“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.
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.