Most of the minutia and details of my virgin trip to Black Rock City have faded back into the desert, much like the city itself. While at my first Burning Man, I wrote little, despite bringing a blank journal, and took few photographs. I committed myself to experiencing.
Ironically, some of the most important lessons I learned at Burning Man, such as checking in with myself and not trying to do EVERYTHING, are the reasons I didn’t make it to the big post-event, Decompression, today.
However, I suppose tonight is a good night to publish my random, scattered thoughts I’ve been gathering in response to the: “How was Burning Man?” question that’s bombarded me since returning from the playa.
Short answer: “Now that I’ve experienced it, I can’t imagine having not experienced it”
I suppose I did a good job doing just that – experiencing.
Going in with no expectations and only minimal plans eased this. My intention for the week, perhaps a decent result of yoga overload, was to “live in the moment.” The longer version of this is take advantage of spontaneous opportunities and don’t stick to plans if you’re going to get stressed about them.
Helping me “live in the moment,” was taking the opportunity to go “off the grid” during my time there. Thanks to BurnerMap, I knew beforehand which of my Facebook-using friends were going and printed off the locations at which to find them. Although BRC is becoming increasingly wired, I was about 90% successful in staying unplugged.
For a Type A, all of this is a big shift!
Five Shareable Experiences:
My “plans” for Burning Man changed the weekend before, when I decided instead of going up midweek, I’d commit to the whole experience. This earned me the bonus experience of riding up in (and sometimes driving) a vintage Winnebago (no Breaking Bad spoilers, please) with an awesome crew. (A huge thanks to Zach and Bree to welcoming a ragtag group into their sweet home/ride.)
Arrival on the playa may be one of the harder tasks I experienced (imagine waiting in an amusement park line for 6-8 hours), but I embraced my virgin entry ritual, making a dust angel and enthusiastically ringing the bell when I got there. I felt so lucky as our RV drove past the outer camps and pulled to the center of the whole thing – 6:30 & Esplanade.
Departure plans for me changed to and I was lucky enough to hitch a ride back with my amazing campmate, Darcy. She departed for Vietnam right afterward so I was happy to trade travel tips for a lift back to the city. Oh, and she’s also a lovely human being and I was lucky to be stuck in a car with her for several hours!
When you see a sign that says “body painting” go. Pair up with strangers to get a rainbow of paint hurled at you by a paint gun firing squad.
Two days later when said paint has dried and crusted into your pores with five days worth of dust and sweat, follow your campmates’ advice and go to the “human car wash,” possibly run by the son of a body wash heir. Convince the guard to let you in, despite just closing down the line, and dance naked with hundreds of strangers who are also taking the best shower of their lives.
Talk to a stranger on a park bench and learn about how his cancer’s in remission and he came out from Texas to check an item off his bucket list. Respond to someone yelling your name while you’re leaving the ice camp, because it is your college friend you’ve been hunting for all week.
Things you didn’t dream: your high school friend, Nathan, waking you up mid-epic nap to recap the week; the amenities table set near the port-a-potties as you dragged yourself back from watching the sunrise; the build-your-own peanut butter and jelly station when you headed back to camp starving; running into your Farm School friend after watching the Man Burn; eating ridiculously delicious sushi off of artfully nude women from your sister camp.
Appreciate every moment of randomness. Bring that back with you.
3. Living in Art & Music
I went to dance parties if I wanted to, when I wanted to, and didn’t when I didn’t want to. I followed friends around the desert to find the Space Cowboys. I soaked up the daily music lineup at my incredible camp. I discovered there was more than electronic music on the playa, especially enjoying the live jazz in the French Quarter and at the Jazz Cafe Camp.
I rode my bike into the desert and played on art pieces. I experienced them stark agains the desert in day and lit up at night, both the art and the observer in various states. I played with zoetropes, zen gardens, interactive kaleidoscopes. Climbed sculptures, stared in disbelief and wonder. Appreciated beauty in raw form, undistracted by competing corporate interests.
2. Sustainable Existence
Leave no trace. For real.
Bike and walk everywhere. Or ride moving art.
1. Bonding with My Fellow Citizens
The main reason I decided to go to Burning Man (and make it the catalyst for my Year of Never) was getting to know the Decadent Oasis crew over the past 2+ years of living with my incredible roommates. So really, you can thank Craigslist for this blog post. Imagine a playground of 50 palm trees, lounges, volcanos, slacklines, constant dance parties…plus a wonderful crew of 100 creative and inspiring humans. That’s where I got to be based out of for a week.
Being a huge camp, I got the bonus treat of connecting with people I’d never met before or only in passing. I’m truly humbled by both the talent and generosity of these folks. And how it all came together into some kickass parties. Well, wow.
Unbeknownst to me going in, I got the added bonus of a second camp! And as if the universe wanted me to sample two different Burning Man experiences, one very different than my primary one. Out in the “suburbs,” this was a good spot to shoot the shit over beers or retreat to for some quiet. How did I land here? Well, not to overshare, because believe it or not I’m dating someone almost completely off the internet grid (not in a hermit way, just in a primarily-using-a-Yahoo-email-address way), but yeah, my “planned experience” changed because I am dating someone.
Not to go into the backstory too much, but no, it’s not someone I met at Burning Man* (although I had thoughts of telling my mom that so she’d picture some dreadlocked, tatted nudist drifter named Ocean…maybe she still does, since this blog post is giving her more info than she’s pieced together Facebook stalking). Still, we were still just a couple months in before confronted with the pretty intense experience of spending a week in the desert possibly hanging out. It was his fifth time, so as a newbie, I didn’t want to interfere with any routines (Ha! Now, I know this is ridiculous). Six weeks post-playa it only seems natural that we spent a solid chunk of the week together, and of course we overcame the challenges thrown at us and embraced the art, music and random magic. Had I not slacked and posted this right away, I still would have been in a state of swooning shock that I went into the desert with “plans” to meet up with “the pretty great guy I’m dating” at noon on Tuesday and left with the realization that said “pretty great guy” was now my “pretty great boyfriend.” And still is.
With so many positive experiences stemming from the week, I’ve been open to changes in plans and living in the moment since. Despite it being on my calendar forever, and until yesterday evening being a definite part of my plans, after an exhausting weekend I realized Decompression wasn’t in the cards. Instead I spent the glorious day with my boyfriend exploring our favorite permanent city, San Francisco**.
*Side note to Wisconsinites: we met at a cheese curd party in June.
**We’re working our way through the Stairway Walks book (1994 edition, did Nob Hill today) and also spontaneously stopped in Grace Cathedral, the Cable Car Museum, and Lafayette Park.