“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars….” ~ Jack Kerouac
Setting intentions and following through with them comes naturally to some. Others like myself become distracted by even the slightest whisper of a thought, and the internal weather vane swings 180 degrees in the blink of an eye. Intentions can be as simple as completing a laundry list of household chores or as grand as completing a marathon or trip around the world, or becoming the accomplished artist you always dreamed you‘d be. It brings a sense of accomplishment and motivation to achieve goals, which then become benchmarks. Some believe that the setting of intentions also leads to the manifestation of things that would not otherwise occur; that in order for some things to happen someone must believe they will and work toward them. For example, finding true love or a new career path ~ these things rarely fall into place without the individual participating in their manifestation. Other things may not be so obvious, and meditation on the fine print of life and focused effort toward desired changes are necessary for some of the smaller things we all wish for but don’t realize we have a part in.
Over the course of the past 18 months I’ve grown through and into a place in my life that has required concerted effort on my part for certain things to work out the way that I want them to. One of those things has been the development of my independence of thought, and another has been the concurrent development of my creative spirit, which had been lying mostly dormant for quite some time due to environments and relationships and mental states of being.
My college career started out creatively, but after a semester or two it turned into an average experience of keg parties and spring breaks in florida and denim and football and baseball caps and television, despite my continued academic load of poetry, writing, religion and philosophy. I did what I had to do to get by and make the grade, but didn’t put anything into creating beauty. I never stayed up late working on a poem that I was carefully crafting; I never bothered to find a subject to be passionate about when researching art; I wrote standard essays on the existence of God and the meaning of time. The dance classes I said I’d take were too early in the morning and the clubs and teams I wanted to join required too much time and commitment. I spent a summer in DC interning for the Shakespeare Theatre, hoping that would lead to a path in the arts, but I ended up sitting at a desk, answering a phone just like any other job. I worked all through school in a sterile hospital environment and outside of my required schoolwork did almost nothing creative or that I was passionate about. I eventually joined the national co-ed community service fraternity out of desperation to find something fulfilling, and spent the nights I wasn’t working one of my two jobs volunteering in soup kitchens or cleaning up campus grounds.
Finally, the summer after my junior year, I found a program and place where my natural and creative spirit could unfold ~ the New England Literature Program ~, wherein myself and 20 other co-eds spent 6 weeks living in the white mountains in New Hampshire where we studied the naturalists and, due to the banning of televisions, radios, computers and other distractions, we were forced to entertain ourselves. We learned to sing and contra dance and paint and draw and build things, climbed trees and rocks and learned the basics of minimalist survival skills. Returning to Ann Arbor, I felt rejuvenated and that I had found several potential paths to follow that would lead me to the life I imagined and desired. it was also there and then that I also fell into the hippie counterculture, which encouraged participation and community in ways that regular student life seemed to lack.
Then, however, I met jay, and while he is also a creative person, for the first six months we knew eachother we did what most new lovers do: surround ourselves with eachother and nothing else. days spent in bed. nights spent cuddling in front of movies. we didn’t really get a lot done. Then, in fall of 98, we moved to California and had to face the reality of needing jobs. Good jobs, to pay the ridiculously high rent and living expenses of San Francisco in the Dot.Com.Bubble era. We fell into office drone environments and while we at first spent a lot of our free time going out to live music and other creative arts, that eventually dwindled down to a minimum, and for a while I think we were both bored, depressed and unhappy. The hippie community we had fizzled out as friends moved away and bands broke up, and eventually we were sort of left standing alone. At least it felt that way to me.
The Burning Man community is ever-present in San Francisco, but sort of intimidating if you don’t know what you’re in for – the beautiful people in elaborate costumes and art cars and sets and events and fire and exotica seem like something much more ________ than they actually are – you really can just jump in, but standing in the outside it might look like a pool of sharks. At some point, through friends of friends, we started hanging out a lot more with the BM community, attending fashion shows and art exhibits and performances, and I became inspired by the general open attitude, perseverance, creativity, and do-it-yourself nature of the community, not to mention the enormous amount of fun everyone seemed to be having while doing it. A couple of years and labor day weekends went by, and for various reasons we didn’t take the final step of actually GOING to burning man instead of just soaking up the community in SF. Finally, in 2004, we made our first trip to the playa (the 2004 report is here), which, while a wonderful time and unforgettable, was also full of emotional and logistical pitfalls, partly due to the absence of comrades (almost everyone who had earlier in the year said that they would go for various reasons did not, leaving only 3 of us to go together) and partly due to our frustrated state of being in the regular world, which carried over. We left BM ‘04 with the intentions of expanding our experience, taking responsibility for our participation, and motivating ourselves to become the people we wished we had been while there.
A lot of people will tell you that burning man is a life changing experience, and it’s a hard notion to swallow without a little bit of judgment. I myself found some participants’ “awakening” stories to be dramatic and somewhat laughable. Seeing visions while tripping on LSD in the desert is not what I personally consider an awakening, but when you hear someone tell you their burning man awakening stories with such passion and fire in their eyes, it’s really hard not to believe them, even if they sound silly and ridiculous. Those who live in the bay area quite often complain about having to listen to Burners talk about their playa experiences. To those not involved they sound shallow, and the repetitive nature of the tales can be downright boring if you’ve never shared any of the context.
As soon as tickets when on sale earlier this year we bought them, and began the planning process. Who would we go with? Would any of our friends who said they would go last year go this year? What sorts of events did we want to try to get into? What did we want to be able to DO out there that we needed to prepare for? Seeing all the things possible in 2004 made us excited to find things we could do in 2005.
Since BM ’04, jay and I have become more and more involved in the year-round BM community in SF – attending workshops, helping with events, working on our personal talents and creative tendencies. Jay and I have both become hoop performers to a certain degree, jay’s been heavily into photography and has received a lot of positive feedback on his work, and I’ve rediscovered certain passions such as dance and interpretive arts. Over the course of the past year I think both of us have come into our creative selves with much brighter spirits, and we were really really eager to get out onto the playa, a place where whatever we felt like doing or being would be accepted, and, more importantly, appreciated.
Burning Man 2005 photos
We aligned ourselves with a small group of 16 other people (Strawberry, Raydeus, Soleil, Matt, Holly, Mateo, Jason, Eve, Mario, Vivian, Josie, Snowflake, Spring, Jiwon, Eddie, Eric) who had similar dispositions and expectations – a key factor to happiness on the playa – including my friend Jason, one of my favorite and most beloved people and I knew would be a wonderful person to burn with. The large communal camps have never interested me, as quite honestly most of the time I don’t work well with others and have little patience for mistakes, forgetfulness, and lack of responsibility that seems to plague the larger communities. The sharing of chores and duties always causes petty fights and resentment, and more than one friend of ours had extremely negative experiences in 2004 in their large theme camps. So we joined a bunch of people who all agreed that we’d only share costs and responsibility for things that were absolutely necessary in order to create the camp we wanted – no shared meals or space or duties, just a little shared money and labor to put up a sound system and decorate our public space to reflect the theme du jour: Crack Cookies. As in: cracked out cookie monsters. A childlike theme with a grown up twist; a prediction for twisted playfulness, hedonism, and all-out decadence.
Our camp was accepted as a sound/theme camp, and we had a definite space assigned and waiting for us. This also meant that we were allowed to arrive earlier than the general public in order to set up camp before opening day. In 2004 we were only on the playa from Thursday to Monday – 4 ½ long days in the desert for some; much too short of a time for us, and we resolved to get there as early as possible this year. The earliest we could get our shit together, rent the car, pack it up, and get out of town was Sunday afternoon, and we arrived shortly after sunset. We set up our camp in the dark, and headed out into our first night. I don’t remember it being anything special, other than it being relatively unpopulated and quiet, with the clear desert sky showing a billion stars.
The next day (Monday) we started to set up the public areas of the camp, where visitors would lounge and dance and laugh. The delightful being that is Strawberry – a woman of boundless energy and talent, with a knack for coordinating troops and a penchant for hallucinogenics – took charge of décor and draped blue fabrics inside the shade structures, threw dozens of pillows and stuffed animals into piles, and using a blue-dyed parachute and some large pieces of fabric turned our rental truck into a blue cookie monster with huge googley eyes that stared at passersby. Jay and raydeus and mateo (Djs) put up a DJ booth, wired the turntables and speakers, and connected all our lights to the diesel powered generator. A few hours of hard work in the hot sun and we were pretty ready to rock. Jay and I hopped on the bikes and headed out to see what else was going on.
Out in the middle they were still putting up The Man, and a small crew of people were crouched down, rapidly scuttling along the ground. We approached and a man asked if we’d like to become Pod People. With an affirmative nod we agreed and were directed to a shallow ditch in witch Pod People were frantically putting and wiring together a string of lights, facing up toward the sky. The circular ditch encircled The Man, a diameter of a couple hundred yards. It was backbreaking work, putting the lights in, plugging them together, filling in the ditch with the loose clay. After a few minutes, the wind kicked up, and suddenly we were pelted with a shower of small rocks that stung on impact. It was funny at first, but didn’t let up and soon we abandoned the Pod People, hopped on our bikes, and outran the storm back to camp.
We returned to the site of our shade structure and camp uprooted and completely blown over. One of the ropes that tied down our shade structure had been ripped out of the fabric and the whole thing took flight. The wind was blowing too strong to even attempt to put it back up, so we moved everything to a safer location and waited the storm out somewhere else.
The rest of the week – Tuesday through Friday – was spent doing the usual things, none of which are very much interesting to read about, as the experience is very sensual and environmental. We made it a point this year to attend some of the larger hoop gatherings (with Jay‘s awesome bike rack it was easy to haul off to the other side of the playa with several hoops), and had a magnificent time hooping it up in the sun and in the darkness with the best hoopers in the world. Thursday we lit our fire hoops for the first time at Hookadome, and by Friday my body was so bruised it looked like I’d been in an accident. Bruises up my arms, my thighs, the backs of my knees, my shoulder blades and the backs of my hands. My body was sore and even though I was bruised and battered, I never felt better. I was energized, happy, conscious and present.
Being out for the whole week, watching the city fill up and literally feeling the increase in energy hour by hour was enough of an experience in itself. There were no more terrible dust storms, the party went on and on endlessly, and everyone was in love. We found and played with nearly everyone we knew, and spent the week swinging between intense relaxation and activity to the point of exhaustion.
a very dark cloud, of course, hung over this year’s burn: Katrina. the news of the damage had barely begun to surface when we left, but by Tuesday afternoon the news flowed in with the participants, and many of us felt incredibly pangs of guilt, helplessness, and estrangement. there we were, in the middle of the desert, hot, dry, and celebrating life, resistance, and self-reliance while millions of people were underwater, drowning in body and in spirit, begging for help. one of our camp mates was scheduled to leave early and attend a wedding in NoLa on Saturday, but by Thursday it was determined that there would be no wedding that weekend, and so she stayed.
The pinnacle of the week was Friday night. Everyone had arrived, and the city was literally vibrating with sound and light. Some complain about the increase in size of the city and feel that the final weekend is full of spectators and not participants. This is true, but it also lends to the dramatic increase in energy. We hooked up with a crew that night that we love – Kiki and Marshall and Wilks and Naomi and crew – and floated around the playa in their converted Airstream trailer (remote control powered – not in tow!) that was filled with red light and plush pillows – the LOVE SUB. It took us from whomp to whomp, crawling almost silently across the desert floor and glowing a war red, stopping ever so often to greet a friend. at about 3:00 a.m. we rolled up to the Flaming Lotus Girls instillation.
Never in my life have I seen such hedonism, such debauchery, such complete indulgence and love, some good, some evil, but all nonviolent and all with complete abandon. The petals of the flaming lotus grew out of the dust, metal arches standing 10-15 feet tall and aflame with white hot fire. In the middle of the lotus sat a high and wide pile of logs that made for an island of seating. The Space Cowboys Unimog – a roving set of decks and a sound system – hosted the Djs, and simultaneously broadcast the sets to a local radio frequency. Other art cars then tuned in, and the party could be heard echoing across the playa. Thousands of people were pie-eyed and glowing, covered in layers of dust and fake fur, glitter, leather and lace, grinding deep into the music and each other.
We saw nearly everyone we knew that night, going between the Space Cowboys and the Disorient bus – located about 500 yards away, where a similar gathering coincided – and it was at the bus that we found Orange and danced as the sun rose, blazing red in the grey desert sky. I forgot to mention that I spent this time wearing a pink and orange fluorescent fur bikini and legwarmers.
We blissfully watched the sunrise, and returned to the flaming lotus, where many of our Crack Cookies were packing up and getting ready to leave. Starting out anywhere in the dark and watching the sun rise is always somehow a magical transformation – a feeling of birth and a burst of energy never fails to follow. At abut 7:00 a.m., breakfasts of various kinds were being served from art cars and bike racks – pancakes, mimosas, bloody marys, fruits – and the orange sun warmed everyone and everything with increasing brightness and heat. Strawblurry, in her never-ending Mama Bear-ness, had returned to camp to get everyone juice, water, and Kleenex and had returned also with Jason’s wife, Jiwon, who had been sleeping back at camp.
We eventually went to bed around 11:00 a.m. that day (Saturday) and spent most of the afternoon sleeping in our underwear in the common area, as it was too hot in our tent. That night, of course, was the night of The Burn. We awoke in the late afternoon, just in time to get excited for the sunset and the impending celebration. We watched the sun go down, cheered, had a bit to eat, got ready in our “playa prom” attire, found some fellow Cookies, hopped on our bikes, and headed out to the Man.
After dark, the citizens of BRC surround the man, and fire performers (the fire conclave) form the inner ring. Dearest Orange and our friend Jaime had joined the conclave as fire hoopers, but there were literally hundreds of performers out there, some a quarter mile away on the other side of the circle, and there was no way we could find them. Fire jump ropes, fire poi, fire staff, fire swords, fire jugglers, fire hoopers lit up and showed us what they could do. Then, out of the darkness, Jaime and Orange stepped forward with their fire hoops, directly in front of us, and it brought everything together.
After the conclave performance, the crowd began to really pulse, and soon the Man was ignited. Unfortunately, we were sitting downwind, and instead of the fantastic fireworks show those sitting at 3:00 admired, those of us at 9:00 were showered with embers and engulfed in smoke. Many screamed and we all covered our heads. Soon the explosion settled down, and we all turned our faces upward and basked in the hot glow of a structural fire.
The rest of that evening was predictable, and we went to bed before most others. For most of the day on Saturday I had battled a urinary tract infection, and it wasn’t getting any better. We were both utterly exhausted physically and mentally – a week of bike riding, dancing, hooping in both the hot sun and through cold desert nights, had taken it’s toll, and after getting up on Sunday we determined it was probably best to pack up our camp and leave after the Temple Burn to avoid the long wait (and then long drive) to get out on Monday morning.
The temple this year wasn’t nearly as large and elaborate as 2004’s, and I can honestly say that I hadn’t been appreciating it nearly as much as I should have all week. Perhaps the knowledge that we were leaving directly afterward made an impact on the experience, or perhaps it was the exhaustion combined with the sadness of knowing it was coming to and end again, but the temple burn really didn’t impact me nearly as much as it had before, and we headed back to camp shortly after it went up in flames.
We packed the remainder of our things onto the car, found as many of our campmates as we could to say good-bye, went across the street to the infamous Otter Camp (where a wealth of well-known musicians, yogis, and teachers gather), where Hamsa Lila was playing for a while – one last act -, and then finally climbed into the car and headed out at about 1:30 am.
We made it about an hour down the dark, narrow, treeless road before we realized we were too tired to drive, and pulled over, as many others had done, for a nap. We slept for a couple of hours and then made our way back east, through Reno and up the grade, finally arriving in Truckee at sunrise. We stopped for breakfast – hot food!- at the only open coffeehouse, and made it back to Oakland before noon.
Since returning from this year’s Burning Man, my life has been almost non-stop. The amount of creative energy coming out of the community fuels year-round events, parties, art shows, performances, and gatherings. While my entire life doesn’t revolve around Burning Man, it’s a large part of my life and one that I currently really, really cherish because, more importantly than the friends and the fun, of what it has allowed me to be.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw