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Waking dreams

Sanna Stefansson
Sanna Stefansson
5 min read
Waking dreams
Playa at sunset. Because, again, I failed to be awake at sunrise. 

It's been a month back in the default world. A month filled with delicious showers, work headaches, and little time to process while trying to stay calm and not divorce my parakeet. With dubious success, I might add, but that's a story for another time.

Burning Man was rough this year. This was only my second burn, so I have few to compare with, but many of the veterans seem to agree. The heat, most days peaking at 45 degrees, and dust storms lasting for hours, took their toll. So did having my period and jetlag for the first few days. The period part I was prepared for (pads instead of a cup was definitely a wise choice), but jetlag is the silent killer of my energy. I can push my body to stay awake after 8 pm; my brain, however, will not be forced. Thus, I was mostly sleepwalking in the evening, making poor conversation and having limited capacity for adventure.

Driving in.

Anyway, I obviously lived. And now I'm sitting from the comfort of my home in Lisbon, knowing very well I lack the talent to describe the week with any accuracy, yet I can't help but try.

The thing about Burning Man is this: You go through the hassle equal to moving house across continents just to get there, and then you live an everyday burning man life for a week, and then you go through an equal amount of hassle to leave, and somehow it is all fucking worth it.

Before I ever went, a friend described it to me as being in an alternate universe where society plays by different rules. That's when I made my decision; I had to experience this. Not the drug-fueled parties and wild orgies people usually associate it with*, but being part of this social experiment. I'm not just talking about gifting, which might be most commonly known. Active participation, radical self-reliance, communal effort, everything covered in the 10 principles. What happens when we subscribe to this? With the interactions we have? How we view ourselves?

When my friends ask me how it was, I default to describing some episode that happened. Like talking about the night we stopped by a camp that gifted us our spirit animals, which proved to be the most accurate representations of ourselves. Or that night when we queued for poutine at midnight while watching people stripping and singing a cappella karaoke.

It sounds absurd, but in a city of 80,000 people, where absurd is the norm, it just is. What makes the experience is what happens in between. When people feel comfortable letting their guards down, or when they are pushed to the limits with the heat and the dust and the never-ending beat of 100,000 techno parties going on simultaneously. The conversations. The friends you make. The feeling of letting go and surrendering to the experience because there is simply no other option.

I think Burning Man can be more accurate compared to a week-long wilderness hike than your average festival. You are out in rough conditions, dependent on yourself and the people you meet. Being away from my usual comforts and entirely offline works as a mental reset. Each time I come back with a list of things I want to do differently, on and off playa.

Something I do not want to do differently is my camp. I got to camp with my favorite librarians again, which drags thousands of books to the playa every year. Being surrounded by dusty books and people who love to talk about books is pure joy for yours truly. Also, there is something about impersonating a strict librarian with a deadpan face and lecturing fellow burners on the importance of returning your books within the generous check-out period of one year that just gives me life.

Don't worry; I didn't spend my entire burn with only books.

I also ventured out.

Dancing to Monolink's set at Mayan Warrior while the sun slowly set was a memory for life. Listening to this recording still gives me chills. Pure playa magic. After this, we returned to the esplanade, got caught in a dust storm, and found shelter with great music and soft pillows. I could not have asked for more.

Burning Man is an insane endeavor. I know. And still, after taking the seven showers required to get all the dust off, I already start to plot my return. There is just no place like it.

*Although I'm certainly not opposed to either.

PS: TikTok of van rental adventure here.
PS2: Thanks Bori & Lara for being better photographers than me and sharing it, Tom for being a splendid burner partner, and everyone I got to burn with this year. ❤️‍🔥

Sanna Stefansson

Lisbon-based Swede who dabbles in creative writing and has too many hobbies. By day I freelance in Product and Project Management and advocate for working remotely.