October 21, 2016

There is always a song. One song that defines my Burning Man experience. One song that encapsulates my emotions of that Utopian week in the desert. It floats among the dust, entices me into a trance and touches me softly until it has wrapped its chords fully around my being, forcing me to face its intrinsic significance.

This was my fifth Burning Man. And it wasn’t my favorite. But i didn’t realize why until the weeks that followed our return home. This was my longest burn. 14324323_10153903072258601_3726925072320884505_oThe trip was lengthened even further with our decision to drive the 2,246 miles there and back. My husband and i drove a campmate’s 4Runner, hauling a box trailer with our camp’s gear and infrastructure. By the time we arrived on playa, i was exhausted from the four-day drive, wondering how i was going to survive camping for nine days in Black Rock City. Overall, we were gone for three weeks.

It was midweek when the song came wafting towards me. i was already emotionally drained. Already physically drained. Cuddled up on a giant camp chair, i faded in and out of reality, out of consciousness, while the chorus repeated over and over:

If you want me
If you need me
I’m yours

It wouldn’t stop resonating within me, each repetition crescendo-ing into an emotional ballad. At one point my husband came over to check on me, unaware of this defining moment, and i burst into tears. It was what i wanted to say aloud, not just to my husband, but to all of our campmates. i felt lonely. Unwanted. Unneeded. But there i was, waiting to be there for someone. Anyone.

At the time i could not recognize this. I only knew i was feeling anxious, focused on why no one had made the effort to make time for us, to place a higher value on spending time together than going about their own plans. Why did it always seem like while i was looking forward to spending time with everyone, no one else reciprocated that feeling? i was absorbing the stress of our working campmates and feeling jealous of those who only came to party and enjoy the freedom of the openly self-expressive culture.

While in the default world i am an independent person who often needs time alone, at Burning Man, i crave social interaction. It’s the one place i feel comfortable being myself. But how can i demand of others that which i have not attempted? i understand now that had i spoken up, shared what i was feeling, i might have had a different experience. But i am constantly fighting the fear of vulnerability, afraid of exposing my true thoughts and feelings.



Another Burning Man come and gone.  Leaving seemed much harder this year.  I was so lost last year, not knowing who i was, where i was headed in life.  And now, even when life doesn’t seem so threadbare, i still feel lost.  Lost in a place where only a few people “get it”.  Lost in a sea of judgment and failure and negativity.

i know this is in part due to my own levels of self-worth and i’ve had to struggle with that my entire life.  The hard part is knowing it really doesn’t have to be like that, but for some reason there’s this perpetual cycle spinning and spinning around and people are too afraid to jump off or work together to stop it and start it moving the other way.

There are tons of amazing people at Burning Man.  So many it feels like you’ve landed on another planet, one that’s void of selfishness and the desire to succeed. It’s as if we were all abducted and thrown together in a utopian community just to show us what home can be, what it can mean if we all stopped worrying and looked out for each other, took pride in our uniqueness, praised instead of criticized.

How is it that i can meet complete strangers and within an hour of hanging out with them feel a connection so deep that leaving them after a week feels like my heart is breaking?  Why is it that 98% of the most awesome people in my life, who i barely get to see once a year, are wound so tightly around my heart that i would give my life just to hug them one more time, give them one more kiss?

I’m not trying to be dramatic, though i know it sounds like it.  The awesome part is that this isn’t a stage production.  It happened for real.  People weren’t acting like they cared about the environment or pretending to say nice things about you, it was genuine–believable because it encompasses and folds you right into the middle of it, like the hug mob that attacked me, spiraling me into the center of their furry coats and squeezing me with happiness.

19 Days and Counting

August 15, 2011

Click below for Parts 1-7 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1    Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6

Part 7

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Unlike The Man, I am uncertain what fate lies ahead.  But I am alone, like him, standing on a pedestal, watching thousands of people staring up at me, looking for some truth, some answer, waiting for me to burn, wondering how long it will take before I crumble and fall.

The BM festival is essentially about survival.  Surviving the harsh winds of the desert, the sun that scorches your skin, making you delirious, confused, like that game where you place your forehead to the butt of a bat and spin and

spin and spin then try to weave your way back to home base, running into opponents, trying to make out your team’s shouts to lead you back.  Even with all the people running around you and your own team calling you home, you are still alone on that playing field.  It is up to you and you alone to find your way home.

Instead of overcoming life’s realities I merely found a place to escape where those fears were not present.  They still existed, but were stifled by acceptance and the magnitude of art and creativity.  The burning man festival will change you.  It’s hard not to be affected in some way by the massive art pieces, bass-heavy electronic music, costumes and commune-type life-style.  But it will not equip you with the armor you need to go back into the real world and face your real problems.

It’s depressing to go back home, to realize the festival is a living breathing entity that can’t exist forever, disappearing into the dust storm until the next year when it is resurrected again, just like the Man.  I went to burning man with the hopes of returning empowered, but in the weeks that followed, I was more depressed, more worried about my future.  This is what i called Decompression.  The BM website claims it is about returning home and reconnecting with friends and family, sharing and creating new art.  For me, decompression was depression, realizing I would only feel accepted and self worthy for that one week.  That a majority of the people back home wouldn’t understand the appeal of this type of lifestyle.  Months after being home, eyes gloss over when I talk about the festival as if I just returned the week before.  Coming home made me realize how alone I truly am.

And i can’t wait to return.  To be amongst like-minded people.  People who share their map with you and escort you to the bathroom.  People who will hug you just a little bit tighter and a little bit longer than normal.

30 Days and Counting

August 4, 2011

Click below for Parts 1-6 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1    Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6

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The Man dies every year.  Resurrected, reconstructed and burned all over again. I am haunted by the Man.  He appears in my dreams, my thoughts, waking life.  He manifests himself in conversations that have nothing to do with him, yet I find myself veering towards him, directing everyone’s attention to my trip.

Most plainly, the Man is a pile of wood, represented by the )^( characters, constructed in the shape of a man atop some structure.  A lighthouse, a pyramid, a dome, a tower.  Stairs, broken up by several viewing platforms, lead up to his base, though you can never get close enough to touch him.  He stands above you, just out of reach. At night he is lit up with blue and green glowing electroluminescent (EL) wire, or whatever color is chosen for that year.  Thousands of people flock to the Man the week leading up to Labor Day, but he stands alone, knowing his fate.

He is encased by the Esplanade, a buffer zone between him and the camps, which is littered with art structures, most of which are interactive, like the HARVEYWOOD sign in which each 8-foot tall letter can be arranged into RAVE HOWDY or HAVE WOOD.  Many of the art pieces on the Esplanade are massive in size, leaving me wonder how they were erected, a mirage that merely solidified after a dust storm.

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40 Days and Counting

July 25, 2011

Click below for Parts 1-5 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

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The Burning Man festival is a sort of freedom-to-do-what-you-want type of event.  There is no commerce, yet the 51,000+ attendees function like most cities providing services of all sorts.  Freshen your mouth with breath strips from the Minting Station.  Have your body painted by the “happy painting people” at the Tsunami Camp.  Check out the 24-hour cardboard robot experience at Cardbotropolis.  Participate in Socially Appropriate Fart Day where you can let go anywhere and not worry about social stigmas.  Be a private eye for the Deus Ex Detective Agency and explore BRC to solve their newest case!  Create sexy boob bling at the Pastie Workshop.  Have your nails done, try dildo fencing, see a film, a play, get a henna tattoo, a sharpie tattoo, breakfast at Pancake Playhouse, do the hokey pokey.  Need to know how to secure your tent to the ground?  See The Knots That Bind.  Broken bike?  Pandora’s Bike Repair Workshop will give you a hand.  Not sure how to please your man?  Learn the art of the blow job at Cheezy Porn Camp.  Curious about small-scale farming?  Visit the Home Free Dome.

There are endless activities in which to participate, a majority during the day.  If you haven’t spent all day sleeping because you stayed up till 5 or 6AM dancing or watching the sunset, or don’t mind slathering on bottles of sun block to combat Nevada’s 90-100 degree weather and scorching sun, you can check the guide for these events.  If you’re a first time burner, you’ll want to make sure you carry the map stapled in the guide’s center to help you find the camps, which by the weekend is nearly impossible as street signs have been stolen or uprooted and carried off by attendees who are clearly not adhering to the “respect what is not yours” policies.

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53 Days and Counting

July 12, 2011

Click below for Parts 1-4 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4

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Most of the people I hung out with were friends Justin made the previous year, including Dawn who rode up on her fuzzy-blue, fur-lined bike on our second day to say hello and invite us to her birthday celebration the following evening.  Bikes are almost a necessity for navigating the temporary city’s 13+ mile-long ring roads that enveloped center camp. Temperatures were too hot during the day and too chilly at night to spend them walking to and from camp.  It was especially chilly at night to emerge from the camps into the large open space surrounding the Burning Man structure, or when pedaling between the music camps stationed on the outskirts of the ring roads as temperatures went as low as 40°F.

My first night I was anxious to get out and explore.  It was dusk by the time we found our campmates and unpacked.  Randy pulled out my bike and I attacked it with glow sticks and the orange EL wire Justin and I had purchased.  Randy, an engineer and all-things-glowy-rigged expert, had an aqua-lit pole on the back of his bike with a spastic flashing hummingbird on the end.  On the front of his basket were two spinning eyes and an equalizer-style mouth that opened and closed randomly depending on what music we were near.

We rode out first to Opulent Temple, one of the major music venues.  The DJ booth, which had fire blazing from the top, was sandwiched by 15 foot circular screens taut around a metal frame which made them look like drums lying on their sides.  We stood on the outskirts of the crowd.  I kept spinning around digesting everything I was seeing.  People in costume, lit up art cars in the shapes of butterflies, a cassette tape, a field of mushrooms, all floating around off in the distance somewhat surreal.

“So, Allie, where do you want to go next? Randy asked me.  “You lead the way.”

I pointed to the Art Car Wash, an elaborate series of scaffolding with a large orange cone in the center and bubbles coming out of it.

“I want to go over there!”

I peddled off vigorously, fighting against the dust pits that slowed me down.  My excitement gave my legs power and when I arrived I turned around to make sure the guys had kept up, but there was no one behind me.  I stopped, wildly scanning all the glowing movements, looking for the hummingbird.  It was my first night.  I had no idea how to get back to our camp.  I was lost.

I stood there for what seemed like ages, but was probably only five minutes, before deciding to head back in the direction I’d come.  I couldn’t wait any longer.  There was too much to see and I didn’t want to spend my time standing around.  Halfway back I saw the outlines of three men, standing beside their bikes, looking off in another direction.  I ditched my bike and ran towards them.  They embraced me with sighs of relief.  I was only lost for a moment.

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59 Days and Counting

July 6, 2011

Click below for Parts 1-3 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3

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Whenever I met someone or was introduced to friends of Justin, I was greeted with the phrase, “Welcome Home” accompanied by a comforting hug.  Not the type of tap-tap hug in which there is still space between you, but the tight kind that leaves no room for air and makes you feel loved, wanted, accepted.

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

As a virgin burner, I was extracted from the rental car, hugged with a forceful acceptance and handed a long metal rod, like the lead pipe from Clue, only life-like and heavier than you think and told to clang a bell, almost two feet in length and hanging from what looked like a miniature swing set.  This, of course, was after I succumbed to the playa.

I was slowly weaving the car through the cone-lined path towards the entrance, listening as Justin read the poetic quote signs bordering the far right lane.  It took nearly an hour before finally reaching the gate-greeter.

“Howdy, folks! Welcome home.”

A shirtless man in a sarong and mad-hatter style hat rested his arms along the rolled down, driver’s side window of our rental car.  He was covered in such a thick film of dirty white playa dust that the original color of his clothing was no longer discernable.

“This your first time?”

Justin leaned over from the passenger side telling him it was his second year, but my first.

“Well, in that case . . . .”

He pulled open my door, motioning me out.  Justin had hinted there would be something all virgin burners would need to do at the gate, but didn’t get into specifics.  The greeter gave me a short infomercial on how the playa dust was going to get in and on everything and that I might as well pay homage to its omnipresence.   I dived to the ground, rolling around on the hard lake bed like a dog let outside on the first spring day, came to a stop on my back and made a playa angel in the dust.

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69 Days and Counting

June 26, 2011

Click below for Parts 1 and 2 of my  Burning Man essay:

Part 1     Part 2

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Several months prior to our departure, while perusing the Survival Guide and other websites to prepare myself, I came across some advice on how to act around burners who would be baring all.  “Don’t stare. Accept.”  Acceptance seemed to be a reoccurring theme for having a good Burning Man experience.  After doing a Google image search for costumes, it became obvious I would need to be comfortable seeing an abundance of naked people—riding bikes, hula-hooping, leisurely cleaning themselves in curtainless showers, running behind trucks shooting out water in an attempt to minimize the swirling dust of the dried up lakebed known as the playa.  It is normal, and a frequent occurrence, for a person dressed only in fuzzy boot covers and a glow necklace and bracelets to approach you day or night asking for some water from your in San Francisco

I would also need to bring or obtain some sort of distinctive glowy accessory for each night to be recognizable by someone from my group.  It was easy to lose focus, especially in a dust storm, when friends kept moving and I couldn’t help but stop and stare at massive art pieces like Bliss Dance, a 40’ woman made of steel, one leg kicked up behind her frozen in mid-dance.  Glowy stuff is also necessary to be seen by thrill-seeking, unlit bikers who appear out of nowhere, whizzing by, causing less skilled bikers to turn sharply in avoidance, crashing into another biker, who flies of their bike and ends up in your path so abruptly you don’t have time to swerve and end up running over them, which of course, causes you to fall off your own bike.  In my five days, I witnessed many bike casualties, one of which I was the culprit.

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76 Days and Counting

June 19, 2011

The continuation of my virgin Burning Man essay . . . .

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I first heard about Burning Man from Andy.  He was the first customer turned friend I made at the Cleveland International Film Festival where I worked in the box office.  He was shorter than me by about two inches and bald, a geologist who’s passion was climbing mountains around the world.  I was enamored by him and since he’d bought the type of pass that would allow him to see any film any day, I knew I’d see him often.  Whenever I had the chance, I snagged him from the crowd to ask him what he’d just seen.

We were standing in the midst of a crowd, chatting about Battle Royale, a Japanese film in which a group of students are kidnapped and sent to an island as part of a reformation program.  Each child has an electric exploding collar fixed around their necks, detonating when they are in a marked zone.  They are given basic supplies and a weapon and must fight until only one child is left.  Somehow Burning Man made his appearance in the midst of our survival-of-the-fittest discussion and from then on I could not forget about him.

The festival’s roots are attributed to two tradesmen, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, when in 1986 they built and burned a wooden man on a beach stretching south of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The real story began with artist Mary Grauberger, a friend of Harvey’s girlfriend who held ritualistic burnings of art structures on the same beach.  Her name is oddly omitted from the official burning man website.  Did she request this oversight?  Want to remain nameless for the sake of art?  Or was Harvey so emaciated with attention he claimed it for his own?  This type of outdated selfishness would not fit Burning Man’s current connotations of community and transient artistic expression.

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81 Days and Counting

June 14, 2011

Disclaimer:  Last year was many things, but the most memorable was by far my trip to the desert of Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival.  It truly changed me in ways i’m still discovering.  And the more my friends and i discuss our plans for this year’s Burn, the more excited i get.  

While taking a writing class last Fall, i wrote a piece about my experience at the festival.  Actually, all my pieces were in some way tied to Burning Man as it was all i could talk about.  I’ve decided to publish some pieces and parts of that essay here in various installments.

No one can really describe Burning Man.  Trust me, i had a whole peer group of writers constantly telling me to describe it more.  You really have to see it for yourself.  It’s like nothing else in the universe.

So for all you Virgin Burners out there, I can’t wait to welcome you home along with the rest of my burning man fam.

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I clung to the small steel triangle through which my face was pressed.  Two girls with swollen foamy bats were bobbing in baby-swing harnesses strung by bungee cord rope that was tied to the top of what looked like a massive dome-shaped spider web.  I felt like I was in the middle of Tekken, a video game where you battle an opponent, equipped with special moves and powers.  Only this was real life, not a game.

Two girls were in the center of the replicated Mad Max Thunderdome, one with neon blue hair while the other sported pink, both with knee-high striped socks matching their hair and chunky black boots.  A bald man dress all in black motioned them to their corners before shouting the battle cry again.  They flew towards each other with Matrix-like poses, batons raised.  Pink Girl struck Blue Girl in the left breast sending her spinning to the right.

The dome, which was crawling with people, filled with cheers and shouts.  People in funky hats, superhero garb, bikinis and nothing at all lined its walls from the ground up, some leaning against its curves while others chose to dangle their furry boot-covered legs over the steel structure.

I looked back for Justin, who’d given me an encouraging nudge to check out the structure, making sure he was nearby, panicking for a brief moment as without him I would not be able to find my way back to camp.  I snaked through the crowd to where he was standing.

“I totally want to do that!”

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Am i Dreaming?

January 6, 2011

I had a dream i was driving to Burning Man with friends.  Todd was in the driver’s seat of our rented RV, talking back to the radio.  I was on the passenger side looking back at Justin, who was squatting in the back, hunched over like Bob, who possessed several characters in the Twin Peaks series.

We stopped at a house in the country so i could use the bathroom.  My cousin happened to be in the house and kept telling me not to go upstairs, but i went anyway.  Peering into a room in my search for relief, i discovered a little girl.  She was wearing a flowery jumper and had long brown pigtails.  When our eyes met i immediately knew why my cousin had warned me about going upstairs.  The girl smiled and through some sort of telepathy, thanked me for becoming her new host.  Upon her possession of me, i awoke.

I wholeheartedly believe dreams carry meaning.   This one disturbs me, because i have been sensing a presence around me.  It’s not threatening, just there, waiting for me to ask what it wants.  I’m afraid when i do, it will say, YOU! and suddenly hijack my body and mind, pushing me into my own dreams, causing me to be the one that disappears when my possessor awakes.


November 15, 2010

I have always been drawn to electronic music.  The Germans were the ones that hooked me with their eurodance groups like Culture Beat and Real McCoy.  The first time i heard Run Away, i knew this was the type of music i wanted to hear all the time.  The type of music that can transport you into a futuristic world where all that matters is the sync with your body as it ingests beats.

There is something so immediate and primal about electronic music, especially dubstep.  And last night, while jerking to the warbling sounds of DJ Phaded i realized it was also the staccato-esque beats i really like.  It punctures me with movement.  I can’t be still while listening to any music that has a beat.

Somewhere in between the beat-poking and evocation of an alien landscape, i am carried back to the desert.  It will always be the desert.  The desert of Burning Man.  And with my eyes closed i imagine i am in the middle of a crowd, united in movement, in an intangible freedom, in peace and love, and i find myself licking my lips for the sweetness of the playa.


September 30, 2010

We were supposed to bring research to class today on a historical figure.   A dead historical figure.  Our professor told us to write about what we are obsessed with.  To keep a notebook of anything related to that obsession.  I really struggled with this assignment.  I have no obsession with a historical figure.  The only thing i’m obsessed with right now is Burning Man.  Conversations seem dull and empty if i don’t evoke at least one BM reference.

My first thought was to do a piece that featured Larry Harvey, (co)founder of BM, but he is not dead and therefore falls out of the scope of our assignment.  Even historical events interest me more than people.  People of significance don’t stand out to me as much as those who are behind the scenes.  Perhaps this is because i feel part of this underground society.  I notice the unnoticeable, what people overlook, never see.  Truly great people never draw attention to their greatness.  There is no research or biographies on these people.  Someone has deemed them unworthy of notoriety.

The Red Bracelet

September 27, 2010

My red bracelet is the last physical tie i have to my Burning Man experience.  It will be severed on October 7, 2010 in honor of a fellow burner’s birthday wish.  This small token to me is Burning Man.  It’s been saturated in playa dust and no amount of showers can cleanse it.  It is art in the most minimalist form.  It is ephemeral and can only remain a memory in my mind, my being.  It is a gift.   It is a light among the darkness.  A reminder of what life is not.

I am dreading this day because i feel like once it is gone, so will the enchantment, the dreams.  A memory slipping away in the sunset, never to rise again.  This seems dramatic and silly.  I knew it would not last forever.  I was told upfront, even before letting Dawn double-wrap it around my wrist, what the stakes were.  But it has become such a part of me, a daily reminder of my desert affair. 

I know i am capable of remembering without it, but  i am also afraid that without it i will forget its significance.  The closer it gets to October 7th the more fear creeps in, twisting around my veins, infecting me with lies.  I don’t know if i am strong enough yet to fight back.  I let my fears burn with the Man, but the emotional ashes are converging, ready for a rematch and i am standing alone.


September 19, 2010

Once a month, there is (sadly, only) one place in Cleveland you can go hear dubstep music.  I have been looking forward to this night at Touch ever since my return from the desert.  I’ve been grasping for anything that will recreate even a second of what i experienced at Burning Man.

Headliner DJ Chef laid out some wicked beats, which did take me back to those nights on the playa.  Music has that amazing ability to transport you into a euphoric mindset.    But music wasn’t the only element that made Burning Man so great. 

While i was in the restroom, i met a girl who happened to be from San Francisco.  About 95% of the people i met at Burning Man were from San Francisco.  Not too surprising as that was where the event originated.  I immediately loved this girl.  We chatted about how awesome the music was and our Burning Man stories.  All i want to talk about is Burning Man.  Talking about it keeps it close.  Keeps it alive.

Later that night as i moved up towards the DJ booth, i found myself behind the SF girl.  She turned around recognizing me and jump-hugged me.  I felt so at home i wanted to cry.  And i loved her even more.  I miss a lot of things about Burning Man.  One of those is the hugs.  You can’t meet anyone without getting a hug.  There was even a booth devoted to giving out free hugs.

I knew the dubstep would temporarily rekindle my Burning Man flame, but the hug, that one hug from pretty much a stranger, that will carry me just a little bit longer.

Burned by the Burn

September 10, 2010

There are so many stories, thoughts, concepts, and musical revelations i want to share, but i’m still processing it all, trying to come to terms that i’m back in the “real world” and grasping for anything that will take me back to the desert. 

I foresee many posts about my virgin burn.  I don’t know if i’m capable of fully encompassing my experience with words, but i know i have to try.  I can’t thank my campmates (and those i met) enough for making my burn extraordinary.