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Warrior Woman Stacey

You know how sometimes you meet people and instantly think, “Oh, I want to be like you when I grow up” whether or not they are actually older than you? Well, my friend Stacey Spain is one of those for me. She has been since I met her some ten years ago. She has one of those electric smiles that seem to start in her face and go all the way to her toes. She has a big personality to go with a big brain and hugs with her whole being.

Stacey was one of my warrior women at Burning Man. She was one of my tethers during the Temple burn. It was her leg I clung to when I cried.

After we all got back and decompressed (and got clean!), she sent me a piece of writing, and it knocked the wind out of me. It is her POV of what I wrote about last time (though she wrote hers first). I have always loved her writing, even though she doesn’t do nearly enough of it. So I asked if I could post it on my blog. Then I asked her to write a little intro. Then I was so embarrassed by the complimentary nature of her intro I didn’t post it. Since I am trying really hard to get past the voices in my head that tell me I suck, I am finally trying to post it. Because it’s too pretty not to take flight.


I’m supposed to be writing an introduction for a another bit of writing I did – but I can’t yet because I’m not done writing about Cindie – forgive me, indulge me – let me say these words and then I’ll give you the three sentence mouthful you need to set the scene for our small playa adventure.

Maybe I only need a handful of friends – but these few are the ones I can say all the words to, they can hear it all without blinking.  Cindie Geddes, when I met her, was completely engaged in working with kids helping them find their voices in writing.  She was a quiet, soft and strong presence for these young women and honestly I wished I was one of them.  She is a contradiction: shy and blunt, whip smart and so soft hearted … it took me a while to unravel her a bit – she gave me a present, said:  “You’ll make a hugger out of me yet!”  I expect that bravery from her, I expect her to be healing and growing and finding her fullness.  I see her as complete because I know the arc of her journey.

When I speak of my girlhood I have to take care for the listeners – I know it is difficult to hear and understand my particular truth.  But Cindie, also a survivor (stupid word – is there a word beginning with triumphant embracer of the gifts of her life?). Cindie has heard my story and we can even laugh at it, them, us, being who we are now.  She is also blessed with her J man and boy people, her Jason and Joe, who I know are bedrock for her growth.  When someone you see as strong allows themselves to be vulnerable it can be healing for all who witness it – I was a witness and am grateful.

Ok – so I write plays, the words I put down on paper are usually meant to be said aloud.  I am a performance artist and have five one-woman shows in my bag of tricks.  I have worked professionally in the theater and completed my education with a bunch of initials behind my name.  That gave me time to only do the thing I love, so I am grateful.  Now I have an amazing 24-year-old son, a sweet 6-year-old daughter and a busy happy full life, counting the dog and the goldfish.  I also act and direct locally and am lucky enough to get to teach theater along with my full-time job as an arts administrator.  Sometimes I forget to write (you know, for years) and then someone nudges me to get going again.  Cindie did it to me – this is her fault.  Thank you, Cindie – now I have to go write about the rest of my handful of friends.  But her – she is my bird woman, and I love to see her fly.

What Remains on the Ground

(by Stacey Spain)

Quiet reverence broken by drunken yells rolling back to silence.  Holding small bird hand on one side and beloved strong moving hand on the other – but the connection is felt to others – the echo of a younger self one handspan away.  This temple burns low to the ground connected to us through alkali dust. She is in flux, in flamed and sends embers to wet our dry eyes.  Dust spins toward us with collected memory rising, taking away thoughts, devotions, intentions on a column toward stars – this the best night cathedral.  The flames lick us, embers tease and bite but no harm floating over heads … sweet male voice from behind: “Goggle ups folks, protect your eyes.”  And we do, protect our eyes as they witness this burning that marks a new year.  Then she is down, hurrying toward the ground to embrace it with her ember and ash arms. People rush forward to dance there in the heat, the circle shrinking fast but by the sound I know our job is to stay here.  This sound, for me makes it possible to release, this sobbing eases my throat around a hard spot, and I cry.  Our bird woman is left on the ground as they rush around her toward their joy.  I rise and stand over her – no one will disturb this moment, no one will hurt her here and now.  We are a triangle around her – maiden, mother and crone.  We make the river of people move like water around us by our grounded presence and she has the space to breathe, to cry, to heal.  Standing four feet away that sweet man in dusty clothes hovers, not too close, to see we can do this, to witness this rebirth, to be a guardian in this night.  And after, laughter and breathing with a chorus of Stand by Me.  I will – stand by her — and them, to witness and grow together on the ground.

How lucky am I?!


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.





Cindie Geddes

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