Burning Man and the World I’ve Returned To

Imagine for a moment stepping into Fantasia and spending an afternoon with flying pink elephants, mice practicing sorcery, flying broomsticks, and all manner of mind altering weirdness. Then imagine leaving that environment and returning to the present, to the Strip Malls On The Waste Land Theme Park that is Anytown, USA. Each moment that you are away from the imaginative realm of Fantasia, you hunger to return, to reconnect and revitalize and re-experience the sense of bliss and wonder. When you return, everything is as you remember it, only more so.

But you begin to notice that one major shift has occurred: you are no longer surprised by the sight of flying elephants. Rodent sorcerers and flying broomsticks have almost begun to seem, well, if not exactly commonplace, at least familiar scenery and quite shy of their miraculous first impression.

This description is not unlike what a return visit to Black Rock City, home of the Burning Man Festival, feels like.

Burning Man 2001 was my third experience of the festival. It came at the close of a summer of vending at different music festivals, including the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, where I met James, the individual that I traveled and camped with at this year’s event. James and I met up at the So Many Roads festival at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver and rolled into Black Rock City on Tuesday, August 28th, the second day of the festival.

Events leading up to Burning Man had already put me in a reflective state of mind. A good friend of mine from high school, whom I was still in close contact with, had died shortly before I hit the road for the festival. My friend, Dean Hoekel, died when a cigarette he’d been smoking in bed caught his mattress on fire and he foolishly tried to throw the mattress out of the building rather than escape with his life intact. While I was away, I had thought Dean burned to death, but my father recently informed me that he heard that Dean died from the smoke inhalation rather than the fire itself. Whatever the case, Dean was a close friend and news of his death shook me hard.

When I arrived at Black Rock City I went looking for friends from previous visits, including a friend from college and also a friend that I’d met by proximity of our camp sites my first year at the burn. I met my friend from college first and James and I decided to put our tents up in the camp that she and her friends (all either from the Bay Area or Chicago transplants to the Bay) had set up. The Camp was at 8:30 and Enlightenment.

Then I set out to find other folks I’d met at previous burns. Interestingly enough, I ran right into the primary character that I was looking for and he was camped at 8:15 and Soldier, less than half a “block” from 8:30 and Enlightenment. He expressed that he was pleased to see me but admitted that his attention was divided because he was on his way to a “Get Married To Yourself” ceremony. Rather than part company, I decided to join him.

The Get Married To Yourself ceremony was officiated by a gentleman with long grey frizzy hair, youthful facial features, and radiant charisma. He asked the crowd that’d gathered to hold their own hand and make a few solemn pledges, including, “I will not forsake you” and “I will always be true to you,” and “I will never put a hex on myself.” He then asked us to make up some pledges of our own and passed along the following phrase, which he suggested we tell ourselves on a regular basis: “I am a fucking genius!”

Suggestions were made that we arrange a honeymoon with ourselves and, when asked about consummating this new marriage, that we should reclaim the phrase “go fuck yourself” and tell people that that is what we intend to do on our honeymoon.

After adopting a fuzzy purple and yellow plastic wedding ring (which I lost to the playa the night of the burn) I walked away quite pleased by this bit of inner alchemy, though a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I hadn’t written out a prenuptial before the wedding, to keep my inner masculine from taking my inner feminine for all that it was worth… or vice versa.

The frizzy haired character announced that he would be doing a Chaos Meditation later in the week and I decided that it was an event that I should not miss. Unfortunately, I missed it.

I didn’t spend much time on Black Rock City seeking out events or information or event art. This time on Black Rock City, I spent a great deal of my time deepening my connection to the people I was camped with. I also spent a good deal of time grieving the recent loss of my good friend. It was intense and incredible to be at such an incredible party and also realize just how ritualized the space at Black Rock City is. The people and the art there just exude vibrant playful creativity. Whether beholding a beautiful twenty foot high blue goddess sculpture or dancing at the uberrave camp Illuminaughty, Black Rock City is filled with magic and mystery.

Not long after the wedding to myself, I ran into two friends of mine from the pagan festival circuit, an escape artist and a stage magician, both of them performers at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. They told me that they were recently married, so I offered them a wedding Tarot reading and was invited to their camp for dinner and the reading later in the week. I brought a bottle of homebrewed honey meade made by mutual friends of ours, and was glad to be a part of such a special time in their lives. The reading was also quite enjoyable.

After the reading, Magnus, the stage magician, suggested I check out a Living Tarot performance that was happening at a nearby camp, so I left to attend that while he went to a drum ritual with Fantuzi, a character from the Rainbow Family circuit.

The Living Tarot workshop began by introducing Rob Breszny, an astrologer who does the Free Will Astrology (formerly Real Astrology) column in many alternative weeklies across the country. I’d heard of Brezsny’s column because my sister is totally devoted to the wit and wisdom contained in it and later learned that Brezsny had a Santa Cruz band, Tao Chemical, that my other friends in the Tie-Dye Mafia, Mikio and Phil, used to go out to hear. Well, as fortune would have it, the character that’d been introduced as Rob Brezsny was none other than the minister who’d married me to myself! That amused me to no end! Here was a guy who impressed me just by being his wacky interesting self who I later learn is a guy whose writing and music have inspired a lot of other people that I know. It made me all the more bummed that I missed his Chaos Meditation, but also made me realize that the next time I get to playa, I will have to make a point to keep an ear out for anything he is offering. The Living Tarot was interesting but didn’t seem to open any new worlds for me in terms of my understanding of the Tarot, which I’ve worked with for eleven years now.

by Shady Backflash

About the author: Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.