The summer I turned 21 was wild in all the standard ways. Henry Weinhard’s beer was on sale for $3 a six-pack, which was perfect, because I was broke. I lived in squalor in a three bedroom townhouse with over a dozen other degenerates, and with Y2K looming (Google it, kids) we were all partying like it was 1999 (Editor’s note: It was.) The non-standard wildness came when the arguably least degenerate roommate offered me a ticket to Burning Man. What a way to cap off the last summer before the end of civilization!
You’ve all gleaned by now that the Burn got under my skin in a massive way. It gave me new hope that human collective effort can succeed in creating real positive effects in the world, even if those effects are fleeting and largely intangible. It connected with me aesthetically in a way nothing ever had, and stood in stark contrast to the aesthetic assault of consumer culture, and the co-opted kitch of counter-culture. It was weirdness at a scale that I’d never imagined. I’d found my place.
Since then, I’ve essentially built my life around maintaining my ability to attend the event. I gave up my itinerant hobo lifestyle and found work that gave me the stability to plan out my Augusts. I saved and budgeted and collected gear. I made peace with the idea that someday I might miss an event due to work or family commitments, or travel opportunities; I even thought I was going to skip 2001, because I had moved to Oregon and couldn’t get much time off. I ended up driving down Thursday anyway and buying a ticket at the gate - those were the days!
I’ve never really given much thought to stopping, maybe because I don’t do a ton of future planning, but also I think it’s because I’ve never gotten jaded about the event. I watched details of the experience change, but found that--on balance--it has remained as magical and nourishing for me as ever. I’m open to my lived experience changing: maybe someday, maybe next year, I just won’t be feeling it anymore. But I’ve never though “I’ve only got X many burns left in me,” or “I should graduate to X.” That sort of thinking is so out of the realm of the immediatized experience of the Burn, that, to me, it feels like spectatorism.
Thus, in my 40th year, I found myself attending my 20th Burn. It didn’t feel different in any specific way, except that I find that each Burn builds upon the last one, which is why next year is always better. I did buy myself some celebratory outfits, but that had as much to do with feeling a little financially flush than with marking a milestone. I really didn’t spend too much time thinking about my burniversary, but some lovely folks did.
During our pre-event work week, it was announced that one day there would be a quasi-mandatory social event in our staff camp after shift. This was a out of the ordinary, as we only do one or two things like this, and they’re never a surprise. I spent much of the day wondering about this, and my wondering turned to blushing when I discovered that what was happening was a party in my (and two other volunteers with big burniversaries) honor. There were cocktails, little speeches, and a big vinyl banner with pictures of me throughout the years, signed with sweet messages from my adopted volunteer family. It was pretty overwhelming, and the banner (which I think came out of our department’s budget, thanks The Org!) will grace the walls of the new Accuracy Third studio, once we move it over to sunny Oakland.
And that’s not even the squee-est story! Beth and I were caught up in the MOTHERFUCKING BIA’s unconstitutional dragnet on our way in. They pulled us over in Nixon, claiming we were doing 32 in a 25 (as if I don’t know not to speed in Nixon.) When we copped to having some pot in the car that we’d just bought in Sparks, they pulled some “this Reservation is Federal Jurisdiction” bullshit, and tossed my entire pick-up. In the end, they sent us on our way with no citation, and gave us our pot back since we were under Nevada’s legal possession amount, but we were shook for sure, pissed off at being harrassed, having our time wasted, and strung out on adrenaline overload. Beth seemed particularly agitated, which seemed odd to me, as I was the one shouldering most of the risk, since I was driving, and it was my truck.
All became clear once we got to playa: while I had been occupied pulling up my insurance info on my phone, Beth had been dealing with the cops as they tossed our stuff. Unbeknownst to me, she’d simultaneously been keeping a parcel out of my sight during the search, and once we hit playa, she showed me the source of her extra stress: a batch of custom “Rexx loves you” patches celebrating my 20th burn. She’d made them (with design from her partner Joe and input from D-Day and Andy Bag,) and kept them secret from me, which had already been stressing her out. I was floored!
Never had I gotten such a lovely thoughtful gift, and the fact that it’s a gift of gifts for me to give as gifts just turned the loveliness up to 11. I got to spend the next two weeks expanding the reach of this gesture by putting these patches in the hands of friends, listeners, and strangers. Thanks to Beth and Joe, Andy and D-day for adding so much joy to my 20th.
What’s my point in this ramble? I’m not sure I know, so I’ll just take the easy existential out: doing the same thing over and over again can have value beyond what is obvious on the surface; if nothing else, it is the DOING of a thing, and in a world that was meant to end 20 years ago, we ought to relish doing, since we still can.