By Bethany Drysdale
I’ve heard that Burning Man is life-changing. I’ve also learned not to build up such grandiose expectations or you’re almost sure to be disappointed. Like the elusive orgasm, it’s best when it just happens. Wish for it, pray for it, wait for it, and you’re almost sure to miss it.
I don’t know if my first Burn was life-changing. It was surreal and exciting and fun, but did it change my life? My week on the playa did not bring any jaw-dropping epiphanies. I didn’t bond with great new friends or awake a dormant talent for fire dancing or hula-hooping. I had fun. Lots of fun. But mostly I just enjoyed each moment as it arrived, and at the end of the week I felt ok about just wanting a hot shower and my own bed.
I know people who dread coming home and getting back to the “uncivilized” world. They don’t want to wash their cars and rinse away the last dusting of playa from their lives. I’m not like that. I washed my car right after my daughter complained about the “icky dirt” that she smeared on her leg climbing into the car. I looked forward to returning to the real world. That’s where my family lives.
But in the four days since I’ve been home, something strange has happened. I find myself leaning over for a kiss from my husband more often than usual. I laugh at his dirty jokes that I used to roll my eyes at. I delight in watching my daughters play with their toys. I momentarily abandon dinner prep or the dirty laundry to plop down on the floor with them and play for a few minutes myself. I enjoy the little moments without thinking about them. Is this what they call “living in the moment”?
And as moments like these pile up, I realize that’s what I enjoyed most about Burning Man and what I took home with me. The best part of my week on the playa was the freedom to do whatever I wanted – whatever brought me joy at that specific moment. I’m not talking about stark hedonism; I’m married and I plan to keep it that way, so my self-indulgence was of a very innocent nature. There was no schedule; if I wanted to go for a bike ride, I went. If I wanted to hop up and tend bar, I poured cocktails with the best of them. If I wanted to look at art, I looked. If I wanted to cry, I cried. I felt no pressure to stay up all night when I really wanted to sleep. I had no reason to go to bed early because morning started whenever I woke up.
There’s also a nearly indescribable personal freedom that comes from experiencing global freedom. Sure, our globe was a 50,000-person camp in the desert, but within that community, there were few expectations to live up to. The greatest social faux pas was to throw a piece of garbage on the ground. People walked around naked – shocking in this “normal” world of ours, but perfectly acceptable for one week in the Black Rock Desert. People danced when the music moved them. They cried when their spirit moved them. They expressed how they felt when they felt it.
I have never felt so free to feel what I want to feel and be who I am. My biggest fear going into Burning Man was that I would be too boring for it, that I wouldn’t be wild or weird enough to fit in. But I quickly learned that trying to fit in the exact antithesis of what the Burn is all about. It’s the one place you can abandon being who you wish you were or who people think you are.
In the real world, I live in such fear of being too exposed, physically and emotionally. And without even noticing, I shed that during my week on the Black Rock Desert. Ok, so I didn’t quite work up the courage to go naked, but honestly I didn’t want to go naked and to do so would have been contrived. I was just who and what I am, or as much as I know of myself at this point in my life. I allowed myself to be moved by the Temple, to feel the loss, pain and inspiration etched into its walls and echoed in its chambers. For once in my life I sat back and just listened to those around me when I didn’t have anything to say. I marveled at the artistry on display around every turn and danced with abandon.
So now that I’m back to being Mommy and Wife and Employee, the fun of Burning Man lives on in my photos. The action ended when my car hit the pavement, but that’s when the awakening began, the awakening of newfound joy in the moments that make up my life.