Due to COVID-19, we were not able to build Black Rock City in the desert this year. Burners around the world were forced to re-invent Burning Man in 2020, in their own homes, their own communities (socially distanced, of course), and online.
In 2019, I had tickets to go, but for reasons I won’t elaborate on here, I decided to stay home. My housemates and I created a small Burning Man experience on our own. Though my Man was made of popsicle sticks, though we watched the main Man burn on the Playa via livestream, I absolutely felt the spirit of The Burn all weekend. As is always the case, my life changed a lot right after The Burn. I leaned that being a Burner is not contingent upon being in Black Rock City every year – it’s about the observation of the cycles of energy that make up life, it’s about the rituals of building and releasing something into the flames.
When it became clear that we were not going to Black Rock City for Burning Man this year, though I was a bit sad, I was not dismayed – I knew we would create a fantastic Burning Man experience on our own that would be tailored to fit the circumstances of the day.
Housemate Grant had spent the summer preparing a terrific fire pit, encircled by massive 6′ tall sunflowers.
I built a small Man and made a playa-worthy playlist.
Housemate Rachel prepared snacks and readied the house for a small group of friends to join us.
When on Playa, we often refer to “Playa Magic”. If you’ve been there, you understand. I realize how kooky this all sounds. I promise.
Every year, multiple times per week, things happen in that beautiful city in the desert that defy imagination and and logic.
I’ve attempted to write about some instances of it in past Burning Man essays).
This year, a moment of Playa Magic followed me to our little burn in Stansbury Park. First a bit of background:
There was a period of time where I was out of touch with my daughters. I was drowning in a mess of my own shame and guilt about our divorce and the circumstances that resulted from it. I know it hurt them a lot, and I’ve done plenty of wrestling with the secondary layers of guilt, shame, and existential sadness that comes from that knowledge.
At some point, a couple of important and inspired souls inspired me to me to step forward and mend things. I did so. There’s no way to go back in time and give my daughters a better version of me. I do my very best to stay open, vulnerable, and present with them now, and for the rest of my life. When my daughters show up in beautiful ways, it’s extra poignant to me. I’m moved to tears even now as I write this.
My daughter, Makinley, had an idea for a gift for my mother. She found a company that will take samples of a person’s handwriting and turn it into a locket. My mother loves lockets that have some aspect of my Dad in them.
Makinley found a way to get some of my late Father’s handwriting without my Mom knowing what she was doing. She had this locket made. While the Man was burning, she sent this picture to me:
I had already been conversing with my Father that night, transmitting on the beams of light shining off of the big, bright moon in the sky. I was in deep contemplation about the upcoming chapter of my life, also by virtue of Makinley – I’m soon to be a grandfather. My grandfathers were a huge part of my life all through my life until they passed. I am forever shaped by the gentle lessons I learned from them about the good life. I am completely committed to doing the same for Makinley’s baby.
Her name is Lennon, and she will be born in February 2021.
I am beyond thrilled… this is a topic for another day. Let’s get back to this burning wooden man in the back yard –
So there I am, basking in an evening of deep reflection and resonation with my Father’s spirit, seeking the subtle lessons of this new stage of the masculine experience… when this message comes through.
My eyes leaked some testosterone as The Man burned.
The Man burned in such an interesting way… it remained dark and black on the inside of it’s form, while radiating the most beautiful flames around it’s perimeter, as if the fire was it’s aura.
This was symbolic for me: My journey to repairing my relationship with my daughters was a process of accepting my darkness. I had to surrender to the idea that I will always be an imperfect person and father. As I came into a working and peaceful relationship with my shadow, my darkness – my light began to emerge. I became a better father. There is great power in bringing my light and darkness into good relationship with each other.
More about that burning man – I needed something to help it stand upright in the fire pit. I had an extra set of ape-hanger style motorcycle handlebars in the garage. They were a perfect fit – I fastened them to The Man’s lower half, and they helped him stand on his own through the whole burning process.
As the man burned all the way down, the only thing that remained were the motorcycle handlebars:
Those of you who follow my work, know about the deep connection between my father, masculine energy, and motorcycles.
Seeing the solidarity of the motorcycle part – persisting through the fire all weekend – was a beautiful symbol in and of itself.
One of our mutual friends, Dominique, is a veteran Burner. She is part of BMIR 94.5 FM – Burning Man Information Radio. BMIR broadcasts 24 / 7 for a few days prior to the event, up through a few days after the event. They broadcast weather reports, interviews, music, silly “advertisements” for various events around the city, and most of all, represent “The Voice Of The Man” – a unifying energy in the city. BMIR was not to be deterred this year either – they created their “normal” programming, with all participants coming in via Zoom, and the resultant show, streamed out live on the Internet on their website and I Heart Radio: https://bmir.org
Dominique did her show from our living room on Sunday, between The Man burn and The Temple Burn (yes, we burned something Sunday Night in representation of The Temple, too). At one point, I joined her on the sofa to be a part of her show. It felt amazing to be a part of BMIR, to be communicating in real time with Burners all around the world who were tuning in to invoke the spirit of The Burn in their own experiences.
On Sunday Night, the night of the Temple Burn, we offered up more to the fire. Dom and I stayed up into the small hours sipping beers, staying warm by the fire, and swapping stories from years past in Black Rock City.
Though I missed being on Playa, seeing the art, the people, and being in the dust – Burning Man 2020 was a beautiful ritual. I absolutely felt the spirit of The Burn here in our little corner of Spaceship Planet Earth.