I tried all year to get tickets. I was unsuccessful at every stage. Preregistered, exchange program, last chance sale, somehow I lost out on all of them.

I had set this year as the year I would finally go to burning man. Fruit Cup and I had made grand plans. For ten months our hopes were thoroughly dashed.

Then two weeks ago a random person I met back in June informed me she knew of a theme camp from portland that might have an extra ticket. A quick interview by a few of the guys from the camp and I was in.

Now I’m in an RV, hurtling down the freeway at 3am with a bunch of people I barely know, intending to spend ten days in the desert. Madness.

I have read articles that tell me Burning Man is past it’s prime. It’s too big, too popular, too mainstream. The magic is gone. The REAL burners are off doing some different and better.

I’ve seen that the ethos is still alive. People still want it for the same reasons. Perhaps I’ve missed the heyday of this event. Maybe not. But I will experience a temporary society built by the participants themselves. For ten days I will live in a community where people come together intentionally under a set of guiding principles and make up the rest.

And yeah: glitter, glow sticks, sand storms and heat, non stop music and partying, costumes and nakedness and mobile art on wheels breathing fire. All that.

Honestly I have no real idea of what to expect. And that’s cool. And exciting.

Here’s to the burn. See y’all on the other side.

The Monster Under The Bed is Nothing.

I’ve never been particularly brave.

While I idolized the heroics of the X-men in comics as a young lad, and the chivalry and gallantry of King Arthur and his knights who preferred their tables to be generally round, my own actions and emotions ran on meeker lines.  And often my fears were products of my own overactive imaginings.

Coming home from school one fine day, I remember seeing an ant hill teeming with ants.  Hundreds of the little scampering things, a seeming flood of them pour out.  I ran home in a panic and spent the rest of the week waiting for the ant-pocalypse to arrive, as I knew it inevitably would.  My dreams were of me drowning under a sea of many-legged, antennae-waving soldiers.

Sometimes walking home on the dirt road by my house, I could glimpse Sasquatch through the trees, his hairy, menacing frame flitting hungrily through the bushes and branches.  I would arrive home wild-eyed and out of breath, pushing the sliding glass door behind me with relief, confident than even an eight-foot monster couldn’t violate the sanctity of a door well shut.

Then there was of course the monster under the bed, which I was far too well acquainted with.  His brother, Monster In Closet, was also a frequent tormentor of mine.

But perhaps you learn to discard, or at least temper these irrational fears when you are faced with a real horror.  If that is so, then I can credit my current ability to open the closet without screaming and to notice ants swarming without expecting the end of days, with a trip to Canada when I was young.

Note: not actual vehicle. Also: didn’t actually get stuck like this.

My father drove the old Jeep Wagoneer along a dusty summer road while my brother and I fought in the back.  I’m sure my mother by that point had pretty much had it with us; the road trip up to Bella Cool, British Columbia has started from our home in Ashland with a stopover at my grandmother’s house in Portland..  My brother and I were not good at getting along when we had lots of space between us.  So with  just a narrow expanse of vinyl seating, any petty excuse became a valid reason for outright war.

In addition to this, it was the middle of August, at least ninety degrees as the sun beat down.  I remember the dust from the road coated the windows forming small drifts along the frame.  The windshield had twin arcs cleared through the yellow haze coating the rest of the view.The wipers had grudgingly cleared away the clouds of dirt that seemed to be all around us.  So we sweltered and sweat and bickered.  And the Jeep drove on.

I remember at some point the back window blew out, likely from a stray rock kicked up from a passing truck.  We cleaned out the bits of squarish safety glass from the door frame as best we could, then shrugged and carried on.  Bella Coola was a long drive.

Mmmm, inviting
Mmmm, inviting

At some point, we stopped in a clearing that was straight out of travel books, postcard perfect: green forest surrounded a blue lake under a clear sky that beckoned to our dry and dusty bodies.  My brother, always the first and braver of us, stripped his shirt off and splashed into the water.  I was more cautious (lake monsters, such as Nessie, were primary on my mind), but quickly the dry, dusty heat of the trip was too much for me and I ran in after him, splashing wildly.

If you know young boys, or have been one, or are currently one, you will know that you can’t have more than one boy in a lake without a war of some sort breaking out.  It starts with splashing and some laughing and yelling.  For my brother and I, it quickly escalated to us ripping up large swatches of the slimy green lake weed growing in huge fields under the water, and slinging it at each other.

This was the height of entertainment.  Better than a snowball fight, as one doesn’t get cold.  Better than a rubber-band war, as it doesn’t sting when you get hit.  The cool green weeds were soft, slimy and refreshing on sun-baked skin.  A quick grab under the water brought up fistfuls of the stuff, and we hurled volleys at each other like feuding lords.

I don’t remember exactly how, but I do know at some point my brother stopped, brushed at his arms wildly, and screamed something at me as I let fly my latest barrage.  I, being younger and usually disadvantaged in any battle, felt pride that I seemed to have him on the run.  Indeed, I saw him run out of the lake like he was being chased by a school of Great White Sharks.  I giddily screamed after him, exultant in my victory.

He looked back at me when he was out of the water, dancing about, scrubbing at his arms and legs wildly, and yelling at me something I couldn’t process.  Slowly I came to understand he wasn’t running from me.  He was running from something in the lake.

In that moment my inner gibbering coward took full control; if something was enough to scare my older brother, it must be something horrific indeed.  I did not look back, but rather sprinted out of the water.  I believe I probably hydroplaned getting out of there, so fast was my fear-driven flight.

Once to the safety of the shore, I looked back to see what horror was chasing me, but saw only clear blue water, rippling from my recent exit.  I looked questioningly at my brother, intending to convey the adolescent version of “WTF?”.

My brother, however, stared back with wild eyes, scraping at his arms.  I then saw him pick a small green thing off his forearm and throw it to the ground,.  Arms clear, you continued on to his bare legs, addressing them with the same scrutiny.

Slowly I processed what I was seeing.  And I looked down at my own arms with a dawning horror.  Small, light-green curves dotted my skin.  It looked like bits of the lake weed we had been fighting with.  I wiped them off, but they didn’t budge.  I picked at one of the small things, and as I pulled, it stretched, remaining stuck to my skin by one of its tiny ends, which I was sure at that point housed impossible massive sets of rotating teeth.

Stand By Me: formative movie moment
Stand By Me: formative movie moment

Growing up, movies and cartoons prepared us for some of the primary fears one must deal with in life.  Quicksand was one.  Leeches were another, but until this point I didn’t actually accept them as any more factual than quicksand.  To actually be confronted with the reality of leeches, even tiny grass-like leeches, was too much for my young mind.  I scampered and leaped and thrashed at my body with a mindlessness that would ensure a visit to a mental ward and a very tight-fitting jacket in other situations.

I remember sitting numbly in the car for some time after that, my brother and I both somber from our recent experience.  Our bodies had been picked clean, as best we could, but in my mind I could never be sure that I’d gotten them all.   The rest of the day my mind tortured me with the thought that some of those small green worms had gotten inside me, burrowed under my skin, and were even then swimming up my veins, towards my heart, where they would feast on me from the inside until they finally grew large enough to burst out from within  me, like a horrible human piñata.

Happily that never happened.  After we returned from that trip, I still got the occasional visit from Sasquatch, or the Closet Monster, but they no longer could generate the same level of fright they once held.  So perhaps I have leeches to thank for my grown up ability to handle the creeping horrors in a mature way.

Thanks, leeches.  You blood-sucking demons.

So an assault rifle walks into a bar…

My friend Wyswords just wrote a good blog post about “Open Carry Firearms“.  Thought provoking and worth a read.

The debate of guns = good / bad is quite philosophical and fraught with pitfalls.  I’m not debating that here.  As Wyswords points out; guns are a fact in our country, the only actionable question is whether we are dealing with them responsibly.

I’ve had an odd relationship with guns over my life.  Growing up they were strictly forbidden.  Even squirt guns were admonished as glorifying the type of violence that was wrong in the world.  So naturally as I grew I wanted to see what they were really all about.  I remember one after noon when I was a teenager I went up with a friend into the forest and shot his rifle.  I wasn’t very good.  He asked me if I would like to try the shotgun and I declined, feeling a bit embarrassed at how unlike the guys in Red Dawn I had turned out to be.

In my thirties, my job in game development had me occasionally hosting game developers from places like Sweden.  When they visited, after work it was customary to do something fun (team building, that great excuse to use the company’s money).  Sometimes these guys were into racing go karts (we were building racing games after all) but other times they wanted to hit the local shooting range.

I even went on a blind date once with a woman who was a security guard.  She took me to the range to teach me how to shoot.  Said I was a natural with the desert eagle.

So that’s all to say I don’t really have a fear or disgust of guns.  Any more than I would a wrench or a car.  They are devices that do the things that their handlers instruct them to.  However, while it’s true that “guns don’t kill people”, I think Eddie Izzard has the right take on this.

And unlike a wrench or a car, the gun has one purpose: to kill.  And this is a problem in our country.  I’ve seen a few videos lately that seem to be stark examples of the issue.  So first off we have things like this:

Open Carry Harrassment

Basically that’s a video of a guy walking around the neighborhood with an AR-15, and proudly asserting that he’s breaking no rules, he doesn’t have to show a permit, he doesn’t have to show ID, etc.  There are many, many videos like this.

It’s the gun-enthusiast equivalent of when your mom said “don’t touch your brother” back when you were kids and so you’d hover your finger centimeters from his eyeball and taunt him with the fact you weren’t touching him.  Until he finally broke down crying and then became a lawyer, inspired by your nuanced ability to flaunt the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it.

Only it’s a lot more than that in this case. Imagine, if you will:

You are hanging out in your neighborhood.  Nice warm sunny day.  Maybe out on your front lawn with a lemonade.  Kids playing mutant ninja space cowboys vs. robot magic wizard chiefs while running around the lawn.  Like ya do.

Then a guy comes walking up the block with a large assault rifle.  Is your reaction: “hey there person I don’t know, good on ya for brandishing your constitutional rights and trolling for cops so you can display the fact that you know your rights and are happy to waste their time!”

Or is your reaction: “I don’t know this person, but I do know there have been many, many crazies with large weapons in our recent history, and I sure as hell don’t want to stick around to find out if this guy is homicidal.  Kids, inside – NOW”.

I’m betting most people have that later reaction.  And this is one problem that I have with open carry enthusiasts.  Their eagerness to show off their constitutional carry rights increases fear and tension wherever they go.  They might be most mentally and morally stable people in the world, but there is NO WAY ANYONE CAN KNOW THIS.  If you are to protect yourself and the ones you love, caution will always be the first reaction.

However, it’s always instructional to try to understand the values and passions of those you take issue with.  So then I ran into this lovely video which takes a very popular extremist and gives him a forum to lay it all out.

Near as I can understand, this guy feels:

  1. Gun ownership is responsible for the drop in violent crime.
  2. The only thing holding back a tyrannical government is a well-armed populace.
  3. The blame for mass homicides in the US rests squarely on Prozac makers and their ilk, and they fund people like Piers Morgan to spread the sickness.
  4. The government is already killing us in large quantities, and he has proof that 9/11 was a government job as clear evidence of this.

So, a few things on this.  First: wow I feel sorry for that guy.  His entire world is ruled by fear; fear of his country, his government, foreigners, liberals, etc.  What a painful life that must be.

Second: everyone seems to have their own statistic to credit the drop in violent crime.  I haven’t seen anything that shows causation with gun ownership, just correlation.

It seems unarguable that mass homicides / suicides would be greatly decreased without guns.  The killers would still be deranged and try to harm others, but if all you have is a knife or a rock, you just won’t be able to do as much damage.

As for his conspiracy theories, that’s a whole other blog post.  But in summary; most conspiracy theories turn out to be wildly wrong  or overblown, the government is just not effective enough to orchestrate the kinds of things that they are accused of.  With the exception of the bloody NSA debacle, which honestly did shake up my thinking on this point a bit, its hard to think of another conspiracy that holds up to the slightest bit of empirical testing.

So, I believe we have a rational set of humans asking “hey, why don’t we have the same controls in place for gun ownership that we do for car ownership?  Both are deadly weapons in the wrong hands”. Which wouldn’t solve everything, but would be a step in the right direction.  Competency tests, background checks, etc.

On the other hand, we have people driven by zealotry, gun fetishism, or just outright fear of their own government who seem to be incapable of having a logical debate because their values aren’t logic-driven, they are emotion-driven.  I have read some great thoughts from gun enthusiasts that are actually logic and reason driven, and those folks seem to be all for stricter controls.  It seems though, in this case the extremists rule the roost, especially at places like the NRA.

So how to move forward?  Well, you can’t convince people driven by fear with logic and arguments.  I think they need to try a new reality and see that their fears are unfounded.  You can point to all the countries in the world with low gun ownership and a distinct lack of tyranny, but that won’t sway them.  You can point to statistics that show gun availability increases violent crimes, but they have their own statistics that say the opposite.  And when you come right down to it, they just love their guns. 

In short: this isn’t a debate.  I won’t be solved with reasoned and logical discourse.  It is, however, high time we stopped being afraid of what MIGHT happen and react to what has happened.

Mentally unstable people need to be kept from access to firearms, and the onus for gun ownership needs to be squarely on the individual to prove they are competent and responsible enough to own a gun.

And in the meantime, if I see these guys walking around my neighborhood, my initial response is not going to be “ah, the sweet smell of freedom.”

Thanks guys. I totally feel safe eating my burrito now. Until you showed up I was worried Obama would take my guac from me.