Sunday, September 20, 2009

welcome home...

7 hot dusty days camping in a dried up lake bed at the foot of majestic mountains has the ability to clear your head of the clutter.

ever since the first time i heard about burning man, i've wanted to go. the one-two punch of testing your personal limits by camping with just what you can pack in combined with the eye-popping art made right there on the playa appealed to a core part of me.

when my cousin, andrew, talked to me about going and camping with his group, pandora's lounge and fix-it shoppe, i seriously thought about going. i knew, however, that going and knowing only andrew would not be an option for me. andrew's a super-fun guy, but andrew's also a super-busy guy at burning addition to help run the camp and fixing bikes in the shoppe, he volunteers and works a lot. i knew i had to find someone to go with and i had the perfect person in mind and that was my friend, kim.

kim is a sculptor, potter and avid camper. she would appreciate the art, not be too freaked out by the craziness and i knew we would have a good time together. so i asked her, she said, "yes," and the months of planning began.

fast forward to september 1, 2009 when we winged our way along with a new friend, cheryl, to reno, nevada to start our adventure.

the first day was full of travel, car rental snafus and driving...not to mention the fact that we still had to set up our tent, get our beds put together and eat some dinner. tuesday was a very full, tiring day. the next morning when we woke up kim and i decided that september 2 was our real first day and made a fresh start right then and there, putting the travel-day blues behind us.

every day is like a lifetime on the playa. you go to bed at night and try to remember everything you did during the last 24 hours and your mind reels. how could you have packed so much sensory overload into just 1,440 minutes? it was impossible, and yet, it really happened (and i have the pictures to prove it).

at times i wished i could go home. on wednesday in the twilight of the sunset i asked myself why i had come on this journey. the experience was testing my emotions in a way i had not expected. i didn't feel comfortable (tent camping can be physically taxing), i was face-to-face with things that in the real world would stop me in my tracks (nudity is quite common on the playa and as open-minded as i think i am, at first, the sight of both women's exposed breasts and men's nudity freaked me out). i wanted to be able to gain as much as i could from this trip, through all of my senses, but at times i was paralyzed by my surreal surroundings.

friday during our morning ritual of walking to center camp to get coffee, kim and i decided to sit on the dusty couches and listen to the music. mamuse was the name of the two women who were peforming at sunrise. their voices were soothing. it seemed as though their melodies were softening the hard part inside of me that had needed tenderness. i silently cried throughout their set, connecting with the answer i had the night before been looking for.

i had come to burning man to leave the worry of being sick behind. for the past five years i've been consumed with near constant thoughts of illness. approaching my five-year cancer-free anniversary in december 2009, i was often worried that i would not reach the date. then, last year, i was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder and i felt my health was out of my control. this trip was taken on the pretext of traveling before i was unable to tackle such a difficult undertaking. when the temple burned on sunday night, i knew i was leaving all of my worry and self-doubt about my health right there in the ashes of the temple on the floor of the lake bed. i was not going to pack that to take back with me.

two weeks later, i am still worry-free. i'm not naive enough to think that i'll never worry again about my health. as a matter of fact, i experienced a flare up of my condition immediately upon returning home. blame it on the near-constant sun exposure, or the fact that i rode my bike miles and miles every day, or the most likely contributor to my ability to get through the week while in the midst of it -- i had no other choice! but the worry is no longer a needling, whiny voice in the back of my mind, egging me on to live fearfully.

when you arrive at the greeters' gate at burning man, the greeter asks you if you're a first-timer. upon hearing that i was, the greeter asked me to get out the car, smiled a huge grin, hugged me to her so tightly and cheered, "welcome home!" looking back, i know that going home to burning man made it possible for me to let go of my worry. here now, sitting in my real home, i am able to write about how i am reaping the rewards this mind-altering experience afforded me.

love letter to the man
(a poem i typed in the middle of the playa on a vintage royal)

hippies, freaks, spirits
all of us sharing this
crazy dusty ride

couldn't conceive of it (really)
before i arrived...
now that it's almost over,
i may think it was a dream.


Becky said...

heidi! wow. still trying to understand fully. how about have a life altering experience...
love becky

Linda said...

amazing. i went directly to your pics on flickr and enjoyed every one. what an experience! i can't wait to hear the stories!

Anonymous said...

Wow! It is moving to read about your experience in light of the past few years and your condition. It was a pleasure to camp with you and Kim, and had I not known, I wouldn't have guessed it was either of your first years. Thanks for being such great campmates, and I hope your health gets only better. :-)


Anonymous said...

Heidi -

I stumbled back into your blog after a long hiatus. I have a close friend (our kids are growing up together) who is a Ranger at Burning Man. She goes every year and it has become a big part of who she is. (It also contributed to the break-up of her marraige, but that was going to happen anyway. Long story.) I don't know if I'll ever make it there but I love the idea and haven't given up on it. Your thoughts and reactions are much like what I have heard from others; the simultaneous attraction and terror of self-discovery.

I don't know if you heard but I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had surgery in 1985. This spring I will celebrate 25 years cancer-free, so I can tell you it never leaves your mind. I've stopped imagining it's cancer every time I get a cold, but anything more serious always retrieves that fear from the back of my mind. Add to that I was diagnosed with ADD last summer (explains a lot, doesn't it) and I have a sense of what you're going through.

In the end I suspect we are reaching that point in our lives where we are forced to deal stoically, and with all the humor we can summon, with the accumulation of indignities life and the aging process heap upon us. You do what you can and try to keep smiling. Also, vodka helps.

I'll think about you this spring and keep my fingers crossed for a clean bill of health from the cancer gods. Hopefully it will be nothing more than a close call, as it was for me. And if you ever make it back to Burning Man, let me know and I'll put in a good word with the Rangers!

- Chris Crean