The International Writers
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most have barely heard of it, many are intrigued, few
are brave enough to go. If this is your first encounter
with the phenomenon of Burning Man, welcome. If youre
already an avid fan, welcome home.
One could describe this convergence of people and imagination
as an art festival. But thats like saying the Grand
Canyon is a hole in the ground. You really have no idea
until you see it, feel it, live it.
Every year, a select group of people gather in the Nevada desert for one
reason and one reason alone
to play. What kind of play?
Every kind imaginable: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, sexual, physical
How to describe such an eclectic happening? Let me instead expose
to you the emotional aftermath of a Burner, and if youre
willing to sidestep your assumptions and walk with me through a reverie
just maybe youll taste a fraction of the wonder by proxy.
Its Wednesday after the Burn, Im sitting at my desk
wading through work mail and wondering what the sky looks like right now.
The office is quiet and preoccupied -as am I.
What is this place we call the real world? It doesnt seem
real to me. It feels strange like my morning elevator ride with
a haughty colleague devoid of conversation. Distant and unspeaking,
we pretended the silence wasnt awkward. But for me it was
painful -a shard of glass in my flesh. I tried to connect, but there
was no port for my ship to dock.
How different my interactions were just a few days ago at Burning Man
encounter a forum for connection, each glance an invitation to approach.
Eyes were magnets, words were bridges and touch was glue. On the
playa even shared stillness is rich with intimacy. Isnt it
strange how silence can be both a sword and a salve?
At work people were asking cursory questions, typical post vacation chit
chat: Where did you go? What did you do?
Did you have fun? Did you make any friends?
How to answer them? Either I offer short statements that satisfy
the questions basic requirements OR I tell the truth
unravelings entailing poetry and theatre, song, drama and renderings of
emotional epiphanies, intellectual vistas and spiritual journeys.
How much truth do they want, I wonder. How much truth can they hold?
I crumple under the task of representing-in-words the magic of my experience
and answer, It was great. I had the most wonderful time.
Everything I utter seems an understatement. They smile and I smile,
and though Ive no idea how to help them understand my recent escapade
I decide to try.
one week I left this planet and traveled to an alien land.
Ambassador and adventurer, I discovered a whole new dimension of
reality where imagination was the backdrop of everyday experience
and love the substrate. Magic infused all matter, light was
our mantra, color a prayer and hope and fear became a story that
told itself again and again until every mind sparkled in resonance.
Consciousness was palpable in the air and all encounters felt laden
with meaning and knowledge. You didnt make friends
here; you found mirrors in the deep unflinching eyes of others.
You became soul mates with all your future and past selves.
You danced with demons and cultivated courage. Here you could
invite your fears in for tea.
A week long love affair with your own ideas, a wonderland more outlandish
than Alice imagined, a stroll through an amusement park whose rides serve
existential twists and turns. This is a reckoning like no other.
Its a futuristic world, where cutting edge emotional technology
is unleashed unabashed
a place where pioneers of the species
psyche congregate and trade secrets. Whatever humans are evolving
into, this is where those mutants are spawned. Its not pretend.
Nothing here is pretend. Thats what people on the outside
do not understand. Every art piece, service, statement, performance
is hyper-real, holographic and meant at every level that meaning can roost.
Here, reality is manufactured on the fly. Nowhere else can you conjure
truth-as-you-go as readily as at Burning Man, where raw materials are
free and available at every corner.
|This is a place where the unexpected, implausible and seemingly impractical
is accepted as baseline. How else could you write the following
true story, mean every single word and have 40 000 burners
genuinely believe you?
The sky is smeared with clouds and my feet -weary with dance-ache
for rest. a passing magic carpet takes me over to the sauna where
a fairy nymph washes my feet and teaches me to spin fire. she suggests
i take the pirate ship to heavens chandelier and offer scented blessings
at the belgium waffle. space virgins accost me on stilts and bid
me follow them to monkey chant. i find myself lost and found at
the corner of 3:30 and hope, where a pin-on third nipple is offered in
exchange for water. naked red man in bowler hat points his umbrella
in my direction and a swarm of glowing insects intersect our path.
a phone booth looms ahead, signed talk to god. i do,
and find him slightly less comedic than id hoped. on board
an exquisite glowing seahorse, i am ushered towards a giant virus from
war of the worlds. i climb up-side its dna to gaze out at
two simultaneous full moons. the flaming serpent mother raises her
metallic head and roars fire into the night. cupcakes whiz by in tandem,
escorted in neon by a fallen star. i pass a luminous brain claiming
to think hitherto unthought thoughts. nearby a eye-crowned pyramid
winks knowingly. through the fog a temple rises and the winds of
reverence animate my skin. I pray to a roving praying mantis that
he stop for me -my journey home is long and my wings are tired.
Burning Man isnt
just about mass communal engagements, its real magic lies in the unpredictable
power it wields over the subjectivity of each participant. The
playa is a synergized school where everything is a teacher and everyone
a student. Revelation lurks in all directions. Here are
two random lessons that managed to find me:
on & Letting Go
One last time I strolled around the temple letting its stillness sink
into my bones. Tonight they would burn this castle, freeing the
wishes inscribed on its wooden walls. I found a seat beside a
young violinist and let her music echo through me. Over to my
right a volunteer sculptress carved a single reed -finishing touches
on the temple garden. She didnt see me
so focused she
was on her task. I watched her shave the wood with careful strokes,
each movement deliberate and smooth. Her face was taut with concentration.
This church-of-loss would be set afire in a few hours, and yet the love
and skill she brought to her work seemed unshaken by this pending truth.
It was at that moment the essence of burning man first crystallized
for me. It didnt matter whether the temple would burn or
not, she was doing her best regardless. And whats more,
these reeds were so many and so small, no one else would ever notice
them. But she knew then something I was only beginning to realize:
everything we do is for ourselves; her own knowing was enough.
On some level we know all things are ephemeral, they die or disappear
eventually -yet we pour our energy, our love and our hopes into them.
The temple and everything at burning man was a caricature of this truth.
The bigger and more profound the art, the more emphatic this statement.
Holding on and letting go -at the same time, this
was the my lesson.
Everywhere and at different levels this message asserted itself with
the haunting self-similarity of a fractal. People you meet on
the playa once and for all and never again, transform your life forever.
Artworks that take thousands of dollars, hundreds of man hours and steadfast
resolve, exist for less than a week then vanish in smoke
one leaves an indelible mark on your poetic memory.
You are brought face to face with an idea some native tribes take for
granted, an idea not accommodated in our language: there are no
things only processes. Nouns are frozen
verbs -no moon, but mooning.
My lady carver placed her last reed amongst the others and turned away
satisfied. She mounted her bike and rode home across the desert.
I watched her disappear in a cloud of dust. She never even knew
she was my teacher.
What you think
and feel - you are
I used to have glasses just like that she said pointing
at my heart shaped shades edged with diamonds. To work;
I would wear them to work she shrugged in nonchalance. Her
claims suggested that what I was sporting as costume wear she pulled
off as mainstream fashion.
Wow, I responded, Thats quite brave.
I meant what I said.
She was sparkling, her eyes glossy with softness. I could tell
she wanted to talk; something about me reminded her of herself.
You are so beautifu,l she smiled, calling her nearby friend
to back up her claim. They nodded in admiration and I let their
eyes move across my body. I was wearing an electric rainbow dress
that fit perfectly, and I noticed how I much like to be noticed.
I also saw her clearly, she was a fairy too, but her face was worn with
age. Deep wrinkles edged her eyes and lips with tanned skin that
had seen too much sun. We talked about her life in San Francisco,
my longing to live there, and finally she asked me how old I was.
32, I smiled, knowing I looked younger. What
23, she replied with a girlish curtsey.
23! I laughed my eyes wide with disbelief. There was no
way this lady was younger than I, and the ease with which she held her
statement left me stunned.
Looking directly into my eyes with knowing delicacy, she said, You
dont believe me? Perhaps if you were on drugs you would
be able to see the truth. I felt a wave of shame ripple
through me. Why had I laughed? My reaction had been laced
with mockery. Her still dignified smile reflected the subtle ridicule
in my response.
This lady was 23 years old and who was I to question her. My disbelief
had come from a place of elitism, the arrogance of youth. She
was wise, but I was young, and on some unspoken level I was wielding
this most precious of human commodities.
I suspect the only reason one ever induces a hierarchy, is out of fear.
What in the world could I have been afraid of? Aging?, mortality?
Ah, death -the mother of all fears. Once I realized this, I no
longer saw her wrinkled skin, her muted eyes or spotted hands
saw a gorgeous 23 year old bristling with life. It became clear
who she wanted to be was who she was. And then I met myself
in her. We recognized each other in that instant and collapsed
in a hug of long lost sisters.
my favorite playground, best party on the planet, more magic per square
foot than any place Ive ever been
in your eyes, every sparkle
tells a story.
© Annie Lalla June 2007
Annie Lalla 2009
Fragments from India
Imagine the diameter at the bottom of a toilet bowl; it was as long
as that. I know because the head touched one side while the tail
brushed against the opposite. He was paddling for his life.
de Sao Paulo
Annie Lalla in Brazil
There are no cars here. You walk everywhere by foot. All
transport of goods is accomplished by wheelbarrows marked "Taxi"
on the side with unintentional humour.
Contact in India
keyboard I'm typing on is so old I can barely see the letters a sign
reads: "browsing 20 rupees per hour. No discounting, no bargaining
of rates will be encouraged."
ways of living
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