Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's Right with Me

My writing resurrection is fueled by a recent post from Deborah Windham @ Dr. Deb A Fabulous Radical Life where she questioned, "What is Right with Me?"

"I am ART"- Deborah Windham 

Burning Man is different every year and as I always say, you get what you need, not necessarily what you want.  

In preparation for this "Rites of Passage" themed Burn - in addition to art projects, costuming, Temple projects, and endurance training - I began reading a book called The Sedona Method, which is teaching me how to honor my emotions and release them - not allowing myself to be defined by them.  My goal each year is to grow and heal.  This is my 9th year attending Burning Man.  How far I've progressed is debatable at best.  

When I first arrived, I was a grieving mother.  I was here to punish myself for not preventing my son's death. My transformation began at the Temple in 2003, when a stranger shook my hand and assertively stated, "It's NOT your fault." That stranger turned out to be David Best, the artist who built the Temple.  

For the next 7 years I was glued to the Temple.  Not just during the burn, but all year long.  

Burning Man is where I feel closest to my son.  Here, my inner voice is his and I trust his words.  Last year, he told me to leave the Temple, to stop remembering the way he died and to focus on the way he deliberately lived.  That the more I reached beyond my self imposed boundaries - insecurities that have haunted me since I was a very young girl - the more I would free him and myself.  We are one.  He also told me to look at the people I have attracted into my life.  That there are lessons to learn from each of them.  

My immediate reaction was to focus on the people that were NOT in my life - lovers, friends, campmates - people who rejected me.  

Number one on my list was a man I camped with for 3 or 4 years. His name was Mike. During our time on the playa he fed me a great deal of attention. He was smart and funny and powerful in his default world, but here, he was a toy for me to play with. I allowed him to chase me, to lust over me.  I even tricked him into thinking he loved me.  In truth, he had no idea who I was.  

(I realize how calculated this sounds but) At the time, all I understood was that he fed my insecurities.  What I craved from my burn was male attention and he was safe.  I wasn't attracted to him and I knew he would never try to overpower me.  I was in control and control is powerful, and power was my drug.  

Back home, I was 7 years into a monogamous relationship - my first EVER - and even though I had given myself permission to stray on the playa, I felt stronger staying true to a bond I made with a man that I felt safe enough to love.  

In 2008, with less than a week to go before the burn, Mike emailed me to say that due to work, he would not be attending Burning Man and that I could not camp with his friends. And then... he disappeared. I had already shipped my camping supplies and I was traveling solo. I was devastated.  

It never occurred to me not to go. Instead, I headed into the burn kicking and screaming. "FUCK IT...I'll camp solo. FUCK HIM, FUCK EVERYONE. I don't need anyone!"  But I knew myself well enough to know that there was a strong chance that I'd shut myself off from everyone and everything. Or worse, that I'd project myself as a victim - something I avoided all my life, even after the death of my son.  

I put an ad on the social network Tribe, asking if anyone needed a "drama free" (HA!) campmate.  A man from B.E.D (Bureau of Erotic Discourse) was the first to contact me.  He was kind and generous, but I didn't feel a connection to him or to the camp.  

The next person to contact me was a woman from New Mexico named DustBunny.  She explained that she was a virgin burner and would be arriving on the Green Tortoise Bus.  She had also recently met another "newbie" on Tribe named Lazy Boy.  Lazy Boy had befriended a silver couple from Portland.  The fact that none of us knew each other, that we were all "orphans," was oddly comforting.  

We made friends with a couple that camped next to us and we all formed a unique bond. Each year, more orphans found their way into the camp and deep, interpersonal connections flourished.

There was a major shift in our camp this year and I fought it hard. Some wanted an open door policy - inviting more and more people that they'd met online or at a regional Burn, and others wanted to keep the invite to friends so that we'd maintain a more intimate setting. Eventually, feelings were hurt and the camp split. And my guilt came back with a vengeance.

Yes, I am opinionated, and at times controlling and bossy. I've never had a problem admitting my flaws. I also understand that the subset of wanting to control is the built-in opposing force of wanting to be controlled. And when we allow ourselves to be controlled we no longer take responsibility for our shortcomings, our failures, and our negative feelings. 

I woke each morning with tears. Even my dreams were focused on knowing I had hurt people, and that people I loved were angry with me. My son was angry with me when he died. 

I spent several weeks honoring and releasing my emotions - over and over again.  In the middle of all this, the rejection of Mike resurfaced. Why did he dump me? What was the catalyst? And why can't I let it go?  

I knew the rejection would churn and grow during the burn if I didn't focus on it so... I made a giant, seven foot tall, voodoo doll and named him Mike.  

To eliminate any confusion, I gave him a name tag that read, "MY NAME IS MIKE, I'M FROM BOSTON AND I HAVE ISSUES" (Mike lives in Boston and his playa name is "Issue").  I stuffed him with tears, emails, and garments he had gifted me. For extra flavor, I added a few things from a former employee who was suing me. I took my time making him. I even made giant pins that you could stick into him.  

I could feel the shift begin even before he was complete.

I blogged about him and then I started taking him places. Wherever we went, Mike made people smile.  

With two weeks to go before the burn, I shipped him to a campmate in Southern California who agreed to have him sit shotgun on his 14 hour journey from Southern California to Black Rock City, Nevada.  Mike's ticket was one-way.  He would burn along with the Man. 

Because they shared the same default world first name, I emailed my friend who split from our camp this year so that he understood who Mike was.  He had patiently listened to me vent about Mike for the past 3 years, and understood my quest for inner peace.  His email reply was light and uplifting, "...I just want us all to be happy, whatever that means for each of us." 

Due to the untimely east coast hurricane, Mike beat me to the playa.  Oh the irony!  He celebrated Fat Tuesday without me, dined on gumbo and danced it up with campmates old and new.  

I arrived drained to a level I had not felt since my first year, and immediately sensed a bombardment of disapproval.  Not from my campmates, but from a part of the new camp that had formed after our split.  They were camping close to us, and I knew their Mike was the catalyst.  

Despite knowing the true identity of Mike, he led them to believe that my voodoo doll was made in his image - as if this was my way of punishing him.  

All I could feel was negativity swirling at me.  It was suffocating.  

Even before receiving validation, my gut wrenching reaction was to deny and defend.  When I sat with that, and focused on it, I realized that feeling condemned, unjustly, was another reoccurring theme in my life.  Something I had willingly attached myself to since I was a very young age.  And then, like a tidal wave, it hit me... "MIKE" was not one man.  Mike was every man who had ever abandoned or abused me.  

Starting with my father, who left when I was 2. 
And then my stepbrother, who molested me when I was 7. 
And then my boyfriend, who told me I would have to have sex with him or he'd dump me, and then when I did, he dumped me. 
And onto the man I was too afraid to love, who toyed with me, sexually, for more years than I care to admit.  

But the deepest pain of all came from my son.  

How could you abandon me? (so many tears)  My first born, my only son.  

I never allowed myself to feel anything negative about him choosing death.  I understood it was a brain disease, that he was not thinking logically.  I defended him in death just as I did in life.  

I was finally ready to acknowledge, honor and release the true source of my inner pain and in doing so,  to my great surprise, my need for male attention dissipated.   

I began dressing for me.  I felt good about me.  I was silly and spontaneous without being seductive.  

And then, remembering my sons guidance, I looked around me... 

Every one of my campmates is joyous, loving, kind and generous.  All are accepting, forgiving, open and nurturing - each in their own unique way.  There is no need to defend myself - my true intensions mirror their own.  

These are the people I have attracted into my life.   

(deep....deep breath) 

I AM learning.  I AM growing.  I am finally finding peace within myself.  

And that is what's right with me.  



2011 Burning Man Art Theme - Rites of Passage 

There are moments of crisis and frisson in our lives which inform us that we've somehow crossed an inner threshold and are changed.  Thus moving from one state of being into an unknown other obliges us to face our innermost insecurities, and it requires faith, a willingness to leap off the ladder of ordered existence.  Our them this year invites participants to join with others in creating rites of passage. 

Breathtaking time lapsed video shot Saturday night at Burning Man.  Enjoy! 

Burning Man 2011: Rites of Passage - Burn Night Timelapse from Grant Kaye on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for a lighthearted answer to WHAT HAPPENED TO MIKE? 


  1. That was a hell of a blog post. THANKS for sharing and I hope it helped to put things in perspective just by writing it. I am so glad that you got to a better place in the course of the burn and ended up more at peace with yourself and the world and people around you. The Playa is an amazing place.....There is nothing and no place like it anywhere on earth. As we all keep asking ourselves, why can't the whole world be more like it is at Burning Man in the middle of a desert in Nevada one week of the year? And we all have to keep working in our own little ways to make it happen, in our own lives and for others. Hugs, Jim

  2. Oh wow. Beautiful insight, Shannon...very tearful right now, thank you for sharing your growth.

    Loved the part about being silly and playful without being seductive, that was the day with the lazy eye....



  3. PS...*I meant spontaneous.* But you are such a playful Monkey!!!


  4. Ha! yes MG... that was the day I had the lazy kat eye! and the day Jesus got his earmuffs :)

  5. I will be praying for you this year. I love how you work through your issues. You inspire me.

  6. Beautiful!

    I think we all have something that represents "every" man in our lives. Even if it's just dirty socks on the floor.


  7. I love it, GM! I always try to remember that ours (as in humanity) is a lesson in love and patience, and before all else, we must try focus on the journey and not the destination. What else would there be if not growth? Stagnant unchanging shrinking beings stuck on a dying planet... now that sounds very dull! Here's to growing, and not allowing the inner critic to become negative about dem dere dirty socks..... :-) xxoo

  8. Life is a journey we all take... and we all have different experiences... different memories... different perceptions of all that happens, even when the events are shared with others. Maybe the only truth we ever really know is OUR truth. That is why I think we work to find answers... our answers... and much like a dog whistle, that only dogs can hear, our answers are indeed ours... that only we can understand.



  9. Thank you for everyone for the positive feedback - on this site and in private messages. And most important, thank you for sharing your true self with me. I'm holding on to the messages, digesting, and spinning love right back at you! xoMonkey ME

  10. WOW, you know as I read this I thought, "for her it is burning man and Mike, for me... life in general." This growing, letting go and healing is definitely a journey. A connection my friend.

    I still wanted Mike for my own. :) (The stuffed one.)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  11. OH Shannon! you are a wise little monkey. thank you for your love!

  12. Oh my goodness, that post gave me shivers! Especially since I was seeing the building of Mike and your BM journey from far away, in Facebook land. Now knowing the "backstory", I wish even more that I had been more persistent in trying to find you, and Mike. Great post! Keep keeping it real!

  13. Hey Shannon, I have been under a rock I guess because I just now read this.

    You constantly amaze me when you write your heart out. You reveal so much of yourself I feel like I know you. Which makes me worry about you. Are you going to the Burn this year?

    As you know I did not go to BM 2011 in protest of the previous years injustice to me. I built a beautiful tree house instead to use up all that creative energy I would have spent on Burning Man. I have no regrets of not going but this year I am on board. No theme camp, just me and my crazy wife. I will bring my flowers to plant in the Temple. No responsibilities except for survival stuff. I would like to spend time with you if you go this year so lets keep in touch.


Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison