for The Lot Scene by Leah Markman with photos by Olivia Jane Christian

Conversations with Dreaming People: Radical Ritual

“The aim of waking is to dream” e.e. cummings 

Every night on playa is a gift. Streets weave and thread through us. Seeds are planted with single words and a wrong turn grows and grows till it blossoms into the unexpected. 

Grasp onto it, even if it’s only for a moment.

Open your eyes wide, don’t miss the signs. 

Open the refrigerator and walk inside. What do you have to lose?

For my third year, I return to my well-spring. My heart-swell of inspiration, the place I truly step into a Being and Body of responsibility, recklessness and kindness. We recreate and create our city, and ourselves—pliable and translucent—overflowing with playful, deep emotional connections that only an environment of stress, hard work and utter unpredictability can bring. 

Serendipity dwells here. She’s known to be one hell of a bitch. 

Try to find her and be left looking for a ghost, before you realize she has been leading your hand the whole time, usually giving the wrong directions. 

The city is made with calloused hands and light hearts. I spent hours trying to put words into what this place is while sitting on swing high over the esplanade, watching the cars and people chaotically mingle like a tidal wave. Holding my breath from fear, I stand up to swing even higher. 

This year, my heart broke and fell down my throat. This year, I fell in love with a stranger. This year, I got married to myself. Someone asked me what love is, under the blazing heat we giggled and explored this question, each one of us yelling out an answer until we realized that love has no limits.

My camp welcomed me in midweek during a pink flowering sunset. Arriving late for the first time, the city was electric. The playa adorned a coat of enticement and allure. She teased the last living color of the day and silhouettes dance into the aquatic light of darkness. This is my favorite time of day. Frenzied and alive the night took me. 

One of the many, many compelling pieces of art at Burning Man this year.

One of the many, many compelling pieces of art at Burning Man this year.

I got married at Burning Man. We painted our faces, dressed ourselves in white and wore our best platforms. Rushing through the streets, hungry and late for our ceremony. Vibrations of anticipation soak through the esplanade as we bike by. I’m yelling at passing people, and stop to take a Polaroid of a man sleeping, he doesn’t wake up and I leave him to dream with my gift mischievously tucked away in his pants to develop. 

To say the least, we were late to my wedding. But Burning Man refuses to take my schedule seriously; the time is Now, as my watch likes to tell me.

The Tree of Tenere was alive. People are touching its bark awaiting the waxing moon to rise over the mountain; this is where I made a commitment to myself. 

With unwavering confidence and trust in myself, I lit up my parasol and escorted myself down the candlelit walkway. Surrounded by my camp, which adopted me in with open arms, fresh drinks and dance parties, I vowed to love myself under that sunset, to be true to my path, to trust that I am doing the right thing. We circled around the dazzling tree, witnessing the many individuals stepping forward and into the responsibility of self-love. Each voice echoing through the rainbow leaves. 

But Burning Man has a funny way of making you second guess your direction, turning you around then lighting up a different street if you choose to take it. 

I vowed to honor those words I said to myself as the dust settled into sunset. 

By the end of this week though, I left feeling confused and lost. Many times after leaving BRC the road is clear and the world a clay ball ready to be molded. Today, I find myself questioning the pavement rutted with sinkholes and scorched earth. Ashes are falling from the sky and I wonder what it feels like to run full force into flame. 

Relationships were tried and tested.  I gave my heart to a stranger one night sitting by a fire pit on the outskirts of the city. I watched the sunrise from the tent of someone I love dearly, and I wished to be elsewhere. Yet I did not go, instead I leaned into the fear of falling in love, cuddled into sunrise. I watched a burn I hope to never see again and I loved his soul before I ever knew his name. 

I don’t know why and I don’t need to. We all struggle and fall and some of us run. We always do it wrong at some point. Burning Man has always been a place to dream, to realize our potential, and then do it. It’s a landscape to challenge and redefine the world we live in. It can also shatter our sense of purpose and the ground may fall out below us, engulfing everything in fire. 

We are asked to shed the weight not needed, with grace and understanding. We are asked to step into our dream world and pull from it our nightmares, our desires, and all the hope we can muster to create the impossible and the magnificent. 

What do you have to lose? 

When all that’s left are ashes, its time to rebuild. 

Through all the smoke and the dust, through the dark nights and sunrise champagne, we are given a gift—A toolbox of secrets whispered to us in the wind. 

That we can do better, that we can give more, there is still more work to do and that we are strong enough to do it. 

…Or it was better last year anyway so fuck yer burn and ravens can MOOP better than you. 


Dedicated to Aaron Joel Mitchell.  We love you. 

-Sweet and Spicy (Leah Markman)

The author enjoying her natural habitat.

The author enjoying her natural habitat.

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