Derek M. Powazek: Author, Designer, Troublemaker, Person

Burning Man: Memories of home on the playa, before and after Burning Man 2003.


True stories

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A face among the rest

Somewhere in between

Wake up the same

Storm clouds


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Posts about:
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Me on CD

Fray Cafe 3
Fray Cafe 3: True Stories Told Live

Includes me telling my story, The Scar.

Buy the Book

Design for Community
Design for Community

My book on the art of virtual community.

SF Stories
San Francisco Stories

Short stories about life in the city.

Yet another weblog book
We've Got Blog

I contributed the first essay in yet another weblog book. Sorry.

See also

2004 Powazek Calendar!

Fray Day 7 T-Shirt!

My Film Playa Pics

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Thanks to some help from my sweetie's scanner, here's the last of my Burning Man photos. These were shot on film our last day in BRC and the night of the burn. Enjoy! More »

More Potty Memories

Why is it that so many of my Burning Man Memories involve Porta Potties?

There was the octogenarian I bumped into in line, who told me that three generations of her family were there.

There was Porta Potty tennis - a note written on the back of the door that said "Wanna play Porta Potty Tennis? Look left." Then, there on the left panel, "Look right." And there on the right, "Look left."

dig10 One of the Porta Potties even had a whole childhood story written inside. A graffiti artist after my own heart.

One afternoon there was a girl standing sheepishly in front of one of the potties. I noticed that the potty in front of her was empty, but she was still there, just in front of it, doing that side-to-side I-hafta-pee dance. When she caught my eye, she said, "Could you help me with this?"

It was only then that I noticed she was wearing some kind of one piece chain mail thing that all hooked together in back. With all the crazy attire at Burning Man, I'd just kinda stopped noticing what people were wearing. I unhooked her and she scurried into the potty.

There was Slim, the guy I bumped into in line who remembered Fray Camp from years ago. What are the chances? He even have me a coveted pink chip, redeemable by anyone for sexual favors.

And then there was the day of the DPW parade, when trucks with giant flame throwers trolled the streets. I was in a Porta Potty, sitting down (ahem), when one truck released a thunderous explosion. The whole place shook and I briefly wondered what I'd look like blue.

[Ariel is sharing her Porta Porry Stories, too!]

New in {fray}: Joshua Tree Blooms

Burning Man. Arcosanti. The desert calls dreamers.

If you were one of the 30,000 people with me in Black Rock City last weekend, then you'll need no explanation of why Joshua Tree Blooms, Liz's tale of overcoming writer's block in the desert, seemed like the perfect story to come home to. And if you weren't, well, I bet there's a place out there where you learned something about yourself. Read Liz's story and tell your own.

Burning Memories

I'll always remember the big things - the man burning, the Vogon camp, the look in Heather's eye as we biked the outer fence. It's the little moments I fear losing now that I'm back in the "real world."

There was a sign on one of the potties: "Beware! Gorilla on the loose!" When a guy went to open the door, an 8 year-old kid in a gorilla mask jumped out, roaring. The guy gasped and backed away and we all had a good laugh. Then the kid went back inside and flipped the door lock to red. A while later, the lock flipped from red to green, but no one came out. Those of us still in line smiled at each other knowingly.

Another potty experience: Sitting in there, in the heat of the day, feeling nauseous thanks to the pound of playa in my belly, listening to the guy in the potty next door ralphing into the blue water. On second thought, I'm okay with forgetting this one.

Video: The Swedish Cowboy Song

swedish cowboySo this is a little difficult to explain. Just know this: It's hot during the day at Burning Man. Really hot. So entertainment that comes to you is pretty great. And, fortunately for us Vogons, we have Evan, and he has a bullhorn.

You should also know that the two people in this clip have never met, and probably never will see each other again. They were just lured over by Evan, who then said: "Sing me a song about a Swedish Cowboy."

And then they did.

My Digital Playa Pics

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Here's a small gallery of some shots I took with my digital camera at Burning Man this year (the film shots still need to be scanned). More »

Heather's Pinhole Pics

When Heather set up the tripod for her playa pinhole portraits, I got to be the lovely assistant. We paused only once to photograph ourselves.

See also: More Vogon photos from Kate. Mine tomorrow.

Video: Spontaneous Whip Camp

There is no way to talk about Burning Man without just jumping into the middle. So here goes.

Jason and his whipOne of my favorite moments from this year was when Vogon 42 (our camp) suddenly became Spontaneous Whip Camp. See, Jason brings whips to Burning Man. Nothing kinky (unless you count a childhood Indiana Jones fetish as kinky), just a guy doing professional-level whip tricks. And he brings extras.

It was like an experiment in group psychology. Jason started showing someone else how to whip without killing themselves. Then someone else came in. Then someone else. All of a sudden, we had a class on our hands.

Here's to Vogon Jason, our whip guru.


We're home. Everything looks different. It's weird.

I am also very tired. More soon.

Tonight, bathing and sushi and more bathing. Tomorrow, unpack.

And It's On

The sun is rising, the van needs packing, and Spoo the cat is freaking out. It's time.

If you're headed to Burning Man, you can look us up at Vogon 42 near Certain Authority. If not, I'll be back in a week.


1 Day to Burning Man

playa heather

Then came Heather.

I had sworn off Burning Man and she'd never been. She looked me in the eye and said, "please." Then she looked me in the eye and said, "I'm going." So we went.

Burning Man 2001 was like a rebirth. Like Europe had been. A place so new that it feels like you're made new, too.

It was the year of extreme dust. Total whiteouts every day. But it didn't matter. Every time I felt that old stress creep back, she was there to remind me that everything was okay.

Burning Man 2002 was even better. We found a warm home with the Vogons. It was the best weather I'd ever seen at Burning Man. And while I occasionally had pangs for the smallness and the danger of the earlier years, Burning Man remained a true fountain of joy.

me and heather

Tomorrow we pack the rental van and head back into the desert one more time. It'll be good to be home again.

2 Days to Burning Man

I didn't go to Burning Man in 1999. I was just back from Europe and brought a nasty cold with me. When I kissed her goodbye and watched the car disappear down Prosper Street, I didn't realize it was the last kiss we'd ever share.

I didn't go to Burning Man in 2000, either. I swore I'd never go again.

3 Days to Burning Man

bm 98 socks

Burning Man 1998. Year two of Fray Camp. We had 17 campers who I felt responsible for. I spent the whole time playing mom. In the end, I had an awful time, and it was all my fault.

Best moment by far was the sock puppets. We brought an assortment of old socks, some glue, pipe cleaners, and googley eyes. One afternoon we just sat down and made puppets. That part was planned.

What we didn't plan on was, as soon as you have a dozen people with sock puppets on their hands, everyone starts talking in squeaky voices and going nuts. We became the Sock Liberation Front and ran around the playa demanding that people liberate their socks. People took off their socks and threw them at us. At one point, I think we even stormed a radio station.

The Road to Burning Man

My friend and Vogon once removed Ben Brown is on a pre-playa road trip, and he's posting to his site from the road with his phone. Check it out! It's fun, because he clearly has low standards for posting. The most recent post is, "rrrrreaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllyyyyy druuuuuuuuuunk."

Vogon 2002

A smattering of pictures from last year by my fellow Vogons Robin Jean and Heather Champ. Looking at these photos now is like watching a silent movie - there's so much more going on, it seems strange to look at the event one moment at a time, without sound or dust or anything. Still, they provide a glimpse of what life at Burning Man is like, and really make me excited to go back.

See you soon, Vogons!

Tales from the Playa

On the official Burning Man site they have a feature called Tales from the Playa where participants can post their Burning Man stories. They are raw and emotional and really capture what the event is all about. (Cross-posted on Storyblog.)

4 Days to Burning Man

bm 1997

A flashback to Burning Man 1997. It was my second time there, and the year of the first Fray Camp. I put out three easels with giant pads of paper and Fray-style questions on them. It took me months to photograph and then scan all the stuff people wrote.

5 Days to Burning Man


My first Burning Man was 1996. I had no idea what I was getting into. But I stuffed a girlfriend (who did not want to go) and a friend (who did) into a car, bought some water and a stove, and drove off into the desert. We camped with friends in the Spiral Oasis. We witnessed guns and explosions and art and a wedding. We saw the man burn.

It's difficult to explain what that First Time is like to someone who's never been, but everyone who has understands. Have you ever taken a trip that lasted long enough, and was dramatically different enough, that you completely forgot where you came from? It's like that. Except Burning Man isn't the trip. The rest of your life is the trip. Burning Man is coming home.

6 Days to Burning Man

vogon 2002

The sun sets over Vogon 2002. I submitted this photo and more to the official image archive at You can see the rest here.

7 Days to Burning Man

it's okay if you don't understand

Only one week left until Burning Man. If you're going, I'll be there. Just look for Hector.

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