My friend Nancy was writing a series of stories about our Burning Man experience last year. There was a lot that happened, and it’s affects good or bad were still reaching me when I asked and procrastinated to “guest write” in her series. I was looking back at the email I sent her with the below article and felt like it wouldn’t be complete without sharing my note to her:
Hey Nancy-pants. I’ve been thinking about it for a while but have been feeling a little over/under-whelmed by a bunch of different stuff. Currently working on freeing myself of the feelings of burden (and the “burdens” themselves), which in turn is freeing me up for expressing the good parts. So here goes:
Last year was my first year at Burning Man, and, yes, I had my expectations of what most of ‘those people’ were out there for and what ‘that thing’ was all about–drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll. I also thought I knew what it was going to be like from the side of a harsh environment. After all, I had gone to school to be an Outdoor Recreation professional. I was going to be prepared.
So there we are, 2 days ahead of general admission, doing camp build-out. I still felt the expectations of city life and social norms weighing on me, and everyone telling me “welcome home” felt false and fake. This wasn’t my home, or theirs either. I judged both the statement and the people as having pretense or lack of self awareness in the ‘real’ world. But we had felt an instant bond with the Harrisons, who we had just met, so I was struggling with my inability to earnestly embrace the rest of the community that was quite literally being built up around us.
As the week progressed, I also noticed people saying “the playa provides” anytime any act of randomness seemed to fit a need or desire someone was expressing. As if the ‘playa’–the prehistoric, dried up, lake bed where we were camping–had personality, and coincidental matches of needs and provisions was some sort of magic. Someone’s bike gets a flat tire and there was instantly someone else nearby who happened to have a spare. (“The playa provides!”) “I could really use some shade / water / or just want fresh socks” you say to yourself–something basic and for which you should have been prepared–and there out of the sand pops up low benches with coverings / a long-time, older, Burner couple with a red wagon filled with ice-cold water / a carnival style game with sunscreen, lip balm, or socks as a prize. (“The playa provides!”)
“Kismet,” I finally say. “God and a divine plan,” say others. “The playa provides,” say ‘those people’. Then my analytical brain kicks in, because I expect that logic and critical thinking can explain anything, including the increasing number and level of randomness. “Well,” I say, “if everyone comes out here prepared for the environment and expecting to take care of themselves plus a willingness to gift (two of the Burning Man Principles), it only makes sense that we would collectively be prepared for anything.”
And that’s when it hits me. Home and community are what we make of it. Literally. My expectations for myself and others was the only limitation holding me back from the true possibilities of what we could accomplish together. The reason why people feel at home at Burning Man is because WE make that place HOME. The reason we call ourselves a temporary COMMUNITY of 70,000 people is because WE build our community up from nothingness to magical wonderland. The reason why the Playa provides is because we ARE the Playa. Our collective selves become the structure and care that nourishes and provides for our community. No matter what your religion (or ‘lack’ thereof), that’s a strong lesson in reaping what you sow.
So, home really is where your heart…and soul and elbow grease…is. Community really is simply those you choose to care about and accept into your life…just as they are and however they come. And the Playa really does provide…exactly what you need. Including a shift in thinking.
(These pictures are of a postcard we recently received. From us. From Burning Man. The shade structure we happened upon way out in deep playa, somewhere between 12 and 1 o’clock–just when I needed out of the sun, and where the couple with the wagon full of water were nearby who happened to be down to their last two bottles when we were nearly dry–also had a stand with postcards and instructions on how to write Haikus. They promised to send the postcard in 1-11 months.)