My ability to write has been stifled since Friday, October 17. I have not been able to wholly articulate the extreme range of emotions I’ve experienced since that weekend in any form of productive communication, and I cannot rationalize it. I believe part of the reason is because some of the things I saw and felt that weekend left me truly baffled. I believe part of the reason is because you as the reader, do not hold the ability to empathize with said events without witnessing them for yourself. I believe part of my block is also because I’m afraid to say the words out loud and put them into tangible existence. I don’t want one drop of this experience’s holiness to be stripped away by unforgiving and judgmental eyes. I do not believe there are enough words in my vocabulary or in eternity itself to serve it the justice it deserves… and that said, 90% of me believes that what I’m about to say cannot be re-lived or detailed by a few wordy paragraphs and candid photos, but only felt in the bottom of my passionately pumping heart. Enter Burning Man.
In “Breaking Open The Head” by Daniel Pinchbeck, he details the Burning Man experience as “more decadent than Warhol’s Factory, more glamorous than Berlin in the 1920’s, more ludicrous than the most lavish Busby Berkeley musical, more of a love-fest than Pepperland, more anarchic than Groucho Marx’s Freedonia, more implausible than any mirage.”
The event I attended was not Burning Man. It was ‘Decompression,’ a post-Burning Man camping trip for the Southern California “Burners.” Everything I experienced was on a significantly smaller scale than what Burning Man encompasses (for example, 50,000 people attend Burning Man annually; about 150 attended Decom), but looking forward to my first burn in August '09, I was determined to show up and get my feet wet. Aside from hearing about some of the music and art that was to be expected there, I knew little else about the trip. So there I was, on a blind journey into to the San Diego desert with a couple hundred strangers (soon to be companions). Not to mention traveling there with a person I had met about 6 hours prior to departure. Fate (God, kismet, a random set of occurrences, pick your poison) has an extremely sly way of dealing the cards ... and today things have never burned so bright.
As a disclaimer, the majority of this is going to sound like some straight up "hippie shit" to you. I know that. But this is MY experience. That said, I also know that me without words is a remarkable feat; and anything that has such a consequential impact on me should most definitely be documented. Above all, I want to have something to cling to when this grandeur gently softens. In order to stay as close to the story as possible, I am going to copy the majority of this straight from my travel journal.
Destination: Mars on Earth (Somewhere outside of San Diego)
Friday October 17
Packed and ready to go
Julian is sick, so he is not coming to Decompression. Put me in touch with his friend Kosta (Kostas? Kos...what?) whom I’ve never met before. I was under the impression a group of us would be going together. Headcount: 2. Damn you Julian. However, I am determined to have a spectacular god damned weekend, and nothing will stop me from getting there.
Let's re-cap. Camping with someone I’ve never met before, for the entire weekend.
Not to mention a 3 hour car ride each way.
This should be interesting.
Saturday, October 18
Somewhere around 3am
I am a lone observer
Smooth ride here laced with smokes and Red Bulls. It seems a long night ahead of us is approaching. A few things about my new friend:
- His name, Kosta, is a derivative of the Greek “Konstantine,” (he’s full-blooded)
- Traveled through Los Angeles to Denver on a BIKE
- Lives in a ship-house
- Drives an eco-friendly automobile
- Studied as a monk in Europe for an extended period of time
- Is unusually inquisitive. And nice. Really fucking nice.
- Brings stuffed animals for strangers as gifts to Burning Man events
I sit from outside the dance floor and watch the people dancing under flashing lights with costumes and hula hoops, everything is foreign. I tuck my hands further into my pockets as I feel that my 'cool in LA' skeleton mittens are a tad douchey here, where boundaries of fashion are not obeyed, but offensively crossed.
I do not want to dance, I am in jeans and a sweater. I stand out like a sore thumb in the mirage of colors swirling before me.
Took a trip to the uber fluorescent DIY craft tent where miscellaneous materials like stripey scraps of fabric and glow-in-the-dark puffy paint wait for someone not as repressed as I to unleash some unbridled creativity. All I see are shapes and colors, not the potential that lies within them.
What can I make, besides a mask or a hat? I ask.
Whatever your little heart desires. She said.
It’s okay to be whoever you want. She meant.
Dear Universe, help me break down these walls.
Time ticks by until we can load in the car and our camping stuff at 6am. Things have died down a bit, but Kosta continues to dance to his own beat.
And the beat doesn’t stop.
Gyrating, kicking, writhing, jumping, no rhyme or reason.
Hands in pockets hands swirling in air hands on bare hips hands.
No “why are you writing,” “what are you writing”
It’s okay. It’s okay to watch. Or dance in your own space. Uninterrupted.
Am I writing to look busy or am I writing to let it bleed? Will you judge me?
You are miles away laying listless in your bed warm and dreaming, into brighter colors and sounds as I am sinking.
Fur coats, top hats, bedsheets, swings and trampolines.
We’ve landed on Mars.
Around 6am Saturday Morning
Kosta and I moved into a swing. Until about 8am we laid, frozen and intertwined on that swing which rocked to the tune of his tranquil heartbeat.
Back and forth, until the sun arose over a spray painted train-car in the distance.
Someone’s makin’ bacon for everyone. Or perhaps just shouting about it.
We set up camp in a perfect upper nook of the grounds and briefly passed out, only to be awakened by the dripping sun around 9am. A fruit cup for breakfast and a face wash later, I am ready to absorb the day in my pink dress and fuzzy boots.
Overheard around camp on Saturday...
DJ’s WAKE UP!!!!!! (Somewhere around 9:30am)
Once you get past the initial ‘everyone’s hugging,’ it’s beautiful.
Random chick to me: Let me take a picture of you.
Random chick: With your camera. I don't have one.
Me: [Sour facial expression]
Random chick: DON’T erase this
“…Just waitin’ for the drugs to kick in!”
“Be excellent to each other.”
Kosta & I: Hey, how’s it goin’?
Kid (We dubbed this one ‘Candy Flip Jim’): I’m tripping BALLS, dude! I’m on ecstasy and acid and I’m tripping BALLLLLLLS!
(Later) Candy Flip Jim's friend: Dude, your mom is looking for you.
Saturday night. Our last night here. Everything I see is captivating; love in action, strangers dancing. I want to suck this moment up and stuff it into a bottle. I want to take it home and inhale it at my lowest. I want to feel the warmth of this bonfire when I am desolate and cold. I want to feed off of the electric energy when I am starving for love. I want to live this every day. But I can’t… and I’m scared how it will or will not bleed into my daily life. I will let the last events of this evening remain as images burned into my memory as there are some aspects of this experience that need to be kept sacred.
Plant the seed today. Enjoy it's blossoming by month's end. Take this day to review where you've been so far. It's only the beginning.
By 5pm everything was deconstructed. Our car was packed, tents rolled away, the music had dissipated, and Decom is now just a tear that hangs inside of my soul. This is a place I will remember when I'm old, and know that the world was beautiful. In sum, what does this experience mean to me and how can I apply those principles to my life?
For the first time in a long while, I took a look at myself and accepted the reflection.
I soared through a galaxy of love.
The windy air, the bass lines, the waves of energy that circulated through the camp all weekend resonates in my bones like a haunting melody. It leaves my mouth with a taste I cannot articulate through words.
I left Los Angeles Friday the 17 expecting to purge my soul and lose my mind in the desert. But the universe rotates full circle my dear; and in turn, I found it.