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Burning Man Journal
All The News That's Fit To Burn: 2001 Summer Newsletter

Letter to the Editor

Editor's note: The following letter, along with payment for a ticket, appeared in our San Francisco office. It was photocopied, as these things often are, and passed around among members of our staff.

To all you happening cats in SF:

It's not as though I've been able to figure it out. Believe me, I've tried. I mean, it's not as earthy-luvin' or brother-huggin' as something like the Oregon Country Fair or a Rainbow Gathering. It doesn't have quite the sexually liberated charge that a good night in Mardi Gras possesses.

But Burning Man has changed my life, every year. I guess it's what everyone always says about it. Something about the stark reality of surviving in the desert, combined with the freedom to be who you want and the invitation to participate constantly makes you search deep inside and find out what you really WANT to do and what you really WANT to experience, and then seek that out. The whole event forces you into self-examination.

Sometimes the self-examination isn't tied to the highly touted "good" parts of the event. It isn't while diggin' on cool art, or showing off my handmade costumes, that I search and find out what I am and what I'm capable of. This past year those moments occurred with what I would ordinarily call the "bad" parts of the event (ordinarily I would call them "bad," but they made me self-examine, so now I don't know)

When my campmates were playing music really loud at 3a.m. and someone nearby came over for confrontation, I had to look inside. I found that I did think the music was loud, and almost grating, but I supported my campmates' decision to be free and express themselves. Rather than be afraid of interaction, as the "real" world teaches, I stepped up and tried to mediate. The music could go down a little. Be considerate. Sleep somewhere else. Be considerate. There are no designated "sleeping hours", for good reason. It's Burning Man.

When I was totally overwhelmed on Friday night by how the somewhat intimate city had transformed into complete stimulation overload, I freaked out and went out to the furthest point I could manage and sat, tightly wrapped in a blanket, and tried to figure out why. Why didn't I feel like I had anything to offer that throbbing, blinking cacophony of free expression? Was it something wrong with me, was it blah blah blah, for an hour or so, until some guy started walking up to me. Somehow, in the middle of nowhere, so far out on the playa that I could see the whole circle without turning my head, in a place I had gone specifically to avoid human interaction, this guy had found me. He quietly asked if he could sit with me, and I quietly assented. After a few minutes, we started speaking fragments of sentences. Despite the fact that neither of us could exactly articulate our discomfort with the city, we began talking. We found out that we were having the exact same experience at the exact same moment in the exact same way. We ended up exploring what was in our psyches, what was in our world, whether any of it was bad or wrong, and what could be done about it. A few hours later we parted as changed people, and I saw him only in passing the rest of the time.

I've experienced battles, both publicly and internally, over population growth and the arrival of "yahoos," who don't seem to understand the ethos or community of Burning Man at first. I always try to remember that I didn't either, the first year, when I tried to burn everything in sight and people were patient (if fucking pissed) with me. I always try to counsel people angered by the newbies. We're being hypocritical and limiting our ability to change the world. This last year, the arrival of Silicon Valley exec-types in fancy RVs with fancy toys caused some bitching and moaning. Bring 'em on board, I say. In the future, when they're the top CEOs of some screwed-up multinational, it will be nice to think that they have some experience with the other side and with building a perfect world in our own image.

Ultimately, that's what I get from Burning Man: The opportunity to build a world as I would see fit, in conjunction with how 15,000 other people would see fit, and trying to make that mesh on a grand scale. It's the ultimate experiment in social configuration, a la Locke or Mill. It may not have been intended that way at first, but the principles of the event allow it to grow and blossom beyond all of our control. Bravo, and thank you. Thank you. Your hard work (and some of mine, too) makes it possible. I'll never be able to express that properly, except by coming back year after year and trying harder and harder to give back, to build something cool, to pass humorous misinformation, to play and cavort, all for the sake of living free. And just when I think I know what's next, or what I'll do, or what I'll experience, it surprises me. It's not as though I've been able to figure it out.

Peace and Joy,
Sioen Roux, aka Michael J. Kleckner