When people ask me why I make the cross-country journey to Burning Man year after year, I tell them it is intensely therapeutic. And then I watch them laugh.
“What do you get at Burning Man?” they’ll probe, as if the price of admission includes something.
“What you get at Burning Man,” I tell them, “is entirely up to you.”
One year, my sludge was the lingering sting of rejection.
By my own limited vision, the source of this rejection was Mike—a man I randomly met on the playa and then camped with for the next four years. During our playa playtime, he fed me a great deal of attention. He was smart and powerful in his default world but here, he was a toy for me to play with.
Mike didn’t expect sex. He was happy chasing after someone who didn’t complain about the elements, looked comfortable riding a bike and could dance wildly from dusk till dawn.
Call me crazy but hearing, “Damn you look smoking hot in that outfit,” and “Come over here baby and let me rub your feet,” never gets old.
I allowed him to chase after me, to lust over me. I even tricked him into thinking he loved me. In truth, it was all a ruse. He had no idea who I was.
Back in my default world, I was 10 years into a monogamous relationship with a man who could not feed my constant need to be told I was lovable. And so I gave myself permission to play on the playa.
Somewhere along the line Mike must have had a mental growth spurt because one year, with less than a week to go before the start of Burning Man, he disappeared and I was devastated.
I was now an orphan, with no one to camp with and no camp to affiliate myself with.
I thought about showing up solo and leaving it all up to chance, but I knew myself well enough to know I’d create a mental Dicky Box, and isolate myself from the driving pulse of the playa.
Instead, I put an ad on the social network Tribe, asking if anyone needed a “drama free” campmate.
A newbie from New Mexico named Dust Bunny was the first to reply. She had been in contact with another newbie from Washington named Lazy Boy. Lazy Boy had befriended a super cool, Silver Guy from Portland. Together, we gravitated towards a free spirited duo from Southern California.
The fact that none of us knew each other prior to the playa, and that we were all orphans, was oddly comforting.
Uniquely different, together we formed a soulful bond. Each year more orphans found their way into the camp and deep, yearlong connections flourished.
Our camp also developed creatively. We now had a name, a theme, an official playa event, an elaborate shade structure, a fabulous sign and banner, and our newest addition—a great big shiny art car.
When a question was raised as to how to keep people from climbing the art car when not in use, I offered to make a giant voodoo doll.
That same year—as sometimes happens when camps evolve into something greater than you—opinions differed, personalities clashed, and a shift erupted.
For me, the camp split magnified my fear of rejection.
Why did Mike dump me? What was the catalyst? And why can’t I let it go?
I knew the rejection would build at the burn if I didn’t release it, so I decided to make my voodoo doll in Mike’s image.
I integrated the stuffing with gifts Mike had given me over the years. I added a large, red heart on his chest and a slimy snake on his leg. I bound him with rope and dressed his neck with a dominatrix collar and chain.
I took my time making Mike. I also made giant pins that you could stick into him; large crochet needles with a clown noses glued to each top.
Mike became my interactive, mental health, art project.
I could feel a positive shift begin even before he was complete.
I started taking him places. Wherever we went, Mike made people smile. Somehow, lugging an eight-foot tall, voodoo doll around my sleepy, New England town made me feel lighter.
With two weeks to go before the burn, I shipped him to a west coast campmate who agreed to have him sit shotgun on his journey to Black Rock City.
Due to an untimely east coast hurricane, Mike beat me to the playa. He celebrated Fat Tuesday without me, dined on gumbo and danced it up with campmates old and new.
Because of the severity of our east coast storm, I arrived physically and emotionally drained and immediately sensed a bombardment of disapproval.
People were questioning why I made Mike; as if there was something evil or masochistic about dragging around a giant, pin pricked, voodoo doll.
I felt judged. I felt condemned. I felt rejected. When I focused on this, I realized this was a reoccurring theme in my life—something I had attached myself to since I was a child.
And then it hit me…
Mike is not one man. Mike is every man who abandoned or abused me.
Mike is my father; who left when I was two.
Mike is my stepbrother; who molested me when I was seven.
Mike is my first boyfriend; who told me I had to have sex with him or he’d dump me, and when I did, he dumped me.
Mike is a relationship I destroyed because I was too afraid to love; and then I punished myself by allowing him to toy with me for more years than I care to admit.
But the deepest pain of all came from my son.
How could he abandon me?
It had been ten years since his suicide and I continued to defend him in death just as I did in life. I understood his mental illness was a brain disease and that he was not thinking logically, but the pain of his abandonment was undeniable.
Once you see it, you can set it free.
Here in this barren lakebed, I am healing. I am challenging myself to grow as a spiritual being. I stimulate myself creatively. I am finally finding peace within myself.
What do you get at Burning Man? Well, you don’t always get what you want, but if you’re open and willing, you do get what you need.
by Green Monkey