Woo, a lot going on in my world and all around that I want to talk about, but today I am driven to comment on the “me too” meme that’s been going around Facebook and social media in regards to women talking about their (far too common) experiences with sexual abuse and harassment. I think it's so important to talk about this and I'm glad there is more awareness than ever about sexual violence and rape culture, but I’ve been hesitant to join in and say “me too”, for a couple of reasons.

First off, let me say that of course, me too. Every woman everywhere, as far as I can tell, has had to deal with unwanted sexual attention and either the threat of or actual experience of sexual violence, and we really need to talk about it as a culture and commit to changing the power dynamic in the way that men and women relate to each other. However, what has made me hesitant to chime in and say “me too” is that—for whatever reasons—I am one of the lucky ones. I have never dealt with a sexual assault more serious than groping, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

I am also one of the lucky ones in that I have never had to deal with any serious, ongoing sexual harassment at my workplace or school environment or in any other place where others had significant power over me. Which is not to say that I haven’t had my share of catcalls, comments, jokes, gestures, hazing, and persistent unwanted attempts at sexual contact—that’s so common as to be hardly memorable, sadly—or of course been affected by rape culture and the general culture of the over-sexualization, degradation and dehumanization of women. I am well aware (hello, Women’s Studies degree) of the fears constantly generated and reinforced by our culture that attempt to keep women in line, keep us constrained and cautious and limit our choices and our power. I have swum in that sickening soup of fears all my life. I have the same threat-alert radar that every other woman has about my surroundings, and the people I come into contact with.

But even despite that, I’m lucky. And privileged. And I know that. In fact in some ways, I guess you could say my hesitance to jump into this very important conversation is because I have survivor’s guilt—why NOT me too? Because I'm a fat girl? We all know that doesn’t really protect one. Spending most of my time in supposedly “safer” neighborhoods and activities? That is certainly no guarantee either. Strong, loving and supportive family circumstances? (I got lucky there too.) Maybe those all contributed, maybe I just got really fucking lucky. I don’t really know, it’s impossible really to know. But I do know that this is a time where I have wanted to make sure other people’s difficult stories were heard and respected rather than jumping in to share my own, however empathetic that may be as a general conversational tactic.

So let me just say that I’m listening to the stories of my sisters and brothers who have dealt with sexual abuse, assault and harassment and I empathize. I feel the pain and I am appalled, angry and upset on their behalf. I am committed to continuing to have this conversation about why, when, and how these abuses of power (and bodies) happen, to shining a light on the problem and to strategizing solutions. Me too.

closeup of the Man at night inside the pagodaThis year I’m doing something different than my usual tradition of pithy punch list of lessons learned to wrap this series of entries up. I’m writing this last entry exactly two weeks after we got home from the burn, because it’s taken me that long to find the time and the energy to write all the previous entries and frankly, I needed a little time to let the lessons and themes clarify and precipitate out. People keep asking me “so how was Burning Man?” and my answer has been pretty shallow (“it was really great and really hot!”) because how it truly was and how I felt about it requires a much more complicated and layered answer and most people really don’t want to stick around to hear all that (but if you’re bothering to read this, maybe you do so I’ll tell you).

So how was Burning Man?

I enjoyed it overall, despite some discomfort with the heat and a few times of crankiness or upset with Josh. I spent some excellent quality time with familiar and unfamiliar PHamily members and felt I had a place and was valued, but didn’t get a chance to go transformatively deep with anyone. I was able to formally express my artist and musician identities by doing my Fly Your Freak Flag High workshop and the Radical Love Ritual and by performing on stage with my handpan at Center Camp, and those things were successful and made me feel recognized and appreciated, at least in a modest way.

Supernova at the back of the Time Traveler's Elevator in deep playaI also did a lot of volunteering and a lot of moving from scheduled thing to scheduled thing, pretty much all of which was rewarding in some way (made me feel good about being of service and being able to use my superpowers, and led to some great interactions with interesting random people, which is one of the best parts of Burning Man to me), but it also made the burn feel more like work and like the way I usually operate in the non-Burning Man world, where I am constantly filling my time with things and running from thing to thing that past me has scheduled for future me. Upon reflection, I think I frontloaded my week with too much responsibility because I was trying to keep a couple days open at the end of the week, but that didn’t work out too well. It would have been better for me to break it up more so that each day had a little schedule and a lot of freedom rather than the opposite, so I could keep my time at the burn a little more open and available for spontaneous adventures and connections. I want there to be enough empty time for me to get kind of bored or restless and start looking for things to do and people to talk to, because it is those serendipitous moments that are important and meaningful to me. I did manage some of those this year but wish there had been more. Having some more empty, free time would also have been useful to help me re-learn how to prioritize (and celebrate) my own choices around what I want to do and who I want to be in the moment. That mode of being my authentic self doing what I want to do in every moment is usually something I really treasure about my time at Burning Man, and I think my enthusiasm for wanting to be of service resulted in my not allowing myself enough space for that. Since I know I really am a twinkly bright happy powerful Supernova, the reminder here is that like my astronomical namesake, I’ve got to pull in before I explode out. Here’s to the healing power of contraction and quiet!

Writing at the TempleSpeaking of healing, related to all this is my slowly clarifying realization that healing and grieving both take a long time (longer than my impatient “why can’t I be normal now” self wants them to take, anyway), and that perhaps what I am facing now is another round of the challenge to accept and appreciate what is and where I’m at right now and to trust that “new normal” is okay, even when it’s a moving target. I think I was unconsciously assuming that last burn was the burn for processing all the cancer feels and that this burn would be for other things, and in some ways it was, but in some ways it wasn’t. It appears that I am still struggling with some existential angst around “I could have died but I didn’t; why did I live, and what is the meaning of my life now that I have it (mostly) back?” I didn’t process this angst much (or at least consciously much) at the burn itself, but it’s hit me really hard since I got back, especially when Josh and everyone else hit re-entry with so much to do and so much to take care of that seemed really urgent and important and impactful, whereas my workload seemed like mostly non-urgent parenting and household drudgery that no one really needed or appreciated. I’ll be honest, I had a few pretty bad depressive days last week where I felt pointless and valueless and couldn’t see my own positive contributions to the world, and even questioned whether anyone would really miss me if I were gone. The benefit of hindsight makes me wonder if the over-scheduled, tons of volunteering burn I set up for myself was an unconscious way to try to convince myself that I was needed or impactful. (I know, past me, you were just trying to take care of future me, and I appreciate that. But perhaps we need to be a little more honest and insightful about what’s really going on and what’s really needed. So here you go, future me.)

Detail inside Mucaro - Love Thyself FirstWhich is not to say that I didn’t sometimes take it easy or engage with self-care, because there definitely was some of that (thanks, super hot weather, for reminding me). Resting when I was tired, giving myself water and electrolytes and shade and snacks, spending some time at the Temple, asking for a massage, going out on a few adventures, all this was important. Many of the experiences I’ve had lately (at Gaming Camp before the burn, at various points during the burn, and even during this difficult decompression period) remind me or reaffirm for me that self-care is a necessary, ongoing practice, one that is a blessing, not a burden or a guilt. Self-care leads to self-love and self-love is the foundation of and prerequisite to healing all the other things. (Hi, oxygen mask theory, you’re still here? Ok, fine, come sit down here by me and give me a hug.)

One other theme that seems to have emerged in the writing down of all that happened at this year’s burn is the theme of The Gift of (Perspective Shift). I spent a lot of time gifting perspective shifts to other people, and sitting here two weeks post-burn I feel like I might be finally ready to engage with some of that perspective-shifting gifting myself. Last year brought me new appreciation for “suffering cracks us open and lets the light in” and “no mud, no lotus”; this year (or at least this particular reflective moment) is bringing me “take it easy” (which could also be expressed with the classic Pink Heart saying “float more, steer less”), and “self care comes first”, as well as the related perspective shift reminders of “crap or cone” (e.g. you get what you focus on) and “blessings, not burdens”.

So there are my takeaways from this year’s burn, at least with having had “only” two weeks to process. If you’re still reading this I’m impressed with your powers of concentration and hope that there has been something interesting or relatable in here for you, maybe even something that shifts your perspective. Supernova out!

 

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Preamble and Prologue]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 1]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 2]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 3]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 4]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 5]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 6]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 7]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 8]

[Full set of Radical Ritual pictures on Facebook]

Pink Heart at sunrise before strikeSunday is always a tough day at the burn because we have to strike camp—it’s tough physically of course but it’s also tough emotionally because it feels like the setting and the vibe we worked so hard to put together all year and so enjoyed all week comes apart so rapidly and irrevocably, and then is just gone, poof, like it was never there. (Yes, yes, we carry it in our hearts and in our memories, but at least for me, that dismantling always carries a shot of grief in it.)

So we woke up and put on our work clothes and reported for strike at 7am, and everyone started pulling things apart. I started by taking down the Gifting Wall and all the necklaces that had been left there with words of love. I distributed the ones that had been written on to as many Pinkies as I could find who didn’t get one yet, and then put the ones that were left with the blank ones that were left back on their sticks and in a box to give to Karpo (along with the sign explaining the ritual) to take with him to Youtopia (the San Diego regional that is happening in October), where they will hopefully be distributed. After that I helped with a wide variety of schlepping and disassembling and mooping, until it got to be the hottest part of the day and I had to rest for a bit. Some people were hardcore and kept working through the heat but if there’s one thing I think this burn was about it was self-care tests, so I decided this was not the time to be hardcore. Cookie was amazing and kept feeding us all, and that was a huge help. At one point we had to figure out what to do with the lost and found that had accumulated in frontage over the week, and there was the opportunity for a few playa scores (Kat was nice enough to cede a cool furry vest that we both wanted to me, which I’m pretty stoked about...and we didn’t even have to take it to the Thunderdome to resolve).

Pink Heart frontageI also remember at some point that day having a conversation with our campmate Lionessa and a few other Pinkies about the news we’d heard that someone had committed suicide the night before by jumping into the flames of the Man burn. Lionessa had been on the perimeter and close by. She watched the whole thing happen, including the heroic efforts of the firefighters who tried to get the guy out of the fire but were unable to save him, and she was pretty upset and traumatized. I don’t want to speculate on why someone would do such a thing or pass any sort of judgment except to say that his decision to do something so spectacularly and selfishly rash traumatized a whole lot of other people, and that is a bummer with a huge ripple effect which is still playing out in the burner community. (And once we got home, that tragic death was all anyone wanted to ask us about once they heard we’d been at Burning Man.)

Zip being pulled out to the Temple burnEventually we had all done as much as we were going to do for the day (which was most of the strike, it’s very true that many hands make lighter work), and we changed clothes and got ready to go out to the Temple burn. Kathy and Steve and some other campmates had hatched a plan to pull Mom (who still couldn’t walk much on her wrenched ankle) out to the burn with us on a wagon, which was super sweet and such a wonderful example of how our PHamily takes care of each other. So Josh and I and a big bunch of other Pinkies and Mom on her wagon walked out until we got pretty close to the perimeter of the Temple burn and settled down to watch it together. (As a side note, we saw the amazing giant marionette on the way there and back...I didn’t catch the name of this art piece but it was gorgeous: a big woman with words and images written all over her body, suspended from a crane on a truck, and apparently people could take turns moving her arms and legs and head. She was kneeling on one knee for the Temple burn, which was cool.)

Temple burnIt was a really beautiful and gentle burn, with a gorgeous contrast between the white hot flames and the patterned structure of the building on the lower level and a graceful slow slumping of the highest pieces into the lower ones as they burned up. The mood of this burn is always much more solemn and thoughtful (and often tearful). It was really great to spend this burn with such a large bunch of our PHamily, and there was a lot of emotion rocketing around. Every once in a while, someone in the greater crowd would start a wolf howl, and it was neat to hear it travel around the perimeter. Other than that though people were mostly silent and there was a lot of hugging (and occasional tears). It felt like a fitting ending to the burn.

After the burn some of us stayed and some of us (including Josh and I and Mom and Steve) went back to what was left of Pink Heart. It was hard to navigate since the Man was burned and the Heart Swing was packed away, but luckily the big Pink Flamingo was still there at 9:00 so we were able to find our way back pretty easily. There was some final encore meats-and-cheeses hangout in our shared patio area, but I didn’t stay up too long with that because I was all wrung out.

 

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Preamble and Prologue]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 1]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 2]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 3]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 4]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 5]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 6]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 8]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 9]

[Full set of Radical Ritual pictures on Facebook]

handpan at sunriseMonday morning I woke up early and decided that I wanted to do one more personal ritual before we had to break down and pack up our yurt and load the truck and leave. So I took my handpan and one of our little chairs and walked out to the open playa, and played a sunrise set. A few people came out from both Pink Heart and Red Lightning and joined me, and watched the sun rise over what was left of the playa art. I’m so glad I did that—it was good personal closure to able to say goodbye to the playa and my experiences that week through making music. 

After the sun was mostly up I went back and Josh and I began the unpleasant process of packing and disassembling and loading our personal stuff. I was tired and cranky and had to keep saying goodbye to people who were leaving, plus there got to be a bunch of things that other people had apparently abandoned that we had to help figure out how to take care of that made me even more irritable. (And as it would later turn out, apparently I was also in the throes of PMS, which I certainly had not been expecting...I got my period for the first time in 19 months the next day.)  But Josh tetris-ed (yes that’s a verb) both the truck and the van like a boss, and we eventually got everything loaded and finally left the truck with Anji and drove the van out to leave Black Rock City by around 1pm. Amazingly enough there was virtually no wait or line at the Gate until the very last part where everyone had to merge down into two lanes (we made it completely off playa in about two hours, which is probably the best Exodus ever).

Pinkies at the Silver Legacy in RenoIt was a fairly slow slog once we hit blacktop, with some spectacular clouds and rain squalls along the way between Gerlach and Empire (we were soooo grateful not to have been trapped in the line to get out by that rain, though I’m not sure if it ever even made it to playa). We got ahead of the rain and wind and stopped off in Nixon to get rid of our trash bags, where the weather caught up to us just as we were leaving. We did see some beautiful rainbows though. We made it to Reno by around 6pm if I recall correctly, and checked in to the Silver Legacy. It was really great to be able to take a break there and not have to drive all the way home. We called our kids and took that blissful first shower and dressed in clean soft clothes and went down to the lobby to meet up with a bunch of other Pinkies (including Doug and Elena, who hadn’t been to the burn but who came to Reno just to hang out with other Pinkies) who were also staying at the Silver Legacy. We hung out in one of the casino bars for a while and then there was a big group dinner at P.F. Chang’s, which I enjoyed the heck out of, especially since we really hadn’t eaten much that day.

Ryan climbs the horse at PF Chang'sAfter dinner we were hanging around the front of P.F. Chang’s waiting for our various Uber rides and taxis to get there when Ryan decided he wanted to climb one of the big stone horse statues that every P.F. Chang’s has outside it. I really tried to discourage him but of course other people were encouraging him and he’s a daredevil anyway so he didn’t listen to me. He climbed up just fine and was triumphant for about one minute. Then he started to climb down and slipped and fell and nearly whacked his head on the bottom of the statue but by some miracle missed and merely crashed onto the big cobblestones set around the base. He bounced right back up and was okay (though probably pretty spectacularly bruised) but he certainly scared the shit out of many of us. It could have ended so differently, and I am very grateful that it turned out okay. Whew.

Once we finally got back from dinner it was pretty late and I was very glad to just be able to crash out in clean sheets on a comfy bed. We got up early the next morning and checked out so that we could have breakfast with Kathy and Anthony and another set of Pinkies over at the GSR before we got on the road. There were so many hugs and sad goodbyes with people we had gotten really close to, but we eventually got on the road around 11am or so and made it home with no issues by late afternoon.

 

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Preamble and Prologue]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 1]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 2]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 3]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 4]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 5]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 6]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 7]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 9]

[Full set of Radical Ritual pictures on Facebook]

On the way to deep playaSaturday was my only day with nothing pre-planned and nothing I had committed to do. The burn was almost over and I was starting to feel nibbles of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) so I was determined to go see some more art (especially the Temple of Gravity, which was wayyyyy out in deep playa), and cajoled Josh into going with me to ride over there before it got too hot. We eventually got dressed and geared up with water and chill neckcloths and scarves and hats and made it out by around 10am, and headed out the 9:00 side towards the deep playa (which is everything that is past the Temple and the circle of the inner playa). We started going from art piece to art piece, following the time-honored adventure ritual of “hey what’s that? Let’s go look.”

Temple of GravityWe did see some amazing art, including the incredibly impressive Temple of Gravity, which was a giant curved metal frame from which were suspended five huge multi-ton slabs of granite on metal chains—they were so perfectly balanced that you could push on one of the suspended slabs and it would move and sway. It was a trippy feeling of contrast to be a puny little soft monkey yet able to make a giant heavy slab of rock dance.

Flower TowerAnother favorite of mine was the Flower Tower, a humongous central rocket-shaped tower with multiple smaller rocket towers around it, each made of steel and covered with hundreds of individually shaped and colorfully painted metal flowers. This was made by Reared in Steel, who are local artists just up the highway from us in Petaluma. When I was at the Rivertown Revival festival back in July they’d set up one of the small rocket towers and next to it a booth where you could make a flower or two for the towers—I had a lot of fun making one and of course I looked for the one I made when I saw the whole thing in the desert, but there were far too many so I didn’t find it. It was super impressive and possibly my favorite piece of art at the burn. Did I mention it also shot fire out from the top, and lit up in beautiful rainbow colors at night? Amazing.

It was a beautiful morning to be touring the deep playa, clear and hot with very little wind (and therefore very little dust), which made for great visibility so that you could really see the vast distances involved. I tried to take pictures that captured the immensity of the open playa and the towering mountains that surround it, but I really couldn’t do that vista justice at all. You could see little teeny bumps of things on the horizon, which as you got closer would resolve into enormous art installations (or sometimes smaller ones, because distance out there is tricky).

Supernova at the trash fenceWe had a great time flitting from piece to piece, and eventually we made it all the way out to the fabled trash fence (the fence that the Burning Man org puts up to mark the boundary of the event, and which provides a kind of loose containment device for the windborne MOOP that inevitably happens). I’d been telling myself that I wanted to make it all the way out to the trash fence for the last 5 burns, and I finally did it. (On my tricycle no less! I was impressed with both of us.) I had had a somewhat romanticized, fuzzy idea in my head of what deep playa and the trash fence actually looked like, and now I have a real idea of what it looks like and what it means to adventure out there. I would definitely go do that again. It is far and it takes some effort and some preparation to go out there (you would NOT want to be caught unprepared in a huge dust storm, for example), but it’s fun and totally worth it, especially because it is so relatively uncrowded.

Eventually it started getting really seriously hot, and we headed back to camp, taking breaks in the shade of whatever art project we came upon. I especially remember one grateful break inside the small shaded dome of the Black Rock Observatory (another place I’d been wanting to visit for years, but unfortunately it really is something you need to go to at night, so this didn’t really count). We made it back around noon or so and had to chill out for a while in our yurt (which wasn’t as easy as it had been previously, because our A/C had stopped working, boo).

Supernova and Mystic as VikingsSo after a while I went to go chill out in frontage, both because it wasn’t as comfortable in the yurt as I wanted, and because our new friend Marie (a super talented illustrator from Paris) was drawing something on our yurt and didn’t want us to see it until she was done. (We had invited people to come write and draw on our yurt walls, almost like a yearbook signing, although not too many people did so...mostly because we were too lazy, I mean distracted, to bug people to come do it.) Once she was done and showed us what she had drawn on the inner doorway, we were totally blown away. She’d made a portrait of me and Josh as a Viking bard and warrior (“I knew you guys liked role playing games so I thought you’d like this”) and it was fantastic! One of the things that happened at the very end of the burn is that we scored a new free yurt from an imploded plug-and-play camp so we may not be using our old yurt anymore, but we will certainly save that door panel as art.

So there was more hanging around frontage and I spent a couple more hours giving out wooden heart necklaces and explaining the radical love ritual associated with them, and I took down the two big wooden hearts from the Gifting Wall and gave them to Karpo, who was kind enough to take them to the Temple to be burned. Eventually there was some sort of dinner, and then it was time to get dressed up for burn night (aka the night when the Man burns, the big celebratory culmination to the week). Josh and I decided to spend burn night at Pink Heart, partly because we were tired and feeling homebodyish, partly because we didn’t have friends to go meet up with (our traditional burn night buddies Mary and Evan didn’t come to Burning Man this year, having just given birth to a beautiful baby girl in August), and partly because Mom, who we also have spent the burn with the last few years, had had a bike accident earlier that day and had a tweaked ankle so she couldn’t walk very far. Plus it seemed like a lot of Pinkies were planning on hanging around and watching the burn from frontage anyway (this being one of the advantages of being an Esplanade camp...yes the Man was far out there but you could still see it pretty clearly from our frontage....and if you sat in the right spot you could even see the burn framed in the Heart Arch, which was pretty).

Supernova in the Heart Lights on burn nightI spent some time taking pictures with Kathy and some other Pinkies in the heart light and then I settled down to watch the burn, which was spectacular even from a distance, with sprays of fireworks and big roiling balls of fire. We not only shared the evening with a bunch of Pink Hearters, but also a cute couple (alas I have forgotten their names already) who had just met at Pink Heart earlier that day and were clearly having a lovely romantic burn night together. (Awww, Pink Heart romances are the best!) One of them was a guy who had been one of my best “salespeople” for the wooden heart necklace radical love ritual earlier that evening—it was really cool to see the ritual “catch on” with other people and the resonance they felt with the ritual.

It was a lovely, loving pink evening. We stayed up til probably 1 or so in the morning, and then grudgingly went to bed because we knew we would have to get up at “stupid o’clock” (7am!) to start striking camp before it got too hot.

 

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Preamble and Prologue]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 1]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 2]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 3]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 4]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 5]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 7]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 8]

[Radical Rituals at Burning Man: Part 9]

[Full set of Radical Ritual pictures on Facebook]