I’m back! My skin is tanned, my clothing is sitting in the wash, and my boots are in the tub, waiting to get scrubbed back to life.
Burning Man is an experience that eludes proper description. Each day it is something new, offering a myriad of experiences, defying one’s best attempts to pin it down in words. Today, my boss and I were comparing notes. My favorite snapshots were of difficult but illuminating conversations, calm moments devoid of thumpa thumpa music or the usual frenetic pace, gentle moments of education both to and from my peers, and quiet meandering among some beautiful art.
I go to Burning Man because I love to witness people experiencing their attempts at complete self-expression. It’s not always easy. Sometimes someone’s self-expression means burning down someone else’s art. Sometimes it means playing practical jokes that can occur to my sensitive midwestern self as cruel. Yet most of the time, it looks like a man imprisoned by heteronormative society allowing himself to feel pretty for the first time. Or someone who never considered herself an artist to play with paints and create something she is proud of. Sometimes, this self expression allows someone to explore sensuality with someone of the same (or different) sex for the first time, or for someone to explore how gender rules affect their lives and some ways of subverting them.
I had a lovely evening at the burn this year where I drifted among the Playa with no agenda. I experienced a simple grace in being content and grateful for everything that happened in the present. It’s not an easy feeling to achieve, to be sure.
Two years ago, I went to Burning Man and was depleted and cynical. The art felt ho-hum, the experience was mundane. I took last year off to try and get the magic back for myself.
That night, this year on the playa, as I wandered among what passes as “modest” art- steel sculptures with small flame effects, LED balls strung in a lovely shape, changing colors in mathematical patterns, art cars designed for comfort and agility- I experienced a grace in my interactions with them. I allowed myself to stay with the art as long as it felt good to do so. I didn’t feel the need to pursue the Next Cool Thing.
When I returned back to camp after a very long walk, I set to work. I emptied our gray water, washed some dishes, crushed some cans, and experienced a similar grace in my presence to the work. My knowledge of the work’s importance was the reward in and of itself. I felt nourished, knowing it was for the greater benefit of the community, and I needed no external recognition.
In this way, this Burning Man was a success to me.
I am so blessed in my daily life to live on my own terms. I am in no closet, and my community is filled with people who express themselves fully on a regular basis. Because of this, I am often deluged by beauty. I curate an art gallery, and therefore am surrounded by amazing visual art. I’m a sex educator, so I have many friends who explore their identity and sexuality as part of a daily practice. My community is filled with artists and entrepreneurs, so there is always a new, amazing conversation to be had. Because of this Burning Man often seems “extra” rather than essential to my life. I don’t put on a suit to go to work, so wandering around camp in a chemise doesn’t feel liberating. I talk about sexuality and art regularly, so getting a chance to explore my own expression on the playa isn’t a novelty.
Because of this, I intended to Burn this year as a way of saying goodbye to the Playa. It requires great resources to be a part of Burning Man, in capital, in time, and in personal reserves. In future years, I hope to be able to spend my time and money to explore the rest of the world. I have never been to Asia, Africa or South America. There are many places in the world I want to see, and I intend to close the chapter on Burning Man to start writing new chapters elsewhere.
What I will miss far more than the art, the dust storms, the build, or the costumes, is the community. I fell in love with the women of Camp Beaverton four years ago. Each year, being with them is a family reunion of sorts. I get to see people that I only ever see at this one event, every year. Our family has grown, and now I feel a certain maternal link to the community. I am looked to as an elder in a certain way, as are my sisters who helped build the camp and continue to put considerable work into it. We bonded with Gender Blender this past year, another amazing camp doing wonderful things on the Playa. And with the addition of the Blenders, I felt even more kinship to our community. I expect it will require more effort and more commitment from me to feel connected to the Beavers and Blenders without my annual desert sojourn. I believe I will stay with it. I believe it’s necessary for my mental and spiritual health to do so.
So many struggle for so long to find a community where they can fully be themselves without fear of judgment or retribution. I am thrilled to have found it so strong and supportive at so young.
Thanks, Beavers, for making my Burn so memorable.