I’ll be honest for a moment here — I put burners (folks who go to Burning Man) in the same bucket as fundamentalist preachy-types. There’s a certain enlightened holier-than-thou righteousness that comes with these self-reliant desert humans that I don’t quite understand and certainly can’t relate to. Man, was I in for a big awakening when I drove through the Burning Man gates.
Scroll to the bottom for more SisterBurn photos!
It’s taken a while to gather my thoughts on ‘the burn’ because it turned out to be an unexpectedly profound experience and I wanted to let the swirling thoughts percolate through my mind and gain some cohesive shape before talking about them.
Now, don’t get too excited! Most things that happen at the burn stay there; however, I’m happy to share a few experiences that were meaningful to me and perhaps they will resonate with you too.
I have a theory that most people go to the burn seeking something. I’m sure that nudity and LSD everywhere fit that bill for some, but for most there’s a search for something more. Perhaps it’s that ‘quest mentality’ that initially rubbed me the wrong way about burners. There isn’t a magic pill for sadness, or feeling lost, and I’m skeptical of any proposed easy solution to complex problems.
My personal quest was for quality time and re-connection with my sister Felicity, getting to know her boyfriend Bill, and bonding with Joey over a new experience. On an even deeper level, I have been struggling with feelings related to belonging, transition, self worth, and depression on and off for the last year, and quietly hoped for some little flickers of inspiration for managing these challenges.
Felicity and Bill have both experienced a few burns, and were the perfect hosts. I swear they knew everyone there. When you greet a new person on the playa (desert temporary community) he or she, without exception, will reach out arms and bring you close with a tight embrace. No pencil hugs here! “Welcome home,” everyone says. There’s a sense of belonging that’s delightful and unparalleled (outside of greeting family and close friends).
Radical self expression is everywhere. People are beautiful, weird, creative and other-worldly. They dress and act in ways that empower themselves without feelings of belittlement or the risk of harassment. This was one of the most shocking aspects of returning home — I felt so confined by societal expectations about how to look and act. I don’t think we step back and assess these limitations because we’re too close to them. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard to distance yourself from beauty standards and manufactured personality traits that help us create a sense of belonging. Why do I feel insecure wearing bright lipstick? Or weird, bold clothes that I feel beautiful in? What inside drives me to assimilate instead of celebrate my individuality? Feeling an untethered sense of ‘you do you’ at Burning Man was inexplicably liberating. Fuck yes.
Aside from the occasional camera (and insane sound + light systems), technology was absent. If you’ve read any of my past bitchings about technological reliance today you will know that this mentality sang to me! People were present. You know, I want to believe that people could just put their phones away and enjoy the moment, but I’m not that optimistic about narcissism or self control. There’s no reception on the playa and it’s absolutely key to creating a sense of immediacy. People have uninterrupted conversations, and get this — enjoy beautiful things without having to snap a photo. Novel concept!
The art was next level. Next level. The scale, both in size and quantity, is almost impossible to imagine. It’s also impossible to see everything while you’re there as seven square miles is a big ass space. I’ve always been a creative person and deeply value self expression through artistic outputs of all types, but the art completely blew me away. People are so creative! There are instillations absolutely everywhere, many of which stimulate multiple senses at the same time. Sounds, lights, colours, motion. It’s a visual feast! Any one project on its own would be remarkable, but I found myself tearing up at the immense collective power of the artistic experience as a whole. Not only was it creatively inspiring, but it also enabled me to leave with a freshly renewed energy around human potential. People are capable of amazing things, and I’m no exception.
The most beautiful memories from Burning Man are of Felicity, and our ‘SisterBurn’. No, it’s not a condition that requires a doctor’s prescription to cure, but rather a magical, sandy, family bonding extravaganza! Felicity has a wildly busy life running her company Paladin in New York City (insert insanely proud sister squeee here!) and generally just being a society mover and shaker. I, on the other hand, may not be at the helm of a business, but do find myself constantly globetrotting, sinking my teeth into overly ambitious athletic pursuits, or, you know, working. Needless to say, we don’t spend as much time together as we would like to, and even when we do visit it’s generally short and sweet. Burning Man gave us days-on-end of quality time which was nothing short of magical. I learned that we’re better as a team, and the highlight of the burn, and maybe life so far, was cruising around the desert hand-in-hand in matching onesies with giant smiles, beaming hearts, and not a care in the world. We’ve never been so connected.
Burning Man, while certainly a circus-like escape in some ways, left me with renewed optimism about what I can offer to the world. Everyone there has demons and struggles, and it’s comforting knowing that no one has it all figured out. But with community, connection, and creativity you can do extraordinary things. Back in Vancouver I’m plugging my Burning Man energy into new ideas and projects. I’ve been critically assessing activities, people, and opportunities to find out what different time expenditures bring me joy and how I can most effectively contribute to the changes I want to see in the world. When I feel disconnected, depressed, or insecure, I close my eyes and reflect on the dusty paradise we left behind…
Alas, it appears I drank the kool-aid after all!
Sincere thanks to Felicity for finally dragging my stubborn ass out to the playa, and to Bill for capturing some of the wonderful moments below!
BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?
PS — to give a hint of balance to what ended up being a Burning Man propaganda article, here’s what a dust storm on the playa is like!