What I Learned at Burning Man (the First Time)

Part one of three stories about how Burning Man gave me the shits, the shakes, and a better view of myself

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Day two of Burning Man was a disaster. I was alone sitting on a two-inch air mattress inside the Dragon’s Guild (I actually can’t remember the name) Camp, crying. I was almost blind, and I couldn’t touch my eyes. I couldn’t dare to rub or take out my contacts because it felt like the hot, vapid desert was soldering my eye-lids together.

And I paid a $1000 dollars for this Burning Man experience?

WTF.

My shift of heating, melting, and liquifying aluminum to it artisanal coins was over. I worked in 110-degree weather for hours on end, pouring what reminded me of the Prototype Series 1000 in Terminator 2, the silver mercury liquid into a mold and hammering it out so people could cut and press out their Burning Man coin.

Working 4 hour shifts was part of my camp dues?

Again, WTF.

As my eyes were bleeding red mucus and wet clumps of silt, I put my head in my hands and asked for forgiveness. I prayed for healing. I asked to be out of this Godforsaken desert with the dust, the neon lights, the incessant noise, and all the drugs. I had come here to figure out some shit about myself. I wanted self-exploration. I wanted the mind-numbing conversation and epiphanies of happiness as the sun rose above the Black Rock mountains and white playa.

Basically, I wanted an eagle to land on my fucking shoulder and explain to me why my life sucked and why I had so much anxiety about what I was doing in my existence.

I really wanted to talk to people that took the time to talk back, listen, and accept me without the sport I had put my entire life into.

But I wasn’t any closer to finding what I had come to obtain, the three treasures I hoped to stumble upon in my Burning Man Experience:

1. Uninhibited Love and Acceptance of Me
2. The Reinvention of Future Self
3. A Sexy Woman Dressed as Jessica Rabbit (from Roger Rabbit)

Instead, I laid down, exhausted. I needed to sleep, and I needed to change my mindset. I needed to to be loved. I had a void of sadness and nostalgia inside me, and I needed to cry about something, the loss of love, of career, of friendships, of relationships, of wanting more.

I needed to help adjusting back to USA after 14 years of playing professional basketball.

But as soon as my eyes shut, and I went into a dream-state.

I was on a court, running and sprinting past people with a basketball in my hands. A giant steel medusa spitting flame shot fire at me as I did. I leaped over a giant and dunked. A gargantuan electric Tesla played Beethoven. I passed a ball through someone’s legs for a cutting dunk. I came around a human screen and jumped into the air for a three-pointer. A wooden temple blazed and I took the game winning shot.

Swish.

In my dreams, I was happy. Satisfied. Content. Loved. Cherished. Tested.

Damn, look at those abs, son.

I was everything I wanted to be in my subconscious, but my mind couldn’t tell what was real or fiction.

See, I was a pro athlete just a year before, living and expressing my authentic craft. My passion had always been rewarded in life, even if the stubborn side of me didn’t want to admit it was time to change gears and let go of being a pro basketball player.

Hence the reason I had come to the desert for Burning Man: to punt a burning basketball into the night sky and let go of my past identity and reignite into a Phoenix of ambition.

I thought, “Why not?” when my cousins asked me if I wanted to buy their extra ticket. I needed to change something. I tried to burn my old self and ignite into the new me, but the desert had other ideas.

I wasn’t a creative. I wasn’t a drug user. I wasn’t a heavy drinker. I wasn’t a lot of things.

I was there with a few cousins that already had an old tribe of friends I didn’t know very well, which meant, I was left to explore the desert and the art and all the silly people that dressed like fantasy Mad Max while drinking, partying, dancing, and sexing up their fellow Burners. All the while, the music, the continuous EDM that starts early in the morning and plays into the early hours of dawn thump, thump, thumping in your goddamn head.

An hour later, I opened my eyes, looked down, and felt the burning of alkaline silt-sand in my eyes. The skin on my feet, webbing of my toes were red, bleeding, cracking, and skin was falling off.

I was slowly dying out here, and my radical self-reliance was being tested.

Shit, the desert heat doesn’t care about you. The penetrating sun, the lashing wind, the immovable heat, the alcohol, it’s no wonder people never come back to this place.

I had to find why people spoke of it with magical divinity and reverence. I had to find something. I couldn’t give up, not yet.

I put on my socks and some old basketball tights. I took out my contacts and put on my dorky glasses. Dusk was coming, which offered respite. I took a deep breath and sank into my air mattress.

What was I going to do tonight? What was I going to go see?

I had met no one. I talked to no one. Wandered into camps with a cup and hoped someone would approach me. Pour me a drink. I was anxious. Shy. Out of place. And worse, I was alone in a desert looking for answers that evaporated as fast I could ask the questions.

I put my scarf around my neck, put the shoddy ski goggles on my head, and walked towards the Man — a huge wooden structure located in the center of all this buzz-a-boo.

It was here I found the three things I wanted to see.

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