I'm sitting here writing to you while sipping hot tea, eating a little French cookie I brought from home, and listening to Burning Man radio. I'm feel pretty damned lucky right about now and all thanks to my sainted mother without whom I would never have been able to afford to do this.
We're finally here at home on our beloved playa having spent one night and a full day here. I can't explain the pull of this place although I'll always try. Maybe there is an alchemy at work here that makes it magic -- the mix of people, art, and location -- something in the desolation of this place that allows for all of this beauty and love.
I miss my partner and best friend Scott desperately. It hurts to be here without him, to see all of the couples snuggled up and holding hands, to stumble across people locked in passionate embraces on the playa and be here alone, to be the condom fairy who helps spread the word of safe love while I remain alone at home in my RV at night. I wouldn't make love with him before we left, I didn't do this consciously, I just found reasons to avoid it, and then while I was driving, because I have hours and hours to think when I drive, it occurred to me that I was probably avoiding the intensity of feeling and need that comes up for me when we're intimate. I must have known I'd be away for awhile and didn't want to be pining all the more for him.
The preparation, the journey, and the living here is hard -- it's challenging, and you really need to be in good health to do it. During some of our final shopping in Reno before we headed out, (I did so much shopping I told Beau, "That's it honey, I'm so done, if I even try to go to another store I want you to shoot me"), we spoke with a woman who had run into a couple at her hotel who were getting ready to come to Burning Man. When she saw them a day later she was surprised and asked them why they hadn't left yet. The man told her that they had left and were forced to come back after just one day because his wife had come down with flu symptoms almost right away and was diagnosed with dehydration sickness and heat exhaustion. They were going to rehydrate her with Gatorade because it has electrolytes and then try it again. That's dedication.
When we pulled up we were listening to the information radio station and one of the sentences that stood out for me was, "Welcome home, now get to work!" It's so true. You work so hard to get here and then as soon as you arrive you work your ass off setting up your home away from your other home here in this harsh environment. But the first days are always overwhelming and slow moving despite your best efforts because you are suddenly faced with things you don't normally have to deal with like the altitude, heat, wind, dust, and the lack of moisture in the air.
Beau just came back from jumping on the trampoline. He's a little sad because he broke his favorite goggles. He says, "I had fun but the little kids kept punching me because they think they can hit me hard cause I'm a bigger kid. I got to do one flip though, but my knees hurt now like they used to when we had our trampoline."
We got in late last night, one whole day later than we had originally hoped to arrive. Knock on wood, we made it through another journey without crashing into any oncoming vehicles or hitting any cows or rabbits. They tell you not to swerve for the kamikaze bunnies but you know me, I would swerve for a mouse -- I just wouldn't be able to stop myself -- so I take it real slow once we get out on the open range and just pull over and let the pissed off speeding people pass us. Too many people have died on the way to and from this event for me to risk my son's or my life to shave off a few extra minutes.
I was so tired and worn out though that I didn't even care about anything but getting here so I could pee and sleep, but then when we finally got to Empire, the people at the gas station were so sweet and funny that I started getting excited. Then I saw the lights of the city in the distance and when we were finally able to pick up some Burning Man radio stations I got that familiar tingly feeling that makes my heart beat just that much faster and I wound up feeling so happy and excited that my muscles ached from smiling.
The first thing you do when you come in is pull off the narrow two lane highway onto the dusty playa where you crawl slowly along behind a line of cars traveling at about 5 mph. If you go any faster you kick up clouds of dust that blow into Burning Man, covering everything with dust and choking people who are just trying to breathe. It's bad enough as it is, the dust covers everything -- you clean and wash yourself and clean some more and then eventually give up and wind up living like some desert creature caked in the stuff. So the community of people who work their asses off to organize this gargantuan event encourage us to drive slowly and throw up a line of funny signs to ensure we drive slowly to spare our city from the clouds of drifting dust.
There are the usual piss clears, don't let it hit the ground, slow down, and signs that relate to the particular theme of the year, but one of my all time favorites is, "Welcome to the vacant heart of the wild west," because it rings so true for me. I think the reason so many people come out here is because it is just that, vacant and wild. It's definitely a place to let go and begin again in. You do feel like pioneers when you are here, and maybe that is because of the thousands and thousands of people who crossed this desert looking for a better life in wagons long ago.
It is rough camping here, very survivalist, dirty and dangerous, but also thrilling and life affirming. I don't know how to express this exactly but I feel as if there is something important going on that has to do with death and rebirth, maybe that's what The Man and the fire is all about. We build up this city and then we tear it down and recreate it all again the next year, but each year it is different. It has to be. Then Beau and I go through this mourning process where we search for familiar things only to discover they no longer exist or they've come back in a different form -- they've metamorphosed into something else, and we learn to embrace the many new things we discover out here.
I often feel as if a part of me dies and is reborn here. I spend the first day panicking like someone who has been bit by a vampire and has to die in order to become something else. I struggle to keep everything contained, ordered, perfect. I fight to keep my plans on track, "I've just got to make that," whatever it was I had planned to make, and inevitably these plans are laid aside and everything goes to shit in your camp. But then when you surrender something completely other, something beautiful, comes out of it and you begin to live again out here in a way that is wholly other from the way you live your life back home.
Beau and I rode our bikes way out into the desert tonight. We rode way past the man and out to the temple or mausoleum which is further out there than its ever been. I got a little thirsty and tired on the way back but I was amazed at how much more I am able to do out here than I could before, how much further I can travel. It's thrilling to be here and be able to do things I had to struggle to accomplish before.
The temple is beautiful as always and has two long arms that require you to go way away from the center of it to walk a long bridge like path to enter it. It makes it seem like a pilgrimage of sorts and gives it the spiritual and emotional weight that it deserves. I've never stayed to see the temple burn because it hurts too much to stand among all of the many crying people, listening to their heartfelt sobs and good-byes to people they have loved and lost, although maybe I will brave it this year. I will definitely go out there again and pay my respects.
As we were about to head back towards this shimmering white bubbly looking installation we looked over and saw this amazing art vehicle thing that was coming towards us. It's hard to understand what things are in the dark out here sometimes. You just see a blur of pretty lights and sounds and have to wait to see what kind of surprise is in store. This turned out to be a horse creature of some kind and it seemed to be suffering, it was crying or neighing and making this plaintive sound. I wish I could imitate it for you because as my friend Kama said, "I thought it was broken because the sound it was making made it seem like it was really Fucked up!"
When it came closer we could see that it was some kind of big moving unicorn with zebra stripes and two cowboys with furry chaps riding it. It was shooting fire out of it's horn and had bright glowing lights all over it. It's mouth was mechanized and was moving up and down while it cried. I gave the guys who were riding it lollipops and asked them why it was crying and they said, "That's his mating call. He's lonely and looking for a mate. We're going to try to help him find one but he's pretty unique, he's a Zebracorn and may be the only one of his kind in the world."
Then they asked me if I wanted something to drink, "Would you like to suck some chilled margarita or water from our Zebracorn's ass?" I was a little too shy and germaphobic to put my mouth on these tubes coming out of this two story Zebracorn, that who knows how many people had already sucked off of, so I just watched other people do it. The guy driving would just push a button that connected to some pump he had rigged up and margaritas would shoot out of it's ass into people's waiting mouths. Whenever anyone would do this the guy on the back would shout out, "We have another ass sucker here!" When I said, "Oh my God I can't believe you did this," the guy driving said, "What else would you expect to come out of a Zebracorn's ass but an ice cold beverage?" Then when I said I was sorry I hadn't brought my camera one of the guys said, "Take a mental picture," and they both stopped and froze for a second posing for it and said, "there, ya got it? Okay," and then they slapped it's ass and yeehawed off into the darkness.
Beau wanted to see this white mass of blobbish shapes in the distance so we sludged our way through soft sand and headed back towards it. It turned out to be some kind of enormous floating white art installation that was made of these blown up plastic bubbles. You had to bend down or crawl through one of four twisting entrances to get inside. It was very cool but hadn't been completed yet so we'll have to go back and check that out again another time. There is so much more art out there and I am at a loss to describe it to you, but I'll keep trying. I really don't know if I'll be able to get these posts out to you since the connection is so spotty. It blinks in and out every few seconds.
I used to think that nothing could exist out here on the playa, at least nothing living except for all of us and the things we bring in with us, but tonight for the first time in seven years I saw my first playa bugs. They're cute too, small little flying green winged bugs. They were gathered around the lantern we use to light up our camp to help us find our way home. Someone else said they saw lizards, a little boy saw a bat, and Beau saw a blackbird. This is kind of shaking up my playa view and bears pondering.
Someone is shooting off fireworks near our RV. I can hear the explosions and the sound of showering sparks. There is a constant throbbing beat from all of the many sound installations, bands and parties that last into the early morning hours, and then there's the constant hum of the enormous generators parked just across the street from us. Beau just came in, set his stuff down, looked at all of the people walking and riding by and said, "I can't believe anyone would still want to be out right now. It's so dusty, there's a major dust storm, you can hardly breathe. My hair is so crunchy."
Goodnight : )