It is almost as if you were
frantically constructing another world
while the world that you live in
dissolves beneath your feet,
and that your survival depends
on completing this construction at least
one second before
the old habitation collapses
-- Tennessee Williams
I haven't been able to find my friends Jackie and Julian this year. Last year they had a photo-camp on the inside of the center camp circle and they were backed up against the Billion Bunny March people. But they aren't there this year and I wasn't able to reach them before we left. I'll have to see if I can track them down through Playa Info.
We thought it would be fun for Beau to join the march this year wearing his big bunny costume but we missed it. It's really hard to find or even get to things on time once you do manage to locate them. The Billion Bunny March is a wild group of fun and funny people who wear any kind of variation of a rabbit costume and march out to The Man together. They decorate cars, motorcycles, and bikes like carrots and ride them. But in a typically rebellious Burning Man twist on all of this, there is another group calling themselves The Carrot Liberation Front and they went out and protested against the bunny march with signs like "End the Bunny Terror" and "Go Home Rabbits." I heard that the Black Rock Animal Control people, (who wear uniforms and have a big wagon with bars on it), came and caught the bunnies with big nets, tagged them, and put them up for adoption. Last year these guys came and tried to catch our children.
You have to be super careful when riding your bike, walking, or driving around out there. There are so many more art cars and bicyclists than there used to be. I used to write about how you could go out to the middle of the city, point your bike in any direction, and ride for miles with your eyes closed and your arms outstretched, and you wouldn't hit anything. It was exhilarating, but not something you can do here anymore. If you don't run smack into someone's wonderful piece of art, or hit a guide wire and tear an ear off, you're bound to run into another bicyclist, or get hit by a big pink bunny car. I've heard stories about the earliest days on the playa where the greeters just gave you the basic coordinates, pointed you in the right direction, and told you to drive Mad Max style until you ran into everyone, sometimes literally.
Savina went out in the brightest sunniest driest heat of the day today to take some great pictures of her friend Esther, (Savina is a really good photographer), and she ended up overheating and coming down with the dreaded heat stroke. We were all pretty worried about her for a while. She came in my room, talked to me for a while, and then passed out for a bit. I thought she was just overtired because she hadn't been sleeping.
I went out to take my contribution of veggie meat crumbles and taco fixings to our nightly potluck dinner, that so far I have never even managed to be able to go to, and when I came back she was bright red, crying, and asking me what the symptoms of heat stroke are. Well, basically, you turn beet red, feel weak and fluish, and cry for no reason at all. Savina definitely had heat stroke. We got her water, ice, a mister, and took her boots and extra clothes off and fussed over her for a while. I was worried but after a couple hours she made a complete recovery and was able to go out. She wasn't well enough to do some of the many fun things she'd been planning to do because once you get heat stroke you're extra weak and susceptible to coming down with it again and you just don't want to end up in the MASH tent with an IV in your arm and friends sitting sadly by your side. Our wonderful resident ranger Mickey, and Zaphod, our mayor, came by to check on her, and Julia and I nursed her back to health.
It's really scary when it comes on. You'll be fine one minute and then suddenly you're sick and panicked. Most of us have had it to one degree or another at least once or twice. And we've all taken turns nursing friends through it. E-Dave taught me that the best and quickest cure is obviously shade and Gatorade. I hate Gatorade and never drink it back home but when I start feeling weak and sick out here it's amazing how quickly it revives me.
I went for a ride on E-Dave's art car today and was having a really good time -- seeing all of the fun art and things that are out there to see, waving to passing art cars and smiling at all of the people, but then suddenly I started to feel sick and weak. The first thing that happened was that my personality took a weird turn. I started feeling like someone else. I was negative and depressed and was feeling sorry for myself for no reason at all. I was actually getting angry and paranoid and starting to panic.
If you know me, and how generally upbeat I am when I'm here, you'd know how totally out of character this is for me, and how bizarre this was. I was looking at my two closest friends who were happily engaged in conversation with these two guys who had hitched a ride with us and thinking, "I'm all alone out here. No one really gives a shit about me. Why do I even bother coming? This sucks!" These were completely irrational thoughts for me to be having because I love my friends, I know they'd do anything for me, and I love being here. I didn't even realize this was a sign that something was going wrong and that I was becoming dehydrated until I started feeling like I was going to faint. It's so odd when this happens because I had been drinking fluids nonstop.
I had my camel pack on and kept sipping but I guess I needed more than just the water. I hadn't wanted to impose on everyone by asking for a ride home, or some Gatorade, or food, because we all try hard to be prepared to take care of our own needs, and while I'm good at giving it's a wee bit harder for me to receive. Plus we'd been having such a nice freeform kind of journey around the playa, with no one needing or wanting to go in any one specific direction, and I didn't want to be the one to put an end to that. But once I finally figured out what was going on with me I was able to ask for help. E-Dave got me to drink some Gatorade, which turned me around so fast that I started smiling and feeling like myself again. I was also able to see how irrational my thoughts were and how they were clearly related to the dehydration. It was almost embarrassing but thankfully no one had read my crazy mind. Shortly after my little episode my pal Jay started to feel weak, she needed food, so we asked E-Dave to wrap up the trip and take us all home. It took some doing because some of our group had hopped off to look for something, but before long we were on our way again with E-Dave saying he should have known we'd been out too long.
On our way back we picked up three cute young people and gave them a ride back to Kidsville with us. One of the women who jumped on was carrying a turquoise, glitter-covered hula hoop and wearing bright shiny turquoise shorts with matching glittered pasties. She and her friends were so friendly and nice and invited us to come hang out with them at their comfy camp. They have hammocks.
I saw a really terrific art car piece today. Someone built a kind of robotic giraffe creature that they have to wrangle or pull along with a rope. It's twice the size of a tall person and moves sort of awkwardly, hesitantly, as if it's being careful about where it decides to set it's feet down. I don't know how else to describe it, but it was amazing.
Beau saw my favorite art car thing, the Zebracorn that I fell so hard for last year. Only this year it came back with a baby. The Zebracorn is a motorized horse sized animal creature that two cowboys ride around on. It's painted like a zebra but has a unicorn horn coming off of it's head. It has a mechanized mouth that moves up and down and emits the funniest noises. It has two tubes that come out of it's rear end that pump "cold beverages" into the waiting mouths of whatever people are brave enough to "suck ass." I've never done this but I can appreciate the humor and creativity that goes into it.
Half of the fun of this whole thing are the wacky things the cowboy dudes say. Last year they told me that the horrible braying/mewling sound it makes is, "it's lonely mating call." They said, "She may be the only one of her kind but we're hoping she'll find a mate somewhere out there this year." I guess they were successful because she's back this year with a baby that wees. I didn't get to see it, darn it, but Julia and Beau said it stops and pees like a baby with poor bladder control. I imagine if it's anything like it's Mama that it pees margaritas.
There's also a cool dream bed installation that I saw out there. Someone built a big comfy bed covered with a shady fabric canopy made of lips and teeth. It looks really comfortable and inviting but there are always too many people on it for me to want to jump up and join them. Coming off of the mouth bed are these cool organic tentacled eyeball things. I think there are about six of these big fuzzy eyes and each one holds a TV that is playing a stream of interviews with people who are describing their dreams. One of the dream films that I saw was a woman about my age wearing pajamas and sitting in her bed talking about the dream she'd had the night before. I didn't even listen to her dream really because what captured my attention were the many cats who were walking all over and around her while she was speaking. It's always nice to know that I'm not the only nutty cat loving dream telling gal around.
Phil brought some kind of Wifi Internet bridge thing that is supposed to help us get a stronger signal so we can get online. I'm crossing my fingers.
Phil and Jo did hook up last night. Beau is sad and feels left out. This all happened so fast. But as Zaphod said by the fire last night, everything is sped up out here and moves at a totally compressed rate of speed so relationships form and collapse and reform much more quickly here than they do at home. I just hope this isn't one of those five minute love affair things that everyone talks about and that neither Jo nor Phil get hurt.
Savina just spritzed me with some more of the Evian mist that Phil thought to put in our cooler and it feels so good and cool on my skin. Yeay. Savina's Mom camps with the Flight to Mars people, but Savina has been camping mostly with E-Dave. Savina gets to ride on the bus that her friends brought with them. Their bus is called Squidudha because it was a Buddha bus last year and this year it's a giant purple tentacled squid monster thing; Squid + Buddha = Squiduddha.
Savina told me that she saw a weird looking guy today, a "zombie" covered in white paint or powder -- something more than just the dust we're all covered with -- who had been wrestled to the ground by a bunch of big burly sheriffs over by the porta potties. Whatever he'd done had really pissed them off and they were using Mace on him. I don't remember if this was the same man she said she'd heard about who had been harassing a woman who had to run for the safety of her car, in order to get away from him. Wild on whatever drugs he'd taken, or been dosed with, he used his head to bash in the windshield of her car.
I thought this sounded pretty implausible, because how can you break a windshield on purpose, from the outside of a car, but I confirmed this story with at least two of our rangers. I read somewhere that there was a list online of the arrests and crime statistics for each year's Burn, but I don't know where it is. I'll have to look it up because as negative as this is, I always find it interesting.
There is a lot of talk about -- and let's face it a lot of use of -- drugs around here. But I don't know what the stats are on this because there are so many of us who feel that you really don't need to be on drugs to be taken to a whole other plane of existence in a place like this. I think it's hard enough to process all of this sober; I can't overstate how overwhelming and overstimulating this environment is. I'd probably freak out if I were wasted out here, because you really wouldn't be able to tell if that giant thumb chasing you down the street really was chasing you down the street or not. In the default world you'd at least be able to calm yourself down by saying, "Ya know Jacqui, those thousands of tiny spiders that you think you're seeing right now are probably not really there." But here there's a better than average chance that if you see them, they are indeed here, and they can probably fly and glow in the dark as well.
Savina was talking about how weird it was when she found herself surrounded by a squadron of cupcakes this afternoon. I've seen them too -- they're so cute. They're little individual cupcake cars, or bikes, or something, they have pills on top of their frosted tops, instead of sprinkles, and they travel in cupcake packs. I can see how she would have felt disoriented.
She said that her most surreal experience so far was when she got trapped in a dust storm white out where she couldn't see anything for a while but then a huge form started coming slowly towards her out of the dust. She saw a nose and a head breaking through the dust and realized it was someone in a kind of skeletal wolf costume -- a pack of wolves on stilts -- coming towards her. Then another wolf, perhaps the pack leader, who was using those round springy stilts -- the kind you can run with -- broke away from the pack and started running towards her. He ran past her and the rest of the pack just parted slowly around her and they all kept going until they disappeared back into the dust. Savina said, "I was shocked that just happened. I was like Holy Shit! You don't even need to do drugs out here."
Savina and I were talking about all of this, the drug aspect of our culture here, (because I've been stuck in the RV off and on while I rest my back and recover from the whole heat sickness think that always forces me to retreat to the safety and luxury of shade and air conditioning), and she reminded me of a sketch of George Carlin's where he said something like, "Why do we bother watching Monday night football? Why don't we just take all of the biggest, burliest, nastiest guys and put them all in a ring and let them fight it out? That'd be something to watch. But that's not all, we'll give them PCP." And maybe there is a little bit of that going on out here. In as much as spiritual pilgrims, artists, lovers and sexual explorers, the survivalists, naturists, fire spinners, daredevils, parents and children are all drawn here together by some undefinable force, some amazing alchemy that brings us to this harsh desert environment, it has to be said that there are many, many people coming here to get fucked up and shit faced and blasted right out of their minds.
Sadly, while I can see the need for people to do this kind of thing, this environment can be particularly cruel and unforgiving to people who have put themselves in a state of mind where they are incapable of being responsible for their behavior. And Burning Man is all about personal responsibility, which is where these two mindsets seem to be colliding, and why I for one have to be grateful not only for our wonderful volunteer rangers, (Yeay rangers!), but for the sheriffs. Where once I was a child here who rebelled against any form of authority, I am now acutely aware of our need for at least some form of it. How can you come out here to trip, or even to drink yourself into a drunken stupor, while still remaining mindful of our collective desire, "not to interfere with the experience of others." It isn't possible to do when your ID is hanging out for all the world to see. That's how we wind up with fuct up strangers standing around in Kidsville saying what they really think to mothers of eight week old babies, promising to be protective of them, and then trying to fondle their breasts and asses just minutes later. Argh, and more argh.
I think this is what some of the teenagers, (who are drawn to the whole drug culture, but who haven't experienced enough of it's darker and more dangerous side, to make the decision on their own to be more careful or abstemious in their usage), have been trying to tell me. I believe that they find it funny and interesting, maybe even entertaining, but scary and threatening at the same time. Again, I have to say, sadly, that some of this is making our once lovely city, a dangerous place to be in, at least if you're out there alone at night. But I guess that's nothing new, we don't let our kids go out roaming the city streets at home at night, there are things like curfews in place to protect them from us, and us from them. I think this is what Savina, who while she jokes about locking everyone up in a ring and watching them slug it out to the death, has actually been baby-sitting and caring for friends who are tripping on acid. So at the same time that she is joking about drug fueled fight fests, she also suggested that there should be a place where all of the people who are tripping can go. A place where they can be loved, cared for, and baby-sat, and I honestly think this is kind of a good idea. I know I'd volunteer to spend some time there and help out in the druggie playpen. I know for certain that I'd rather see them there than flailing around on the ground in the med tent. Unfortunately, people in these states of mind, are probably the last people on earth, (or wherever it is that we are), who would want to be confined to any space, no matter how comfortable or safe we might make it.
Despite the drug use, and sometimes maybe even because of it, Burning Man can be an amazing place, a life altering, personality transforming, spiritual Mecca of a place that has to be experienced to be believed, or even slightly understood, but there is definitely a kind of wild and dangerous side to it. It doesn't say you can die right there on the back of your tickets for nothing. On the other hand, I understand that almost all religions and cultures incorporate the ritualized use of mind altering or psychotropic substances. Some people, or maybe all people, need to be shaken out of their shoes every once in a while to find new paths, or to find their way back to their heart's deepest desires, their soul's calling.
I don't want to give the wrong impression about Burning Man -- that it's this dangerous place filled with people who are whacked out of their minds on hard-core drugs, it is and it isn't, which is pretty much the most apropos thing you could say about anything relating to Burning Man, since it is nearly impossible to define, and any definition you could come up with would only be your own subjective experience.
My experience has always been that the majority of the people here are profoundly gentle, kind, generous, loving and polite. Yes, there are some nuts. Yes, people forget that we are encouraged to be radically self reliant and these folks will sometimes impose, but we are all of us for the most part prepared for this, are more than happy to help out, and frankly this is one of the best aspects of being here -- this wonderful communal willingness to love, accept, and assist strangers in any way you can. I am always ready and willing to give someone water, food, sunscreen, shade, and companionship, or just be someone who will listen for a bit, clean up a cut, share a toy, or walk them to the rangers or the med tent. I am not in any way alone in this. Just last night Mark took in a really messed up guy and let him sleep it off on their couch, just a few steps away from all of his sleeping children. Some of the sweetest relationships can be formed out here in this way, while for the most part, the really messed up people usually just kind of pass on through.
You have to take into account that in any city of this size, (I think we're at forty-thousand now), there are bound to be a few problems. Compared to most cities I think our crime and danger rate is pretty damned low. Yesterday I heard someone carping about how Burning Man is not this loving utopian place that we all claim it is, but actually a really dangerous inner city slum instead, and it really pissed me off, because I couldn't disagree more. Then I got over it because I realized that he was just looking at it through his own skewed negative and possible lonely view. I actually felt sorry for him after that. Then I wanted to go find him and give him a hug or three. I am always wanting to hug people here, hugging and smiling so much that muscles I am not accustomed to using are actually sore from all of the extra activity.
So I guess it is what it is, sometimes dangerous, mostly not, and truly indescribable in so many ways. It's super ephemeral, (someone smartly came up with the idea of calling it an Ephemeropolis), and an example of how what you experience here is simply a reflection of your own vision; it is what you make of it, and however you perceive it, which is what makes Burning Man notoriously difficult to describe or categorize. So if you think it's a wild and woolly place then that's what it will be for you. I think it's a city filled with love and opportunity and that's what I find here. If I fall off my bike, I get back up. If some stupid drunken person comes up to me and says something weird, I see if I can help them, and if not I pardon him or her and move on. It's the kindness and the creativity, the magic and beauty, that I keep my focus on. To simply write this off, or try to define it as a big rave in the desert, or a countercultural event -- as many in the media do -- is to do all of this vibrant life out here a great injustice.