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in which i explain burning man – day 3

October 21, 2011

i couldn’t figure out why writing these posts was so uncomfortable, and then i realised it – i’m making the switch from past tense to present tense.

on the morning of day 3, shannon and i split off for the morning. chris heads back to her camp to have a lazy morning. and i manage to snag the fabulous jay so we can have a jay and anna sister wife neighbours reunited kind of morning. there are still so many camps that i want to check out. you tend to only see the things that you camp near, and i hadn’t headed down any of the side streets at all. jay mentions something about nectar village giving out free reiki and massages, and i think well that sounds pretty good. reiki is always something that i am interested in experiencing. it usually makes me cry afterwards and i figure since the afternoons  in black rock city tend to slow – the heat, the dust, the lack of sleep all catching up and compounding, coming down on our heads like fists of god, maybe – that i can render myself speechless for an afternoon nap. (not that i EVER napped at burning man. that was a frigging pipe dream).

Layout of BRC 2011. Taken from the Burning Man website (photo linked)

jay and i traipse down D for divorce. (sidenote: one funny thing about BRC is that each street is named after the main theme – since this year is called RITES OF PASSAGE, each of the horizontal streets – A, B, C, etc. – are given names for rites of passage – A for anniversary, B for birthday, D for divorce, H for hajj, K for kindergarten. really kind of witty). anyway, jay and i head down our street, kind of wiped out, kind of… at odds with how we feel about the whole kit and caboodle. i, personally, am not making fast friends with anybody in particular. i am friendly with some of the people in our camp, because you kind of have to be friendly when you are all wearing as little clothes as possible and baby-wiping your bits in a tent that never has its door zipped up. (our south african neighbours – brad and roberto – definitely got eyefuls that i think they were not angling for.)


anyway. shannon was making friends like rambo, but i still felt very alone. i wanted to lean on chris but she was on her own journey. i wanted to lean on jay, but i wasn’t sure if he was enjoying himself. i felt like i had pressured people to come to BRC and i wasn’t sure if it had been the best idea. i was on a trajectory, and i had no way of stopping myself. i was stranded in the middle of a desert. i was family-less, man-less. there was nothing to it. i had to continue on.


jay and i head to nectar village, which is a combination of new-age, shamanistic camps all bonded together. there is a huge buddha made out of metal that we can see from the street. outside of the entrance, there are hundreds of bicycles locked up. there are colourful tents with people lying under them, people doing disco yoga (!!), people getting massages. someone in the street stops and pours honey down my throat. i’ve never liked honey before, but for some reason, in the dry desert, in the heat, the honey fluid as water, i like it. it’s soothing. jay and i laugh. what the hell are we doing?? we are living in a city where topless people squirt honey down throats. we are living in a city where we allow strangers to squirt condiments down our throats. we enter nectar village, look at the seminars that are being put on, and realise that we are too late for any of the interesting seminars. and the massage line up is too long. pass. we continue on. we reach the gay camps, where people have set up frames with thousands of strings of gimp (plastic string. i realise that “gimp” is not a-okay to use anymore. habit.)and we walk through it, like a human carwash. it is the oddest sensation. there is another frame with thousands of metallic streamers hanging, and that one tickles us.

in the sparkler car wash


we go to the roller disco and dance to electro funk (the roller disco is clearly one of my favourite places in this desert. it reminds me of my canadian upbringing – this girl loves an arena, was a rink rat growing up, so anything remotely similar just thrills me). we find a trampoline and i am reminded that jay is a class-a gymnast, because he does flips and jumps. we find that we can only jump for a few minutes  – because the air is so full of sere dust, we get winded 10 times faster than in normal weather. i climb a giant adirondack chair that has a rocking horse at the top, and i rock for a while, a man in chaps cheering me on from beside me, steadying the horse with a boot-toe. (i try not to fall while climbing down because i think that “death by adirondack fall” is not a good line to have in an obituary.) jay and i run into chris, who is heading back to the hospital ward. this is where i am amazed at how the desert provides. in a city of 53 000 people, jay and i run into chris when she needs us, when she cannot find the medical ward. jay and i then split off, jay going with chris to make sure that she gets her IV, because at this point we still believe that she is suffering from dehydration – or water intoxication – and i head off to eat lunch.


after lunch, shannon finds me. she’s just had the best massage ever, she says. she tells me how she stripped down to only her panties (!) on the main esplanade (the busy busy street that separates the city from the playa area) and how a new hampshire psychologist rubbed her down with shea butter. i like this idea. my back is hurting from sleeping on the hard ground. i am going to go with her to find paul the psyschologist-cum-masseuse, and i am going to get my tits out, too. because i haven’t yet stripped down in the desert, and part of me really wants to. i know that i wouldn’t get looked at askance because there are so many breasts and bits here that you lose sight of the sexuality of it after a while. after a while, everybody is just skin, quilts of arms and nipples and testicles and thighs coated with dust. but i haven’t been brave enough.


as a twelve year old, someone wrote “anna is flat chested” on the blackboard and when we came back from recess, everybody saw it. the boys would chant “FCS” at me, which stood for “flat chested syndrome”. i’m still conscious about my breasts to this day. i just dated a breast man, and i don’t think he realised how shocked, how secretly, blushingly pleased i was when he told me one time, earnestly, that he really loved my breasts. but i still remember, sometimes, how horrified i was at my body. how i still can get so horrified. how i don’t consider the beauty.


i stand to the desert with my breasts out, arms akimbo, greased up from my massage, paul packing up his massage table, people face down all around me. paul has just kissed the top of my head and told me that i am a good person and that he hopes that i find the good things in my life. i am loose from the kneading of my muscles. i feel fucking defiant. i feel the energy of this place running up through the soles of my feet. nobody is pointing and laughing at me. i am good. i am kind of beautiful.


aaron and shannon at the tent. paul is in the blue in the background.


i leave the massage tent and i head to the workshop that i have decided to do. i want to find my power animal. this is something that i would usually scoff at but as i enter the shaman dome, as i am smudged with sage, i feel good. i need something to pass the afternoon. i need something to focus on.

we – 40 strangers – lie with our heads to the altar in the middle of the yurt, the blinding white yurt, that clear, hard sun coming in through the cracks in the fabric. there is no hiding from this sun. it finds us everywhere. our female shaman leader walks overtop of us, softly hitting a drum, and we close our eyes, almost all touching each other, going into whatever form of meditation we want. i lie there, so happy to be immobile and just quiet. i can barely hear the hub bub of the city overtop of the drum beat. we meditate twice, and while the people around me share their experiences in grandiose terms (“i was a white jaguar.” “i was a black eagle.” “i was a rainbow lion.”) i just sit and listen and observe. nobody has a modest power animal. i think “you are all fucking bullshitters” but i am not upset because i have just had a genuine experience with my meditation, and i think that i have a lot to think about when i get back into the city. i see how i embody the snake. apollo – with his snake, python. the snake in the tree of life. the snake of wisdom. things all of a sudden make some sense.


before dinner that night, chris is back in our tent. her symptoms have worsened. she is twitching and shaking, and there is a fear in her eyes that i cannot identify. we do the only thing that we really can – we radio in for an ambulance and she is taken back to the medical ward. jay and i go and we sit by her bedside. she wants to leave BRC, and we do not know how to do it. i walk her back and forth from the port a potty to the hospital cot, and she gets woozier and woozier as a result of the tylenol pm that she has taken. the sedative is a good thing. after a few hours of observing her, she settles down for a sleep. jay and i are tense, wound up like cobras, our shoulders tight. we are so helpless. we do not know what to do. we do not know what we can do to remove her from the situation. we decide that for the night we will lose our minds into the desert, and we will figure it out tomorrow.


we watch that trojan horse burn.

shannon, jay, and i all paint ourselves up, and we head out to the horse. we find an art car that is blasting electro versions of frankie goes to hollywood, and we dance up a frenzy. shannon dances with a married couple, and jay and i stand on the sidelines and giggle. a couple of men dressed as hicks tell jay that “his girlfriend is beautiful.” this really makes me laugh, but with sheer delight. shannon loses sight of us in the melee of the growing crowd, and when she finds us again she has made friends with boys from new york, has a PBR in her hand. one of the boys is telling her that she has boogers in her nose and she blithely picks them out in front of him. she doesn’t recognize jay at first because of his face paint, because he looks almost like an inuit man. we dance and dance and dance, staring up at dj seva who looks like a fucking god in his art car. there are so many people dancing on and around the car that it bounces, and i am convinced that it is going to fall on us. people have become wild things, all dressed in fierce costumes, a crazy red-lighted masquerade. we are chasing away the cold of the night-desert with our wind-milling arms, with our cossack legs. we are making a circle of dust with our feet, stomping out our excitement. the horse is cordoned off. the fire team is in place. we are chanting “burn that horse. somebody burn that horse!” over and over again, clapping and clapping and clapping.


heart deco art car


finally, finally, the horse is set on fire. i don’t remember how fast it happened, but all of a sudden, fireworks are shooting out of its nostrils, and suddenly i am anthropomorphizing, feeling so very sorry for the thing that is burning in front of me. the frame shoots up in flame, white white flame, the hottest fire i have ever felt, and i have to shield my face as pieces of ash fly up into the air, coming down around us like snowflakes, landing on our eyelashes and our hair. people stare at the horse and cheer and scream and chant, and when i look back at the people behind me, i can see that everybody’s face looks like they are in church – there is a reverence at the spectacle.

the horse in flames.

reverence at the spectacle.


we go to bed dusty and ashy, momentarily having lost our concern for chris in the smoking equine remains that lie in the middle of the desert. all might long wild fey people dance around the coals. we sleep hard. we have a big day ahead of us. things are bound to happen.


read about day 1 here

read about day 2 here

read about day 4 here

read about day 5 here

read about my final thoughts here


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