I wrote this last month for Uproxx.com, still ruminating on it. I’d always wanted to attend a lantern fest, but there’s something that feels inherently wrong about a pretty event that’s meant to pay tribute to those who’ve suffered. Like when celebrities have $10,000 galas for charity. I know the heart is in the right place, but I feel weird about it. I like the article, though. Been a big triumph this year to publish regularly. Think I’ll keep at it.
Releasing Lanterns With Messages Of Healing And Hoping It’s Not Dumb
There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about the total eclipse. The thrilling / terrible feeling of whoever’s in charge turning down the sun dial like “Watch what I can do, silly humans.” I’ve never felt so insignificant, yet interconnected. The only event that’s affected me in the same way was being in the room as my niece was born. Both experiences are tattooed on my soul.
Unpacking The Lies You Tell Yourself At Burning Man
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.
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Lately, I feel grumpy. It’s July, which means days are long and hot. Pool parties. The beach. Short shorts. Blah fucking blah. In other words, a constant reminder that despite my best intentions, somewhere along the line I sold out and became an adult.
I feel nostalgia for the summer of my youth so heavy I can’t breathe. Growing up in the tiny ranch town of Gardnerville, Nevada meant summers were like a country music video on repeat. Especially the sweet spot between ages fifteen and seventeen, when we were old enough to drive but too young to go anywhere.
The launch of summer was Carson Valley Days, the town parade and carnival at Lampe Park. Everyone came and everyone rode the same five rides we’d been riding since we were kids. We spent summer days at Lake Tahoe and summer nights at the river. Cheap beer was usually involved. We rode in the back of pickup trucks, driving too fast down county lanes, nothing but the stars above and our uncertain futures ahead.
I took this photo a few summers ago on a road trip with my muse Paije. We weren’t in Gardnerville, but the feeling was the same.
The lack of options is what created the bliss. Gardnerville had one movie theater and lots of empty Earth. Social life meant seeing the same movie for the fifth time, or circling up around a bonfire in the desert or the woods, drinking our parents’ purloined liquor and blasting Country Grammar (I know I just seriously dated myself, but Nelly’s debut album was really tight).
I marvel at how we found these bonfire spots. Before Waze, before texting. I guess we called each other on land lines and wrote down the directions?
That same summer road trip. I wish I had pics of my Gardnerville youth, but I can’t seem to find many.
I could devote an entire book to growing up Gardnerville, and I still might. But for now the last thing I’ll mention here is the scent — summer nights in the ‘Ville are the aroma of hay fields, fresh unpolluted oxygen, cows, wholesome American dreams. I know I’m waxing poetic, we always look back on our youth with a rose-colored lens.
But no matter how many cities I visit, or fancy Hollywood events I attend, nothing feels as great as being seventeen on a summer night, surrounded by my gang of friends, parked at the river, singing Garth Brooks into the night.
This is peculiar, I know. As hesitant as I’ve been over the years to be labeled a “festie kid,” I most certainly am. Never has this been more apparent than Memorial Day Weekend at Lightning in a Bottle. Because it’s not just about a fun weekend dancing in the dust with my friends anymore.
For the second year, I was an emcee for the Lucent Temple of Consciousness. I was presenting the presenters, heady folks recognized as leading experts in religion, sexuality, the environment, and much more. Being emcee is a great honor, and responsibility.
Far cry from my first festival ever, Burning Man 2006. Most people work up to the Burn. I started there, sleeping in my car and eating beans out of a can. I’d brought old Halloween costumes and flip flops. In short, I didn’t “get it.” But the experience forever changed me. A feeling of being liberated from the matrix, a peek behind the veil of society, a place of connection, sensuality, and a word I’d never heard before: consciousness.
Over the years, I’ve done festivals in different ways. With 30 friends, with a boyfriend, with a best friend and met a new boyfriend (or two) there. I’ve gone days without sleeping, experimented with combinations of…sparkles. Felt wildly uplifted and had more than one breakdown. Emotional, physical, vehicular.
These transformational festivals have lured me to different continents and different understandings of myself and my values.
And now, after 10 years of being a festie kid, I’ve become a festie adult.
During LIB, I woke up each morning to an alarm so I could get to The Mystery School where I was emcee. I skipped a dance party to listen to a talk on “The Science of God.” I didn’t even make the main stage sets Saturday, so content was I with a few choice friends watching Nahko and Medicine for the People at the Temple, and then was asked to emcee a little on the main stage! I still slept in my car however, this one a rented Elton John van with Vanessa as co-pilot.
But I still didn’t make it to yoga. Or take a shower. #goalsfornextyear
But it all feels different now. As much as festivals have given me, it’s time for me to give back to them. As I’ve said before (check my Burning Man Vid) festivals are nearly impossible to describe, you just have to go. The rest of the world is catching on. Festival fashion and culture is becoming mainstream. Bernie Sanders gave a recorded address at LIB. For me, just when I think I might move on from the scene, I get sucked back in. I’m writing this now on a plane about to depart for Bonnaroo in Tennessee. See you there. xx