collect the kindling for burning man
19 August 2012 § Leave a comment
The lower 48 is my new gypsy home. I’m more and more okay with that, satiated with the fresh memory of hitchhiking trips to Talkeetna, which was a weekend habit of mine a couple of years ago. When I left Alaska, I had been complete with Denali’s orange mountain and blue sky sunrise, intoxicated nights strewn across the river flats, and setting driftwood afire to 90’s songs sadly sung. Now I’ve got a whole new paradigm to work with: it was time to leave home behind again, for smaller peaks and smaller valleys. To remain ever on an upward path. There are some loves even I cannot hold forever.
Burning Man commences in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert a week from today. Heather and I are in the chaos of preparation: attaching lights to ostentatious outfits and furry bicycles, shoving feathers where they’re likely not supposed to be, getting over head colds, and spending money on clothes that, in the default world, would be ludicrous to don. But this is Burning Man, one of the biggest, most audacious festivals and cultural experiments in the world. Flashy, colorful outfits and necklaces of LED lights are just the beginning.
The experience is based on tenets of radical self-reliance, acceptance, and participation. A gift economy creates a system of meaningful connection. In the desert, the days turn the ancient lake bed (the playa) into a veritable oven. The nights are cold enough for fur jackets and rainbow mini-skirts. 70 mph wind kicks up dust finer than baby-powder, and it finds its way into your everywhere. The Burn is about celebration, discovery, joyful giving, and explosions of the mind. This is the thing that even the poorest vagabonds drop their money on – it’s that good.
That’s what I hear, at least. This will be my first Burn. For eight years, the giant man and the temple have lain dormant in me, waiting to be tended to. This subculture of conscious, stylishly arrogant, sometimes-smelly people showed me a door. Like Morpheus in The Matrix (with more feathers and leopard-print), they held out pills in each hand, offered a variety of ignorance and vanity to accompany hard rhythm and rocked worlds.
I’ve taken the long route to learning for 26 years, and have absorbed the hard lessons by smashing my face into bricks and concrete over and over again. I have the chipped teeth to prove it. My conclusion? The scenic shortcut is nice sometimes. Life is so good right now it annoys me. I said that to my girlfriend, Heather. She appreciates life easier than I. “Why can’t it just be good?” she asks, frustrated as I am unchallenged.
Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve scoffed at myself, and asked “What the fuck are you doing, Sean?”, then did it anyway? Months! That’s a record, or something.
One of those hard lessons has been to accept what is. To embrace it, love it, cherish it. And if I don’t like it, to change it. I’m deaf from my old stories’ repetition, allowing my past to inform my present, of being attached to ideas I thought at one point I could not live without, while watching those ideas (usually nouns) move on quite well without me. My heart is done, my body sick of it. My nose runs, and when I blow it, only one ear pops.
Fuck it. I’m going to superglue fake fur to a ten dollar bike, ride it through the darkest desert naked, and see what life is on the other side of the playa. And if that’s as bad an idea as hitchhiking across Europe in mid-winter, at least I’m not clinging to what might happen the moment I return.
How fitting that my introduction into festival culture has been as turbulent as it has been beautiful. Envision, a relatively small party in Costa Rica’s Pacific jungle, started me in March. Later, at Symbiosis, I reveled in the apocalyptic light of the solar eclipse as it cast a shadow from cloudless skies. Random Rab quieted his set, and nine thousand people stared at the sun in silence and awe.
A couple of months later at Beloved, an intimate Oregon tribal gathering, I left my intense fishing season behind. An intimate gathering in the Oregon woods, Beloved is the festival where conscious hippies, psychedelic art, and cheap pizza create magic. Naked men wrestled on a narrow bridge over the pond. I slacklined and played storyteller for our doctorly neighbors, who listened to my tale of misdirection and finding out what hearts are made of with utmost interest. What that dance floor held during Kalya Scintilla’s set was an energy of magnanimous sexuality, purity, and beauty.
In front of stage left, folks. That’s where we are, dancing, smiling, moving like we’ve never moved before, and never will again.
Burn, Man. Set everything I’ve been aflame, and we’ll walk out of the desert free again.