“It’s like we’re in the ocean… the deep part where all the angler fish and weird bottom dwellers hang out. Clearly we’re the plankton. And that art car barracuda is DEFINITELY chasing us.”
This was my first year on the Playa. It came with a huge amount of lights, sounds, sensations, and definitely a sensory overload that made me feel like a cat locked in a catnip warehouse during a laser light show. But one night in particular has stayed with me as the days, weeks, and months have passed and the immediate memories have faded.
On my third night on the Playa, my sister and her fiancé got sick. Stuck-in-the-tent, can’t-move-off-these-pillows level sick. I, being a picky vegetarian who had not shared their food for the day, had managed to avoid this sickness. My options were to stay tent-bound with the two of them or go out onto the Playa with one of their friends, someone I knew but I didn’t “know”. I chose to go, out of sheer self-preservation, but not without trepidation. (more…)
Do you remember when we climbed that man made mountain at sunrise? The desert breeze blowing from the west? I can’t recall all the details, because of my exhaustion. We drove all night, and when we finally arrived, me and you being the only two still awake. Decided to set up camp. Hustling to try to beat the day break. We lost the race with the sun, but camp was half put together. The bikes were out, and they must have spoken out to one of us. Not sure whose idea it was to take a quick ride to the east. Riding towards the glowing sun. It shining down on our faces. The air still cool, and the day still as young as a child.
What an adventure that was. The feeling that we had arrived 15 hours from when we had left our home near the water edge. Now filled with a calm of our worries. A release from all the anxiety. We had arrived, and excitement surrounded us. (more…)
Tuesday morning of my first Burn, I pedaled out to the Temple. Everyone I had ever spoken with about Burning Man always spoke with reverence about this, so I was curious. I am not a new age religious kind of guy, but my fiancé had lost her Mom recently and I thought that would be an appropriate way for me to express my personal loss. I also thought of it as a way to honor my relationship since I was there solo. (more…)
After reading Trevor Hughes Playadipity story, I’m reminded of my own amazing journey and discovery… all this, from our very own Camp Playadipity, back in 2011.
While my Lost Buddies camp joined up with Playadipity the previous year, I didn’t really get to meet many from the Playadipity side. So one of my goals for 2011 was to do so. I arrived back to camp one morning around 3:00 AM from a fantastic all night journey to Point 3 in the deep playa. I was ready to get some sleep, when I came across a group of the Playadipity folks chillin in their dome. I eventually struck up a conversation with Anne, one of the colorful new people I wanted to get to know better. We conversed for almost an hour about this and that, and mostly about her home town of Buffalo NY, and stories about her caravan that came back out to the playa. It was cool conversations, and I was kinda sad I didn’t get to connect with her so well the previous year.
On a final note from me, I asked her about a local hero I always remembered and loved from my college days in Western NY. This guy was amazing; dressed in his white tux and black bowler derby, he performed to halls and bars full of loud, friendly & wild fans. He played piano like Chopin, and sang songs that would make Lenny Bruce blush and laugh. And he gave me this lasting memory for the past 30 years. So I asked Anne, “Did you ever hear of this guy? Is he still alive?”, to which Anne responds “Ha, yeah, I married him”. I laughed, saying “Yeah, sure, but really, you heard of him?”. She looks me dead in the eye “I MARRIED HIM”, then she called out: “Hey Johnny boy, get your ass over here!”. And there he was. OMFG. I fell to my knees, hugged his legs and laughed uncontrollably. PLAYADIPITY!! In Camp Playadipity! Go figure…
Some years ago (this 16x Burner can’t remember when) early early morning on a moonless, dark, chilly Playa;
Me and my significant other walking hand and hand back to our camp, no one else around. On the way we spotted a random Burn Barrel flickering flame & embers. Stopped, sat near on a bench to warm ourselves.
I felt a plastic bag with soft contents next to me, and picked it up to see what it was. Exactly, simultaneously she says “this would be perfect if we had some marshmallows…”
2013 was my first burn. Those who know me well probably figured I was going because of a midlife crisis. An event like this is so out of character for me. Perhaps they would be correct. Regardless I needed something to shake me. Burning Man shook me to my core in many ways.
Like many “virgin burners”, I found myself overwhelmed. My camp mates were very gracious and patient with me. Because of them I was able to explore and experience so much that I never would have. I was stretched both personally and professionally as a photographer. The one thing that left a strong impression on me was the concept of gifting. It blew me away to experience all sorts of gifting, both material and intangible gifts. It is a practice I want to make part of my daily life.
But as great as this was, there was one “negative” experience that threatened to overshadow my memories of the week. One experience that left me feeling confused and angry enough to forget about the beauty that I experienced. (more…)
I rode out to the temple to honor my dad, the big, loud, brilliant, frustrating, handsome drunk who had died of kidney failure earlier in the year, begging me for a drink from his deathbed. I looked forward to journaling there, connecting with his memory and my complicated love for him. But once I entered the sacred space, everyone, EVERYONE, was on my nerves. People were gabbing and laughing and ogling and dancing, ugh, is that guy hitting on me?? While I am trying to mourn? Fuck you and your beribboned dick too. I was repulsed.
After moving around the building, more uncomfortable and resentful in each new spot than the last, I finally fled, hopping on my bike and riding furiously to the very edge of the Playa, where an unprepossessing plastic fence stopped my flight yet offered no shelter. There, in the dust, I sat, anguish rushing through me, no way to go forward, no way to go back. How could I have treated my father so badly? How come it took me so long to find peace with him for who he was and not who I wanted him to be? How was I ever going to cope with the feelings of guilt and shame and loss, myself newly-sober and vulnerable as a turtle with no shell. I knew behind me lay the glitter of Burning Man, that psychedelic carnival, with every drink and drug I could imagine waiting for me, for free, all I could handle, more than I could handle. I also knew all-too-well where that path would lead. Alcoholics like me don’t get sober unless our ass has been kicked soundly, and profoundly, by our addiction. There was no going back there.
And yet this new path, one that did not include numbing myself, seemed impossible to tread as well. My only option was crawling into those nearby dead denuded hills and dying, alone. The pain was just too great. I wanted, needed, to disappear. In this nadir I cried out to that god, goddess, I don’t understand but had surrendered to, in order to live, in order to let live. You have got to show me it’s going to be ok. Right now. You have got to. Now. It wasn’t a prayer as much as a command.
“Hey are you all right?” All at once a man pulled up behind me, out of nowhere, in the middle of, well, nowhere. Oh jeez god no not this, this is not what I meant! I tried to brush off the intruder, Mister Nobody From Nowhere, an average, pudgy, normally dressed, non-descript unfabulous white guy with nothing—nothing—to offer me. As if we were at a Starbucks in West L.A. and not alone in the middle of the desert, I replied curtly, making it clear he needed to go away now. “Yes,” I said, “I’m fine. I’m just grieving my father. It’s ok to grieve.” I added the last part, knowing that this buffoon could not possibly understand the importance of processing feelings. By asserting my authority on the grief process to explain my, um, miserable condition, I intended to dismiss him post haste, send him back where he came from, cloaked in the ignorance that so clearly enshrouded him.
But he didn’t take the hint. “Oh man,” he said, dropping off of his bike and kneeling down beside me. I cringed at this human contact, this violation of isolation. “That’s not ok. How was your relationship?” “Well, it was good,” I said honestly, “but only for the last 11 years.” Now he would know I was an unworthy daughter. I waited for his condemnation. But to my shock he replied, “Eleven years is a long time. I have a friend whose mom just died and she didn’t even know it. They’d been estranged for a long time.” Relief and pity flooded through me. It hadn’t been like that for me and dad, not at all. We had shared his final stage of life together. And this unlovely nosy busybody was right. Eleven years was a long time.
“How about you?” I asked, suddenly aware of another human being’s presence. His demeanor quickly changed. Shoulders sagging he told me it was his first Burn and he was having a miserable experience. The woman he’d come with had left early and he was all alone. Alone at Burning Man: not a great place to be. I understood. “Let me give you a hug,” I said, and stood to embrace the man who’d saved my life.
“Ahhh,” he said as our bodies parted. “That was what I have been looking for all week.” And together we two humans pedaled slowly back to Black Rock City.