Sunday, December 19, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - part 9

Burning Man 2010 - The Temple Burn

on one of my earlier visits to the temple I noticed this written on the wall:

Sunday is a challenging day for me because so much of the city is already being dismantled. I don't want to see it end.  Hell, it only seems like a beginning to me.

It went by. . . . so. fucking. fast.

Some people, especially jaded veterans who don't feel they need to see another man in flames, have left before the man burns. Others flee immediately after.

 In a moment of reflection, I asked Mara if she was sad about the inexorable end coming:


Me: "How do you feel?"

"No Emotion."

That's pretty startling to me. I have emotions when jello hardens. Ummm...good for her, uh...I guess.  There's a time in my life when I would have been intensely envious of "no emotion".

Now, I'm not so sure.

So at this point, I'm feeling a lot of feelings. During the day I go out to the man's surprisingly small burn site and people are still hanging around. It seemed so huge the night before, and it has collapsed into a very small area.  Some people are unclothed, some are clothed. Some are meditating. One person is even making food on skewers:

As for me, I still haven't packed yet because I have to keep the rental car as clean as possible. For the last couple of days, the winds have been too high to do any serious packing (can't get the car dirty or smelly, so I keep it empty and closed at all times).

Everyone else is dismantling at breakneck pace.  This was the highest point in the city yesterday, as tall as - I'm guessing - 100 feet  high:

A gospel performance in Center Camp - complete with choir - reinforces my angst, as I wander through for what I know will be the last time:

It doesn't help my state of mind that right now everything in my little campsite world is a epic mess. My toothbrush has been lying in the sand for about three days, the smelly garbage bag is actually in my tent (the car situation means I have to be careful about those odors), I'm eating food off of a dirty mess kit  (other 'burners' bring fine china) because I didn't bring the proper cleaning supplies ...... I'm buried in used paper towels....

In short, I'm a super slob!

I'm not exactly a neat freak at home, but I certainly have my act together. On the Playa, other folks have kitchen tents, and water systems, and battery power and wonderful shade, and chairs. I feel like Grok (the caveman's) dirty reject of a brother -- ya know, the brother that's sleeping on Grok's stone couch who can't even get a job with the local hunters.

So....true, I do need to go home and reset.

However....I hope - and plan - to have this adventure again next year. If so, I may find a camp (and kindly was already invited to one), or figure out a way to up my game so that I can have the kind of stuff that expert burners have: a shower, good food to offer to others, drinks to share, shade, etc. … and also music.

Sunday night has come, and I arrive early for the temple burn. It's as cold as it has been since I have been here in Black Rock. I go by myself, and actually sit right in the front row. I want this experience to be profound, so I come early and shiver the wait away.  True, I realize I'm not in the greatest place for self preservation, as the wind is gently blowing towards where I am (Nobooty warned me about this...), but I figure they must have their act together here, right?

No, it's probably not that smart, but whatever...too late to change spots once I realize my peril.

Well, some of the yahoos are still here waiting to start yelling, and at first when the temple starts burning, they are whooping and hollering full tilt. I find it almost intolerable, and I'm getting angrier by the minute, especially since the experienced burners do this as a sacred ritual, and it is billed as such.

Always helpful though, Nobooty cautioned me thus -- "there will be three kinds of people" he said: "those who go to cry, those who go to 'zen out' and those who just go to watch something burn."

So, myself being somewhere in the middle of going to cry and going to 'zen out', I'm seething...feeling mightily pissed.  Don't these freakin' yahoos know some of us are on an effin' spiritual journey here?

But then.....then...something really magical happens. When the fire really takes off -- everybody gets stone quiet - eerily so - for maybe 5-10 minutes. The wind whips up quite a bit suddenly, and embers first start rolling along the ground and coming within mere inches of my feet and then stopping (click the pictures):

Before long they are flying directly over top of me:

I do have a hat on, but I'm not sure it matters. Nothing's hitting me.  Embers are actually hitting the crowd behind me, and are coming within inches of me in all directions, but leaving me safe.  The crowd behind starts to fidget and many actually stand up.  From time to time, the only sound on the playa is when someone who gets hit by an ember makes a soft noise of pain.  Meanwhile I'm completely unscathed...

After a couple of minutes these strong wind currents start happening, and they take the form of small miniature twisters, almost as if spirits are leaving the place. For the uncynical, you can see them manifest in the smoke from the fire.

The pictures don't document the gravity of the scene, but the moment was spooky -- really, really spooky.....meaningful:

Eventually the yahoo contingent loses their sense of awe, comes back into play and the spell is dissipated. For that moment in time though, these people lost their power completely.  Imagine the world like that...

Well, after moving into the fire for a while, I leave the crowd and walk home with the annoyed feeling that I've been robbed, and mostly anger. While in this moment I'm feeling quite cynical about people, when I think about it later, what stays with me was the feeling of that swirling.

It was just SO mystical.

2 AM rolls around and as I awaken, I notice the wind is finally dead quiet on the Playa.  So although I still have sleep left in me, it would seem my time has come. I get out of the bedroll, and as I look outside, I'm struck by how much is gone.  It's like a desert again, instead of the city it was a day earlier.  I gather everything up for the last time. Nobooty and Chopper are awake across the street as most of the other 'houses' are gone.  My feeling of sadness is palpable, and weighs heavily.  Since they are rangers, they'll be around till Tuesday -  and they have done this many times.  Old hat for them.

Yet my heart is heavy.

I can't thank them enough, I tell them. They stay low key about it, in an 'all-in-a-day's-work' kind of way, but as we part ways I hope they know my words are sincere.

A turn of the key, a clunk of the transmission as I pull the car out of Park for the first time in over a week, and it's off to the 'default world'.

…but I know what you're thinking… what about all this 'summer of finding myself'/'midlife crisis' stuff'?

Well, I give myself high marks for getting out there, especially to Black Rock, and doing my best to place myself in a new environment.  In a sense, I got back to my roots, and felt connected in a way I haven't felt in many years.

Right now though, it feels as though I'm largely unsuccessful in actually transforming those weaker areas of my nature.

Grade: F.  No one is sorrier than I am to hear that.

But - as I say this - I realize I AM pretty hard on myself....

As it happens, I was thinking about my fitness program the other day. Part of it is a stretching routine, and I've never stretched before.  I like it a lot now that I'm doing it.

Here's the thing though: after about 100 days of the routine, I can stretch - maybe - 2 more inches than I could when I started. If I miss time, my progress backslides.  If the question comes up: 'do I ever think I'll be limber?', the honest answer would have to be no. My guess is I'll always struggle with it.

But I refuse to stop working on it because of that. Plus - who knows - maybe I'll end up surprising myself after all.  It has happened before...

Back to the 'summer of Reed' .... well, right now, as I sit on this Labor Day 2010 in this Reno Nevada Starbucks - working on my 4th cup of espresso, I'm not that optimistic. I see the little pattern games my mind runs, I can see how I retreat into the dark corners, how I'm afraid of the dance, my inauthenticities.

Why is this easy stuff so hard for me I wonder?

I will say this: at least for one week in Black Rock City, summer 2010…I tried pretty goddamn hard.