Seife: a Story of Redemption and Soap

“When are you gonna write about Burning Man?”

In the five years since I made my first pilgrimage to the desert, obediently exited the car to spread my first dust angel, and struck a giant bronze gong to announce that I’m home, I’ve fielded this question a lot.

People ask because I’m a writer, of creative nonfiction in specific. I’m a scavenger— I make art from found truth and facts. There’s so much to gather at Burning Man—unending riotous details, capital t Truths without end. This, Burners and non-Burners alike conclude, is fabulous source material. So, seriously, when will I write about it?

My answer used to be simple.
Never.

For a few reasons, turning Burning Man into words on a page compelled me exactly zero percent.

First, there’s Principle 10: Immediacy. Writing, no matter how gripping, is always at a remove. It’s actually a little silly, what we writers do: sit alone in rooms in front of our screens attempting to recreate, in the conceptual medium of words, a world principally experienced through the fives senses. When you think of it this way, the act of writing is actually cuckoo, and about as far from the unmediated, unfolding energy of Black Rock City as you can get.

Second, Burning Man runs on magic. We all know that. And really, who wants to try (and, inevitably, fail) to eff the ineffable?

Third, though what happens to me in the desert never fails to feel urgent, the internal seismic shifts always feel highly personal. Not that I hesitate to share, but I’ve always experienced the force behind these heart-exploding transformations as a power that registers only with me. That is, until now.

This past year in the desert, I stumbled into my most profound playa experience to date. I’ve conferred upon it this superlative because, for the first time, I sensed what I felt in that moment would register beyond me, and thus was a story I felt called to retell.

But, again, Immediacy.

When I thought about crafting this narrative, it always came down to this: How do I make it as visceral for a reader as it was for me?

In my attempt to answer, I was obliged to do some weird things, things I typically don’t do, or never have done, when I sit down to write.

This story was bossy; it had demands. It insisted on some cutty Word formatting, the scavenging images, the downloading of fonts, and the invention of dialect. It even necessitated the carving of soap. In short, this story made me get wild.

And that was perfect. Because what we do out there on that alkaline dustscape is wild. What we feel out there is very, very wild.

All of this preamble to explain something so simple! Which is why the story you’re about to read comes as a PDF. But you know, I realize I’ve been writing all this to express an intention too.

My prayer is that this story strikes the gong of your heart.

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View the PDF on mobile (3 MB)

About the author: Alessandra Wollner

Alessandra Wollner

Alessandra (Allie) Wollner, aka Lotus, is a writer, educator, and community builder. She helps create the theme camp Milk + Honey, and earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from Ohio State. Her current project is an essay collection on the interrelation of gender language and power. On playa, when she's not dancing wildly, you can find her writing in her notebook atop a 40-foot trailer, wearing a leopard print onesie, at sunrise. See Allie's work at www.alewollner.com

6 Comments on “Seife: a Story of Redemption and Soap

  • Debbie says:

    Alesandra, Very powerful piece of work. Bravo to you. Love this.

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  • Sammy says:

    Gorgeous, Allie. Truly visceral, and creative, and complicated and resonating! I also did the shower and couldn’t help feel like it was reminiscent of something darker than freaky… something old, that should not be returning in my lineage. I didn’t panic, held my breath, waited for it to be over. Acted cleansed at the end, though I felt pushed too far. Thank you for writing & sharing!

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  • Donna says:

    Stunning writing. To be able to write about horrific pain with such eloquent beauty gives humanity the hope we need to carry on.Thank you.

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  • jessie oh says:

    zachar.

    allie, brilliant and moving! thank you for writing. evocative of mans search for meaning whilst a naked group shower.

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  • After being pulled over for no apparent reason,
    i feel burning man has become a police state,
    faa, fbi,fcc, blm, washoe county sheriff, pershing couny sheriff, burningman assholes at front gate, ‘ atf fbi,nfs,fema epa,ntsb,narc, rpd, rpd deputized retired, nhp, natiomal gaurd ndot.
    13 years of burn, I fyou would like to know more about the situation email me , blm gaekwrs and naked girlfriends, im sure your pay roll is even longer. but i bet you dont give a fuck
    im out,
    jalinski

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  • Unknown says:

    Truly powerful. Thanks for sharing.

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