“I will never be the same”
…is all I keep thinking after this year’s annual pilgrimage to the dust. Waking Dreams… (or was it a nightmare?) It was my 6th burn, and I thought I was prepared; I mean, at least this year I didn’t forget all my socks and underwear like my 4th burn (that’s what happens when you pack TOO early)! My tent zippers still failed. My rain fly busted. My dry ice cooler didn’t last more than two days, and if I told you how many marbles I lost (some of which I managed to find) you probably wouldn’t keep reading…
Welcome to BOUNCING MAN! Jiggly bits went flying all over… deal with it.
How did we deal with it? Rawly. Maybe it’s because we are out of practice and the muscle memory just isn’t there? Maybe it’s because the lake bed didn’t fill in so the desert ground was chunky and extra sandy, making it even more of a challenge to traverse the many miles around the city. Or maybe I’m just getting too old to be rocking it so hard (I even brought an electric scooter, and I still got my ass kicked). Chalk it up to whatever excuse you can think of, whatever the case, this year was a serious test of endurance, and so far, nobody has said anything less. “Is it worth it” we are all thinking? For most people, the general consensus is yes, though from the looks on the faces of our beloved DPW (the department that builds the city and is on site the longest) it’s hard to tell. How much further down this rabbit hole are we willing to go? For me, it was certainly a challenge, and what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger, right?
I kept repeating Glennon Doyle words in my head all week as a mantra: “we can do hard things… we can do hard things”! And that’s what we did.
So was it worth the physical toll it took on my body, and the financial hit it takes to get out there? I mean, it always is in the end… this mixed bag of hell and heaven on earth took my breath away more than a dozen times, daily. It’s the most badass place on earth, I’m convinced. The art was beyond mind-bendingly spectacular. The people were kinder and quirkier than ever. SNARK reigned with fleeting bits of wisdom as inside jokes evolved. Love languages rang out loud and clear between acts of service, gifting, and all the quality time with the people we love. Did you know it’s possible to fall in love with a group of 30 people all at once? Yep, that’s my camp, Pandora’s Bike and Fix it Shoppe, a midwest contingent that has more heart than the heartland. Oh and let me tell you about the nice pair of brand spanking new sealed in a package socks I found in the middle of the road one evening that later when I opened them up to put them on had a bag of, achem, goodies inside, my reward for picking up MOOP (matter out of place… not to be confused with SOOP Sound out of place and LOOP Light out of place).
The jokes were on point more than ever! I found a 100 bill on the ground that we debated was absolutely real, until we saw in small fine print “only for motion picture prop use”, go figure. I also particularly loved the Dusty Throwdown prank from our friends at Friendgasm that posted in the Rockstar music guide that Rüfüs Du Sol was playing at some tiny obscure camp in the burbs, which caused an epic traffic jam on a side street as thousands of people tried to attend. My campmate said it took 30 minutes to get out of the madness of bikes and confused crowd. Somebody was thinking ahead, and it wasn’t just about Daft Punk (the ultimate prank people are always trying to play, who supposedly, WAS there this year?) Hard to say… hard to say. Holy WOW how This place will BLOW your mind, if you let it. If you’re open to it. Full of surprises around ever corner, no black rock unturned. I do believe I found myself again, but not before I lost myself first.
This year I choose to again camp with my Midwest family, an old school bike camp placed near Center Camp known as ‘Pandora’s Bike and Fix It Shoppe and Lounge’. We are a bar, we are a refuge from the no-mans Bermuda Triangle land also known as Rod’s Road, just a hop skip and a bump down for HOTD, and we also are a badass group of wicked smart hard ass workers who fix bikes, one of the ultimate gifts when you’re stranded far from home and pop a tire, or need some lube. (No, not THAT kind of a lube, tho you can probably find some of that somewhere lying around.) My bike camp was one of many homes with all kinds of themes. You find whatever you look for in any city you go to, and that doesn’t ring any truer than at Black Rock City. If you’re looking for a dive bar folk music feel, you can find it at Hair of the Dog. If you’re looking for love, you can try and find that, too, at the Costco Soulmate camp. Looking for an adrenaline thrill, there’s plenty of structures to climb and ways to hurt yourself if you’re not careful. Fireside chats with the Flaming Lotus Girls, rolling Techno Gehkos, supposed Pizza in deep playa… it’s all there. Oh and if you’re looking for Paris Hilton, you’ll find her, too! There’s many rabbit holes to jump down; something for everyone.
So many people have the misconception that Burning Man is a big giant sex drug cult, or that it’s only for a certain type of person, but none and all of that is true. It is what you make it. The best part about Black Rock is that everybody is so radically different and accepting of other’s differences, there is space for every voice. If the world needs an example of how to get a long, I always say take a look at Black Rock City and let the haters be gone. So many different languages floating through the air at any given moment. All different kinds of music all over. Okay, yes there was plenty of the same EDM 120 BPM that half of us spend the week trying to avoid, but it makes you work even harder to find those magical moments of musical ecstasy… Like when a magical light up piano player played a small set in the back hidden layer of a bedouin style tent, plush with beds and pillows and ambient lighting to set the mood. Or the live Jazz Dome in center camp with live licks, or the Freestyle Palace live jams happening on the reg. I graced a few open mic stages myself, pulling out some Burner parodies and freestyle funk I’ve been working on. Collaboration at it’s finest!
Center Camp was a mixed bag, with the sale of coffee removed this year, it didn’t quite have the same buzz as before. There were strong emotions with the changes made, as always, while minds inquired “why can’t they have done this or that better?”. We must keep in mind as critics, that the artists and city planners and staff have all been working their asses off so that we can come and play carefree in the sand, and I try to find the space for grace, even in all the struggles. In all honestly, we are all learning, and we all make mistakes, especially coming out of the Covid frame of reference and attempting to be hyper-social after such a long hiatus for many. Rather than let FOMO (fear of missing out) creep it, I try to focus more on JOMO, the joy of missing out. You can’t see it all, and that makes for even better story times when one gets back to camp.
Though plenty went wrong: 8-12 hours in line for exodus, the 107+ degree blazing heat (some reports are saying 120), deafening dust storms and the lack of food (yes, so many people didn’t have much food left towards the end, but what saved us was the grilled cheese! It was the year of grilled cheese… everywhere you went, people were serving free grilled cheese, thankfully). I like to try and focus on what went right. The community REALLY brought it, for starters, and we brought it hard. The art was moving, raw, and brilliant in so all the ways I wanted it to be. The fires were spitting out dust tornados, also known as “ancestors”, left and right, in their true magical eye-candy fashion. The costumes were on point on another level; two years stuck at-home really allowed for people’s creativity to shine.
There was also a noticeable lack of the plug-and-play burnier-than-thou elitist mentality that so often blind-sides the city with the arrival of the Thursday weekend warriors. I often notice an obvious shift in vibe once the city is infiltrated with sparkle ponies and tourists as the event commences, this year I felt safer than ever, personally witnessing no predatory vibes and what looked like people actually have their shit together. Sure, people still got a bit sloppy, and with the heat, RAMPART was busier than ever, taking care of those in need. I pray nobody got seriously injured. I even had medics called on ME at one point, when I fell asleep at a show and didn’t wake up right away. Averaging three hours of sleep in dust and heat waves after a few days caught up with me, and I realized, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. My camp and those around me took such good care to ensure my safety, and for that I am forever grateful. There was even a baby born on playa this year… talk about a wild first burn! Gotta love those virgins…
And sure there is still classism and vast differences of wealth and politics, just like you’d find in any city. Sure, we have a long way to come with radical inclusion and diversity. At least the conversation has begun with Burning Man’s RIDE initiative, lest we fail to mention all the impactful work that Burners Without Boarders does globally. (Want to get involved Bay Area? Hit me up and let’s keep this train going full steam ahead). The whole world can be your burn, if you let it.
Coming out of such a mind-fuck of an experience, filled with so much love, and at the same time, feeling so incredibly physically and emotionally taxed, is a lot to process after the fact. The heat, the dust and the emotional taxation were all a lot. Be gentle with yourself. We didn’t have a temple to take our grief to for a few years which really stored up a lot of tension. Speaking of the temple…
My first trip to the temple this year, I felt numb, and I questioned myself: “How can we have gone through such a collective trauma and here I am, at the most beautiful Empyrean temple, with no tears to cry? What was the matter with me?” I wondered. Turns out, it took my run in with RAMPART to unlock the overflowing love from my camp which cracked open the deep personal and collective wound that I had been carrying around for a long time now, and once the levy opened, it was hard to close. Tears of sadness, tears of joy, tears of empathy and compassion seemed to flow from all directions, from all of us. What a cathartic kaleidoscope this Waking Dream has been.
We can easily be tricked into thinking Burning Man is just a party, but what we fail to always note is the extreme power in allowing one’s self to break down and then being forced to rebuild in such a raw state. A new friend and virgin burner said to me and I paraphrase: “I thought I was coming just to have a fun wild time. If you had told me I was coming to completely break down emotionally and recalibrate my entire life’s purpose, I probably wouldn’t have come. But I’m so glad I did.” We had a good laugh and cry. People opened up and shared their deepest darkest fears and secrets. People spoke about suicidal ideation and the struggles they have faced with mental health; we grappled with our loneliness and our regrets. People FACED their own shit, on and off the dance floor, with dust every with way, underneath flying embers of freedom; we embraced it… this hell on earth that we can still find so much joy in. We took it all in. We had no choice. We let it devour us. Every single bit.
There were so many moments upon arrival and decent when I thought to myself “Why did I come here? Did I make a mistake? Maybe there’s something else I should be doing with my time, money and resources?” We all thought it, at one point or another. And then the wind shifts, and there are these 4 or 5 nights of fleeting rapture, with electricity that catapulted us into another world of excitement and awe.
What you end up with is: Permission is what it gives us… permission to be your true radically expressive self, and even though it may have been temporary, it was everything my soul needed, to connect on such deep levels of intimacy like that. You don’t get this at Disneyland.
Yes, it’s true, we do this to ourselves. Year after year, we return to that desert, to crumble and fall apart so that we can strip away that which no longer serves us anymore. Then we harness that synergy and attempt to rebuild to be better versions of ourselves than we thought possible. We know we all still have a lot of work to do, as a species, as a community, as individuals. Be gentle withbyourself, fellow burners. No divorcing your Heavy Petting Zoo just yet. Hopefully, after we get through the week or two of decompression, we can arrive at a point where we are more than ready for the future than ever; ready to take all this burner juju out into the world and continue to shine that light of kindness and creativity even brighter, so that it may give others permission to do the same. As the light keeps expanding, and our hearts keep growing, the kindness multiplies, and we continue to push the envelope of evolution. I believe that’s what we were sent here to do.
We can do hard things. We can do hard things. We can do hard things.
Oh and to the Borg, I say this: Oh Borg! Mercedes Benz Burning Man Parody 2022
Guess it’s time to do more hard things in our Waking Dreams. And it’s been an honor to do them with you all.
Bring it on,