Why Burn?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve spent a great deal of golden time engaged in writing a critical analysis for a book I really, really don’t like all that much. Reading and re-reading passages from this work has just stoked the flame above the pilot light of my anger. As a result the writing exercise, which requires trying to be precise about something I don’t like, has left me in a foul mood.

Then along comes another video of this year’s Burning Man. Something I deeply regret missing for another year.

Burning Man 2013 // BURN from Kien Lam on Vimeo.

At first that anger grew a little hotter. I tried and failed to get a ticket. Ticketing, like so many mundane, bureaucratic, bullshit things, is still borked beyond recognition. But then I watched the video a little more, and when I was able to get over the fact that I feel sorry for myself for not making it home for yet another year, I remembered why I wanted to go in the first place.

In 2010 I Burned for the first time. I drove there in my 1983 Vanagon with no real idea of what I might find or how I might feel. As the miles unfolded before me along Highway 97, a flood of anxiety and anticipation formed behind my eyes somewhere.

Leaving WA on my way to Burn

At that time, working from a remote office for Microsoft, I made regular road trips all over the place to go run or fly my paraglider. But this trip was different. Something about it had been altered. My mind was aware of it, but I could not put my finger on it precisely until I saw this video.

I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book Shaman and therein is a narrative about the protagonist’s people at the end of spring, right before they head out to a rendezvous with packs and people. It is wonderful, if brief, description of the power that new people and a drastically altered state of being can impose on our consciousness.

“Saguache” playing circus at Center Camp

I am pretty certain that in 2010, the Burning Man experience got me through another couple of years of stress and self-abuse in my old career at Microsoft, but that’s not what I want to say about this experience.

In fact, I spent most of that week going to center camp and learning yoga and circus stunts, spontaneously dancing my ass off, running and mapping the city with my GPS, and meeting new people. Lots and lots of new people, most of whom I can picture in my mind’s eye perfectly years later, but whose names fled as soon as we exchanged them.

Who are these people?

I finished the burn, burnt, tired, in desperate need of a bath, sore, and overwhelmingly happy. Content, in fact. A contentment that stayed with me for a while and allowed me to fend off a barrage of slings and arrows for some time thereafter. That video sort of captures the essence of what I felt every day and all night on the playa. That filled up feeling, running over and just splashing it all over anyone who got too close. It was a week of childbirth and finding my soulmate and unbounded curiosity and living life to its fullest.

At the Temple, Letting the BS Burn

Some of you who know me, know that there are a few things that I need to let go of. T-Rex skeletons in my closet that occasionally rear their big scary heads and remind me that life is tough. But those things, over time it seems, also tend to separate me from my empathy, compassion and humanity. And I know I cling to that flame of anger and pretend that there might be some rationality helping me control the pressure buildup. But there isn’t and even if there were it cannot. In the spring of 2012 I’m thinking that I was overwhelmed and then good and truly fucked by that BS.

I see that video and look at the very few pictures I took while I was there and I can picture that sensation and imitate that smile. Oh, but its a long way from just feeling that way.

There is a part of me that is certain I need to figure out a way to make these moments happen. Another part, the writer part, knows I need to get better at describing them. Writing them down, over and over, until you read this and understand the bliss I had back there in 2010 standing in the dust after golumphing up a decade’s worth of worry and grief at the gate.

The Man and the Moon

Burning Man is Rendezvous, it is Yatra, it is my modernist retreat.

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