So, are you back? Are you all the way back?
Our guess is, probably not. Because it’s more than likely that you’ll never come all the way back from Burning Man. Things happen out there that tend to change you profoundly. … We don’t want to get overly cheesy or preachy on the subject, but if you had the kind of experiences that routinely happen out there in Black Rock, then it’s likely that the way you see things, and the way you see yourself, and the way you let yourself be seen, have changed.
Who knew you could be so spontaneous? Who knew you liked to dance so much? Who knew you could talk to so many new people? Who knew that all the gifting and openness and joy could have touched you the way it did? Who knew that you’d be so moved by simple but repeated acts of kindness?
Welcome to the post-playa club, you Burner you.
Here’s a prediction: There are going to be subtle but persistent reminders of the desert popping up when you least expect them. They’ll be as mundane as getting a whiff of the playa when you turn on the heater in the car. And they’ll be as meaningful as when you remember what you were like when you were being your best self out there.
So no, coming all the way back from Burning Man may not be possible.
But still, you’re back. You are back in your world, your job, your life. You have your “responsibilities.” But maybe you have a slightly different way of looking at things.
So this is about what you might have learned out there, and what you can take back with you, and maybe what you’ll bring next time. You learned a thing or two, and again, they ranged from the mundane to the … well, we shy away from words like “profound,” but maybe you learned some more significant things, too.
For example, we learned (or were reminded) that peanut butter has remarkably powerful restorative properties.
Many of you eat far far better than we do. This is not news: Food is sustenance to us. We recognize and enjoy good food, but our world does not revolve around growing our own produce, making our own pasta, or inventing things in the kitchen with whatever happens to be on hand (because honestly, there is very rarely anything on hand.) These are not things we are necessarily proud of.
But out there … out there … my goodness. Grilled elk? Why, that’s very good, thank you. Barbecued eggplant with grilled garden-gown tomatoes? Delicious. And this doesn’t fall in the category of haute cuisine, but being handed a slice of pizza when you are tired and hot and hungry and ornery … well, that combines kindness with culinary art, and it is a fine thing. So thank you for that, mysterious but kind person.
In short, we were reminded, or remembered, that we might be missing out on something. And this is both a small lesson, and a large one.
We found out how we like to dress at Burning Man…. We’re not a big costume person, although we know that many, many, MANY of you are. You like furry leg warmers and leather vests and elaborate headdresses. You like chains and tattoos and dressing all in one color. You like dressing provocatively without having to worry about it, because everyone else is doing the same thing. You redefined sexy. And you did it all because of the liberating lack of self-consciousness there, and you found out what actually made you comfortable with yourself.
We learned that moisturizer is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because in that environment your pores develop a seemingly unquenchable thirst. But bad, in the sense that playa dust on top of moisturizer can create body sludge. Ew.
We remembered, or learned again, how important it is to have a sense of gratitude. Look at where we were! Look at what we did! My God! … So any heat, or lack of sleep, or short nerves, or long bike ride, or dusty whiteout, shouldn’t get in the way of that sense of gratitude for something that ultimately is so short, so temporal.
Again, not to get too preachy about it, but we are not here for long, kids. We strut and fret our hour upon the stage, and then we go away. It all goes away. The heat, the light, the art, and oh … the people … they all fade away. Back to where they came from, as we all do.
Yes, there are DJs and flames and art cars and all-night wanderings and beautiful dawns, but Burning Man ultimately reminds us of our temporality. That is what is at the root of its special poignancy. We’re not here for long. We have this thing for awhile, and then it will be gone. We can lay on our backs in the Temple and listen to the chimes and stare up at the sky, and then it will be burned to the ground.
We may be in the minority here, but we do not look at Burning Man as a model for the rest of our lives. We can’t forget or suspend belief in the fact that it takes place for a certain time, in a certain place, and then it will end. We wouldn’t even try to persuade or convince anyone that we have found a better way.
BUT … but … we can take that week and have it serve as a metaphor for how we want to live. If we decide that for that week we will live with strength and grace and beauty, then we are better for it, and so is our community.
Burning Man only lasts for a week. Another small reminder, and another large one.
We learned, and learned over and over, that there is no better thing in the world on a hot, dry afternoon than an iced chocolate mocha from the Center Cafe.
We learned that you can’t necessarily spot Larry by the Stetson anymore.
We learned that it’s not always a good idea to make plans to meet for dinner, because at dinnertime the light is going to be beautiful and you are not going to want to leave it, no matter how alluring and comforting the good food and the good people will be.
We learned, or realized, that there are other, more pleasant, maybe more beautiful, certainly far easier places to visit. But there is no other place where you will find so many people pulling for you, wanting you to be who you are and who you want to be. It’s a place where acceptance comes easy, and getting a taste of it makes you want to bring it back to the places where it doesn’t.
We learned that it really helps to FEEL clean, even if you aren’t exactly all the way clean. So pouring water on your head, or rubbing yourself down with those wipe-y things, or changing your socks (if you wear socks) in the middle of the day can be really refreshing.
And we learned that even after going eight times, we’d miss it if we didn’t go. It didn’t get old. It’s the same, but it’s different. It used to be wild and wooly and free-wheeling, and now there are two Rangers on every corner and tickets will sell out. You used to hear about it by word of mouth, and now the Washington Post says its mainstream.
We went out there early to document and try to help the people who build the city. But we had to leave before the big burns, and that was weird. It was like three weeks of foreplay with no happy ending. It was a little like not being there at all.
But we were thankful that the interwebs could deliver a live feed of the Trojan Horse burning, and that we could find footage and pictures of the Man and the Temple being burned. But all that made the longing worse, not better. (Even if there were no lines during our exodus.)
So we’re back now, and have been for a little while. Most of our stuff is washed and put away. (And it’s incredibly helpful to keep all your Burning Man stuff together, right there where you’ll need it next year.) And we’re struggling to reconcile ourselves with this other life, this other world. But we’re remembering what it was like while we were there, and we’d love it, really love it, if you told us some of the things you learned, or remembered, while you were out there, too. All insights, great and small, would be appreciated.
And welcome home, again.