My life lately has been incredibly roller-coaster like, not necessarily in the fun way, but always in the make-you-stronger-or-die way. I guess that’s also not so much lately as a recurring theme, but that’s besides the point. While I was waiting for divorce paperwork to go through (still am. SOON), going through an additional breakup, and job hunting while scrambling to find a place to relocate to, I decided that going to Burning Man would be a good idea (it was).
I decided to go to Burning Man because I needed to prove to myself that I was strong enough and capable enough of a person to be able to survive the desert; and if I could survive an arid climate where nothing heals and nothing grows, then I could probably get through all this other bullshit life likes to toss in my direction.
And over the course of the 10 days I….actually managed to impress myself. Turns out, I am capable as fuck. I can carry a stack of metal 2x my height on my shoulder, I am incredibly prepared, and able to handle whatever random shit happens that I can help with. I can survive the desert. I can build infrastructure for people to occupy. I can get along with other humans in a desert. I can save a cabaret from being a flop (I think. At the very least, I had a blast). I can hold up the insides of a geodesic dome.
I am actually really quite strong – on all the levels that the desert is designed to bring out your weaknesses, I managed to be actually be okay.
The Temple Burn
Every year at Burning Man, we burn The Man, obviously, but there’s also a temple burn.
The Temple Burn has a sense of solemnity and it’s own atmosphere that’s radically different than the rest of the playa. The Temple opens earlier in the week and people walk through it and it becomes whatever it needs to be for them. As I walked through the temple I saw and felt the entirety of human existence and all of the hard and intense emotions that we face all culminate in one place. The altars and letters and tear-stained pieces of wood were full of love, anger, grief, loss, sorrow, guilt, hope. I started crying within minutes of stepping inside. It’s just a temple, it doesn’t mean anything – except that it means everything that you need it to mean. The Temple was more sacred to me than I thought it would be. It was a place to heal and face all of the things I haven’t processed fully. I picked up a piece of wood and wrote down the names of my dead family: my stillborn siblings, my gramme. I grieved their deaths fully for the first time, accepting the loss and allowing myself to shed the tears I wasn’t able to before.
I wrote the names of my living siblings – the ones I raised and feel responsible for, the ones who’s fates keep me up at night. I wrote that I love them and will always.
I wrote a note to my parents, grieving the loss of a relationship that I’ll never have and never had, but always wished for.
I wrote a note to Matt and processed the loss I still feel sometimes from that.
I wrote my deadname on a block of wood, saying goodbye to everything I was told to be, all the limitations placed on me, and all the lies they said.
When we walked to the Temple Burn on Sunday night, it started before we reached it. Smoke billowed up into the sky, over us, reaching beyond us towards the moon in the horizon. Embers hung in the air against the smoke and slowly, gracefully, fell down to the earth.
The phrase that got stuck in my head enough to write it down a few times at the beginning of Burning Man was rise from the ashes, and as I put my old name in the temple and while I watched it burn, that’s exactly what I did. I lit my old demons and fears and everything holding me back on fire and watched it die in a surreal moment of light and smoke and embers.
I picked up some bits of ash on the way back, pieces of the burned temple – and when I have a place again, they will be part of my altar. Reminding me that I’ve left everything I needed to behind, and am now able to be a completely, wholly, unhindered me.