My First Burn

This note was originally published on Facebook on May 17th, 2016

This is something I probably should have written Sunday or Monday before I forgot a lot of tiny details, but I had too much brain fog to sit down at the computer to do it. Oh well. Better than waiting two weeks, I suppose.

Last year on a float trip James and I rafted with a good friend and heard most of the day about how amazing InterFuse was from her. She was one of many of our friends who kept telling us “you need to go next year. No really, you need to go.” Usually May is a busy month at the retail job I had, and I would only be able to get one weekend off for Show-Me Burlesque each year. This year, however, it was announced in January that our building was closing and all 750+ of us were getting laid off. Talk about a blessing in disguise. Knowing I’d still be unemployed at the time, I went ahead and made plans for InterFuse.

We camped with our Conflation/Ren Faire family at H.O.I.R. Island, the ones who had their first theme camp the year before that kept telling us we needed to go. Staying with a theme camp was definitely a good choice, as there is no way we would have been able to bring absolutely everything we needed in our little car. Having hot meals served twice a day made it feel so much less like camping, and we were stationed right next to the water spigot and bath house which was so very, very convenient. I only needed to use a port-o-potty once all weekend. The She-Wee I tried using was a disaster, as I only practiced with it once before I went. Note to self: need more in-shower practice with the She-Wee.

Since this story is going to be all over the place, I’ll start here: speaking of bathrooms- I have hope for the future! The bathroom/showers at InterFuse were non-gendered. Men & Women are marked out and both sides are for all. On Friday morning James and I shared a shower because we were sharing soap and shampoo, and while the curtain on that particular shower was missing, it didn’t matter. Naked people everywhere, all genders, and I could just shower with my husband to get clean, no judgement, no worries. Being at a burn is a totally different world. I should probably mention the 10 principals here because it frames the mindset that I entered upon stepping into the burn community.

Another great thing about the bathroom/shower house at InterFuse is it’s a place the majority of people go throughout the burn, so if there’s a message you need to get across, that’s the place to do it. The message was clear: Consent. Pictures of people in various states of undress with slogans like “Is she still saying yes? If she is unconscious, she is not consenting” and “self expression is not an invitation” on a photo of someone topless with body paint. My heart soared upon seeing these. THIS. This is how we re-condition rape culture in our society. These posters need to be everywhere in the world, not just here. It was especially important here though, because the event is clothing optional, people can become very intoxicated, and reinforcing consent is needed. The Love Cats did an excellent show about consent that a lot of people came to see, and oh boy did I wish this existed more in the default world. I also wish I had some pictures of these things, because googly eyes appeared on the posters throughout the weekend and made them extra fun.

I only took one photo the entire event actually, the one in this note. Part of me wishes I had taken more, but the immediacy principal really enhanced my experience of living in the moment and not needing to take photos of everything like I normally do. My phone was consistently dying all weekend, we had one back up battery and I found out last night one of our camp mates had several we could have used. Oh well. That’s why I’m writing this note, to share my experience but also to look back on it fondly when I forget most of this in a few months.

Welcome Home

Phrases I kept seeing in the weeks leading up to the event were in regards to coming home. Within I’d say an hour of stepping through the gate on Thursday afternoon, I understood why people kept saying “Welcome Home.” Even while people were still setting up their camps, I was completely blown away by the engineering, ingenuity, creativity and hard work that went into everything. It takes a village to build one. I realized halfway through the weekend that InterFuse is the intersection of all of my lives, groups, and passions in one place. I really am home there.

I knew of good chunk of people outside my camp who were attending, but as the weekend went on I kept seeing more and more people I knew who I had no idea were attending. I saw people from conventions, Ren Faire, the burlesque/circus arts/performing community, fetish community, The Crack Fox/Shamless crew, and of course the fire spinners. I realized something while I was there: burns are where the revolutionaries come to play! I can see a clear correlation between the Burners and the Berners, if you will. These are the people who are trying to change our country and the world. Some of them, anyway. I’m sure there were people there who couldn’t give less fucks about anyone but themselves, though I didn’t really encounter anyone being an asshole.

A burn is what you make it, I also learned. In the weeks leading up to InterFuse I prepared as much as I could for something I had no idea what to expect. I printed the 22 page “schedule” of events that, much like Conflation, started on “ish” time and may or may not actually happen. You’re building a city in the middle of the woods, with only the stuff you brought (including electricity/fuel) and any number of things – including severe weather – could compromise your plans. I made it a point not to have FOMO (Fear-or feeling-Of Missing Out) at all this weekend. There are things I wish I could have experienced and didn’t, things I experienced and wish I hadn’t; but I’m not upset about it, and all in all I had a great burn.

My Adventures

There are so many things to do and see and so many people to meet and talk to that everyone’s going to have a completely different experience. One thing I’m glad I didn’t do is trip shrooms. I had wanted to and planned to, but as the event drew closer and I realized how many things I wanted to experience I knew I needed to keep my wits about me. I was only sober on Saturday since I was fire spinning. But that didn’t keep me from being dehydrated as fuck on Sunday. Since it was much cooler on Saturday and I wasn’t drinking, I did not stay well hydrated because water was an afterthought. I felt hungover for most of Sunday for like, no reason. Oops. Lesson learned.

When we first arrived on Thursday we set up, helped our camp get set up and then wandered around getting our bearings. The map was mostly not needed, nor did we bother carrying it with us. It was kind of fun finding things on our own instead of looking for it on a map. I honestly don’t remember that much of Thursday, probably because we were sleep deprived going in with staying up late packing the night before. It was rainy when we left St. Louis, and became sunny and gorgeous as we traveled down 44. In the late afternoon I stretched on my yoga mat in just a bra and panties in the grass behind our tent, knowing I’d need it for the night of walking that was ahead. I didn’t expect the rapid temperature drop after sunset, but now I know better for next time.

I also now understand the appeal of costumes, especially at night. The more you’re wearing the better to stay warm! Thank goodness for bonfires. Next year, less clothes and more costumes. Thankfully, there were costume pieces abound at the various clothing swap camps where you could take or leave things at will. Principals related to this are gifting and decommodification. There is no money exchanged except for ice sales at burns. You buy everything you need outside and bring it. Gifting is totally up to you, there’s no barter or trade for anything. That’s why it only exists for a few days, really. That’s not sustainable in the long term.

On Friday during the day it was hot and sunny so I decided to walk around topless, slathered in sun screen, with pasties covering my nipples – not because I cared about anyone seeing my nips, but because I didn’t want them to get burnt! It was great seeing so many people in various states of nude or not. Radical self-expression! I am glad that in preparing I read and saved all of the lists of things veteran burners suggested bringing. “Bring a hat. If you don’t have at least one exciting piece of headgear you will be disappointed.” Hats are SO not my thing. But I found this random panda head hat with long mittens attached and was so glad I brought it to wear at night. Kept my hands and head warm and looked adorable. I wore a big floppy hat (if you can imagine) during the day to keep the sun off my forehead and neck. It did mess with my peripheral vision though, ha.

Friday evening before the sun set there were threats of hail and thunderstorms in the area. A good chunk of time was spent prepping for that, and my choices for make up and wardrobe changed with the impending threat of rain. I brought rain boots and ponchos and ended up not needing them at all, the storm had passed us right by with only a sprinkle. The sun set while we were watching the burlesque show and I was fucking cold walking back in a sun dress and rain poncho to get dressed in layers for the night. I was drunk by that point, since the threat of rain had squashed hopes of fire dancing near camp. Wandered around exploring all the different parties being thrown, and seeing which costume pieces glowed at the various rave-like camps under black lights.

When Your Burn Goes Badly

Friday night after we wandered back to our camp, we settled into the cuddle cabin. Drunk and high, having lots of inner monologue, I decided to address an elephant in the room with my husband. It led to a deeply intense conversation about our relationship, where we had been, where we were going and what needed to be done to get there. This is probably not a surprise to anyone who doesn’t know, but James and I are open and kinky. I’m really not the best at communication, so my that has put snags in our relationship before. After talking for almost two hours we decided to go to bed. Both in a weird, not-good head space. Not ideal for your first burn.

Waking up Saturday morning sore and cranky was not fun. I texted my sister to see if she’d heard anything from the hospital about our mom, and it was not any good news. It made my bad head space worse, and not realizing I was also pms-ing, I started to cry. James had a migraine at this point, and while I tried to stretch it out on my yoga mat, he desperately needed to find medicine that was located in his backpack that had gotten mooped the night before. It ended up being taken from our camp to lost-and-found for some unknown reason, and freaking out occurred because it also had our car keys. I was oblivious to all of this and wrapped in my own head trying not to have a total breakdown. I thought he was sleeping off his headache so I left to go to Sanctuary so I could cry it out there and not bother anyone. They were very helpful and after a bit I felt better and left to hit the bathroom before the mandatory meeting for the fire performers and safeties. I ran into him by the bathrooms, we exchanged unpleasant words (I was an asshole and regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth) and he stormed off, saying he was leaving. Once you drive away, there’s no re-entry.

I went to the meeting and told my camp mates that me and my stuff might need a ride home. I was really scared but knew if I didn’t attend the meeting I wouldn’t get to do one of the things that I really, really wanted to do for my first burn. A good friend said to me about the situation to check the following things if you’re having a bad time at a burn: Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? Am I lonely? Very sound advice. Self care is important in general, but moreso when you’re in sensory overload Just then she spotted him coming back from the parking lot and I was thankful he hadn’t left. We talked, I massaged his shoulders to release the tension causing the migraine, we hugged, apologized and both felt a lot better. Those few hours of being in a fight with my husband were absolutely miserable. It could have gone a lot worse than it did, but what came out of that experience is going to make our relationship stronger in the long run, and for that I am extremely grateful.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Sometimes You Can

Like I mentioned before, there are so many activities, people, art installations, and things going on that everyone has a different experience and it’s impossible to experience everything. We got to watch the naked relay together, which was short but hilarious. Then randomly an aerial arts show popped up right in front of us and we got to watch that until we decided to wander off and do something else. We found Ying Yang camp and there were people in front of it doing acro yoga, and I asked if I could do a rope suspension. It’s been years since I have done one, and it was one of the things I really, really wanted to do at InterFuse. I had never been suspended with hemp before, since I used to find it very uncomfortable. I was fully clothed, and it actually felt amazing. It turns out I already knew who the person suspending me was, in passing, online. I suspended for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could after all this time. I wasn’t great at it before, kind of a whiny bitch about it actually and pretty scared. But as soon as I was up in the air I knew I was more than capable. I am a lot stronger than I was a few years ago, and I could have hung up there even longer than I did. I got into a very zen head space and relaxed into it, feeling totally at peace. When I came down, a couple of guys who I had no idea were watching thanked me for the suspension as they enjoyed watching it. Of course I gave credit to the rigger, it was all him. I just dangled, ha. With that, we moseyed back to our camp to get ready for the night’s festivities. THE burn.

I had signed up for volunteering because that is a thing that everyone does. Everyone volunteers, or should. Communal effort is another principal. I had fun doing MOOP sweep Friday morning, but I was super excited about volunteering for the pre-burn ceremony. One of my favorite fire performers was the organizer for it, which made it that much better. She did a great job telling us what to expect out on the burn field, warning us about the amount of accelerates we’d be spinning fire near in the effigy and all that stuff. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the experience though. I was one of dozens of people performing for a crowd of hundreds backed by a very tribal, rhythmic drumming. One friend told me later that I looked absolutely blissed out. As I passed my friends in the crowd people were shouting my name and it made me smile. It was totally pitch dark with nothing lit but tiki torches and other fire spinners as my guides around the circle. After my fans I went around a second time with my palm torches, which one friend told me was a nice contrast to all the big fire – little lights dancing and flitting about. I danced and had so much fun. I got to be a part of something magical.

Then the effigy. Some of the fire crew were disappointed with ignition and how it went down, but it was my first ever and I was extremely impressed. This year’s theme was Fort Frenzy, and so the effigy was a giant blanket fort. A couch, loveseat, and chair made of wood, a giant lamp in between them, and a “quilt”, one square of which I painted. I saw the quilt over the livingroom set earlier in the day, but it was not burned. Wonder what happened to it. Once the effigy fires were raging, everyone was waiting with anticipation for it’s collapse. I didn’t understand why. I just figured people wanted to move in closer to get warm by the fire. Nope. Once the perimeter was dropped, hundreds of people came in to run wildly around the fire. I had no idea this was even a thing. I think they intentionally don’t tell the virgins so they can experience it for themselves. Or maybe not. But now I know, and now you do, too. We waited a minute or so and decided to jump up and join them, but by that point most people had stopped running. Only closest to the fire were people still making their way around, and it was very, very hot close to the fire. I had to step out and finish my lap on the outside of the crowd.

After the effigy burn I changed back into non-firesafe clothing (next time bring a long cotton undershirt for the pre-burn) and headed out into the woods for some much needed party time. We danced at all the sound camps, which were like giant dome jungle gyms covered in tarps. I said “fuck club hopping in Vegas, we can club hop right here!” We were witness to a cock and ball pinata being busted and won a tiny bottle of liquor. At our camp we ate s’mores and hot dogs, traditional camping food. I’m sure we did lots of other things that night which I frankly don’t remember right now, but it was fun. I’m sure there’s lots more that I’ll think of later.

The stars were amazing to look at, and the bonfire burned strong into the night. I had an overwhelming sense of joy and peace that I was able to have such an incredible experience. Welcome Home. IDoMyOwnScience

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