Still in the pipe... reflections on Teen Journey (which I refer to as TJ), and more about Lawrence and why the hell I decided to come to this out-of-the-way place. While the Burn is stil fresh, though, I'm going to tell you all about it.
Burning Man 2001 - The 7 Stages of Life.
I won a ticket in a writing contest, on the theme of deliberately radicalizing myself. I went out to the desert barely prepared and survived on pita bread and peanut butter supplemented by Cliff bars. I went down with my brother. I love him - also sometimes he's a bit like a cat. He disappeared onto the playa and only came back to the tent to eat or sleep. The camp next to us filled with scorn at our un-prepared Vancouver selves, and I floated like a cloud for the week.
It was powerful, still... the art, the fire, the crazy sense of community of the burn that I could see but not touch, my meagre contribution to the event. When I went home, a friend commented that I looked like my molecules had been rearranged and that felt accurate. The intensity of the place was stunning, the beauty and difficulty laid me out flat, and standing in the base of the man looking out across a dark playa populated by fire spinners is a sight that I will remember forever. I made no permanent connection to the place or the people - I came disconnected, and left disconnected. My brother and I watched the temple burn together and then turned straight around and drove 15 hours back home in one shot. It was 2014 before I decided to go back.
Fast forward to 2014.
Thursday August 21st and Friday August 22nd, Burning Man day 0
Burning Man seemed like the perfect way to begin a year of self-discovery. It's jarring and difficult and beautiful and inspiring, and I felt the need to be kicked pretty hard. 10 consecutive years of office work with a relatively small dose of radical self-expression made me hungry for this.
Kimchi Camp, bless their souls, took me in. I met a friend at random at an event and described my difficulty in finding a group of like-minded souls to go to the burn with, and they said "we have a theme camp, you should join us." After frantic packing, my first step was getting into a car with 3 strangers for a 2-day trip to Nevada. It was perfect. It was better than perfect.
I volunteered to be the bartender, and with a definitive list of cocktails by spirit I taught myself a half dozen drinks and created a list of alcohols and mixers that would make up the bar stock. I made up my mind that this was my contribution to the project, so during the drive I put my shoulder to it. We did grocery and supply runs and tried to get as ready as possible.
Saturday August 23rd, Burning Man day 1
Burning Man is a tease. It tickles you and fondles you but doesn't actually seal the deal until you're so pent up that you might burst at the touch. We drove onto the playa and got a rush knowing we were almost there - then we got re-directed into the Will Call lineup for 2 hours. At the front of the Will Call lineup, the network they were using crashed and also one of our members got mess-making sick. Another hour. After hour 3, the Will Call lineup was done and we got into the proper lineup. Another hour. After hour 4, we rolled up to the gates of Burning Man and the virgin burners were invited to make dust angels and receive a spanking... and I don't believe a single one of them took the invitation. Even the virgins knew they'd get their fill of playa dust before the event was done.
We started camp set up next to the good people of Spatial Delivery, who were on the "virgin burner letter" project. Each of our virgins got a letter that a veteran burner addressed to their past "virgin" selves with advice, suggestions, wisdom and (good) bad ideas. At night, as a thank-you, I went over and shared a bottle of pear brandy I had picked up and got informed that there are letters written to sophmore burners as well - they handed me mine.
The letter, summarized: Burning Man isn't worth it just for the party. There are parties that have running water and shade and temperature controls, where the air isn't full of silica. The question that made Burning Man worth attending again was... what could you contribute? What could you add to it? The letter told me that it was worth coming back because of what you can uniquely add, not because of what you could take away. I went to sleep, on that note.
Secondary info, which becomes important later - when I turned in for the night there was a huge-ass (3cm across) spider that had taken residence in my tent. The slow death of playa dust seemed too cruel, so I crushed it.