Who knew getting hated on could be so rewarding? To date, the essay I wrote about my Burning Man experience (see above) has been read 50,000 + times. This might be normal for other writers, but since I’m usually locked away in a long form narrative, this shit never happens to me.
I’ve felt elated, proud, shocked, seen, and – hurt. Because there’s also been a lot of backlash. By readers who hate Burning Man in general and thus hate the article (which is such a curiosity, to take the time to read AND comment on an event you’ve never attended but loathe intensely … Burning Man is so charged like that). And by Burners themselves who hate – well, me. Or at least what I wrote, what I represent, “everything that’s going downhill about Burning Man.” To get backlash from the community stings a little. Okay, a lot. I got called a Sparklepony. In Burn culture, this is very, very unflattering.
When I look back at what I wrote, in the midst of unpacking the rental van, hair ratted, bike chafed, picking playa dust out of my eyelashes, mourning the loss of my sleep schedule, hoping we wouldn’t get charged a cleaning fee on the van, getting charged anyway, catching up on bills and checking in with family, yeah I cringe at how obnoxious the article is at times. But in that haze of post peak experience deadline drama, I had no time to self-censor, no time to organize my thoughts beyond a brain dump of what the experience was like inside my neurotic, self-judgmental mind.
I agree with some of the detractors. I wasn’t there for my camp as much as I could’ve been, admitting lugging grey water in apocalyptic heat was the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done was a pretty embarrassing window into my privileged existence. But the comments that piss me off are the ones that refer to me as “just another pretty white girl.” This means my experience isn’t valid? This means I can’t have a point of view?
Would it have made a difference if I’d divulged that I’ve spent the last year as caretaker to my very ill father? That getting to spend a week feeling alive in the desert was the antidote to our endless ER visits. And that before that I was holding space for my boyfriend when he got run over by an SUV, breaking both legs and spending months in a wheelchair. And that he and I got our Burning Man tickets as the goal on the horizon when he would walk again. And that even though we’re not together anymore, my ultimate Burn highlight was when we found each other on the playa under the moon, marveling that he could not only walk but dance and ride a bike, and we held the solar shower for each other as we took little bird baths and discussed our favorite art installations.
If I’d shared all that, would it have made a difference?
Or is that just something a pretty white girl would say?
With that said, now I’ll do the only thing you really can do in life: focus on the light.
In this case: the positive feedback the article has generated. Readers who’ve shared El Guaco-esque experiences of their own, and the owner of El Guaco himself, who found me on Facebook to say El Guaco is his playa contribution because he’s an introvert and this is how he feels comfortable interacting with people.
Some other things I need to say:
–My heart is heavy for the man who ran into the fire, for his family, for those who witnessed it. I didn’t address this in the article because I wanted to gently shine a light on all the other aspects of the experience. I don’t have anything poetic to say about it, just had to acknowledge it.
–I love bike culture at Burning Man. It’s such a return to childhood, riding around with your friends, your bike posse. It’s the perfect example of the duality out there, hedonistic activities happening simultaneously as you get in touch with your inner child.
–Something needs to be said about baby wipes at Burning Man. They are a gift from heaven. That’s all.
–To save face, I know I should write more about my previous Burns, in response to the commenters who wrote that it’s sad I’d been 4 times and was still such a “spectator.” But that’s another article for another time. And I’m pretty ready to be done with Burning Man for the year.
The last thing I want to say is I’ve had haters before. I wrote a sex column for a semester in college that was so divisive I got both applauded by my First Amendment and Society professor, and nearly kicked out of school. Being the center of such turmoil was thrilling, and embarrassing. It was right after my mom’s death and I was in a very “fuck it” place in my life. I’d be lying if I said the backlash didn’t affect me deeply. I wanted to hide for the entire year following. What’s changed in ten years? Then I was writing for shock affect, this time I was authentically expressing myself and my experience. I think I just have a somewhat salacious way of moving through life. I’ve also had ten years of rejection and disappointment to get me primed.
Okay, controversy. Okay, Burning Man. I’ve said all I can say. I’m done. For the year. Or longer. Or not.
I was observing a dozen naked humans lolling in mud when it happened. Since this was the Symbiosis Eclipse Festival, the “Mud Dance Experience” was just one of several spectacular events unfolding around me. Up ahead was a gong immersion, to my left a lotus temple bobbed on the lake next to an inflatable hamburger.
And then — the sound of a motor filled the Palo Santo scented sky, people cheered, and a DeLorean streaked across the water.
It was an “art boat” of the finest order, a perfect silver creation that would make the Flux Capacitor proud. I thought two things. 1) I am endlessly moved by the ingenuity at festivals, the degree of effort put forth just to inspire a smile. 2) Flux Capacitor would be a wicked band name.
And because numbered lists are fun, here are seven more of the greatest things I experienced at Symbiosis Eclipse (in no particular order, except for the first one, because the eclipse was the most transcendent experience of my life*):
1) The chorus of “I love you” moments before totality
After watching the ceremonial procession for a while — incredible feather headdresses! the eclipse significance in several native cultures! we know this is important but our legs are getting wobbly! — we headed to the field to sprawl out. An eerie tension mounted as the reverse dusk descended. The light turned silvery. Bongos. Chimes. Then someone shouted “I love you guys!” which prompted a call-and-response “I love you too!” It was sweet and slightly terrifying, like the last phone call to mom before the world ends. Then the great gig in the sky flicked off the lights, the moon showed the sun who’s boss, and the sight of it brought me to my knees. I wept. I vowed to never miss another solar eclipse as long as I live. And I thought of the name of my firstborn: Totality.
2) The EcoZoic toilets
Hands down the cleanest, best-smelling bathrooms at any gathering, ever. And they use a naturally occurring biological process which turns human waste into probiotic fertilizer. Slow clap, Symbiosis. Good job.
3) The Silk Road
A bedouin encampment and trading post, with a foot washing station and teahouse. Created by the same visionaries behind The Grand Artique, these guys always kill it with the details. My favorite stage was here too, unforgettable sets by Jeremy Sole and Nicola Cruz were my fest favorites.
4) Hot air balloons over the lake at sunrise
There were maybe ten balloons in total, and they sounded like whales or dolphins or aliens as they rose and fell in the chilly air. They reflected in the lake. They were whimsical and sweet. Watching them from the Neverland-esque cluster of tree swings called Furtherrr was nearly as surreal an experience as the eclipse itself.
5) How international the festival was
The eclipse gatherings are collabs between the headiest festival organizers in the world, so no wonder I met people from Israel, Australia, Japan, and heard countless other accents. It’s cool to see how this culture has spread worldwide, expanding the stereotype that festivals are about dreadlocked druggies and yoga babes twirling lights. This was Woodstock for Millennials, at a time when the world can use more peace and love.
6) The interactive laser thing
Hidden in a large gingerbread house was one of the best festival installations I’ve seen. Red laser beams of light ran floor-to-ceiling in a darkened room, and when you put your hand out to interrupt the laser, it emitted a tone. So when several people were playing, it was like an electronic symphony. Does that make sense? Like a lot of things at festivals, you kinda had to be there. Other standout installations: the giant dragon made of driftwood, the permaculture shrine gardens, and of course — the Merry Pranksters bus 2.0, presented by none other than Ken Kesey’s son, Zane Kesey.
7) The traffic “nightmare” — an eclipse chupacabra
There were definitely many people stuck in traffic getting into the festival. But that’s how every festival works. If you arrive on the first day, you’ll sit in traffic. The whole thing was blown way out of proportion, probably an attempt to dissuade many from traveling to Oregon. It almost worked, I almost bailed the day before departing. As my travel buddy said “But you can’t bail, you’re the Thelma to my Louise!” I replied “Yeah, and they died at the end of the movie, remember?” And she said “Don’t focus on that.” So I didn’t. And I had the one of the most memorable experiences of my festival career.
And what did we learn from the eclipse anyway? You can’t have the light without the dark. Be it traffic, snarky commentaries on festival culture, or that guy whose name rhymes with “Dump.” But don’t worry. Sometimes the dark reveals brilliant beams of light. Let’s see in 2020. Patagonia eclipse tickets will be on sale soon enough.
Just found this poem thing I wrote on a napkin maybe a year ago. Beth took this pic of me the other day in the RV I almost bought.
THE IRONY OF A DIRTY SOAP DISH.
Loneliness. What a funny friend. At a sushi bar, surrounded by humans, lonely as the single rice left behind. Why MORE lonely when in company of people, less lonely when just me and my cat — alone?
“Isn’t it ironic?” asked my 90s flat hair hero.
• Ironic as the soap dish being dirty.
Which is something I spent so long contemplating this morning I was late for wherever I was going.
My whole life is late.
Or is it right on time?
There’s so much I don’t share about myself. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve crossed two things off the list I’ve always wanted to do: study fight training and study drumming. I’ve been accomplishing things I never thought I could do, like wielding a machete and singing and drumming at the same time. But I don’t really talk about it. Am I keeping it for myself, or do I have a block around self-expression?
If we don’t post about it, did it ever really happen?
I feel an incredible connection to the Divine, to the goddesses, to the plants. But I feel silly writing about it. Guess I’m afraid of being judged.
But Stevie Nicks says “I see the crystal visions / I keep the visions to myself.”
And she also says “When the rain washes you clean you’ll know.”
A few weeks ago I was hurtling across the Saguaro Desert on a train trip. Part of me feels like I still haven’t arrived back.
The bumpy, rattling movement of the train (somehow soothing). The curious other passengers (eclectic cross-section of folks travel by train). America going by outside the viewing car (desert, cacti, power plant, river, airplane graveyard, more cacti). We must have passed through a dozen different tiny towns, all with the same 3 things — bar, junkyard, train stop.
We got our Colombian waiter in the dining car to wear my headdress costume. We listened to our luggage attendant talk about how much she hates LA traffic (always end up talking about that no matter where I am in the world). We saw a spectacular sunset in Tucson. We watched an electrical lightning storm during dinner. We laughed til we couldn’t breathe.
But my favorite part, the best part, was this man I filmed from afar during the sunset. While everyone else was scrambling to take photos of the pink sherbet sky, he just gazed out the window, stoic as a sculpture, obscuring everyone’s photos of the sunset, not caring in the slightest. His energy was heavy, lonely. But maybe I’m projecting that, and he was perfectly happy, enjoying the minutely disruptive act of messing up everyone’s photo.
I like how in the video he’s observing nature, yet is separated from it. Perhaps that’s just a thing I think I should say. Seems like something you’d read at a museum.
Actually, the best part was hearing the train whistle all the time. It’s the best sound in the world. Full of romance, full of longing. The 9 hour trip was worth it just for that.
Last night I told a group of strangers about my past in beauty pageants. It was The Moth, and I got picked to tell a story! (thanks to @ebschiller signing me up because I was late because I’m always laaaaaate). The theme was “Beauty” and here are the highlights of my story: ⚡️There’s an urban legend in pageants about the girl whose onstage question was “Who do you most want to meet, dead or alive?” And she blanked and answered “Definitely alive!” In other words, being a beauty pageant contest is perhaps the most vilified, misunderstood thing a woman can do in modern culture. I was one of those women. From age 17-24. An adult decision. ⚡️But it was one of the most empowering, positive experiences of my life. And I won. More than once. Because your highest and lowest scores are thrown out, which means because I was strongly mediocre, I won. I was consistently whelming. ⚡️My mom never wanted me to do pageants, but it ended up being a way we bonded, driving to rehearsals and dress shopping. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was something we did to get our minds of chemo and the heaviness of her condition. ⚡️other stuff other stuff ⚡️Act 2 where I shared details and anecdotes, to be honest my story lost steam here. I always spend too much time on the set-up.⚡️more stuff about not having a tragic life story and it kept me from winning the ultimate crown … then I connected this to my moms illness but what’s the line between catharsis and exploitation? So I never talked about it in pageants.
⚡️When she passed away, I still felt I couldn’t “use” her death to “get ahead.” I did move back from New Zealand to do one last pageant, Miss Las Vegas, before I aged out. But I lost to a deaf Cher impersonator / flutist. ⚡️Then I kinda didn’t know how to connect it so I said something like “When I look back, the times I felt beautiful weren’t having a crown put on my head, but the times I shared with my mom, that in the last year of her life we had something fun we shared.”
I got good scores!! 🙏 Thank you Mom for being okay with me talking about your illness then, even though I didn’t, and finally making the pageant connection, 13 years later. #themoth #storyteller #futuredreams
I edited this yesterday while relaxing at a river swimming hole. Sometimes nature and technology can be friends. Happy (belated because I’m always belated) Fourth of July.
Shot and edited on an iPhone 6 by me. Poem “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, by way of a Levi’s “Go Forth” ad I’ve always loved.