Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcome to Nowhere -- a Newspaper in the Desert

During the three years I went to Burning Man, 2000 through 2002, I volunteered as a writer, daily editor, and managing editor on the Burning Man daily newspaper, the Black Rock Gazette, one of the few institutions offered to the Burning Man participants that was funded by the Burning Man LLC.

It was run completely by the efforts of volunteers, and it encompassed the real dedicated urgency of putting out a daily newspaper. Somehow, we managed to make it work in the desert. It was work, but boy was it fun. I had seldom experienced such a sense community since. Sadly, the endeavor lost its funding and folded a couple of years after that, but I am told the volunteers took up the task and had successfully create their own, self-funded daily rag.

I came upon an article I wrote for the Gate edition of the Black Rock Gazette during my final year there. Participants receive the Gate edition upon entry.

I wrote other essays, but this one particularly captures the appeal of the Black Rock Desert.

Welcome to Nowhere

"Topographically the country is magnificent -- and
terrifying,’’ the author Henry Miller once wrote.
"Terrifying because nowhere else in the world is the
divorce between man and nature so complete.”

What is terrifying to me is that I can identify with this
statement. For most of us, it is too easy to lose ourselves
in the man-made lifestyle that we have cultivated. Yet it is
this very notion of man’s isolation from nature that we
contradict by our presence here. To prove Miller’s statement
wrong is part of our charter as citizens of Black
Rock City. For this statement cannot be more wrong.

Indeed, man is nature. Nature is a quality from
which we cannot be separated. Only this intertwined duality
can explain the force that releases us from the tethers
of our world -- the world of keyboards and LCD monitors,
of ATM cards and drive-throughs -- and quietly pulls us to
this land devoid of all things man-made. We
are drawn back to a world of stone and earth, of mountain
and wind. Back to the elements from which we were
made. For we are the art of the playa, its fruit. This connects
us to the desert, to the Earth, and to each other.

The desert reflects the inner calm of the body. If
humanity’s language, technology, and buildings are an
extension of its constructive potential, the desert alone is
a reflection of its capacity for absence, the ideal representation
of humanity’s disappearance. It is here on the
playa that we disappear and are reborn. On the clean slate
of the playa we build a community on our terms. We
incorporate the desert rather than damage it as we construct
our camps, our art, and our stages, and this sets the
tone for the relationships we create.

You notice that time does not mean what it used to.
In the vastness of the playa, we no longer measure the day
in seconds and minutes and hours. An hour can seem like
days. The geometry of landscape and situation creates a
new system of time. We live lifetimes here. Removed from
the swinging pendulum, we achieve the ideal of the
dynamic community that we seek to create.

Playa time is a headspace in which you must be
aware of the rhythms of your body. Here, your
endurance will be tested. The desert has no forbearance.
Unlike the world to which most of us are accustomed,
where our needs are met before it occurs to us to be
aware of them, here we are forced to be aware of our
bodies and the elements affecting us. Here is a place
where the difference between life and death is a gallon of
water, a sun hat, sunscreen, and a good pair of walking
shoes. Do not walk barefoot, for mother is not merciful.
Trust yourself; trust your instincts; trust your neighbor; we
are all on the same journey.

The more civilized we become, the more we crave
the primitive. That is our greatest temptation. Welcome to
Nowhere. Welcome Home!


  1. Nature cursed us with brains. Once we grow accustomed to convenience and comfort, it's difficult to go back because we remember these things so vividly.

    I do often crave primitive thoughts to escape the intellectual, but then I also appreciate a nice pillow.

  2. I remember now that I was working for Microsoft when I wrote this, and I was really eager to take a vacation from the world of high tech at the time.