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the things i learned from burning man.

November 21, 2011

funny that i wasn’t able to write this post until more than 3 months after coming home. life got in the way of digesting what had happened. and to be honest, i find that it’s hard (for me) to write anything meaningful directly after anything meaningful – if something important happens to me, i take time to think about it. when i came back from working at kesagami, it took me about 6 months to start writing (GOOD) poetry about it, and more than a year to even think about starting a non-fiction piece.



burning man was best summed up by the phrase “there’s magic everywhere.” i met a lot of people – not just in BRC, but also in san francisco with shannon beforehand – and there were so many moments that were like oracles – where people would just look at me and say something so clear and so out of the ordinary, and i would understand that it was a piece of information to be stored away for later. in that regard, burning man – and i use the term “burning man” to refer to the whole trip, san fran and all – was a treasure hunt. i first realised this – really realised this – when shannon and i were standing underneath the giant bronze cupola of the palace of fine arts in san francisco, and a grandmother with her small grandson walked by. after i obliged and took a picture of them, she clicked her tongue and laughed, and said to me “oh, there’s magic everywhere!” afterwards, shannon and i looked at each other and we knew that the hair on the backs of our necks had stood up at the same time. it was a good omen for the upcoming trip.


in the centre of the palace of fine arts.


one of the most prevalent themes was one of companionship. i’m a pretty solidly single gal. (whattup!) i date, but i’ve been single my whole life. sometimes it’s something that makes me sad, but most of the time i’m happy with the empowered way i can live – working up north for a summer without having to write letters to a partner, hopping on a plane and going to ireland and touring to see whatever i wanted to see at any time, going to burning man without any thoughts of anybody left behind at home. there are ups and downs to any situation, really. the point of that is: i don’t think i give off any whiffs of desperation when it comes to being single and when it comes to dating because it’s not something that is often in the forefront of my mind. (i had someone tell me once that they suspected that i was somewhere on the autism spectrum when it came to dating. ha. amazing.) to have people seek me out to tell me their thoughts on my lovelife was disquieting, especially in the important ways that they were delivered.


BRC desert memory:

in the middle of the maelstrom of the conscious dreamers bar, at burning man, a very, very drunk man named steve – from england – was kicked out of the tent for rubbing his buttcrack all over the tent poles, and then swinging his penis in a helicopter motion. before that, he had been talking to me, leaning in close to my face, asking me if i had ever dated a man who liked to lick my armpits. (“nope, never have, steve.”) in the middle, suddenly, of his drunken mumbling and swaying, he straightened up and spoke directly to me, a surprisingly lucid look in his eyes.

“one day, you are going to find a man who really loves you.”

and then his spine loosened and he fell back, adjusting the life-jacket that he was wearing around his waist as a diaper.

i stared. where on earth had that come from? as silly as it sounds, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. it seemed oracular. he looked vaguely sibylline, like he had been intoxicated on temple smoke and then had then spat out some coherent fragments of a prediction. i thanked him. what else could i do?


steve and me. pleased as punch, apparently.


washington square memory:

in san francisco, we met bill, an artist, and his amazing wife carol. they were staying with us at the washington square inn. (an amazing B&B that shanny and i splurged on. we spent most of our days either walking on the sea or lying, drinking red wine in the washington square park with the homeless people. also amazing.) bill and carol and shannon and i drank white wine at the B&B’s happy hour and went out for pizza.

bill and carol meant so much to us. they were the surrogate parents, put into our lives right before our burning man rite of passage to reassure us, to provide us with strength. carol later admitted to us (when we saw her after the festival, purely by chance, in the window of the restaurant that we had eaten at together before) that she had performed reiki on us without us knowing, to send us on our way with energy. when she had attempted to reach out to us again, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the desert, she said that she sensed that we didn’t need anything. we didn’t need the energy boost. our energy was just shining.

bill and carol gave us the love that we clearly needed before we set out on such an adventure. and they said many things that stuck with us, and will stay with us for a long time to come. when we ran into them when we had just come back into san francisco, after having a drink with them, bill turned to me and said

“you know that you will find someone, right?”

he wasn’t being facetious or patronizing. there was an incredible earnestness in his face. he was speaking as a father figure, as someone who cared about me, even after only knowing me for that brief but so important period of time. i was stunned, and probably stuttered out some self-deprecating response, using deflective humour as my typical defense. i tend to deflect comments about my love life with blitheness and laughter, especially if i feel that said comments are cutting a little too close to home (e.g., my extended family constantly asking me if i have a boyfriend yet. lovely.).

bill said another thing that struck. bill was always talking about movies. when he mentioned “scent of a woman”, he quoted something from the movie that made sense. he said

“there’s a scene where they’re dancing a tango, and the female lead can’t tango, and so she asks what she’s supposed to do, and the answer is – you just tango on.

you just tango on!”

yes, i thought. that’s all you really have to do. sometimes you just have to tango on.”


wonderful bill and carol


i learned that burning man is a mirror. black rock city holds a mirror up to you. you see the realest fibres of yourself in between the desert dust and the cacophony. i was not strong all of the time. the mirror showed me my weakest moments – standing in the middle of the playa, sobbing to some unknown place, some unknown deity held somewhere between the white sand and the sun. the mirror showed me that i have strong, deep-bred insecurities. that i hold back from joining in, and that i was wary of the radical inclusion that burning man was touted to have. that for most of the week, this wariness stopped me from having fun in moments when i could have had more fun. i saw that i had a lot more work to do. a great distance still to travel on that inter-state highway through my heart and lungs and brain, up through my throat.

and the mirror of black rock city also showed me that i have innate and powerful strength inside of me. that i like to spend time on my own, and that there is nothing wrong with that. that i have a seed of extreme adventurousness in my soul, something that i never really thought that i was brave enough to have. it showed me that i was a striking mix of wild and responsible, that when the chips were down i could take care of a suffering friend in between taking my tube top off in the middle of a massage tent and meditating over a drum beat. that i felt the most beautiful four days dirty with sand in my hair, and that that was reinforced by people calling out to me from the shade of their yurts: you’re beautiful! you are rocking that day-glo, sister! you are rocking that fanny pack! i saw that i survived. more than that – i thrived.


photo credit to shannon busta


desert memory:

in the temple, i wrote:

“self. you came to the desert, and you thrived.

you are stronger than you know.”


i wasn’t sure if i wanted to tell that to anyone, but i don’t know if it’s like a birthday candle wish anymore. i think that instead of just letting only the fire know of my strength, of the beauty i found in myself in the dust bowl, i should let the world know. that maybe repeating it only makes it stronger. makes me stronger. because in the mirror of black rock city, i saw someone powerful and beautiful, and i want to be her for a long time to come.


playa queen.


to read about day 1 at burning man click here

to read about day 2 at burning man click here

to read about day 3 at burning man click here

to read about day 4 at burning man click here

to read about day 5 at burning man click here


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