Sometime around October 2009

I decided to go to Burning Man 2010 the second after I looked at my friend Nora like she was crazy.

“I remember the look on your face when I said I was going,” she laughed. “As if I had said I wanted to shave my head and run off with the Moonies!”

She had recently camped in the desert with her boyfriend and when they got back, watched a Burning Man documentary.  He refused to go. 

“Who are you going with?” I asked incredulously.

She said she didn’t know, maybe she’d go alone and find a group.

My mind raced.  I thought of summer desert heat, sun-dried raisin skin, dust storms, drugs, art, 50,000 people using port-o-lets, unrestrained freedom, nudity and camping, and shuddered.  I thought how no one could adequately describe it and how each year I pored over the other worldliness of the published photos.  I thought of adventure and the unexpected.  I thought at 48 I was too old.  And then my mind cleared, or fogged, I’m not sure which.

 “I’ll go with you,” I announced.  Although she hadn’t asked me, I think she looked genuinely pleased.

We worked at the corporate office of a small national retail company that was tanking.  In the last two years, at least 50 people in the office had been sacked and about 25 stores closed.  Business continued to sink as the end of 2009 loomed. Rumors of our future swirled. Highly paid executives tripped over each other as they swarmed out the door to more robust companies.  Those lucky enough to be dismissed were guaranteed six figure salaries for a year. For most of us, there had been no raises and no 401K match for two years; we waited for the turnaround, when people would begin buying stuff they didn’t need. It was a stagnant, bleak and uninspiring way to earn a living.

 By September, I knew I’d be getting my packet soon; I had fallen out of favor. But my life had changed anyway.  In May, I was violently attacked in an attempted carjacking in my own carport.  My neighbors heard my screams and rallied; my real-life super hero chased the assailant and took him down, other neighbors helped hold and tie him until the police came. 

And then, everything was different.  I had found a strength I didn’t know I had and it stayed.  When the physical wounds healed and most of the others, I saw through people’s masks; mine had vanished. 

I felt loyal to my manager, so I returned to work too soon, my mind still a bit disconnected.  I was promptly demoted to an entry level position I knew wasn’t needed.  My friends helped me sweep my humiliation aside, sometimes daily. My work was easy, I was getting paid the same salary, earning vacation I’d be paid for when they got rid of me. I realized pride was meaningless, smiled as best I could and waited them out for the two month severance and future unemployment benefits.

I planned my life after lay off.  I wanted to write and find my creative unique self again. Breathing the mean and toxic air of corporate USA was no longer an option.  I didn’t want to wear the ugly and demeaning corporate strait jacket I’d suffocated in for seven years.  I used to be a paycheck gypsy, never settling anywhere too long until fear hit me in my forties and I fell into the illusion of corporate safety.  Well, I’d shattered that one.

Hot, dusty and dirty with 49,999 strangers? Expressing, sharing, discovering, participating, bird bathing–why not?  Directly facing what seems impossible, uncomfortable and bizarre in order to experience something new and different?  How better to usher in the ‘back half’ as Nora calls it?  Going to Burning Man seemed a perfect start in a new direction.

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