Sep
21

the man

the man

Burning Man was a mixed bag this year, kinda like after trick or treating and you separate the chocolate from the nasty little hard candies. It’s all still candy, but …

There was fun, there was dust, there was too many people (especially unappreciative frat boys obsessed with who was getting laid how many times). There was alcohol gone bad (do NOT mix tequila with Gatorade) and a really great hand massage.

There was a trophy we handed out to people we thought were the best of whatever we liked. And Kidsville like a little oasis of innocence and real play in the middle of what seemed more adult to me than it did the year before.

The vibe wasn’t as friendly and joyful as last year. Last year was more like, “Hey, I’m so glad you’re here! Have a slice of orange!” This year was more like, “Whoo! Show me your tits!” Not too surprising with the theme of Metropolis (compared to last year’s Evolution)

I was also a wee bit cranky. I missed my family terribly. I white-knuckled pulling the trailer, though I am quite happy I had it. My camp was too big. I got lost my first night and ended up just pulling off to the side of the road and staying the night there. We found our group the next day and all was well, but I was still stressed.

The electricity stopped working on Day 3 (I think it was. A lot of the week just runs together because there wasn’t a schedule to keep). The water, too. We worked fine with bowls and the solar shower and bottles of water. Nice people donated theirs to us when they left early. But I spent a lot more time trying to fix things than I should have bothered with.

My ankle hurt (which was going around) and a couple of migraines and a new medic alert bracelet let me know I wasn’t really all that far from real life.

Burning Man is definitely a place where youth looks like currency. And this year I felt particularly old – when I was by myself. Probably because of the gaggle of very nice, very beautiful, very scantily clad girls camping outside my window (literally right outside my window – their tent was anchored to my trailer). But when I was out with my friends – whether my age or not – I stopped noticing or caring. Basically, me left alone with my own brain can be bad, especially when I miss my boys.

There wasn’t nearly as much art (go figure in this economy). But what was there was stunning.

burning man art

burning man art

Just like last year, I didn’t see nearly as much of it as I wanted.

There was a very cool experience getting stranded in a white out with friends, where we couldn’t tell if we were walking into the depths of the desert or back toward the camps — sounds dire, but really, the whole place is surrounded by an orange plastic fence so it’s not like we would’ve walked off the edge of the earth. For once, I really concentrated on just experiencing what I knew was a novel experience, especially the moment when my nice group of women surrounded me and protected me because I was stupid enough to pick that night to not bother bringing my goggles or mask. But when the sand cleared, we saw we were actually only about five yards from the very brightly lit `camp/bar we were heading to. “Couches!” Funny, and a wonderful reminder of the power of the playa. Definitely on my top 9 list of experiences on the playa.

But what made the whole trip phenomenal for me was the temple burn. The temple is built every year — different design — the size of … well, a temple. Huge. It was sort of like Guggenheim had built a massive, decidedly feminine, structure out of 2x4s with the sky as his ceiling.

the temple

the temple

The temple is a place to leave things (old wedding dresses, letters to departed loved ones, hate mail for past abuses, photos, minutiae of every kind). You leave what you want to get out of your life. You say goodbye to that which has been taken. I just wrote some stuff on the walls with a Sharpie – big stuff, small display. Then on the last night of Burning Man they burn that sucker down. I missed it last year, but had heard it’s pretty profound. But profound was an understatement. Utterly life-changing. I’m still sort of processing that experience.

As the burn started, I was sort of unimpressed. It was still a party, just a quieter one than when they burn the man. There was entirely too much shhhh-ing. But then the flames rose and I could just start to feel the heat on my face.

Four of us held hands, and it felt like that was all that was keeping me from running away.

The wind kicked up and ash and embers came our way. I imagine other people ducked or covered their faces, but I couldn’t. Not by then. I just sat straight and gripped my friend’s hand and hoped the embers would ignite me and burn me to ash. Really, I thought that wouldn’t be a bad way to go. I was there to leave some heavy shit behind on the playa, and most of those things are pretty firmly anchored in my own head. My head is the playground of my monsters. I know that, thanks to a great therapist.

But I didn’t even get a burn hole in my sweatshirt. I could see the ash and embers coming right at me (thank you, goggles!), loose and laconic, like dry ice spreading in a haunted house. The heat was intense. But after a few minutes and realizing I wasn’t going to catch fire and disappear, that I was going to be leaving this playa with my own brain still in my own head, complete with its playground, my brain sort of rebooted. All I could think over and over was, “Burn, fuckers, burn!” and it was like electricity flowing all through my body (which, thanks to a guy letting people be a conduit for a joule of electricity on the playa, I know how that feels). It was like a really hostile meditation. I envisioned what I’d written on the walls of the temple, felt all the reasons I’d written on there and let my mantra meet the flames. Burn, fuckers, burn.

I tried really hard not to cry. I am not a cry-er. I thought I was going to get out of the experience with my shell intact as the temple began to crumble, signaling the end, but then my friend, who knew what I wrote and why, leaned over and whispered, “You are loved,” and I fell apart. I just started sobbing. I cannot remember ever sobbing before in my life. But I did. And she put her arm around me and held tight, and another friend walked over to me and stood like a guardian and I clung to her leg as if all this emotion might lift me away from this place I now so wanted to be, this place where the fuckers were burning and burning and burning. I ended up surrounded by three friends and one silent ranger who stood behind me so that the rushing crowd wouldn’t disturb us when the timbers folded in upon themselves and the party re-started.

When I finally got all my emotions back neatly in their boxes, got back to cracking a joke with a shaky voice, we walked back to camp, singing loudly, because at Burning Man you can do that.

Lean on Me.

Amazing Grace.

Now, back home a few weeks, back in my real life, where my monsters live and breathe as real people, I know I actually did leave those fuckers out there, burnt to gray ash on the white expanse of the Black Rock Desert. My brain is still a playground, and sometimes shadows block the sun, but now it’s a little more Kidsville and oranges. And that’s the real currency of Burning Man.

friends

friends

me

me

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7 Responses
  1. Melissa says:

    My friends (30’s, some now hitting 40) are talking more about the age thing. I think the only way to win is not to play, whether it’s burning up those old demons at the temple literally, like you, or just walking away.

    I feel lucky that I live near Montreal, which has a more European outlook and beauty is not only about youth, but also intelligence and sophistication. Or so I like to think.

    Also loved your synopsis post, but comments are closed.

    • Cindie says:

      Comments are closed. Oh, geez. I don’t even know how to do that, let alone undo it.

      • Cindie says:

        Ah-ha! I think I fixed the comment thing. Thanks for letting me know!

        And beauty should be a whole series of posts. Living in the UN, where youth is commerce everywhere, it’s weird. I like this aging stuff, but I know it’s generally considered sort of untoward.

  2. Cindie says:

    Thank you all! I’m happy to bring things to be burned. It’s an honor. But it’s also a pretty great experience to be there and be part of it. Everyone should go once. That’s what I said last year. Once. Just for the weekend. Just to see what it was like. Then this year, I went for the week and thought, OK, now I’ve done a whole week. Great. Done. Now, after reading what next year’s theme is (Rights of Passage) I’m already planning. Maybe an art car this time so I don’t have to walk everywhere!

  3. Jackie says:

    Cindie,

    This is so beautifully written. Even already knowing some of it, it touched me (in a good way) and made me a little teary. Thank you for sharing it.

    Jackie

  4. Mikalee says:

    Notes to self: Do not mix Gatorade with tequila; send old wedding dress to Burning Man next year; find a good therapist to tell me evil monsters play in my head, too…

    Great post as always, Cindie! Sounds like a transformational experience. I’ve never done Burning Man, but your post almost makes me want to experience it for myself. Almost. 😉

  5. Des says:

    This is great. Now I have been to Burning Man.

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Cindie Geddes

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