Mamacita

I should have been more nervous.

Mamacita, from what I’d heard, can cause terrifying hallucinations, vomiting, diarrhea. At the very least it promised to be an intense experience.

But I wasn’t afraid. I was too hungry for her teachings.

Remember this particular experience in Utah?:

I was already firmly convinced that the same awareness which observes this human woman, Me, as she struggles through her thoughts about the world, as she negotiates her fears and desires, is the awareness that flows through everything else that is, i.e. God. I already believed myself to be God. In the tradition of the transcendentalists, of Ginsberg and Emerson, of philosophers and poets and scientists aplenty, I thought of myself as, somewhere deep inside of me, at least, all powerful and all knowing. I Am that I Am.

But what is the logical conclusion of this thought? Where do you land when you follow it all the way? I found out, as the acid that night took me deeper and deeper into my own head, into my own understanding of the universe. What good is it to be all powerful if you can’t manifest the things you want? I wondered. How do I take advantage of this power? Where do I go from here?

There were several things I concluded as I searched myself. One: the entire universe folds in on itself constantly. Every line of thought I chased came out again on the other side, saying the opposite of what it started out saying. Every time I thought I found a Truth, I kept going and saw my own tail still trundling after my front half. I did a series of M.C. Escher thought puzzles, and by the end of it, exhausted and certain I’d solved the mysteries of the universe again, to an even greater degree this time, I suddenly felt convinced that I was just a vast and lonely power, putting on an enormous puppet show for itself.

Since then, I’d been in a deep limbo. Not suicidal, just…not really convinced I was still supposed to be alive. Like, “okay, can I die already please?”

It’s not that I can’t come up with something useful to do with myself. It’s more that I have so many ideas of what to do, and I can’t for the life of me figure out which one to pursue. And I’m not sure I can ever release the part of my heart that assigned itself forever to the one who got away, which means I can never go all-in on love again. Loving someone deeply and completely was always my key sustaining factor, so if I can’t do that again…what’s the point? How am I supposed to care?

Still alive, and tired of coasting through with this sense of futility and disengagement bordering on despair, I knew I had to do something drastic.

The thought of Burning Man kept me going. I made it there, and it definitely lifted my spirits. I went on a journey to find my spirit animal, and despite doubts, I found it, and had the discovery confirmed, as I’ve heard many do, by seeing my spirit animal again shortly thereafter in a clear physical form, in this case a painting hanging above a couch at the Bureau of Misinformation.

I was sitting on that couch, not thinking about much, when the thought floated through my head: you should become an ayahuasca shaman.

At the time I didn’t know very much about ayahuasca. I’ve talked to a handful of people who have taken it at some point, and I’ve seen documentaries that talked about it. All in all, it was a pretty random thought, especially since I’ve never put a lot of stock in shamanism.

When I got back from the desert, I mentioned this to a few people. One of them said, “Oh, ___ did that recently.”

I perked up. “In the Bay?”

“Yeah! She went to a shaman here in the Bay Area and did the ceremony. She had a really cool experience. You should talk to her.”

Talk to her I did. We got Ethiopian food and she told me all about her own experience, and then said she would talk to the shaman and have her contact me.

Now here I was, in the small basement quarters of an experienced shaman, placing my intentions on the altar along with a small pouch of stones and crystals and the ring given to me by the one when he proposed in a last-ditch effort to save our relationship.

“My intention for this ceremony is to learn what I need to let go of, and what to hold onto, to best serve light and love.”

I retreated to my cushion as the shaman and the other companion for our journey smiled supportively. Soon after we drank the earthy, bitter liquid and then waited for it to take effect. I must admit I wanted beautiful visions; I wanted to meet Aya, mother vine, as my shaman said I might. I wanted to be overtaken with a pervasive sense of the wonder and connectedness of this world, to be shaken to the core.

Looking back, I realize this was greedy of me. I’ve already had such experiences (short of meeting Aya.) In any case, she came to me not in a mighty wind or terrifying visions, but in the “still, small voice” of my childhood religion. Almost immediately, gentle questions began making themselves present in my mind. She interrogated me about why I look externally so often, instead of internally, for answers, why I rely on drugs instead of listening to my heart.

My friend also talked about being afraid of being alone, which I guess is also my deepest fear…but I didn’t want to acknowledge it…Aya made me face it.

I have to abbreviate my experience because I want to share some of the most exciting parts and I’m running short of time. Mostly I purged that night, had little glimpses of beauty, laughed at myself, but nothing earth-shattering. The next night I set out with the intention: “To open my heart and mind to the dimensions I have not yet experienced, and to meet any spirit guides who are ready to reveal themselves to me.”

My shaman told me she never used to believe in angels, but now she is certain of their existence. They leave her dimes sometimes to announce their presence.

One of my recent experiences on mushrooms, I noticed that the light imprint on my eye was not following my gaze, but leading it…interacting with me…my first clear experience with an unseen presence. Or, not my first, but my clearest.

My second night involved a great deal of purging as well. I saw a spirt guide who may have been the White Buffalo Woman. Aya kept beginning to march out to great fanfare but staying just hidden…I saw the white edges of her…

I think one of my imperatives now is faith. Faith over fear.

I’m going to have to make this a two-parter. I had another experience with Mamacita on Sunday night, after leaving my shaman’s house. But in the meantime I want to note that one of the most elevating experiences was not during the actual ceremony, but during a spirit journey we undertook, a meditation on Saturday afternoon where she used the drum to help us travel to the Hall of Sacred Conference.

When I arrived, I met the one who got away. “Was this supposed to happen?” I asked, “Or did I mess it up?”

I got the distinct impression that he and I have journeyed together through many lifetimes, that we’ve ‘gotten it right,’ so to speak, before, and that this time we decided to be apart in order to learn how to expand our love to others, to have a more universal love.

“But I have an easier time loving others unconditionally when I can anchor my unconditional love in you!” I told him. “Can we make a new agreement? I think we were wrong…”

All the same, when we came back, I felt a new peace. If we have many lifetimes, and he and I have already shared many lifetimes, and my mission in this one is to learn to be separate from him…just that thought alone helps somehow. Which isn’t to say that I don’t still yearn for him, or hope that our meeting in the Hall of Sacred Conference hasn’t reached him on a soul level, and gotten him thinking…

I still want to meet Aya, but I see her point in using the language of my childhood spirituality to commune with me, in pointing out to me how many times I’ve had evidence of the divine in my life and denied or forgotten its significance, and in demanding from me more faith and patience. Nevertheless, my mind continues to be blown on a daily basis ever since.

Wonder, wonder, wonder…this world is truly magnificent, and we are coming upon an incredible time…

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Out of the Ordinary

I really want to catch up on everything that’s happened while I haven’t been writing this blog, but there’s just no time, and of course life continues to happen in the meantime, so I’ll try and sum it up without selling some really interesting events short.

Back to M, and our time together. I’ve been missing him quite a bit. We haven’t even talked much of late, as my life has been hectic and my internet connection sketchy. We did a whole slew of quite lovely things while I visited: went to Zucker’s bakery, where we had avocado toast and peppermint tea, and date and halva roses. Picnicked in the park, explored tucked away community gardens, ate pastrami, pizza, and bagels. Visited Strand Bookstore, where I first tried to find c Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, which is just an excellent collection, and then I thought I might find a copy of a literary journal with one of my stories. They had some issues of PANK, but not the right one.

Other highlights: A visit to Evolution, a nature/science curiosity shop with the likes of exotic mounted insects, actual and replica skulls and skeletons of humans and other animals, preserved specimens in jars, suspended in amber or some other clear substance. Fossils.

The Dirt Room, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. There’s still a little part of me that wishes I’d done as I deeply wanted to and stepped over the plastic wall into the dirt, left my footprints there to be raked away again the next day.

A wonderfully strange moment with a performance artist in the subway who piloted a baby doll with its head on his middle finger, hands on his pointer and ring finger, and feet on his thumb and pinky, up m’s leg and torso to his forehead, where creepy puppet doll (playing a hypnotic dirge on a harmonic throughout) humped to a dramatic climax, whilst m giggled, turning very red, face squinched in good-natured repulsion.  This was after an excellent tapas dinner in Williamsburg, and would be followed immediately by a bunch of people clearing the aisles in the subway car in order to do some flips and dance moves for us. It was the sort of night you picture people having in New York all the time, though the others assured me this was not the case.

I think I mentioned last post m’s harem–he’s friends with several interesting women. A and m asked me one night what my favorite thing about New York was, and I said “the people I’ve met.” J, who reminds me of a younger version of another j in my life, a poetry professor, wry and wise and brash. I was somewhat intimidated by her at first but we quickly bonded over our opinions about a certain popular teaching program.  D, from Israel, independent, strong-minded, complex, and yet surprisingly vulnerable and subject to the opinions of others. A, who is like an intensely precocious child, pragmatic but prone to indulge in quite whimsical logic, earnest in a way that seems untouched by the harsh realities of adulthood. The Germans: k and m, attractive in a very Teutonic way, incredibly friendly, polyamorous as well.

I had a few conversations with my new friends about the NY obsession with social status, with having the best partner and going to the good parties and having the right friends, how it never stops because there’s always someone just up the ladder from you. I talked to b, who we met before the Makeout Party, about how it all reminded me of the scene from James Herriot where Tristan loves feeding the pigs because they only eat any one thing for a few seconds before looking around to try and see what the others are enjoying so much, jostling to try and get the best.

The Makeout Party was hosted by one of m’s friends who is bringing Kinky Salon from the Bay to the Big Apple. Kinky Salon is a lifestyle party for poly and exhibitionist types which takes place in a sex-positive space.

(Sex-positive means accepting sex as a stimulating, pleasurable experience to be freely shared within reasonable boundaries and without inhibition or arbitrary boundaries. It means refusing to be burdened by all of the negativity and stigma this puritan nation likes to assign anything sensual. It means never “yucking someone else’s yums,” an adorable phrase I learned recently which means just because you don’t like anal beads doesn’t mean you have to act all icked out about someone else’s preferences.)

H and I had a tiff about the party, because first of all I told him about trying some cocaine and he got upset that I forgot we were going to try it for the first time together; second, the promise not to make out with m was going to be rather awkward to uphold at something called a make out party. I got very flustered because everyone was waiting for me and it was clear the conversation with h wasn’t going well; I ended up telling him “I won’t make out with m unless it would be making a scene not to,” and we hung up on uncertain terms.

The party was at this dimly lit bar with this recessed area you have to climb a ladder to get to. I wanted to spend the entire time in the little box room, and I could have, I suppose. I was there with m, a, the Germans, a rather famous makeup artist (who told me that Rosario Dawson is a burner, she’s been going for the last seven years apparently. I don’t see why not. I would certainly keep going if I were a celebrity, and I’m still fairly certain I saw Susan Sarandon the day of the temple burn.) And b, this super friendly chap from England, and some others. And we were playing spin the bottle, and people weren’t really drinking, and they weren’t really kissing, except b and I. m said he was going to do some molly with a, did I want some.

Next thing I knew, I was crawling past the Germans out of the box and down the ladder, trying to outrun the bile, and then I was crouching over the toilet, mildly paranoid that I might die in a New York club doing drugs with people I don’t know very well, and this was so close to this image I always had growing up of the kind of rock-bottom moment that finally gets the hardened sinners to repent that in my drug-loosened mind I entertained the possibility that Mormons are right. I mean I was still holding it at a distance but I was allowing for the possibility that it might be the Truth somehow, which entailed temporarily rearranging my entire way of looking at the world. I did this for long enough that I started to think I might fall down the rabbit hole again. I’m sure that writing that post about religion triggered it; I had to remember what it really felt like to believe in order to talk about it. In any case, it was scary as fuck. I’ve always tried to picture just what could get me so worked up on drugs that I can’t talk myself down (I’ve watched my face melt, I’ve seen the devil in Jerry Garcia’s eyes, I just don’t get scared when I’m tripping because…well…I’m tripping) and now I know: the fear that the Mormons might be right.

It can be extremely disorienting to think back on what I wanted then, what I thought I was then, compared with what I want and who I am now. There are fewer and fewer references points, it seems. Once upon a time, my beliefs were my identity, and now I’m something else. I remember that fear: if I change my views, what remains of myself? What integrity do I have?

To venture beyond your comfort zone or your beliefs is always to open Pandora’s box. I remember the moment I realized that to decide alcohol is okay to drink, I’m opening myself to the possibility I might someday become an alcoholic or marry an alcoholic. Bad things happen to good people, but there are specific kinds of bad things that mainly happen to people who operate outside of the law, and there are specific kinds of bad things that you can be pretty sure will never happen to you if you never take certain risks, like dying of a drug overdose, or, you know, having your chute not open.

When does the departure from rigid order become the descent into chaos? At one point I would have seen so many markers of my life now as signs of depravity, of signs that my values are askew, my integrity and my dignity left behind in the name of adventure and pleasure.

I suppose it is now my soft lines in the sand that I’m crossing (well, obviously, because the hard lines are the ones I still think I’ll never cross). But evermore I’m realizing that true empathy for another requires truly walking in their shoes. The less I fear “evil,” the wider my circle of compassion becomes. More on this later.

In any case: New York. I don’t think I could have asked for a better visit. It was filled with memorable moments and general pleasantness. Just to adventure with m for a bit longer was such a treat. He’s a complex man, and his approach to the world resonates with me on so many levels.

I got chills when he told me a story about something which happened to him as a boy, and has continued to happen since; or rather, something he did as a boy, though it’s accidental at times. He says there are certain lines of thought that send him there and he avoids them when he doesn’t want it to happen. It’s frightening, he says.

The way he tells it is much better, and I’ve asked him to transcribe it for me so I can share it with you, but in the meantime: It’s a sort of mental journey beyond ego, beyond a sense of self. When he goes there, he says, he does not remember being m, or being a person. He’s just an awareness amazed at its own existence. Sometimes it’s hard to come back from it. Once, it was a great, exhausting struggle to return to himself.

I asked him if these experiences make him less afraid of death, or reassure him that we exist beyond this form. He said no. What he experiences “outside” of himself is still manufactured by the chemicals inside of his brain.

It’s this sort of conundrum that draws me to him. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the way he paints the world for me sometimes, the way he shows me how many mysteries remain, how deep this universe really is, how complex and interrelated; but he has less confidence, it seems, about the way he fits into all of it, about how meaningful or lasting or important his part in it could be.

I’d be more convinced that he see himself as just a jaded little ant crawling on an ultimately insignificant tiny rock for a meaningless tiny moment, if he wasn’t so enthralled by magic.

We did meet at Costco, after all.

Burning Man Revelations 1:1

There is SO MUCH to learn from Burning Man. I’ve got at least three more posts on the back burner about why I think the Ten Principles are the ideal foundation for a wholesale re-imagining of societal structures.

Principle #2: Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

This is probably the first principle of Burning Man that you will notice and appreciate upon attending. I was inspired to write this post when I saw some pictures of Robot Heart on Facebook. I was thinking about those DJs, and what made dancing at Burning Man so much more special than clubbing at home, and looking at the DJs’ faces, I had my answer: the enjoyment is multiplied exponentially when the giver is giving without expectation of return other than the receiver’s joy.

Not a single person is driven by money alone. The desire for money, like any other misdirected longing, has at its roots the desire for validation  and admiration of the community. When you remove money from the equation, this becomes suddenly crystal clear. Far from money being the only motivating factor–money is the unnecessary middleman keeping a great deal of our energy from working towards our true desire: to be useful to and valued by those around us.

Every good and service provided by others suddenly becomes more precious and valued. Instead of trying to see how cheap you can get something for (i.e. how little it is worth to you), you appreciate it for what it is, a gift, something someone else did so you wouldn’t have to do it, and you both get to feel the joy of being part of a community that gives and receives open-heartedly and generously.

If people are out there giving and giving, and nobody’s keeping tally about who is doing work, who’s to stop people from just taking and taking?

I saw several individuals (and camps!) manifesting this fear in some form or another, usually an angry indictment of people who think it’s okay to take without giving back, to consume instead of participating. The worst I saw was a sign that said “If you drink here, stay here–we deserve a chance to try and sleep with you.”

The “give an inch, and they’ll take a mile” attitude is such a pervasive part of our dominant narrative that even devoted Burners often overlook a vital part of the second principle: gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. They express disdain and exclusion towards those they perceive as lazy, entitled, or ignorant–a violation of the first principle of radical inclusion.

Yes, there are people who take advantage of the gifting culture. There’s even a nickname for them: sparkleponies. They ignored the principle of Radical Self Reliance and didn’t bring all of the gear they needed. They don’t pull their weight around camp. Maybe they came with one of these “Plug and Play” camps and instead of helping, they pay caterers and workers. Who is going to punish them if we don’t leave them out in the cold? How will they ever learn?

If you read many personal accounts about Burning Man, you’ll soon discover a common theme: most people do not set out to be sparkleponies. In fact, many of them desire, more than anything else, to avoid being labeled as such. But most virgin burners do end up being sparkleponies at some point. There’s just no way to fully prepare for your first Burn.

I was definitely determined, once I started researching Burning Man, NOT to be a sparklepony, and yet time and time again I found myself out in the desert helplessly asking a stranger for some water. They call this phenomenon “going down the rabbit hole”…things just happen. And since anything’s possible and you don’t have anywhere to be, you go along with it. And you lose your headlamp and your friend g’s goggles, and you lose the beautiful belt that h gave you. But you know everything will be okay in the end. Your missing items will help someone else (as the fur vest I found on an art car saved me for the time I borrowed it) and others will help you. You might even experience some true Playa magic, as I did, in the form of missing items finding you again.

So your virgin burn, with any luck, you learn gratitude (for all the people who helped your annoying ass), humility (as the owner of said annoying ass), and you gain a desire to be of service to those around you, instead of just taking. And you discover the special kind of magic that occurs within a community of people who are dedicated to the welfare of all, of strangers, not just kin, not just friends, not just those who can benefit them. Those who experience the gifting spirit at Burning Man seldom feel the need or desire to take as much as they can get away with. See, the whole “without expectation of return” part of the giving culture means it’s redundant to try and get away with anything. You can relax. No one (living the Ten Principles correctly) is keeping score of how much you give vs. how much you take. If you want to be Lazy Asshole Person, you can.

When most people around you are making a studious effort not to judge you, you start to notice something amazing…there is one single person ruling over all of those judgments you imagined coming at you from every direction. One person is orchestrating them into a chorus of paranoia and self doubt. And that’s you. Even if no one else is judging you for being Lazy Asshole Person..especially when no one else is judging you…you will not want to be that person for very long. Trust me.

It’s one of those things you learn by living. Come to Burning Man and see. I think this is the primary reason the festival is so addictive, so generative, so inspiring:

The whole world, when you think about it, is just a bunch of people looking out for each other, trying to protect and love one another, making and doing cool shit to show one another, to make each other’s lives better, to be of service to the community, to improve the planet we share. The world is just like Burning Man, only there’s a bunch of antiquated, barbaric, and unnecessary shit mixed in, like money, like class systems, like abysmally huge imbalances in the way we value labor, like war.

Why does Burning Man give people hope for humanity?

Because…we’re so close, guys. Really. Come and see. We’re so, so close.

 

Spark

I just finished watching “Spark: A Burning Man Story” and it reaffirmed for me all of the things I experienced, and reignited the fire inside of me to do whatever I can to help spread this phenomenon. People play down the power of Burning Man and what the community stands for and what it means for humanity: It’s a fun social experiment. It’s a unique vacation. It’s inspiring. It gives one hope.

I think it’s way, way more than that.

First I learned about Whiteness Theory, and I was like “Eureka!” and then I read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and said, “Here is my hypocrisy-proof ethical model, done and done.” And then I go to Burning Man and …holy shit. I think the empathetic, trust-first, ask-questions-later, sharing economy type models are spreading so fast because humanity is hungry for an upgrade. We’ve got a lightning-fast, intelligent and empathetic globalized society still run by antiquated, barbaric and error-riddled systems of government. Everything in this world has been rapidly evolving but the social order. It’s time for a change. In Egypt, in Iran, in China, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Mexico, everyone is looking around and saying: Jesus H. Christ, can’t we do better than THIS shitshow?

This is what Burning Man means to me: I think it’s the Great Blueprint. I think it’s the common ground. I think it’s the idea that could unite the world. It’s our model for rethinking the way society works. I don’t believe in a static utopia, only the constantly evolving attempt, but I swear to goddess, Burning Man is the closest mankind has gotten to a moral code that could sustain a working utopia.

More on that later.

In any case, I was very impressed with “Spark.” As you can probably tell, I am very passionate about Burning Man and the heart and soul of what it represents, and I thought it was a well made documentary that captured the spirit of Burning Man, including its very multifaceted nature and the range of participation levels, excellently.

The Test, Part 2

First, there’s a part of Friday night that I didn’t discuss in enough detail. M pointed out to me (yes, m reads my blog…so do c and h, for that matter) that we didn’t just ride art cars (I think I called them mutant vehicles) we rode a very specific art car, the Acavelo. This is important because the Acavelo is pretty much pure magic, with giant, metal carnival horses which go up and down as the car moves, pull-chains which cause fire to spout into the air, and the general look and rigging of a pirate ship. Here’s his description of that part of the night:

It was that moment when we first realised that we no longer had any idea where we were. The desert night shifted with bubbles of fantastical shapes, and all around us on the ship faeries and pirates danced. I realised simultaneously that I was high as a kite, 10 years old, and in my personal heaven. You were talking to the lovely friends, but you were also getting a little sick, so maybe we weren’t in quite the same place.

No, I remembered the Acavelo (but not the name of it!) quite clearly, though its name tended to elude me. One of the “lovely friends” was a golden, glowing little fairy named Lisette, who looked irresistibly soft to me, who thrummed with joy at the wonders around us, tuning me into her marvelous frequency. She had a voice like bells. Everything was coated in magic.

And then I began to feel sick to my stomach. The smell of gas became overpowering and the heat from all of the flames was bearing down on me. “I may throw up,” I said, looking around uselessly for a bag or a can. “Oh no. I don’t want to throw up on the playa.”

M helped me down and we walked alongside. “This is my fourth year and I’ve thrown up on the playa four times!” Lisette called cheerfully from her perch. “Go ahead and throw up, sweetie, if you need. Do you want some water? Would this help? Here. Drink.” Before long I was feeling fine again, so we danced alongside the pirate ship (I don’t dance, m had claimed earlier) until we saw something beautiful to chase down.

“You could just be Peter Pan,” I mused, still trying to name m. “Hm. Peter Pan.”

“And you’d be Wendy?”

“I’ve taken care of my share of Lost Boys. I don’t want to be the one who makes everyone grow up at the end. I’d rather adventure.”

So. On to Saturday night.

First, m and I tried to find the art car where I’d agreed to meet mon amis, but it was hopeless. There were too many cars, all amassed in a giant circle around the man like a patient audience of brilliantly colored mythical beasts, crawling with burners. We secured a spot and watched the fire dancers, the fire breathers. I thought about h and his poi. I thought about my friend t who went to writing school with me, who ran away to the circus. Her beautiful essay about fire-eating, and the way her face is smooth and shiny in the picture where she is emerging from, or retreating, in any case beckoning the viewer into the colorful  depths of a circus tent.

The burn was spectacular. The sky was crowded with flowers and streamers and tiny explosive rockets of fire non-stop from long before the man began to burn until well after the spaceship exploded. The enormous heat and the wind came together to form skyscraper-tall smoke tornadoes, which whirled magnificently forth from the fire and through the cleared area, threatening, along with the billows of smoke, ash, and embers, to veer into the teeming crowd, though they never did.

I tried to decide what the man meant to me–the man can be anything, anything you want to let go of, get rid of. Later I would hear m and others claim that the man is you, yourself. I had certainly been feeling the tug of ego in recent weeks. Having stumbled accidentally on so much happiness with h, a part of me was desperate to keep it. Letting go was the last thing I wanted to do. My tendencies towards neediness and clinginess had been aroused again, though I was successfully driving them back. I wasn’t quite falling in love so much as relaxing gingerly into it.

And now here I was, somehow, with another man’s arms around me.

M and I had talked and wandered, we’d made out. The beauty of this, we’d said to one another, is the way our connection is temporary, meant to play out in this momentary space. We’ll let go of this along with everything else when we return to our default lives.

A blinding sandstorm caught us as we made our way out to the deep playa, chasing down tiny lights in the darkness, trying to find the most distant installations. We battled through drifts and then began to tire. A creepy metal reed encampment populated by skeletal tribespeople provided cover for a moment’s powwow and regeneration, and then we prepared to set off again.

“We’ll follow the perimeter fence for a bit, see if we can’t find something we haven’t seen yet, and then we’ll find a piece of art to crawl into and take shelter for a while.”

“What a lovely thing to be able to say,” I said. “‘Look at the dildo this clown just gave me.’ ‘I wish that dog hadn’t spanked me quite so hard.’ ‘Let’s crawl into some art for a while.’ God I love this place.”

We found our art/shelter: the horse and carriage installation, extra eerie in the low visibility. The giant metal steed was kneeling awkwardly–brought down, most likely, by climbers–but the carriage, with its cushions and cozy space, was fully operational. We climbed in, took off our shoes and put down our bags, and enjoyed its semi-privacy for a good long conversation, chatting pleasantly with the various interlopers who peered inside, some of whom stayed for a nice chat and some of whom left after a quick “sorry,” startled to find occupants. We decided that the latter were tourists–people who come just for the weekend, looking for a big party, never really getting in the Burning Man spirit. Muggles, as m took to calling them (to my delight).

“Who is your favorite sibling?” m asked me. “I know you have a favorite.”

“I don’t!” I protested. “I love both of my sisters. It’s a difference in nature, not in volume.”

“I have a favorite,” he said comfortably. “My youngest brother. All of my other siblings detested him for a long time when we were little, and I never understood why.” He described his brother’s unfailing kindness and good nature, his terrific kids.

He, too, a lover of underdogs, a respecter of kindness. “I don’t want our friendship to end when Burning Man ends,” I said abruptly.

“I don’t think it should,” he said. “In fact, I’d very much like you to come visit me in New York. Would you think about it?”

It was undeniable at this point; I was developing feelings for m. But then he said, as he had before, “I haven’t had a connection of this kind in a very long time,” and I fell silent. I had gone long periods of time without feeling this way, certainly, but of course, my response right now would have to be, “I have. Right now. Back in the default world, for a few months now. I have two of them, actually. Two strong connections.” And now this.

It never rains but it pours, as they say.

M was a bit higher than me and very affectionate. I was quiet, anxious, sorting through my epiphany. I had somehow developed an emotional connection to him, without meaning to at all, without needing one. It certainly hadn’t developed out of discontent, as infidelity often does. It wasn’t that I loved h (or c, for that matter) any less. It was just–I’m an Aquarius, dammit. I want to love everyone.

Besides, m and I had cultivated our own little brand of realistic romanticism, pragmatic fabulism. We had figured out how to combine our childlike immediate enjoyment and our more adult, contemplative appreciation for the complexity and magnitude of things, and we were spinning a web of wonder everywhere we went. I had been doing something similar on my own out there, but to share it? What a fucking lovely thing! What a dream! What a trip!

And yeah, I wasn’t sharing it with h & c.

I would have been. I wanted to.  I would be, next year!

But still I questioned myself. Wondered how this all fit into my ideas of polyamory. I knew h would struggle with the fact that I’d had a male adventure partner. He’d admitted to jealousy issues, especially with other men (less so other women). How would my connection here make him feel? Had he really okayed a playa boyfriend? I thought I remembered him saying it was all right. Would he feel threatened by all of this?

Should he?

M was, after all, just a man. Just a handsome man, a romantic and a lover of fairy tales, a man I would gladly have dated pre-h, pre-c, trying to convince me to come visit him in New York.

“We’ll play chess in the East Village,” said m, his voice dreamy. We were in the Center Camp on a somewhat uncomfortable makeshift couch. I’d knocked over each of our coffees, one after the other, with the same maddeningly mobile round cushion. It was probably three in the morning, someone was playing music, and little pockets of burners were cuddled wherever there were pillows to be found, or sitting, listening attentively to the artist, or to the speaker pontificating on another stage. Black Rock City never sleeps. “I’ll show you the real New York. We can do some of the touristy thing as well if you like, but I’d like to take you to my favorite cocktail bar, which is a bit of a secret. And the Museum of Natural HIstory, of course, but at night, when the crowds are gone.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“I could be your New York boyfriend,” he joked. “You know. Just for when you visit the East Coast.”

“Sure. One of many boyfriends across the world,” I said musingly. “One in every port.”

I’ve definitely entertained that vision of myself: a modern, feminine holdout from the beat generation, an artist, living somewhere outside of the emotional range of my lovers, my feelings for them abstract, complex. I’d be the same with all of them: warm, sensual, affectionate, but firm: unattached, unconcerned. And, you know, they’d all be dear to me (dear boys) but then I’d have that one, the one who would always try and convince me to stay. The one who’d almost tempt me…almost…until I remembered that I am a free spirit, a roamer, doomed to keep wandering, like that woman in Chocolat.

“I do hope you’ll come visit,” m said. He didn’t seem quite as amused by my logical conclusion to his proposition.

“I’d like to.”

Would h let me have a New York boyfriend? No, of course not. H wanted monogamy. Would he even let me visit New York? Why was I using the term “let me”? He felt very far away. It was all very confusing. I started thinking about his conditions again. The imperative for exclusivity had come out of nowhere. Hmph. Why should he begrudge me happiness just because I was experiencing it with another guy? How well did I really know h, anyway? What if he wasn’t supportive of gender equality at all–what if he was actually a chauvinist at heart?

After all, I had fully encouraged him to sleep with another woman if he felt compelled. I watched him make love to c often, relished their connection with one another, thoroughly enjoyed the sight of them coupling. H had as well, incidentally, a beautiful Australian friend and colleague with whom he’d been intimate in the past, and I felt no qualms telling him to sleep with her again if he liked. And h had not seemed particularly averse to this possibility. So why should I be a practicer of holy abstinence? Why should my desire for monogamy, or lack thereof, be any kind of sign of my connection to him, when he knows very well that his current single-minded devotion can and will wear with time? That a day will likely come when he’ll say, “all right, enough of this monogamy thing,” and I’ll say, “Cool, who have you been wanting to fuck, baby?”

It wasn’t like m was threatening our relationship.

“I’m really glad I met you,” he said sleepily, holding me tight. “I needed this. Thank you.”

“I’m glad I met you too,” I said. But I certainly didn’t need this. Christ. What now?

The Test

It had only been a few short weeks since h and I both simultaneously and enthusiastically decided to nurture our budding relationship. Even fewer since we decided it would, in fact, be a monogamous one (not counting c, of course). As happy as I was (super, freaking, amazingballs happy) I was a little worried. I had no idea how Burning Man would go down.

After all, I had been so proud of myself for finally learning to truly embrace polyamory. Deep in my heart I found its model of unconditional love the most compelling of any I’d ever encountered. I love you, so go be happy! Even if I don’t get to be the one who makes you happy, please, just be happy. My jealousy is a goblin awakened by my love for you, not a careful sentinel, warning me of an actual threat to our relationship. I will keep the goblin at bay; you go and be free!

Sure, I like sex as much as the next girl who masturbated continuously and compulsively from age twelve onward. But sex with a bunch of randoms has never appealed to me much. Unfortunately I’m not hyper-orgasmic, and I almost never come the first time. I’ve had more and less disappointing one night stands, but never one that made me gasp and cry out the way c & h can.

No, I like polyamory because it makes a greater effort than any other model of love I know to practice true love, love that asks nothing in return, love that neither subsumes nor guards the self, but gives freely and fearlessly and wholly.

But monogamy can be nice too–the passionate, single-minded focus, the whirlwind, the sanctity. A romantic like me finds it all too easy to agree to something like that–especially for a man she’s so mad about, she doesn’t even want to leave him for her very first Burning Man. Even if it is a beautiful, orgiastic hedonistic party. Even if sparkle ponies abound, and steampunk dust warriors beckon in their aviator goggles and gauntlets.

In the days leading up to the festival, both h and I noticed a marked change in c–she was more affectionate, unafraid, unreservedly loving towards both of us. I had mentioned to h that the situation in its current state, with c as a fond asterisk to our arrangement, was fairly unstable and bound to change soon; it seemed I was right. But there wasn’t time to discuss it right now.

I said goodbye to my lovers with some difficulty. It was only eight days, but we had somehow all become extremely attached to one another, and none of us knew exactly how the separation would affect us, what Burning Man had in store for each of us…

Flash forward over the first several days. I was surprised, how little I was tested by the abundance of beautiful people around me. It was liberating to appreciate them without agenda, wonderful to love them universally, not because of who they were but because they were. It’s the obvious way to proceed among open hearted and loving people, and I was hooked, Aquarius that I am. Love some people? No! Love everybody!

But the test would come in good time.

On Friday afternoon, I stopped at Costco, the camp which specializes in finding you a soulmate in just three hours. I should have known, right? I walked right into it.

Why was I looking for a soulmate? Well, I wasn’t. I’d two perfectly lovely ones waiting right at home for me. But my friend had said it didn’t have to be a love match–it could be a soulfriend, soulmentor, etc.–and encouraged me to go, so when I happened to bike past it, I stopped, knowing I might never find it again on the Playa.

The application were more fun and complex than your average questionnaire, and took a bit of thought. So far, so good. I submitted it, feeling a bit silly, very tired (Friday would have been…two nights with two hours or less sleep in a row), and excited for the outcome, regardless.

After some time, Misha or Mishga, I can’t quite remember, brought me back for my interview. He asked some deep and probing questions, really pushing me to self-analyze. What are you most afraid of? Why were you afraid you would drive people away? What are you most proud of in relationships? What’s an example of a time you were impatient with someone?

I kept going off on tangents, as I do, and I told him the story of h & c, as I do, and we had spent quite a long time already but he just kept listening and probing deeper.

So there I was at Costco, at the end of a very nice connection with the interviewer. I said, “That was so one-sided. I don’t know anything about you” (except that you’re a good listener and you ask excellent questions, I thought). He said I could come back and talk to him if I liked, or even volunteer with Costco (which I’m definitely doing next year–getting people to open up about themselves is right up my alley).

I was feeling a little bemused that I’d had such a personal and introspective conversation with someone who wasn’t even my “soulmate,” but still happily unguarded. I waited another hour or so in the lounge area. In that time I entertained an interesting offer from a total stranger (a ring, a free ride, an au pair for the children, Hawaii), soon afterwards met a girl who was a little insulted that lonely older guys weren’t randomly proposing to her, and finally, watched a girl come out and perform a pole dance, joined partway through by a man in a penguin costume, busting moves with the white guy overbite.

That’s when I noticed the man sitting at the other end of the sofa from me. He looked thoughtful and his eyes were kind and maybe a bit tired. “Waiting for your soulmate?” he asked.

I laughed. “Yeah, right?”

“What brings you here?”

“Oh, it’s silly. I actually already found mine. But I heard about Costco and then all of a sudden, here it was, so I stopped. Aren’t those great questions? On the application?”

We chatted a bit and he told me about the very expensive telescope he had with him, the kind which has an aperture filter and is only good for viewing the sun. I expressed enthusiasm at this, and learned that he was an astrophysicist from New York, here for his second year.

I extended a hand. “I’m Joycebird.”

“I’m m.” He didn’t have a Playa Name yet. I suggested ‘Sun God,’ the first of many attempts to christen him. He showed me his camp (which will remain anonymous for his privacy), told me about its quite marvelous gifts, and invited me back that night.

I decided it was a good day for the one shower I was allotted (I hadn’t much minded being dirty except for frequent wet wipes baths, although my hair was starting to bother me) and got all dressed up. I had dinner with my campmates and then parted ways with them (again, they joked–I was a bit of a loner on the Playa, the better to indulge my ADD, and I had barely seen my Frenchies at all).

I was supposed to meet up with Love, the fantastic individual I’d met the night before, near the flying bicycle on the Esplanade–we hadn’t made any plans beyond that–but he was nowhere to be seen. After some time I headed off on my bike through the dark and dust. I managed to get very thoroughly lost before finding the camp, but somehow I made it. I wandered all around it meeting people and couldn’t find m. I decided to stick around, enjoy the camp, and maybe he’d show up.

A few hours later, I was sharing a nice conversation and some fungi with a man named Oz, trying to fight off my growing weariness. I had just about given up on m when I spotted him over Oz’s shoulder.

“Hello,” he said. “I didn’t think you were coming.”

“I was on time, even,” I laughed. “I didn’t know where you were. But this is lovely.”

Both of us were fairly drowsy so we shared an upper. I was about to take a nap on his air mattress while he conducted some business elsewhere, when he popped his head back in the tent and let me know the show was starting.

The main event of his camp was spectacular and drew quite a crowd. I watched in absolute delight, and fully awake now. Another reminder that people have wonderful gifts, and life is at its very best when they share those gifts unconditionally, never expecting something in return, but getting what they need anyway.

When it was over, we reconvened, gathering the things we’d need to set out into the desert night: Water. Lights. Goggles. Scarf (for use as dust mask). More pills. “Do you have something warm?” he asked.

“No. I didn’t plan very well.”

“Here.” He held up a royal blue cloak with silky gold lining. “Wear this.”

We set off on foot, I in my cloak, dress, and boots, feeling like a princess or a girl in a fairy tale, and he in his Victorian front-buttoning trousers, leather tailcoat, and leather top hat, two more fantastic denizens of the beautiful night-lit city. We stopped to watch some people dressed like astronauts playing Dance Dance Revolution: Flamethrower Edition.

“I see you, leaning back,” the announcer chastised one of them, then laughed cruelly. “That’s not going to save you.”

“That’s one thing I’m content to experience vicariously,” I said as we watched. “Hey. I didn’t get to ask you–why were *you* at Costco?”

“Oh, you know. Curiosity, amusement.”

“So you didn’t have the tiniest little hope that you would actually find one? A soulmate?” I teased.

“You know. You buy a lottery ticket, you don’t expect to win the lottery.”

I laughed. “A romantic, eh.”

“Yeah, a bit of a cynical one, at this point.”

“Oh no.”

“No, it’s not very fun.” He chuckled. “It’s just so rare to find someone that even interests you, and then they’ve got to be interested in you as well.”

“And it’s almost impossible to actually be on the same page with them in terms of what you want.”

“And even so, life just fucks it up half the time. Or you find that they’re not the person you thought they were. When you’re single, you remember being in a couple as this amazing thing, but then you’re in it, and it’s sort of boring and a lot of work.”

“But,” I said, as we began to climb a structure made out of white, un-sanded lumber, “then you find it. And you realize that yes, love is every bit as good as you thought it could be. And you see how much you’ve had to gloss over that picture in your head just to survive not having it anymore. Hey, this just stops!”

“So it does,” he said.

We arrived at the top, lumber stretching into the sky, several people sitting on the platform before us. We turned and sat on the steps, where we could survey the land before us, alight with color and fire and music and costumed people.

“I’m sorry.” I turned to him. “That’s an assholish thing for me to say, I just realized. I’m just very happy right now. I have not one, but two beautiful, fantastic lovers, and a great community of friends and coworkers, and I finally feel like I’ve found my home. And I’m so in love, and it’s every bit as great as I remember it being. Every fucking bit. I never thought I’d feel this way again, or at least not this strongly. …There I go. I’m sorry to say all this when I don’t know your status, romantically.”

“It’s okay, really. Let’s see.” He told me about his ex who was somewhere on the Playa with us. He told me about the one who got away. He told me the story about his Irish ancestors and the curse placed on his family.

All night we wandered, stopping at installations, riding mutant vehicles, having the same conversation about Burning Man–look at this, look at this, can you believe this exists? and different conversations about other things, about how we imagine the universe to be, about Peter Pan and growing up, about lucid dreaming, about a woman he’d had a love-at-first-sight moment with on the subway, briefly chatted with about her elvish tattoo, done a great deal of work looking up, and eventually met with, only to find that there was no chemistry, and anyway she had a boyfriend.

When we parted ways, we made plans to meet again that night for the burning of the Man, and adventure the night away again, though neither of us had, or was likely to get, much sleep in between. At this point I had no doubt in my mind that I would meet with him that night, nor as of yet any suspicion that he would draw my thoughts away from my lovers back home and towards a different life on the opposite coast. After all, I’d only just met him. But time on the Playa has a very different feel, and the default world can seem extremely far away.

The Return

“The mere fact that anyone can physically walk past the temple guardians does not invalidate their significance; for if the intruder is incapable of encompassing the sanctuary, then he has effectually remained without. Anyone unable to understand a god sees it as a devil and is thus defended from the approach.”

-Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces

I’m not a virgin anymore.

The fact that I speak this phrase now with even more awe, joy and anticipation than I did at nineteen, a week out of the Mormon church and positively starving for sensual experience and knowledge—this is no small thing.

Last night I saw my loved ones again for the first time in eight days: my lovers, h and c, and my dog, b, all came up to Oakland to get me. I said goodbye to Foul-Mouth Pixie, Natashka and Lucio, the strange and wonderful traveling companions I’d met that same day and joined for the seven-hour trek from Reno.

Leaving behind the last of my Burner friends, I turned and hugged my sweeties again and climbed into the car, strange emotions brewing inside of me.

It wasn’t until we arrived back at the lofts that I could finally articulate how I felt: it was as though I’d died, gone to heaven, and come back to earth. I wasn’t sad to be back. I was thrilled to see them again. I just wasn’t quite yet back on the same plane of existence…

***

Joycebird…Joycebird…Joycebird….hello…hello…hello…are you there? There? Hello. Joycebird…

The telephone dangled beside us, almost perfectly at ear level. M’s voice emitted eerily from it, garbled and static, and then we could hear it echoing softly from the drooping, illuminated metal flowers circling the installation. M and I lay side by side on the royal blue and gold cloak he’d given me against the cold, staring up at the inky night sky, thrumming with wonder. Hello…hello…

“How very creepy. And yet it all feels perfectly safe.” His deep voice, with its Australian accent and measured rhythms of speech, had the cadence of a storyteller. Which he was, actually. Earlier that day, after asking if I had red hair—no? highlights at least? that’s good enough—he had shared with me a tale of his Irish ancestors, a beautiful story about a king and a mermaid very similar to the Selkie myths. It was said that his clan would not regain their throne until one of them married an Irish girl with red hair from the sea. He told me about the Bardic families who devote themselves to keeping the records of each clan. He’d traveled to Ireland and met the Bardic woman for his family, who’d said upon opening the door and spotting his dark hair and eyes, “Ye’d be one of them, wouldn’t ye?”

From the nothingness at our feet there emerged suddenly a dragon, lit spectacularly against the perfect pitch of the night, coasting slow and regal across our field of vision, pulsing the ubiquitous trance music that sounds so wonderfully surreal against the vast expanses of white alkaline sand.

I exhaled slowly, thrilled. “In spite of the dangers…the dark and the dryness, the heat and the expanse…the strangeness, the disappearance of boundaries, the isolation…we’re really very safe here.”

“Yes.” He smiled the childlike, mischievous smile I’d felt on my own face so many times over the last week—bright excitement, dark bravery. “Here we can play with the monsters.”

***

My friends and I stood outside the cage, waiting for the acid to kick in, momentarily transfixed by the two greying, somewhat heavyset men dressed in dungeon garb and the two young, slender, topless women strapped helplessly to their tables, being flicked, stroked and flogged by various instruments of pleasure/torture.

I shook my head. I was so, so far from where I’d started. So far from the ideals and mores of my childhood. And yet every time someone told me “Welcome home,” I nodded, grinning hugely. Yes. Home. These shameless, monstrous freaks were my home.

Gratitude coursed through me. Since childhood, I had always wanted to be the kind of person who had no fear of anyone, who loved everyone unconditionally. Here I am, I thought, at a festival devoted to unconditional acceptance and giving, unafraid of the strangest people and things. Undeterred by the temple guardians.

“…the/center of all beauty!/writing these poems!/imagine!”[1]

I hadn’t realized that in order to understand that kind of person I would first have to become that kind of person.

“Are you going in there?” asked e, and g and f began to egg me on. For French people, they were decidedly more conservative than I. But I shook my head. I would wait until I was alone on the playa—or maybe until next year, when I would bring my lovers, when I would share this fanciful land with them.

I had been gifted a necklace with a small stone which was comforting to place in my mouth and suck on whenever I was missing h or c. I put it in my mouth now and felt its cool presence, its firmness, a reminder of the default world, which still existed out there somewhere.

***

There is no single path to happiness. This should be clear to anyone who has ever disagreed with anyone about anything. We each come from a unique stance with singular motivations, preferences, and prejudices—how in the world would one path serve everyone’s journey?

And yet, some things hold true no matter the path. My own personal journey has taken me from one extreme to another, from fundamentalist Christian to constructivist agnostic, from monogamous and straight to polyamorous and bisexual, from teetotaler to psychedelic evangelist. It’s been quite a journey, and I feel especially empowered from where I stand to identify some of the common threads in the ways very different people aspire to attain peace of mind.

What inspired me to write this blog? I just got back from my very first Burning Man. I can honestly say that at no time in my life previous to this point have I been more at peace, more content, more assured of the functionality of my life philosophy, of its potential to create a more utopic world. As a New Yorker said to me in the White Forest, “my faith in humanity is restored.”

While I do understand, on a very visceral level, those who would invite only the sacred into their lives, there is boundless beauty and wisdom to be found in the profane. Deep in the heart of humanity’s fear and depravity lie the profoundest truths about our natures and ourselves.

Welcome to my gorgeously transgressive world.


[1] Frank O’Hara, Autobiographia Literaria