We have to push the rocks. We have to make them spin. Who cares that we are all three out of water. Who cares that there is nothing in it for us except for our own self-satisfaction. We join the small crowd surrounding the sculpture. It’s so hot. We’re so secluded, so alone, but so absolutely not alone…surrounded by a family of seventy thousand people in the middle of the desert. It’s surreal. And we are going to move this sculpture. We are going to move tens of thousands of pounds of stone. The crowd around us grows. More people are going to help. More people willing to work their hardest to gain absolutely nothing tangible in return. The crowd reaches about thirty people. We all grab on. “Counter clockwise!” our unofficially appointed leader shouts. We push. It moves. Not far, just a few feet, but damn it’s satisfying. Everyone is beaming, smiling, irrationally excited about our small accomplishment. We hug. We high-five. We congratulate each other. We disperse, taking off in different directions across the desert. Who knows who those people were, but we feel a connection with them akin to the strength of a connection to those of our own flesh and blood. We are stronger. We are happier. We are home.
We may never know who our comrades were, but we know who we are. We know now, now that we’re here, free from the constraints of our phones, our jobs, our social networks, our classes. Free from all our burdens. Free from the things that weigh us down every day. We were so heavy, and now we’re light, unburdened. It’s like being a child again. The sense of wonder is back, the willingness to accept everyone for exactly who they are, the ability to go through the day without ever looking at a clock, never thinking about the troubles tomorrow might bring. And like all newborn children, we are given names. Our playa names, our desert names, our Burning Man names. Our natural selves, the people we have found again, the people we are that got lost in the hurry of life in the real world. We have found them. And we remember their names.
I am the first one. The first one reminded who I am. This man asked me so many questions, the man trying to help me remember my name. The naming man. He wore pants, vertically striped in white and black, and a loose fitting white shirt that reminded me of something a pirate might wear. He asked simple questions. Day or night? Dance or sing? Which do you prefer? He asked me personal questions. What event in your life has made you who you are today? Who is your hero?
“My hero…” I answer, “I don’t believe in giving people that title.” I explain myself. I explain that it’s not fair to give people that title. It’s not fair to set people up for failure. People are people. People are flawed. People will let you down. You can’t force the title of hero upon someone. “But there is one person,” I decide, “one person I put on a pedestal. One person who probably doesn’t deserve it. One person who, no matter how many times he lets me down, I still hold in the highest regard.” I tell the naming man, who now knows things about myself I don’t even tell some of my closest friends, that this person is my oldest brother, Christopher. I don’t explain more than that. We move on to more questions. I answer honestly, unashamed, willing to answer, ready to hear my name. The other two, my fellow adventurers, answer the man’s questions as well. There are variations in the questions sometimes, based on what our answers are. The other two are just as honest with the man as I am.
Then it’s time.
We all stand and hold hands. There is a group of us there, another group of people who I now consider family and will probably never see again. The naming man speaks. He gives some of our family members their names first. Every time someone is given their name, reminded who they are, there is elation and celebration. We hug them and congratulate them. So happy to know who they are. Then it’s my turn. He begins.
“You talk about putting others on a pedestal. But I say it’s time you put yourself on a pedestal. You don’t give yourself enough credit. As you go forth on the playa, whether it be day or night, you can introduce yourself as…Venus de Playa!”
I laugh. Everyone congratulates me, hugs me. My two unnamed partners are ecstatic. “It’s perfect! It’s you! You are beautiful! We’re so glad he sees it, so glad he recognizes it! You are the goddess of beauty of the playa.” I smile, not quite taking it in yet, not sure it fits. Could this really be my name? Then it’s time for my friends to get their identities. We all grab hands again. The naming man begins again, speaking to the male of our trio.
“You aren’t in any hurry. You don’t have any worries. As you go forth on the playa, whether it be day or night, you can introduce yourself as…Slow Motion!” I laugh again. It’s perfect. Unbelievably so. How could the naming man peg my friend in so short an amount of time. I smile, glad to remember. Remember that this is my friend, Slow Motion. The celebration repeats. Then it’s time for our final comrade to receive her name. We grab hands.
“You’re a little sweet, a little salty. A little Spanish, a little English. As you go forth on the playa, whether it be day or night, you can introduce yourself as…Carmelo!” The laughter escapes my lips again. I think this time it is just from pure happiness. I can’t believe it. He’s right. That is her name. How could I have not known? The congratulations are shared again.
Then we are done. It’s time to move on. We say goodbye to our family. Thank the naming man for telling us, reminding us who we are. As we walk away I think about my name. I’m hesitant to accept it. Really? Could that be who I am? Everyone’s names are so perfect, he couldn’t have gotten mine wrong…but am I worthy of it?
Yes. I think I am. I smile. I look at my friends; they have the same overjoyed smiles on their faces. We move forth, locking arms and making our way across the desert. Off to have another adventure, off to meet more of our family. The only change…this time we will get to introduce ourselves as who we really are.
And Venus de Playa.
by Venus de Playa