Last year, I went to Burning Man for the first time and had my life upended. Not only did I discover many of the things I felt had been missing in my life – community and art and openness – I fell hopelessly and utterly in love with someone incredible and wrote many subsequent blogs about polyamory and love tacos. I’d been a member of a large camp, of which my group of friends had made up a small part. Our group decided to create our own camp for the 2017 burn, and as someone with both the vested interest and technical skills to manifest such a thing, a lot of the planning and organization fell to me.
one of many possible outcomes I was afraid of
In some form or another, our camp, the Interstellar Business Cafe, was born. A group of us embarked on the journey to buy all of the things, transport them out to the desert in a twelve-hour overnight truck drive, unpack, build, and deploy them all, shade ourselves from the sun, and create a home for the following week. My hands were torn and sore, my legs tired, my back sunburned. But, in spite of any odds, our camp was indeed built without major catastrophe and the stage was set for burning man to do with us whatever it wished. I was filled with thoughts in the buildup: how would it compare to last year? Would my life change again?
Now that I am home and it is over, I notice that I am not as overwhelmed in the afterglow as I was a year ago, but I remain just as depressed and sad to return to the default world (this is a sensation I expect to dissipate over the next few days). But, many things are the same. It remains impossible to describe the feeling of grandeur and amazement when first biking out onto the playa at night. Hallucinogens remain awesome. The emotional intensity of relationships remains elevated and pulses at a fevered pitch throughout.
On my last morning in the desert, I sat in the desert watching the sun poke its head over the horizon, splaying rosegold light over the sand as the last remnants of the festival milled about in the distance. I felt like my life was hanging on a pivotal moment, tiptoeing and dangling over the abyss of an uncertain future. The air was brisk and I was nestled inside an enormous and ridiculous brown faux fur coat. I felt a gnawing certainty that, once I left this place, the illusion it carried would again vanish into nothingness, that everyone else but me would forget about what had happened and the way we had felt.
After last year, I knew what would happen – we’d leave, turn on our phones and computers, settle into our jobs and our classes and our moderately-but-not-ultimately satisfying relationships, shoot the occasional idle, fanciful thoughts at the life we had been living in that time, viewing those moments as irretrievable and whimsical but nothing to be carried seriously. In this afterburn environment, I sometimes feel like I’m the only one for whom those moments are not short-lived and transient (of course, this is the same way a heartbroken child assumes he is the first to experience such a feeling, as I’m sure many people feel the same).
I’ve often felt that, in the modern world, it’s really hard to create the types of bonding experiences that bring people together with intensity and passion. I think this piece is missing from much of the dating world – it’s hard to find some unifying event or community to tie and bind you together. There’s no crucible to be held over the fire. For me, burning man became that crucible last year, and remained the crucible again this year. Thawing and burning away the frost that exists on the superficial levels of our loves, friendships, and work and heating up the primal core of what it means to be a human being.
So, I find myself still dangling over the edge of an unknown future over which I have no control. It might lead toward love and family, or independence and adventure, or both, or neither. I feel the call of the real world pulling me back from that brink, my phone buzzes with work emails and casual social invitations, but I’m not quite done staring into that moment. I’m sure that in a few days I’ll turn my back to that unknown and resume a daily life with its small joys and annoyances, its work and its play. But for now it’s quite meditative to exist in this space.
I do believe that something better does exist, even if it is elusive. I believe it’s revealed to us in the form of art. I believe it doesn’t live at Black Rock City, but that it lives inside of all people, we just have to lose our fear and choose to live more openly and confidently.
This is getting long, but it seems like a good spot for a digression, so bear with me. At Dartmouth, my existence was more-or-less that of a normal college student. There were classes and relationships and friendships, sex and love and confusion and angst. Then, on the last night before graduation, there was this sudden communal epiphany – tomorrow, after we graduate, most of us will never see each other again. There are no negative consequences to living honestly and freely. Nobody can hurt us anymore. The result was among the most fun and beautiful nights of my life – all of these people I had come to love finally being free. There was more authenticity and intimacy in that night at Dartmouth than in the previous four years combined. I rediscovered this feeling at the playa last year, and it existed again this year. The freedom I had yearned for was a place within my own mind.
Why can’t we live like that all the time? Not in the desert coating ourselves with dust, but free to be honest about what we really want, free to be vulnerable without being defensive, free to actually say and do whatever the thing is?
Anyway, this has gone on for quite long enough, but please don’t misinterpret these words to imagine that I’m depressed. I mean, of course I am depressed – being bathed in love and sunshine while Dani cooks you delicious food all day is decidedly superior to working and dating – but it’s not serious. The world spins, and it seems with each turn I feel a small step closer to art, love, and freedom.
I’d like to just quickly thank the people who rock and helped make this thing a reality, really the entire camp, but especially Nick & Alexis, Alan & Dani, the build crew, and of course p who helped me get back into this whole living thing again.
Now who wants to do a big cabin trip once the snow comes?
A few pictures from the journey:
usually shouting in arabic
weeping ol’bear finds out he’s having a daughter
The Interstellar team