Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Burning Man #4: Our Tribe & The Burn

So then this is the last I’ll say about Burning Man then it's on to other topics.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday all followed the same basic pattern: we’d wake at about 9 am when the temperature in our tent reached sauna levels and scramble for the shade structure. There were only about four full reclining chairs and three or four regular chairs. Needless to say the earlier you woke, the better your chances of getting one of the prized “Ultimate Relaxors.” Then we’d nap all day, snacking and chatting the heat of the day away. It was much too hot to venture out into the Sun. Although maybe if I’d known the group before, I’d have been more motivated to go on daylong treks, but these were all M’s friends—some of whom I’d met briefly, others I’d never even heard him mention—and as we drifted in and out of sleep, ate and then ate again, I got to know them pretty well. Such an interesting group, too. Two landscapers. One former dancer/current dental hygiene student. One fashion exec. One systems administrator. One marketing guy. A tech exec. A singer/songwriter. And me and R. Two had lived in NJ for a while and the dancer had spent 10 years in Manhattan, so we compared notes and got some great tips.

Each afternoon around 4 pm we’d mount our bikes and go on a tour around the city. We saw some amazing sculptures, like the giant spider.

And even caught the dusk lamp-lighters one night.

As soon as it started to cool off in earnest off we rode back to camp for dinner and to dress for the night’s journey.

One of the things that struck me during these afternoon jaunts was just how well organized the city was. I mean. I saw no trash left out. No fights. No anger. Every morning the port-a-potties were emptied and cleaned. People waited patiently in line for their turn at the toilet. Neighbors didn’t squabble over space. Bikers carefully avoided eachother.

The first night I wore my vamp outfit only to discover that I was fucking freezing. So I borrowed some leggings and added several layers (along with my nifty tiara) and we were off. I repeated the same process the next two nights. Once we arrived at our destination (uchronia or house of lotus or opulent temple) I’d strip off a layer or two and let the crowd and its movement warm me.

The best part of Burning Man started with these nightly preparations. Together we’d adorn our bikes with similar lights. And together we’d make sure we were all adequately warm and had enough water and candy (essential for trading) and headlights and eyewear (goggles for sudden dust storms) and dust masks.

We were a tribe, you see. As we biked across the Esplanade we’d circle back to make sure everyone was still there. When someone had to pee the whole caravan would pull over to the port-a-potties.

And then came Saturday night. We all got dressed again in our finery. Such a good-looking and well-lit group we were. Off we went to the burning of the man.

The Man stood on a large scaffolding that Burning Man officials had been packing with dynamite all afternoon. By the time we got there the entire area had been cordoned off and hundreds of fire dancers were performing around the base. (Fire dancing, as far as I can tell, is a lot like majorettes but with flames.) It felt tribal. Primitive. Elemental. The drumming and the flames and the shouts from the ground. Like this was some distant cultural memory from the beginning of time. Everyone around us was super-charged, waiting for the moment when the line would be broken and the Man set on fire and we’d all rush in.

And when it happened I was surprised. (When exactly had the effigy caught on fire?) Because one minute I was standing by our group and then the next I was running along the inner-most circle, the fire so hot I was sweating in my skirt and tube top, other people screaming and laughing and tossing things into the fire while we all ran around it in a circle.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Joy. Elation. So pure.

And I have to admit I think something broke off in me at that point.

You see, my whole life I’ve held myself so tightly. Because I was shy and just a little afraid and so nervous about who I was. But to see so many people rejoicing at this ritual, so many prepared to trek out to the desert and spend thousands of dollars and hours to create massive works of art only to destroy them at the end—and to destroy with abandon and joy and hope…


You see a thing like that and you start to think that maybe that personality you’d been holding onto so tightly was just a façade, too. That maybe if you tossed your mask into the flames and didn’t worry so much that things would turn out okay. Maybe things would even be easier.

I finally pushed my way out of the crowd near the Opulent Temple and walked back to where our group was sitting. (Only a few of us ventured closer to the Burn. The others chose to watch the swirling crowd from a distance.)

This was the same sort of thing I’d been feeling all week. The same epiphany four nights in a row—bam bam bam BAM. And then a weird inner voice that sounded strangely like Doris Lessing quoting Rilke: “There is nothing here which does not see you. You must change your life.”

And so I am. Although I doubt anyone but R and maybe a few close friends will even notice the difference. It’s my attitude, you see. The way I think about myself and those around me.

I’m not afraid anymore.

I mean. I’m not afraid anymore. And I don’t really feel quite so alone.

I’ll be back next year. And the year after and the one after that. Someday with my child. And then with two. On down the line.

Oh. They’ve announced the theme for 2007. The Green Man.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great posts- I had a great time out there with you and R. This was seriously my best burn yet, and like I said it has no small part to do with the group of people we were with.

My only regret this year was not staying to see Uchronia burn- man that looked wicked.

See you out there next year :)

-- M2

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Fear!


10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“There is nothing here which does not see you."

I got a shiver of recognition.
A resounding Yes, yes, yes!
Lets all throw our fear into the fire!

The Green Man next Year actually resonates with me. Maybe I will go. (thanks partly to your posts)


2:13 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Fantastic. It has been really cool to hear that this event had layers of meaning for you...and that it hasn't turned into a tourist event...or if it has, it hasn't hurt it.

I think you are very lucky because you may have seen the past and a peek at the future.

It is confronting to think about compact events like this that serve as a window to alternative ways to live.

Hunter and gatherers, the many different economies that just barely cling to making a living next to all us farmers...are still managing to make a living in a different manner than we do.

Thanks for your perpsective and honestly about your own learning. Great posts!

8:50 AM  
Blogger Red said...

Sounds like it was quite the awakening. How wonderful that this event had such a profound effect on you, leading you to reconsider aspects of your life that you might not have been 100% happy with. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

9:31 AM  
Anonymous colleen said...

It sounds like something like a Rainbow Gathering with a theme on art? Why do they burn the man?

9:05 AM  

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