The Morning Before (arriving at Burning Man 2012)

It took until morning to realize what she’d done. For the gravity of this leap to fully settle. She had spent hours and hours planning and packing, booking flights and cars, researching and learning how to survive on the playa, had coordinated all the details like the pro-organizer she was, and not once had she stopped to consider that she was embarking on this adventure solo. How can such a large detail slip by unnoticed? Perhaps because if it had been revealed, she would have chickened out.

Instead she wrapped herself in the dizzying whirlwind of a first-time adventure, put herself on a plane, flew a couple thousand miles, got dropped off in the middle of a dusty city at 4 in the morning, found her tent by faith and a flashlight, and slept.

She didn’t comprehend the full extent of her aloneness until the morning.

She awoke to the sound of thumping bass and someone yelling into a megaphone. The sound travelled around her, first to her right, and then directly in front of her, and then faded and grew distant.

She opened her eyes. One of the two people she knew here had come early and set up her tent, but there had been no sign of him when she landed in the dead of night, and still no sign of him yet. She was relieved to have this tiny space all to herself as she arrived.

She unzipped the flap and looked around. She was nestled amongst dozens of other tents under a massive parachute shade structure. All was silent and still around her, but she could still hear the distant booming bass from an art car as it floated away down the playa streets. She could hear voices not far off. Zipping up boots that had already collected a layer of dust, she wandered out of the shade structure towards the sound of humans: chatter, laughter, the clinking of dishes. She had no idea where she was, but followed her instinct to follow sound.

At around this moment, the gravity of the situation started to descend around her.

As she rounded the corner of a large canopy tent, she abruptly happened on a congregation of complete strangers. Several dozen people were gathered for breakfast, sunning themselves in the still-pleasant morning warmth, immersed in potent conversation, lounging on dusty cushions, laughing, relishing. They all seemed to know each other. They all seemed relaxed, embodied, enlivened, and completely arrived. Precisely the opposite of all things she was feeling in that moment. She wanted in.

It was then that her aloneness and strangeness walloped her in the face with as much force as the mightiest of dust storms. She felt starkly exposed, both seen and unseen all at the same time. She felt her heart drop to her stomach and a quiet frenzy set in, parts of her contracting as she willed her legs forward. What. In the world. Have I done? She thought. Here she was, thousands of miles from home and any sense of familiarity, in a vastness of dust and sky and sun, in one of the craziest environments and most outlandish cities on earth, for a week-long jaunt where nearly anything could happen, and she was completely, entirely, all, alone.

Someone more sensible may have planned to embark on such a campaign with at least one other comrade, some semblance of security.

As she stood on the edge of the gathering, limbs unknowing of next steps, she realized the sheer genius and divine joke of her sneaky, unassuming higher-knowing that led her to this beguiling point. She had created this solo-adventure entirely on purpose. She didn’t want old friends or old patterns following her here. She needed this vast void of unknowing to leap into and see what wings would unfurl.

She had asked for it. She was more ready than she realized. So she took a deep breath, and took a step forward, knowing that an imaginary gate materialized to honor this step, knowing that everything was about to change.

photo by Amanda Painter

january 10, 2015
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