There are things you can only understand if you’ve held down a tent in a dust storm.
Dust storms are exhilarating. The desert alkali sticks in your hair and teeth and ears. Things might go flying overhead or into your head. And once the wind slows and the dust settles and you can see more than a few inches ahead of you, there is a new energy. Friends, strangers, whoever happened to be sheltering in place — smile at each other. It’s an acknowledgment. Everyone is stronger for surviving and maybe a little high from the chaos. To me, that’s Burning Man.
I ate as much dust as I could handle (and then some) during 15 burns spanning 18 years. I am sure the belly laughs I had in these intense desert situations buoy my life spirit and keep me afloat when my tank runs low. Oh, just thinking back on the montage of dusty moments makes me smile so hard.
So why aren’t I there right now, if I still believe there is still magic in that ancient lakebed? Well…when you know, you know. Burning Man 2015 felt different for me. I realized late one night that it’s time for me to get out of the way, to let this event grow in the direction it’s headed. The point of Burning Man is that it is ephemeral. It is a temporary place. It’s there and then it’s gone, and the next year a new city emerges and then that’s gone too.
For people like me, who attended for a long time and squeezed all the marrow out of those desert sojourns, not going to Burning Man is a big decision. There are thousands of us who volunteered and saw the Wizard behind the curtain, people who created art or heaved a mallet, people who worked in the medical tents and ice trucks, people who lived and loved and and and… Our experience points another way. We know that going to the desert when you aren’t feeling it is a lonely and unsettling place to be.
This past week I’ve seen a lot of dusty bikes strapped onto overloaded vehicles, all headed out of the Bay Area toward a destination two hours from Reno. I give them a little salute as they pass. People are going to Burning Man! Without me! And I feel… OK about it. I may have a huge pang later in the week. But I’m OK. I’m hanging in there. Really, I’m fine. If I really need a hit, there’s the webcast. Or I could open a dusty bin of costumes and get a good huff of that sweet dusty smell.
Burning Man is people. It will continue on without me. I harbor no ill will, no giant grudge. I am simply, for now, elsewhere. I hope the the ticket I didn’t need went to someone who will do amazing things — new things that are clever and kind and engaging. But that’s not up to me. My mission to Black Rock City is complete so I must let go of notions as to what it should be. I left my mark, and carried the event onward for many years, and there is satisfaction in that. I’ll end this transmission as I did so many long desert days.
Molly Golightly is off radio. Good night, Burning Man.
And why, may I ask, aren’t you there? Share your stories below in the comments. Let’s make this an online burn barrel for staying warm and telling tales.