I went back to Burning Man this year. I know I never quite finished the previous post series about it, because like most of my projects, my instinct to refine ad infinitum resulted in them never getting done. I do think my thoughts on this year might be concise enough to put onto one post. Might… let’s find out by the end of it.
I was part of the Fire Conclave, again, which is the umbrella term for all 26 groups of fire dancers, each of which perform their own choreographed routine on the night before The Man Burns.
Not only is our show the final event that occurs before the event’s namesake, but this year we got front-row seats. That is to say, as soon as we were finished performing for the audience, we gathered our gear, huddled together, sat down, and turned around to watch him burn. And what a spectacle it was.
But really, that’s the most mundane part of Burning Man, as spectacular as it is. It’s one of very few things in Black Rock City that everyone knows for certain is going to happen. The rest of the week was far more unexpected, and mine had a strange hodgepodge of qualities that contrasted each other weird ways. For instance, despite being wildly unpredictable and indeed having no plan whatsoever for most of the week (in part because I lost my events booklet on Tuesday), my time in Black Rock City this year was very, very calm. There’s no shortage of partying hard on the Playa, and as much as I wanted to and even intended to this year, I simply… didn’t feel like it. Let me walk you through my week…
The start of it was fairly bumpy; after six and a half hours of waiting in line (seeing the sunrise while waiting in line wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought), I got my camp set up right on Esplanade by noon on Monday and immediately began visiting friends I had across the city. This already sharply contrasted with the beginning of my first burn, when I spontaneously made friends with a couple of other first-time burners and we spent much of the week galavanting around the city together. This time, my camp was filled with veterans and I never really felt like I needed to ‘go out there’ to have extremely wholesome conversations and connections with people. Indeed, camping on Esplanade made me feel like I never had to leave; by night, I simply sat on the scaffolding to gaze upon the illuminated art and citizenry.
Tuesday and Wednesday were my ‘party’ days, if I had any. Alcohol, music, and merriment is kicked up with every grain of dust out there, and I certainly did partake. I danced with fire among friends and made a few new ones… but Wednesday night was the peak for me. Oddly enough, that’s when my body should have gotten around to acclimating to the environment, and my energy level should have gone up, but the rest of my week had, believe it or not, a rather consistent routine.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I slept until maybe 10 or 11 AM, woke up, used the restroom and ate, then went back to camp, looked out among the Playa, looked back into the campsite and saw our camp’s cozy little tepee and fuzzy soft carpet, and curled up to nap until 4 or 5 PM. Then I generally wandered a bit around the city, talked to my camp mates, but very little else. In retrospect, maybe it was dehydration (ended up only drinking like 5 gallons the whole week… which doesn’t sound right), or poor nutrition (some day I might prioritize food well enough to plan… meals? nah) but ultimately I’m glad the rest of the week was so relatively relaxed. It made my personal best time on Playa this year shine that much brighter.
Thursday night, I found charisma! If you know me personally, you probably wouldn’t describe me as ‘charismatic’. I get unreasonably excited about very specific things and am extremely difficult to engage with or stimulate outside of those specific things, though not for lack of trying. Thursday night at Burning Man this year, however, must’ve hit one hell of an intersection of stimulation for me because I was stone sober while attending a wonderful interactive art piece known as the Tesseract. With unbridled enthusiasm I shouted at people “Introducing the latest in human transdimensional transport technology! The Tesseract will take you to the fourth dimension and if you are very very lucky, it will bring you back!” Despite my general distaste for excessive theatrics, it simply flowed out of me. Multiple people commented that my attitude improved their experience and for two and a half hours I was spewing more positive energy at people than I ever thought I had. And the craziest part? It was contagious! I would open up the Tesseract to let someone out and shout “YES, ANOTHER ONE MADE IT BACK!” often enough to be met with joyous laughter. Charisma… is it just… being happy at people? Because that’s what it felt like, and wow it felt great. I really hope I can wrangle that some day to use it at will.
And the art… honestly, to talk about the art at Burning Man feels like trying to talk about the heat after visiting the sun. I could describe the enormous LED spiral circles that were vertically stacked one night and rolling around the desert the next. I could tell you about what I thought was a huge statue being slowly set up and posed, only to learn it was the biggest marionette I now know exists. I could even describe to you the vicious, sharp metal humanoid figure of Killbot 3000, a statue built on the base of The Man: in its left outstretched hand was what appeared to be a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll that had been ripped to shreds and somehow bloody (for good effect), and it seemed so menacing and evil… until I walked around it and saw a message written on the back of its right arm: “I don’t want to kill anymore”, and even though he didn’t move, my entire perspective of the statue shifted drastically. The dismembered Elmo wasn’t a warning, but a plea.
I do have a small regret in not going out into Deep Playa at least a couple more times this year.
I haven’t taken the Wifey yet, so I’m not done with Burning Man at least until then.