“Hey! Get off the Esplanade!”
Right by my window, up pops a guy wearing goggles, a T-shirt, and a tutu — sans tights. Blue neon wrapped haywire around his torso.
He raps his knuckles against my truck door. He’s coated in fine white dust. Like an angel. Or a corpse. Maybe a cop-corpse.
I think my eyes bug out. I’m so neurotic.
“I’m lost,” I say. “I have a crap sense of direction.”
He leans in.
“Get off as soon as you can. Okay? You’ll find it.”
His voice is now kind.
August 29. It is almost midnight. Dust stings my eyes. I drive my cherry red metallic pickup, loaded down like the Beverly Hillbillies, smack through the main street of Black Rock City, Nevada.
Only bicycles, pedestrians and art cars allowed.
Who knew? I’m utterly panicked.
I putter forward at 5 mph, seeking my street.
Girls in body paint, fur and underwear glide along on glow-lit bicycles. A metal octopus belches balls of fire. Men wearing zebra heads pass in a herd.
Techno thuds so strong they shake the truck.
A double-decker boat festooned in neon floats by on the Playa.
Are we underwater? Am I dreaming?
I’m driving down the Esplanade! What a maniac. Tired and stressed as I am, I smile.
I am now part of the wondrous absurdist theater that is Burning Man.
My friends didn’t think I’d make it.
“You don’t camp!” they laughed. “You hate tents!”
It’s true. There’s a reason we created hotels.
“Porta-Potties,” they cried. “Porta. Potties. Hello!”
Lalala, I said, plugging my ears.
I was committed.
Who could deny the lure of a pop-up city? 68,000 people. A freewheeling arts-filled urbanscape that springs up out of one of the harshest environments known to man. Born, built — then destroyed in the course of a week.
This was a grand social experiment in radical self-reliance and radical self-expression. The whole thing hinged on a gift economy. So you’d better come prepared to take care of yourself — as well as serve others.
Thus, the tent. The rebar. The ratchet ties and Camelbak swollen with drinking water. Notebooks and pens for all.
And the purple platform boots.
Burning Man torched my comfort zone. Something I find necessary to keep my spirit fresh, and my imagination revved. I will be writing more in the coming weeks about the experience. For today, what I want to share is this:
Self-reliance fuels self-expression.
Everyone is an artist at Burning Man. Everyone takes part. Helps create the community, the city, in their own special way. There is the Zipper Man, who’ll fix any type zipper. The Dream Interpreter. The sexual healer. The gourmet soup-maker. The glitter ponies (that’s another story!)
And everyone is ready, always, with a warm embrace. Talk about community. Talk about currency.
We are a nation narcotized. Passive. Consumed with consuming. Entranced by the Society of the Spectacle. Unable to stop texting while driving. Hungry. Yearning. Yet alienated. We spin, we post, we splat out endless newsletters — yet do not connect.
We forget to act.
I know as an entrepreneur, it has taken time to focus. To distill the skills, streamline the message. To get clear that taking simple actions is what yields big results.
All the self-expression you can muster — fancy blogs, Abouts, Bios, articles, even speaking from the stage — means naught if not married to self-reliance. To action.
And your invitation to others to take action.
There’s no time to lament about lack of sales if you’re not on the phone, calling people, three hours a day. If you’re not out networking and letting people know what you do. If you’re not performing the Art of the Ask. Repeatedly. Consistently. Confidently.
Later in the week at Burning Man, I stood before this sculpture on the Playa. BELIEVE. And I finally got it. On a cellular level.
We are interdependent, sure — we are also supremely self-reliant. Each one of us a glowlit artist — offering our unique services and wares on the world’s Playa.
Yet I wasn’t always self-reliant. I was reckless, in debt, entitled. I dreamed of arts patrons. I chose lovers who’d whisk me around the world, pay bills. I sought publishers who’d fete me.
Confession — for years, I was dedicated to literary writing. I thought if I devoted myself, sacrificed for my craft, lived my life like I thought writers should — I would be taken care of. Someone would save me.
I hid in the folds of my talent. Infantilized. This hurt my art as much as it kept me small.
I did not claim my self-reliance. Not on the deepest level. Not until two years ago, when I embarked on this entrepreneurial journey, to activate my dormant left side of the brain. It’s like I’d been exercising only one half of my body for years.
Recently, I’d been starving the right-side of the brain. Imagination deprivation. That is why Burning Man became imperative. I knew I would live my own narrative there. I’d experience a good trip, or a bad one. It was my choice. My expanding story.
So I invite you. Take that first step onto the Playa. Tell us how it was. What did it feel like to finally take an action you’ve been avoiding? To mesh it with your self-expression?
We’d love to hear your stories, your failures — and your successes. Share, and take inspiration and comfort from the voices gathered here. You are not alone. We can forget our own entrepreneurial city. We can add dust and flames to our messages — and know it’s all theater. It’s all experiment. Part of being human. Part of driving down the Esplanade before we find home.
We take the actions first, and the feelings follow.
Yrs in truth,
P.S. Enroute to Burning Man, I had the great honor and pleasure to appear on Devorah Spilman’s powerful and rich Storytelling Summit called “Stories Sell: Tell Yours Well.” This is more true — and timely — than ever. I urge you all to join and listen, to soak up the inspiration and tips she’s gathered with an all-star line-up of experts. I’d love your support, and love to know your thoughts on my interview and the others. It’s only up for another week so take advantage! Here’s the link: