November 15th, 2002, 10:25 am

CHAOS- “a state of utter disorder; a total lack of organization or order, a disorderly mass.”

By the year 2002, BurningMan was the most important thing in Larry Harvey’s life. Nothing else mattered, not the chaos & disorder in his living space, not the unpaid bills, not his health. 

During the early days of BurningMan, I would occasionally drop by Larry’s place on Sunday morning. I would bring a bag of donuts, he would make a pot of strong coffee, & we would sit at his kitchen table, discussing BurningMan & pondering the meaning of all things great & small. He had a habit of tugging on his ear when he paused in thought, searching for just the right word or phrase to use. Larry had lived in this rent-controlled apartment on Alamo Square in San Francisco for nearly three decades. By this time, his rent was about one-tenth the going rate for a new apartment in the city. This enabled his low-income lifestyle & lots of free time to focus on ‘The Project’. 

So much of what Larry was at that time, can be revealed by zooming into this photo.

He valued ideas more than things. He was a voracious reader, devouring several books a week. A pile of books is stacked on the floor, topped with a copy of Robert Putnams “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”. Larry incorporated ideas from this book in a speech that he gave at the Cooper Union in New York City on April 25th, 2002.

When he wasn’t reading, he was on the computer, researching new ideas, or composing his next talk.

The worn-out chair in front of the computer is an indication of the time he spent sitting there.

He smoked constantly; at least 19 empty packs of Camels, Winstons & Marlboros litter the floor. The ashtray precariously perched on the right hand corner of the desk is filled with butts, ready to be accidentally knocked off again, adding to the ashes & butts already on the floor. A BurningMan votive candle sits behind the ash tray. He once tried to stop smoking for two weeks. Mentally paralyzed, he had writers block for that two weeks. Then he started smoking again & the creativity came back. (You should have seen his teeth before he got them fixed.)

Resting on a small side table, sits the printer on top of a pile of papers, with a large print of the 1998 Black Rock City design hanging from the pile. On top of another pile, just to the right of the printer, is a framed copy of his 1987 invitation to the second burn, which incorporated an image of the first BurningMan on Baker Beach. The invitation also included a quote from a profoundly poignant poem by Dylan Thomas, which deals with the paradoxical forces of creativity & destruction inherent in nature & man.

Just behind the printer is Larry’s old answering machine, which had been retired several years earlier, when it became difficult for staff to reach him amid BurningMan’s growing media attention & the broad dissemination of his phone number. One day when I dropped by, I asked him why he didn’t return my call from two days ago? He said; “There were 32 messages so I just hit DELETE.” After that, I got him a new, private phone number & connected his old number to an answering machine at the BurningMan office so all the messages could be retrieved by a staff member & then routed to the appropriate department or person.

The 4-drawer filing cabinet in the lower, right-hand corner of the photo is filled to overflowing. On the floor is a large black & white photo of the 1997 Man standing on hay bales, an idea which began in in 1996 when we needed to elevate the Man so he could be seen above the heads of the ever-growing crowd. This idea soon became Larry’s ever-growing Manbase, increasing in size & cost as the years progressed. 

On the floor in the lower left-hand corner, is a yellow 1995 “Building Burning Man” newsletter, which was published from 1991 to 1999 as a communication tool. Larry also used it to publish his ideas under his anagrammatic alter ego Darryl Van Rhey.

As time went by, there was an increase in the number of visitors to Larry’s place, but there was no sitting on this couch, which mainly served as paper storage & a barrier to hold back Larry’s growing pile of laundry. Instead, he always received guests in the kitchen, which served as a location for so many discussions & exchanges of ideas. 

Larry loved to discover new words. He would look them up in the well-worn dictionary that was always balanced on the frayed arm of the couch. He would add them to his mental vocabulary & later work them into his conversations. Larry was very good at absorbing ideas from people, books, the internet & then merging them into his thinking, ready to burst forth during his next presentation or written dissertation. I cannot count how many times I would later hear my exact words come from his mouth when he was speaking in public. I think his greatest talent was his ability to absorb & merge all that was around him & then express what was outside of conventional thinking. Larry was a really great front man for this incredible thing that has affected so many of us & has literally changed the world. 

It is perhaps no surprise that some of the most creative thinkers have had messy desks; Samuel Clemens, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs.