I’m scared to go back.
I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.
There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.
Black Rock City is a scary place. It’s eerily familiar every year, but nothing is ever quite where you left it.
Between day and night, the city transforms. In the heat of the day, its residents are woozy earthlings, and its buildings are the ramshackle, temporary works of earthling hands. But at night, it’s like the spirit world appears superimposed on the city while it sleeps. Luminous scorpions, animated plants, fire-breathing sea creatures crawl through the streets. The glowing city hovers and hums like it could lift off at any moment. Then a flaming miracle happens, it’s all bathed in gold, the dream ends, and you’re back at the dusty camp on the border of nowhere. It’s downright disorienting.
But that’s not what scares me most.
The desert is harsh. The first time I went, I was used to a living room, and I missed it at times. Nowadays, I don’t tend to get used to anything, so the Black Rock Desert is no more or less weird than my living room in Oakland. But whether I notice or not, the desert sure does a number on my body. I’ll get dehydrated, I’ll get exhausted, I’ll get sunburned. The skin on my feet will crack. My hair will turn white. My brain will cry out for balance, and it will have none. By the end, a shower and a greasy cheeseburger will sound like manna from Heaven.
But that’s not what scares me, either.
I’m scared of how we’ll change. I’m scared of how we won’t change when we need to change. It’s not that we’re different people out there, it’s that we’re the same people in extraordinary circumstances. It will push us. We will push each other. We will fall down.
That can happen anywhere, though, on a weird enough day. The difference is, on the playa, there are 70,000 people all freaking out. For some of us, they’re all strangers, which is scary enough. For others, mixed up among the freaked out masses are our friends, our lovers, our ex-lovers, our ex-friends, people on whom we usually rely, but we can’t out there. We have to rely on ourselves.
My world has fallen apart every time I’ve gone to Burning Man. I was the only one who could put it back together.
And now you mean to tell me I have to do it all over again?
No. Of course I don’t have to. Burning Man is a dry run for my own personal end of the world. When the real thing happens, it won’t be a choice. Practicing for it is a rare, precious privilege. I’ll take that chance.
Photos by the one and only Scott London.