In Which The Author Describes His Motivation: Burning Man (Part 1)

The Experiences

There have been two major experiences that have shaped my life over the last year, although it seems rather arbitrary to break it up that way.  The first is Burning Man and the second is having had the opportunity to live where I do.

I’ll get to Motive in a future posting, it’s an important one.

The Disclaimer

By highlighting these events, I mean in no way to diminish the importance of the people in my life during this time; in fact, it is the people more than anything that have made this paradigm shift possible.

The Insight

For I am now convinced that I have undergone a shift in consciousness, and this is what I would like most to share here.  I feel like I have been on the verge of waking for many years, and have only just woken up.  What I have woken up to seems simple and can most easily be expressed in the eminent Mahatma Gandhi’s somewhat overused quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  This quote, while familiar to me, had never before struck a chord.  I understood the intent, and was planning to practice it someday.  My purpose in getting a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering was, in fact, to live this creed.

The Plan

But first, I had to pay for my education.  I did not want to be in debt, and after graduation, tried to get a job as an engineer in order to pay off my student loans in the shortest time possible.  As happens to many, I expect, I got used to my new job and my new financial situation quickly. Frighteningly quickly.

The Plan Goes Awry

Coupled with my living situations in Livermore, my budding relationship with my (now) partner, and my close proximity to friends in the Bay Area, I spent little time at home on the weekends, and went out to bars frequently.  I found myself spending my time celebrating all the time.  But what was I celebrating? My new found financial freedom? The freedom to do what I want, when I want?  It was a heady life, spending every weekend away having adventures, not all of which actually cost that much.  Backpacking trips, rafting trips, camping trips.  Many of the things that I enjoy doing the most, I was doing on a regular basis with some of my favorite people.  So what’s wrong with that? I should be free to spend my hard won earnings on whatever pleasure I choose.  But I started to feel unsettled.  I wanted to be working on projects more, and felt that I was wasting time.  I started looking for hacker spaces near me.  I spoke with coworkers about the possibility of starting a shared shop somewhere in the area.  M and I took out 3-month memberships at the TechShop in San Francisco, but it was too far away and I hadn’t the motivation to do any real work there.  By the end of the three months, I had used one of my two free classes and been only four times.  I made a cat scratching post (that, to my knowledge, has never been scratched) and a small, somewhat innovative shelf for my dresser.  Not anything to sneer at, but certainly not what I was thinking to accomplish.

Everything Changes

M had, for the first time, visited Black Rock City the previous year and had had a great time.  However, with only 2 weeks of vacation available per year, she was not sure that she wanted to go again.  We attended the first Where’s Waldo theme camp meeting without knowing whether or not we would go.  Halfway through, we looked at each other and spoke the words: Do you want to go? Hell. Yes.  From that moment forward, my mind was racing.  What would I build? What could I bring to this radically self-reliant paradise in the desert? A solar shower? An improved grey-water treatment system? I spoke with Aaron, one of the veterans of the group, and expressed my interest in doing something.  After a couple of weeks of lackadaisically shooting emails back and forth, he came up with the idea that changed everything.  Let’s build an art car, he said.  Suddenly, I had a plan.  All at once, I had motivation.  I had a purpose and a partner.  I would help build a mutant vehicle for my first year at Burning Man. 

 The Car

It soon became clear that, although brimming with enthusiasm, Aaron did not have confidence in his abilities as a maker.  Never mind that he he was more proactive in his approach to tasks than almost anyone I had ever met.  He built a 30ft geodesic dome from vague plans on the web, started and sustained a thriving small business, and was starting to get interested in complex LED lighting systems.  Here was a guy who could, and did, learn things.  But he claimed, nevertheless, that he couldn’t build the Calavera Car, as it came to be known.  I had never undertaken such an ambitious project, but with 5 months to go and an excess in confidence, we plunged right in.


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