Monday, 16 November 2009

Burning Man.....

Burning Man is...

.... trying to explain to people before, and after, the event, is so ridiculously difficult! But if you have never heard of it then you need something to go on, right? My first knowledge of Burning Man came at a festival in England about 4 years ago where I met someone who was gushing about having just come back from the most life changing and beautiful experience, showing me videos on his iPod of this city that exists in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada that about 40,000 people call home. For one week a year. These people don't spend money on anything but ice and coffee - everything else is given as gifts to one another. They build massive pieces of art, one in particular being a sculpture of a man that lies in the centre of the city and gets burnt on the Saturday night, accompanied by huge displays of fireworks, performers, music, and people having a beautiful time together, loving each other and being free to be as expressive and explorative of themselves as they choose.

Burning Man is a festival like no other festival, where everyone is a participant. The story of my journey there involves a blog earlier in the year where I explained my part in Kiwiburn, the NZ regional event, where about 250 go and celebrate the spirit of the mother festival. So when the opportunity came up for me to get myself to the US at the right time, alongside my dear dear friends from Bournemouth (who have been going for the last few years and have fuelled my curiosity and desire to attend) I simply couldn't resist.

So now it's November and I still haven't written my Burning Man (which takes place in Aug/Sept) tale and feel I really, really have to do this, for myself if nothing else, for the memory, and for the reflection of what was one of the most epic and unique weeks of my life.
Evolution was the theme of this year's festival and the questions raised by the Burning Man website ( SUCH a comprehensive site for info and to help you get your head around it) were:
what are we as human beings
where have we come from
how may we adapt to meet an ever changing world?

My preparations for Burning Man, since I was in England before flying to LA (from where I would travel to the site) were all a bit rushed and feeling very incomplete because I was spending as much time as possible with friends and family and not organising myself properly so I actually felt really freaked out and unprepared when I left London. However, thankfully I had quite a few days in LA to sort stuff out and that included obtaining a bicycle (pretty essential for easy desert transport) and organising a ride to the site, as well as getting hold of the tools required to make my gifts of lighter and ashtray necklaces for people. One fantastic thing about BM is their Leave No Trace ethic which actually gets strictly adhered to by the public, yet smokers dropping cigarette butts is something that really grates me, hence the manufacture of ashtray necklaces with empty photo-film canisters (thanks Travis for getting hold of these), fishing wire and beads. So, a Burning Man bike needs to be beautified, and here's mine...

Photos of BM are endless, I only had my camera out on I think two of the seven days because it's ALL stuff that's worth photographing, everything is beautiful, there's so much you've never seen before and if you have seen it before then it's never in the context of this incredibly beautiful setting; so really you have to accept that you can't photograph it all! The link for my photo album on facebook is as follows and if it doesn't work because the date changes in time then add me as a friend (Kat Drew). For this blog I have borrowed a few from the dear Jim who gave me a ride to the fest because he's got some of the Man (I have NONE!) and photos can describe it a lot better than words can!!.... and the rest are taken from my facebook album and from friends' photos:

The photo above shows you the man and his complex lattice base made entirely of 2x4 planks that look so hickledy-pickledy in how they're joined together yet perfectly chaotic - actually you can see this better from the close-up below which also gives you a sense of scale in preparation for the photo later on of the man burning:

Right, enough Man photos, like i said i could go on and on with photos but this is a starter to give you a sense of scale, really i want to describe everything that I saw and that happened to me but i know this is impossible, yet i need to archive the memories and being the unstoppable mind analyst that i am, there definitely needs to be a certain amount of analysis as well, for my own self-indulgent psycho-therapeutic desires. I hope you understand.

So, now back to the Evolutionary questions....some sort of structure for me?!!
What are we as human beings?

Well in the Black Rock Desert we are many many things. First we are creatures of preparation and survival - it's a totally arid and hot environment 4000m above sea level with alkaline dust on the ground (this desert is a dried up lakebed, it's not sand, and it's referred to also as the playa, which would be confusing if you know Spanish since playa means beach, but I digress) so not only do you need heaps of sunscreen, water and nutrients you also need vinegar to put on your skin to neutralise the alkalis and if you go bare feet for any length of time they get dry and sore (this I did do one night, um I believe at the end of Naked Day, yeh that story is one that comes much later on...). Luckily as I said I had the time to sort out things beforehand and the ride I arranged to get me from LA to the festival (thanks Jim!) had not only space for me my bike and my stuff but a friend in Reno who we spent the night with and from where we had a base to get all the necessary food and water supplies before heading off to hit the festival when the gates opened at midnight on Monday 31st August.

The night-time drive in is the point here at which I am going to do my present-tense shift because I just LOVE writing as if it's happening now. It was now, then, if you catch my drift.

So anyway here I am in this truck it's a clear night sky with masses of stars and a bright moon lighting up the Sierra Nevada mountain range that we're driving near, along the single track road leading to what they call Black Rock City. The closer we get the more RVs, cars and trucks we see, some loaded ridiculously high with gear and bikes and all sorts of building materials, a long snake of tail-lights heading off like some sort of pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere. The excitement is...very exciting! I still don't know at this point how some of the other English contingent are going to get from the airports to the festival but as I have been informed and understand the truth of, the playa provides....

We join the standstill point of the queue in at doesn't take long to get to the gate, 3 or 4 lines of all sorts of vehicles inching along and I'm totally happily watching all the loads and wondering what everyone is planning on building with the stuff they've brought... it's nothing like an English festival where the general public bring a tent and sleeping bag and food and beer; at this festival people build entire theme camps, things you could not even begin to imagine anyone would have the idea or audacity to create, get created! Outrageous ideas carried out by people like you or me who have used nothing but their own ingenuity and motivation to make it happen! I have to pick up my sponsorship ticket so we get diverted into a different line and it takes a good while to get through it...whilst we wait I'm standing on the playa, bending down and feeling the dust between my fingers and the reality of what I have been reading about and getting actually quite nervous about, is right here and feeling great!

Once we're in we drive down the long track past signs displaying various thought-provoking quotes about evolution, the theme being set in our minds, I am gathering a sense of what this could all mean to me, the symbiosis of nature and technology...more on that to come. I go through the greeter gate at which point Jim explains to the greeters that I am a 'virgin'. So a box is drawn around my feet in the dust, I'm told that inside the box is who I am, outside it is who I may be, and to jump out of the box and hit the giant bell in front of me shouting 'I am no longer a virgin'. I scrub the box out with my feet instead, and wack the bell: YES I'm in! We find the site where Jim's friends have parked up and then Jim and I go on a bike ride to try and find Bacon Without Borders, which is the theme camp I'll be with. BWB is a camp that's been running for several years, based mainly out of LA, the contingent from the UK this year being bigger than ever as our trans-continental counterpart Olly has spearheaded the connection. There is such a massive backstory to all of this it's not even funny...I remember last year sitting with Olly on the bench outside Beechwood (our house in England) as he showed me his bar menu with all manner of different infused vodkas that he'd organised to bring to the festival; herbs, meats, sweets, allsorts! This year he's built a bar, alcohol is coming from many sources and much of it is infused with bacon! there's also PAIN - his bottle of vodka that's been stuffed with chillis for months.

Can't find the camp, seems not much of it is set up yet and no-one i know is here, so I go for a ride out to see the man and then return and sleep in Jim's truck, heading off in the morning to find camp. Waking up to see the playa in daylight I'm amazed and excited yet also quite hugely overwhelmed and daunted by everything, you know how it is when you just don't really know what to do with yourself because everything your senses are receiving is so different and alien and even though you know it's all good, it's still daunting? I find BWB finally and meet some of the folks there, get Jim to drop all my stuff off with them and start socialising but even when Lisa arrives all dressed up and excited to see me I still feel a little bamboozled and lost! Not worried though just unsure what to do with myself.....

So we go off on a bike ride and I recall my first time at Glastonbury when I went wandering with Sooz and felt so envious of her ability to go up to people and make conversation and get involved in things, I have come such a long way since then but feel that sense of shyness again for some reason! Like I said before, you don't spend money at Burning Man, everything everyone gives to each other is because of the pure joy of the act of giving and I LOVE this principal yet find it difficult to accept gifts...

As I type this I am listening to a DJ mix compiled by DivaDanielle, one of the girls within the bacon crew. So many elements to this part of the story - put simply, BWB is about bacon, booze and beats, so it features these three things mainly, and done well - lots of bacon cooking, a geodesic dome with a fat soundsystem, several really good DJs, a bar, bacon infused whisky, chilli infused vodka, a hexagon theatre with video projections, and two art cars, one of which is designed as Jabba's barge from Star Wars and carries a yummy soundsystem, so basically it's a moving party! The other is called Snow Job and sprays out snow made by pushing ice blocks through industrial fanblades. Genius!

Hearing this DJ mix is reminding me of the night I was out on Jabba while Danielle was playing the tunes, trundling along at 5mph with a perfect amount of fun bumpiness, having a boogie whilst watching the playa-by-night, a whole other world of neon-lit people, bicycles, mutant vehicles and art installations, sounds coming from every angle, wind blowing gently and a bunch of talented and individual people all riding together while this music plays and the lady playing it is clearly loving it and so are we and where else could anything like this ever occur but Burning Man?!! Anyway I digress here but this is going to be a tough one to explain as the memories come back in random order! Travelling on Jabba was so much fun, a great way to take in the event whilst being part of an ongoing 'something' and not having all your physical energy drained through endless wandering from place to place. Especially when we get taken to the giant astroturf slide!!

Cleanliness in the desert is so much less of a concern than you imagine it will be. Clothes get worn multiple times (or not at all as our pact to spend an entire day naked took place on Friday and yes we did go on the slide naked as shown above!), sleep occurs at random times, wetwipes are wonderful things and you can't do anything to avoid dust getting everywhere, especially when the high winds kick in and you can barely see where you're going. That's why goggles are an essential playa item as well as a constant source of water. It takes its toll though, after a few days the altered environment, sensory overload and sleep deprivation has an effect. So much so that I wake up on a drip on Thursday morning, having spent the night up partying and then gone to the Earth Guardians camp from where I had planned to join their ecological restoration project outside the city boundaries. I assume it was dehydration that made me pass out although I have no recollection of feeling unwell. After an hour and a half out cold and a load of fluid fed back into me via the drip, I return to camp and attempt to sleep. Sleep does not occur, but a lot of lying down with eyes closed and complete inability to switch off mentally from all that I think I am missing!

But wait, I have just skipped forward about 3 days! Well okay then, reverse, back to Monday...gradually i get to see everyone I know as well as Lisa, show up - UK folks Olly, Holly, Jon, Henna, Spud and Reza. Monday night....ummmm? General hanging out, probably involved a trip out on Jabba...need to check with the others. ah hahaha I remember managing to drag a load of people out to 'Mojito Monday' where we spent a good hour or so drinking shots of beautiful mojitos, during which Henna and I went for a toilet trip, she got her wedding dress caught up in her bike chain and then we're lying in the middle of the path in a bit of a dust storm trying to untangle her...random laughable events like this happenning all the time! I can't list exactly what happened can I, it will take too long. A big group of Kiwis are at the festival who I know from my involvement with Kiwiburn and they're camped really near BWB so I keep going to say hello to them which is cool although after a few days i realise I am really unsure of who to actyually stop and spend time with because there are so many people I know at this festival so decide I really should focus on who I am camped with...

I do random assisting jobs with the setting up of the BWB camp on Tuesday when the dome (above) and bar go up, I get to get creative with fairy lights on the roof of the dome. But these guys are really organised, I mean, everyone is getting stuff done and setting stuff up, it's so beautiful to see and be welcomed into. I am amazed at the amount of effort and thought and finance tht has gone into it all, the creativity, teamwork and fun as well....and hey let me just say a massive THANK YOU for welcoming me into the camp and for all your efforts was such a pleasure to be a part of...

Chronology is proving to be impossible and I am in tears right now as I write this, I am not entirely sure why. There were times I was in tears at Burning Man as well. One was at sunrise on Sunday morning after the night of the man burn, I can hardly remember it besides being in absolutely intense floods of ecstatic tears of joy, when asked 'what's wrong' saying 'nothing's wrong, everything is perfect'! Another time of tears followed the shot of Olly's PAIN vodka which sent such intense spice through my body it had eyes and nose streaming for a good 5 minutes and proved to be a very effective cleanser for all that playa dust that was clogging my system.


So why am i in tears now? Because I know I can't put words to all of this, because I am scared of losing the memories but don't just want to write down a list of what happened, because I am scared of what opinions I might uncover from my mind? Or because I am actually really not ready to analyse what doesn't necessarily need analysing anyway.

The temple was immensely beautiful....i cried every time i went there and I've not ever even had to deal with a close personal loss...

Perhaps it's because the emotions and events of Burning Man were so vast, varied and intense that going back into that headstate right now as I type this is too much to handle. May sound crazy to the reader but it's the explanation I am coming up with.

How do I explain the pant-wetting joy of the Saturday night burning of the man following the day where I was 'best man' at Jon and Henna's third and very wonky wedding at the Mom sign, acid sugar cubes, my glowstick knot of confusion, the dust storm of complete and utter white-out no-one knows where the f**k they're going, following a whole night awake where I shed tears with Jon at the temple for his mum who left her bodya year ago, following naked day and the most intense full-moon-rise, following Infected Mushroom live and a night in the hexagon theatre.

I am telling this story backwards and realised what a massive chain of events occurred and how emotional and varied and intense (using those words again) they all were yet how I really cannot explain them, and do I even need to?

Here's the man burning:

Remember the photo earlier showing you the people standing by that latticework? Can you even begin to imagine how immense it was to be there when THIS was happening, after a dust storm in which you couldn't see a metre in front of your own face and where a group of us somehow managed to find ourselves standing in front of a giant metal sculpture of a woman holding a ball of fire, then the dust cleared and ALL the art cars are in a huge circle, people everywhere, fire performers everywhere, the biggest fireworks display I have ever seen in my life, music, lights, fire, vodka and vodka with Lisa and Spud, the man taking soooo long to burn and topple it was amazing, llike the best foreplay - seriously I know it sounds weird likening it to sex but there really were intense physical feelings associated with the burn and not in a sordid way - just really deep, visceral....

So....walking up to the fire when it had finally become something walk-up-to-able, seeing people running through it, round it, lying naked next to it, standing still in the middle of it, I walked around talking to Douglas a man in his 12th year and it felt so good not having to have small talk conversations because this was someone deep...the crazy and beautiful timing of him saying 'you feel like jumping on an art car' and 30 seconds later me turning round and seeing Jabba, screaming out BAAAACON and jumping on board...then dancing to the oozy orgasmic dubstep of Bassnectar, so loud, so deep, taking Henna crowdsurfing. Passing out on Jabba and missing sunrise and the next thing I remember after that is lying on a giant trampoline having some of the most beautiful hugs and kisses of my life with Joel...this continued into the morning/early afternoon on Jabba whilst Reza DJd from the dome on earth can I explain any of this? All i know is my realisation for this boy having the most beautiful eyes and hugs I have ever known, happened somewhere during the early hours of that morning, and developed from there, VERY intensely.

I am sorry this blog has become a really disjointed and somewhat chaotic/panicked affair (at least that's how it feels as I am writing it) but at the time of writing I am on the last few hours of decent computer time I am likely to have for a while and I want to get this ON here but reeeeally having difficulty knowing how. Hence the splurgeyness of it.

My attempts at decent descriptions began but didn't continue. So many things keep popping into my head at each and every moment I type another word, flashbacks of things that happened, tiny moments shared that would take 1000 words to explain, the order of events is becoming more clear to me but in reverse!

I can imagine myself back into these moments, for some of them like I was not even within myself when they occurred but was observing myself from another perspective, yet at other moments I was so completelty present and aware that I had no thoughts or worries beyond pure love and joy for the moment. Like dancing with my Beechwood family to Infected Mushroom and feeling the urge to kiss them ALL; not that that's the important part; what's important is how we were all so happy and dancing and loving it together and the music was incredible...

I suppose my questionning arises from the wondering of purpose. What purpose does this serve? What ARE we as human beings? The fueling of positivity is a great one to be a part of but it DOES take up a lot of money and effort for just that one week of Burning Man and so where is the 'real world' benefit? Burning Man call it the 'default world' - I like this - you know what, there were many instances at the festival where it felt like we were on a different planet, it seemed like being on the moon at night-time (the fact we were blessed with moon all night to light the way and be so beautiful - sunrise, moonset, sunset, moonrise, from total opposite sides of the sky, that's how it worked) - but point being that the instances where i thought hey maybe all us burners are really from another planet and this is our annual get together party only we don't realise it, or we do realise it but we can't comprehend it to a great enough extent to know WHY? Or maybe that's just me and my own confusion. I remember having a very distinct sense of our convergence being because we were about to be risen to some other place, dimension, planet....hmm, maybe if I explain now that the way the sky looked at night, the amount of stars, the moon, the size of Jupiter - the vast expanse of flat white land and crazy neon lights everywhere - the symbiosis of nature vs technology thing that I mentioned at the start - this is what I mean. Not that I am really explaining it of course, because I don't think I can, or know how. But it's left me with an even more open mind and greater misunderstanding of myself. Of the self i thought i had got to know so much over the last year. That sounds really odd I am sure.

In fact right now I am reaching a point where I don't think I can write anymore. Going to slot all the photos into different positions and make sure some sort of sense is achievable from reading all this, time is nearly up for me with this computer and who knows when a good time will come again. So many beautiful memories and so much not shared here, which hey, is fine, but still, my analysis feels incomplete!

The photo below was taken just before the first of us to leave left the site on Monday. The whole Bournemouth Bacon crew together for the last time in who knows how long, we're now spread between UK, US, New Zealand and Australia! Love you all, it was EPIC...x

To reiterate the questions on the theme...Where have we come from and how may we adapt to meet an ever changing world?

Good questions eh. I have no answers, only, that there are no answers, just more questions. Every Burner knows that right? The art is in the ceaseless asking of the questions, and the beauty of the exploration. Do we even want the answer? Maybe it wants us. Maybe I am being just ridiculously ambiguous because I am tired and have been working on this for so long. Well whatever the case i know I have only lightly touched on responding to the questions yet at the same time my level of emotion and experience variety is in itself an answer...actually I think possibly the Burning Man experience for me has been about something beautiful shared with friends, some new very strong bonds made, countless moments of utter joy, many moments of fun, some moments of sadness, confusion, all moments of interest and value. A lot of something that can't be grasped. A lot of it. Like being opened up in every aspect, masses of information thrown in but no comprehensible way of explaining it! And perhaps no need to. Learning to live more in the moment, helping to sense the non-existence of time in preparation for our minds eradicating it...?


little extra section....
other interesting memory-triggers for me and thought-provokers for the reader:

female ejaculation workshop, limosine portapotties, best toilet experience ever - i had my own red light/bouncer, backwards walking and amazing shadowgames with jon, almost ending up in the orgy dome, bacon-infused Jack Daniels, peeing outside the trash fence, endlessly beautiful skies, Shqwine, Top of the Biscuit, healing(or not so healing as it turned out) zone, finding the couchsurfing camp completely by mistake exactly at the time i wanted to know where it was for the psy-trance party, sweet kiwi Al coming to find me, dream theater shadow puppets, actually the dream theater in general had many moments, bacon and plantain, mystical misfits camp and swing, digging out the tent stakes, this list could go on forever.......