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in which i explain burning man – day 2

October 13, 2011

i slept not a second that night. i know that most of you know me, and you know that i am a SLEEPER. i get cranky without sleep. but i couldn’t adapt to the sounds around me. every time i got close to drifting off, a giant art car would go by, playing barry white. or the sounds of a dog barking. shannon was already asleep by the time i had gotten back to the tent, and that girl sleeps like a g-d log – on her stomach, her pillow over her head – and so i tossed and turned like a maniac, getting more and more stressed, until i just gave up.

shannon and i had set an alarm for 6 30. one of our goals for the trip was to see the desert sunrise. ha ha. fat chance. we didn’t manage it once. sleep took precedence. we found that the days were so draining, so full of sensory overload, that for the rest of the nights – even the night they burned the man! – we were in bed before 1. i guess the body just gets so exhausted that sleep takes priority. anyway, we slept through the alarm, and woke up at 6 40 to a watery sun starting to leach into our tent. i said “crap!’ and so because it was still chilly, we threw our long johns on and ambled out onto the playa to see what we could find.

6 45 am on the playa.

we thought that the playa would be calmer in the morning. and we were partially right. with the weaker sun, the energy also mellows out. mornings felt right to me. quieter, definitely. but not completely quiet. the playa was still thrumming with energy, but it was a different energy. these people were like… the yoga students of BRC. the chakra blingers. the ones who had either spent the whole night out dancing or riding art cars and were now so blissed out that they were calmer, or the ones who had woken up specifically early in order to partake in sunrise yoga or sunrise tai chi, or the sunrise earth harp playing at the temple. people were still braiding around us on their bikes, but with the sun only still rising, and the temperature considerably lower, everything had calmed down, at least for the moment. but we could still hear the ever-present music.

that’s the thing about music on the playa. it is always present. and it’s not music i like. it’s bass, jungle, house, trance, dubstep – the kind of stuff that you make bass-face to. the kind of music that is particularly good for people who are on drugs. i prayed for disco. if i had found an art car that pumped the tavares or thelma houston, i would have followed that car into the horizon of the desert. dancing. but the music there is very bass-focused. and so because of that, you can hear it. everywhere. it travels through the cracked ground. it is in the ends of your fingers and the ends of your hair, travels along your eyelashes and the bottoms of your feet and the insides of your thighs. after a few days, you don’t hear it so much as feel it. the camp is organized in a semi circle, and the very ends of the C-shape – the ends closest to the abyss of the rest of the desert – are designated as the loud camps. the camps where the nightclubs are set up. they are the loudest and the most overwhelming areas to be in, and i’m so glad that we were camped far away from them. a girl needs sleep.

meditating on my chakras post-sunrise.

and then shannon and i found the best rave we had ever seen. what people don’t realise is that there are police on the playa. there are black rock rangers, who are not certified police but who are just regular people who volunteer to try and keep order around BRC. and then there are actual nevada police officers. some of them want to come to burning man, even just to keep order, and have been coming for years. some are forced to come. so it’s an interesting mix of officers that you get.we found the rave because we had been following the police officers. the scene was something like this: a circle of the most relaxed looking police officers i had ever seen (wearing sunglasses, beaded bracelets, khaki uniforms that had often been altered or adorned in some way, most of them smiling) around the remnants of  a rave that had clearly gone all night, had gone through the sunrise, was still going. and this was a mobile rave, because the music was all coming from a big huge metal art car with a big huge metal heart tacked on above it, and the sound system on this art car was better than any bar i have been in. hell it was better than some concerts. these people must have trotted behind the art car – name: robot heart – all night, just dancing. and in the middle of all the music, where there were no words because it was too loud to have words, because the bass was drowning us out, everybody was dancing like maniacs. squatting, throwing their hands up, chucking their heads back. doing jumping jacks. high kicks. some people had brought their own chairs and were taking breaks from the dancing, sitting in the middle of all of the melee.

robot heart and their DJs

after breakfast, shannon and i went off to explore, just the two of us. we found a campsite where a beautiful middle aged man in garters and stockings and a corset and heels told us that his name was princess stephanie, and he made us stand still as he dressed us. i shucked my lime green tank top and he put a different shirt on me. i left my shirt for him. he gave me a brooch, a bangle, gave shannon a floppy straw hat. we both walked away with beautiful new necklaces, one green, one blue. i gave my first gift to princess stephanie, as he was the first person who made me feel like i was “home” – the term that they kept on throwing around but the term that i had not yet understood. i clipped one of my homemade orange and pink silk barrettes in his hair. with a hug, we were on our way. and our way brought us to the roller disco, where we stumbled around the rink to the sounds of shaggy’s “wasn’t me” and had to stop for frequent water breaks, the dust churned up from the rollerskate wheels coating our nostrils and our throats. we stopped by a building that looked like a spanish villa and were given a piece of fresh baked rye bread by a baker who looked like santa – they had brought real ovens to the desert! we stopped in reverbia, a tent for music and shows, and we lay on pillows as we watched a band (from vancouver!) called chordophone. it was a violin and a cello hooked up to amps, two brothers playing improvised loops overtop of burial’s “archangel” – so beautiful that i cried.

roller disco.


after lunch, the four of us – shannon, jay, me, chris – headed to the sacred spaces camp. chris had camped there in one of her previous years of BM. sacred spaces reminded me of how the older hippies can get here in vancouver – militant, rude, so rigid and stuck to their ideals and their created rules that they make things unpleasant for all others. we were made to take our shoes off before entering the yurt, which really, for some reason, rubbed me the wrong way.

listen, everyone in burning man is a little spaced out. we went there to shed our outside layers and find what we believed to the purest parts of ourselves, the oddest versions of ourselves. people shed their inhibitions. people take their clothes off. but watching a buck-naked man give a supine girl a two-hour massage in the middle of the tent made me uncomfortable. being naked in frivolity is one thing, but being naked in name of shamanism or meditation or whatever it was is another thing. that was the thing that made me … unsettled – the idea taking something fun and warping it to fit your rigid ideals – it just doesn’t work for me. and that is why i felt uneasy in the sacred spaces yurt. it felt like a church. and it is only a sacred space for those who believe it. pushing silence, de-robing, the idea of the sacred on all others – others who maybe just entered out of curiosity – felt wrong. i did not feel relaxed. i’m not sure that any of us did. shannon and jay and i watched as chris signed up for a breathing workshop, and then we left to go have a nap and a lie-down and to have dinner.

late afternoon, jacq and paolo and possibly jay came to find me. i don’t remember the particulars. i only remember that they told me that chris was really anxious, that it was maybe because of the sacred spaces thing, that something was off, something was wrong, and that she wanted to see me.

people tend to drift towards me during times of crisis or upset. this has never bothered me in any way. in fact, i take a sort of pride in it – that i manage to keep a level enough head, even in maniacal situations, that i am still trustworthy. i feel like my parents would be proud of that. but maybe it’s a different thing – something not to be proud of – maybe it’s that i still can’t let go completely of my organized, type-a side, even in black rock city. regardless of what it is that makes me what i am, it’s part of my make up, and so i trotted over to sakenoma, their sake-themed camp. chris was sort of huddled in her tent, and to my untrained eye, it looked like she was mid-anxiety attack. but the thing about the desert is that people get very dehydrated, very quickly, and the symptoms of dehydration are also very similar to panic and disorientation that come with anxiety attacks. i wasn’t sure what was happening. chris was telling me that it was a side-effect of the breathing exercise that she had done earlier in the day. i was thinking that it was a panic attack. all i knew is that i had never ever seen her like that – feral-eyed, trembling, a wild-mouthed thing with her back to the corner of her tent and her scared face peering out from the tent flap. whatever was going on, it was dire. i sent shannon out into the desert with jay and told them to go dance. i allowed my type-a side to come back out for the moment. i needed to get chris alone to figure out what was going on. i needed to rely on myself to handle the situation.

off we went.

the burning man medical tent is… insane. it’s insane. i’ve never been in such a place. i’ve worked in hospitals, and so a part of me wanted to know what the medical set up at BRC was. they had a medical ward set up in a huge yurt. they had triage, they had the ER beds. they had a suture room, an x ray room. the IV room. they had portable machines that took vitals. for being in the middle of the desert, it was pretty damn sophisticated. it also looked like something out of alice in wonderland because many of the nurses and doctors were wearing costumes. we were triaged by people dressed as insects. chris was taken back into the ER by a nurse in an orange wig. we were sent to the IV room and tended to by a nurse dressed as a naughty nurse. meta or what? how odd – being in such a dire situation, in which chris was worried about herself and i was worried about chris, in which i wasn’t sure what was happening to my friend, in which we were both a little scared but unwilling to admit it to each other – to be seeing medical professionals dressed in costumes. it made light of the situation. it made me nervous. it made me laugh. it was like a hospital from a nightmare – low fluorescent lighting, monsters walking around, people thrashing around on beds.

and the people in the hospital. these are people in the lowest moments of their life, maybe. people full of the worst drugs, dehydrated so badly that they fall into catatonia. i watched as the woman beside me was stuck with IV needle and didn’t even react. she was huddled into a blanket and she seemed to have no face. that’s how unresponsive she was. and as the saline solution flowed, she rehydrated, became a flower brought back from the brink, became a human again. it was scary. i wondered how people could get themselves to that state. i watched as a doctor scrubbed blood off of the headrest of the chair beside me. a man dressed as a cow had come in because he had gotten the back of his head hit by a car (!!?!?) and now he was bleeding down his back, yelling about something, having a clearly bad trip. his eyes were huge. i think that maybe he wasn’t aware of how bloody he was. he was darting in and out of the suture room like a demented puppet show.

in the IV room, holding chris' intake chart.

they gave chris two cups of gatorade to drink. we laughed because the situation was so insane. we seemed to be the most stable people there. how was that even possible?

after they discharged her, i brought her back to my tent. we drank emergen-c and coconut water, and we slept the whole night.

settling down for the night in chez maxymiw.


in the next episode, jay and i find the gay camps and a trampoline. i find shamans.

read about day 1 here

read about day 3 here

read about day 4 here

read about day 5 here

read about my final thoughts here



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