You’ve probably have been to Burning Man, know about it and are curious, heard of it and think it’s ridiculous or have zero clues as to wtf a Burning Man is. Some would call it a festival, but those who have been who tell you it’s an experience. Once a year 70,000 people come together to build a temporary city in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada. They pool their resources and gift things (music, clothes, food, entertainment, booze, whatever) to the community. There is no money or vendors, you camp in either a tent, yurt or RV and the conditions are quite extreme (severe heat and cold, dust storms and no wifi!!!). The event attracts some of the most talented and fascinating humans on the planet. People create installation art, intricate costumes, music, moving art cars, shows, food and almost anything your mind can conjure up exists here. It’s based around principles of decommodification, gifting, leaving no trace behind (cleaning up after yourself), radical self reliance and radical inclusion.
For me, Burning Man this year was an unexpected tornado of highs and lows. In some ways I imagined it to be exactly that, but there’s no way to foresee who you will affect, what will make an impact on you and the crazy collision of events that will take place. That’s the beauty of this wily week in the desert with 70,000 like minded friends you haven’t met yet. I could go on at length about every zany detail of the week, but in hindsight there were some poignant moments that affected me and ultimately shaped my Burning Man experience.
Spontaneously marrying my best friend
On day two of the burn my camp scheduled playa weddings. My friend Stephan and I had planned to marry! Stephan is a character of grand proportions with a sense of humor to match. He’s also an incredibly talented costumier and my gay bff so we thought it’d be fierce to have a faux wedding especially since he made a stunning gown perfect for the occasion. The day of our wedding I dropped Stephan off at a friends camp with plans to meet back in 15 minutes. Seeing as though we were running on playa time, 15 minutes quickly morphed into 2 hours. When I finally sauntered back to camp, to my dismay, Stephan was PISSED! He called off the wedding and ran off in a huff. I was stunned.
All the while Heather was by my side. We walked to a nearby camp to cool off and chat. A chat which turned into one of our classic several hour long rants where we discussed everything from the past, the future and all the deepest darkest secrets in between. After our heart to heart we rode a tandem bike to lighten the mood and laughed uncontrollably the entire time! It was truly one of the happiest moments with my best friend. That’s when my lightbulb lit up and I realized that WE should get married!
We always joke how we’re like each others boyfriends, so why not seal the deal? We ran off to our camp ready to tie the knot. After all we’ve been through this was a spiritual wedding of friendship. A promise to continue to be there for each other until eternity (or until we find someone cuter….but really if you’ve seen us you’d already know that’s not happening) so basically until eternity. A frustrating and disappointing afternoon quickly turned into a plethora of pure joy and happiness.
I knew me and Stephan would make up eventually. After all this was burning man and you can’t stay mad at someone for being late whilst in a sea of endless distractions.
Ho’s in different area codes…or burning man theme camps
I use that title jokingly. The bottom line is I had multiple love interests at burning man and there was more than one occasion when our worlds collided. It’s a very new concept for me, exploring being polyamorous and having open relationships. I have many friends who do it and do it well, however I am only just beginning to embrace this concept and all its complexities. For the last few years I’ve had plenty of casual relationships but lately I’m beginning to have multiple relationships with people I care for. Most of us travel a lot, live in different places or are focused on career and can’t devote as much time to one partner as needed. Having multiple relationships could be a great solution. But something I’ve gathered is that being open and honest is the key ingredient to any of this being successful.
I learned this the hard way. On the night of the man burn my two lovers and I unintentionally ended up on the same art car and things got awkward. I quickly tried to do damage control but before I knew it they both stormed off. Luckily Heather my new playa wife was there and would never ditch me (thank god I married that woman). In some ways I knew we’d eventually end up in the same place at the same time. They knew each other already and I hang out with both of them sooooo duh! But instead of having the uncomfortable conversation, I chose to avoid it and just see what happens. Now I know the better solution is to have the conversation, (however excruciating it may feel), before it blows up in my face.
Luckily for me both my guys are understanding and love me enough to have heard me out the next day. I groveled a bit, they said their piece and we moved on. I mean, how could you really stay mad at me? And also, Burning Man….come on.
One of my closest friends Stevie and I had been excitedly planning our Burning Man trip together since last year. Constant phone calls, emails back and forth, posting photos of potential costumes, even booking flights together! About a month or so before the burn we were completely blindsided when he found out he had cancer. This was an enormous shock. Fortunately he is undergoing treatment and curing testicular cancer has a 97% success rate so that’s in his favor, but in one foul swoop all of our plans had been swept out from under us. I knew he would eventually overcome this obstacle, but the thought of him sitting home sick from chemo while I was prancing around the desert without my prancing partner killed me. I knew there was no way he could go, so I decided to take a little bit of Stevie with me to the playa. And so the Stevie heads were born.
So much fun was had with this simple little creations. Cut outs of my friends face stuck to popsicle sticks we could take on our Burning Man adventures. We took all sorts of silly pictures with them, attached them to the camp bar, danced with them, got married with them, twerked on them and, left them in unsuspecting places. It brought me joy to see his smiling face and to have him there in some form and I knew he’d gag once he saw the pictures! The Stevie heads opened up a dialogue with anyone who asked about them. It was a great way to educate each other, share our experiences and was a reminder to be appreciative of what we have. Sometimes in the big grand fun of it all, we can get wrapped up in our own worlds and forget how lucky we are. You can read more about his personal journey on his blog: The Journey Of Stevie Lo
Perhaps this was not a new lesson but more of a solidifying and renewing of of something that needed a dusting off and polishing up in my life. Serving and giving to others for no gain other than to be a good person. Being the support that others need and not putting my needs first. In a world where I’m constantly thinking about what I want to do and where I want to go and how I’ll get there and all the rest, this was a good reminder that no, the world does not revolve around me.
Being that this was my second year and my bestie (now playa wife or plifey as I like to say) was coming for the first time I wanted to help her have an awesome time. My first burn was a last minute, haphazard, unplanned soiree. On one nights notice, while the festival was well under way, I was gifted a ticket; I arrived in Reno the next day had to hitchhike in from the airport. My amazing but super flakey burner boyfriend Chris, although good intentioned did a poor job of preparing me for what was in store. I’m not complaining, because even though my burn was at times a traumatic overload, it was also a magical glimpse of fantasy land teeming with joy and happiness; and as the classic playa saying goes: “you don’t get the burn you want, you get the burn you need”.
But back to my plifey, I wanted her to have an experience that wasn’t quite so tumultuous. It was rewarding to be there for my home slice and to be a guide of sorts. We went through a lot together. I sat in the temple with her as she let go of some painful parts of her past, she was there for me on burn night when both my playa boyfriends stormed off and was ready to run down the aisle with me when my playa husband cancelled our wedding. We watched the temple burn, hugged each other tight as the tears ran down our faces and the embers flew wildly upward, being released to the endless sea of stars.
Beyond the personal bonds it felt great to be a part of a camp and to take care of each other. One night Heather and I made what we like to call our “Welcome back to college” dinner. A giant tub of ramen noodles with every leftover skillfully thrown in. Another day we set up a tattoo and body painting stand and decorated everyone with metallic tattoos and fluro paint. On Sunday I spent the day taking care of dehydrated stragglers and campmates. Chopping up watermelons, feeding people by hand, mixing drinks and getting cold wet towels to cool people off. As tired and as worn out as I was, it felt amazing to connect with so many beautiful souls and to accept love and give love so openly.
There’s so many more memories I could endlessly ramble on about. Getting completely and utterly lost after the temple burn, commandeering an art car, having a heat stroke and needing to be cared for by strangers and riding bikes through an utterly surreal white out storm with winds so strong it pushed us through the desert without even pedaling, just to name a few. This experience was truly one for the books and I’m so grateful to have been a part of the spiritual, heart and mind opening moments that made this week in the desert live up to all the hype.