Saturday, August 13, 2011

Playa Bound. Again. 
It’s that time of the year again, when 50,000 freaks from across the globe start collecting camping gear, costumes, art pieces, and fetish objects and packing them up into cars, busses, RV’s, campers, and a motley assortment of vehicles of impossible description,  ready and eager to begin their trek into the high desert northeast of Reno, NV. Yes, it’s Burning Man season. The time of year when, for a little over a week, the San Francisco bay area seems devoid of its freakiest denizens. When certain areas of Facebook are eerily quiet.  When people who might ordinarily have gone but couldn’t make it can’t get in touch with 90% of their friends because there’s, generally speaking, no cell phone or internet service out on the playa.

This will be my fourth year going to Burning Man, but not in a row. The first year, I got sick and had other bad experiences that made me decide never to go again. Then, a little over three years ago (about eight years after that first trip), I met a man, fell in love, and let him convince me to go again. It had changed his life, he said. The relationship was troubled almost from the start, and the Burning Man experience, though astonishing and inspiring that year, was also difficult and emotionally wrenching. One Burning Man truism is that if you go with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll either get married or break up on the playa. It’s an intense place for even the best of relationships. Our second year, the relationship had frayed even further, and our playa experience was downright traumatic. I came back stunned with pain and regret and wondered if I’d ever go back. But in January, the day that tickets went on sale, there I was, at 10 am, with thousands of others, buying tickets for myself and friends. 

Now, single again, I’m preparing to make the trek with an old friend who has never gone before. We have weekly phone calls and chat sessions deciding on the details, like who’s bringing the glowy bracelets (him) and who’s shopping for food (me).  I’ve got my outfits all sorted out, realizing that I have too many by now to bring them all. How did I collect all of this stuff?? 

Along with the excitement comes the apprehension. Will it be a good year, finally? Will I finally be able to relax into the experience, without being caught up in conflict and bitterness, now that I’m attending as a free agent? What will happen when I run into my ex-, which I inevitably will, since he’ll be camping with my friends?

  I’m pretty sure that this will be the best year ever, the year I’m finally able to be my true self without apology and anxiety. But I remember the years past, the surprising panic attacks that came out of nowhere, the crippling disappointment in a relationship I simply could not make work, the tears, the shouting, the confusion, the sadness, the loneliness, even in the crowd. I wonder sometimes: was it the relationships that made Burning Man difficult, or was it me? Is it possible that it just isn’t the place for me, yet another place where I will never fully belong? I want to belong there. I enjoy the community. The most creative, fun, strong, inspiring people I know are Burners.

Burning Man is a crucible, almost literally. The vast expanse of alkali plain ringed with dark craggy mountains cooks you down, separates your essential self from all the crap that you bring with you. Or at least it does if you let it. It forces you to rely on yourself and others, forces you to let go of the stuff that won’t help you survive, forces you out of your linear mind and into the world of the surreal. It’s like a huge party, a gigantic camping trip, a Dali painting, a spiritual retreat, and a pilgrimage all rolled into one.  If you give yourself fully to the experience, you come back a different person. If you hold back, you wonder why everyone is so enthused about it.
I think the reason I keep going back is that I know I’ll face my True Self out there in the desert. It might not always be pleasant and wonderful, it might even sometimes be difficult and scary. But it will be interesting, at the very least, and cathartic at the most.
I’m looking forward to meeting the person who makes that return trip.  

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