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. The 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
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.
September 8, 2011
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.
August 15, 2011
Click below for Parts 1-7 of my Burning Man essay:
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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.
August 4, 2011
Click below for Parts 1-6 of my Burning Man essay:
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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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July 25, 2011
Click below for Parts 1-5 of my Burning Man essay:
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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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July 12, 2011
Click below for Parts 1-4 of my Burning Man essay:
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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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July 6, 2011
Click below for Parts 1-3 of my Burning Man essay:
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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.
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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