I have never been to Burning Man. Ten years ago the very idea would have been preposterous. What do I want with a bunch of naked dirty druggies, I would have said. White people shouldn’t have dredlocks, I would have added. I’ve never really understood the appeal of going number two outdoors, I would have also said.
Don’t tell me about the portajohns, I would have said. Tens of thousands of people in the desert using the same couple of hundred portajohns? Please. I ran the New York City marathon the year they let 50,000 people in. I’ve run Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. I know from portajohns, and there are few things nastier than an overfull portajohn.
I’m always amazed anyone puts those seat covers on and actually sits down. Clearly they are not plagued with the fears I am, for example, that something might reach up out of all that mess, something that could pull you under and no one would ever hear from you again. You think no one can hear you scream in space, try screaming from the bottom of a full portajohn.
And the worst part –you’d probably suffocate from the smell before you drowned. Ick.
When I first heard about Burning Man things were already changing for me. That is, I was changing, and in unforeseen, often mysterious ways. So where I might normally have been dismissive about the poo and hippie nekkidness, I was what you might call shyly interested. I found myself listening wistfully to other people when they talked about it. I heard their stories of making art, making connections, having epiphanies, being dirty, being naked. The naked part especially.
I am 51 years old and I have never seen a single member of my family – the family I grew up with – naked. Not my mom, not my dad, not my brother, not even accidentally, not even my little sis, who is my best friend in the world.
I have never felt shy about seeing other people naked. I admire the beauty of all sorts of bodies – thin, short, tall, chunky monkeys. I am married to a thinnist, which is too bad for him, I often think. If I could paint, I’d put Christina Hendrickson on an oyster shell lined in purple velvet, her hands full of cherries.
For some reason no one ever asks me if I want to go. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where you just go, even if you don’t have anyone to go with. Myabe all the people who go know this, or got a memo? I assume that it is not possible to go to a thing like Burning Man and be excluded from all the groups, just because you didn’t arrive with one. That would be silly. Wouldn’t it?
My husband does not share the modesty of my parents, and nor does my daughter. This took some getting used to. I went from being mildly shocked to slightly uncomfortable to gradually feeling natural being naked around my family. When she was very small my daughter loved to come up behind me and slap my bare bottom and yell Spanky Bottom! Smacky Butt! then off she’d run, her little naked butt sweet as a dwarf peach.
So I’ve decided that I’d like to go to Burning Man, and walk around naked. I’m thinking next year is the year. Maybe I’ll wear a flower in my hair. In my imagination, I do this and act like nudity is no big deal, and by acting that way, it becomes true, nudity becomes no big deal. And I meet up with women who are rounded and curved and dimpled and naked and we stand around and talk or sit around and talk or sing and dance and we’re naked and it’s no big deal, not even when men stop to watch us because in my imagination, Burning Man is a place where the watchers of naked dancers are noticing how nudity is no big deal to me and my sisters, marveling at the smoothness of our skin and the way the pink blood comes to our cheeks, the way we jiggle and giggle and do not try to create attractive tensions in our parts, no backs arching or legs extended or arms akimbo or necks stretched, we are letting it all hang out and sway round and round and bouncing up and down and it is so unremarkable, this nudity, this dancing, that some of the watchers even notice the flower in my hair, and that it is a daisy.