2020: Asterisks

I woke up one morning in early August and felt the desert calling. A yearning for connection, self-expression, love, and endless space tugged at my heart. It was time to return home. My cells seemed to be whispering to one another, “Aren’t we supposed to be packing right now? Doesn’t she know it’s time to return?”

I picked up the phone and called my bestie, Cece, “Babe, we’re going to the desert. 2020* can’t stop us. We’re creating our own Multiverse.” 

Since my first Burn in 2016, I planned to return to Black Rock City (BRC) every year until something significant forced me to pause. Well, it turns out that 2020* would define what it means to pause. 

BRC is often described as a liminal space, a space where creative potential lies as you cross through the mystical threshold. In its ephemerality, we, the citizens of BRC, exist inside the time warp of the rise and fall of the infrastructure, theme camps, art installations, relationships, and dust. 

Burning Man has always made me pause. A shared moment of understanding, inexplicable synchronicities, random acts of kindness, raw emotions, feats of engineering and the imagination; all of these things are gifts that interrupt the narrative of my day-to-day life. In the liminal space, I found community and Principles that challenged my notions of self and society. In the in-between, I discovered parts of myself I’d forgotten or banished. Under the veil of the dust, I found acceptance. Amongst all of the shock, inequity, and grief of 2020*, my desire to hit pause and take stock of my confusing reality was stronger than ever. 

As the creator of my own (Multi)verse, I was determined that 2020* would be no different. In “The Before Times,” I would have shepherded Cece’s “birgin” voyage. Instead of imprudently visiting the Black Rock desert, we decided on a getaway to Joshua Tree. Instead of roaming around the great expanse of the playa by bike, we would climb the vast boulders of the national park on foot. Instead of making friends with goofy humans, we’d make friends with those wacky back-bending Joshua Trees! 

Our trip to the desert felt surprisingly like returning home. I flipped into Burning Man prep mode and automatically dropped into the same familiar motions of stocking up on desert-friendly snacks, grabbing any and all costumes and crafty items, and dreaming about creating a temporary space to evoke mystery and awe. 

When we arrived at our AirBnB in Joshua Tree, we could feel the presence of the artist owner in the quirky furniture and vinyl records. Outside there was a beautiful pink peppercorn tree which became the focal point for our theme camp. We counted 28 outdoor chairs and challenged ourselves to sit in each. We had a pile of boulders to climb up for a 360-degree vantage point of the scenery. The landscape provided us with a color palette of sage, dusty rose, and shades of burnt orange.

Cece set up a menagerie of eclectic blankets, pillows, and lanterns. As our resident camp DJ, I hooked up our sound system and my decks. Okay, okay… I’m exaggerating. It was just a Bluetooth speaker and a dope soundcloud set.(Note to self: add sound system to list of things to remember in 2021, along with learning how to DJ… and more gummy bears.) 

We were ready to Burn. 

The next morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed for sunrise to start our adventure. We served ourselves bubbles and cranked up the bass. The Joshua Trees greeted us cordially at the park entrance as the sun emerged over through the clouds. Time began to warp. Cece is a fabulous French art director type. When you’re around her, you become a character in her indie film. She brought along an 80-year old hand cranked film camera. We ditched our shirts and danced on the boulders as the sun warmed our bare skin. If that footage actually gets developed properly, it’ll make for a great psychedelic arthouse montage.

The day was hot. Great, this year’s Burn shouldn’t be too comfortable… We returned to camp, took a nap, and then got dressed for the evening. I perpetually got dressed again and again and again. Iterating on outfits allows me to embody parts of myself that don’t often get to play in the world. First, I was a circus conducting mistress, then a barefoot bohemian, and finally a goddess adorned in serpentine gold hardware. 

Cece found a fancy hat and morphed into Peter Pan. Together, Peter Pan and the Golden Goddess climbed up the boulders for sunset. We breathed in the fading colors and marveled at the natural beauty of the rocky landscape. Despite all the shock, inequity, and grief of 2020*, we had the privilege of stepping outside of it all. A familiar experience of awe and gratitude flooded over me. I felt, in an instance, all the moments from the playa that evoked those same vibrations in my body. Burning Man is a gift. Burning Man is a culture. For me, it’s a feeling. The feeling exists in the liminal spaces we create for ourselves, for each other, for the world. 

It’s always there. I can always remember it. I can always return to it. 

The rest of the details don’t really matter. 

Hey Cece, remember that one time we bumped into David Bowie… his voice was so strange, was he on whip-its? Or when we made friends with an international DJ and howled at the moon? The moon is soooo bright, could you tone it down? Remember that time I got a bee sting and that rascly cacti couple tried to fuck my Burn? Ugh, did you just eat pickles on your pancakes? 

Yeah, the rest of the details don’t matter. You get it. 

My Burn gave me a reprieve. I let go of the tension, trials, and triumphs from the past year and found space for Immediacy. By the time Man Burn night rolled around a week later, I felt complete in my personal ritual and happy to spend a cuddly evening indoors, streaming the festivities with someone I’d written hopeful Temple notes to last year. Full circle. 

When I look back at 2020*, I’ll remember it with an asterisk. “Asterisk” comes from the Latin asteriscus, meaning “little star.” My 2020* burn gave me a glimmer of hope against the backdrop of a sickeningly dark year. I hope yours did too. We need it if we’re going to show up and change things. Thank you Burning Man. )’( 

*Note: 2020 was an unprecedented year of global turmoil and suffering. The COVID-19 case count is at 63M globally at the time of publication. Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities in the US were disproportionately affected, highlighting long-standing racial inequity and systemic racism. Extractive capitalism continues to drive wealth inequality globally. Trauma and mental health indications continue to rise. The climate crisis continues to progress at astounding rates, with severe loss of natural environments and species. The west coast of the USA was on fire around me as I wrote this piece. These are serious times.

All photos courtesy of Shirelle Noble

About the author: Shirelle Noble

Shirelle Noble

Burning since 2016, Shirelle Noble is a grateful citizen of BRC. She has contributed to her theme camps French Manilla and Camp "Wait, What's In This?" and participated in the art piece Andromeda, Reimgined. On playa, you can find her being "The Worst" (her playa name), dancing around in elaborate costumes, teaching yoga, and pontificating about how to bring Burning Man principles to the default world.

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