“It’s like we’re in the ocean… the deep part where all the angler fish and weird bottom dwellers hang out. Clearly we’re the plankton. And that art car barracuda is DEFINITELY chasing us.”
This was my first year on the Playa. It came with a huge amount of lights, sounds, sensations, and definitely a sensory overload that made me feel like a cat locked in a catnip warehouse during a laser light show. But one night in particular has stayed with me as the days, weeks, and months have passed and the immediate memories have faded.
On my third night on the Playa, my sister and her fiancé got sick. Stuck-in-the-tent, can’t-move-off-these-pillows level sick. I, being a picky vegetarian who had not shared their food for the day, had managed to avoid this sickness. My options were to stay tent-bound with the two of them or go out onto the Playa with one of their friends, someone I knew but I didn’t “know”. I chose to go, out of sheer self-preservation, but not without trepidation.
I sometimes feel socially awkward. I get shy in groups when I don’t know anyone. I get nervous when I am alone with someone I don’t know well. Given the choice to spend all my time with people I know and feel comfortable with or a group of new people, I will always choose the former. I knew being at Burning Man with “their” friends, at “their” camp was going to be hard for me, but I comforted myself with the fact that my sister would never leave me alone, if I asked her not to. Exploring the Playa with someone whom I sorta/kinda knew wasn’t very high on my list of must-do experiences.
But my options were limited that night, so I went. What is Burning Man if not a place to step outside your comfort zone, even if that step is just a tiny shuffle? And I am so glad that I did. Though nothing outwardly amazing or unbelievable happened that night, it was, inwardly, both amazing and unbelievable.
We decided that the lights and action of the city were just too much and went to the deep playa. We hopped on our bikes and left the lasers and music for the deep bass pulse of the “out there”. We rode the entire trash fence until we made it to the very last corner. We joked about nature of the playa, how it reflects an oceanic ecosystem so perfectly. We made a plan to tell everyone that Daft Punk gave us a private show. We found a box that you had to crawl into, which I refused to do, leaving me to always wonder “what was in that box?” We walked in on two people hooking up in a caravan art-piece. We got stuck in the sand. We got rained on.
Most of all, we talked about all the random stuff that came to our brains – relationships, geopolitical theories, my absolute hatred of nag champa… it all just spilled out.
And then we rode back to camp and Burning Man continued on.
I realize that this sounds trite compared to the life-changing shifts many people experience at Burning Man. It wasn’t life-changing. I didn’t wake up in the morning loving strangers, or feeling like I could befriend anyone, anytime. But it sticks in my brain whenever I think about the Playa, and when I consider how just a tiny step outside my comfort zone really gave me one of the best nights of my life.