Note: This piece was heavily edited for a bunch of reasons. If the transition worked, I just cut the bit but you may occasionally see [Redacted]. If you’re curious about any of the missing stuff, ask me in person sometime.
I had a great, soul expanding, hilarious, novel, wonderful time attending Burning Man and participating as a citizen of Black Rock City in 2019. And while I suspected that would be the case, I didn’t know the whole thing would work out. Especially since it’s a year I consider myself to have gone it ‘alone.’
I’ve had disastrous festivals in the past: multi-day excursions where I spent most of my time feeling trapped, buffeted by misfortune, and miserable. These indignities were inevitably exacerbated by the essential tone dissonance of these feelings of sadness & loneliness contrasted against the sea of people seemingly having the ecstatic, joyous time of their life. Having an unpleasant, unsatisfying time at a celebration has the capacity to transform a bad evening, a bad day or even a bad week into something that feels like a schizophrenic indictment of everything that I sometimes fear is essentially wrong with me.
Burning Man 2019 was far from this.
It was in fact perfect.
Granted, a ‘perfect’ trip of this kind involved some sobbing alone in my tent, involved bike mishaps, involved discomfort, involved exhaustion, involved disappointments of every type, involved spending time dwelling in deep ambivalence… but all of these things are part of why I go and can’t take away from the beauty, the play, the meaning… the wonder-community of it all.
But, it could have been that old thing; that mostly sad thing.
That mostly lonely thing.
What a gift that it wasn’t.
I believe everyone who attends has a Burning Man freakout (most of my tribe would seem to agree).
For me, I usually have the unique good fortune that my freakouts (or at least the big ones) occur before Burning Man proper. Part of this is my propensity to do emotional housekeeping in the lead up; if there are words I need to say to someone I figure I’ll be spending a bunch of time with -fears, concerns, bits of annoying pet peeve splinter that have dug beneath my skin- I’ll try & make time to hash this out BEFORE I’m on playa. Processing this way provides a better chance of the whatever “it” is not coming out sideways than when I’m dehydrated, intoxicated, gobsmacked by art with a gallon of dust shoved up my ass.
My freakout this year mostly looked like deciding (in a grinding 180) that I actually wasn’t going to attend about 2 weeks before the event. I hadn’t received my ticket via any of the regular sales, and had just completed a multi-month odyssey to get a pass via circuitous hippy quest (which had succeeded, thanks to the regard of a dear friend). BUT as of 2 weeks out I didn’t have a parking pass, and I could only imagine an equally fraught journey to acquire such a thing.
And Burn was/is expensive as hell.
And I would miss my family.
And… and… and… why was I going again, exactly? For some inchoate pleasure, some elusive meaning that would remain illegible to myself?
Forget it, it couldn’t be worth the stress and uncertainty.
I was talked down and the parking pass arrived at exactly the right moment, but the build up of stress and worry built into a volatile swerve which felt embarrassing & stupid (though apparently par for the course of many people’s experience). In the future, I’ll just try and keep in mind that this just sort of happens this way: tickets & logistics arrive as if by serendipitous magic (which is both true and a gross misinterpretation born of how much of the labor performed by my tribe is occulted simply because it doesn’t dress in corporate drag).
I began my ‘first’ day of Burning Man by dropping off my daughter at kindergarten.
Throughout the week, I would attempt to express what this moment meant to me without much success (except to other parents). Walking Ellie to her class with Lauren, handing her off to the care of the school teacher: it was liberation. Sadness. Joy. It was a milestone… one of the milestones. In my head are forever rattling around all the different versions of Ellie she’s been and all the different ways I’d learned to relate to her from infant to toddler to this confident eager 5 year old who was now (in a much more significant way) being released to the care, instruction, and development by another adult, by an institution, and more pressingly by a peer group of which I had (and would ever have) only limited knowledge of or agency to co-create.
It was all of this and more.
After, I drove home, bought my daughter flowers to celebrate her, made her a card, confirmed my automated love notes I’d set up for a timed release for Lauren should be working, and then drove off to pick up N.
I was happy for the companionship and the sharing of gas costs. The drive was fun, the talk kept moving and she provided some good insight about raising a daughter and some laughs. My CD player hadn’t worked for a long time, and I didn’t want to wrangle radio in addition to challenging myself to avoid using the tape to aux convertor for as long as I could manage. Instead, we played a game of using the odd selection of tapes I’d bought at the swap meet. We talked for most of the time, letting the conversation ebb and flow as it would (even into lengthy silences that weren’t awkward). Lunch was the roadtrip staple of In N Out. For dinner we stumbled into excellent Mexican food and huge margaritas outside Reno after being ineffectually, digitally guided to 3 unsuitable restaurants that were in Casinos or in one case a ballpark.
Eventually, we arrived at Black Rock City.
Amidst the lights and revelry, my nostrils filled with playa and my head swam in all the sense memories that connected to that particular fragrance- I was newly (re)aware of why I’d come in a way I hadn’t been for all the months of scheming, planning, and saving for the moment. The truth is, Burning Man is a psychedelic, intoxicated experience all on its own (even before you begin to imbibe your own preferred flavor of reality altering substance like alcohol or Alan Watts lectures threaded through Drum & Bass) and it doesn’t ever quite fit in my sober mind (let alone fit in these words).
It is so many things, but in that moment I was aware (again) of it as the largest playground our species has ever built, born anew each anum to help ward off the calcifying influence of doing the same thing year after year with rote repetition eventually destroying even the most incredible novelties via familiarity (though with a repetition of forms that grounds the experience into something like tradition, into ritual). But the lights, the people; the city; when it hit my eyes and nose and ears again I knew why I made the trek, why I’d put aside so much wealth to do this thing with these people, with myself… again.
We found N’s camp ok and then it was time to find mine. I had a general location for the people I was camping around. My instructions claimed that there would be a ‘large black flag’ which at the time of my arrival (around 12:10 AM on a windless night) an furled bolt of midnight colored cloth against the star filled sky wasn’t the most useful landmark — I found it anyway more or less parking exactly where I belonged on near accident.
Doing the immature thing, I got my bike down from the top of my SUV and immediately ventured forth, not wanting to bother with such trivialities as securing a place to sleep. I found dancing, and kindergarten camp, and drinking and revelry; sipping gifted tequila from a bowl (which was the only vessel I had on me/had packed in my Burner day use ‘go-bag’ which would serve as foreshadowing for some adventures in liquid management we’ll get to). I did just what I wanted for a brace of hours, before I realized that my strength was beginning to ebb and I still needed to setup my tent and unpack the SUV. I road back, got my kodiak staked and hoisted and filled with my things, and then passed out till the heat and light of 7am woke me.
I had two intentions going into burn, two things I wanted to work on specifically.
One was giving myself space to be as (positively) ‘volatile’ as I wanted to be.
Volatile has negative connotations, especially for me. But by being ‘volatile’ basically I mean that I wanted to give myself license to let my emotions/moods/frequency change, as rapidly and with as much vehemence I wanted. Something I’ve noticed was true when Elliott was little (and toddlers generally) is that her moods could change in a picosecond; she could go from deep sadness to absolute joy in a moment. This was due to the fact that she hadn’t learned some tools of emotional management certainly, couldn’t steer herself in ways I can (both because of physiological, neurological, and experimental differences). But this was also because she is (or was… she’s learning more and more of this every day) more honest & immediate than adults tend to be.
Certainly more honest & authentic than I tend to be.
As an adult man, as a father, as an employee of a corporation; I’ve learned to ‘level myself off’ to not have demonstrable emotions in ‘excess’ of perceived norms. Also, I’ve learned not to let my emotions seemingly change too quickly; to go from crying to laughing in the space of a few heartbeats might be an honest reaction to a weird and strange life but it’s also generally seen as ‘crazy’ and I’m usually quite frugal in how I spend my weirdo budget. For Burn, I wanted to practice being happy when I was happy, being sad if & when I was sad, regardless of what I felt a moment ago or would feel a moment hence and if this involved rapid change then so be it.
Another interrelated work was letting moments come, go, and most critically end when and how they would. So often, I experience wonderful moments; moments of serendipity, moments of mystical import, moments where I get it.., Moments that feel like communion and connection.
And, some of these I rather like.
Some of these I can in fact lust after.
But every moment ends.
Much needless suffering has wended its way through my life because I failed to recognize when a moment ended; because I tried to dam up or circumvent the flow. Even moreso, I’ve felt anxious, grasping discomfort when I knew a moment had ended (the music changed, the whisper breeze of fission on the nape of my neck fizzled out, et al) but I reached for it, tried to get it back or else hold it down and not let it go… pinning the butterfly to cardboard box to writhe and die rather than letting it flutter off. But this time, I wanted to practice really paying attention to when moments ended and allow them to do so with gratitude… however much I cared for or didn’t care for the moment in question.
Always, I would remind myself that if I wasn’t particularly fond of a moment I always had my two feet and the ease to march off & discover/invent a new one.
In both of these intentions I think I did a great job. And they are what allowed me to spend perhaps 70% of my time ‘alone,’ by which I mean beholden to (and also supported by) basically no one and nothing beyond my own whim & the kind invitations to play made by strangers. These intentions allowed me to trust my own path, trust the wonders and delights and gifts that came to me as they would without over obsessing over the particularities of results.
There is a small mantra I use from time to time, which I learned to say after casting a sigil with the explicit intent of not allowing ‘lust for results’ (the endless hope-dread complex that casts a pall over so much life and other varieties of magic) to spoil the work. The line I stole from Spare goes ‘does not matter, need not be.’ Ideally, I craft my ritual with exquisite care (shaping my enchantment, packing with deliberate intentionality for every bit of something like Burning Man), I get myself in as good a head space as I can, I announce to myself/the universe/no one in particular absolutely what I want… and then I let go, I look away, I just move forward.
And if & when I get it just right; that’s where the magic really happens.
After taking a piss, one of the first things that happened on Tuesday is that a very nice neighbor named M gave me [redacted] and a silk scarf. I never would setup a kitchen proper (assuming incorrectly that the camp would share a space) which made me less likely to cook… though I fed on the run, mostly.
I got the lay of the land, taking a trek to go see my friends at their camps and orienting myself on where they’d be… naively guessing that I’d spend more time with them (it’s truly hard to make schedules sync out there and the more you try the more you risk missing what’s right in front of you). Still, the morning’s hug train was intense (it’s incredible how many friends I have spread over two camps): E, P (who gave me a glittering sticker of a moose fucking a rhino which now bedazzles my drinking horn), K, C, C, D, T, L, B, D, E, N, P, M, J, S, J, J, E, T, P, R, and many more besides (the only people I really didn’t see that morning were M, R, and J who I would get to on later days). It’s interesting, most of my friends don’t have playa names… or at least not that I use with them. I explored a small tower, rode a seesaw with one of my oldest friends, and ate cuties with strangers on Short Bus’s tower before exploring.
I spent some great time in the orbit of friends at La Escuelita, enjoying the shade and playing a verbal ping-pong of trading/coining progressively more explosively inappropriate euphemisms for penis for a solid thirty minutes, me and my other verbal sparring partners trying to outdo each other in general skeeviness.
Coasting back to my tent for supplies, I crafted my first art piece/‘gift’… the creation of the Johnny Cash Porta-potty (inspired by hearing tales of the Dolly Parton version last year). This meant I selected a near-camp portapotty, gussied it up with pictures and posters of Johnny Cash, made sure it was stocked with the essential toiletries (tampons, toilet paper, deodorant, hand sanitizer) and setup a portable speaker to be belting out a loop of several hours of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Overall, this turned out great; I can’t count the number of strangers who made time to tell me (on the odd moments I was there) that it was an absolutely fantastic shitting experience.
It did however lead to my first true Burning Man disappointment. I figured the unattended Bluetooth speaker playing music out of the USB stick would ‘take a walk’ before the end of Burn, but it didn’t end up even lasting 6 hours before it was filched. Lesson learned; I’d only secured the rig with tape and it was must have been just too much a tempting target for petty theft (despite the assurance earlier that the tempo and tenor changed for weekenders who were less likely to be crusty communal effort burners and moreso scene kids and hence the most guilty of shitty behavior).
My adventures come out of order/out of sorts for the rest of the day (and the rest of the week frankly) but I’ll try to sequence them (everything I can both remember and care to share for that matter).
I located the temple, performed the Headless (sometimes translated Bornless) Rite from the Greek magical Papyri there (going by ‘Headless’ thereafter to fortify my ritual intent which has more or less stuck as a burner/playa name). The language from this would bubble up all throughout my burn, something to hold to when I otherwise lost myself (and as a nice synchronicity the Burning Man ticket this year features what can only be described as a triumphantly headless wizard going about his wiz-biz/casting prismatic spray). I also crafted and cast 4 sigils: that John [Redacted], that John would meet [Redacted], that John [Redacted], that John would meet [Redacted]. The first 2 happened, definitely; the second 2 are edge cases… I definitely was fully acquainted [Redacted]. Also at the temple, I left [Redacted], a picture of Sarapis with thanks because he claimed he’d get me a ticket during a journey, and an inscription honoring my ancestors in addition to Elliott’s blessing for me.
Went arting out on playa & saw incredible things. I saw the Man; it was beautiful this year with a ring of aquarium like dioramas showing various creatures undergoing metamorphosis. Explored the shrine to the goddess which -naturally - was populated by a massively pregnant woman who was also with her child and partner. Found and enjoyed a chapel shaped by dozens of sparkling windchimes ringing through the breeze. On playa, I admired the garden of bright children which featured dozens of creepy custom terra cotta children, all lit by candles at night (which I never saw). I’d end up taking home one of the ‘kids’ as a gift, and I think I’ve now succeeded in convincing Lauren it isn’t cursed. Breakfast that day was an ice-cream sandwich at a towering construction in the shape of a dropped cone sculpture on playa & pancakes given to me at a camp whose name I forgot.
At home brew camp I had a drink, and it was there that I ran into the Old Man who gave me a blessing and a sticker (last year I ran into him at Loveland). At booty boutique I picked up a shirt: I’m always pleased when the clothing swap style gifting camps feature clothes I actually want that fit me (which happens about as much as you’d expect). After I walked the catwalk for an audience of no one but me… enjoying myself anyway.
While on my bike, camp barkers (those usually megaphoned extroverts hollering at passerbys about the gift they’re giving) shouted ‘do you want to look at the sun?!?’ I mentioned that I can look at the sun anytime I want, the gift (hypothetically) I figured they should be emphasizing was the ability to look at the sun WITHOUT GOING BLIND. After some haggling, they assured me that I wouldn’t suffer retinal damage (they had a custom telescope and everything) and I got to stare at Sunna through heavily shaded lenses and see an arcing flare outgas the roiling surface only to be drawn back into the seething plasma and fusing hydrogen.
At some point, I showed my penis to 30 cheering strangers in exchange for a pickle (the closest I came to the wrongly assumed ‘barter’ that non-burners usually think powers the economy of the place). It was nice; having dozens of people exult in me exposing myself. That said, in that I had gotten a (maybe 5 cent pickle) in ‘exchange’ for the most basic stripping routine imaginable, I thought that maybe I was an incredibly cheap stripper but when I actually did the math (5 second performance for a nickle’s worth of pay) I realized that my hourly rate worked out to about $36 dollars an hour which I thought was respectable enough… at least for a exotic dance neophyte.
Pulling up to camp Inconvenience Mart, I had a dunkey (though -first- they made me walk through the totally ineffectual screen door next to their camp opening, yelling at me for leaving the door open). I know ‘dunkeys’ by the name ‘whiskey slaps:’ the basic structure is you shotgun a beer, submerge your face in ice water for as long as you can manage, and then getting slapped full force… the chill in your cheeks obscuring the bright flash of pain and leaving only the impact and transfer of energy though this one didn’t feature the culmination of a shot of Jack Daniels which in the past punctuated the moment. For reasons it is hard to explain, I find the experience pleasant and refreshing. I think it takes finding the proper sweet spot between a slapper who is enough (but not too much) of a sadist coupled with the proper amount of my own cold & numbness tolerance.
While there a heavily tattooed Scandinavian girl taught me about the proverb of ‘there’s always time for coffee’ after I asked about the Swedish words she’d woven into the skin of her neck.
I met some of my campmates for our informal ‘Anarcamp,’ though I’m not entirely sure if I ever sat still long enough to meet all of them. I ran into & greeted J & D. I admired/explored a church art car, something the size of two stacked semis that was a decorated with the intricate cathedral filigree.
Sometime that afternoon, I waited at a bike repair camp to see if they could fix my issue problem that my bike was stuck in high gear (the first preamble of bike issues that would bird dog my burn) while there I flirted & chatted with O. Talked to a Danish girl who had had all her gear stolen out the back of her car at a Denny’s on the way to Burning Man (and I don’t know which of those catastrophes -the theft or the gastronomical indignity of eating at Denny’s I feel worse for her about but I jest… except seriously fuck Denny’s). Had a loud discussion with a gentleman who thought that asking for hugs (instead of just assume-hugging someone in greeting) was too much, was ‘california (?) culture’ gone too far. My refutation was that, as he was a large white man, just going for a hug was probably ok 99.9% of the time (especially in a festival context) for him… except that he was not normal/average (and shouldn’t think of himself as such). Other people had different experiences and it was always best practice to embody with word and deed that you don’t claim rights to anyone else’s body. I asked him if I could give him a big hug (wherein I picked him up). He said that THAT was the kind of hug you should always ask for to which I made the point that part of that hug was me demonstrating how big/strong I am and what is a big hug to him -that embodied size/strength discrepancy- could be the equivalent in feeling to a normal hug for someone half his size.
I drink like a fish out there, popping into bars but seldom lingering long enough (or succumbing to the dumb twenty something masochism of downing shots) to let drunknesses overtake me and this year was no exception. I also am a bit of a dance slut, having my own preferred type & tempo of music but ultimately ready to move to anything from a rat having a seizure on a snare drum on up — so in addition to the named adventures just assume there’s lots of dance breaks and drink breaks.
I did dildo ring toss & dildo axe throw — neither of which I proved very skilled at. Something something handling cocks that aren’t mine joke. Fresh pineapple camp gave me pineapple and fruit loops. Dinner was a pair of hotdogs at two different locations; I had the misfortune of confusing the huge bowl of wasabi for guacamole when I was REALLY feeling the urge to eat my weight in diluted avocado. A full on, half the damn dog bite later that I choked down so as not to ‘moop’ (ie litter) and my face evacuated my sinuses and my world was engulfed in tears and snot and misery… thankfully the camp had a trash can so I was able to perform a finger-bang of shame to get my frank mostly clean/clear of the spice. But even the trace smear I left myself was enough to make the rest of the dog barely palatable.
Had a conversation about transgression and how to do it right, the most important part (for me) is the idea of the transgressive isn’t the ONLY way to play, that is to say I think the move is to never put towing the line of acceptability as the only way to play/engage with the only alternative of not playing at all.
Strangers gave me candy, which was just another item on the ‘things people told me to never let happen’ list I crossed off at the burn.
The big ‘anchor point’ of my day was the Michael Jackson happy hour (which I have weird feelings about since I’m convinced he was a pedophile… though enjoying and in some way supporting his music now can’t give him specifically more power or wealth to further insulate him from his crimes) & the Steely Dan happy hour which was a blast: enjoyed ordering ‘Reeling in the Beers’ and other cleverly named drinks that escape me… possibly my memory dissolving in part because I enjoyed many such beverages amidst the yacht rock. A stranger asked me for the ‘extra’ lens of my third eye sunglasses and I told him to fuck off in the nicest way possible: it wasn’t extra but a vital part of keeping myself properly shaded. I talked poly with B, talked fatherhood and loving yourself with D and we commiserated about how there’s a part of our experience we’d never be able to properly transmit to our friends who weren’t parents, couldn’t communicate what being out there/the recent milestones in our lives meant.
I proceeded to adventure with D, bouncing from the Steel Dan Happy Hour to the Michael Jackson happy hour, making the wish (for a kiss) & grabbing someone else’s wish (for candy fish) out of a well filled with rocks imprinted with such requests. My friends actually ended up finding the candy fish for me to gift in turn but I was never able to properly deliver & fulfill my role of playa genie (note to self, if someone doesn’t have a named camp I won’t most likely be able to find them/someone who knows them so I can drop off stuff).
All throughout the day I received so many compliments on my drinking horn and glasses.
Without plans, I asked L and crew if I could tag along with them for the evening: they were doing a larp thing that was starting the wee hours. Milling about waiting for the event to start was too much for my tired body which had been going non-stop -I struggled with the waiting around for groups to get their shit together for the entirety of the adventure & would generally simply opt to bail- and retired to my tent.
A practice I use for every festival is that I must decide what I’m doing ‘different’ this year (compared to the previous incarnations). Otherwise comparison -as I either consciously or unconsciously seek to recreate the previous awesome- steals my joy. And this year’s Burn was my solo year (after going with Lauren and 4 of our closest friends last year).
My tarot spread suggested that I’d have a great, near perfect time though I’d face a challenge/test from the outside (and I would) though I initially interpreted this that as my friends would have a challenging, testing burn.
I was scared, excited, and knew that I would (for better or for worst) be largely on my own for this. I went lighter cheaper -avoiding the more luxurious template set by last year’s guides.
I started my day 6amish (after the boxer short only hike & piss that doesn’t bear mentioning anymore… assume that’s what always drove me up and out every morning when the sun was) by cooking breakfast. I caught up with D & J ended up meeting S & W.
Mounting my bike, I drove off.
I had a mimosa at Planned Playahood and chatted up M who was cute with a memorably nice ass. We talked about her moon phase tattoo and it would be like 1 of 4 I’d see that week.
I got a flat and had to make a multi-mile walk (or at least it felt that way) back to Stag camp that offered the bike repair where I’d initially considered getting my vehicle fixed earlier that morning but simply drove past till it turned out I actually needed it. The trudge back was longer than it needed to be as I somehow had missed it on my first pass, post-flat. As I sat queued up for the gift of assistance, I performed a road opener invocation to Ganesha (losing myself to the mantra count, my fingers guiding my words and single point of focus by forwarding each individual prayer bead along its string) I waited (and waited, and waited) for my bike to be tended to. Eventually, I had the assistance of C (who drove to Burn from Minesota) to patch the flat (something I had the kit but not the experience to do myself, though now -after assisting- I could accomplish this). Explaining my issue of being stuck in high gear, he offered to remove my gearing mechanism and shorten my bike chain essentially converting my ‘mountain’ bike to something fixed.
I was ‘lavenderized;’ which involved enjoying a couples massage with a half naked stranger featuring lots of cooling lavender mist and vibrating head de-stresser. In the hellish high heat of the day, it was a sensuous dollop of heaven.
Guided by hearsay, I went to a spanking workshop led by LJ, which was revelatory not least due to getting to watch him setup the scene… one of the things I’ve always been unsure about kink is the ‘scene’ format; I’ve always leaned towards an organic movement through play but watching him take 5 minutes just to ask really detailed, good questions was inspiring and helped me realize (since I’d never seen it in action before) just how scene framing could function/work in a BDSM space (since I’m still very, very new).
Driving off, I had my second flat of the day and proceeded to do another looonnnnnggggg walk to a different, and more centrally located bike repair camp. The line snaked far beyond the wan shade, spilling into the road. Before beginning my wait (again) I wandered through the intersection to adjacent camps. I ended up getting some surprisingly relevant advice at the bureau of misinformation regarding [Redacted]. I still can’t figure out if it was supposed to bad advice or not. But that’s burn for you… every tongue planted firmly in cheek (or not) till it’s being used for ice cream or making out.
I drank more drinks, got my fishing license and then got my bike fixed (tube replaced and chain shortened to a lower, fixed gear) till it was time to adventure again.
Except, my bike wasn’t really fixed. The chain would randomly hop gears creating a game I’d play with myself called ‘gear shift roulette’ for the next few days. Eventually, later in the week the gunk and grime would pinion the chain into fixing itself one gear lower than it had been before the two attempted repairs, which I settled on as the best I was going to get. Other burners would give me shit for the rest of the festival due to the fact that I had had to pedal 10 times to rotate the wheel once, and I have to say (since I’m on the subject of bike) that whatever pseudo-rubber coated the handlebars continually melted into my palms leaving me forever appearing as though I’d just spent half an hour giving a handjob to a recently repaved ‘Street’ (which yes I do mean that one depending on how much of a Spider-Man geek you are). By friday the slim, faux leather, coal hard seat (which was also melting) had stabbed my ass into more or less constant growl of low level pain. When -upon returning to San Diego- the bike was stolen while I was in the process of stowing my gear I was happy to see it gone… may you be tormenting Satan in hell now you chain slipping, rubber melting, needlessly over-pedaling, ass blasting sonofabitch.
But I digress.
Getting back to something approaching the thread, out on one of the dusty roads of BRC, I got my fortune told by Zoltaraptor who I love so very much. (Zoltaraptor is a Zoltar fortune telling machine except Zoltar is a raptor in a turban who screeches your fortune like she’s hunting you in Jurassic Park. I found the clever girl to be spookily accurate, both in voice and in the fortune token featuring her wisdom which read ‘Rawrrr, Rawrrr, Rawrrr’). I drank in more art like Barbie Death march and much more besides I’ve since forgotten.
Found Draft Punk camp (the music was excellent) which also meant I found M & R. I danced a bunch eventually putting on one of the daft punk helmets with a stranger and wordlessly coordinating our choreography which are always some of my favorite moments… when I catch the unplanned wavelength and embody the fact that we’re both ‘feeling’ it the same, communication received understood and acted upon without words. I had a few more drinks and proceeded to adventure with M first to Melon Rouge where I would proceed to accidentally leave behind my drinking horn (gaining it back thanks to the assistance of a friend only after a long saga). I’ve always claimed that this unwieldy (yet undeniably on brand) drinking vessel kept me from losing cups as I’m unlikely to set it down and forget it… until that’s exactly what happened and over the rest of my time in Black Rock City I proceeded to lose 6 cups total. This included inadvertently mooping the gifted cup that specifically mocked me for forgetting a cup; but I ended up mindlessly jettisoning that one in the end so who has the last laugh after all you little sarcastic plastic piece of shit?
M and I adventured in the burbs: duck pond, friendgasm (M and I had an awesome friendgasm), and ran into a walking robot the size of a VW bug that reminded me of nothing so much as the insect aliens from Starship Troopers that M got to drive while giggling.
Went back to my camp to prep dinner for M, ran into D and J and cooked everyone danger dogs. We planned on hanging that night, joined by our campmates P and M, and leaving our bikes at Pink Heart we hopped on a boat art car meandering through deep playa. So much art and even a white out or two: the glory of Birthday Cake (a huge, multistory, gorgeous-bright structure filled with cubbies and instructions on how to exchange gifts with strangers who shared your birthdays), the ‘Boring’ art car which would just drive up to random other things to frame them as ‘boring’, Folly (an intricate maze of a complex with intense and inviting detail), El Pulpo Mechnico art car which is a semi-famous jagged mouthed flamethrower octopus thing (?) that proceeded to follow us/me around throughout all the coming days, the wax army, debarking from the boat to improve the deep playa porta potties with googley eyes I carried around the entirety of Burn (and much of my life) for just such a moment.
And then we were back to Esplanade. Drank far too much absinthe at Brulee (ye gods, so much absinthe) as they filled my pocket cup to the brim and I gave my absolute favorite death head moth pin to the bartender to practice letting things -even well loved things- come and go as they pleased. Stops and chats till we were back to our bikes, I took my leave of the others as I was filled with dancy energy so I took it out at Slut Garden which I tried to leave half a dozen times but the music kept pulling me back.
I think I got back to my tent around 4am (though time had long since holding any meaning for me) and collapsed into a sweaty heap. Melatonin & an over the counter sleeping pill helped banish the music and sound that normally keeps me awake even in my exhaustion.
I’ve written before about how one of the qualities of Burning Man (and its constellation of related events/subculture) is the removal of railing for experience: there is no upper (or downward) limit to the type of experience you can have. And this is sorta true for my everyday existence: I never know when my house might burn down, or when that artifact of my dreams might come wafting into my life. But the truth is, most of my time is spent with ‘rails’ firmly in place. Barring car crash or lottery win, a day can’t get too good or too bad. My day is also cemented against the winds of change by habit: I need to attend my job, I need to feed my kid, I ‘need’ to do an hour’s worth of chores more or less everyday. Which provides a mostly fleshed out sketch of what any particular day is going to look like for me. This limits what can be experienced, for good or ill. More insidious, is the subtle expectations to be ‘predictable’ the band of normalcy I’m expected to exist within which encompasses what I can wear, what I can talk about and to whom, et al. (though, as ever, it’s mostly that I am my own jailer).
Without this structure I’m exposed, raw, naked in a way that’s hard to experience outside of a wander.
And Burning Man -for better or worse- saw me unfettered… but also exposed (heh). At festivals in particular as in life generally, freedom can be hard, difficult, and challenging. Except I’ve apparently learned enough of a lesson to enjoy it (most of the time).
I was able to snooze past sunrise, thanks to the sleep aids, waking more or less restored at 9am. In the morning, I made loose plans with D & J before going back to chill in my tent and read some more of the weirdo Samuel Delaney book Dhalgren M had loaned me before the heat finally drove me to adventure and move at 11am.
I searched for my horn, retracing steps, to no avail.
Then came art: the coyote garden art; a field of dozen psychedelically colored plastic coyotes on posts turning and occasionally spinning in the wind. Dave the Dinosaur -a foul mouthed, (literally) shit talking and gloriously crass dinosaur capsule toy dispenser flanking the entrance to the furry/scaley camp- called to me so I fisted the thing to get a the ‘prize’ of a small gummy dinosaur dick (so… yay?).
At black rock radio, I drew my daily cards (2 of vessels and the gebo rune) and caught up on journaling.
Chatted poly with B at La Escuelita camp and stopped by Melon Rouge to see J who was busy ladling out watermelon.
I drifted into the Sensory Dispensary was all kinds of sense delights (the soft pliable globules suspended in hand sanitizer were a personal favorite) and engaged with more art on Playa like ‘why can’t we fly?’ (a huge inverted man holding balloons). I enjoyed dust storms and white outs and margaritas; drinking again at Vomiting Sparrows & I received a blessing delivered at the end of a severed & taxidermized mule deer leg after making it a point to learn the name of the two headed monster baby which I’ve since forgotten. Then a long chat with A, a random woman who told me she was acid and offered me lanolin to shove up my nose (which I accepted) and who I retrieved ice for in kind.
Pumpkin Happy Hour and the promise of an anchor point calling my friends drew me to Short Bus, the drinks and hang out to honor the dead DJ who had been important to so many of my friends (and who I never saw perform and only knew him via my friends stories & playing the saved files of his streams like digital echoes of the dead). I had big chats with E about her life, played jenga with C & P, till S bedazzled my face. Went see-sawing & enjoyed hammock time with D while J sketched us, puttering around. After spotting it tattooed on his body & chatting about what it meant to him, I encouraged M to perform Henley’s ‘Invictus’ which he did so, gloriously, the words reaching crescendo & tears in time with the sunset. After, I enjoyed a nice chat with T before returning to our camp for evening wear.
Back at camp, I had a big talk with P who thanked us for hanging with him the night before, we discussed how he missed his wife (I did too) & his struggles to do this alone… I offered that he ‘try on’ the extravert hat, play-acting how an extravert would instead of his normal introverted self.
After biking off into the night, I coaxed everyone to get dancing at Booty Hunters, got myself paddled/stamped there (but a bit too high for my tastes… not a solid cupping smack on the fleshy rump but instead farther up my curves where my butt meets my back). I was served a cocktail that I get out in Black Rock City sometimes that I call the ‘gray water’ which I sprinkled out onto the road (which is a violation of the rules around mooping -much to the aghast shock of a passerby- but something that I feel fine about as grain alcohol or whatever the hell that was in that cup would dissolve quickly without leaving a trace).
After, we pedaled ourselves off to deep play for art. First stop at the temple of Sek-Met, which I had spotted earlier but realized it wouldn’t come ‘alive’ really until night (and maybe only certain nights/certain times of night). A ring of half dozen twelve foot tall giant cat statues pulsed in rainbow around a stage. In the center, a bondage scene played out where women deep kissed and writhed as they were strung up to the hungry whispers of the howling wind. As I hung around the perimeter, watching, I was approached by a priestess who welcomed me to the Temple and asked if I wanted to a blessing. After I accepted, she anointed with something red and coagulating which I would wonder (for much of the night) whether or whether not it was blood (in retrospect, I assume it was most likely Red Ochre after learning more about Sek-Met’s mythology after but totally could have been blood). After the blessing, I was invited in to get closer (participate) so I [Redacted] walked to the brazier with fire, got as close as I could without burning myself, thought again how there’s all these different energies/frequencies, but I can only operate comfortably on some of them (though a huge part of my path/development is to increase the range of experience I can tolerate, the frequencies that I can in fact navigate, wield, and even enjoy). As I mentioned, throughout Burn I think I did a good job of recognizing when moments ‘ended’ and let them do so -without grasping, trying to cling or make them come again. Even as I was vibing on this black and deep crimson consecrated ritual space & time, I knew it was over when it the scene’s internal logic was punctured by a mouse on a unicycle moving past the rope barrier and circumnavigating the stage teasing (I thought) the watching guardian cats.
It was time to move on.
The Birthday Cake burned that night, betraying that much would burn ‘early’ and generally be packed in.
I drank whiskey on deep playa, glad I had it this far from the otherwise plentiful bars.
Testing my limits, I climbed the 5 stories to the top of Elevation a claw topped tower made of a skeleton of barely sloping steel arranged for easy, ladder-like hand and foot holds. Near the top, I waited for my turn on the throne which perched atop the piece’s crown; hanging with strangers as the desert wind whipped at us lovingly. When it was my turn to sit, the view of all of Black Rock city laid out at night was fantastic.
I explored Dusty bridge, the art J & D had helped make, enjoying it and taking time to find and praise their contributions. I was asked by a couple to photograph them, and as they preened and she unfurled her 6 foot dress train I mimed taking pictures of them but instead generated a series selfies of my best ‘derp’ face because they felt too ‘instagramy’ for me. That is to say, in my own biased, knee ‘jerk’ way I thought they were there to be seen on social media or something like it rather than participate/experience for its own sake. Which matters to me as I believe that this current, if scaled up, has the potential to destroy the culture and thus is worthy of derision and more pranking via the eternal refrain of ‘fuck your burn’ whether said aloud or embodied into action like receiving only pictures of a weirdo’s dopily smiling face rather than the stream fodder you were hoping as you would never be able to quite tell for sure if that guy did this it on purpose or was just really quite stupid/inept at taking photos. In a flustered high of transgression, I would tell D & J that ‘we had to go’ before evidence of my prank was found, and as I scurried away I realized I’d left my backpack behind so had to return (thus negating any purpose of my nervous fleeing and exposing the fact that I might actually make a pretty shit criminal).
Stopped by Awful’s -a fake gas station & convenience store in deep playa. A crowd had formed, not knowing quite how to interact so I walked up and dealt with the sarcastic, deliberately unhelpful fellow behind the plastic windows of the store behind the pump. He asked if my mother had dressed me like that, but I said no it had been my grandma. After asking for something to eat, he gave me a bag of candied mushrooms which were surprisingly delicious and not psychoactive (something I was 90% confident of before I ate them).
Strode into the temple of Harmonic Resonance -an incredible space built out of pianos and strung all around with wire that people could play- and sat with D as the music and sound wove all around us. Laid down in a hippy trap with strings of lights all coming down in the rough shape of a 3 story tall Christmas tree, the frequency and color of each individual LED controlled by a modified synthesizer and a rain stick where the inner beans striking the pegs to make the rain sound also triggered the synchronized cascade of blinkering lights trailing down from the center pole to the ground.
Had drinks at Shangralawless where they gave me that trolling cup.
Miso soup & late night sake were perfectly timed ambrosia, and as the brine stewed and filled the air with the scent of desire I climbed shoeless into their crows nest and laughed out to the night sky at the joke of it all; a joke I was very much ‘in on’ at that moment calling out ‘ok ok, tell me another’ before busting up laughing again.
I’d explain but you kinda had to be there.
Gargoyles and chrome demons greeted me at some camp which seemed to be comprised of a multistory firehouse. Its interior featured a paintable wall with trays and cans of pigment so inscribed ‘my name is a heart encircled by a serpent’ and the pictograph to accompany it. Ascending to the second story, I played a trolling skill claw that didn’t actually work. We were prompted to play a question game by an unattended series of cardboard at the bar. There on the dusty plywood, I danced hard & made floor shake; seemingly bouncing the whole building along with my feet since I thought we were alone and thus I wouldn’t be bothering anyone though I didn’t realize that there was a full upper story above and beyond where we’d been lounging on a filthy couch and watching people disappear for hours.
Tired, we walked back to camp and I lay down.
Time to think thoughts, and process, and not much else.
It took a long time to learn to let go of my co-dependency with my wife, my best friend and it was at festivals that a need to grow came into my conscious awareness. It’s a natural enough blooming in a relationship and something that is promoted by far too many of our culture’s stories; this idea that you aren’t complete without your romantic partner (and this was certainly some underlying assumptive tissue that existed in the much younger used to be me). Even if you aren’t quite sold on the happily ever after line, it’s easy enough to specialize and develop (or at least enlarge) huge gaps in your capabilities as a result.
There was a time where I wasn’t good at taking exquisite care of myself. I knew enough not to die (I’m fairly skilled at not dying, frankly) but that’s a low bar for success (given the life I lead at any rate). But what about setting myself up for success, for sustained pleasure and usefulness to myself and my people in a challenging environment where I’m given MORE than ample opportunity to run myself ragged?
…not so much.
My hack for a while was, if I was ever unsure whether I was ok, I could look over at Lauren; and if she was ok then I figured I must be ok too. This worked till the logistic constraints of parenthood meant that increasingly either one of us would attend an event or neither of us would… which is a reality that (especially thanks to impromptu to babysitter cancellations) happens more often than I’d like.
Burning Man 2019 was the absolute stretching of my ability to not outsource any part of my journey/path to my partner, the longest I’d been away from my wife in a decade, the longest I’d been away from my child since her birth.
On Friday Morning, I woke at a decent hour, mostly rested. Whatever superpower allows me to forgo sleep for a day while being more or less 90% the day after was activated (or at least the illusion of it).
Started early for adventures which began with the terrible idea of attempting to enjoy drive by cotton candy as -surprising no one- the confection nearly instantaneously blew apart and mostly mooped. Rather than enjoying the clinging wisps of dye and (non)food grade sugar that comes from the skeeviest looking clown carton you can imagine I had to scurry weirdly, gibbon like across the road to grab its filthy cobweb bits as they fled me… mocking.
I received breakfast pancakes (wayyyy too big) got hit on -hard- by S who was from the ‘city’ by which she meant San Francisco. In her words she gave me a ‘hand job’ after she insisted to put the hand sanitizer on me herself. I get nervous when women (or men for that matter) come on too strong (which is something I’m working on as I may have some bad habits when it comes to flirtation beyond an intensity threshold/cruising). It’s still not something I’m entirely comfortable with, pursuing/opening myself up to sex for sex’s sake (which I suspect may have been an option with S, although that’s a lot of assumptions on my part).
I made a picture and had a drink at the Dogenheim… which in case you didn’t get it via context clues is like the Guggenheim but with dogs instead. Spent some time organizing tent & cleaning. Made tentative plans to adventure with P and K. Had an… adventure at the Heavy Petting Zoo. Sought counsel about [Redacted] from an actuary equipped with a crystal ball.
Touring about for things to do I made my addition to the Black Rock Year Book (which I should look up, now that I think about it).
As I waited at camp where P and K were supposed to meet me, anxiety that they weren’t going to show up lightly tickled the nape of my neck. It’s ever a possibility no matter how ‘hard’ you make your plans, no matter how much you proffer assurances that you’re going to appear at the appointed hour that the Burn will simply keep you apart from whoever left your immediate field of vision (and even those who you didn’t). But they turned up just fine with B in tow. We proceeded to have an adventure: stopped by for advice and grilled cheese, talked about wanting to decorrelate sex and relationships, and found a tower of stained glass.
I ended up adventuring with just P. The two of us explored center camp, an entire world unto itself with so much art (and something I’d never really tooled around in before).
We found bowling on warped sheet metal, laughing like loons as we tried to block each others balls as the pins fell down on their own accord. We took photos at the angel wings. Stopped at the Black Hole Bar, the staff watering hole for perimeter volunteers. It provided a perfect moment; getting hit on by a crusty dude who’d offered me a cigarette, eventually accepting (after initially refusing) as I watched the inept bar tenders fumbling to make even the simple drinks despite what looked like it might have been the best stocked bar on playa as Iggy Pop warbled through blown out speakers as I realized that a cigarette was exactly the right accessory (even moreso since I don’t smoke) to weird dance to ‘the Passenger’ & complete that particular moment. There are so many wavelengths and vibes at Burning Man and it was always refreshing to fold myself into the platonic ideal of one I seldom dwell in.
After some hours, I left P at ‘Slushies’ (the music was calling me) as he had to swing back to camp to get ready for his wife’s and camp’s event — 80s Prom. After dancing my fill, I’d eventually complete a transit from the trash fence to K, stopping by Folly (because I heard it was amazing and had previously only seen it in passing though it was by then closed for its impending immolation) to eventually my own camp to hit my ‘lucky spot’ (5:45 & K) which I’d gotten from a fortune teller. There, I [Redacted].
On deep playa, I ate a hot dog from a cart and gave someone their playa name of ‘stargaze’ as I knew nothing about them but that they had a star on their T-shirt (in retrospect, I should have gone with star bellied sneech). More art out in the dust, including a dodecagon lined with inspirational quotes on the outside enfolded around an interior of mirrored surfaces where the entrance/exit weren’t clear; this art effected me profoundly enough that I sobbed… though I can’t quite relay why exactly.
Also on deep playa I walked Stone 27: a series of several dozen of boulders suspended on steel wire in the arcing shape of a rough, air-gapped staircase which people climbed up and down. I enjoyed the piece, got to experience such a sense of shared humanity watching everyone pause & linger at the apex stone where the steel lines that hold the other rocks have spread to become basically horizontal which means the handholds the pilgrim had previously relied upon were now gone and you were confronted by the fact that you’d been stepping on boulders suspended in the air in an affront to god & man before beginning descent to terra firma.
At We got Buns camp, I made out with a girl, a boy, and someone I think was gender non-confirming (my mouth was otherwise too occupied to ask for pronouns) at the kissing booth having asked for a seductive kiss with a side of compliments and nose nuzzle. I flatter myself in thinking they all leaned in & lingered longer than was mandated by professional standards board that lisences certified kissing bothers… but maybe that’s just because I was very much enjoying myself. I danced a goth dance because that’s what the spinny wheel landed upon when I was ordering a drink and accidentally ended up in the naughty line for popsicles with predictable (though by no means unenjoyable) consequences (the naughty line was the shorter of the two).
Eventually, I got back to my tent (now quite drunk) and donned my Pac-man suit to go to 80s prom. Cracks were beginning to show around my sociality, my charming gogogo extraversion. There was a weariness that went beyond wanting to nap. I’d been adventuring, conversing, playing, surprising myself for days straight with little to no time spent by myself save for transit time and the art encounters where I was alone, naked (metaphorically) in front of the world. I needed, without knowing, time to breathe (and possibly write) only with John to process what I was experiencing. But I pushed into and through that weariness. I’d been hydrating, I’d been sleeping (more or less), I’d been eating, I’d even been bathing (with towelettes inside the tent grand enough that it afforded all six foot four inches of me the luxury of standing).
But… I hadn’t been sitting, waiting, thinking, and simply feeling very much.
Prom ended up being a great time. At its official start time there was next to next to no one (because nobody, even the people in the camp where it’s happening show up to any sort of party at the appointed hour). I bummed a megaphone off the camp lead, and with a sprint of my most projective charm I whipped crowds of passerbys into the event as I served as prom barker. It’s an interesting social challenge (the sort I relish) to embody an enthusiastic, invitatory nature to convince people you don’t know that -amidst the whole open wondrous world of Burning Man- the thing they want to do is behind you, in the camp, where Prince blasts from speakers and people get corsages pinned to their speedos/onesies/what have you.
When the crowd had been sufficiently formed I joined the party. My drunkenness increased as I pounded beverages, ended I making out with a very tall man whose name I never caught (he must have had 7 inches on me, though that was at least in part his heels) mostly for the novelty of angling my face upward to kiss someone while standing (which is something that has never happened before or since). As is sometimes the case when I engage with guys (more rarely women) he was overheavy on tongue.
Talked to T about not getting what he wants out of Burn, I convinced J to playact the sociality & outgoing nature she felt like she was missing, and talked magic & mysticism with a tantric healer (whose name I promptly forgot) who I [Redacted].
Watched sunset from the tower, got to touch base with so many of my friends riding the vibe of the party and its joy for all I was worth.
And then the sunset settled upon me like lead. The party was done, as the various people left to don their night attire for their myriad adventures.
I wasn’t with any of them, nor had I made plans of my own.
I biked back to my tent exhausted, beginning to sob. My bike seat had begun to bruise my ass in earnest, my joints ached from all the endless wandering and (largely extraneous) peddling. I’d managed to crack my extravert completely (which is no mean feat & was part of my intention) and was missing Ellie & Lauren something fierce, making the ‘ayieeee’ call/cry we taught Ellie to make when she wants attention and affection from her family. Through the tide of sadness, of aloneness I spoke to myself, ‘John, feel it, let yourself feel it let it roll through you.’ Eventually collapsing into my tent, I spent an hour or two within its wan shelter, exhausted, lonely, sad, keening in a way that stole some of my breath. After purging/processing the feeling completely, the sobs alchemizing to laughter. I heard friends outside and we linked up deciding to adventure together that night; that moment had been greeted and embraced and now was time for another one.
We swung by some sort of pyramidal dance space (was claptone spinning or was I just quite intoxicated?), a bar with fake snow blowing everywhere getting majestically intertwined with my beard (or maybe filthily is a more apt description? Let’s go with majestically). Went to Folly burn, an utter cacophony (as appetizer for the madness of Man Burn). In the orbit of Folly’s cinders, I danced at Pineapple art car, met D&J’s friend (whose names -as with most names- I promptly forgot) and we ended up nuzzling noses at mutual attraction. Later J, D and I would gaze as Temple of Harmonic resonance was put to the torch from a safe distance of an oblong, pillowed space. I’m still amazed how much was burned Friday night.
While the pair of them went on a trek to the porta-potties, I waited at rainbow neon temple dancing shirtless, blindfolded by my suit’s tie (which I’ve since lost and found again) to something delightfully grindy blasting from a mantis shrimp art car as the desert winds blew all around.
Riding back to Pink Heart, I took my leave, danced to new wave at Planet Earth, watched someone in silhouette get a blowjob at Slut Garden (Friday being Venus’s day and all), free birded at Black Rock City Roller Disco, and returned to my horrendously inconvenient lucky spot to [Redacted].
My morning started with me forcing myself to dig out and setup my stove to cook a proper breakfast, one of only 3 or 4 times that week I’d use it. I felt intensely low energy, wrung out, had not taken an off day (especially considering Monday drive day.
At Sparkle Love camp, I enjoyed lemonade & iced tea, sang Karaoke (performing a below mediocre version of Space Oddity) at Hammock Camp. I went to Dr Playa’s because a dinosaur told me (always listen to dinosaurs on the playa, they all give good advice except for maybe Dave) after I enjoyed a kneegasm from one of the greeters. There they ‘cared’ for eyes (chart reading upside down as I attempted to kiss my own ass), my nose (saline solution), throat (lemon pepper spritz of dealer’s choice after I’d missed some sort of dart like throw made by something I can’t quite recall but definitely wasn’t darts). Enjoyed drive by twinkies fed to me by Twinks (one a scant handful of drive by foodings that worked).
Made spritzers/scents (one of the last ones) in one of only a few callbacks to things I’d done at previous year’s burn. I ended up hitting on M (cute older woman in bear ears) and asking her for a date to Burn Night (I had read the signs right/correctly interpreted the eye games for approach signals, but she’s married & monogamous). I got fabulously lost for a moment in an occult fabric maze. Took a break to meditate with Ganesh and then at a shoeless crawl space full of unknown divinities including some Asiatic (Chinese?) saints (bodhisatvas?).
Idly, I searched for but couldn’t find friends for the life of me, felt like everyone was already packing up/packing it all in and sequestering themselves before the flareup of Burn Night. Gave advice at the advice stand (always a joy and one of my few repeated performances from last year); a guy had had the all too common camp blowup and had bolted (oh the nigh inevitable camp drama). Except now he was still hung up on it and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. I advised him to take a break from his patterns and follow/respond to the next white rabbit he saw (a thrust at randomness, an attempt to get him past the limitations & unconscious routine he might not even be aware tilted him this way instead of that).
Danced at the Queen Dick where the DJs were killing it with a mix of the Rolling Stones, had that sympatico wavelength moment with a stranger where we caught each others eye and sang along to ‘you can’t always get what you want but you get what you need’ which was -as ever- a good theme for my life generally & my burn specifically. Of course, Sympathy for the Devil rang out. Drank at Snafu Bar, played bar dice with strangers, and got a shark job from the cute bartender (which I refuse to explain except to say that it almost certainly isn’t what you think it is).
Swung by home camp, and ended up back home to chill with campmates (some of whom I was just meeting) talked a lot about [Redacted]. Watched as a native to the area praying mantis alighted on my campmates J’s hand (it was beautiful; nymph-green and alien and I still can’t quite believe the things live out there). Did a fashion show to pick out that night’s outfit. Dressed as cuddle jack, gave P a blessing with holy oils and runes (which he said ended up working out well for him).
I really didn’t know what I was going to do with myself for Burn night. Everyone else had cliqued up, and I hadn’t inserted myself into any of them so I was on my own. All week long, I’d been talking about something I was scared of; while I [Redacted] I started my journey. At dusk, I again took the agonizingly long bike ride to the (un)lucky spot to [Redacted]. On the way towards the man, I answered a ringing phone and spoke with an absent Burner watching the live-stream, we shared blessings and I hung up.
Eventually, I reached the place where the streets end, sitting on a camp on esplanade, watching a fire dance and its light & shadow curling on the canvas above it.
I wandered onto playa without my bike, without even marking my place really. On the way, I found a fractal constellation of lights and a giant human sized binder full of pictures of goddesses. Discovered and explored art on the way through playa until I reached the cacophonous ring of peak insanity between the encircling art cars and burn perimeter. This loop is the loudest place I know; 50,000 people all blinking glowing scream-talking gifting while in the background Burn Night Breaks (which is every EDM track played simultaneously at high volume) belted out from everywhere and nowhere and you wander or hunker down pinioned between twin phalanxes of the entire flotilla of art cars and the rings of fire performers and security stationed so that nobody runs out into the cathartic ritual flame at the heart of this temporary city.
I wove through the endless crashing cymbal clang of humanity, accepting beer, enjoying a mobile stage of a bluegrass performance (with musicians so completely fitting the part that I spent far too long convinced that they were animatronic in the tradition of country bear jamboree). I took the time to look at every art car as this was the only time they’d truly been gathered in one place and stilled from the regular late night kaleidoscope orbits that laugh at Newtonian physics. Amidst all this, I really thought about what I wanted, about what was calling me. As I finished the circumnavigation of the space realized what I wanted -amidst all possibility, amidst all strangers and screaming and play and gods only know what else, I wanted to relax in my tent and drink cold water.
It was a long trek back.
Through it, I experienced waves of confidence & despair that I definitely wasn’t headed in the right direction as I trudged through the sand. Somehow, I found my bike ok and took the long ride back to my tent, passing impossible membranes and gates. I found ‘home’ quieter than it had been all week (as all the people had gone off to their myriad parties). Eventually, I found myself in love with the quiet and solitude, the gift I hadn’t provided to John all week that I desperately needed that night. I spoke affectionately to myself (I love you John) and unlike Friday night, I was so happy, delighted, beyond satisfied to be by and of myself.
Sleep came early and readily.
Sunday was a day of dust and the absence of ice.
Ideally I think, sunday is a day to unwind with your people as the event has more or less completely shot its wad and (almost) everyone is more or less wrung out (Coke Dog and those like him notwithstanding). I however wasn’t quite on this wavelength as I’d chosen (rather deliberately) not to group up and gone to sleep at an extremely reasonable hour. And now, somehow, I was hungry again for adventure.
I woke early to watch the sunrise, clambering up to find a perch atop the stained glass patchwork tower I’d visited both days and the year before.
After, dressed only in my apron, I gave out cookies which I’d baked in their hundreds (with the vague plan of also offering to let people ‘lick the spoon’ of raw dough I’d also brought but in the end deciding that I didn’t want to possibly spread sickness). Through this gifting mosey, I got catcalled, took a shot of tequila (as part of my balanced breakfast) & had my ass grabbed all of which I enjoyed thoroughly (probably in no small part due to all of this being consensual and massively atypical rather than the background radiation of harassment in my life).
I felt so happy to be giving, it was exactly what I needed.
By now, I was beginning to get the feeling that everything was already packed up and gone. Things absolutely do happen Saturday & Sunday - the choir or Temple Burn but these were few and far(ther) between. I perhaps should have known, planned about before as they weren’t in such density that I could successfully luck into them as I had on the other days. Even venturing onto playa was a mixed bag, a strange cocktail of seeing new art (since I never saw it all and things keep arriving/being erected more or less everyday) and things already broken down and dissembled. I retrieved a fortune cookie from the plastic belly of a giant ‘lucky cat’ and shared a joyful sobbing hysterical hug with a stranger about the _ of it all, a green fairy revealed my destiny, and I obtained up a ceramic smiling homunculus at the Garden of Bright Children (which -to reiterate- is not cursed no matter what Lauren says). I have since named him Cursey, I love him, and he currently watches over our garden and is occasionally filled with fire & candlelight.
Had a drink and a nice chat about men and emotional vulnerability at Valhalla bar as I picked at the meaning of their runic tablespread (they were using the anglo-frissian rune staves which I still can’t read without a reference sheet); they were mostly packed and served me a drink while sadly continuing the theme of dust & no ice. Watched performers at center camp, listened to talks about six legged sex and biotech & wallstreet. At camp Lovin Oven, I devoured fresh baked pizza and somehow got down warm limoncello in between some of my last dancing.
I managed to chill some at camp, take a sweaty nap, big shaded chats with P and his friend as I enjoyed the generous gift of chilled homebrew beer. I cleaned out the Johnny Cash porta-potty. I ended up going to human carcass wash at P’s suggestion which was incredible, such intimacy and nonsexual touch felt humanizing and refreshing in a way I didn’t know I needed.
But then I was just done. More than anything, I wanted to be with Lauren and Elliott again and I was tired of waiting. Moreso, I was wonder-sick, sick of all the experience that I’d loved but had had no one to share with save strangers. It was time to go. Long, long past time to go.
I hit the 5mph dirt roads at 6pm, reached asphalt by 8pm, and proceeded to take the long drive home, processing my experience (leveraging death metal & caffeine which I’d recently gone off completely to ward off sleep): ranting, raving, figuring out what I did and didn’t like and did and didn’t need in part because [Redacted] and in part just to keep myself safely focused through the long drive. Eventually, I arrived, safe and exhausted, home at 9am the next morning.
In 2019, I experienced my first decompression proper.
I missed Youtopia (our local, San Diego decompression) in 2018, though I’d attended many of the years before. Back before I’d been to Burn, Youtopia was ‘the thing;’ the peak of revelry, the madcap high point of my tribe’s ritualized exuberance, and the place where I connected with so many of my friends. But now, I see it -while very much its own thing- as also something like an echo, a shot of methadone for the thing.
Which was especially apparent as this year Youtopia felt like nothing so much as if several blocks of the Burn had been teleported up and transplanted into a different desert.
And I’d also been also driven to attend this year, not only for me, but because this was a pivotal moment where the festival needed all the support it could muster as its continuity (hence identity) shuddered in the winds of change. Between the venue switch (which translated to 3x travel time and the loss of the bucolic, shaded valley where it used to be housed) and some increasing disconnect between organizers and participants, the festival lost approximately 2/3rds of its attendees (and roughly 95% of my friends who -as burners go- seem to scew older, wealthier, and less accepting of discomfort than the average Burner even if they’re much more so than the average person in my society). This was the first year of effigy (which was beautiful). This year was the year to shape things to come I felt, and I was happy to be present and bare witness to an important transitory year.
There were so many more adventures there: firing the trebuchet, ample time spent at camp talking shit in our camp chairs and making plenty of time to meet and level up with all my neighbors, making wishes with the D’jinn, being asked the right questions, bobbing for pickles, working dispensary, parading myself around in the trashed dress fashion show and experiencing the burbling effervescent preening camaraderie of a fashion backstage as it just so happened the bespoke gown fit me perfectly, taking time to pick up lots of trash, hitting on K, making out with P (who wasn’t a literal P), bitch’s couch, museum of folly, necklaces and gifts and shit wizard and you can never know someone till you’ve walked a mile in their crotch, singing karaoke to AC/DC’s big balls, gifts and adventures of every size and import including MANY I won’t mention. A big difference is I let myself be folded into a clique of people I didn’t know so well… slowed myself down so that I could stay apace the group rather than being a kite loose and untethered in my own wind. I slept more, rested more. It was very different from Burn, and it was all right.
I didn’t realize that my go-to Burner clique had been dissolving since 2018 (seems to be something in the water or weather) and no true new tribal configuration has arisen to replace what once was. I’d been thinking that [Redacted], it’s still up in the air of how the moving, unsettled peoples will align themselves into new (semi-stable) bands.
It is a truism that you don’t get what I don’t always get what I want, but I do get what I need; in burn as in life. I wanted [Redacted] I wanted to already know how much social life would shake out, already have met and logged all the people I was supposed to meet and understood what they’d mean to me.
I needed something different entirely; I needed to let myself keep changing.
I needed was feral art, needed play, needed gifting, needed (it would seem) to release the some expectations, and I needed to lose my mind for a while and then be reminded to rest, to let myself rest. I needed long weeks of recalibration. And now, some months later, looking back, I see I needed to be reminded to take my pleasure, my play, my adventure seriously. Now I need to release the resting season, and embrace the adventures to come better than (or surprising and at least as grand as) any I’ve imagined or known till now.
It’s been, a restful couple of months after Burn, after upheavals and upsets both large and small.
I’ve learned about myself, what I want, how I work and how I don’t, and what I’m called to this season. These words, these thoughts, these shifts have been slow in coming (at least for me). But I’m reminded again of my possibilities, I’m no longer claimed by what’s come before… no longer blinded by the myth that what I see is all there is for me. Instead I claim what’s coming, with a smile on my face.
Here’s to the open road; it’s up ahead even when you don’t see it for a while.
Here’s to trusting my feet and my arts and myself.
Here’s to going to alone; to experiencing that in all it’s glory and joy and sadness.
But moreso… here’s to what’s coming next. Here’s to community, really, as I focus on tending the sociality I want for festivals and the everyday alike. Because if there’s one thing I know about next year (and the year after, and the year after, and every year thereafter whether I set foot in black rock city or not) is that it will be different.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.