Note: Burning Man is a trip! It's a pretty visual experience, so although my words below paint a picture, I decided to take it a step further and give you video storytime: kick back and check out the video embedded below where I read the stories plus added flavor in visuals, ad-libbing and of course, costumes!
Last year I shared a more generalized first-time Burner’s adventures at the festival, this time my stories are more personal and on the theme of Connection. It's my blend of what happened when left to float freely, independently, without judgement in the radically-inclusive environment of magic, learning, play and love that is Burning Man’s Black Rock City.
Super THANK YOU to:
Music: Story of the Running Wolf and
Photos: Alicia Yaffe, Patrick Noonan, Steve Wood, Mark Shapiro and me
Studio Video: Shot by Kristin Gerhart
Everything below here is shared in video above, plus some! But if you like to read, read. Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Which story do you like the best? Do you like storytime as a video? Want me to do more like this?
I call Burning Man “The World’s Largest Playground” and my second year was a wild ride.
I entered it’s rollercoaster gates and left the safety belt up. When this ride took its first fast turn, I went flying. The ride isn’t always smooth as I transition from one extraordinary experience to another one that is seemingly out of this world: I’ll go from climbing a 50 ft rope ladder to a lookout point with 100 other ballsy individuals to a front row viewing of a dozen of the most acrobatic fire-dancers you’ve ever seen and they’re performing to Beats Antique and Diplo. Then Ill fly to a spur of the moment first date, lying next to, “What’s your name?” I ask. “I’m Pete from Sydney,” he laughs as we lay for a couples massage at a lavender-misting spa.
There is so much to be a part of at Burning Man, landing is tough, but grounding is necessary.
There is stimulation everywhere: during the day you wave to your extraordinarily costumed cohorts in between trampoline jumps, panel discussions about the future of our planet and of course, pillow fights. At night, the city turns into a video game with your costumed-cohorts now adorned in blinking lights (and it’s a good thing because without those lights, you’ll run your playa-cruiser head on into them). As you ride, dodging anyone who’s had a bit too much, you’re making note of the landmarks and looking for street signs, that is, if you’ve actually got a destination in mind. If not, well, you’ll find your way back when the sun rises red, orange, pink and yellow behind the giant, climbable letters “MAGIC” in deep playa.
For the first two days I let myself play and explore what I ran my way into, and that was serendipitous to say the least. It’s fun, but the introvert in me can get exhausted with it, so on Day 3 I scheduled myself in several workshops: from partner dancing to How To Counsel Someone in Six Minutes to a guided heavenly meditation to a workshop in “conscious dating.”
Once I had a stream of conscious scheduling, I felt more comfortable flowing in and out of it at the festival. That balance supported me in grounding.
That said, there were excessive exciting, fun and silly experiences. There was running into dozens of friends and many “did that really just happen?” moments. This year I camped with The French Quarter which was broken into several smaller camps that included a bathhouse, a bakery, a farmer’s market and a jazz club. I got to be a burlesque dancer at the camp Mardi Gras party. Having had one lesson in burlesque dancing in Las Vegas the week prior courtesy of Workin’ the Tease’s Kitty Kat, I was just marginally prepared to lead the other novice dancers. “Lead with your pussy,” I remembered Kat’s teaching. Okay…
The Almost Wedding
There’s no greater affirmation of love on the Burning Man playa than to have a playa wedding. It’s a regular occurrence to see couples wed beneath the man or the desert’s artwork. Many of the couples are already married in the “real” world. Sometimes, new love on the playa can feel so out of this world, its easy to get caught up in that wondrous feeling. You might feel compelled to make it playa-official.
One night I was out dancing with a friend I care for very much. A feeling of connection with him that, in another world, we might have been a great couple. Was Burning Man that other world? Almost…
The way I’d always felt around this man was a magnified feeling of love, reverence and safety.
This man has a lot of qualities I adore in a partner: he is passionate, purposeful, attentive and loves abundantly. And when I ask him for space, he’ll step back and allow me to express and play independently.
One wild Burning Man night, we reveled with the crowds, joined ecstatic dancing and fire-breathing Burners and when we needed to rest our feet, took refuge in an art car filled with stuffed animals. That’s when he opened his heart to me. He confessed an adoration, a deep love. And I let myself overlook a major flaw: his in-real-life marriage.
That night he asked me to be his playa wife. My flying existence got swept up in the moment. We kissed wildly and began planning. I woke up the next morning in disbelief, but even sober, we both wanted this fantasy. We decided to have the ceremony in two days time.
Over the next 24 hours when I would talk about the wedding, I felt torn. Though I had invited some friends and even accepted a wedding gift from one, I couldn’t stay blind to the incongruous nature of our would-be union. Sure, it’s just at Burning Man, but did I want an only-on-the-playa marriage? Certainly not with someone married in the real world. I realized it would be marrying myself to baggage I didn’t want to carry on this flight.
Although I was embarrassed at the time to have said yes and then to call it off and although my ego hurts still in sharing this story with you, that’s the point of the story.
Look how far from perfect I am, look how far from perfect we all are. There’s so much hurt that could have been caused getting carried away like we did. I realized that love can get really confusing and I’m glad to have had the experience. The experience was complete without needing to tie any dust-caked knots. And I can better understand myself through it.
It poses questions: What kind of man do I want to be with? What led me to fall in love with this friend? What didn’t I love about it? Realizing what I want propels me on the path toward making the most important decision I’ll ever make, my partner. And play is necessary in life, but for me, marriage is more than play, even on the playa.
The Love Gun
On the playa someone might gift you a lighter, a homemade bracelet, coffee, temporary tattoos, a hug, it’s really as endless as the creative mind goes. There is nothing I enjoyed more than giving my playa gift abundantly. The best part about my gift: it’s an infinite resource of the best thing on the planet. And that is: Love.
Um. Right, so, how does that work? Glad you’re curious!
I carry a light-up, vibrating toy gun (I think it says ages 6-12, but what do the manufacturers really know anyway?). In a heart-opening ceremony, I charge people’s hearts up with love. The whole process lasts about a minute and starts with a few deep breaths together before I vibrate the center of their chest with the gun while talking them through personalized loving-affirmations until I deem their hearts overflowing with love.
The responses to this run the gamut, but are always overwhelmingly positive. Of the hundreds of hearts I charged with love, the immediate-hug-response was at 100%. Beyond that, some people laughed hysterically, some cried, some kissed or tried to kiss me and some didn’t want to let go! A common side-effect has been an enlarged smile, extra pep in their two-step and a ripple effect of good vibes.
One of my favorite moments using my Love Gun power was during a party at the Cirque Gitane camp. Some of the most beautiful people dance and play at Cirque Gitane and the Saturday afternoon party was no exception. I caught the eye of Entourage’s swoon-tastically beautiful lead actor, Adrian Grenier. I smiled and he came over to dance with me. It didn’t take long for us to transition into a highly sensual Love Gun moment.
“I need one of these!” He exclaimed, “Can we tag team people?” He asked me.
“Yes!” I replied. I was excited to have a partner in crime and such a sexy one at that. I found the experience was heightened when I had Adrian to support both me and the receiver of the Love Gun ceremony. After a handful of happy victims and a few incredible songs, my good friend Mark Shapiro came by.
Mark is one of those men who embodies what is possible. Having 180’d his life multiple times, he shares himself vulnerably every week on his authenticity-themed podcast The One and Only, also through workshops, coaching and just by being himself, creating the space for others to open up without fear of judgement. He seems to do this effortlessly and without discrimination. He is what we Jews call a real “mensch.” He also wears sillier leggings than I do and his DJ and party-throwing skills are top notch.
Most of the time the hearts I charge with love are stranger’s, so it’s a real treat when I get to do it for a friend. A remix of“Another Brick in the Wall” played as I charged Mark’s heart. When the ceremony was complete, Mark melted into my arms. I felt immense gratitude for the life I’m creating and the incredible friends who surround me. It was in this moment that I sensed Adrian would wander away. And I knew I would let him and the game go. In that moment I felt my own loyalty: how I value and cherish my friendships. In my mind I watched this memory as it happened: I envisioned it as an impressively-wrapped present and the parting of Adrian was the fancy bow tied atop the pretty gift box.
It seems that almost anything you might imagine exists in the Black Rock City desert, including a grounded 747 airplane set up for passengers to relax in, play in, dance in and declare their dream destinations in.
One evening I was exploring the plane’s upper deck and was drawn to infectious laughter emerging from the cockpit. I climbed my way in and found Anna giggling among a group of good looking men. Anna caught my eye. There is no doubt that Anna is aesthetically beautiful, but it was a feeling that lured me in.
I made use of the Love Gun and charged her heart before asking her, “do you want to come on an adventure with me?”
She easily agreed, joining a group of us on our bikes to discover the art structures of deep playa.
Before we took off on our playa cruise, I realized I saw myself in her. I can only describe it as a “knowing” I feel somewhere between my heart and my gut. I’ve had it many times before, in different forms, like the “I don’t belong here” one I had when I left my job in advertising or when I’ve met friends for the first time who all so quickly felt like family.
What I saw in Anna was the look of someone journeying through “180” - a big life shift. And it was showing up as career, but like me, it seemed to be a 180 of outlook and lifestyle of which the big career shift was a visual effect thereof.
My intuition knew that her heart felt similarly to my own and that we could give each other the gift of understanding, of friendship and love. I put my forehead against hers and I spoke to her from my inner guide. I looked into her eyes like they were a mirror of mine. “Everything is already amazing. You’ve done such a great job. Thank you.” I said.
She acknowledged me with a look of amazement and an embrace.
We played through the night, climbing art installations and making friends, growing our bike-pack to nearly twenty deep before heading to the Robot Heart party for sunrise. Every now and then she’d whisper something I needed to hear and I’d do the same for her.
At sunrise we sat a few hundred yards from the music. We held hands, meditating quietly as the chilly night turned a bright day. When we parted, she kissed me sweetly. My lips on hers, it was like kissing myself. I laughed at the beauty: of her, of me, of connection and I said goodnight to what was the most enchanting eve of my 2016 Burn.
The Search For What I Didn’t Then Realize I Was Looking For
By the night of the epically-anticipated Man-burn, I had only missed one sunrise during my week at the festival. As I learned in my first year, one of the most magical times of a Burner’s day is daybreak and I loved welcoming it in each morning. That said, the lack of sleep was catching up to me. Partner that with the worst weather of the festival (dust storms making it hard to see your friends two feet in front of you) and my Man-burn night was a bit of a bust. With debauchery-ridden shrieks in the near distance, I shut the RV door and fell asleep before 1am.
I woke up early on my last day at Burning Man. I knew that my camp needed assistance in teardown and that my friends wanted to head back to LA by 8pm that night. I wanted to maximize my last day. I had this feeling that I was missing something from my experience.
After a three-hour shift DJing the French Quarter’s teardown party while clearing out so many cases of cinnamon and condensed milk from the Black Rock City Bakery, I headed out on a solo journey for that je-ne-sais-quoi.
My final destination would be the party at Cirque Gitane, but before that I had time to do whatever else it was that I seemed to need to get out of my system.
I set out around 1pm and already the desert was looking more desolate. Many camps and landmarks from the week had been taken down or were in the process of being taken down. The Man was gone, the pyramids were gone, the lighthouse too, had all been burned. I couldn’t help but feel sadness for the end of the fest along with that pang of missing whatever it was that I was missing.
I decided to bike out into the blankness that had become the playa. I’d see if I could find any new art to inspire me. I did. I took photos. I biked on. I visited the temple one last time and I found the ashy remains of the Man. I watched the funeral and posed for photos with foreigners on the Man’s ashes. Still I felt an emptiness.
I went to Pink Mammoth’s day party and it was packed with people. I made conversation, spotted my favorite outfit (a christmas sweater-turned-sexy-man-suit) and took more photos. I used The Love Gun until it died out and then magically manifested another one. By the way, that is not an easy feat in the desert, but again, if you really want something, it’s my belief you’ll find it.
Frustrated still, I asked myself “What do you need?”
The voice in my head said, “Kiss someone.”
“Oh no!” My ego revolted. I have this stubbornness about me, that if I consciously know my ego is winning, I must fight. If my response to the voice had been, “No, I don’t think that kissing someone randomly will bring me the connection I’m looking for,” then I’d let myself off the hook. That was reasonable. But this time my ego was scared of the challenge. So I knew what I had to do.
I went to Cirque Gitane to find a handsome stranger. With a nagging feeling of “I’ll show you who’s boss ego!” (ironic, right?), I settled for the first buff and shirtless guy who came my way. We danced for about a minute before I mustered up the courage and asked him if he wanted to kiss me. He did.
After the kiss I felt awkward and went outside to regroup. I was glad I’d taken myself up on the challenge, but that didn’t seem to be what I needed. I gave up on the idea that anything spectacular would happen.
Mark Shapiro came by in a Hugh-Hefner-style bathrobe. We laughed for awhile about nothing so particular that I can remember it. I reverted back to my cheerful, grateful self and looked for some juicy hearts to power up with the Love Gun. After a few rounds, I felt the serotonin rush ofbringing smiles to new faces.
It was then that Mark introduced me to David. “You two don’t know each other?” he seemed baffled.
David carried himself comfortably; mellow and low-key yet vibrant in his appreciation for being among beautiful people at a great gathering. His way about him was contagious for me, making it effortless to be real and get to know him better. A founder at Summit, a community centered around innovation, creativity, cultural enrichment and environmental conservation, he spends most of his time living at their home base of Powder Mountain in Utah with his best friends.
Evident in his presence was a deep satisfaction in the life he’s creating which translated to ease of conversation, authenticity and connection. As with any solid Burn experience, you don’t realize when hours have gone by, and when I actually checked the time, I saw it was nearing the hour of my departure.
“You’re leaving before the Temple Burn?” David asked me, “That’s pretty soon.”
“Yes,” I replied, “My friends are waiting for me at the corner of 7:30 and A.”
“Wow,” He said, “So I got to be the last friend you made at Burning Man.”
“Yes.” I smiled.
Connection. It was the je-ne-sais-quoi I was seeking. It didn’t need to be romantic and it didn’t need to be wild. It just needed to be rooted; in respect, in shared ideas, in open, caring communication.
It was the breath of air coming fully into my lungs as I took it in. My experience at Burning Man 2016 was complete.
Although we’d spend the next 12 hours in the time-to-leave-the-desert mass exodus line, most of the time without moving the RV as we attempted to return to Los Angeles, you couldn’t shake the satisfaction away from me. It had been just the Burn I’d needed. Even in the standstill, I felt afloat on a magic carpet: I had played, I had learned, I did healing work and self work, I had been swept up in romance and I’d made new friends, I’d even serendipitously reconnected with an old boyfriend (I did leave that story out). The experience of my burn and each individual experience within it, each complete in that I had connected with others and with myself. I had made choices to follow my inner GPS and really, there’s nothing better than that.
Today I’m still flying on that carpet. I’ve been to Joshua Tree, Encinitas, Arizona and Utah. I’m writing this from Mexico. I can’t say I know what I’m doing in 180, but I can say I’m clear on where I’m at and where I’m going as I glide with my heart, designing my life: with gratitude for the places I go, the people I meet, the joy I feel and the creativity pursued.