It’s Saturday night before Burning Man officially begins and our camp is out for a family ride to see the desert city coming to life. Somewhere past the Temple, pedaling beside a brotherly figure, I ask
“Have you ever had a bad burn?”
He stuttered. I backpedaled. And we let the sound of our wheels churning against the dust take over the conversation. Our bikes followed the blinky lights from our campmates headed straight for the infinite black sky.
“Are you worried about having a bad burn?” His reply hit me like a wall. I wasn’t prepared to answer that question or to have a bad burn. But thought I might.
I felt prepared for a third return to the Playa. In fact, I had successfully ‘burned all year.’
I moved forward as an artist, recharged my professional life and made space and time to nurture myself, friends, family, conflict and heart. I did not ‘save up’ thoughts or ideas to explore at Burning Man. Usually I would. And like clock work, I would panic the week before it’s time to drive to Nevada.
But this time my bags were packed two weeks in advance and until we crossed the gates, Burning Man was set to be a smooth happy sail. So why after all this work, did I feel like MOOP?
We don’t get to choose who is in our family, when the wind will kick up the dust or how we’re going to feel when the sun changes. We do get to choose how we want to act and react when we’re faced with a new truth.
And my truth changed.
While ringing bells at the Stands of Chime, I rang too hard, missed the bells for my hand and fractured my right index finger. At the medical center I asked, “Should I go home?”
“Do you want to go home?” This my out, I thought. I could leave Burning Man and be free from the pressure to have some scheduled spiritual awakening.
“No,” I heard myself replying.
“Then don’t go home.” So there. I had committed to turn things around.
I had to accept being radically reliant and an involuntary sparkle pony. During Short Stack’s big party, Tutu Tuesday, our sister camp Om Skillet took care of me as their own. They fed me electrolytes, tucked me in for countless naps and sewed a darling tutu for my pointer finger. I let them help me.
Ask for help
No one can read you mind or know when you want help. Often times I got help when I didn’t need it and needed help when I couldn’t find it. I had to be comfortable asking my brothers and sisters to do basic things like wash my hair, write thoughts in my notebook and flip bacon for me on dinner duty night. I’m not good at not being able to take of myself.
I went to a global meetup for music visuals artists. I was booked to make art for thousands of people the next night at the biggest stage on the Playa. With my dominant hand impaired I was ready to throw in the towel until a lead artist reminded us, “This is Burning Man. This is an experiment. Bring your weird stuff here.” Try out something new, he continued, this is the community that will accept it.
So I not only did the show, it was my best gig yet (and left-handed!). I usually insist friends not attend since they won’t like the rave music or big crowds. But they showed up and danced in front of the booth the whole time. And it made me happy. Instead of feeling I had to promise them the world or a moving experience, I promised them first row seats to my experiment. That was freeing.
We want to be good children and siblings and partners and parents. It’s very easy to expect and require a lot, sometimes too much, from our families and from ourselves. Seven days at Burning Man helped me remember to take time to move through moments and to be patient and forgiving with myself and of my family. We are just people.
I spent all of Thursday night with the Listed family at Music Savages. Naveen, Hoj and Khoury played beautiful, moving and experimental sets. And like Neil’s lights, I took my time, all night in fact. And there among dinosaur shadow puppets and knee-slapping unicorn jokes, we did one of my favorite burning man actives, danced to call the sun up.
Find your family
We don’t get to choose with whom we share blood and family trees. I got lucky on that one. We do get to choose what we value and who to pull closer and who to push away. And for many of us we are hundreds of miles away from blood relatives at Burning Man and in our daily lives. So we have to make family. And these people actually are a choice. So let’s choose people who will help us, experiment with us, be patient with us and unconditionally love us and be people we can love back.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘bad’ burn or even a ‘good’ burn. Every year it’s just a lot of ups and downs. I was tough cookie at Burning Man, but the Playa is a fantasy world and we’re not there anymore. My arm hurts, I need help getting feathers out of my hair and I miss my friends.
Anyone want to play?
More lessons from the Playa
2012 What small teams can learn from Burning Man
2011 What designers can learn from Burning Man