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)