Since we're on the subject of Burning Man, I thought I'd share an art project I once did there that recently came to mind.
One of the rules for Burning Man is that everyone must participate in the community to some degree. While looking back, I realize that sacrificing my two-week vacation by volunteering my time as the managing editor of the daily newspaper--created and published in real time in the desert--was more than enough participation. At the time, I didn't think so. One of my dream jobs is that of a conceptual artist, the most existential of arts, and I decided to create my first conceptual art piece: Problem Exchange.
I started things off by putting my problem in the bowl: "I can't get my boyfriend to stop needing me to need him," or something like that. Yes, at the time I thought this was a problem.
People seemed to like this concept. Needless to say, many burners (as Burning Man participants are called) were too happy to leave their problems without picking someone else's, thus upsetting world balance. At the end of the week, I ended up with a bowl full of problems.
Some were very real, such as the fear of foreclosure, or a loved family member with a serious illness. Interestingly, most of the problems centered around the theme of isolation and loneliness, particularly for first-time burners. A few people needed a ride home. Some had a friend or a partner who disappeared into the undulating masses of the event and couldn't find them again. (I wasn't worried about these.) Of course there were those who were disappointed to find that Burning Man was not the drug-fueled orgy they had expected it to be. Most, however, revealed a real and intimate view into their lives. I was surprised by how candid people were.
Save for a nice glass of Cabernet and a slice of anchovy-caper bruchetta, I'd much rather sit on my couch and read the intimate details of strangers' problems than endure the mind-numbing repetition of cocktail party small talk.
There was something satisfying about feeling so close to these people--whom I'd never met. And I felt a strong connection to humanity. Also, as I read these problems, I realized how little of life I had actually experienced, and I was grateful. I kept these problems for a long time, and I hoped that things had worked out for those folks.
As I continue my quest for "the real" (see the entry: Biting the Hand that Feed Me), I realize I had truly found it in that bowl full of problems.