, and the lack of gay people to adopt children, and how all of these stories were disappearing. And she had made a giant three part closet with these different stories represented in it. It’d become the work of her life. 

And now she couldn’t even get the damn thing to stand up in the desert. And she had no idea what to do. Her life’s work was literally falling down right in front of her eyes. The hot sun is beating down on her, and it’s a desperate situation. This bicycle starts to ride by, and then it stops and the bicyclist looks over and it goes, “Oh, hey. Are you the artist doing the closet?” She looks over at this stranger, and goes, “Well, I’m trying to.” 

And he looks back and he goes “Over here!” And this truck pulls up and all these people come out of it and they go, “Hey, we heard you need some help. Do you want any help?” 

And she goes, “Well, do you have anything that can put lag screws in?” 

And they go, “Yeah, we’ve got three of those.” 

And they start to get it out and set it up. Her mind is working. It’s like, “What’s happening here? What do I do? What are all the things that I can get these people to do before they leave?” Somebody walks over to her and goes, “Hey, here’s some water. Slow down. We’re going to be here for a while.” 

They helped her put the whole thing up right then and there. It was one of the most weird and magical experiences of her life. And it happened because this group of artists, the Iron Monkeys out of Seattle, who are old pros at getting their art up, when they had finished their project early, had gone to The ARTery and said, “Hey, who needs some help out there?” 

And The Artery said, “Well, The temple needs a lot of help,” and they kind of, “No, no, no. We’re, we’re looking for independent artists like us who actually really are not going to have people coming out there.” And they said, “Well, there’s this one person…”

They said, “Great.” And so they went out there. 

That’s amazing. That is a magical experience that changes somebody’s life, and suddenly turns their world upside down the best way possible. I love those stories. Those are the stories that give me hope, give me everything that I want to see in the world.

She gained the sense that this is actually something that can happen, that the world can actually work this way, that you’re not necessarily as alone as you think; that the people can do this for one another. More than any object lesson, it was the sense that if you put this out into the world, it can actually happen.

KAY: I really don’t know if she would’ve made it without some help. It didn’t have to be us, but someone needed to help her make that piece happen. It is one of the things that we are so proud of, and we actually aspire every year to try to get done as early as possible to see if we can go out and help.

STUART: That’s amazing.

KAY: We just look crusty and mean. We’re actually very nice people. 

STUART: I’ve wandered into your camp before and never failed to be offered a drink. So, yes. 

KAY: It’s true. 

STUART: Even, I believe that last time I saw your camp, there was a smaller scale version of it out at Fly Ranch from one of the LAGI campouts out there. Was I there? Did that happen?

KAY: I think you probably were there. We were actually just out at LAGI last week, at Fly Ranch. It was a camp out for the build crews for LAGI, which is really great.

LAGI is the Land Art Generator Initiative, and they run juried design competitions in site specific locations, and the design needs to address certain components like housing or sustainability or food or waste.

STUART: Water. Power. 

KAY: Right. It’s really innovative, regenerative, and sometimes recyclable architecture. I’m really enjoying learning about it. That contest ran in 2020, and of 185 submissions, 10 were shortlisted to go out and prototype at Fly.

Of those 10, maybe five of them are international crews? So they weren’t able to come last year at all because of travel restrictions. So this was the first time that many of them had ever been to Nevada, and camping in the high desert, or had worked in those environments. And it was a really interesting combination of Burning Man people who… Yyou know, we’ve got our rote ways of setting up your structure and staking it down and, you know, knowing how much beer to bring, and those kinds of things. And these incredibly enthusiastic, unbelievably talented and passionate, mostly fairly young folks (I can say, someone in my mid forties), like fairly young folks out there for the first time building their dreams.

It was just so powerful and touching to see how, because of so many of the things that we have been driven by as Burning Man culture because of our mission, and because of our belief that nothing is impossible, and everything can be done together, we are spreading this culture of Burning Man into the world, just like our mission asks us to do. And it is touching all corners of the earth in ways that we could never have imagined 10 years ago — that a dust rave never would’ve begotten, if you had written this story. It was really touching to see people out there eating grilled cheese at one in the morning, after an epic rainstorm, covered in playa platforms for having walked out onto the Hualapai, after the rainstorm.

STUART: Playa platforms, yes, it’s a type of shoe you probably don’t want in your wardrobe, but that sticky mud will adhere to the soles and heels of your shoes until I don’t know., Is there any upper limit? I guess it, they break after a certain point.

KAY: They round at some point you really can’t get anymore on.

STUART: And you topple over. Yeah.

KAY: Yes. So it was really beautiful to see that, The Iron Monkeys and — not all the Iron Monkeys, we actually call ourselves the Flying Monkeys out at Fly Ranch. Instead of building big metal things, we make food for people. So we cooked for those 70 people last week. It was such an honor to get to be out there and, and bear witness to what these people are creating.

STUART: Wow. So people are actually prototyping stuff and building stuff. When I was there, people were mostly still in the planning stages, but I understand now things are actually starting to appear.

KAY: Yeah. Big things are starting to appear. Gardens are being planted. A whole bunch of rammed earth bricks were made last week to start framing out some of the gardens. Shit’s happening. Shit’s getting real out there at Fly Ranch.

STUART: Well, I can’t wait to pay another visit. Maybe I’ll find a chance to pop by on my way out to, I don’t know, out to Black Rock City.

KAY: Are you going to Black Rock City? 

STUART: I guess so. They make me go, it’s my job. Yeah, that thing again. Hey, let’s talk about that thing. I’ve known you for quite a few years, Kay, but I don’t really know how you got into this thing in the first place. Did you say 2000 was your first year? Who talked you into this crazy-train and, or did you just see it and say, “I have to go there”?

KAY: In 1999, I got arrested at the WTO protests in Seattle. WTO is the World Trade Organization. They were holding a gathering in Seattle in 1999, and I was heavily involved in the non-violent direct action protest movement at the time. And while I did not want to get arrested, I did. And I spent four days in jail, and I came out of that with a friend, named Jerry Knight, who had been on the bus that I was on when I was arrested.

We became friends. I’m the last woman he ever dated. I am proud to say that I turned him gay. I feel like it’s a gift that I have given to the gay world. Yeah. He’s just wonderful.

We became really good friends and on a hike up a mountain one day, he said to me, “I went to this thing last year and you have to go with me,” and it was Burning Man. I had no idea what it was. 

It was 2000, so I like looked on the website. It was like, “Oh, they’re flying carpets and like burgers and…” just, it didn’t make any sense to me. But because I was really involved in the protest movement, and protests against globalization were everywhere at that point in time, I’d become a street medic for protests and would go to other cities and train activists on how to be street medics. And there was a big protest going on in Prague with the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. And it was right after when Burning Man was going to happen. And I didn’t think that I could do both. So I told Jerry that I wasn’t gonna go to Burning Man, that I was gonna go to Prague. He grabbed me by the shoulders and he said in his Long Island accent, “You promised me!” 

So I went to Burning Man in 2000. I didn’t really realize what had happened to me till months later, because I came back from Burning Man, and then flew to Germany, to catch a train to Prague. But on my way to Prague, I got stopped at the border. And, basically I was banned from the country because of my activism work. They told me as they put me back on the train, “En futura, no Czechia.” 

STUART: I’ve been thrown out of bars, but I’ve never been banned from a country yet. 

KAY: You haven’t been banned from a country!

STUART: No, I’m jealous.

KAY: Oh, you still got time, pal. 

STUART: Okay. Life is long and we are young.

KAY: Yes. But the end of that story is: I came back from that experience in Prague really feeling like my goals and dreams of being able to change the world had been dashed. And then I met a theme camp. 

I ran into the Space Virgins, and having just come from extensive training about how to run meetings, I walked into that shit-show and said, “Oh my God, can I please run your next meeting?” And that was the start of organizing through Burning Man. It’s from that, that I learned business. It’s from all of that that I started building nonprofit organizations. It all goes back to fighting against the WTO, which if anyone needs any more solidifying information that I am not a capitalist tech billionaire, that should probably do it.

STUART: Okay. I think your street cred is substantial, Kay. 

KAY: Am I legit now? 

STUART: You’ve always been legit in my eyes, but I gotta ask you this question. I have to ask this of everyone who’s been around the Burning Man orbit for a few years. Why do you keep doing it? I mean, what does this mean to you and why? Why go to all this trouble to keep doing this silly thing of ours?

KAY: It is so easy in our world today to not have to be responsible, accountable or dependable, in things that we do. It’s almost antithesis to what I feel a like quick glance of Burning Man would… 

…from the outside, I think that Burning Man looks wild and unorganized and crazy, and like by the seat of your pants, and it is absolutely not, it takes so much intention planning, organization, compassion, patience, humbleness, to be able to do the things as monumental as we do out there, and in such harsh environments.

And it’s fun as fuck.

The combination of doing really, really hard things with good people in a way that makes your soul lighter, and the gravitas of your importance in this world heavier. It’s what I think we need in the world. We need a ‘can do’ spirit with a ‘let’s go together’ attitude, and we need to believe that the phrase ‘impossible’ doesn’t happen. So I keep coming back because the Burning Man culture, what happens in Black Rock City, what happens with LAGI and those folks, what’s happening in the Regional Network, what’s happening with our influence on the mayors across the United States, is a cultural movement that I believe in, that I support, and that makes me the happiest in my life. This is my… I’ve tried to stop saying “change the world” because the world is changing regardless of us, but this is the way that I want to influence the world, and I want to influence people in the world to be better participants in that space.

STUART: Influencing the change. Bending the arc, as Dr King liked to say, right? 

KAY: Yes. Good trouble. We’re getting in good trouble, as John Lewis would say.

STUART: Fun fact, I was arrested in 1999 too, but it wasn’t for doing anything noble. It was for climbing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in a tuxedo with a backpack full of martinis. That’s the story for another time.

KAY: I know that story. We told that story around a table after a Global Leadership Conference one day where we learned about all of the fun arrest and country-banning stories of a lot of the people that we work with.

I think it’s so eye opening to spend a night in jail. And I say that as someone who is white, and was young, and was arrested as part of a massive… I was arrested with 600 people. And it was still shocking to me, the conditions of jail. Yeah. And, you know, without all of those privileges that I had I pause to really consider what that experience is like. So everybody out there, I wouldn’t recommend you go get arrested, but if you do, chock it on the belt. 

STUART: Very humbling to be under the heel of the system like that, a system that really is not about helping you in any potential way, it’s just about crushing your spirit and grinding you down.

KAY: Right. And to spin that back around to “Why do I keep doing Burning Man?” It’s because Burning Man is the opposite of that. Burning Man in a lot of ways will hold you responsible for your actions, but the authority power coming down upon you is a very different authority power than what happens in the structured world that we live in. There’s a different authority, which are your peers, which are common sense safety issues. The structure is so different ,and it really makes me rethink “Why do we have authoritarian positions in place that don’t actually account for the safety and wellbeing of the people that they’re overseeing?” Burning Man challenges that.

STUART: So another thing Burning Man is the opposite of – I believe it’s the opposite of social distancing.

KAY: True story. 

STUART: Here we go, getting back together again. But, during these last couple of years, what did you do to keep your spirits up, or to stay connected to your peoples?

KAY: Well, you know, The Burn Barrel certainly was a good thing. But I also spent a lot of time in BRCvr which was an unexpected joy. I was really ready for some whimsy and some curiosity and, as my dad would call it, being in wonderment, which is how my dad describes Burning Man.

STUART: I like that. 

KAY: Yeah. It was great. I’d asked my dad what he thought about Burning Man when he was there. And he was like, “I’m in wonderment. I wonder what’s over there, and I wonder what’s over there, and I wonder what’s over there.” It was just delightful. I needed some of that. I needed that to recharge my batteries.

BRCvr did it for me, and in a way that Black Rock City never can, I would be able to wander the playa with friends from all over the world at the same time. Like for some of us, it was breakfast for some of us, it was happy hour. But we’d get together and we’d go on these playa wanders of like, “Oh, have you guys been to the Donna Summers thing? Have you been to this?” Then someone would throw open a portal and everyone would jump in it together. People you didn’t know would go with you, and you’d have an adventure. I found so many things that I didn’t know existed. I had a great wander one night with D.A. and he took me to the Black Rock Bijou which I’d never been to on playa…

STUART: Oh, the movie theater. Yeah. 

KAY: Yeah. D.A. was like, “I think that’s out here. And I think I know exactly where it will be because it’s always at like, it’s like 11:30 and like 200 feet in from the trash fence.” So we went looking for it and we found it. I’m on my couch in Seattle. He’s on his couch in Reno. And we’re watching a movie in the Black Rock Bijou. It was wonderful. 

It was also, I felt like it was so much more accessible for people. Yeah. And you didn’t have to have a headset, it made things better, but you could certainly access it via your PC. Folks who couldn’t afford to go to Burning Man, or who couldn’t be out in the dust, or who just never wanted to make that commitment but were curious about the art and the play, could go. I loved that for some people it made accessing the playa much easier because you could fly, you could do it from sitting down, if your mobility was different. For a lot of folks, you could just maneuver more easily through it. You could get to the top of the Man, which I just thought was really beautiful. It was just a riot.

Oh, and the funniest thing happened last week because I had spent a lot of time in BRCvr with a Burning Man person who you may know named Justin Katz. 

STUART: Yes. Paradox.

KAY: Who I spent ass-tons of time with in BRCvr, but we’d never met in real life. So I’m standing in the kitchen at Fly Ranch last week and I look up and I was like, oh my God, that is Justin Katz. 

STUART: You can tell from his avatar?

KAY: Yes. And I heard his name mentioned, so I knew he was around, but I could tell from his avatar and I walked up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Kay.” And he was just like, “Oh my God,” and we hugged. And we’re like, “This is insane.” 

STUART: Well, that’s beautiful. Justin’s a great guy. He’s heading up our off-playa events production unit right now. It’s great that you got to meet somebody IRL after being in BRCvr. I have a feeling a lot of that is going to happen, that that’s going to increase the overall wonderment quotient quite a lot.

KAY: We’ve joked about making buttons with your avatar on it. 

STUART: Hey, that’s an idea.

KAY: Like being able to wear your avatar so people could be like, oh, I recognize you.

STUART: That’s a great idea. “Hi, my name is…” — No, just avatar.

KAY: I’m also, I’ve got some issues. I don’t know who I should complain to about this…

STUART: Bring it!

KAY: but I really would like a flying tool in Black Rock City. 

STUART: You’d like a what? 

KAY: A flying tool. I’d like to be able to fly. In Black Rock City.

STUART: I think that’s called a parachute.

KAY: Maybe a jet pack.

STUART: Where’s that jet pack? Where’s my flying car that they promised me when I was a child.

KAY: Robot dogs. 

STUART: Our civilization is just not living up to its potential.

KAY: Agreed. Well again, enter a Burning Man. right? Is it impossible? We’re on the case.

STUART: That’s right. You can probably manufacture one out of scrap iron. You have those skills?

KAY: I have some of those skills. Propulsion is maybe not one of my assets. 

STUART: Anti-gravity we’re still working on.

KAY: If you need it welded together, I can probably do it.

STUART: Okay. Actually I have some welding plans, so… 

KAY: Oh, great. Fancy glue guns.

STUART: Well, I’m terrible even with a glue gun. I’m tool shy, like our friend Larry Harvey, who used to refer to himself as being – what was it? – he was physically dyslexic: Couldn’t dance. Couldn’t use tools. I got a little bit of that same malady.

KAY: Ach. We could get you sorted out next time you’re in Seattle. We’ll get you in the shop. We’ll have you hit some steel. 

STUART: Alright. Okay.

KAY: You’ll be competent. I promise. 

STUART: What’s the scene like up there? What’s the state of the Regional Network in your part of the world?

KAY: It’s good, Stuart. It’s real good. In the middle of May, Ignition Northwest, which is the nonprofit organization up here that manages Burning Man culture-y stuff, produced a brand new event. In Tacoma, which is just south of Seattle. It was an all day long event, next to a car museum in Tacoma, and it was off the hook. Everyone is just singing the praises. And after a number of years of not being able to do events, people were just so stoked. 

At the beginning of July was Critical Northwest, which is the week-long camping event here in Seattle that’s been going on since 2002 or 3? And that’s just in full gear. The tickets for it sold out in eight minutes, which I’m just absolutely stimeyed by.

STUART: How many tickets? 

KAY: It’s around a thousand I believe. 

STUART: Oh, wow. That’s a pretty good size for a regional event.

KAY: Yeah. They have a really excellent location: On a river, the woods, pretty idyllic.

STUART: Now wait a minute, Burning Man with trees, water? Something about that sounds, well, interesting. 

KAY: And it’s not like it is in Texas with Flipside, which also has trees and water, but both the trees and the water at Flipside are trying to kill you.

STUART: Yeah. The water for sure.

KAY: There are leeches. It’s a thing. Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re much more polite and passive aggressive about it.

STUART: Excuse me. I don’t wanna be rude, but is that a leech on your ear? oOr is that a piercing? 

KAY: Right.

STUART: Is that a plug? 

KAY: Question mark.

STUART: Speaking of harsh and unforgiving environments, I’m sure over the years, you’ve probably counseled a lot of people taking their first trips out to Burning Man. Do you have any pro tips? 

KAY: Pro tips. Oh, for sure. Don’t buy your food at Costco. 

STUART: Just because Costco is evil or?

KAY: Are you really gonna eat a Costco-sized box of granola bars in your everyday life? No. Are you gonna eat a Costco-sized box of granola bars in a super-dry desert? No, your face will fall off. Buy a box, one box, one box of granola bars.

I like to make sure that people know that they will have an emotional breakdown at some point. That there will be a moment in time when they’re most likely in their tent crying, thinking “This is the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life. What am I doing with myself?” and start feverishly packing all their things into whatever they can shove them into. I just like to remind people that that’s normal. It still happens to me sometimes. It’s a hard place to be. That hardness and that challenge is part of what makes it such an impactful experience, because you push yourself to those boundaries. If you don’t have an honest to God freak out every couple years, you’re probably not doing it right. 

STUART: I call it experiencing the full range of human emotion. And every trip, it’s pretty reliable. You’ll get angry. You’ll get in a fight. You’ll get sad. You’ll get elated. But most of all, you’ll walk around in a sense of wonderment. If you’re lucky your wonderment quotient will be higher than your angst and anxiety quotient.

KAY: Yeah. I used to say that everything at Burning Man was seven times what it is in your everyday life. So, that grilled cheese sandwich is seven times better than it is at home. That feeling of disappointment for not doing what you said you were gonna do is seven times worse. The pride that you have for figuring out how to use a power tool is seven times greater. Everything’s just under a magnifying glass.

STUART: That bullhorn insult will sting seven times as much.

KAY: How did they know?

STUART: Even if it was meant in a sense of fun. Yeah. There are a lot of things I’ll never live down.

KAY: Oh God, there are so many things you’ll never, I don’t even know half the things that you’re never gonna live down, but I will find them. I will find them, sir. And I will not let you live them down.

STUART: Okay. Well, you know where to find me. I know where to find you.  

KAY: That’s true.

STUART: What are you looking forward to? Do you have anything in particular that you really wanna be out there for?

KAY: Yes. One of the things that I’m really looking forward to is, that due to the couple years off, my general cadence of Burning Man has gotten shook. I know I said earlier that you shouldn’t get too comfortable in your routines, but I was supes comfortable in my routine. It’s like, okay, on Sunday we have dinner at Peace Camp; on Monday it’s the opening party at Everywhere; on Tuesday it’s a cocktail party; on Wednesday it’s the regional event… every year.

That’s shaken up a little bit and something that Doxie, Pete, and I talk a lot about, which is, especially having done The Burn Barrel and talked to all these people doing amazing things out in playa, and so many of whom we want to connect with in person, because a lot of our guests we’ve never met. We have to keep reminding ourselves, like we can’t over volunteer. We can’t just fall back into that “I’m just gonna volunteer all of my time away because that’s what I’m supposed to do,” or I’m used to doing, or it’s my comfort zone. We need to be a little bit more brave and go try new things with new people and shake up those routines. So I’m excited about stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m gonna bring a bike to Burning Man this year, which I haven’t done in like a decade. 

STUART: A bicycle.

KAY: A bicycle. Yeah. So I’m excited about getting to go ride around and see what people have done. I’m also just excited to see what kind of explosion of creativity and community are gonna just like splat against that desert. The pent up has been real pent up. So I think it’ll be an extraordinary expression of humanity and hope (and desperation) and creativity that I’m really looking forward to. 

STUART: And lordy we need it, don’t we? 

KAY: What are you looking forward to?

STUART: I’m looking forward to…

KAY: Meetings?

STUART: No. I appreciate what you say about breaking your routine because, you know, on the one hand it is just human nature to build macros for everything that you do, right? It cuts down on brain processing power, but, I’m looking forward to a little bit more sense of wonderment and surprise at things, and leaving myself open to the unexpected more, and not over structuring things, just because a lot of the structures have proven to be not all that necessary, right? So I’m gonna go with a little bit more of a free-wheeling open mind this year.

What else am I looking forward to? The art. It’s gonna be a crazy double crop of art this year. Big props to our friends in the ASS team because they got a whole lot of installations that they gotta ride heard on this year, and support and help out.

It’s just gonna be crazy great with all of the art that’s gonna be out there, including the REM Garden & Croquet Parlor. Did I say that right?

KAY: Nope. But that’s close enough. You got the gist. 

STUART: I’m gonna come out and play croquet with you guys. 

KAY: Come play a game with me. It’ll be great.

The Iron Monkeys have a back camp, The Iron Monkey Backyard, or The Iron Monkey Scrapyard, which are friends of ours. This year, we have some folks from West Point and some folks from the Naval Academy who’ve never met each other, and so there’s a Go-Navy-Beat-Army Go-Army-Beat-Navy croquet match being set up, which I am very excited about. The shit is being slung already. 

STUART: Yeah, I’ll be there in my Air Force kilt making fun of both them.

KAY: This is great. I’ll let you know when it’s gonna happen. We’ll just sit in some quote unquote bleachers and shoot the shit.

STUART: Any opportunity to make fun of Plebes and Midshipmen will be amazing. There are a lot of veterans and active duty military who participate in Burning Man all through the years, all the way down from our friend Larry Harvey who had a career in the United States Army that, uh, yeah, I can’t tell this story. But anyway.

KAY: Danger was also in the military, Danger Ranger.

STUART: Yeah. It’s true. 

KAY: There’s a lot of veterans. It’ll be real fun.

STUART: I think that’s about all the time that we have. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much, Kay Morrison for joining us here today.

KAY: It’s always a pleasure to hang out with you, Stuart, even if sometimes I say that it isn’t.

STUART: Oh, you’re so passively aggressively sweet. I really love it.

KAY: Can I ask you a question before we go?

STUART: Okay, go ahead. 

KAY: I’m trying to collect phrases of Burning Man. Like, do you have a phrase you think that describes Burning Man in a nutshell, you’re like half elevator speech? You’re clever and wordy. You’ve gotta have one.

STUART: Waking Dreams.

KAY: I think you owe Vav a dollar.

STUART: Yeah, stay tuned. Check the Burning Man Journal. When I come up with new ones, I’ll pop them in there. 

KAY: That sounds great. I will do that. 

VAV: Well, I learned a few words from you guys. Maybe they’re new slang you’re trying to get popularized. Downslaught. Ass-ton. Kay said that. 

KAY: Oh yeah. A lot. I say that a lot. 

VAV: That is a reference to Art Support Services, I assume. 

STUART: Yeah. It’s more ladylike than “fuck-ton.”

VAV: And Stuart said “Overall Wonderment Quotient,” so that’s the OWQ?

STUART: I think I tried to make a verb out of “acronym,” too. I dunno if that landed. Acronymization.

KAY: The Overall Wonderment Quotient can be like measurables in meetings now. Like, “We need your Overall Wonderment Quotient analysis.” You know, just to take all the fun out of it. 

STUART: “Tell us your name, where you’re from, and what your OWQ is right now.” 

Back when I was a flyboy we used to have what we called morale patches which were patches we put on our flight suit only inside the airplane. They weren’t like officially approved. My favorite one was the “fun meter” and it was just a meter. It was red, yellow, and green, and it had the needle all the way over into the red and the glass was cracked. We are pegging the fun meter. 

KAY: I love it. 

STUART: Thanks again for your time, Kay Morrison. I can’t wait to see you in person out there. It’ll be good.

KAY: Robot dogs. 

STUART: Waking dreams. 

KAY: Vav? 

VAV: Yes, thank you Kay. Thank you Stuart.  

STUART: Thank you friends for listening. Thank you everyone who puts a dollar in the slot at donate.burningman.org. We are an entirely volunteer driven organization, and you help us keep the lights on.

Thanks to our technical producer Michael Vav. Thanks Andie Grace. Thanks everybody who helped put this crazy train on the rails and get it to wherever it’s going. I’m Stuart Mangrum. See you next time. Thanks, Larry.