By Melanie Montanaro. Dec. 26, 2018

I had no idea what Catharsis was when the Metta Makers first invited me. But I had randomly decided to take the weekend off work—and this mini burning man in front of the national monument was beckoning. My first introduction into what this weekend would hold was after helping set up the Metta Maker’s camp. Our first visitors were a young girl and her mom who came over after they saw us doing a quick meditation under the pavilion. We all hugged and I ended up having the longest, warmest hug with her daughter. When we finally broke apart, complete strangers at first she said, “Mom that’s my best friend” and my heart was so full. 

Catharsis. Might be cliché, but it was everything and more than I could’ve dreamed of. I ended up arriving a bit before my camp and took a quick excursion to the African American museum of culture. Then, after snacking on jellybeans, took a little nap in my car. Davis and Justin arrived to pick me up and we had a powwow before it all began. You couldn’t help but notice the giant disco tank when you arrived, with a daisy popping out of the cannon.

But then once night fell, everyone really got going…setting up all the camps. I hadn’t heard of burning man before then, but it soon became clear what everything was all about. There was a beautiful wooden temple set up in the middle, with stained glass panels in the turrets. I quickly learned that this would be the metaphorical phoenix. A place connotatively deemed holy that would burn to the ground and rise from the ashes. It all seemed quite exquisite, especially in that this temple was all inclusive, and its beauty was only magnified by the fact that everyone could write on the walls---their fears, hopes, dreams. Things to let go and renew. 

The night started off at home base for me: The Makers camp. A wooden heart with a globe etched into its center donned the entrance, while right behind it stood the Fountain of Everlasting Love. This was a wooden room with a cracked mirror inside, meant to signify whatever one could wish. I spent a good amount of time in that room, perhaps even to the point where I realized I should have probable left because I was “hogging the fountain.” I went inside with my friend and things just got really silly. We decided since it was a fountain, we needed a source of water. So we filled a tiny cap with water and placed it on the sill in front of the mirror. Then, we thought it would not be a complete experience without taking a drink from the fountain so we took tiny sips out of a straw. At this point I decided we needed to “raise the stakes.” But it just so happened a tiny sliver of wood was hiding on the floor. So I decided to thrust the stake into the ground and pretend my vampire soul was waiting below the earth. My hands got quite muddy from this ordeal so we decided to place muddy handprints around the mirror. See that’s the thing about catharsis that makes it all so magical. The art is there, but it is collaborative and waiting for others to share in it or add to it. Finally, the Dragonfly Bead Guy came inside and we stopped to contemplate life. Then, he placed a bead into our tiny fountain, adding another element of grandeur. 

Then, I found one of the Metta maker’s light up ninja swords in camp and wandered off to dance through/explore the rest of catharsis. I met a man who claimed to be from the future. Upon asking why he decided to travel back here, he said “well, I wanted to experience stress.” Which to me, seemed like a perfectly sound corroboration that he was indeed from the future. Then, I ran into two people, one after the other who coincidentally happened to be from the same small town. We went to the igloo together (a giant structure literally in the shape of an igloo) to dance among many and admire the light show being projected onto the ceiling. Then I found an art model of a street in Baltimore, which was really exciting to see in the heart of D.C. There was an old news stand and upon reaching inside there happened to be an Edgar Allan Poe book of poems. Oh my beating heart! (I happen to frequent Baltimore and was proud to see a representation of a great city so often overlooked). 

I made another friend who jumped through a giant LED hoop with me, right in front of the Washington monument. Such a clever installment. But there was even more to this healing arts event than meets the eye. There was a green lightsaber flying the American flag, along with cannabis symbols on its crest. Underneath was a picture of president Trump with sticky notes inviting kind messages. In such a seemingly polarized political climate, these two contrasting art statements couldn’t have been more meaningful. Crazy enough, right in front of the event a friend had his cannabis seized by the secret service. Because although cannabis is legal in D.C., it is still considered a federal offense. It seemed quite ironic that in front of an event so rooted in values of liberation, this little run-in with the government had occurred. It was a shocking reminder of what the fruits of our activism could bring--or what inaction could allow. 

The final day was a culmination of the seeds we had planted. And in front of our nation’s monument we marched in a parade. Volunteers proudly pushed the disco tank onto the street and it was quite a spectacle. People danced on top of the tank (some topless!) in celebration of the community we had created in just a short time. 

I also got the chance to explore some of the art installments I hadn’t checked out yet. I entered “the womb”, an art bus with a giant painting of a vagina on the outside and red tulle on the inside. It was very cozy (as one could imagine) and I got to chat with Sister Leona, an activist for women’s rights. Right off the bat, she offered me snacks which was delightfully received. AND she had a mustache taped under her nose. She also blessed me with a tape mustache and I was quite honored. 

Finally, since I was right next to the disco tank I figured I would check it out, since I hadn’t really got the chance a whole lot even though it was the first thing I noticed. I also realized on the way over that flowers were scattered all over--even beautiful heads of cabbage were adorned on the grass. These were all done by one woman, which added a beautiful touch leading up to the giant daisy popping out of the disco tank. I did finally end up there and my friend said I should dance. I was quite nervous, but I decided to get bolder. There was a really cool dude in overalls dancing on top of the tank, as well as the DJ, so I climbed the ladder to go dance with them. This was one of my cathartic moments, as you might put it because I got a chance to share my art too. Then finally, I went back to break down Maker’s camp—as all things may come to an end--if only to rise from the ashes. 

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