My last 24 hours of Burning Man, Pt. 2


Braving the still-strong winds and dust, wrapped in my cocoon of a face shield, my cousin and I head out to the open Playa to watch the Man burn.  It is 7:30pm - the Man is scheduled to burn at 10 (with much preceeding pomp and circumstance).  We stop to adorn ourself in glowsticks, visibility being a key element to survival and accident avoidance at night in Black Rock City.

The air is still full of dust - we can see the Man, though barely, and head towards him to see what's going on.  There is only one row of people ringing themselves around him, guided by Rangers.  We take a seat behind them as the winds pick up and my eyes begin to sting something fierce.  The rangers are friendly and interact with the crowd - we gift them glow sticks, they get territorial and possessive over their "sections" because they love us.

A girl in front of us gives back massages to everyone in her diameter, and Nathan and I are two such lucky recipients.  Her name is Molly.  I try to gift her the last bracelet I made but it falls to the ground and I hopelessly search for it in vain.  Someone else gets ground score tomorrow, I suppose.

I keep my head down and eyes closed, praying the incredible sting in my eyes will die down if they can just get a little rest.  Every time I look up to see what's going on around me it's harder to open the eyes, the pain only grows worse.

The Man raises his arms in anticipation.

The ceremony starts and I glue my pained eyes open.  Many processions pass us by - many groups of tribal drums, carriers of the fire that will eventually ignite the man, the Burning Marching Band, other musical groups, dancers, torch bearers.  Anyone who's anyone, I suppose.  I snap pictures like crazy.

Then, the fire dancers come out.  Some have metal gloves with flaming fingers, some have Poi, some have double-ended torches.  Some are on stilts.  All dancing together, spinning, to the rhythm of several groups of drums.  We are seated between two and the beats intermingle, completely different tempos melding into a caucophony of sound as fire dances in circles and arches and everything becomes blurred behind my stinging eyes and the cold winds carrying the incessant dust sweep through my simple cloth with which I have clothed myself, and I give myself over to something bigger, something stronger than myself.  Stinging and shivering and jittering and filled with the driving drums and blurred vision filled with beautiful arches of fire, I am transported somewhere else altogether, yet am rooted to the spot.  I feel my heart swell, my soul fill every inch of me down to my fingertips and then explode out like invisible rays of light, over and through the crowd behind me and the Man in front of me, across the Playa, filling the entire desert.

A torch is thrown into the center of the Man's support structure, and the pyrotechnics begin.  Fireworks fill the sky in place of the fire dancers and it's a celebration, everybody cheering.  BURN THE MAN!  BURN THE MAN!

He catches fire and the fireworks cease.  The crowd cheers and then quiets for a time, watching the beauty of the massive fire that sweeps through the Man's surrounding structures, a stories-tall eruption of flames, while He stands tall in the center, burning but still standing.  He looses one arm, then the other, to massive ovation.  Then more quiet, as the beautiful sweeping surrounding structures all fall and the Man's legs still stand on its tall support, slowly burning.  The crowd is allowed to rush closer, anticipating the final fall.  An eternity elapses in the span of what could not have been more than twenty minutes.  He falls and the crowd cheers and then unexpectedly quickly disperses.

At this point one contact is just out, the other hanging on for dear life in order for me to fully witness the event.  I have only one thought: get to the car.  I am pummeled by a cyclist who shreiks curses but refuses to acknowledge my presence as I attempt to apologize for not being more visible.  We move on, my only goal to get to the car and take out my contacts and close my eyes, oh the bliss of closed eyes.

We get in the car, I follow through with my one-track mission.  Nathan wanders off to say his goodbyes at the camp he somewhat adopted via their bar and is gone for a long time, returning merely saying, "wow... i.... am... exhausted.      ....anna is awesome."  I need hear no more.  We both nap for a time.  He picks up the few remaining things around our camp site, like our trash bag and glow stick moop.  My eyes are closed, blissfully closed.  We leave the city, but I am blind to our departure.  I doze on and off, occasionally engaging my cousin in small talk when he can tell I am awake.

Denny's, 5:00am, Reno.  We stumble in, and the all-knowing nods and remarks from the staff let us know we are not alone.  Several other blurry figures weary from the same event are scattered throughout the building, recognizable to me only by snippets of overheard conversation and the smell of Playa dust everywhere.  I run my face under real running water, I open my eyes in the stream to cleanse them.

I am still blind.

It is time to take my cousin to the airport.  Neither of us have the energy or will to talk, due to exhaustion but equally as much an overwhelming realization that we haven't even begun to digest what happened to us out there on the Playa.  I put in my contacts, crying all the while from the pain, drop him off, we have awkward goodbyes, I program my GPS for Laura's house, and head down the I-80.

I have to stop a couple times to take out my contacts and rest my eyes.  I finally make the long stretch and barely make it, squeezing different parts of my face and head to make my eyes stay open - they sting just as fiercly as they did the night before out on the Playa in the middle of the dust storm.  The Playa is everywhere - on my dash, in my suitcase, in my clothes, in my hair, in every inch of the air inside the car.

I make it to Berkeley, am welcomed by Laura.  I take out my contacts and accept blindness for the next 24 hours, my eyes having taken such a beating there are no longer whites to my eyes, only reds.  My journey home only half complete, but already feeling miles away from the Playa, I begin my acclimation back to this world.

My last 24 hours of Burning Man, Pt. 1


Saturday, 5:30am, I wake up, magically set to my internal clock, in time to wake my cousin and head out to the Playa and watch the sun rise.  Having already seen it behind the Man the previous day, I guide us into the deep Playa, out to the Temple.  This sunrise is different - there are no clouds in the sky, it is immaculate, clear, as though there has never been a sunrise before or will be since.  All around me people are breathing in the sun, giving it salutations, praying, just sitting and enjoying.  A few, such as myself, slightly detach themselves from the beauty of the moment in order to be able to capture it on film.  Inspirational messages, deep and moving tributes to loved ones passed, self-affirmations surround me, scribbled and pasted on the walls of the beautiful wooden temple that is to burn the next night, when I am far from the Playa.  This is my first visit to the Temple since the event, first visit to the Temple in my life.

Satisfied with an overwhelming dose of beauty, we head back across the vast Playa, through the intricate tent city, back to our campground to scrounge up some breakfast.  The fuel tank is empty, so we satiate ourselves with Cliff bars and fruit.  Nathan naps, and I take the opportunity to run barefoot to the back of the city where there is open space, celebrating the beautiful desert Godess I've discovered myself to be.

We pack up camp, prepare the car for our departure later that evening.

We go our separate ways for the day.  Tired of always headed somewhere specific, of the inability to allow myself to be distracted by whatever interesting thing I happen to pass, I abandon my bike for the day and head out to the open Playa on foot, bearing my backpack filled with Polaroids and hemp twine, a toy guitar and sharpies, and a sign advertising my gift of pictures to any who desire it.  I plan to set up shop near the Man, but upon discovering its inaccessibility due to its burn later that evening, settle down between Him and the Temple.

Several people pass my way, I give them Polaroids, they sign my guitar with sharpies, they go on their merry way.  I make bracelets in the meantime.  A few people passing gift me with random things - a Burning Man necklace made of stone, a toothbrush... I sit out there for three hours in this fashion.

One man, middle-aged, sees I am giving away Polaroids and stops to talk to me.  He does not desire one, but is piqued by my interest in photography.  He had a camera shipped out here to Black Rock City, one of those big boxes you see in movies of developing countries on street corners making makeshift passport pictures, and couldn't take it home.  He tells me the coordinates of his camp, and where the camera is sitting, and requests that I take it and put good use to it.  Taking my address, he promises to send me the proper chemicals and instructions for developing pictures in this wonderful contraption.  His wife couldn't make it out here this year and was quite sad - she's a sleeker, you see - shaves all the hair off her body and runs around naked with her fellow sleekers.  A form of self-expression he cannot deny her.  But she could not make it this year.  Please take the camera.

Gusts of dust throughout all this time turn into a full dust storm - visibility shrinks to 50 ft, 30 ft, 10 ft, 3 ft.  A total white-out.  I give up my picture venture at this point and follow the trail of lamps (upon reaching one I can barely make out the outline of the next) to the Temple.  Many people are gathered there - whether through lack of will to venture out into the blinding dust storm, or taking advantage of the temple's existence before it burns the next night.  I find a couple blank, unwritten-upon floorboards and write the entire passage on Beauty from the Prophet, destroying 2 or 3 sharpies along the way (due to the incessant dust storm).

Satisfied, I begin my treck across the Playa, blind save for my lamppost-to-lamppost strategy (which still isn't always effective - i have to wait or take a few tentative steps before being assured of the next one's presence).  I find The Man by the orange fence that now surrounds him, though 10 feet beyond cannot see his looming figure.  Following the fence around to the front of The Man, I find the next trail of lampposts, these leading straight into Center Camp, and keep forward in the same fashion.  Dance music from unseen art cars fills the playa, bicyclists appear suddenly within a few feet of me, narrow misses, my head wrapped in a cocoon of my head scarf to ineffectively block the dust from getting behind my sunglasses and under my contacts.

In camp everything is closer together, yet I still have trouble seeing the street signs clearly enough to locate the cameraman's camp, 5:00 and Extinct.  His camera is exactly where he left it, though, and I remove it from his treasured tripod and begin the long treck back to 7:00 and Jurassic, where my humble little car all packed up is.  A camp of older people see my odd box and marvel at it for a bit.  I make it back to camp, secure my new treasure in the back seat, and discover a blister on my heel from the sting, though it is invisible under the layer of dust coating my legs and feet.  Removing my shoes, I head over to the Tribe of Elders, where I'd been [ineffectively, through no fault of theirs, only of myself not being open or able to channel their energies] attuned for Reiki the day before, bearing bracelets I'd made earlier on the open Playa.  Coco, a fellow attuned Burner who had a severely spiritual experience with her attunement, was there, and almost cried with joy when I offered her a bracelet.  I gave the other two to Rose, leaving one for Tower (who had done the attuneing).  I am grateful, truly, and feel guilty I was unable to experience what they had to offer.

The winds are still high and my eyes are beginning to sting, so I sit in my car with my cousin for over an hour eating rice cakes with peanut butter and listening to BMIR pirate radio, safe from the storm for the time being.  Eyes still stinging, we head out to the Man for the Burn.

i just had a brilliant idea for a tattoo.

hey, kids, remember this? (only if you're my age or older, and an Arrowbearian):

e e cummingsCollapse )

here is my idea. you ready?

an eye. with another eye encorporated inside it (iris, pupil, whatever. i'm not the artist, just the conceptualist). both open.

white ink.

placement ideas: back of neck (ooh creepy!), shoulder / upper arm (white ink tattoos look SUPER COOL there), ankle, anywhere on my back.

after a while they fade, and it looks more like scarification. very subtle, very pretty.

BAM i'm awesome.

long subway rides are perfect for livejournaling.


Sometimes I wish I had some sort of weird cyborg-esque chip in my brain that allowed me to update Livejournal from wherever I was sitting, whatever I was thinking. Not Livejournal particularly, really, but a way to record my thoughts in any way. A word program. Anything.

Long subway rides always lend themselves to really, really good thinks. I had some really good ones today, taking Alex to the airport and coming back.

At the time it was coherent, flowing, beautiful. I was thinking about my life, reflecting on how many things have happened, how many things I've already done, the life I'm giving up for the life I'm now pursuing, how I'm coming home but the home I'm coming home to is completely different from the home I left but that's okay and I'm excited for it, how every stage of my life is an adventure. And Delta had bought all of the advertisement on one side of the subway car, so my mind drifted to all of those different places... Eastern Europe, which I hope to visit with my father in a couple years and learn/find a bit of my heritage there, and Africa. At the time it was coherent, flowing beautiful, a fact I just felt the need to reiterate twice, in order to contrast to the scattered ramblings that will emerge within this entry as an afterthought to my moments of brilliance already passed hours ago.

My thoughts stayed on Africa for a long, long time... for most of the ride, really. At the end of the ride I mentioned what I was thinking to Alex but of course didn't verbalize what I wanted to get across... instead, just a few random details came out. That's all I can ever get out about my thoughts: a few random details. Because in my head those few random details mean so much else, and nothing else is put into words or language, it all just exists as a concept in my mind with an image.

This particular image was Lightness. To say she was my favorite child I worked with would be a lie; there are a few who stand out, other than her, and every single child, even the "trouble" children, taught me and touched me in ways I individually did not (and was not able to) reciprocate. But throughout my entire life, it will be Lightness, that laughing seven-year-old girl in the dirty fading orange popeye sweater and dark brown skirt (her only clothing) and hairless from want of proper nourishment.

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She was beautiful.

I know I will wonder about her my entire life. I know thirty years from now I will get the itch to go find her, to see if she's okay. From time to time I will think of her, wonder if she's doing well, if she's living the african city life in Moshi or Arusha or if she settled down to a life of working the land, or if she's just living in poverty, miserable, alone. But such thoughts are all at once silly and horrifying and in vain. She is the daughter of a poor Tanzanian family who live in a small village with no real documentation of individual existance. I do not know her family. I do not know if she even has a family. All I know of her is she was a little Tanzanian girl, probably but not necessarily of the Chagga tribe, who attended Hope nursery school until age 7 despite being one of the most advanced in the class because her family could not afford to send her to elementary school. And who am I to assume I even have a right to look for her? Within a week of my departure she would have to have forgotten me, Teecha Tascha, and Teecha Jesska, my partner. We were there for three weeks. A very small installment of wave after wave of wazungu trying to do their part in making a difference in this world. The program is more for us than for them. They benifit from the wonder of these wazungu, they see the English language as something desirable to learn because they like these strange light-skinned people who come to them with high hopes and realize that their little 3-week contribution to the international community matters little in the long run of these children's lives, but really, the program exists for us wazungu to learn from them. To learn that a child is a child anywhere - just a small person who wants love and joy. To learn that these individual "contributions" do not directly accomplish anything at all, but work to install concepts of hope, of education, of the existence really of the western world.

Lightness will always be seven in my mind. She will not age in my memory. I will be an old woman, and she as well, and when I think of her I will see that little bald girl in the orange popeye sweater, shaking her eyebrows at me and laughing and telling me jokes in swahili or chagga or whatever tribal language it is she naturally speaks. I know when to laugh in any language. I know when a child named Lightness wants me to tickle her or pick her up and spin her around in so many circles we both stumble around dizzy and look completely silly and ridiculous to the other children and to Jessica. Lightness will cease to be a little girl I miss and ache for and wish I were at a point in my life in which I was able to adopt her, and her sister Cici (Jessica's Lightness). It might have been a possibility. You must live in Tanzania two years before you can adopt a child. I almost stayed and didn't go to school. I'm an adult. I seriously considered it. But eventually my heart will cease to ache for that little girl and begin to ache for what that little girl represents. Because she will cease to be a little girl in the world. She will face the troubles of the conditions she was born into head-on as a teenager, as an adult. I only hope it does not suck out that vibrancy I found in her. I hope she grows up to be like Mama Betty - a good sense of humor, well-off, doing something meaningful in the world, and still retaining that sense of life. I know it will be almost impossible for her to achieve that in her lifetime, but, I can only hope.

...And then we arrived at the Sutphin Blvd. station, connection from the E train to the airtrain, and I worked to get my mind back to the present so i could say good-bye to my boyfriend for the next week.

celeste, please run away with me.


celeste: ross just came into my starbucks.
celeste: i was like
celeste: ....!!!!!!!!!!
celeste: ADS;LASDF
tasha: i think i sometimes actually make the noise of that pronounced phoenetically.
celeste: it sounds like an animal grunt.
tasha: yeah, i tend to do that.


tasha: ...how amazing would that be? if we counseled together?
tasha: i think we'd make the camp explode with our combined awesomeness.
tasha: wait, we've totally had this conversation before.
celeste: i want to fucking DORM COUNSEL though.
tasha: oh that's right you're my age.
tasha: you seem so old
tasha: oldy old old.
celeste: i used to think you were older than me.
celeste: because you're so...
celeste: tasha
tasha: best adjective ever.
celeste: i believe the actual word is ummm mature.
celeste: i like tasha better
celeste: mature sounds like a disease.
tasha: i don't want to grow up!
tasha: i might get...mature
tasha: ewwwwww.
celeste: let's just run away to neverland
celeste: but the neverland from Hook
celeste: because it's the most badass neverland EVER.
tasha: HELL YES.
tasha: speaking of badass
tasha: i have bright yellow music suspenders.


celeste: ....aaaaaaand now you're speechless.
tasha: i'm always speechless in your pseudy-presence.
tasha: pseudo*
celeste: PSEUDY
celeste: AHAHA
celeste: that's a keepy
celeste: ......
celeste: crap.


tasha: i havent eaten anything yet today.
tasha: except i stole some of my roommate's popcorn.
celeste: you're not starving yourself again are you?
celeste: tasha i've talked to you about this.
celeste: i LIKE my women with meat on their bones.
tasha: oh honey don't worry, i'm just lazy and there's no food in my room.
tasha: if i had food in here you better believe i'd be going to TOWN.
celeste: heh...nutella...and pita...aaannddddd
celeste: ummmmm
celeste: what else is delicious?
tasha: you are.
celeste: i meant that you could buy.
tasha: .....
celeste: in a grocery store that is.


tasha: celeste, you are amazing.
tasha: run away with me:
celeste: to australia?
tasha: sure.
tasha: can we have a pet wallaby?
celeste: why not a kangaroo?
celeste: i mean, did you ask the wallabies if they'd mind being a pet?
celeste: cuz i know the kangaroos are cool with it.
celeste: (we chat).
celeste: so only if it's okay with the wallabies can we have one.


celeste: well if we have a wallaby we'll need an endless supply of nutella
celeste: or food/groceries
tasha: groceries?
celeste: yeah.
tasha: by groceries you mean sex, right?
celeste: of course.