Burner Love: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

me on bomb_0

A guest post from Joycebird. You can check out some of her other writing at The Art of Transgression

Burner Love: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

by Joycebird
Burning Man is great for couples; Burning Man is hard on couples.
My fiancé recently posted a picture of the drive home. Our close friend, prone to carsickness, rides shotgun beside him, while I peek out from amidst a ton of crap in the backseat, Waldo-esque. My ego throws its umpteenth tissy fit. I should be beside him. Not her. Me.

We’d gotten off to a strange, unsettling, but ultimately very cathartic start. On Monday night, he stayed by my side while I lost all touch with reality and ran through people’s camps in my fur-kini, celebrating the coming of the First Nirvana. While I had my own personal Mormon-turned-Taoist jubilation, shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”  and literally rolling on the ground with joy, he followed me, just as high, navigating the google dream network, picking up my belongings as I shed them, and crossing his fingers that no undercover cops would witness what was clearly a hallucinogenic trip, as he was far from sober himself and had more substances on him.

It was a struggle for him not to leave me behind the way he himself was left behind by his father at a very young age. But he didn’t leave me. For the next several days we were on a close and loving high, mine fueled by humility, gratitude, and a sense of security, his by the realization that I am helping him to become the man his father couldn’t be.

Our friend, away from her lover and feeling shy, spent much of the burn with us. Nights huddled against the cold of the desert, she opened up to us about her insecurities, about her troubled relationship with her partner (who was not at the burn), about how hard it was for her to feel desirable anymore. We kissed her and told her she was beautiful. We opened up our abundant love to her.
The morning after one such night of loving conversation and snuggles, I’d retired to my tent for a nap. I expected him to join me at any moment, and when I woke up to find him still missing, I felt a pang of sadness.

I asked another camp friend where he was and was informed somewhat cautiously that he was in her tent. My heart began to pound. I crouched under the tent fly. His face emerged wearing a goofy grin. “What’s up, baby?” I asked, failing to sound casual.

“I just ate her out.”

Everything inside of me constricted. “I don’t think her boyfriend is going to be very happy about this.”

There was a pause. “I didn’t think about that.”

“Yeah, well,” I muttered. I backed out and stumbled to my tent, observing the emotions rolling over me. The tears felt small and petty but I let them come.

I cried my fear that his tenderness towards her and their many commonalities of personality and interest would transform into a love stronger than our own. I cried an imaginary future of being the wife of that particular village hero who is good to everyone at the expense of his own family. I cried the loss of my uncomplicated bliss.

I’d said he could have a Burner girlfriend (a fairly common thing among Burner couples). We’d even talked about the possibility of helping this friend to feel sexy in a more hands-on way. But I was in no way prepared for something to happen without my presence or explicit consent.

She came in and put a hand on my back. She spoke my name gently. I didn’t respond or bother to hide from her the fact that I was crying. After a moment she let me be. Then he was beside me, calmly and gently fielding my hurt. Misunderstandings were unpacked. My lover’s concern was genuine. He hadn’t expected me to react this way. I began to calm down. This kind of thing is hard enough, I told him. It’s something I want to be open to in the right circumstances, and it’s also very hard. “Please don’t ever, ever make assumptions or jump to conclusions again. Please make sure to ask me first.”

“Your feelings are the most important thing to me. I would never do anything to jeopardize our relationship. You’re the most magical thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.

“All of the stories that you hear about this kind of thing end in pain and separation.”

“They don’t have to.”

I took some deep breaths. Wiped away my tears. Emerged from the tent into the sun and walked over to our friend. I straddled her, wrapped my arms around her, and hugged her for a long time. She hugged me back. “I love you,” I told her. “I love you,” she said.

Another challenge was put to me on the night of the temple burn, an event we were highly looking forward to. We’d missed it last year, and our experience there together this year had been very poignant. As sad as I was to see the city come down around us, I was feeling particularly close to both my lover and our mutual friend now that I’d mostly taken in stride their unexpected encounter. I was enjoying the afterglow of how rewarding openness and forgiveness can be.

There was another woman in our camp now, someone who’d identified my lover as a kind soul and gravitated toward him and shared her woes. Our friend had bristled at this addition (which I found amusing, considering) and I’d been magnanimous, giving my blessing again for a sexual encounter. He reassured me that his feelings were nurturing and nonsexual. We both celebrated this new development.

One thing led to another and we looked up from our camp to see the smoke of the temple rising. He swore and took off with the new camp mate, accidentally leaving us behind with one bike too few. We searched for him fruitlessly. When we finally made it back to camp, his pack was waiting at the tent, light on, and his headlamp was on the steps of our new friend’s RV. Once again, my heart sank.

We knocked on the door and called out his name. He answered. “Can we come in?”

“…Give me a second.”

Despite having technically given him permission, my feelings this time truly overwhelmed me. I threw my pack on the ground and sank down, shaking and crying. Our close friend told him to hurry; that I needed him.

Our society puts such a lot of weight on sexual indiscretions. We treat physicality as the holy grail of fidelity. Is the sex act ever really the problem? Or is it the violated trust, the lack of consideration? Is it the forced encounter with feelings we hate to experience, with realities of our partner’s otherness we’d prefer not to know?

I asked him repeatedly, shaking him, “How could you? How could you? I don’t understand how this could happen.” It took me a while to listen to his response, but I really did want to know. I didn’t just want to punish him. I didn’t want to wallow in my victimhood.

When he went down on our friend, I knew that it came from a place of wanting to help her heal. I knew it came from a place of affection. I knew he trusted my offer to let such a thing occur. This, it was clear, came from a very different place. He was angry he’d missed the burn, and then upset with himself for leaving us behind. He wondered why we didn’t catch up with him; imagined we had simply wandered off without a care. He felt anxious and self-loathing and maybe a little vengeful.

I could have demonized him for succumbing to these emotions. I could have distanced myself from his weakness. I could have turned away from his pain and focused exclusively on my experience.

But the more I listened to his excuses, the fudged details about who had actually initiated, the attempts to self-exonerate, the closer I felt to him. He sounded exactly like I did when I’d allowed a situation to make a decision for me in order to satisfy some urge or soothe some wound to my ego. As crazy as it may sound to you dedicated monogamists out there, his infidelity made us closer.

The next morning I apologized to the woman involved for letting my negativity affect her experience. I saw that she fully trusted my acceptance of the situation and had no thought of disrupting the sanctity of our relationship, and we became friends. Forging another story of how women interact in such circumstances–not as competitors, but as sisters and friends.

Back at home, I still have some anger to express, I still have fears and doubts, and he meets it all with love, honesty, and patience. I still find myself anxious over our mutual friend, and he reassures me. She and I are closer than ever.

This whole thing has rebooted our too-comfortable sex life. It has offered new perspective. He was surprised and grateful when his new friend asked his consent before giving a blowjob. It had never really occurred to me that men might need and deserve respect for their sexual agency in the same way women do (rather than having their desires taken for granted).

Burning Man offers unique opportunities for exploration, self-growth, and for destroying negative patterns and forging new ones. As scary as new territory can be, safety and comfort are not the same as happiness.

I look at the picture again. Our friend is glowing and transformed. My lover and life partner wears one of his trademark crazy grins. My ego and I sit in the backseat, tired and happy. Soon after the photo was taken he reached his hand over the back of the seat, grasping mine, holding it as he drove, and whispered to me his love and appreciation and admiration.

It’s not for everyone, I understand that. But I wouldn’t trade our Burner love for the status quo version–not in a million burns.

The Positivity In Popularity

A guest post from reader Shifty Fox.

1507464_f520Good ol’ Black Rock City. Home sweet home, am I right? I stand in awe at how much it has grown over the years. These days it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of this magical and idyllic temporary city in the desert. A dusty Shangri-La of sorts, in which tens of thousands of people flock to each year and tens of thousands more attempt to but can’t as a result of a population limit which in effect creates a ticket supply and demand. The good word is out and it seems like everybody wants to see what this place is all about. Now, there have always been opinions of the event becoming too popular even well over a decade or two ago. But ever since 2011 when the event first sold out, these opinions seem much more prevalent. Could it be true? Has Burning Man become too popular an event, or a victim of its own success that is simply too big for its britches? We have all read the articles and heard the opinions about how it isn’t what it used to be, and how “it was better back in the day…” Though personally I generally find it hard to agree with these viewpoints because I feel they are somewhat narrow-minded opinions that only stem from the individuals perspicacity and lack of insight, in relation to the popularity of Burning Man.

557227_10201150757269734_1559314795_nAnd fair enough. If we look at the effect that popularity has on a lot of things, it doesn’t always lead to the most desirable end results. There are small intimate venues that gain popularity and over time become the next hot bar or club spot. Small bands and DJs that start out in a garage or a bedroom make it big and are often considered sellouts once they attain fame. And there are the music festivals that started out as fairly small events and go on to become annual massive music festivals with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, complete with corporate sponsorship and all. The state of popularity as it pertains to events such as Burning Man and other similar festivals is often shaded with negativity. There is this feeling that when so many people become privy to something great, it takes away from the unique and magical qualities that made it so special to begin with. Though a part of me can’t help but think that this feeling is somewhat selfish in its existence. After all, if something is so wonderful and positive, shouldn’t it be shared for all to enjoy? Not hoarded by a few?

Image: Trey Ratcliff/StuckInCustoms

Now what I mean when I say selfish is that I feel people often don’t look past their own disgruntled feelings of dissatisfaction over minor issues that really only directly affect the individual and their ability to have a good time. For example, the thought that because of the progressive popularity of the event, there are increasingly too many virgin Burners attending annually. Or the issue of ticket supply and demand, which is directly related to the events popularity. Often fueled by ego, an individual can become irritated because they didn’t get a ticket and someone who they feel is less deserving, actually did get one. Or the thought that with the events popularity comes what is believe to be the wrong kind of crowd. Those that are said to spectate and not participate; ‘the bro, the weekend warrior, the wealthy 1%er, or other types of people that some individuals believe should not be in attendance. But all of these things are selfishly only an issue to the individual because they believe it interferes with their standards of the burn experience as they see it fit for them. They are possibly not seeing the bigger picture and how popularity affects more than just them and their good time. And I believe these feelings and opinions do not accurately reflect the very real and positive effects that come from the popularity of the Burning Man event. Perhaps it is difficult for some to see past their own comforts and desires.

believeI am convinced there is a bigger picture to it all. I believe Burning Man to be an exception to the idea that popularity allows for negative results to culminate, and subsequently end an entity’s golden era. I believe there are direct and indirect ways that the popularity of Burning Man is positively changing individual’s hearts and minds, as well as affecting families and communities around the world for the better. I truly believe there is positivity in popularity.

Over the years Burning Man has given way to a number of great organizations that are doing wonderful things locally as well as worldwide. The seemingly endless streams of inspiration, creativity, and motivation that emanates from these wonderful organizations, cannot be denied as a positive force. Some of the more prominent organizations that are a direct consequence of the Burning Man event include:

brs_header 4
Black Rock Solar – The mission of BRS is stated as “promoting environmental stewardship, economic development and energy independence by providing not-for-profit entities, tribes and under-served communities with access to clean energy, education, and job training.” This is done often by donating hours of labor, solar products, and professional installation of solar products to these under-served communities.

Burners Without Borders – The objectives of BWB are to “promote activities around the globe that support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches to disaster relief and grassroots initiatives that make a positive impact.” The Philippines, Haiti, and the United States are few of the places they have offered disaster relief for various unfortunate catastrophes such as fires, hurricanes, and floods.

Black Rock Arts Foundation – The folks at BRAF have made it their mission “to support and promote community, interactive art and civic participation.” This is done through a process of presenting grants to a number of artists and arts programs. BRAF works with various communities all over the globe to produce creative and often unusual works of public art that serve to conjure the inspiration in people, and create a sense of community.

The Regional Network – This is the most prominent byproduct immediately stemming from the popularity of Burning Man. The event has inspired others to organize and create events with a similar ethos to the Burning Man event. Currently there are roughly 130 regional families spread across 6 continents in 31 countries around the world that are officially affiliated with the Burning Man Organization. There are also an untold number of non-affiliated groups and events as well.

These organizations are byproducts directly related to the popularity of the Burning Man event, which is a melting pot for like-minded people, that gives them the ability to network and become inspired to create these types of organizations, families, and events. These are only four listed examples but there is a plethora of other small groups and organizations that have come into existence all around the globe as a result of the growth of the Burning Man event, community, and culture. These are undoubtedly examples of positivity in popularity.


Open Playa

Aside from all the positive effects emanating from organizations and regional groups, we also have the individuals themselves and the profound and life changing experiences that are often had while attending Burning Man. The capacity for positive energy that the individual radiates back out into the default world long after they have returned home is something that should never be allowed to reach a maximum limit. I refuse to think we need less people sharing in a culture that produces such untold amounts of utter positivity.

Image: Unknown/DustToAshes

Image: Dust To Ashes

There is an infinite list of constructive things to be gained by the individual while marinating in this playa pool of positivity; whether it is a sense of family and community, the feelings of impassioned closeness with others, emotional purging and sense of spirituality, the use of social skills in an unconventional world, the networking, the friends, the fun that never ends, the projects, the laughs, the cries… the self-discovery sunset and tequila sunrise. It is virtually an endless source of positive energy, ideas, and knowledge. And it is largely (if not completely) due to the growth and popularity of Burning Man, that all of these things have the ability to thrive there and continue to inspire others who visit our dusty home, to appreciate, motivate, create, and then take these values home with them, so that they can be injected into the veins of life, and the individual can and go on to inspire others to do the very same thing.

For most of us who have attended it is easy to understand the harmonious and magical way in which Burning Man touches many peoples lives, and how it continues to directly effect most of us on a daily basis. But it may be more difficult to imagine the even higher untold numbers, possibly in the millions, of people that are indirectly affected by the Burning Man community in roundabout ways, without ever having known it. I was once one of those people.

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

About 17 years ago I was a completely lost and irresponsible kid who really had very little direction and even less drive. Always feeling like a lone black sheep I carried around a lot of weight and stress with me from various things in my life. From family issues, to the deaths of loved ones, and throw in a handful of other destructive devices, they were very confusing times indeed. On top of that I was still trying to find out what my worth was to the world. Over time I had tried various things to alleviate this weight but as a young adult back then, I really had no idea what I was doing. Who really does anyhow? Things were pretty obscure and uncertain at the time. But it was by chance, (or fate?) that I would soon make friends with a few Burneresque types in a small town up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Through my friendships with these great people I would eventually go on to participate in the creation of small events and get-togethers that carried a similar Burning Man ethos and vibe. I had yet to attend Burning Man at the time, and wouldn’t for some years. The clueless kid that I was, I had no idea that at the time my life was already beginning to be affected by the Burning Man community in this second handed sort of way, years before I had ever attended the actual event.


Image: Dust To Ashes

Image: Dust To Ashes


La Contessa

I eventually moved to the land that originally gave life to the Burning Man event, the beautiful and unique city of San Francisco. I fully immersed myself in the Burner culture and community. I finally attended Burning Man, as well as other events and began volunteering for little projects here and there. I tried to educate myself as much as I could on the history of this fascinating experiment of a not so conventional community in the desert. I had been turned on to this seemingly endless world of ideas and creativity. I found a number of people whose life stories were similar to mine, people who had imagination and ingenuity, and radiated positivity. I fell in love with it all. And over the years as I continue to bask in these pools of positivity and meet new and interesting people, I can’t help but see all the wonderful things that have been created by Burners. It makes me curious about all the great things that have yet to come in to existence by the many potential Burners of the future.


Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

So now here I am, having done this dance in the dust year after year for over a third of my life. I have undoubtedly evolved mentally and grown as a human being, for the better. I feel eternally grateful for the things I have learned in that desert, and the experiences I have had. I have a stronger bond with my family and have forged close relationships with a number of great people that I may have never met otherwise. All of these people that I relate to have seen the changes and the effects the event has had on me, and in that, they have felt the effects themselves. In the desert I have learned to let go of the things that stop me from living my life and I have taken those lessons and reflected them back out to the rest of the world. I shudder to think of the road I may have traveled had this community not diverted the direction of my life and pushed me down a different path. I can honestly say that Burning Man has changed me as a person. It has transformed my interactions with people, and has forever broadened my horizons and the outlook that I have of this magnificent world on a daily basis.

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

In a way it can be said that Burning Man inadvertently affects every single person in the default world that we Burners come in contact with, without them ever even knowing it. The same way it did to me when I was younger. Before I had ever stepped foot on that desert floor. Now I pose the question, if Burning Man can have such a strong and profound effect on me, and I am just one person, how many others has it affected in this way? And even more importantly, how many others have the potential to be affected by it in the future? Only time will tell. As the event grows in popularity, so does the community. And subsequently the culture, the networks, the families, the art, the love, and most importantly the human individual all grow with it.

So now, every time I hear someone say that Burning Man is too popular or too big for its own good, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside and think to myself, “if you only knew…”


Image: Michael Holden

Image: Michael Holden