For this, we’ll come back alive.
ULTIMATUM by Philip Larkin
But we must build our walls, for what we are
Necessitates it, and we must construct
The ship to navigate behind them, there.
Hopeless to ignore, helpless instruct
For any term of time beyond the years
That warn us of the need for emigration:
Exploded the ancient saying: Life is yours.
For on our island is no railway station,
There are no tickets for the Vale of Peace,
No docks where trading ships and seagulls pass.
Remember stories you read when a boy
– The shipwrecked sailor gaining safety by
His knife, treetrunk, and lianas – for now
You must escape, or perish saying no.
As of today, I have 14 days until I leave with Robin and Nathan for Burning Man 2012.
I am not even remotely prepared. I can't even pretend that I am remotely prepared. The two people I'm travelling with are two burn-virgins, too, so I am somehow the most experienced leader of our little pack in spite of being the one with the least resources to pull on to prepare. To help them, however, I've put together a pretty good basic packing list.
A tent with serious tent pegs and a shade. A sleeping surface. Warm bedding. A bicycle with a basket and a headlight and a lock. A big cooler. A camelbak style hydration pack. High SPF spray-on sunscreen. A sun hat. A warm hat. A warm coat, the fluffier and bigger the better. El-wire, battery operated string lights, or other equivalent light sources to attach to your bicycle, your bag, and your self. Two headlamps. A dust mask. Goggles. A week of food. A week of water. A camp-stove and fuel. Boots that go past your ankle. A camp chair. A light for your tent. A hair-brush or comb. Wet-wipes. Vinegar. Duct-tape. Batteries. Zipties. A pocket belt with clips. A small tub or pot. A first aid kit. Wrist or pocket watch. Luggage tags to put on your tent, your bag, and your bicycle. Sunglasses. Ear plugs. Antiperspirant. Toiletries kit. Daytime summer clothes. Superglue. Scissors. Nighttime winter clothes. Anti-chafing powder or gel. A flashlight. A kilt or pants with pockets. A water bottle. Energy and vitamin drink-mix powder like Zip-fizz or equivalent. A travel mug. Toilet paper. Playa Friend Map. Bike tire repair kit. Bicycle chain lube. Safety-pins. Lip-balm. Soap. Dry shampoo. Bungee cords. Ziplock bags. Cocoa butter. Sanitizer. Carabineer clips. A folding hand fan. A mirror. A cooking pot. A hammer. A good knife. Extra socks. Trash bags. A multitool like a leatherman. Raincoat. A sharpie. A set of silverware. A lighter. Condoms. A towel. Moisturizer. Make-up. Costumes, including a tutu for Tuesday.
If you wear glasses: Glasses repair kit, spare glasses, lens cloth.
If you wear contacts: Contacts, extra eye drops, spare glasses, lens cloth.
Anything on top of that is gravy. You should, of course, bring fun things – stuff to share, bucky domes, toys, bubble guns, musical instruments, flags, water guns, parasols, stilts, crazy art, fire dancing tools, stackable snap-top bins or plastic drawers to keep your stuff sorted, lanterns, shade structures, hammocks, gifts, or whatever sort of general fabulousness your creative fancy can conceive – but on the whole, those are your survival basics. You might get by without safety pins or scissors, but bring them anyway. Treat everything on the list as a requirement for your own safety.
If you bring a camera: The playa is made of a corrosive alkaline dust. Use tape, like electrical tape, to seal every seam on your camera. (Underwater protection bags suck.) Bring a large memory card and a usb cable to dump your photos with, so you don't have to open your camera. Try to charge your battery through usb only. Keep any lens not attached to your camera in a heavy-duty ziplock bag. Also bring, if you can, a tripod or mini tripod and a remote flash.
Do Not Bring: Anything that sheds MOOP, Matter Out Of Place, like feather boas or chunky glitter or sequins. Bananas. Made-in-china style swag "gifts" to share. (Gifts should be beautiful/interesting/useful.) Red twizzlers. Seriously, just don't.
Pre-playa preparedness: Car tune-up. Bicycle tune-up, including el-wire installation. Fill your prescriptions. Give the Burning Man Emergency contact link to appropriate parties. Read the Burning Man Survival Guide. Extra key for your vehicle, plus a magnetic thinger to stick it to your car with. Buy your water as close to Burning Man as possible. Water is heavy and will negatively effect your gas mileage. Seal one set of clean clothes in a zip-lock for your return trip. Double-check you have the appropriate accessories for everything you are bringing, such as batteries, a can opener, an air mattress repair kit or power-cords. (You may not have electricity or internet but other people will and if you ask nicely, some of them will let you use it. There is also internet at Center Camp.) Seal anything metal, like batteries, in a zip-lock.
Edibles: I recommend vacuum sealing your week's worth of food and freezing the bags flat before putting them in your cooler so that each meal acts as an ice-pack. Try to put aside at least two favourite meals. If you can, have enough food to share. Try to give away your left-overs to save on possible spoilage. Also bring MRE's, meal-in-a-bottle drinks like Ensure, canned fruit, fruit cups, energy drinks, energy/protein bars, oranges, dried fruit, smushed fruit food like apple sauce, pickles, cheese, chocolate, summer sausage, pudding snacks, crackers, cookies, juice boxes, candy, and other assorted shelf-stable snacky things. You won't want to eat meals during the day, but you're constantly using more energy than usual, so you need a lot of small, quick hits of calories. Playa makes sugar taste better. Bringing extra alcohol is also good to offer to others. (Bailey's is especially appreciated by those that usually drink cream or milk in their morning coffee).
While on the playa: Leave all of your valuables locked in your vehicle, including your wallet, especially on the Burn Nights, Saturday and Sunday. Carry hydrating liquids, goggles, and a dust mask with you at all times. You may only intend to be gone five minutes, but you may not end up back for five hours. Even sober, the shiny things will distract you. Be visible at night or die. Remember your ticket is a waiver for death and act accordingly. Because the playa is alkaline, try to soak your feet in vinegar water at least once every two days to keep yourself from chemical burn and injury. Most people do so while eating breakfast to help beat the heat. Garbage, if burnable, should be put in a fire barrel. Large fire barrels are provided at each keyhole plaza at the end of the week for trash disposal.
“I Made a House of Houselessness”,
by Rose O’Neill
I made a house of houselessness,
A garden of your going:
And seven trees of seven wounds
You gave me, all unknowing:
I made a feast of golden grief
That you so lordly left me,
I made a bed of all the smiles
Whereof your lip bereft me:
I made a sun of your delay,
Your daily loss, his setting:
I made a wall of all your words
And a lock of your forgetting.
We lay on the warm, damp sand of Jericho beach last night as the heavens broke over our heads, lightning splitting the sky open with mad electricity, the afterimage daylight of it shattering the night with a stunning simplicity, wrapped in a synthetic purple blanket on loan from my mother’s ex-boyfriend who let me cry on his shoulder in New York, holding each others hands against the rain. Once I could have dreamed of such a thing, even down to the loud wedding at Brock House that supplied a bizarre soundtrack of bland rock music played by an uninteresting band, but it’s been so long that I’ve been knocked down, that I can’t tell if this is what it feels like to get back up. The rain was almost welcome, a distraction from my abstraction, from wishing I didn’t remember what it’s like to be in love.
The storm had begun hours before, aristocratically sweeping in from the ocean on a glowing push of wind, crackling with lunatic energy, ardent and vehement in its regard. I was upstairs painting in Kitsilano, blind to the flickering flashes of camera shot lightning, radio turned up, on the phone with Brooklyn. I was trapped working, elegantly turning the brush against the edges of light-switches and outlets, stripped down against the balmy temperatures, dressed only in paint, spackle, and my underwear, waiting for my flirtationship to arrive, to pool our time together in front of a movie in the park. I only discovered it when the thunder kicked in, a sound so thick and heavy that when it broke over the house like blood, it set off every car alarm available within three blocks. The sky on fire, the world burning with a classical white light. Sheet lightning, forked lightning, bright, scintillant strike lightning, all crawling across the clouds in high speed, literal, incredible maps of electron flow.
Just the day before I had expressed how much I missed proper storms, those Toronto explosions, wet and furious and perfect as sex, unbelievably satisfying, morphine for my spirit. (We had been sitting on my porch, the same place I had held someone else’s hand and asked if they’d like to go on a date, the air tasting of salt and sweat and the white of his clothes, beautiful, summer incarnate, and been turned down.) The sky had been as clear as ice, only vaguely speckled with altocumulous, more pretty than promising. Yet there we were, wrapped in the weather I had wished for, as if I were a witch that had called it into being, and he turned to me like a good back beat, gesturing at the treasure of the tempest, and said, “The storm followed me all the way from White Rock. I brought it with me, just for you.”
I pictured him driving in, battling the wet road with his low slung sports car, dedicated enough to travel an hour to meet me for a movie he knew we wouldn’t get to, the scope of what the weather must have looked like from there, the scope of his commitment, and thought, “Alright. I can work with this. It is not what I wanted, not what I was waiting for, but this will be enough. With this, I can try again to live.”