A hand over sand holding a ceramic egg streaked with black and gray and redA pit fired egg that was burnished and bisqued and fired in non-hostile territory.

Art Project – Burning Man 2017
Because My Heart Is Already Broken

In pre-historic hearths, archeologists have found small ceramic figures and many broken pieces of ceramic. These are not early kilns where these people fired ceramics to carry grain and clean water — just hearths for keeping warm.

Clay, even when it is dry, holds molecular water. As it is fired in a kiln, it goes through a chemical process that allows it to release that water, changing it from a mixture of alumina, silica, and water to a matrix of alumina and silica. Getting this molecular water out is not without risk. Often it releases too violently, and the clay form cracks or explodes under the pressure. This is why clay is fired in careful slow conditions rather than just blasted with heat.

The theory is that these prehistoric people sat around their heaths and made figures with their hands that were wishes or prayers. They tossed them into the fire and waited. Sometimes they heard the pop of the clay breaking apart and sometimes they discovered a fired ceramic figure in the ashes the next day. I suppose that the broken clay could have sent the wish to the gods, or that the surviving figure could have been an omen for a wish to be granted. Either way, it was thought and labor put into a crafted object that was then sent into fire to be transformed in some way.

This year, life has hurt me in new and interesting ways. I am returning to Black Rock City as a different person than the one who was last there. I am thinking of the way that Burning Man used to transform me by breaking me a little – like clay to ceramic to clay to ceramic to clay.

In the middle of this crazy transformative desert is the craziest of fires, my home hearth, the Car-B-Que. Over the years, it has been host to… all kinds of inadvisable things. I honestly cannot think of a less hospitable place to put clay.

But, my heart is already broken. And despite that, I get up and make wishes every day. I keep building hopes and dreams, even though I expect that they will just blow away in short order. Because my heart is already broken, I can dream without fear.

This year, I will carry a box of clay with me to Burning Man, and I will make some small figures to dry in the playa sunlight. You’re welcome to make some too, if you’re brave enough to let them go. We’ll write messages on them, wrap them in rags soaked in salt and with copper wires, and then nestle them into the most hostile fire I know of. Most likely, we will just pull back shards of wishes that got sent to the gods by a green log. Maybe we’ll pull back an omen, though — a wish for the future, and a reminder that not all dreams blow away.