So I went to Burning Man.
I did That Thing in the Desert.
I did it, I adventured, and now I’m home. But what does that mean?
I don’t know, friends. I had this entire post penned and ready to publish, but I instead kept hemming and hawing over it until I hated it. The whole thing was deleted. It’s gone in part because I loathed the way I couldn’t English up a good description of what I had experienced, but also partly because I don’t want to publicly share what I went through in Black Rock City. It may sound silly, but they are memories that I want only for myself and the people I shared them with. These people who accepted me for me, who built me up, and showed me that I am worth loving- I selfishly want to keep that inside of me.
Except it’s not selfish at all.
My last post (I think) mentioned the temple at Burning Man and how I had (maybe) set it as my intention for going out there. The temple itself is an incredible structure, made for the most delightful burn, and is covered in residents’ personal messages of grief, loss, and pain. I wanted to go there and take all of my anger, resentment, and hurt (plus a wedding dress) to burn into oblivion. It was such a small idea at the time but, by the Friday that I actually got out there, it meant so much more.
Avoiding the temple was easy for the majority of the week. I really didn’t want to go, even though it was my one goal. I think I was mostly scared of the emotions I might be overcome by. It’s enough to have your own shit to plod through, but thousands of other people bearing their heart and soul there? Ooof. That fucking temple could move Ted Bundy to tears, I swear. It wasn’t until I spoke to a camp-mate about watching the sun rise that I finally decided to bite the bullet. This human was incredible- a long-time Burner, a Green Dot Ranger, and all-around genuine person- he made me feel like I had enough strength to follow through with my original intention.
Falling asleep to the EDM jams of our neighboring camp, Ashram Galactica, I dreamed my last dream about the person I intended to burn from my life experience. At 5 AM I woke up, threw on my wedding dress, some leggings, and the only sweater I packed (silly, silly mistake), and rode out with my grey wizard friend to the temple. I let the structure take me to a spot where I felt comfortable sobbing my little face off. Sitting down, I realized how overwhelmed I was by the intense grief and sadness that openly presented itself on the wooden walls. But the longer I sat, the more I took in and realized that we’re all one when we’re experiencing the lowest lows of our life. We can all understand what loss is- and in that loss, there is community, acceptance, and out-pouring love.
One thing I noticed as I sat there, shivering and debating taking that stupid dress off, was the number of monuments to David Bowie. I mourned the loss of the human who made it okay for me to embrace my weirdness just as much as the next person, but it wasn’t until the temple that I realized what that impact meant. Against a beam was propped a cardboard sign with a photo of Bowie and his iconic quote scrawled in black ink:
I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.
At that moment…at that sunrise…I had no idea where I was going. What I did know was that once I left behind all my negative feelings, once I let go of hating myself, when I truly just accepted myself for who I am…it didn’t matter where I was going because it was going to be fucking rad. I tied my wedding dress around that column and left, albeit freezing, but with a new head on my shoulders.
Later that day, while this was processing in my mind, I met a woman who had worked tirelessly on the temple build. She had come to our camp to receive some healing and had ended up waiting for a few hours to be seen. I originally sat down to apologize to her for the wait, but we ended up talking and got into a discussion about what our favorite parts of the Burn had been so far. I explained my little temple intention and the story behind it and she met me with an incredible bit of humanity and realness. Paraphrasing her words won’t mean to you, my dear reader, what it meant to me, but she told me that she had built the steeple of the temple. In it, she had placed a home-made banner from her own wedding (which had ended like mine), but that she was the only one who knew it was there. She explained that, while she was building, she knew that she was doing the work for someone. She didn’t know who. She didn’t know why. But she knew that the work she was doing was for someone who needed it. And at that moment, this woman told me that she built that temple for me– I was the person for whom she had intentionally worked hard for, and that I was worth it.
I cannot with the sobs. It was hard to work that day. My little, ice-cold heart had just been shattered into a thousand pieces and crocheted back together with random, yet intentional acceptance. This is why I am grateful for this experience. For every person who told me I was worthy of love. For every person who genuinely affirmed that I was intelligent, pretty, and sarcastic as fuck but still a good person. For every human who gave me a chance, and who let me be the weird me I am. Especially for the person who was willing to call me on my self-deprecating bullshit. Thank you.
Temple burn was a mess for me. I was incredibly emotional, but not in the way I though I would be. I was sad, but I was also elated. Knowing that you’re truly whole no matter what someone else has instilled in you for years is cause for laughter and celebration. I didn’t laugh though, I just leaked out of my face. Seeing that fire take over 70k+ people’s anguish was truly one of the most surreal experiences for me. I was happy and I was thankful.
While we’re on the idea of thankfulness, I want to mention how incredibly thankful I am for the HeebeeGeebees and the people I met through them. Never would I have imagined that there would be a group of individuals who would magically appear in the desert and challenge me to be a better version of myself. You made me want to learn, grow, love (myself), and appreciate others. I truly love you all for what you gave of yourselves during Burning Man and I hope I get to be a part of that for years to come.
For years I’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race and attempted to internalize the closing statement. I’ve always failed in that regard- I’m not worthy of love because look at me. But Burning Man gave me the chance to take that phrase and actually apply if to my life. I get it now, friends. If I can’t love myself, how can I love somebody else?
So for now, I just love me.
But I also love the fuck out of you all.