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.
Golden light through paradise windows. Spiritual offerings by women in lace. Motorbikes to ride, nasi goreng to eat. Smell of petrol, of seaweed, of burning trash. Sand, yoga, tourists. My nails are painted yellow. My nose is burned red.
Bali was a very good idea.
The guy at customs on Bali saw California on my passport and told me he won a trip to Universal Studios when he was a kid. He’d won a worldwide competition that was a promo for the movie “Space Jam,” winning a 5 night stay in L.A. for him and his whole family. I asked him how it went. He smiled the glorious Balinese smile. “L.A. was paradise.” Funny. I left L.A. for his island in search of the same thing.
This is my first trip to Indonesia, or Asia in general, and I’m fascinated by everything. Driving on the roads is a unique experience. The code is that you drive only looking forward, it is agreed that no driver will ever look behind them. This works in theory, as it means each driver is only responsible for what’s happening right in front of them. To change lanes, the custom is to slowly drift over, no checking your blind spot and making an assertive move. If a driver is drifting into your lane up ahead, you simply lay on your horn until they drift back–again, because no one will ever look back.
I’m currently hanging out on the island of Nusa Lembongan, where the locals work either in tourism or seaweed farming. The seaweed is harvested in plots in the ocean, and you can see the farmers out there at night, the sea calm, their headlights sweeping the dark. The tallest volcano in Bali, called Agung, watches over Lembongan from across the sea. The people do their daily prayers in the direction of Agung, because it’s believed the volcano is where the spirits reside.
I’ve learned about a great new moneymaking venture! It almost stinks like a scam, literally in this case, but it’s very real, and anyway I’m always looking to add to my repetoire of rackets. It’s called Kopi Luwak, and it’s a type of coffee made here in Indonesia, the most expensive coffee in the world, to be exact.
The remarkable thing about Kopi Luwak is how it is made. The coffee berries are first eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, a small furry creature that looks like a rat. Then the civet poops out the berry, and something in the way the civet’s digestive tract works keeps the actual coffee bean intact inside the berry, but with loads of yummy enzymes now coating it. Farmers then go around collecting the civet poop, then pick the berries/beans out, give ’em a roasting and a brewing, and hati hati whatdoyouknow the most delicious coffee apparently known to man is ready for your espresso machine–if you’re prepared to spend $600/pound for it.
You’ve probably guessed I’m now considering how to develop my own brand of Koreatown Kopi Luwak, if Chairman Meow doesn’t object to the commodification of his litter box.
Finally, I’ve realized that no matter where I go in the world, there’s something about riding along a country road, wearing a tank top and shorts and breathing in fresh cut grass that always takes me to hot summer nights growing up in Gardnerville. I might be riding on a motorbike in Bali, my eyes taking in temples and beaches, but my heart is feeling sixteen again, bumping along in someone’s pick-up truck down to the river, drinking a Mickey’s hand grenade, the cows mooing in the Nevada night.
Yet, the jungle has it’s own intoxicating night chorus, as you’ll see in this video:
Yes, Bali was a very good idea, though it took me an extra day to get here, missed my flight and had to spend another night in the Bangkok airport. Here’s a video message to the cause of those 24 extra airport hours:
I’m staying in Ubud now. More to come!