by Venus de Playa
I’d always believed in people. I’d always believed in myself. Now, for the first time, I was losing it.
A month before Burning Man, I had given up on my first real relationship. It was my fault. I was young and in a time of transition. I didn’t want to be in one but he was so important to me that I tried anyway. There were clashes in what we wanted from each other. There were clashes in what was important to us.
After months of uncertainty and ups and downs, I took the easy way out. I cut myself free because I couldn’t be tangled up with him anymore.
A month went by, one of the hardest months of my life. I cried every night for weeks. I drank and went out alone and kissed strangers in dark bars. I was so lost and confused, I wanted to be self-destructive, I wanted to punish myself for shutting off the light in my life. I only had myself to blame.
We were going to be camping together at Burning Man, and I made a decision. I knew that I had to try again. Because how could we throw away something so beautiful? Let it go to waste? We loved each other, wasn’t that enough? I hadn’t given it my all yet, and before we could part, I had to know that I’d tried my hardest. (more…)
This was my fifth burn, and I came for setup. I flew in from London the Sunday before the event started, and was in full swing getting our camp built the following day. On the third night the team and I hit the showers late evening. I was still pretty heavily jetlagged so ready for bed as soon as we were done. I was driving, and going very slowly, very carefully. There weren’t many other camps placed by this point so as we approached camp I lost the markings, and drove in the general direction I thought was home.
All of a sudden we see a lady run towards the car (it was pitch black by this point by the way).
“Oh dear” I thought, “I’ve just driven through someone’s camp”. (more…)
A Jewish man was concluding his talk and I took a place on the floor next to a serious looking young man. We exchanged brief hellos but nothing else. The next speaker came in and announced her talk was on ESP. I decided to stay because I was comfortable and had no desire to move but I also had no interest in her subject matter. I had long ago explored this subject in great detail and felt very complete with it. I decided to just stay to enjoy the moment. It became obvious to me that the young serious man had come just for this talk and that the subject was important to him for whatever reason. I became more interested in his involvement than with the speaker.
At the end of the talk she opened up a question and answer time but seemed more interested in leaving and moving on. He seemed to have waited just for this moment, to ask his important questions. The two of them were not a vibrational match and I sensed his great disappointment. She moved on quickly but he lingered gathering his belongings. I felt drawn to offer him one of the gifts I had made and to offer to listen again to his question at a deeper level. First, I offered my gift, which was an arm cuff I had spent months making with symbols of the divine to match the Cargo Cult theme. Then I asked him to repeat his question. I listened intently. I could feel his deep confusion about his life situation and I offered what came to me to say. (more…)
Now that we’ve talked about our playa fails, let’s talk about playa miracles. The little wins and big scores that happen at Burning Man are part of the magic.
My first playa win came before I even got to the event. When the car overheated in Fairfield, Calif., my friend and I experienced our first playa fail. But when we found a rental agency with one pickup truck in stock, we had our first playa miracle. They didn’t even ask us if we were going to Burning Man — heading to the desert can be a deal-breaker for most car rental agencies. Three hours after pulling off the highway we were back on the road and rocking out to satellite radio.
On my first night out in Black Rock City I lost my coat. I was riding my bike and suddenly the coat was gone. The coat was the color of playa dust — perfect, because it never looked dirty. This feature also made it impossible to find because it was camouflaged on the ground. I finally gave up, mad for losing it and mad for littering. I hoped it would make its way to someone who needed it.
The next morning I visited my friend Thumper at his camp. He put on a fresh pot of coffee and I settled into a lawn chair for a session. We were catching up and having a good laugh. “That bike your husband loaned me is a real cream puff,” he said. “It made it about 10 feet before breaking.”
I told him about losing my jacket. His face changed. “Hold on,” he said, “I have something for you” and ducked into his trailer.
He emerged carrying a coat on a hanger. It’s almost the same color as the one I lost but a vintage style with a furry shawl collar. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. When he told me “It’s from the Gooey collection” my eyes welled with tears. Gooey was a friend — a lit firecracker, a generous soul and a Southern charmer. Her ashes went in the Temple after she decided to end her life.
One more burn for Gooey and warm nights for me. I know she’d want me to have the coat and I can’t help wonder if that’s why I lost mine. Coincidence? Miracle? Divine intervention? Call it what you will, there is magic in the desert.
Tell us… what was your playa win?
All these people exist outside the walls of this city.
Tired I enter Center Camp. I am alone and lost. I sit down and flick through my notebook, through the photos of actors, of the stages, of the emotions and stories. I begin to write in attempts to capture all these memoirs, trying to make sense of what they meant to me. However, this process is hard. I need someone who understands. I want someone to hug me and bring out those emotions within me. I need someone to massage my thoughts and eject those deep messages buried into my mind on to the paper in front of me. I don’t want to be lonely at a time that everyone is leaving me.
Cady crouches down next to me and asks me what I’m writing. She says she wishes she had her notebook with her. I put my notebook down and we write about our adventures in the air with our words. She scribbles down her notes in the space around me in the cool night air, and I scribble down mine. We circle the similarities as we realise we were in the same moments without knowing. As the marching band competition energised the air we were there. As the man burnt we were there. As the temple fell we both felt the emotion. We cross out our words and replace them with new ones and revise our stories, both knowing time is running out and soon we both leave for the real world.
Our stories before the burn and after the burn intersect in so many ways and through her smile and laughs I feel like I was there or I will be there.
I give her my spare notebook and write my name and email on the first page. I tell her to put stories in. I promise myself to take my stories out and share them with the world as I’ve kept too much to myself for far too long.
Her aunt and her aunt’s former lover arrive to take her home. She leaves me like everyone else has.
Abandonment however no longer seems like it will be an issue, in my life, for me.
/fears of loneliness
Return to my home, alone
In alkaline snow
My head falls to an
unforgiving barren stage
fears of loneliness
and then I am saved
a whole desert catches me
and fears of nothing/
We spend the day clearing out the camp. In exhaustion, I collapse in my tent under my eye mask and try to recover from the lack of sleep.
I awake from my tent to find my camp empty and to see bikes cycling furiously, with purpose along the road. I look at my watch but am not convinced it is telling me the truth. Somehow, the only watch that is set correctly is never truthful to the time here. However, the urgency of the bikes around me, tell me with some confidence that the temple is burning or is going to burn very soon.
I quickly heat up some food, devour it and then begin to walk up the street towards the temple for one last time. The streets are desolate. Iconic landmarks have been dismantled or are in a state of ruin as the end nears. I walk closer and closer, until suddenly I see it, the iconic building with flames flicking from its head lighting up the horizon.
It is burning peacefully and slowly, very different from how the man burnt. I walk alone in a straight direction towards the spot where the man used to stand, across the sand and a strange thing happens. For reasons I cannot fathom, tears begin to fall from my face. As I move closer, with bikes shooting past me, the flames seem to grow. The flames grow into the shape of a phoenix standing tall with its wings hanging down at either side and suddenly from its beak it sings, projecting ashes into the sky.
My tears fall faster, and I find myself gently sobbing for reasons I cannot understand. I feel as if all the injustice in the world is here in this moment, in this desert. I find myself tearful for how such a beautiful object could be destroyed and as if I’m absorbing the sadness of all those around me. My head is filled of confusion at why it burns.
I realise that the ashes that now jewel the smokey sky represent all the words I have read inside the temple. The hopes, anxieties, insecurities, regrets, prayers and sadness of thousands of people are reaching out into the sky forming stars. I hear their voices in my head.
“I want to let go of my insecurity”
“I held you in my arms when you were born and I held your daughter in my arms as she was born…”
“I miss you brother.”
“it’s not my time yet”
“Dad can’t wait to see you again”
I watch them all dancing together in the sky. I continue to walk slowly and closer, gazing at the eye of the flame, my gaze following their dance through blurry eyes, as the blurry lines of bikes zip past me.
A man taps me on the shoulder and awakes me from the trance. He looks like a caveman. He gestures and grunts and I realise he’s offering to take my photo. I brush him off as I’m lost in a moment that no camera could possibly capture. He stomps off into the crowd confused. Awoken from my trance, I realise I can feel the heat of the flames burning what remains and that I can walk no more.
I watch the flames die, and with them the stars evaporate and there is calm. Someone waves a flag slowly ahead. I look around at all the people around me that remain and begin my slow walk back.
When you see the insecurities of a thousand people dancing as stars in the night sky, suddenly your own insecurities seem insignificant in comparison.
Erika and Katie need to pee. Having just met them and also needing to pee, I decide to join them. The three of us, on our feet, walk down dark roads trying to follow the blue lights to comfort. Finally we find them, and after braving the “porta potties”, we begin our walk back to where we had met. As we do, we debate on what to do next. Then quickly in solidarity we conclude that we should find the “white forest”, a beautiful relaxing oasis in the middle of the desert that I had stumbled across the day before. A place where the floor is coated with the softest of furs and where seven feet above, strips of white plastic flap in a wind self created. A place of tranquility, comfort and relaxation.
We walk and walk and walk. All I knew was this magical place was near the temple, which was near the man, which no longer existed having just gone up in flames. Reaching the temple took longer than I remembered, and once there, we all felt the need to walk inside. Inside our eyes danced around the walls as we read sad stories of loss and heart wrenching stories of dying hopes and desperate dreams. A girl approaches us asking if we dropped some things. She opens the palms of her hands to reveal a phone and a watch. The watch is mine and I take it, confused to how I lost it. I ask her if she knows the “white forest”. She says she found it earlier but doesn’t know how. We say goodbye and continue to walk further around the temple, surveying the walls. Erika wants to write so we search for a spot amongst the angst that Erika can pin her feelings to and leave unanswered questions that can be detached from her and burnt the following day. As Erika writes she is tapped on the shoulder. The girl from earlier has decided to join us. We walk out with her, and the girl bounces off the sand. Due to her terrific energy, although her real name is Ali, Erika decides to name her “ninja”, just as she has named me “puppet”, a name which I like to think has some roots in a theme of loyalty rather than manipulation. We wander into the darkness to seek this now mythical place.
We walk and walk and walk for what seems forever until eventually we hit the fence that lines the perimeter of the desert. Erika asks what lies beyond there and I tell her it is the real world. We take it in and enjoy the quiet and the loneliness of being this far from the real world and from the world we now live in, as if living in a state of limbo.
A strange man cycles up to us. He stops and reveals he has a Polaroid camera. He offers to take our photo and we accept. We talk to him and then he parts. The four of us walk again back the way we came, alone. Harsh dust storms roll in and the four of us shelter together and wait them out. We share drinks, coats and hugs to keep warm and once the storm settles we walk and walk and walk. Another storm hits, and again we sit in solidarity riding it out, as our water supplies begin to dwindle.
Soon the temple comes into view and it becomes clear to me that the “white forest” cannot be found.
The destination is not the important thing. It’s always about the journey and those that share that journey with us. It’s about the things we share that are capable of making our minds mesh together; that dilate and shrink our eyes; that make our ears prick up in amazement in unison; that make our blood pump faster; that make our hearts explode.
The four of us, having been alone together now for several hours, return to the desert, to a rising sun and to civilisation. Four strangers now forever bonded through our experiences, no longer strangers.