Back From The Desert

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 7 2014 @ 9:38pm

It’s particularly impressive, it seems to me, that Grover Norquist went to Burning Man and wrote this about it to be published on the Tuesday after. I can barely type even now, and it’s been almost a week since I left. I guess we had somewhat different experiences.

Which is the point, no? I loved this post on the Burning Man blog defending Grover from all the haters (which kinda channeled Freddie’s great post):

While you may disagree with [Grover] about aspects of Burning Man, and while his experiences of 2014′s Burning Man may not be your experiences, there’s absolutely no doubt that he did, in fact, experience Burning Man: that he got out of it what the rest of us get out of it, and that he wants more the same way we all do.

Good for him.  Good for us.  Not only because if “radical self-expression” means anything at all it means having your own opinions about important issues, and if “radical inclusion” means anything at all it means not imposing a party line if we can possibly avoid it.  More than that:  why would we want to belong to a movement so precious that you already have to agree with a set of pre-fabricated conclusions just to get your foot in the door?

Screw that.  If that’s what you want, there are already plenty of places you can go where people will sit around agreeing with each other in total smugness, thoroughly convinced that if there were to somehow be another opinion in the world it would be wrong because it would be different.

Screw that.

Yeah, screw that.

At this point, I suppose, I am expected to give my version of my week in the desert, in the bowels of a throbbing, mobile homosexual sheep (for that was my camp). But as I got more and more used to what was, to all intents and purposes, another world for a week, I realized I 10671349_756474594394418_1653192549247640600_ndidn’t want to share much of it with the outside. It was a wondrous experience, one hard to convey in words, in which a merry band of brothers made new friendships and deepened old ones. I need a special space for where words don’t matter and I would only befoul it with more words. So if you want to understand it – and I can’t say I fully do yet – go there. No one can experience it for you.

For me, part of its allure was that I was with an old dear friend, and part was its utter separation from my normal life. I had no phone service, let alone an Internet connection. I put my wallet away as soon as I got there. From then on, I had total freedom to explore a place which total freedom had created. My friend took almost poignant care of me – while occasionally (okay, often) bursting into laughter at something I had said or done. I guess it’s good to get laughed at in the desert once in a while. And we laughed a hell of a lot.

Two moments stick in my mind.

One night as we were traversing the darkest playa, the colored lights on our bikes serving as some kind of guide, we came across one of the countless art cars. This was a relatively simple one: it looked like an iron house perched on wheels, with a spiral staircase inside which you ascended to reach the second floor … which had nothing but a balcony. So we went out there and looked at the stars – you can actually see them there – and a tall dude in a white floor-length fur coat, covered with fairy lights, arrived with a ukelele. He proceeded, quite simply and quietly, to sing “Across The Universe” and we joined in.

And then, one morning, having stayed up all night (again), I was biking homeward in the gathering heat when I saw a man emerge from the dust ahead of me like an Old Testament prophet, holding a paper plate up high as if he were offering something to the gods. Then, in one of several Burning Man moments, I realized he was offering something to me. “Would you like some bacon?” he asked me, lowering the plate so I could see and deliriously smell the still-sizzling little things. “Yes, please,” I said, which was, at that point the extent of my conversational skills. I had nothing to offer him back, but by that time, I had gotten used to the random acts of kindness and generosity that peppered my time there. So I simply said thank you and went on my way.

A giant THANK YOU to the Dish team and the guest-bloggers who made my real vacation from everything possible: to the Dish staff who proved this blog can thrive independently of me, and who already edit and write most of the Dish with such flair, and passion and imagination – Chris and Patrick, Jessie and Chas, Matt, Jonah and Tracy, Alice and Phoebe; and to guest-bloggers Elizabeth Nolan-Brown, Bill McKibben, Sue Halpern, Freddie DeBoer and Alex Pareene. A thank you too to the reader who wrote her account of her own rape. It’s open tenderness like that that makes this such a vital, raw and real space.

And thanks to you for showing up in such large numbers – August was a huge traffic month without me – and sustaining the conversation about the world while I was in another one. So much happened while I was away that I am still grappling with all of it and will have much more to say tomorrow. But it was lovely for a while to be in something of a utopia, which like all utopias, cannot really exist, except as a mirage, and will always end in ashes and dust.

It stays with you, that sense of that place. And, with luck and grace, changes you.

See you in the morning.

(Photo of the BAAAHS sheep by Louisa Corbett.)