I've been mostly ready for a couple of weeks. Aside from two days of frantic last-minute arrangements for transporting luxury items like bikes, the preparation has been relatively simple, fast, and inexpensive. One would hope so - I've been doing this for eight years. But while the boxes have slowly gotten full and the countdown has reached the single digits, the usual sense of anticipation is missing.
Four years ago, the months leading up to Burning Man were marked by mounting excitement. For the last few weeks before the event, I was consumed. It was exactly like being seven years old and waiting for Christmas. And I loved that about it, it being many years since Christmas was much more than a chore.
This year is different. I'm not burned out or angry about how the festival has changed. I'm just not particularly excited. Certainly, the fact that this will be my tenth burn has something to do with that. There's also a somewhat deeper issue of what going to the desert has meant to me. I say without exaggeration that Burning Man has changed my life in many ways, almost all for the better. For me, as for so many others, there are odd things happening under the surface of this giant party that have catalyzed enormous personal changes. Coming into contact with a force of transformation is a thrilling thing, and it's no doubt a large part of what inspires such evangelical enthusiasm for the festival. It's a genuine Dionysian mystery cult. But the well of transformation is not a thing one should, or even can, return to again and again. Catharsis is a moment, not a state of being, and if the clouds part and the Voice of God says "YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE," the thing to do is change your life, not ask to be told again.
So the thing that set me on fire those first few times isn't out there for me anymore. It's here, in Austin. These days, I'm excited about making music and practicing aikido. I'm excited about small camping trips with good friends. These days, I'm excited about my job. So am I done with Burning Man? Was it just a necessary phase, and now I'm ready to move on? Not quite. I'm still looking forward to it a great deal. But what Bruce Sterling called the "new American holiday" has for me become less like Christmas and more like Thanksgiving. This year, I intend to kick back for a few days, hang out with my family, have a feast, and catch a football game. Figuratively speaking. And it's going to be great.
I don't see myself returning to the desert after this year. I've gotten what I needed from Black Rock City, and I've returned the gift as a ranger, lamplighter, and builder of projects. My commitment to the idea of Burning Man manifests itself in the work I do for the regional event, facilitating the process of turning minds inside-out. But Burning Man itself is too costly in terms of time, attention, and money for me to make it a regular part of my future. I do regret never have been involved in one of the truly mindbending projects like the One Tree or Mudhenge or the Tactile Tunnel. And I still have the itch to do Something Big. But I know from the months spent my modest projects of the past that something on the scale of my ambitions would eat up an entire year's worth of spare moments, and then some. I'm taking the energy that doing something amazing on the playa would require and directing it elsewhere. I'm doing something amazing with my life.
This probably wouldn't have happened if someone hadn't dragged me to Nevada in '96. So thank you, every one of you who's gone and built our city. Thank you, every one of you who's going for the first time.
See you in the dust.