Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What I've learned from Burning Man (and I haven't left yet)

I'm going to Burning Man.

If you don't know what this is, Google it and come back.

If you do know and are horrified and want to warn me, yes, I do know it's going to be dusty. Yes, I know it's going to be very hot. Yes, I know I won't be able to shower for as long as I’m there.

I also know I'll have a series of incredible epiphanies. I know this because I've already experienced some of those and haven't even left yet.

Here is what I've learned so far:

- How adverse us humans are at the prospect of being uncomfortable. When I mention I'm going to Burning Man, people have repeatedly mentioned the heat and the dust but no one has mentioned the art; and it's an art show. In the middle of nowhere. Of monumental installations. That cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and have no reason to be beyond “because”. A city of 50,000 people that only exists for a month out of the year. A place where those who go leave no trace.

More to the point, as much as I like watching TV while lying in bed, I don't learn much on a soft mattress surrounded by pillows. As much as I want my life to be just right, as much as I crave routine, it dulls my senses.

I know that incredible things happen when I operate outside my comfort zone. From growth to understanding myself better to the magic and power and joy of feeling alive.

- One of the big principles of Burning Man is "Radical self-reliance". Conversely, one of the big lessons I have learned in the past two years is how important it is for me to accept the humbling fact that I need to count on others. Not to mention, I know myself well enough to concede I would not survive more than a day or two alone in a harsh desert. As a result of this, I am making a frantic effort to cross-reference multiple shopping lists of things I will need on this adventure and trying to buy everything, everything, while struggling with the fact that I will have to rely on the generosity and patience of others to get me through (or to at least get me a shower.)

I texted an expert friend who kindly insisted on sharing some of his supplies with me. “Ugh” I wrote. "I swing between radical self-reliance and accepting your offer".

“The key” he shoots back “is to be flexible".

He is 23.

- And the biggest lesson of all. I suffer from an excess of efficiency. I am so in favor of efficacy I have stripped my life of complications (to the point that my refrigerator sits empty because going to the supermarket is not key to my survival.) I don't keep things I don't need - not even photographs.

What I seem to have lost along the way is that life and art and beauty and love all hide in the complex fabric that is inconvenience. Cooking an elaborate meal because it’s a pleasure; going to great lengths to think up a perfect costume because it’s fun; or even lying flat on your back for years in order to paint the Sistine Chapel.

So here you have me. Rather than rationally deciding not to go to Burning Man (which is, without a doubt, the decision the person formerly known as me would have made) I have spent the last two weeks poring over what I need for this art festival in the middle of the desert - from water to long gowns to headlamps to comfortable boots.

I have a bin full of things that used to fit squarely in my very large category of "utterly unnecessary".

And a deep, throbbing desire to be coated in that highly alkaline, incredibly fine dust that I have been promised will cover everything.