“You can’t describe Burning Man…. not to someone who hasn’t been.”
“You’re never gonna be able to articulate what it’s about, all the aspects that make it unique, how diverse the experience can be.”
“If they’ve never been, they’re just gonna assume it’s like a Coachella or Bonnaroo… whatever fits their frame of reference.”
“You’re never gonna be able to do it justice. There’s almost no point in trying.”
That’s what everybody kept telling me while I was at Burning Man.
It was mostly first timers – like myself – reminding each other how back in the “real world” – the ‘default world’ – they won’t get it; they wouldn’t understand… man.
I think some of that’s because my Burning Man is different from your Burning Man.
(this is the only photo I have from all of my time at Burning Man... I'm the doofus in the hat on the right)
Where, maybe, our mutual experience of Coachella might’ve involved seeing the same lesser known band on the second stage or, our common account of the Governor’s Ball might differ in the varying angles and proximity from which we watched a disinterested Kanye West high step through his set list but still, it’s the same song we collectively heard at the same time; a shared sing and nod-along, where we ironically chant in unison how we’re all the ‘New Slaves’, or somesuch. (They have that at Burning Man too… so, bad example.)
At Burning Man, I did an incredible, ill-advised and then incredible again, Kundalini Yoga class while micro-dosing psychadellic mushrooms; meanwhile you might’ve been observing the afternoon sex-slave auction or doing a 4pm Find Your Power Animal.
On a lazy Wednesday, I wandered into a huge tent to hear a guy pitch a new kind of communal, crowd-funded, ‘open corporation’ concept that ultimately ended with me openly crying – my hands alternately shaking – from the earnest ambition and potential of just this dude’s idea that moved me to need to speak too; and, maybe you were seeing what the camp looks like from thousands of feet up, in free fall, at the time. Maybe you were in that ‘TerrorDome’(?) thing, strapped to the roof by a bungee, about to be catapulted toward your opponent to smash a relative stranger in the face with a sock-covered floppy club. (Not my scene but, no judgement, whatever your pleasure.)
One particularly harsh morning, I DJ’d myself and others in the camp back to life with a chicken soup sequence of songs… “Knees” by Peter and Kerry; Knees – Peter & Kerry
Followed by the steadyingly simple “Something Hiding For Us In The Night” by The Wooden Sky; Something Hiding from us in the Night – The Wooden Sky
And then, the strings and weary words of Phosphorescent’s “Song For Zula” to nurse us back to our feet again; Song for Zula – Phosphorescent
And I felt like I’d done my part, a little something to gift myself, and everyone in earshot of our geodesic dome, back into being; maybe you were lining up for as much crushed ice as you could carry or, slinking out of the orgy tent at first light after writing your camp’s address on the exposed thigh of the paramedic you married last night.
I’m not here to judge. It’s not better or worse than my morning, just different.
A super tall, super cool cat in a top hat named after Ray Bradbury told me; “All the people at home are gonna want you to sum it up for them. They want the cliff notes version, the elevator pitch of Burning Man. You can’t do it. You can’t describe Burning Man to someone who hasn’t been.”
I think, maybe he’s right.
Cause any time you try to articulate what it’s like for everyone you come across to be open and interested… people leaning forward into their day, looking you square in the eye… just how jarring it is to spend whole days without cynicism and sneers when you’re used to wading through it… any time you say things like these you sound like a dick, and your judgemental monkey mind monkey sneers at you and points it out.
Also, cause I’ve been trying for a little while now and, I can’t seem to get it across. I can’t do it, and they won’t get it.
I went with 6 Aussie dudes and each of them had an entirely different ‘Burn’ from myself; 7 unique experiences that I don’t have any insight into and wouldn’t post here on pain of death, even if I did.
I just can’t describe it, y’know?
But then, you wouldn’t get it anyway.