I have been ignoring the world of Burning Man, collecting emails for a future read, commenting on camp mates accomplishments and new profile pictures, but mostly flat-lining with my burner family. A concept became clear. You can’t go home again. The truth brought right to my tent flap. In 2011, the summer beyond my sixty-fifth birthday I went for the first time to Burning Man at Black Rock City, Nevada. I went with a woman from NYC who was my former writing teacher and now good friend. She had been a burner several times prior and hooked us up with a group of dancers who had a smooth dance floor and a wonderful cook who fed all fifty of us three solids a day. We helped prep the meals and got to know our camp mates. We volunteered to organize the generator for the dance music. We took the garbage out to our composting pond to dry and rot in the desert sun. (Then we carried it out of the desert.) Everyone was open and loving, curious and welcoming. There were private showers at our camp. The disgusting smelly, dirty strip of portalets was far enough away not to sully our air.
I was transported to a phantasmagorical land of kindness and caring, beauty and art, sensuality and inspiration with a “city that never sleeps” atmosphere that was better than my New York at four AM. Best of all was the freedom to be oneself and morph every day into the new self that felt right. To participate in persiflage but also flirt more seriously because everyone, mostly, was on a mission, well at least the young folks, to hook up. The young people do, loose like an ess hook that slips out as easy as pie. They are not like my generation who fell in love through our pussys and our cocks. We were the first generation of free love and although it was given mostly free because “wow this is so cool,” we all became the walking wounded of love, lust, and sex’s traditional machinations of possession and betrayal. Some of these young kids really do know how to hook up and its easy-peasy and correct. No one is your true love because you exchange bodily fluids and have a moment. One has moments with many people and it does not make a life-time of growth and companionship and support. Just listen to the altes bark the same arguments at each other that they’ve been having for fifty years.
I found the freedom to be myself and costume daily. I mentioned to my group, “Queen Elizabeth II must change her outfit five times daily for the benefit of her subjects.” And so some of us were the noblesse oblige as we bicycled laughing through ribbons of sand and got caught up in dust eddies. I didn’t mind the sweat and the sun and learned how to protect myself and when to rest. I showered everyday but reveled in the pigpen aspect of the adventure. (There was a group whose name and gift was “Carcass Wash”. You can imagine.) My husband smiled coyly before I left and told me to have fun and I knew he meant for me to have my freedom. I surprisingly wasn’t into anonymous sex and it made life so much easier, just being friendly with no agenda. Yes I flirted, can’t help it, part of my genetic makeup. I even invited someone to my tent for a nightcap, a fellow pot head.
That week long adventure was transforming for me, for a time. I was kinder in the default world. My motto became “Everyone is doing the best they can.” I still truly believe it. I just may not want to know them as they’re doing that best!
The next year didn’t work and my moods continued their drift. Then 2013 looked possible. I gathered old carnival costumes from Dominica and all the things I didn’t know I’d need the first year. Off we went. My friend had just experienced a loss in her life and I was teetering at the end of a long and enjoyable period of energy. I had two alone and not very self-sufficient days in Oakland, CA and then off in a rental car to Reno and a garage filled with our stored gear. Stocking up on water, toilet paper, getting our Kiwannis bikes put us on the road by noon and we were off like a prom dress to the Man. I kept going straight when I should have turned. The road became gravel. A guy delivering wood to a project in Black Rock City said it was the best route so on we went a safe distance behind him. We were going seventy but he was cooking so we didn’t get his dust up. The road was this close to Pyramid Lake with salt layers growing smaller and smaller into pointed mountains. A few huge grazing farms filled with cattle and horses and a house on the prairie that had no one and nothing for miles and miles and miles. We didn’t stop for rock climbing. The car was jouncing our insides as we smoked our weed and blabbered to catch up on the last two years. We landed west of Gerlach and the twenty minute wait to get through town.
The ticket line was not as much fun as year one but took only about two hours and then we were at camp. The first hello was someone who told us to be quiet, a meeting was happening. (He later apologized.) We were trying to find a place to raise out tents. As it happened the only place was right beside the dance floor. Rocky start and down hill from there. The teeter had a little more teet than ter and I was down. There were seventy people this year. There were fifty my virgin year and at least eight women were in their late fifties, early sixties. By Tuesday I was privately in tears, don’t make me sit down to another meal with seventy chatty people and pretend. In the first group meeting I said that I hoped I would be approached to talk but was feeling very shy which was a revert to very old behavior.
My friend John Dufresne had just published his latest novel NO REGRETS, COYOTE and I read it in my tent, adjusting the flaps for air. I took long naps in the comfort dome and danced my ass off during the sessions. We went around looking at the Temple and the Man and a gorgeous wire sculpture of a woman that was twenty feet high. But I was not. I had withdrawn from my better self and pulled into the retraining cocoon, head down and eyes low. And definitely no more smoke.
My friend was also having a bit of a difficult time and we talked about leaving early. I was game. My tension eased. We were hanging at the back of our tent in the shade, people shifting in and out of the conversation. As it ended there was myself, a thirty something man I knew from two years ago and a lovely twenty year old newcomer here with her boyfriend from Australia. We chatted life, truth and possibility. As we were drifting away he said. “It is so fabulous to have so many different people here: The Nymphet and The Crone.”
Whump. I came as a woman this year. I am practicing being wise and kind and generous. But make no mistake, the woman is me, loud and strong. He called me a crone. It has taken me a year to absorb and know that it is true. The emails for the sale of tickets have started and registration, with your profile, a must. I am Vivid Valentine because my birthday is on Valentine’s Day. I have put in for a single ticket. I can always sell it. I will go for a few days, part of no group, in a station wagon with my own food and water. I will park on the periphery and be who I am.