Somehow I made it to Burning Man, a weeklong annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, and back home generally in one piece. I know many of you thought I would be one of this year’s causalities or that I’d give up after a day and go back home, but I stayed the entire time and experienced what will surely be a major highlight in my life. All I can say is never underestimate the resourcefulness of a black woman, especially a slightly bougie black woman.
I was warned that everyone’s first Burning Man is challenging, but I thought I was ready for anything after all that prep and BBGFO. However, how do you prep for losing your new riding companion that you found on Craigslist when he takes a bathroom break on the side of the road and traffic suddenly starts moving at a faster pace? And seriously, who could had foreseen the 8-hour impromptu tailgate party right outside of the entrance due to a freak rainstorm closing the gates? Surprisingly, no one was upset about the gate closure and my riding companion hitched hiked his way back to the car. Had this been Coachella there would had been riots.
These snafus actually made me appreciate the anticipation of getting into Burning Man much more. I took it as an opportunity to bond with folks in neighboring cars, get advice from veterans like no oral sex after Wednesday (effects of no showers), and danced as DJs played music from their RV rooftops. We weren’t stuck on a muddy road wearing garbage bags over our shoes, we had temporarily extended the city limits to begin celebrating returning home to Black Rock City and it was a blast.
When the gates finally opened, my riding companion and I were ready to end this 31-hour road trip and finally begin our journey as Burning Man virgins. Too bad we were immediately pulled over by the police upon entering and had literally everything pulled out of the car as they search for drugs with dogs. I personally had nothing and for the record, I am not the one you want with you if you do. I don’t do jail and especially not for someone else. I’ve seen at least one episode of Orange is the New Black, and orange is not my color unless I’m at a San Francisco Giants game. Plus I had spent hella money to get here and they were threatening to kick us out and that was not an option. Fortunately, nothing was found and we were eventually released, but it definitely was a BBGFTFO moment as dying or getting arrested were on the top of my list of things I didn’t want to happen and I had only been in the city limits for three minutes.
Once the shock of almost being arrested wore off, I found my camp and someone to put together my tent (I did at least make an 5-minute effort before giving up) and then went off to wander around the playa by myself. It was like being in Vegas with all the lights and loud music, but something was different. People seemed so friendly and kept embracing me and saying, “welcome home” or “happy burn.” One of the guys I met that first night commented on the fact that I was using my cell to figure out my location. He told me that at one point I’d have to choose to truly be here or to be an observer. I immediately shot back that I was definitely present after everything I went through to get into the gates, but he was right, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Naively, I had started my Burning Man journey as a tourist. My game plan was to explore the city, take pictures and attend several workshops during the day and then dance the night away to some of the best electronic beats. Of course I had also allotted time to get to know my fellow campmates at Retrofrolic, which is an adult theme camp, and work a few required shifts in our camp’s sex dungeon and maybe even get certified as a cocksucker (yes there really is such a certification and I’m now certified). I even remember noting the first time I went to the temple how beautiful it was, but couldn’t understand why others were so moved. Looking back, it is baffling how I didn’t see or feel what had been right in front of me the entire time.
There is a saying at Burning Man that “The Playa will provide.” Honestly, I thought this was some white thing and laughed it off. That was before figuring out The Playa, which can be defined as the location of Burning Man, some mystical spirit of the campgrounds, the universe or plain old fate, is a tricky little character that has its own agenda for you while at Burning Man.
The Playa decided to slap me into being present during a workshop on tapping with Sonya Sophia. This wasn’t the workshop I had wanted to attend, but I was determined to attend at least one workshop as I’d been distracted all week by free boutique shopping, the Slut Olympics, free booty shorts, free drinks and trying to stay dust free. At first, I thought the workshop was a bit lame until I broke down crying from releasing some seriously pent-up emotions I didn’t know existed. That dang Playa had started to work its magic on me.
The next day I went back to the temple with a friend, but this time I was extremely emotional. I didn’t care that I was riding my bike through some crazy sand storm that was destroying my hair. There were several people at the temple that day, but I couldn’t see anyone around me. I could only focus on this new feeling of wholeness that had taken over my body and soul.
I am not unique, but like many marginalized individuals or groups, I have a tendency to compartmentalize my personality to fit in based on my current situation. I don’t think most of my closest friends have seen more than 75% of the many parts that make up who I am. However, that day at the temple and for the first time in my life, I let go of all of the expected social norms for an African-American female, all of my self-doubts, judging and disappointments and feverishly wrote it all down and left it at the temple to be burned the next day. You see, that day at Burning Man was the birthday of a whole me that I never thought was possible.
When I got home I started to process what is Burning Man? For me, it was a great party if that is what you like. It was also a great spiritual journey if that is what is meant to be for you. What I did learn about Burning Man is that at the core of it all are the people and the sense of community. I felt encouraged to be my authentic self unapologetically and with no judgments. I wore exactly what made me feel whole and beautiful. I left myself completely open to experience things I normally would had talked myself out of due to self-judging or fear others would judge me.
People continue to ask me what is Burning Man, and honestly I have no clue how to respond to where someone will get what I experienced. All I know is that Burning Man is my home and I can’t wait to return next year.
Where you at Burning Man 2014? What were your experiences?