I'm in a memoir class and this is one of the pieces I wrote. It's about Burning Man, which might seem kind of ironic to those of you who read my scathing blog on Facebook about the degradation of the Man in recent years...but I've reflected on that post and while I still believe it's true, that sometimes people go to the Man and totally miss the purpose of the whole thing, I have come to realize that I miss that place. I miss the people and the color and the dust. Listening to my friends' stories after they came back to reality, I felt a gaping hole where Burning Man should have been in my heart. I banned it from my life this year, but can't a girl change her mine?
Here's what I really feel about Burning Man...
It's written in the all encompassing "we" because although my Burning Man experience was unique and my own, I also shared it with three other amazing girls and we did just about everything together. It's my memoir, but in this case the We is more important than the I.
We threw our neon tights, fuzzy polka-dotted vests, silver headbands and fluorescent leg warmers into our backpacks, packed coolers with peanut butter, tortillas, hot dogs, salads, hummus and crackers, bought gallons upon gallons of water, crammed into Leigh’s car and ventured North to the playa. Emily, Amy, Leigh and I were best friends since high school, and this was our first trip to the Black Rock City. I never understood why people said, “We’re going home” when they talked about Burning Man until the end of that first adventure to the Black Rock Desert. We were about to find out why people love that place, why we would eventually fall in love with it too.
We didn’t know what to expect. Sure, we had heard the stories about how people go “crazy” at Burning Man. We heard about the nudity and the techno and the weird art and uninhibited self expression. We heard about the cold nights and the intensely hot days. We heard about the drugs and the alcohol and the discos. We heard about all of these things, but until we saw it for ourselves we couldn’t conceptualize what was about to happen to us during those four days at Burning Man.
On the drive up our car was electric with excitement. I could hardly contain myself I was so anxious to get there. In between the blaring melodies of our music and our boisterous laughter, I wondered if it would be “worth it.” If skipping my first day of college for this crazy party would actually be worth all the money and headache that went into planning this adventure. Well, when we pulled up and got in the huge line of cars, trucks, RV’s, camper trailers, and motorcycles all painted wild colors and already covered with a thin sheen of playa dust, I knew that we had made the right decision to brave the elements and venture our way out to the Man.
We were welcomed “home” by everyone who saw us. Scantily clad strangers leaped out of their cars to greet us and give us gifts. We were given beers and bandannas, necklaces and love potion, hugs and kisses from people from England, Brazil and Kansas before we even got into the Black Rock City. The homeward-bound line of cars slowly snaked its way to the gates, and eventually we came to the check point where we were greeted by a dusty gypsy and a leather-clad giant. These people looked so foreign in their wild (and sometimes non-existent) clothes, but their smiles and inviting eyes set us at ease. We rang the welcoming bell, and each one of us “virgins” was spanked by the gypsy and officially initiated into Burning Man.
We found our campsite, and hastily set up camp. It was already dark and we could feel the throbbing music of the discos in our bones. Dance, dance, dance. We had come to dance in the desert with other dusty hooligans, other dusty humans. We had come to have uniquely human experiences and talk to strangers about love and heat and the dust of the moon.
So, we cracked open our glow sticks, threw on the weirdest clothes we could come up with, which were (by Burning Man standards) fairly conservative, hopped on our bikes and set out for the party. I was amazed. I couldn’t take my eyes off the night. It was a living, breathing organism. The people and shapes and colors were mind-bending. I had a hard time concentrating on riding my bike, because I kept finding insane things to look at. The art was amazing, but the best thing about that first night was the humanity. Strangers, like I’ve said before, stopped to say “Hi!!! How are you!!!! Welcome home!” It felt like people from all over the world had come to this place to take down their guards and build a community. Every couple of yards we would stop and hug people, and soon our pack of four girls from Reno morphed into a mob of people looking for adventure.
This trend of connecting with people from all over the world and meandering our way around the city continued for our entire stay at the Black Rock City. We did not follow a path or a schedule. The night and day became two separate entities, and four days turned into nearly eight separate elements of time where “time” hardly existed as I knew it. The light would replace the dark, we would sleep, we would rise, we would eat, we would drink and in between those events we did everything else.
We stopped at a phone booth in the middle of the nowhere that told us we could “talk to God.” So, we picked up the receiver and sure enough a man with a husky voice asked us about our lives and our prayers, and then invited us over for jello-shots at Jesus Camp. We climbed to the top of two giant semi-trucks welded together to make the letter S. When we made it to the top we were nearly three stories off the ground and we prayed that the thing wouldn’t give way underneath us. We cried for dead friends and family members at the intricately constructed, three-story Temple, where people go to mourn their dead and find a moment peace at the eye of the storm. We cried even harder when we watched it burn it down, but it felt more like a prayer being answered, a weight being lifted, than something being destroyed. We received stamp tattoos, kissed some Belgians, danced on cages and lost our minds for a while amidst the pounding rhythms of a dance dome.
We made friends and had connections with tribes of people who remain on the peripheries of our lives this day. It was one of the most epic experiences of my life. I am so thankful that I was able to see it for myself. I fell in love with that harsh patch of desert, and the people who go out there to find connections. It is truly a unique place. I can’t wait to go home.