I spent much of my last week at the Burning Man festival – and had six mind-blowing days.
I biked around the desert. I gratefully sipped water in the afternoon blaze. I stared at Art Cars painted yellow and green and pink – clad in purple and orange and red lights. I biked in the darkness – with blue electric lights dangling from my vest.
I walked into camps where people gave me drinks and snacks(for you cannot sell or buy anything at the festival – it’s a no-commerce zone). I walked up to strangers, made conversations and traded hugs.
I marveled at how this temporary city of 60,000 people emerged out of nothingness – and wondered how people created something this beautiful knowing that it would all be dismantled in a week.
I experienced unspeakable horrors in this transient yet beautiful city. On my first morning, I and my friends waited at the gates of Black Rock City to drive in.
I had to pee. I stepped out of our car to the Porta Potties(temporary plastic chamber toilets). I yanked open the plastic door, and stepped into the mud covered floor of the interior.
The sight was gruesome. My innards spun like they’d been dropped into a blender. My stomach churned as I contemplated the unspeakable horror that confronted my eyes. I covered my eyes with my hands to evade the sight of the semi-solid carnage. I employed my other hand to plug my nose.
Unspeakable horror, yes. (Mind you, I do not use the phrase lightly – for I’ve seen horrors at Dadar Junction, on the Gwalior Barauni Mail – and other such dark corners of the Indian Railways).
I held my breath, and felt like I’d almost choke. Very soon, I stepped out into the fresh air of the outside. It was hot air, but boy, was it fresh – and soothing. I felt like I had been drowning – and I had just been rescued and I’d come up for fresh air.
Over the next 6 days, I slowly made my peace with this unmentionable horror of these Porta Potties that I had no choice but to use.
By day 6 though, it wasn’t such a big deal. By then, many other things I’d taken for granted before weren’t such a big deal. I hadn’t showered for 6 days. I had survived on frozen pre-cooked food – bland meat, often-hard tomatoes and potatoes. I’d walked into dust-storms and come out draped in white powder of dust. I’d slept in a dust-sprinkled hexayurt on a sleeping bag. I’d biked agonizingly across miles.
And none of these hardships were unmanageable. These werent a big deal. Amid the whole magic of the art cars, groovy music, funky camp-decorations, serendipitous conversations, salsa dances in the sand and free hugs, the whole physical hardship thing paled in comparison with the awesomeness around me. There were cooler, more fun things to do – so why worry about the painful, unpleasant parts that I had to endure no matter what?
I was actually getting used to this whole radical self-reliance thing.
And after I returned – last Sunday, as I thought back over those magical days at the Playa, I realized that I don’t necessarily need many things I take for granted.
After seeing rock-bottom in the luxury department like I did at Burning Man, it was a LOT easier to see that if I do lose the possessions and luxuries that I’ve gotten with me, it isn’t the end of the world.
As a writer and creator, sometimes I think I need more money, more time, fancier food, more productivity tools, a couple of million dollars to be happy and creative. Perfection sometimes simply seems to be a couple of expensive purchases and lots of time away.
One week at Burning Man showed me that all I need to truly enjoy and appreciate life is me. All I need is what I’ve got inside my head – and cool, fun people to enjoy and appreciate for who they are, not what they possess.
I left the Playa grateful for everything that I’ve got going in my little corner of the world – and knowing that I perhaps don’t need all that much to be happy.
Perhaps that is true for you too. As a writer or creator, it’s worth asking yourself this – what do you absolutely need to create? What can you let go of?
PS – Want to write for Mint Lounge/WSJ? Go here:
Travel writing: http://bit.ly/StoryPitchForm
Travel photo essays: http://bit.ly/PhotoEssayPitchForm
I read and respond to every pitch.
PPS – Want to speak with me? In the spirit of sharing, I’ve been hosting office hours for the last few months. Because of this, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of folks, and learn and share lots of new/interesting stuff so far. If there’s anything you’d like to chat with me about – or share of what you know, just hit reply and let me know.
PPPS – Mint is also looking for submissions for a special issue themed around luxury. Here’s a note from the issue editor: “I am seeking a travel piece for this edition connected with the idea of luxury— not the usual retro-modern luxury of Rajasthan hotels but luxury from a modern standpoint.” and “I’m looking for someone who can do a thoughtful piece on why luxury isn’t in the obviously luxurious.”
If you’ve got possible story ideas around luxury + travel, hit reply and email me your pitch – and I’ll forward your pitch across to the issue editor.