When I left my first Burning Man in 2005 I was wearing a Lamplighter charm on a thin leather strap around my neck. I promised myself I would keep wearing that memento as long as I could to remind myself that I had stopped gaining years and started losing them because of a few days in the desert. I wore it faithfully until the leather strap frayed and the charm fell off.
As I prepare this post, I’m still wearing my Temple Guardian bracelet from this year’s Burn, reminding me that although 13 physical years have passed since I began my Burning Man adventures, I’m feeling younger than ever. Physical evidence notwithstanding, the glow of Burning Man remains with me in the default world.
On rare occasions, my Burning Man swag initiates a conversation that includes questions about why I go and what it’s like. More often, such dialogues begin after I’ve said something about my experiences in the desert. It’s always fun to hear responses, which range from neutral to negative, with only occasional spates of genuine admiration and interest. What’s most fascinating is how quick people are to give me their opinions of Burning Man even when they’ve never gone. One person told me that Burning Man might be all right if it was free, but charging for it made it a “one percenter’s thing.” She had already judged that a “hippy event” that wasn’t free was immoral. Okay.
I’ve also noticed how many media stories written about Burning Man are by reporters who have never gone. As a result, these stories are filled with inaccuracies, reek of preconceived notions about the Burn, and are entirely too reliant on a single interviewee’s point of view. Message to reporters: you have to go to Burning Man to write about Burning Man. Otherwise, your stories will lack authenticity.
I don’t just carry a physical remembrance of the Burn; I carry its memory in my heart and my soul. Even if I lose my pieces of Burner swag, I’ll never lose the feelings I brought back with me. Although wearing my Guardian bracelet arouses some wonderful feelings deep inside me, those feelings are present not because of the swag, but because I served in the Temple and saw Burners become emotionally engaged with those they had lost.
But there’s so much more to remember and keep close to me about the Burn. The incredible kids who camped with us, the birth of a city out of nothing and its dissolution back into the land only days later; the art, the energy, the fire, the joy. The first time I wrote about Burning Man I said it was indescribable because it seemed to go on forever. Now I know that my inability to find the right words was less about Burning Man’s size and more about its scope.
I am floating in a cloud of my memories, and I hope this high continues for a while; and that even when it ends, I’ll still long to return to the magical place that is Black Rock City.