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in which i explain burning man – day 4

October 28, 2011

the second last of our days at brc dawns late. shannon and i have taken to sleeping as much as we can. we wake up at about 8 or 9 every morning, which for a city that never, ever sleeps is a pretty good sleep-in. we have clearly abandoned our hope of waking up to see the sunrise. keeping our bodies healthy is much more important than that, and sleep is pretty damn healing in this place. it’s the only time when you don’t hear all of the shit around you.

by this point in my journey here, i am starting to get a little sick of some of the people in our camp. there is a boy named aaron who keeps on following shannon around, and i am starting to get selfish. in my head, i am chanting i am her best friend. why can’t i have time with her? there are a few times that shannon manages to shake him off and we have time together, but for the most part his nose is nearly up her ass. i don’t like aaron. i get a bad feeling from him, and i have from the start, but there is nothing that i can do or say that won’t make me look a little deranged, so i just spend a lot of time away from camp. in our camp, people lounge under the shade structures. people have turned the double-decker ironwrought bike transport lorry into a double-decker bed – shaded naps on the bottom, sunny naps on the top. they pile into it like sausages. they overturn buckets and use them as djembes. everybody has a damn guitar. and not everybody is good at it. this is where i feel most isolated. i find the people in my camp mostly idiotic, as so many of them are frat-boys and frat-girls here to party their brains out and neglect hydration. a few are fantastic, though – mark, the school teacher from ireland who reads me yeats in the dusk one day as a gift to me, brad and roberto, our south african neighbours who give us privacy, who respect us even when we are living in such close quarters. but mostly, i am starting to get fed up. as i walk to the washroom that morning, i see someone stumble out of a tent and barf on the dry ground. idiot, i think. i am not having a namaste moment.

i am also starting to get sick of the dust. it has some great side-effects – i havent had to wash my face, and most of us don’t stink even though we’ve been 4 days without washing. also, my braids stay in my hair, even without elastics on the end. for me, this is very cool. i spend the days playing with the tips of my french braids – the braids that shannon had to do for me, kneeling over my head, spraying my scalp with cool water in order to even half-get a comb through the dusty kinks.

i head out to the desert for another morning on my own. i think it’s time that i wrote something in the temple before it is burned in two nights’ time. and tonight they burn the man, and i think that i should probably get a few shots of him before he goes down.

the man.

the desert – the openness, the utmost heat – is the one place in brc where i feel most comfortable. by now, most of the people that i am here with or who i am camping with have found niches where they like to spend their afternoons. afternoons are the dullest points of the days here – the hottest, where only englishmen and mad-dogs dare to walk in the sun – and so they warrant a space to relax in. most people i know have adopted specific bar camps or hammock camps as their own, but i have not found that space of comfort. for me, i like to wander out into the playa, which is fairly dangerous during the afternoon heat peak. but there is something eerie and wild about the space that we are camping in – the ground is slowly starting to turn from parched and cracked to a sugar-like consistency – from all of the footprints and traffick. indeed, that night, i will see clouds of dust rise up around people like coronas, everybody becoming a haze.

for the meantime, i have a temple to go see.

the road to the temple.

the temple is especially overwhelming today. i think it is because tomorrow it is cordoned off and prepared for burning, as the man was today when i walked by him. people are putting their last words up on the walls. even as i sit in a corner, feeling a little out of place in the middle of the raw energy of it all, a man comes by and hands me a sharpie. i take it. i know that i have to write something, because i feel it in me. i find a blank space on the wall, and i write my message to myself. i think of it as a birthday wish – tell people, and it extinguishes itself, doesn’t come true. the only people who will read it are people who do not know me, and nobody can attach my name to it. only the yawning maw of impending fire knows what i’ve given up of myself to be burned off. people are burning off things of their own, too. things that they have carried from across the country or around the world. i can’t help but think that the temple is going to give off a toxic cloud of ash when it finally falls down. maybe that is a good thing for us – that we are excreting our toxicity and sadness into a structure that can hold it, and then everything gets incinerated. gone forever. there is something soothing in that.

i cry, here, too. i stand up on the upper balcony and watch as people lie or meditate in the playa dust below. some people are naked, and some are clothed. and all the while, there is an odd song being played on the automated chimes and gongs that adorn the walls of the temple. as the song picks up, the wind picks up, too, and one of the men in the middle of the desert floor stands up and begins shouting something, twirling a feathered stick over his head. people watch him, or they don’t, and then as the song starts to slow and the chimes go back to sleep, he sits back down. the wind calms. the hair on the back of my neck settles. i can’t help but feel that i was just privy to something very powerful, but i’m not sure what. all i know is that this place warrants more respect than any church i’ve ever been in, which is an odd and unsettling feeling. it’s not strange to cry here. i don’t feel self-conscious with tears. people surround me, crying quietly – or not quietly – and we all release something into the dry air, though i don’t know what.

looking down at the floor of the temple, main building.

the roof of the temple, seen from inside.

slightly bedraggled, looking a bit manic - with the temple behind.

i walk out beyond the temple – and i soon realise my mistake. it’s a hot, hot day, and i’ve already finished my water. i want to go and try to see the art that goes farther than the temple, but all of a sudden i see that i need a bike for that. doing it on foot isn’t going to cut it. instead, i turn, and head into the side of the semi-circle camp that i have not yet been to.

i’m lagging. i’m not doing so well, in fact. i know that i need to find somewhere to sit down and get cool, and preferably find some water to fill up on, or at least some sort of liquid. as i walk, men call from bars – darlin do you want a beer? – but i laugh and shake my head no thank you. beer is the last thing i need. in fact, aside from a little wine that i slugged back in order to try and nap (that did not work) i have pretty much abstained from alcohol. if i have had some, it’s been one drink or two. not enough to get me anywhere near drunk, and thank god for that. after seeing people thrash around in the hospital as a result of dehydration, there is no way that i am going to risk that. my body just doesn’t want it.

i see a huge shade structure where people are playing mediocre music. i stumble in, and sit, and then i realise that everyone around me is eating sno cones. there is a woman who is hand-cranking ice into shavings, and a bar of flavoured syrup. i am in heaven. someone has smiled on me. as i go up to get my sno cone (cherry) another woman walks by me, holding a mister, and she sprays me with cold water. my skin is so hot that it jumps as each spray hits me. it is almost uncomfortable, but it does what i needed it to do – within a few moments, i feel alive again. not a wilted flower anymore. i listen to the mediocre music as i eat my sno cone, and after about 20 minutes, i head over to chris and jay’s camp.


chris and jay aren’t there. i have an odd feeling in the pit of my gut. the car is gone from their camp, and paolo and jacq are nowhere to be seen. but chris and jay’s tent is still there. i unzip it, feeling slightly guilty, and i see that her sleeping bag is still there, too. has she gone? did she bring jay with her? i try to feel for her presence, and i cannot. did i miss something huge? i am so confused. i sit for a moment at the eerily quiet campground. there is no one around to calm me. i go to their supply tent and unzip it, too, and i know immediately that they have left me. jay’s bag is gone.

when shannon sees me next, i am full of rage. inexplicable rage. i am sitting in the tent, thrashing around, and she – being used to my irrational mood swings as she has known me for 10 years – is watching me. they left i scream. they left and they didn’t tell me. they didn’t even leave a note. it’s funny, because as soon as i say the words, i realise that i am angry on behalf of myself. i am full of an incredible amount of ego. i should be happy that chris and jay managed to get out of brc, because that is what chris wanted – and needed. shannon lets me rage, agreeing amiably, keeping my mood in check, and then all of a sudden i am not angry anymore. i kind of realise the futility of the rage. why be angry? that was not my journey, as mine isn’t and wasn’t theirs. i am on a different burning man track. i am having a different burning man experience. and maybe the heat and the dust contributed to the rage, but as quickly as they brought up my anger, they tamp it down again. i exhale, a big sputtering exhale, and then i shrug. shannon shrugs, too. we agree that we cannot do anything about what other people need and want. we agree that it is time to watch the man burn.

sitting on a truck, filling out brc censuses.

the night has a totally manic energy. as we walk out into the desert, i marvel at how opposite shanny and i look in the middle of the desert – she has her flip flops on, relishing the sand on her feet. she is in shorts! i am swaddled in chunky long johns and a lumberjack shirt, with lace up shoes on. the thought of sand on my feet makes me want to gag, especially this fine, fine sand. we look like odd, mismatched sisters. i am amazed that we have made it through this week without any fights. we are close, but sometimes we are opposite. but somehow that has been working for us. she is the softness to my hardness, and the air to my fire. she can stoke me, but she can also extinguish me when need be.

we stop at the temple, first, where the earth harp has been set up. a musician has set up strings, stretching from an elevated platform serving as a sort of plectrum to the side of the temple. as we watch, he steps up to the strings and stands between them, clapping rosin onto his palms, and then he starts running his hands over the strings. the sound is amazing. there are no amplifiers. the sound is a result of the tension and the building amping the volume. the building is the instrument. it’s amazing, especially from a musician’s point of view. he plays as the sun sets.

the earth harp in action.

shannon and i start our man-burning night huddled back against a light post almost at the temple. we anticipate that there is going to be a buttload of people out watching the man burn – most of the camp, in fact – and we are right. the crowd starts growing back towards us, and we feel swamped. we get up to start walking, figuring that we will be able to see the man go up in flames and also be half-way back to camp. double duty. neither of us is particularly excited for the man to burn. it feels almost anticlimatic. he was never such an integral part of my life at brc. the main thing that little guy did was serve as a visual reminder of where i was – a breadcrumb. by looking at the man, i could see where i had to walk in order to get back to home camp.

as we are walking back, the fireworks start. a man who is driving a huge running show (you can’t make this shit up) invites us to stand on the shoe with him and watch from an elevated perspective. there, in between all of the burners and giant glowing alien head (??) we watch as the man burns. the heat is not so intense, but the initial burst of flame looks like something from an h-bomb – a plumy, billowing cloud of a fireball. people are screaming and cheering around us, and it feels almost violent. i don’t feel as sorry for the man as i did for the horse, as i found the horse more beautiful. but i still feel — something. we wait until he tumbles down to the ground, and then we head back home.

the man, ablaze.

we are so. tired. we fall into bed, without the aid of alcohol or downers. we are just so very exhausted. the energy at brc is starting to change – from a maniacal, frenzied thing into something a little softer. i feel good about the burning of the man. he seemed to hold himself as a sort of excuse for all of the wild things here, and now that he is out there, smoldering, i feel as though maybe things might be a little calmer. even as we sleep, people are starting to exit camp, exit the city.

things are coming to an end.

read about day 1 here

read about day 2 here

read about day 3 here

read about day 5 here

read about my final thoughts here



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