Destroyed My Life
I wrote this essay for Eplaya while undergoing a very difficult decompression after the 2011 burn. While similar to my description of the event, this essay is more about emotions and less about what to expect. Although much of my income is derived from my writing skills, this is probably the most powerful and compelling piece I've ever written.
From the moment I heard about Burning Man, I knew I had to go. I no longer remember where I first heard about it as it was over a decade ago. But kids, business, scouting, little league, mortgages, empire building, and the general demands of the rat race seemed to prevent it and over the years the desire go slowly faded away until I had completely forgotten about it.
Then, during the 2010 burn - something magical happened. I was tuning through the TV channels and came across Burncast TV on Current. It was a jolt - like getting hit by a lightning bolt! The kids are now grown, the empire has crumbled along with the economy, and along came faster rats so I was no longer a contender in the rat race. I decided on the spot that 2011 would finally be my year. When I told my family, my wife and son decided to go as well.
As we started to prepare, the task seemed daunting and I knew this was going to be the longest 12 months ever. I spent hundreds of hours reading everything on the Burning Man web site and nearly every post on Eplaya. My life began to change in unexpected ways. I started creating art again for the first time in many, many years and learned how to machine sew. My entire attitude started to change and my life now revolved around preparing for the burn. I won't bore you with the details, but the year of preparations had its ups and downs and seemed to pass excruciatingly slow.
Finally Sunday August 28 found us in the Fernley, Nevada Walmart parking lot surrounded by burners. Not just a few, but hundreds of burners – it was like a pre burn party. I was too excited to nap even though I knew it would be a long night. After stocking up on supplies, we headed out for Black Rock City at 11:00 P.M.
We were all excited and traffic was much lighter than I expected, but as we came out of Wadsworth on 447 I saw a mass of lights north of us. I was just saying what the hell, is BRC visible from 70 miles away? When it dawned on me that those were tail lights and we would be catching up to them within minutes. We kept pace with the line of cars and turned off to the gate uneventfully at approximately 1 A.M. And within minutes were at a standstill. You couldn't see much between the dust and the darkness, but the mood of the folks on line was exuberant. We tuned in a radio station and after the first song, my son turned to me and said “did we really just hear a song about a magical penis on the radio?”. I knew we were not in Kansas anymore Toto.
After a grueling time in line we arrived at the gate. A woman in one of the sexiest outfits I've ever seen herded us out of the vehicle for its inspection. Minutes later we were on our way to the greeters and got to see the sun rise there. We got the full virgin treatment – rang the bell, rolled in the dust, got a huge hug, and were welcomed Home. Much to the amusement and cheers of those in line we stripped down before reentering the rental vehicle (we had to clean it before returning it).
As we drove away from the greeters station, I got my first good look at the playa. Home looked more like a refugee camp at the back door of hell at this point – I sure hoped it was better up close. We found a likely looking spot and parked. After a PBR toast to our arrival, we promptly set up our Monkey Hut and tent before the day heated up. Although exhausted after being up for 27 hours at this point we then proceeded to help any neighbors that needed it. I did manage a few cat naps during the day, but the playa was just beginning to show me how badly it could kick my ass and I was quite listless all day.
I'll summarize a bit here as you don't need a minute by minute account of my burn. We ended up with some great neighbors – any of them I would welcome as a neighbor here in defaultia as well. I spent a week in a magical place surrounded by some of the most loving, caring, and generous people on this planet. I saw some great stuff, wore some outrageous outfits, and gifted otter pops when we could get them to freeze. I explored as much as my level of fitness and being out of practice on a bicycle would permit (I am not in bad shape, just was not fully up to the demands the playa placed on my body). I learned that 5 minutes after showering you are just dirty as you were before the shower and learned to embrace the dust. We met many of the Eplayans at the Meet & Greet. In summary, we all had the time of our lives and I've never felt more at home.
By Sunday we all had the playa stare as we packed and mooped our site before the temple burn and left later that night. During our 3 hour exodus we again saw the sunrise while in line. At this point we were all exhausted – both physically and emotionally. It was a somber 5 day drive back to New York.
During the 17 day round trip I never actually touched cash as everything was put on a credit card and although I knew on an intellectual level that I was spending money, it just didn't seem real like touching actual money. On my first day back at work the first person to walk in the store paid with 3.50 cash and for a few seconds I just stared at it sitting on the counter before handing her the change. I nearly broke down and cried.
Now, over a month later I am finally starting to get over my post burn depression. I have been trying to craft this essay to share my Burning Man experience and it has taken days. Every time I read it I have to make changes. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am in a different mood, or perhaps my brain wants to say things that are difficult to put into words, or possibly because I want to make it interesting and worthy of anyone's time who chooses to read it – or more likely a combination of all three.
It was a week that affected me on so many levels that words can't even begin to describe. To loosely quote Carlos Castenada - I no longer live like an immortal being and live every moment as if it might be my last. I've given up on much of the trappings, complacency, and boredom of my mundane suburban lifestyle. I walk or ride the bike to work, I rarely turn on the TV, I create art and design clothing, I read more, and I plan for next years burn. Most importantly it has made me see the world in a different light and has renewed that sense of wonder I had when younger. Every fiber of my body and soul has a constant yearning to return home.
Burning Man Destroyed my life as I knew it. I have never been happier.
Posted to Eplaya on October 14 2011