Thursday, August 27, 2015


For the past sixteen years, I’ve basically been one of two places: Seattle and Washington DC. That’s to say, at my house or my parents’ house. And that’s it. There’ve been a few exceptions, brief trips to visit friends in Brooklyn or to car camp outside Seattle, once a year at the most, nothing compared to how I once traveled, studied, and worked in foreign countries--but that was before I came down with Lyme.

For me, part of having Lyme is having chemical sensitivity, sometimes called environmental illness. Going anywhere if you have chemical sensitivity can be daunting. Just walking into a building where there’s fresh paint can make you feel sick. Long distance travel can feel like an exercise in self-destruction. At the airport, you will breathe in massive quantities of jet fume. On the plane, you can get trapped sitting next to someone bathed in perfume. If you choose the wrong seat when you buy your ticket, you will inhale even more jet fume while in the air. (So here's the itp of the day. WHERE TO SIT ON AN AIRPLANE IF YOU HAVE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY: anywhere in front of the wing. Yes, if you sit towards the front you’re more likely to die in the unlikely event of a crash, but if you sit towards the back, behind the engines on the wings, you are guaranteed to inhale quite a lot of exhaust.)

Staying in hotels is also troublesome. It means calling ahead to request they don’t use air fresheners in the room, and also bringing your own sheets in case you’re allergic to the detergent they’ve used on the hotel sheets. And after all that, you still might be allergic to the carpet. Then there’s all that medicine to organize and pack up. And don’t get me started on at eating out at standard restaurants when you’re on the anti-inflammatory diet.

When going to visit friends, this whole princess-and-the-toxic-chemical-special-diets-pea routine is the perfect recipe for being an annoying house guest.

It’s no wonder that on my own momentum I ping-pong back and forth the between two houses I know are healthy for me, my own and my parents’. It’s far easier to stay home, find interesting things to do in the city where I live, and invite people over to my place.

Then this past March I went speed dating. I met a guy who was artistic and creative, and into eating healthy food and avoiding the toxic chemicals. (A man who uses Dr. Brommer’s soap gets a million bonus points from me!) When I first walked into his house I felt a wave of relief and happiness. I wasn’t allergic to anything!

A few months ago, this guy asked me if I wanted to go to Burning Man.

“No, of course not. I can’t go anywhere,” was my brain’s automatic reaction, but I kept that reaction to myself. Because there was also another part of me, the part that was once a journalist, driven by curiosity. That part was someone who once, long ago, could throw a few changes of clothes, a notebook, and a mini-tape recorder in a backpack, and go anywhere. I lived in downtown Buenos Aires and flew to rural regions of Argentina to report on protests along the Bolivian border, I tracked down the historical traces of Che Guevera in Mexico City, and wrote about the homeless squatting in ecological reserves. I tried working on a farm in France, and camped on remote Mexican beaches for vacation. That part of me apparently hadn’t disappeared completely, because I found myself saying, “Burning Man? Maybe. Tell me about it.”

Perhaps I just wanted to dream for a little bit that I could go somewhere radically different again.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been spending more time with the speed-dating guy, I’ve taken the leap and done some travelling with him in small doses. We’ve taken a trip to Kittitas County (apple country) and some trips to a house on Puget Sound, about 90 minutes away, but this was the sort of travel where we packed our own sheets and food, and everything went off without a hitch.

Burning Man is also the kind of travel where you bring your own sheets and food, and tents and other gear for living in the desert. The desert camping part sounded daunting. So I read a few things on the internet about Burning Man. It didn’t seem that I’d be roughing it beyond my capacity. I had a long conversation with my naturopath about it. Her husband has gone to Burning Man, so she had some ideas for me. We strategized about what I could eat and how I could take care of my medicine and supplements in the desert. It seemed possible. Or I should say, it seemed like it might be possible. It seemed worth the gamble.

I'm making stuff to wear at Burning Man.

So I said yes, I’d go to Burning Man. I’ve been doing a lot of planning and packing and ordering special items in the past few weeks. And now Burning Man is just a couple days away. I am a little scared. There will be generators and loud music, lots of flashing lights and people everywhere, plus dust storms and heat--any number of things could go wrong, including sensory overload. I'm as prepared as I can be for that.

But there will also be a temporary Utopia of art, dance, yoga, lectures, acceptance, and (I'm told) everything you can imagine. Plus I can wear the costumes I made for the Seattle Solstice Parade, and all the other glittery clothes I own. (And some that I don't own, thank you, generous friends!)

So mostly, I'm excited. I may love it, I may hate it. I may do both. I might go home early on a bus if it doesn't work out, but I'm planning to explore and have fun annd leave after seven days. We'll see what happens!

Goggles--ready for desert dust storms!

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