Of grief and sorrow
I love to think about what the man represents, and this year, I saw him as a lost lover, friend, or patriarch / matriarch.
While others build their cities in ordered grids, we build ours in a circle around one person. They are the reference point for our every navigation as we wonder where to go next.
And then at some point, they are gone. In each decision point, we look up for their reassuring presence. In an ever-repeating loop. Our every question runs through them, and reminds us of what we have lost.
And still, somehow we are here. Everything else is here, intact and yet irreparably different. We learn new waypoints because we must.
And then we tear down our temple. And the next year, we build our city again around someone new.
My burn, like the brutal dust storms that punctuated it, is only barely coming into focus beyond a haze. When people asked how it was during the week I told them it was beautiful to let my nervous system relax back into the environment of openness and possibility and remember all that is there. It was that for sure.
And it was grief. After 24 hours of travel I woke up in the back of a moving RV and wept for the loss of my friends Peter Eckersley and Hilah Shenhav, who passed away during the week, two bright sparks of life and brilliance who were a part of the spirit of community that has made my world sing. I looked at photos of my dear friend Jeremy's brother Wesley, who is catastrophically sick in the hospital at the age of 20, and is far too young to meet tragedy.
And as I process further I meet another kind of grief: that of being one human in one body; of witnessing this panoply of possibility and bounty of connection and feeling confused about how to even engage, tripping over myself as I walk surefooted left and then right.
In mourning for the loss of others I feel grief at the years of my life passing by, as others discover the love and lives they have dreamed of...
...I intended to go slow and to listen to my body, and I went fast.
...I intended to fall in love a dozen times, and I found love powerful but unrequited, and so many beginnings that turned to missed connections.
...I intended to explore queerness in all its forms, and I found more than ever a divide between relating to my existing friends and becoming an embodied queer man.
I look at the photos everyone is posting and find myself mourning the ones I wasn't in. The memorial for Dan Kaminsky that I didn't hear about until just today. The photo of my camp on their Monday bike ride. The smiling faces of people I love, arms around each other. Where was I?
At the burn I found myself caught between the enormous bounty of my life, my extraordinary ability to connect and build relationships, and a confusingly evolving identity and circle of community in flux.
I came to the burn hoping to see these tensions resolve into something profound, and instead I relived them with the volume turned up. And perhaps this was the gift of the burn: to see myself through another prism, to see the ground beneath me a little clearer.
And with these regrets in my singing soul I find I remember tremendous joys.
This was a burn of endless relationships...
...of spending hours in communion with Alexa and Brett, wandering the playa and each others' minds and hearts, growing closer and feeling more love with them as they move deeper into a love and engagement.
...of bringing my friend Jeremy for his first burn after a breakup, watching him light up with wonder, deflate in frustration, collapse with news of family tragedy, and meet it all with grace and curiosity, culminating in a sunrise of awe at the beauty of the people around us.
...of watching beloved friends Casey and Helix get engaged, witnessed by friends, and dancing through the night to a brass band as friends from Bali and SF met each other.
...of sharing several days with a good sweet friend Paul, watching him experience the playa for the first time and talking about his new love.
...of sharing tender moments with Malcolm as he sparkled his way through his first burn.
...of camping with a new camp, the No Sleep Hotel, and experiencing the gift of a chill, no-LED space, and its impact on visitors (hey, I guess I did slow down some!)
...of watching a queer poly wedding as 300 loved ones gathered, rainbows painted on our faces, as the sun set in deep playa past the temple.
...of being entrusted to borrow Nathan's huge, fluffy, black playa coat, and to write a message of loss for his mother on the temple, the night before it burned.
...of receiving a sincere apology from a friend who had picked a fight and feeling love for each other instantly, old wounds decomposing into nothing.
...of watching so many friends level up their game: huge towers, giant camps, major organizations, big change in the world. One highlight was seeing the insane magical camp that Eric Dragonfly created, and getting the tour from Liana and hanging with Zuck.
...of wandering off to the trash fence and sharing a surprise sunrise with Justine and Colin.
...of having a friend in need and experiencing, for the thousandth time, the immediate generosity of Todd.
...of giving an Ignite talk to start off the week about my journey to integrate queerness into my life, opening the week with vulnerability and presence.
...of so many moments of connection and heart, sharing experiences with David, Simon and Paulina, Alex and Bria, Laika and Robot, and so many more.
And off playa, hearing from my beloved June and Dan about their harrowing journey through the liminal space from pregnancy to delivery, and their new baby boy Bryce. Of hearing after playa from Peaches and Graham about the birth of their twins Noah and Cal.
As two people left our world, three entered.
And perhaps this burn was magical. Perhaps this burn was just what I needed, in equal parts sorrow and exquisite joy. What I loved so much about this burn was feeling held by the playa — wandering off on my own and knowing that I would intersect with just the right people: loved ones, new friends.
Of incoherence and magic
This was a burn of middle age. It highlighted the chaotic, whorling sea of relationships of this era of life: engagements, marriages, births, and deaths; old relationships with their weight and stability, and new relationships with their wonder. This is a life phase not of ideas, but of action — of bold decisions, left and right turns, permanent transformations and endings.
Others had difficult burns. Our car broke down on the way in and got towed for seven hours through the gate line, and Andrei had a difficult four day journey home, sleeping in it for three nights. Dozens of my friends got norovirus, violently vomiting with high fevers while breaking down their camps in dust storms and processing the news of Peter and Hilah's deaths.
I remember when Jeremy heard about the news of his brother and said "I feel like I am not big enough for this. That it's too much." And Alexa's response: "You're not. It expands you."
With mortality surrounding us everywhere, the urgency to love and live feels palpable — less of a choice, more of a command.
It was early Saturday morning, before the sunrise. I wished that I wasn't wandering the playa alone, but there I was. At Burning Man, it's possible to spend hours ruminating on what we don't have and completely lose sight of what we have all around us.
Walking to the temple, I came across a poem:
In the truth of life remember how to live
this time it is not borrowed, but it is given.
This world a chest of treasure thrown wide open,
each breath a sacred song if we will listen.
When you pause and let the sky become your life,
whether shine or thunder all imparts a lesson.
Through grace of pure acceptance, transformation,
each moment, you will learn, can be a blessing.
You could mourn the seconds dropping — leaves on fire,
or know them all as stars shoot 'cross the night.
There is comfort to be found instead of grasping,
all things pass and in so doing cast their light.
Move through this world and every note she offers,
keep your heart two palms held open, welcome all.
When it breaks allow the pieces wings and listen,
when it sings your smiles shared will crumble walls.
Each moment that you can love, watch them shimmer.
Give your thanks then find your breath and let it fly.
Be courageous and be patient when you stumble,
may each lesson be a blessing 'till you die.
This time it is not borrowed, but is given,
may each lesson and each blessing ease your life.
I'm weeping as I write this. At the majesty of this experience, at the blessing of the open skies, at the love that flows into and out of me.
What a burn. What a beautiful, messy, godawful, brutal, stumbling, heartbreakingly perfect burn.
Perhaps it was a reminder that life is too dazzlingly multifarious to even try for order and coherence. A reminder to be more grounded, smaller, and slower. And a reminder that in this microcosm of one body and one linear life, everything can be found.
Looking ahead to the rest of my life I can find the slowness and presence that I did not find at this burn. Just this weekend, we are hosting a decompression at our house.
We always must look for a silver lining in tragedy, and mine is that I will take these losses as a reminder of how little time we have here. Of the urgency to live, to love, to be true to ourselves and care for others. These are always the lessons of the burn, and this year they were branded with fire onto our hearts.
The opportunities are still here as my life extends before me. I am blessed with another breath.
Seeing these photos I feel such profound luck, and such profound joy. Thank you all for being a part of this short, sweet, crazy life.