"You people have ruined me. Thank you."

"You people have ruined me. Thank you."
Photo credit: Michael Holden

Wow, awesome! @burningman tweeted this post and now burners are coming online. And what’s the first thing they do? Say hi using the chat box that none of my regular visitors have ever used. Keeping the burn alive..

I didn’t write this, it was sent out to the Burning Man NYC listserv. This is my post on Burning Man.. Thank you to John for passing along this note by Ralph. He wanted no more attribution than that. I read this and teared up on the subway platform. How awful it is that we live in a world where eye contact and a genuine word is a revolution. Sometimes I’m despondent about the world, other times I can’t but see how beautiful it is.

Last night, I went insane for about 10 seconds – untethered from reality, looking right at it but not seeing it.

After a 28-hour marathon drive and a couple of hours of decompression at home, I had been asleep for maybe an hour when something – I don’t know what woke me. I sat up and looked around desperately trying to get my bearings – where the f#$@ was I? A person lying next to me in bed asked me if I was alright. Alarmed, I looked her in the eyes and wondered who the f#$@ she was. I jumped out of bed and looked around – there was playa sand on the ground, and a driving techno beat coming in through the windows. But there was also furniture, a closet, french doors, a ceiling fan. “This is one pimped out dome,” I thought. Really, I thought that. After a few seconds the hemispheres finally synced and I put the pieces together. I was home. The woman in my bed was my wife. The sand was actually carpeting, and the beat didn’t exist. The playa was a thousand miles away.

That was the worst disconnect I’ve had since I got back, but not the only one: the little ones just keep coming. I was in the grocery store and became alarmed that no one was making eye contact with me. They would steer their carts to avoid collisions, but other than that I might have been invisible. On the rare occasion that I did make eye contact, the other would quickly look away, like they were scared.

I find my eyes are constantly casting around for beauty, light, fire – either big orange tongues of flame or little sparks of connection. Instead I find banal architecture, half-assed landscaping and endless identical cars with little bits of flair slapped on. There’s no spontaneous art, just bland lowest-common-denominator commercial design. Nobody has dressed up to catch my eyes. Nobody is doing something amazing for its own sake.

The change, of course, is all in me. Wolfe was wrong: you can go home again, but you can’t go all the way home, and not all of you makes it there. So
what happened to me? I was a perfectly dysfunctional tech geek keeping my head down and getting all my beauty through a computer screen just two weeks ago, but I made a huge mistake: I experienced a bigger world. I exposed myself to a city full of beautiful people who cracked open my shell and delivered me, gasping, onto the playa sands. I don’t want to keep my head down and live inside myself anymore. I want what I had out there. I want what I finally broke through and reached on that last beautiful night.

But there’s more than one way to get, and one of those ways is to give. So I said hello to the hardware store cashier, and asked her how her day was going. I listened to her answer, and asked follow up questions. Startled, she looked me in the eyes (yes!) and started talking to me about what was going on in her life. We continued our little conversation as we walked to the propane tanks to swap out my empty, and kept talking even after the transaction was complete. I decided not to push my luck and go for a hug, but gave her as big a smile as I thought I could get away with in a hardware store parking lot in suburban Colorado.

So there it was, my high point of the day, my little human connection. I got my fix of whatever it is I got addicted to out there on the playa, and realized that it doesn’t come with the price of a ticket – pumped out of big tanker trucks by DPS from and contained inside the trash fence – but is made everywhere, by everyone. And it has to be made fresh every day, like bread, or we all starve.

You people have ruined me. Thank you.