I will start this one with a preface.
I have been increasingly missing Burning Man lately. I can't measure exactly what 'lately' means, and 'missing' doesn't really describe it, because of course a Burner is missing Burning Man. But I have been missing it in the way you miss a deceased relative or friend. My body has ached for it. Been hollow, searching. The slightest provocation sets my mind diving through memories. I find myself closing my eyes with increasing frequency throughout the day, pulling up images, and sounds. Imagining the wind blowing on my face, the dust pummeling me. I miss the dust. Luckily there's still a fair amount of it all over my apartment.
And really, I know what it is. I miss the place where I belong.
Waking up for the first time in a tent in the middle of the desert, I peeked out my little tent window to see the sun rising over the mountains. (I recommend doing this, BTW at some point in your life). "This," I thought, "is how people are supposed to wake up." We busted out the camping stove and made eggs. And cowboy coffee. This is important: we made cowboy coffee. You know those blue speckled metal mugs and tall narrow coffee pots you've seen every cowboy using, sitting around every fire in every western ever? WE MADE COWBOY COFFEE. I'll be honest. It will forever remain one of the fuckin' coolest, proudest moments of my life.
Cowboy coffee is the best.
Anyway, we did that, and various other campsite things, and then we took off for our adventures. I got ice, I saw the sights. I rode around, exploring interesting campsites, checking out art installations. I made endless Star Wars, Blade Runner, Tron, etc references in my head. I decided that anyone that bitched about the heat was a moron. (It's true what they say. 110 in dry heat is like...mmm...80 in Chicago). I wondered if my mouse friend had found some friendly Burners to camp with for the week; I hoped he had. At some point in the afternoon, when the sun made it hot enough to slow down, I went back to the camp, dove into our igloo, and napped. Lexie and I made campfire spaghetti o's (they taste like regular spaghetti o's, which is totally cool). And then, as the sun set, and playa dwellers howled at it as it floated behind the western mountains, we readied ourselves once again for the evening. Colorful, clashing, goofy clothes. Bike lights. Glow sticks, woven through our hair, wrapped around our wrists, ankles, arms, one as garter around my right thigh. And we rode out into the night.
The deep playa had doubled, at least. In one day, dozens of new art installations had popped up, and art cars had been built and set free for the evening. It was like having been in DeKalb one night and New York City the next. I made sure the Death Star was still patrolling the perimeter (if the Jedi were going to take it out, I wanted to be there). I rode out to explore the new world.
And now, a twist in our heroine's (that is the girl type of hero, and not the drug, right? I always worry) story: at some point during this night, after riding around a bit, I found myself crestfallen. Now, as I had heard and can now attest to, this is not uncommon. Even veteran Burners who love the playa often find themselves, at some point during the burn, falling in a funk. Or having a breakdown. Or a freakout (of the life variety, not the drug variety, though those may occur too). It seems to be a part of the experience. It's a downer in the moment, but with hindsight, as is usual, it's ok. It's different for everyone, of course, and lasts for varying amounts of time. Mine lasted exactly a day and half.
I went back to camp that night forlorn. I curled up in my tent with Winston (my monkey) and fell asleep wondering how I could be ruining such a wonderful place for myself. This feeling lasted into the following afternoon despite the tu-tus (Tu-tu-Tuesday). Until, after an extended afternoon ride, I happened upon an Irish Flag flying high above a campsite at Esplanade and 6:30. I wandered over to find a group of people lounging around, painting each other. One of the painters, working on butterflies or something across a girl's stomach, was kind-looking, soft spoken, with surfer-like long blonde hair, some dreaded some not, wearing an assortment of Indian and Japanese prints and clothes. He introduced himself (Leaf) and explained that it was his shop and I could either wait for him or take up paints myself and have at it. Knowing full-well the limits of my artistic ability, and wanting to try something new, I waited for him.
A wise decision.
As he painted I found out he was there as part of the Irish CORE group, which was only one in a series of adventures. He invited me to a jam session at the group's effigy later that evening, and armed with the invitation, I drifted away into the Jazz tent for some live mid-afternoon jazz. And I felt my spirits lift. My peace return. My belonging-ness be reaffirmed.
In the Jazz tent, aside from being monumentally impressed with the band, I received my first gift on the playa. Striking up a conversation with a beautiful blonde braided girl earned me a hand made painted glass Burning Man necklace, complete with bird charms. It now resides on my bedside lampshade, a pleasant sight and happy reminder to fall asleep and wake up to.
I went back to camp renewed, excited, pleased and peaceful. My slump was merely the fee paid to the universe for this incredible experience, and it was a small one to pay. I didn't mind at all, in the end.
Which, as I think about it now, is perhaps what this time in my life is. The void I've been feeling that was once filled with desert air and dust. Maybe that's my fee for next time.