Enter Burning Man

Below you’ll find an excerpt of Fired Up telling the story of one of the most pivotal and inspiring experiences early in my journey… before I realized just how deeply my trauma would impact my future family life.

Burning Man

I began journaling in 1996 when I was a sophomore in college. It took about a year for me to record all the times I’d been molested, and after that I only picked it up from time to time. For me it was enough that the experiences were out. That they lived on paper instead of inside me—or so I thought. I didn’t feel like I had anything else to add.

It wasn’t long before I started to ask myself why I was holding onto an object like that—a book heavy with the worst secrets of my past. I began to feel like I really didn’t need or want it around. That I wanted to be rid of it.

Enter Burning Man.

Mike and I had had our tickets since spring and had been planning to go for over a year. Then, over Labor Day weekend 2000, my friends and I made the ten-hour trek to Black Rock Desert, Nevada, an expanse of lava beds and playa, about two hours outside of Reno. We caravaned to camp on a Wednesday.

I’d heard things about Burning Man’s bartering system, and that people created things for the sole purpose of setting them ablaze. I was also familiar with the ethos of the festival: be who you want to be, without shame or fear. Everything was supposedly open and acceptable and free, right down to the nudist camps. But I also knew rumors could often be miles from reality, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

Driving up on the scene—an entire city built from nothing, shimmering like a mirage in the middle of the desert, filled with groups of vastly different, expressive people—was gorgeous and surreal.

Across the city, attendees created beautiful art that would be burned later in the week in protest of commercialism and other socially created systems. Other people made drinks, food, and music. Each camp had its own theme, and we spent our days walking from camp to camp experiencing what everyone had to offer. Some gave us necklaces and others offered prayers. We found a popular camp making frozen drinks that chased away the desert heat. In the middle of the camp was the giant wooden effigy, the Man, that would be burned along with the art on the penultimate night.

When darkness fell, the scene transformed. We traversed the camp amid generator-powered laser lights, music, and dancing from one side of the playa to the other. We rode our bikes everywhere, at times through dust storms, to meet people who’d come from across the globe to install their art before lighting it up. The cathartic, symbolic burnings happened throughout the week, timed to lead up to the main event: burning the Man.

Finally on Saturday night, it was time to light the central fire. Dancers appeared around the Man’s base before the fire began, their bodies undulating and curling like flames. Soon the scent of smoke filled the air; fire engulfed the Man.

And amid the beautiful dancers and hungry flames and ecstatic energy of the people around me, I paused.

I’d brought my own creation to burn. It wasn’t something I considered art, but something I’d created all the same: my journal. I was determined to see it go up in flames.

So in the fever pitch of festival frenzy, I threw it into the fire.

And it felt incredible.

All that terrible shit scrawled into the pages of my journal had happened, but as the words became ash to be carried away on a desert wind, it felt gone. I had gotten it out of me, and now I could let the fire do the rest. I felt free of it all.

The dancing continued, and I joined. I danced and danced and danced until the sun came up.

I had never felt so good in my entire life. I’d graduated from UCSD the year before and had just finished my first year of law school—as number one in my class. I felt untouchable. And as the pages and pages of my history curled in the flames at Burning Man, I was convinced that my past was done. Behind me. I’d said goodbye, closed the door, and set it ablaze.

As far as I was concerned, there was nothing left for me to do to address the past.

Then in 2002, I graduated from law school, got married, and began my career and my family.

And that’s when things started going downhill.

To discover the rest of the story, get your copy of Fired Up today.