Dust storms. Non-stop music thumping inside my ears. Flashing, glowing, throbbing neon lights. So much light I can’t see the stars, even though we’re in the high desert where the skies should be black and clear. Hot sunlight bouncing off the white playa and slapping my eyes. The press of sweating, laughing, talking, dancing people all around me. Black Rock City: the city that beats Vegas in an insomnia contest.
What the hell am I doing here?
I came to Burning Man for the art and to see friends. The city is art, a temporary but living work of creative power. 70,000 people come together to build a city out of imagination and hard work. And then after a week, the city vanishes. There is nothing like it anywhere, and I wanted to walk the streets and experience all that raw creativity for myself. Maybe I’d take a little bit back with me.
But the constant press of noise and activity exhausted me. I longed for silence in a place where silence had been driven away. People come to Black Rock City to party and my desire for solitude was ridiculous. My camp mates were dear friends and I loved being with them, but I needed a little bit of calm. So I hunted for it.
On my first night, I found quiet at a saki bar. It was still filled with noisy partiers, but there’s something about warm saki on a chilly desert night that felt peaceful. The servers were cheerful and the other patrons relaxed. We were there to take a break from the chaos for a minute. A smiling Buddha statue above the bar gazed across the rollicking playa. It was the perfect stop to begin my plunge into the City.
Throughout the city there are small, almost hidden, places of quiet. Not solitude, but quiet. I discovered tea houses where people could hide from the sun and wash the taste of dust from their mouths. A steam bath where you could replenish your dried out skin. A wine bar in the back of a camp that served Pinot Noir under an awning covered in cooling tapestries. Small pieces of art scattered upon the playa that were just as beautiful as the larger installations, but attracted fewer people.
And then there was the Temple. It was always packed with people , but felt comforting. People spoke quietly, meditated, cried, and shared their grief. All along the walls and altars were tokens of love for people who had died. I stood with a crowd and silently cried, feeling the weight of a thousand broken hearts. But the weight didn’t crush me. Crying with everyone else felt less tragic than crying all alone in my room at home. We all grieve. We all struggle. The Temple is where we can give that grief away and find compassion.
Of course I made a pilgrimage to Medusa. I kissed her metal lips and thanked her for her inspiration. I sprinkled her with a little water, more precious than perfume in the desert, and asked for her continued help as I rebuilt my struggling press. She shot fire from her snake hair. I wonder if that was a blessing or a curse?
On the night “The Man Burned,” I chose to watch the spectacle from the third story of a camp a mile from the action. Standing on the platform surrounded by friends with the wind blowing dust across my face, I felt happy. Below us, the crush of 50,000 people pushed against the fires and filled the playa with beautiful chaos. I didn’t need to be down in it.
That’s the secret to surviving Burning Man as an introvert. Black Rock City is mainly built for and by extroverts. It stimulates every sense and pushes it to the extreme. Your skin will burn and crack, your eyes will sting, your ears will throb and your heart beat will triple. Your emotions will be manipulated and you’ll want to scream from joy and overexcitement all at once. Extroverts drop after a couple of days, completely exhausted. Introverts may want to drop after a few hours. My advice is to embrace your need for quiet and seek it. Stay out of the middle of the parties and crowds. The entire place is one giant party. Sipping tea in camp while watching a thousand bicycles race by is perfectly acceptable. When you’re ready, join the parade. Then jump out again.
The city has a strange magic. I’ve found exactly what I needed when I needed it. On one night after walking miles with friends exploring art, I became bone weary. Introverts know the kind of tired I’m talking about. It’s not a physical exhaustion, it’s spiritual. I said goodnight to my friends who were planning to party til sunrise and hiked back to my camp. While dodging racing bicycles, I passed one camp and I heard the beginnings of “Dark Side of the Moon.” The camp was quiet with a few people lounging or sleeping on couches. One couch was in a quiet corner and I sat down. I listened to the low music and looked out across the open playa where art cars cruised and people danced. Lights blinked and strobed against the blackness and I saw flames break the dark like lightning. I suspect the others in the camp were high while listening to Pink Floyd. I didn’t have to be. That’s a great thing about being an introvert: I don’t need drugs to get high. The beauty of the city and the soft music was all I needed.