The following started off as a letter, but then was converted into a blog post in letter form. Who the “you” is is not important; I used the format of a letter as a literary device, to bring out a certain tone that was direct and focused, without the distractions of flowery descriptive prose. The words below are for you, the readers of this blog, not “you”, the addressee of this “letter”.
When we parted, you said you thought I looked smaller. The people we respect always look bigger, so if I looked smaller to you, maybe I lost your respect. I thought about that, then laughed out loud. I laughed because you have no idea what it was like for me to be at Burning Man, alone. The truth is, I am exceedingly proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished this week.
For starters, I am proud of the fact that in less than a week, I planned, assembled, tested and acquired all the gear and supplies I needed to be a self-sufficient one-person camp, but with a compact enough footprint to fit in my little car, without having ever been to Burning Man, and only found myself missing two items during the entire week. I am proud of the fact that I designed my shade structure on the fly at a Home Depot, picking up necessary supplies as I planned each aspect of the structure in my head. I am proud of the fact that, despite never having built the actual structure other than in my head, it turned out exactly as I’d envisioned, and that it only took me half an hour to build, alone. I am proud of the fact that the shade structure withstood a week of constant pounding from the winds gusting across the playa, with very minimal damage and no repairs in the interim. I am proud of the fact that I struck camp entirely alone, pulling rebar stakes driven deep into the ground using nothing but a length of para-cord, a piece of two-by-two, and my own two arms. I am proud of all this, because I personally don’t know of very many people who could’ve done what I did.
And that was the easy part.
You have no idea how terrified I was when I arrived, alone, and surrounded in a strange environment unlike anything I’d ever seen before. You have no idea how, as an introvert, every new sight, sound, smell, or person felt like a threat to me, and the abject terror I experienced while being bombarded with a constant barrage of threatening encounters without a single friend in sight. You have no idea how dejected and distraught I felt when I asked to join the safety of you and our friends’ camp, and you threw me out, and sent me off to go alone or go home. You have no idea what went through my head as I sat in my car, trying to decide which it was going to be: to remain in this terrifying space alone, or to retreat to the relative comfort of the open road.
You have no idea how much courage it took to decide to stay, to put up that shade structure, to pound those stakes into the ground, to commit myself despite immense trepidation and doubt. But I did stay, and for that I am proud.
You have no idea how much courage it took me to decide that in order to enjoy Burning Man, I had to change. That I had to doff my armor of introversion that has protected me for so long, and open myself up to new experiences and people, and actively engage this unfamiliar world with open arms. But I did open up and engage, and for that I am proud.
I used to be afraid of talking to strangers. At Burning Man, I introduced myself to girls I didn’t know, for the first time in my life. I helped a lady carry ice down the street, instead of simply watching her struggle. When on my daily morning stroll, I said “good morning” to people I passed. When invited off the streets to take a drink, I never said no. These are all things that I used to be terrified of doing, but I overcame my fear, and for that I am proud.
I used to be so afraid of dancing that I would intentionally, with great effort, walk off beat when in the presence of music, lest I be seen “dancing.” At Burning Man, I overcame this fear, and went dancing for the first time in my life, and for that I am proud.
I used to be terrified of eye contact. I went to an eye contact workshop and stared at several strangers in their eyes for minutes at a time, opening myself up to them completely, trying to fill myself with compassion because when you stare someone in the eye, they feel what you feel. It was uncomfortable and scary, but I did this, and for that I am proud.
I never thought I’d find an inner peace, a feeling of wholeness and compassion for the world around me while in the midst of strangers. But I found all that, as fleeing as it was, and for that I am proud.
I climbed the fire truck ladder, despite the wind, and for that I am proud. I went down the big slide, four times, even though people were around watching and it looked kinda scary, and for that I am proud. I woke up every morning at 7:30am, staying out until well past midnight almost every night, making each day count, and for that I am proud.
I began the process of healing my deepest, darkest and most persistent emotional woes, by examining the darkest moments of my past, and for that I am proud.
Me, smaller? Hardly. I’ve never been bigger. So I’m sure you were referring to the 8 pounds of weight that I’d lost that week.
Those of you who know me may recognize the addressee of this letter as being my ex-girlfriend Nikki. While she is portrayed antagonistically here, she ultimately deserves credit in the transformation I achieved at Burning Man. It was she, who, nearly two years ago when we began dating, set me on a path of rigorous introspection and self discovery. Without that gift, I would not be on the journey I am on today, nor would I have found the courage to do all I did at Burning Man. The antagonism in the letter arose from my disappointment in not having been able to share with her the cumulation of what we started together. Nonetheless, even as we now go our separate ways, I will forever be grateful for having been shown a way, which I may never have discovered on my own.