At the risk of sounding hackneyed, at the terror of sounding like one of Those People, I must openly admit that, while it didn’t necessarily change me, Burning Man 2016 will be a landmark event in my life. I understand myself, what’s gotten me here and what is happening at present better than I did prior.
There is a moment when you become the You you’re gonna know for the rest of your life. It comes in different forms, at different ages – I’m sure Barry Obama’s came at a point of righteous conviction in his late teens. Ideal. Less ideal was my own, as it came in 1998 on a rollicking acid come-down through the eyes of my friend who would die three years later. Since that moment, I wish I could say the growth and self-discovery yield in the sixteen years to follow was a never-ending harvest of spirit fruits, but that’d be a lie. It’s just as overwhelmingly impossible to put a finger on right now as it was that night in my Mom’s basement. Hell, I can’t even point it out, much less touch it. It’s light speed and inert, Tim Leary and the HR team, watercress and infanticide – it doesn’t matter, everything does. But let’s check back in at the end and see how it feels. It’s probably just the weather of the brain.
The evening was poorly planned, as most are at fifteen. You don’t have the foresight or the means to plan a trip to Big Sur or some yadayada hot springs – it’s January in Vermont: you go to your High School’s basketball game thinking you can poison the system from the inside out. Get in the belly of the enemy and spray your rad perspective atmosphere into the conformist machine that – “wait, what the fuck are we doing here?!?!” I looked over at my friend Andrew (the soon-to-be Moment vehicle), many non-tripping bodies away, who between deep bullfrog breaths was mouthing “Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.” So we bounced – the two of us and our Canadian friend. The events leading up to my Moment are banal – staring at a cheeseburger from Al’s French Fries, opting for a Camel Wide over my first vegetarian genuflect; sitting, freezing in a car listening to “Pinkerton”. Then time’s up, Mom said to be home and she is so, so very scary.
But not that night. Probably because we were three sheets to Venus with black eyes, dolls’ eyes and she was thankful we weren’t at a High School function where we could be seen. And we shoveled the driveway, so it was a win-weird for her. There was probably hot chocolate and we watched “The Truman Show” and ate cereal, my brain digging this marriage of my personal counterculture and Home, having never considered the union. I love my Mom for a lot of things, but that night stands out.
And that was what made the Moment that much more impactful. Against all odds, we had had a nice experience that evening. We didn’t navigate tactfully, but we landed safe and smooth. And there we were, in the basement of my childhood home, three of us, riffing; tangents, non-sequiturs, diatribes and silence, circle back to the inside joke from all those eons ago when we put the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide on our green tongues. In one of those silent pockets, something, everything was building in my silly little brain. From zero to Light Years, and I knew, till it all went nothing, there’d never be an answer. I looked at my hands and my arms and the intersecting lines of grout on the cinderblock walls and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know Why. And I broke.
Luckily, one of the three of us was Canadian, so he didn’t fully understand…anything. It was the sound of his laughing that pulled me back into the basement. I looked up from my hands where there was enough unself-conscious cosmic worry water to worry Jim Holt, the Canadian’s laughing at me and I looked at Andrew and that’s when I became the me I can’t return.
Did his death later augment the moment? Maybe, maybe not. But his eyes that night, that Moment, pleaded with the helpless ache for empathy. He wanted the password or the gate-code to wherever it was I had just been before the Cannuck laughed at me back to Earth. But it was also the last thing he wanted. He wanted it to be mine. From that Moment, that was who I was to him, who I am. And this all became newly accessible thanks to Burning Man, 2016.
Wait. To be clear – I did not go to Burning Man. I bought a ticket in haste, thinking it was the right move (for all the wrong reasons). I was hungover and I’m a little not well these days, and I figured I need to start doing things that I don’t normally do. Chicken salad, on rye, untoasted, and a cup o’ tea kinda shit. But I quickly realized mid panic-attack that Burning Man was not what I needed in order to rewire my mainframe. So I posted my ticket on Craigslist and some knucklehead was at the door in thirteen minutes. But I still needed to spook myself out of my Game Shorts, so to speak. So I shoved a ton of psilocybin into my motherboard at 6am and hiked the Ray Miller trail.
Let me first start by amending my previous mushroom experience, which I documented somewhere back there, and the gist was that “we were happy to be me” – by and large glad this was who got chosen to be put inside this vessel. This time, not so much. I wasn’t bummed, but it was more akin to the front office of the Maker saying “we can’t tell you where you went in the draft, but…well, you weren’t picked last.” Whatta you gonna do? That was the general mantra.
It was a scary day. I think I ate the bones, if you know what I mean. I don’t. But it was a trip, and psychedelic experiences are just a condensed decade or a shot of lifetime; there are waves of terror and paralytic overwhelm that you have to sit with and weather. And it passes. And you laugh. And you love again. And then you wanna throttle Whomever it is, splash lye in their face and demand the Why? But you’re still here, see? Yeah. It makes you feel it All, but urges you to leave with the moments where you wanna wash and kiss Whomever’s Whatever and thank them and can I please just buy you a beer because I gotta say, I quite admire your work. You prick.
I unexpectedly ran into the Moment up there. And it made clear why I didn’t go to Burning Man, made clear what I’ve been doing and perhaps what I need to do. And by made clear, I mean I pointed out the reminder. I wish my Moment arrived my first year in Law School or in a garage somewhere in what would become Silicon Valley – I one-hundred percent do. But it didn’t. I don’t know what Burning Man is (I do), and I can’t look down my nose at something that I don’t get (I will, I am). Fact is, I am terribly allergic to Kool-Aid. I love drugs as much as the next shithead, I just don’t like them laced in such decadence and people. I didn’t go to Burning Man because it seems like a lot of work to get to a place where a bunch of folks were gonna try and convince me of happy. Because I still have a ton of work to do down here, where I’m still okay being un. At some point I will accept and give in to the Light side. I’m just not ready. As my Man said: Sadness is my Luxury. There is nothing unique about this confusion, nothing heavier in my weight. But I have to validate my Moment. I’ll make my dead friend proud or die trying. Also, I bet there was a bunch of fucking EDM there.