At any of the giant electronic music festivals that have become hugely popular and grotesquely profitable in the past decade, you’re likely to encounter a slogan emblazoned on a neon t-shirt, scrawled in the coating of dust covering the rear windshield of a minivan, or drunkenly screamed in a crowd before a DJ’s set: “Fuck Real Life!”
At a Burn, less so. Why? Yes, we’re older, and some of us are even more mature. But we are certainly no less prone to yelling obscenities or constructing makeshift signs. Maybe it’s that we have a sense that we aren’t just pretending.
I asked a dear friend how her most recent regional burn (which I, sadly, could not attend) played out. It was wonderful, well organized, and only twice did she fear the collapse of her infrastructure. More important than the steadfastness of her tents, never did she look out on the playa and lament that real life could not look like that, never did she mourn the fact that she had to return home in just a few short hours.
Like many burners, you will not find pictures of her home in Good Housekeeping, nor will you see her name on an election ballot in the near future. The camp that she founded and leads has been host to legendary parties of hedonism, nonsense, and glittering irresponsibility. And, as befalls even the best camps, in due time personalities clashed, and dreams both separated and brought friends closer together. Through it all, she prioritized the interweaving of art into her life, and she never gave up on her community.
Now, after plenty of tears, soul searching, and hard work, things are less dramatic. She has more direction, purpose, and space for stillness. But still her life has lost none of its vibrancy. Still she burns as brightly as ever. All of these things she has gained with the help of her community and with the self knowledge that came from being true to herself as she confronted her demons.
When she looks out over the playa now, she thinks, “This IS real life.” When she returns home, she comes back to a stable community, to art, to new experiences. She makes music with friends. She has a job where she is comfortable sharing her concerns and expressing her individuality. That is to say, a burn becomes a place where her life is not replaced, not put on hold. Life is not something to escape, but instead at a burn we concentrate life, distill it to its essence.
Did burning inspire her to mold her life in its image? Or was the mold, dormant inside her, what inspired her to burn? However it happened, integrating community and creativity into her life (as I have tried to do mine) has meant that we no longer need “decomp” in the days following a burn. It’s nice to stretch out the gathering of friends a bit, but no longer is the return to daily life so jarring that it requires planning and forethought.
Burners, we are a weird and wild bunch. I implore you to let that wildness fill your lives, to be true to yourself, and to bring the burn home with you — not the tutu, not the day drinking (necessarily). Bring home that sense of creativity and community, and let burns be your realest life.