Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Transformations - Part 3

Art is the way to the absolute and to the essence of human life. The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities – thought, feeling, will – to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.
--Bruce Lee

"ONE, TWO...."

The roar of several hundred people rang behind me. Within moments, a pile of slacked rope appeared at my feet as I pulled with all my might. There were too many of us, and soon enough the force upon the effigy was ludicrous. We rolled a life-size replica of the Trojan horse 200 feet (66 m) through the "Gates of Troy" in 20 seconds, only to be quickly obstructed by armor-clad Trojan warriors frantically attempting to halt further advancement. The effigy didn’t stopped rolling when we stopped pulling, and with exceptionally rounded wheels we had no idea when it would stop. No one intended to flatten a pulling participant with wheels 6 feet (2m) tall! This didn’t occur, thankfully. Celebration followed our surprisingly effortless feat. Each one of these experiences strengthened my connection to the city of Black Rock and its people. Together, we were a passionate fire of expression fanned by such liberating foundational rules. But then there were the actual flames on the Playa.

At Burning Man, there are major art installations that are constructed to represent the participating regions of the United States. These regional effigies are an artistic donation to the festival, which are burned before the Man himself. Thousands gather around each effigy, and for me it had to be the one I had just pulled. I sat cross-legged at the edge of the safety zone; a front row seat to what would surely be an insane pyrotechnics show. I soon learned this decision was not the best one. Twenty archers encircled the effigy with fire arrows notched. When the signal sounded the quivers volleyed, igniting the horse within minutes. Fireworks exploded out of every inch of the horse for longer than any show I had seen before, eventually engulfing the horse in flames.

My skin felt like a baked potato. My eyes fought to glaze in protection against a searing wave of heat. It only got more intense. I closed my eyes to listen and endure this increasingly uncomfortable temperature. People whooped and cheered, the flames continued to roar in response. I was dripping from head to toe in sweat which immediately evaporated in the 1,200 °C (2,200 °F) waves of flame blasting out from the effigy interior. Eventually, I couldn't stand it anymore. No need to get first degree burns from the raging heat wave of an inflamed Trojan horse!

Photographer - Janet Lackey


As each day passed, knotted ends of my mind unwound. Expressive thought and movement ignited to the poly-rhythm of speaker towers, the buzz of a thousand conversations, the clamor of hundred passing bikes, the thumping of a mutant vehicle sound system. My consciousness expanded and intertwined, completely lost of structure and sequence. It was elation at its finest, as time had no meaning to the immensity and significance of expression in the now. This was Thursday, and the days that followed suit. There is no way to remember it all in order, as order never mattered in the moment it occurred. Therefore, my recollection of Burning Man past Thursday’s Trojan horse burn is a complete mess, and is probably better told as a collection of the most memorable gatherings.

Mutant Vehicles

Out in the Playa, there were musical performances of all kinds. Renowned DJs or not, each camp was at full volume, all the time. Even though all areas of performance were most common amongst the city, there was a place to celebrate in the dark abyss of the empty playa. Mutant vehicles were a completely mobile entertainment complex. Often they combined forces in a circular caravan filled with hundreds of people that collected while exploring the outer Playa. We spent hours at these kinds of parties, climbing aboard mobile structures of all kinds and dancing amongst people from all over the city. Finding these celebrations was one of my favorite things to do.

Fire Circles

Many people in my camp were fire dancers, which meant that we often collectively pursued these gatherings on the Playa, or made our own wherever we pleased. But 10:30 and Esplanade always yielded great opportunities to meet other performers while spinning next to the largest sound systems. One evening, we attended a musical group’s performance (Infected Mushroom) in this very spot. Dozens of other performers had the same intention, so as we arrived it was easy to spot our destination: a glowing ball of orange light and cheers of many observers. This was my first taste of the vastly diverse realm of fire performers, proving that Long Beach was a fleeting glimpse of this newfound world within dance.

Some were attention seekers; massive muscled men erotically wiggled their bodies and clumsily spun their fire props while attracted women writhed all over them. The contrary happened as well, where women mesmerized an audience by concentrating more on how sexy their bodies looked. Other performers flung themselves in every direction, coming dangerously close to collision with another performer. For me, this meant they could only stand being the center of everyone’s attention, which rarely worked. Then there were the tech spinners; stone solid faces of concentration, technically pushing the limits of their prop manipulation. For me, these movements were impressive, but I wondered if a regular observer could understand the significance. But then there were those just having a good time, lost in their flow. The smiles on their faces and the sporadic movements of their bodies entertained me the most, as I could see how happy this talent made them as well as those watching.

I look back at this experience and realize that it was mostly my own interpretation of these dancers. Maybe the big guys or the sexy girls weren’t trying to attract. Maybe the flailing dancers weren’t trying to collide with others and be the center of attention. Maybe they were all just trying to flow, and I had misjudged them. Regardless of anyone’s real intensions, it was what Burning Man was all about: radically inclusive atmosphere. With these thoughts in mind, I realize I was no different when I saw the stage turn dark, temporarily absent of any spinner and a crowd waiting for the emergence of another.

I leaped into the circle, death star wicks thoroughly soaked and ablaze as bright as fireworks. The crowd erupted at the sight of the significantly larger fireballs flying and massive tails of flame snaking about my body. The heat encircled me in a sphere as hot as the mid-day desert sun. A cascade of sweat dripped across every inch of my skin. The extreme temperature, the roaring fire from my props, and the eruption of their cheers all intertwined as an explosive surge that pushed me to the limits of my physical self as I leapt and spun in every direction about the crowd, landing each move in sync to the blast of Infected Mushroom.  I have never felt such an intense connection to a crowd while performing.

Playa Events and Workshops

When you drive through the gates of Burning Man, you are given an event guide. It is several hundred pages long, filled with events organized by date and time from Monday to Sunday all across the Playa. Here are a few notable selections I have acquired from the online archive (if you are interested in learning more about the events, check out the archive yourself)

Language eXchange - Need to practice a language? Wanna improve an accent? Learn some new words? Want to share your own language? We are international Burners from the CouchSurfing community that speak Spanish, French, Italian, Hebrew, German, piglatin, Portuguese, Russian, Dutch, etc. Stop by and see who is around lounging on our Mutant Sofa and chat it up!

The 48 Hour Film Project - Make a short film and have it premiered, all while on the playa! If you have a team and equipment, start at your leisure and follow the instructions on posters found at PlayaInfo and Videogasm (in Snowflake Village). If you want to get people for your team or join a team, come to Videogasm Tuesday at 3pm. These teams of filmmakers will then go off to write, shoot, edit, and score short films--from scratch, in 48 hours, on the playa!

Morning Coffee Enema 8 - self explanatory.

Welding Service - Welding repair for mutant vehicles and other contraptions.

Human Carcass Wash - Wash and be Washed... Be part of an interactive washing experience. The highly regarded and much anticipated... Human Carcass Wash!!! Get involved with some of your closest Playa friends and some new friends in trading your old Playa Dust in for a clean body ready to be dusted once again. This event honors your stated boundaries of where you do want to be touched or washed.

Snack Food Glory Hole - Kneel down and open your mouth for a snacky surprise! 70% delicious, 90% interesting, 100% food, guaranteed.

Moon the Man! - Monday night will be a New Moon, so lets show the man your Full Moon at Midnight. Afterparty at the trash fence with Chocolate Moon Cocktails!

Rite of Nasal Passage - Dust getting your nose down? Come by for some nasal relief with our multiple sinus neti pots.

Jewish Motherly Advice - Lisa Schroeder of the Children of Chaos will be hosting her Jewish Mother booth again this year, dispensing advice and nurturing for all. “The Jewish Mother You Never Had” will be available daily and Mom's hours will be posted in front of the camp.

Chainsawmargarita Happy Hour - Roaring chainsaws and margaritas at the same time! What could be better? (I wish I had attended this one)

The Saraswati Speaker Series - Leaders of the psychedelic and civil liberties communities offer their thoughts on the evolution of consciousness, self-expression and cognitive liberty.

Bedouin Oil Bath - Clean and moisturize your skin with simple oils and a scraper - done the Bedouin Way.

Bicycle Jousting - again, self-explanatory.

Naked Ass Volleyball! - ASS not what Burning Man can do for you, but what your ASS can do for Burning Man! Come play volleyball in an ass friendly zone.

The Earth Harp

Photographer - Rich Van Every

Designed by William Close, the Earth Harp is the largest stringed instrument in the world. When William first designed it, the wires spanned 1000ft long over a canyon, resonating the Earth itself with the vibration of each movement. He brought the design to the Playa, allowing for all of us to experience this resonation in and around the Temple of Transition. His hands gently glided out and away towards the temple as our bodies and the Temple of Transition shook to the sound of the strings. On he played as hundreds watched.

I looked about my friends, those who I had only met a few months before. Knowing that we had all endured and enjoyed this experience to its fullest gave me a greater sense of confidence in humanity, in the idea that even though we are constantly on the move with our personal lives, it doesn’t take long to bond on deep levels through life changing experiences such as this. Arms across each other’s shoulders, tears gently rolling and aching smiles glued, we would never forget the moments we had from Monday to Saturday at Furry Guerilla Warfare and beyond: our first burn. And it was Saturday night.

Burn Night

The long awaited moment had come. We all stopped by the camp to find Lucy and Molly, and off we went. Jilly had left early to find her fire conclave, which would soon be performing with 500 others around the Man before he burned. The single largest gathering was already happening as we hit the Esplanade. From every edge of the city, people were pouring out on foot, bikes, or mutant vehicles. Thankfully, I arrived early enough with Lucy to sit down at watch it all convene. The largest and happiest collection of people and vehicles I have ever seen formed before my eyes. The mutant vehicles created an outer perimeter. The music grew louder, the vehicles bounced higher, and the people danced ever more crazy as the moment came closer.

Photographer - Scott London

Again I sat on the edge of the burn perimeter that had been set up to keep people’s faces from melting off. There, the Black Rock Rangers knelt deeply attentive and facing the crowd. They were in place to stop any mindless festival goer from breaking through the boundary and running into the imminent flaming 40-foot inferno (an incident that has occurred several times in past burns). Only one group had been permitted to break this boundary. The Burning Man Fire Conclave was a collection of over 500 talented groups from all over the world who had joined forces to perform as one around the Man. Jilly’s conclave was a fortunate contribution of this performance. Hundreds of drummers joined as well, shaking the ground with their poly-rhythm as flaming props flew in every direction. Eventually their fires died, the conclave retreated and braced for the final burn. The fireworks started sparse but quickly became a raging crescendo of explosions for an entire twenty minutes. It was as if someone had taken the grand finale of every firework show on the Earth and put it all together. Explosions got bigger and brighter, louder and larger, until a final mushroom cloud of screams, cheers, music and flame engulfed the man and his twin pyramids, an ultimate collective sensation from the pyro technicians, 50,000 observers, and myself.

Photographer - Vito Fun

What happened later that evening was more a wash than any other moment of Burning Man. So much energy was surging in all directions. All I can say is that it was one of the greatest evenings of my life, and here is a picture to give you an idea.

Yes, this photo was taken from space.

The Temple Burn

Sunday. We rested most of the afternoon, sometimes awakening to eat or pack. Laughs were shared as stories from the previous evening were temporarily recollected. After the Man burned Saturday night, Sunday was absent of celebration. Evening swiftly came. Out past the ashes of the Man and his pyramid was the Temple, fated for the flames that would officially end Burning Man 2011.

Our camp sat peacefully amongst thousands of others. Some cried, some embraced, some simply watched. No one spoke. Silence was broken as the fire pierced the frail dome tops of each tower. Someone cheered. So many thousands of messages had been inscribed upon those walls, filled with every level of grief, love, suffering, happiness, anger, confusion, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding. So many connections were created, reinvigorated, or severed. Tens of thousands of minds surged in their inner and exterior connection to this masouleum in such awe that all I could give was silence.

Inscribed moments crumbled away and collapsed. Some fragments swiftly departed, flecks of ash caught within a towering, fiery dust devil. The rest, a gentle snow, a smoldering pile of embers, a fragment of dust in the wind on the Playa.

Temple Burn - Neil Girling

Burning Dan once said, “don’t come home to Burning Man, bring Burning Man home with you.” He found these words posted on a sign while driving towards the entrance gates of the Playa. As Dan reached the entrance, he was greeted (as was I) with a simple greeting: "welcome home." All these words echoed in my mind as I walked back to camp. For many attendees, Burning Man was home away from home. Enduring/enjoying every moment of my 7 days on the Playa, recollecting the words of Dan, and connecting it all back to the simplicity of the entrance staff's greeting helped me to solidify what I had begun to realize just 9 months before. The world is my home, endlessly burdensome, enlightening, entertaining and inspiring all at once. Yet I must show the world the amazing thoughts, feelings, and actions I have to offer without so much hesitation. This is what Burning Man did for me.

With all this in mind, I have words for you. Get out and explore more than you already have! As we release ourselves from our insecurities and open ourselves to what lies beyond them, our home also expands beyond the one little community where we have always belonged. What makes us healthy, happy, understanding, resilient human beings is when we can express and explore ourselves in the midst of burdens, enjoyments, and connections beyond our present comfort zone. It is with these thoughts in mind that I am capable of always taking the next step, that which is always done with uncertainty. You don’t have to travel to the desert for 7 days and dance with hippies and naked people, or fly to the other side of the Earth and live in the middle of Delhi. Just step into the nearest unknown place with an open mind to the values of that new experience. That is plenty enough.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Transformations - Part 2

The Temple of Transition - Photographer: Scott London

"This we know; all things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." - Chief Seattle

Dawn. I had been riding a tricycle decked with LEDs all evening with Andrea, Kyle, and Marina. Lucy had been with us all night, so we were still wide eyed and smiling in the 11th hour of our escapade. Laughing, dancing, and tricycle chariot riding (as both the driver and "chariot rider" in the rear basket of the trike) past massive music camps, around art pieces, and alongside mutant vehicles was a wash of a memory, but a very good one! All came to an end as we hit the shield of sorrow, serenity, and silence enshrouding the Temple of Transition. We were giddy beyond measure, so it's power only lightly touched our spirits to calm our senses. It was time for a sunrise. 

We sat together, beaming at a magical moment soon to arrive. I came prepared. Knowing that our journey would end with the greeting of a new day, I brought headphones and an iPod. Marina and Andrea hadn't prepared as much, so I decided to leave the gift to them: a song worthy of an epic sunrise. As the world brightened, shapes of people became more distinct. New and old forms of connection could be seen manifesting. A couple wedded. Friends chuckled, muttering  Fire dancers welcomed their rising superior. Most sat just as we were, the Playa stretching out into desolation, art pieces dotting the horizon... and a string of balloons.

The chain of bouncing floating balls of helium stretched off and away so far that the end was out of sight. I couldn't believe how long this chain of balloons was! Of course, after searching for its end along the outer rims of the Playa, I gave up. But where did it begin?

A bicycle.

One normal-sized mountain bike held surely several hundred balloons at bay. As a child I remembered loving walking along car dealerships and underneath their large arcs of balloons. This put them all to shame instantaneously. I was a child again. All of the sudden, beams of light shot from the edge of a distant desert mountain. The suns rays shot out above us, and as they did, the balloons rose. Up and up into the sky they went. At the same time, the man began to ride, off into the Playa with a chain of balloons tethered to his front handlebar. People cheered and danced, embraced, kissed. Joy, the purest of joy was all that existed. Tears, smiles, hugs were shared with friends and strangers all around. But as the sun rose, our energy waned. A good days rest was needed.
Returning from an unforgettable sunrise left me feeling nothing but amazing. However, everything changes quickly on the Playa, and it did as I arrived back at camp. Jilly was waiting with other camp members when Andrea, Marina, and I returned. Our childlike giddiness had already dwindled from our tiring walk back from the temple and the quickly rising desert sun, but the moment I saw Jilly's face my wonder world shattered. In the chaos of awesome that was last evening, I had lost her. I had wandered off into the sea of stimulation, never returning until this moment to find her completely devastated.

She wanted so badly to have spent the previous evening on an adventure with me, and I had destroyed that opportunity in a single swoop by losing sight of our promised meeting point. A smile that had been glued on my face for hours was quickly dwindling to sadness brought forth from how much my carelessness and impatience mattered now. I sputtered a few awkward responses to the crushing questions she posed about my time last night, and after several pointless responses stormed off to the temple with all intention to be as far away from me as possible.

This is a turning point. The relationship is doomed. I am such an asshole. I am again going to loose consciousness. I should lay my head down to rest before talking about anything... but then she is gone and I am forever emblazoned as the piece of shit who deserted her at Burning Man. Wrong, I made it clear that this might happen, I don't have to do anything. I don't have enough water in me... but if I don't do something now, our Burning Man experience is ruined. If I don't resolve this, my Burning Man experience is ruined. The thoughts were endless within the first split second that I observed the misery written across her face, but as she whisked past fuming in anger and disbelief at my actions, I turned on a dime and began to walk from where I came.

The sun continued to rise without a cloud in the sky, but Jilly was ice cold to every word I muttered. I volleyed back my best response in the midst of defeat, exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation. The conversation quickly turned bitter on my side as I reminded her what I was doing in an effort to resolve our conflict, reliving my evening journey to the temple in the dead of the morning sun, completely absent of any nutrients or moisture to keep me going. Little did that help, especially after seeing such a smug smile on my face during our reunion at camp that probably screamed “I had such an amazing time last night without you around and I can't wait to tell everyone about it.” In a medley of anger, frustration, guilt, compassion, and love, I snapped and exploded about how hopeless I was becoming. It was a pointless effort that left me even more delirious and absent of valuable energy at least a mile from the temple and left Jilly feeling no better about our situation.

Then came that moment in many arguments/conflicts/resolutions in a relationship where everything was awkwardly silent... but with the added desert feature. Even though we had both agreed this may happen before arriving, even though she had all the right to guilt-trip me for ditching her on our special evening out together, even though I was fuming from not knowing what to do about ultimately feeling like a piece of shit, we had to figure this out. It was all true what I had said in my mind after seeing Jilly's face back at camp. We had to resolve, or our passionate characters would leave this messily splotched across the upcoming memories to be made at Burning Man, together or not.

At this point I had to stop talking and just trudge. Jilly knew I was low on energy and respected the silence, however awkward it may be. We didn't want to be around each other, but we did at the same time. We didn't hold hands, we made no moves of affection, we just walked. A pirate ship bumbled by; it spawned no awe in its extravagance. A man in nothing but a tutu and a sombrero tinkled by on his bell-equipped fuzzy bicycle; he brought no laughs. An eternity and a half later, we reached the temple. I had sunk to a greater low in the silence, and was losing concentration on pretty much everything, but the temple brought back my emotions tenfold.

Photographer - Jim Urquhart Reuters
All across the temple stood the last words to those lost. Jilly and I meandered, reading the powerful words of counterparts; messages from a sister to a brother, a son to a father, a daughter to a grandmother, a friend to a friend. For a moment, I trailed off to linger upon one message that brought a surge of tears and emotion, causing me to turn and reach for Jilly. But she was gone.

I had lost her again. How could I be such an idiot! How could I trail away from her just to read a message from one that had already lost their significant other forever? I stood my place in complete failure. I had come all this way with no food, no water, no energy in the hopes of resolution, and now there was nothing left but myself. Above all, my serotonin was quickly dwindling in the midst of a temple of the highest emotional fluctuations: a couple being married, a woman tear-staining her ink-inscribed message upon the wood, the crescendo of the massive musical instrument within, fire dancers greeting the rising sun, laughter amongst a group of friends. And me, alone.

Helpless to my carelessness, I trudged again, defeated amongst such emotional clamor. More weeped and more wedded as my shriveled spirit shuffled past, completely stripped from that rooted self I had thought I knew so well only a few months before. No tears came with my heart now separated again from its counterpart. My body swayed in all directions, but no confidence assisted my search. I was back on the train to Mumbai, but no Fazal would grab my hand to lift me. I belong down here for what I have done. It's time I went back. I am so sorry, Jilly, and all I wish is to be able to hold you like none of those mourning can do again. And just as I had finished inscribing my final words to Jilly in my mind, I saw her.

She was lost and alone just as I was. She would take a few steps and then stop. Her hands twiddled in worry, her face spoke the defeat I had fallen into moments before. She was only 20 feet from me, but I was invisible to her desperation. And even with how terrible I had been to her only last evening, I knew all she wanted was the same thing as me. I watched her only a few seconds more, because by then she had reached rock bottom as I had. And just as I saw her hopeless slouch, I gently approached from behind and embraced her.

Photographer - unknown
We didn't say a word to each other. We just stood there in the center of the temple, and watched. In the ambiance, all frustrations, all differences, all conflicts were obliterated. Again, as so many moments before in the year of 2011, I was basking in gratitude. This time I was not alone, but with someone equally thankful for my presence as I was theirs. All around, so many people were forever departing with their loved ones. They would never again be gifted that simple yet invaluable presence we had just then. But even with that difference, all of those at the temple that day had one thing in common. It was time to let the past be as it was. The moment we drove through the entrance gates, this city presented itself as one complexly connected organism of infinite potential and happiness. Even as we were enshrouded in the lowest of our lows, there was something there on the Playa to help us both endure and soar beyond discouraging experiences that occurred only moments before.

Our apologies were met in equal form. Jilly and I walked back to camp as the sun approached dreadful high noon temperatures, but it didn't matter as it had. We were offered some ice-cold water from a passerby, and Jilly found a forgotten bag of her trail mix in the bottom of my Camelpak. Soon enough, the emotional shadow hanging over us had dissipated, and nothing mattered more than her company, the bag of trail mix, and the infinite world of the Playa before us. It was going to be a great day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Transformations - Part 1

Photographer - Scott London

“What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, who has only to imagine in order to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.”  ― Salvador Dalí

Wind thrashed against my clothing, a torrential dance of elements and linen, an imminent sign of what would soon swallow me whole: a dust storm. A wall of colossal height and depth engulfed a city of tents, vehicles, bikes, statues, and people in seconds. They would be smothered in a powder fine as ash amongst the wake of billowing clouds. The fearless crew of a triple mast pirate ship set full sails ahead, followed close behind by a bronze dragon bus mounted by 100 riders. The air shook as both vessels cranked their embedded sound systems. Machines met elemental chaos, disappearing in a measly puff, dwarfed by the sheer enormity of the advancing winds. I was less prepared for the onslaught: vibram five fingers, sanskrit-embroidered harem pants, bare chest, Naga warrior necklace, scarf, and green cowboy hat. Man, if only I had brought... fumbling through my camelbak, I found the single most valuable item of defense. I strapped goggles into place as the sun shaded in the sky, plunging into the superfine oblivion and losing sight of the world in a blanket of Playa dust.

In a world so full challenging environments, it is the desert that dominates us all. It is the pinnacle of physical hardship; suffocating lungs in particulates, roasting skin in sunlight, vaporizing moisture in desolation. Its combined forces are not to be challenged, a mistake I made and learned the hard way.

Burning Man takes both time and discussion to properly recognize what it is. There are common misconceptions, often conjured by someone's poor attempt to jump to conclusions on the festivals complex and chaotic characteristics. And so, before I jump into my own 7-day escapade that will surely give you a new perspective onto this 25 year old gathering, remember that this is but one experience amongst over 50,000 for each single event. Also keep in mind that is a first-time experience, differing drastically from a second, third, forth, etc. If you have never heard of Burning Man, GO HERE FIRST. If you have but have general curiosities of it's structure/purpose, here are many answers to questions you might have about Burning Man.

There. Now that is taken care of.... here is my story.


The more my friendships either rekindled or began with fire dancers across Southern California, the more I heard the question, "are you going this year?" Many gatherings happening in Los Angeles were occurring for the purpose of being prepared for Black Rock City.

I wasn't so immediate to the cause. Still jostled from the entire idea of being home, I found the new communities of performers satisfying enough. Adding in the fact that I had so little money to live, there wasn't much motivation at all. That mindset did not last long. Will I regret saying "no" to this? Who would meet and practice when everyone would be gone? Why miss such an opportunity based off of financial issues?

One Thursday evening my weekly commute to Burn Academy in Long Beach changed course for Orange County's Burn Club. The atmosphere was smaller, yet I was left spinning again with another group that would soon be off to put their months of practice into effect. After meeting several spinners that evening, I caught sight of someone I had seen at Burn Academy before. Little did I know that this person would so drastically change my course.

As someone who has talked to a countless amount of people in hundreds of places across the world, there times when I know someone will be special within the first few sentences.

Jilly and I connected at the hip the moment we began talking, and from that day forth rose farther and faster through the endless entanglement of love than I could have been prepared to feel. I had connected to my own ever-evolving, ever-nurturing way of the flow, but in the process found someone channeling that same sporadic, therapeutic rhythm. We combined our skills in poi to produce partner variations, something I had only heard explained by a friend long ago. Our paths swirled as one encouraging, energetic, empathetic wisdom with such force as to obliterate all notions of discomfort being back in Los Angeles. I had friends, I had fire dancing, I had Jilly... except during Burning Man. And then I realized the question I needed to ask myself. If I have found love in this community, why then am I stalling so pointlessly on this decision, making it so meaninglessly complicated? That same night, it was settled: I was going this year.


Photographer - Kat Parry

It had been 14 hours since we left Irvine, 4 hours since we had left Bishop, and 1 hour since we arrived at the turnoff past Gerlock that led onto the dry lakebed of Black Rock Desert. We were nearly there, and excitement was uncontainable. We sat in the infamous line, one that seemed to have no beginning or end. After jumping around and spinning things outside for most of that time in excitement, we all scrambled back into the car to get our tickets ready as we reached the entrance. As we handed our tickets over to Kyle and were briefed by the staff on last minute precautions, the staff member ended with a short yet heartwarming greeting.

"Welcome home."

We rolled 10 feet forward and exploded out of the car. A tradition for those that are first-timers to Burning Man is covering yourself in dust just past the entrance gates. All of us needed to perform this act as well as clang a large metal bell to ring us into a state we would no longer be in just 7 days: virgin burners. We all smashed the shit out of that bell.

When we all piled back into the car to get on our way to the actual event grounds, utter silence overwhelmed the car. We were all so excited, but no one could say a word... except for me. "WE'RE AT FUCKIN' BURNING MAN!!!!!!" Screaming, jumping, wailing, and flailing followed suit from all, and the car bounced and bumbled along all the way to camp.


The red writing says "I lived here." My camp was located where the small red circle is on the map.
Photographer - NASA

7 square miles (~11 square km); enough space for anything to happen when you add in the idea of radical inclusion. We had spent so much time releasing energy in line and getting the foundations of the camp set up that we didn't even bother with the tents. It was 2am, and we were spent. Even after 20 hours of traveling, we all slumped into respective spaces in the car. Just a short 3 hours later, we were up again. "I'M AT BURNING MAN!!!!" I couldn't believe how excited I was, exploding out of my 3 hour power nap like it had been a whole night of sleep. The tents were set up during this spell of energy, but soon enough the desert sapped it away again. I slept in the tent, this time for only a short 30 minutes. After I awoke, I couldn't stay down any longer.

I slid out of the tent, protected by the shade structure Pietro and others had prepared long before arrival. The air was as dry as could be, and I was immediately parched on my first few breaths of air. We sat, chattering to each other about what would come first. What came first was what would become the most important experience of the entire week.

For many, Burning Man induces the greater depth of search on the consciousness. This venture can begin in many ways, but for us it began with tequila shots off of titties and mushroom tea. Our first interaction with an outsider to our camp came graciously entered full of smiles. She was serving tequila, but only if both lime and salt were licked off of her breasts. The whole dozen of us men and women hesitated only for a moment. It was Burning Man, after all. Why deny a titty tequila shot as our first venture?

And so, with morning tea and snacks to follow, our world ebbed, wobbled, and melted into nothing but hilarity. Our chattering turned to one huge chorus of laughter after another about the simplest of things. Soon our stomachs were sore from the endless humor of the world. Come on, what were the chances of seeing an actual submarine car, a boombox bus, and a cluster of tiny cupcake-shaped go-carts drive by after tea?

Yeah, it's real. Photographer - Gloria

So is this.

We decided a walk would warm up our abdomens. But the laughter didn't end. The next camp over was just as good as the submarine, boombox, and cupcakes! And the one at the end of the block had swings with people to spray you with water as you swung! And across the street, a 20 foot trampoline was next to a life-sized lighthouse. And across from that was a slip-n-slide camp with beer on tap! After laughing, swinging, and bouncing, beer and a slip-n-slide sounded like the next best option. It wasn't.

I started getting pretty delirious after nearly falling to the ground hysterically laughing at a converse shoe sitting all by its lonesome self outside the bar. Who would have possibly left just one shoe in the middle of the desert! It was that moment that we realized we were really, really tired, and beer wasn't the best option. Since we weren't even half a block away from camp, we headed back.

I forgot about how I had felt delirious earlier and began a fit of jokes with everyone at the camp. One moment everyone was smiling in their chairs, the next they were gone.


I felt a rush shoot to the top of my head. I woke up in my chair with everyone circled around me. Frantic paranoia was spilling of their worried eyes and troubled faces. Something terrible had happened. I soon learned that I had collapsed and lost consciousness for a longer duration than was comfortable, and had convulsed at moments as well. 5 minutes had felt like 5 seconds for me and 15 minutes for them. I was immediately handed water and nutritious food of all sorts.

Photographer - Kat Parry

My most valuable lesson at Burning Man came first and foremost. The Playa was a serious force to be reckoned, and one not to be challenged physically. My body, ill-prepared through poor hydration, nutrition, and rest, had been crushed within 2-3 hours. In a fleeting moment of those 7 days, survival instincts began to grind and clank to a start, all which had rarely been utilized since I had come back to the United States. Wisdom followed as words came easier and water circulated my parched innards. It was time to replenish, and let the opportunity pass of enjoying the daytime of day 1 at Burning Man. Nutrients were needed, along with the comfort of my camp members minds as I lay to rest. After all, there was still the evening to take on.

A Clean Slate

Camp. The blue line in the sky is a one mile long chain of balloons with super-bright LED lights attached to each one. Photographer - Kat Parry

I awoke to the dim glow of dusk, cool air, and the aroma of pork.

Now, as many of you know (or do not know if you chose to read this without getting an idea of what Burning Man is about. If you didn't, please GO HERE), no market or sale of goods/services exists in Black Rock City besides the essentials: coffee and ice. But there is one pseudo-valued commodity when it comes to anything being valued: bacon.

There were times when we would be standing in line for ice, and the man serving would shout on his megaphone "if you are topless, and have bacon, you can cut to the front of the line." Now, with lines that sometimes get to a hundred people long for such an extremely valuable resource, that can be a hell of a hot ticket. Sure enough, three or four women knew the value of their juicy, luscious, bacon as they swayed it back and forth for the onlooking ice vendors!

There would be many times where bacon would come into favor of our adventures in Burning Man. For me, this was the next best thing I could have had for myself after all of Jilly's healthy trail mix, a gallon of water, and 8 hours of sleep. And there were a whole whopping 6 pounds of it being served by the camp to both resident and passer-by. With a tummy full of deliciousness, 2 liters of water in a camelbak, and a big bag of trail mix, it was time to set my faulty beginning straight. It was an opportune time: all had just awoken from their afternoon naps!

I had taken responsibility for illuminating all our bikes before leaving LA with flashing EL wire. A trip out on the Playa can be a dangerous one with triple-mast pirate ships, a submarine, boom boxes, wooden yachts, islands, coliseums, flaming octopus mobiles, scorpions, and bronze dragons bouncing around the desert. We knew best: stay well lit, or be unobserved by the passing mutant vehicle! As we set off on our trip to the Esplanade, I left the past day as a mistake well learned. I had started rough, but learned well.

Seeing the Esplanade for the first time is like standing on the shore of an ocean once unseen. We bore witness to the beautiful chaos the world mustered from its pure feelings of expression and creation. Bikes, boats, a scorpion, scooters, a dragon, space ships, an octopus, the boom box, chattering dentures, a floating island, a life-size wooden Trojan horse, and thousands more colossal and miniscule objects. All were aglow in the flames and LEDs pouring from every inch of their respective design. Some mutant vehicles were completely packed to the brim with people, blasting music as they meandered the seemingly impassible route through the buzz and flicker of every passing person. A man spouting flames from his fire-breathing tuba bumbled by. People danced, laughed, screamed, jumped, and skipped in elation. Either clothed or naked, it didn't matter. Chaos.

India had taught me the world was rough, though beauty flourished and shimmered regardless. This first glimpse of the Playa at night brought forth a single thought: the world has so much potential. In so many of our lives we are rarely given the opportunity to present the limits of our imagination. Not so long ago, a whole universe was built in our minds, invigorated through simple mediums; a stuffed bookshelf, a pile of blocks, a plot of sand. Yet even as we grew apart from some of these, our minds didn't cease to grow in wonder. Today, when given infinite liberty share this, a fantastic mess of elation and expression results.

There I stood, witness to this moment where everyone had released what they knew was possible onto the blank canvas of the Playa. I realized at this moment why so many people sought this landscape every year. Burning Man is a place to reinvent and re-express in any way imaginable, in the company of thousands of friends doing the exact same thing.

Of course, with all this in mind, the next (and only) question was impossible to answer: what do to first? Thankfully, we had not figured that part out. The world beckoned us onward in exploration, and off we went.

(CLICK HERE to view a larger size of the image above. Photographer - Brad Templeton)

Sunday, February 24, 2013


"Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other both in mind and body; to try all manners of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight; to see sunrise in town and country; to be converted at a revival; to circumnavigate the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a mile to see a fire, and wait all day long in the theatre to applaud 'Hernani.'" - Robert Louis Stevenson, "Crabbed Age and Youth"

My return was full of unexpected discomfort and confusion, but one thing encouraged me through it all: I had loved, lost, and gained more than I could have ever predicted. I had been pushed to the very limits of my soul with the epic environmental changes and terribly evident challenges of the human race. In the end, I was left most fortunate and thankful for witnessing the extremes of our time in a short six months. I shed an older part of me and watched it dissipate into the chaos of the developing world. I was left with an energy of acceptance, passion, and perseverance, that which encouraged and guided me through America.

Northern California

Santa Cruz: the best decision I made for my emergence into the unfamiliar American way. For the first time in half a year, I met with wonderful university friends; so eccentric, so driven to pursue their professions with uninterrupted ambition... at a comfortable pace. And all of them gave so much time to catch up, to delve deep into conversation about my thoughts and feelings about being in America, about my life in India, about my own future ambitions. Acceptance, interest, curiosity, compassion, joy; these words and more describe what resonated within these wonderful people, within this wonderful town.

The fondest of my University memories came back in a rejuvenating nostalgia as I walked from one end of town to the other and back. This had been my home for so many integral years. The strange feelings of being back in America washed away in the lukewarm summer sun, the fresh coastal breeze, and the smell of burritos. I had thought about Mexican food far too much in India, and even though I had found salvation in the Himalayas for a week, it just wasn't the same as a burrito from Del Pueblo, Santa Cruz Taqueria, Taqueria Vallerta, Planet Fresh, Los Pericos, or La Espranza. I ate a burrito almost every day I stayed in Santa Cruz, afterwards going for day-long wanders. All was good, but nothing compared to my first walk through the woods.

Air quality had always been something I valued, but after living in one of the most polluted cities in the world it was a touch with nirvana when gifted the slightly salted, densely earthy, freshly moisturized aroma of the redwood hills. It was these isolated wanders that reminded me of the importance of my connection with the woodland. All through my University career, I had escaped classwork stress or simply regenerated myself through alternate routes around campus, maximizing my time in the forest. It lead me to continue my work in Environmental Sciences, to intern on farmland across the Santa Cruz Mountains, to pursue field research in the hills of Nagaland. Post-India, this forest walk put all in perspective.

"Power Tree," near the UCSC trailer park
Herman Hesse was right; it was the trees that I should thank, this ancient sanctuary of redwoods that quietly beckoned to nurture my growth. Their size, their scents, their silence; each step was meditative, each breath more grateful than the last, each sound more serenely mesmerizing. As I sat amongst the groves and looked up into their limits, it was here I knew there was the greatest knowledge. Even though so many people, places, and things had redirected, directed, or motivated my path, a tree had always been there to root my commonly scattered soul. It had always reminded me that even though happiness may be sought and found across oceans, mountains, cities, groups of friends, festivals, conversation, motivational speeches, concerts, and more, it was within myself where I would always find the greatest life-force of positive will. It was here, rooted in my soul, that home would always be.

The next day, I sat with hundreds of other students adorned in their graduation attire. For my family, this moment was the official transition. As I walked, I knew; University couldn't have gone any better. The world was at the tips of my fingers and a home was in the depths of my soul. And graduating naked under the gown was totally worth it.


Talking with a foreigner along my journey provided not only an interest in the exchange of ideas and stories, but also the concentration upon that particular moment. It was so rare for this exchange to waver. Often my talks with other travelers progressed and evolved continuously, sometimes for hours on end. When I returned, I started to encounter people that initially seemed to value conversation, yet their concentration on the moment quickly dissipated. After having this occur dozens of times, I decided that their disinterest was not the issue.

The modern world of technology is a wonderful progression for our lives. A vast universe of information and material is now instantly available at our fingertips. This gift, for how wonderful it may seem, has allowed anyone to preoccupy themselves more than ever before. Captivation leaks continuously into a universe of instantaneous information: entertaining applications, cyber promotions, rapid-fire text messaging, chimed updates, and urgent notifications, all of which must be kept organized and packaged into a device that fits in a pocket. With so many avenues to divide the mind’s time, the ability to concentrate on a single avenue has deteriorated.

As my time in Los Angeles progressed, I sat through many a conversation paused and resumed as if interruptions were now an accepted part of the mundane. Sometimes, I wondered if they were simply at a loss of words to continue a conversation about something so drastically different from their regular American life. Yet when the conversation couldn't progress past a single aspect, I became discouraged. Even the continual curiosity I showed towards their American life was a worthless attempt. It was more important for them to check the text message and respond than anything else, or check out the bar scene bumbling and mumbling around us, or glance at the television nearby. These conveniences continually veiled my face and voice. Sometimes I would just continue with a story in some effort to politely accept their distraction, yet their following response of silence was an obvious representation of how much this moment even mattered.

Then came the stories with shock value. 

My encounters with mangled animals, observations of disfigured people, terrible car accidents, or a dead body of a man shot in the head were enough to jolt anyone out of their little cyber worlds. By all means, these were significant moments, yet what was the point of sharing this type of story when interest ended at the story's end? Was this another streaming video clip, quickly replaced by the next scene? Was this the breaking news of the day, single-served and passed off to make way for the next report?

In the end, I stopped trying with the majority of my interactions. I gave shorter and shorter responses to such long-winded questions: “How was the poverty?” “What was it like living there?”  “Did you get sick?” I gave single-serving answers, which brought single-serving responses. I simply hoped more interest would follow, so I knew their concentration and curiosity was existent. It often did not.

I knew I was no exception to some of the inattentive behaviors I mentioned before. Instead, I was just as vulnerable. Soon enough I was a part of that mundane, distracted world again. My prehistoric blackberry frequently filled my subconscious with the need to check its status. But this time around it wasn't a mindless act. I felt it become a burden, a shocking distraction. “Phantom rings” tricked me to only discover an empty pocket. Sometimes I’d check my phone over a dozen times an hour, as if I was supposed to do something more that I wasn’t doing already. I caught myself all the time falling deeper into a subconscious obsession. I hated it.

Absent of attentive people to share my experiences and attempting to spend minimal amounts of money left me alone and thinking about my life quite a lot. I would meander through the quiet streets of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Manhattan Beach, and Westchester, my friends and family busily occupied by their lives that had not changed so much in six months. My life was absent of a next step, but I knew in my heart I was merely in limbo, in a great transition full of unexpected changes.

I refused to continue in frustration, limited by the technological, material, shock-craving generation. I knew my own path much better.


While living in Delhi, I commonly became exhausted by the extremes that lay waiting just outside the door. Often, I or no one I lived with wanted to deal with it, so we just spent the day at home. Most of us slept, wrote, read, called America, played/composed music, or chatted. For me, 907 Mukherjee Nagar was a training ground. I had been determined as ever to return from India a changed person; a legitimate fire dancer. 

Hours of practice in the unbearable, smog infested heat of Spring was brutal. All the while, grueling pace of improvement pressed upon me as rough as the weather itself. Countless times I smashed my poi into every inch of my body (especially the most painful, private parts). I drilled movements, blindfolded myself, waited hours for instructional videos on terrible internet speeds. Often, I was left completely defeated, sulking in a cascade of sweat across every inch of open skin. Mosquitos took this moment of rest to ingest their daily servings or attempt an exploration of my ear drums.

The endless afternoons often brought little result in the first few months. But then things started to connect. Links between hand paths, orientation, rhythm, body, and spirit began to slide into place, and all of the sudden the flow of poi had entrapped my entire existence. Days would begin and seem to skip a beat as the flow left me lost in the motions and mutations of movements. I continued to drill particulars, and painful mistakes would inevitably follow. But the pain became less of an issue as the flow became the sole purpose of my practice. As movements became more comfortable, the flow became more complex; nourishing yet  mentally and physically challenging at a simple consistency. Near the end of my time in Delhi, almost 4 hours would pass without notice, left to the spiraling, spinning infinity. 

It was this, the flow, that brought me away from anything. The swarms of mosquitoes, the blistering temperatures, the endless commotion of horns, the onslaught of observation along the city streets dwindled in significance to the constant growth of my inner peace. And though the motions were not the kind of meditation commonly understood, this was where my mind, body, and soul reached their common ground.

I believe now that finding your flow is the single most important thing that anyone can do for themselves. For many, it has nothing to do with fire dancing, juggling, or any other comparative performing art that connects literally with this endeavor. The flow is everywhere, kind of like "the force" (we actually call people in the flow community "Jedi," commonly when they have reached intense levels of understanding within their performance arts). Some people are easily distracted by the life of security, one that brings single-serving answers of limited complexity, or technological comforts that accelerate cerebral ingestion worldwide. Often, I see a streamlined culture of artificial progress that, when perfectly integrated, requires no efforts in the genuine personal struggle for progress. For me, finding my flow involved sacrifice, acceptance, and evolution; all of which began with India, but continued through the fire dancing community of Long Beach.


Pietro and Andrea. Photographer - Omar Nazif

Los Angeles brought social stagnation, sparse cultural presence, and technological control to the platter, a whole new set of challenges accustomed to this modern metropolis. Old friends presented blended memories from high school freshman year to my final year at UCSC. Yet each encounter brought a strange pain, a strong disconnection. I knew in my heart that I still appreciated each and every one of these people, that our experiences together were enough bring fond memories and potential for more. But I felt as if that 6 months had been 6 years of events that would never be understood, never be appreciated or considered. Sometimes it was my fault. I couldn't put my thoughts into words in the face of a shocking awareness: I had been a world apart, and everyone mostly cared to just have me back in their company rather than inquire upon my recent past. The change constantly led me astray from the center. I had left my centered self in the chaos of Delhi. Los Angeles conjured nostalgic times of simplicity as a high school or university student, a place I had once called home.

Though I longed for the peace on this matter, I soon realized there was one truth to remember: India had past. It was a memory that could be personally valued and shared when interest was genuinely shown, but more important to myself than anyone else. There was but one certain solution: go with the flow.

Pablo Lloreda: rope dart. Photographer - Omar Nazif

I had not been back to Los Angeles in 5 years, therefore my social network was as slim and few as it had been before leaving high school. But I knew there had to be someone out there with intentions in a similar direction as mine. It was my good friend Pietro that restarted this long-stagnant social network and reconnected my stateside living with the way it had been in Delhi. Faster than I could have imagined, I was out in Long Beach every Thursday night, quickly befriending a wide range of international, eccentric folk all into the performing arts. They were my entry into the surprisingly massive network of the fire dancing community.

Then, I met Jilly.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Far from Home

Delhi (blog link)
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea..." - Antoine de Saint Exupery

January, 2013. A year and a half has passed since my departure from a life that seemed to hold no end in its magnificence, spontaneity, and fulfillment: India. So often I have thought back to the moments recorded through text or unforgettable memory. So frequently I have referenced my life there to teach what I've learned through struggle, to entertain with raw adventure, to portray beauties of distant culture through personal observations.

Nagaland (blog link)

I can remember back to the moment I touched American soil. I had transferred once before reaching Chicago, so the group of passengers had changed from Indians to foreigners. As we all approached the security clearance to the next terminal, all but one Indian man remained. He was an image of my recent past, a foreigner in a strange land. Although he was vulnerable to the observation of everyone, he had the liberty of America; ethnic diversity and an absence of endless stares lest someone wish to be rude. I had been away too long, so my manners weren't accustomed. I scanned him up and down, a stare only interrupted by the slightest blink of an eye. I wanted him to feel all the discomfort I had felt at the beginning of my experience in his homeland. My Hindi-adorned parachute pants, 7-Eleven t-shirt, gold Ray Banns and fedora fascinated him to no end. He wanted to scan every inch of me. Yet, he fervently locked his eyes on one thing after the other, possibly observing the drastic difference between O'Hare and Indira Gandhi International Airport. He seemed so lost, just as I had been after my touchdown in Delhi 6 months before.

Mcleodganj (blog link)

During this encounter, I started to feel the separation from the foreigners as well. No more were people interacting with each other with the buzz of conversation, where bobbling heads and a whirl of hand gestures flavored the discussion. No longer was it necessary or proper to observe in length. Instead, silence engulfed everything. With this ambiance, American culture began to seep into my consciousness.
People talk about “culture shock” as something that occurs with any travel experiences. Commonly, I have found this idea melded into one, generalized feeling of discomfort and displacement. Explaining this to the single-serving, 10-second explanation style of the modern world is quite difficult. Culture shock, for me, started with that security line and took almost a year to pass. Anyone can recognize the differences between Delhi and America without having even visited. But that is far from understanding the essence of culture shock. It was both an emotional cyclone and an ocean separating me from the place I once called home. Because of this, conversations with friends, family, lovers and strangers still felt as if there was a computer screen distance between us. It took a long time for me to recognize my place again in America, and indefinitely, I found that I didn't belong there; not yet, at least. And so, I hope to capture and express a perspective you may not have heard from me in my presence, one that slowly developed as I ebbed and flowed from June 2011 to December 2012.