Monday, October 17, 2016

Getting There: A Long Introduction

Burning Man 2016

Back in 2014, I was told about the amazing, seemingly-illusive Low Income Ticket Program at Burning Man. A neighbor from a nearby co-op had just gotten back from Burning Man and was telling me all about their experience. At the time, all I could hear was "money, money, moeny, time off from work (does this person have a job?), money money, party in the desert". 

"Great, I thought, "a camping festival doesn't sound too bad. I just don't think I could afford that." I thanked them for sharing their story and went on with my day. 

At that time, anything that involved being away from my job longer than a day felt superfluous and I deemed the whole thing not worth the hassle of asking off. This was also following a death in the family that'd occurred not too long before, so I wasn't looking to do anything risky and unkown.

2015 rolled around. I heard whispers of something called the Low Income Ticket Program for Burning Man. By the time I was privvy to it, the deadline had passed. Around August, I saw the Facebook posts and got questions from people asking if I was going. 2015 just wasn't the right timing as I'd just visited Kenya (and a large part of my father's side of the family) for the first time. My capacity for adventure was satiated, and I was didn't want to wash out the glow I'd picked up with the harsh desert environment in Nevada. Not to mention, I was fresh out of paid days off from work (and still reeling from the $1,000 plane fare to get to the other side of the world and back). 

Cue 2016: I'd rang in the new year at Indra's Awarehouse during a Golden New Year's Eve party complete with costumers, glitter, face paint, a stripper pole (no party is complete without one), lasers, and two gong fu cha stations going in the loft. You could stick out your tongue and taste the silky, electric magic the air held. I was riding high on the smooth caffeine buzz from the tea, shennanigans on the dance floor, and the smooth beats blaring from the speakers. Did I mention that alot of people looked like golden gods, goddesses, and faeries? Yea, all of that, and the collective wish to furiously shake off all the fucked-up things that'd happened to us in 2015 were all coming to an apex during this warehouse party. 

And I'd been homeless for 2 weeks following months of under-employment and a violating break-in at my house. 

I wasn't on the street, sleeping under a bridge. But, for any of us who've been there, you know what I mean. You're hundreds of miles away from family, maybe you have a car, full of all your worldly possessions, and it's cold outside. And then you get laid off. 

2015 couldn't end without something bad happening. Multiple bad things happening. All of it at the same time. 

So this was how 2016 started. 

Eventually, February rolled around and afforded me an opportunity to move in somewhere where I wasn't required to pay a deposit. Without the kindness that was shown to me by this individual, I would still be homeless for who knows how long. 

Through all of that, a City of Austin artwork proposal kept me going. It gave me a sense of purpose, usefulness. Dignity that was lost in being without a guaranteed place to sleep for almost 2 months. After being too broke to visit my family for the holidays. After being too sullen to take delight in other people's good fortune. 

It just so happened that the deadline for the City's artwork proposal and the Low Income Ticket program were during the same month. I now had 2 things to keep my mind occupied in-between filling out mountains of job applications and being mired of an aura of low self-worth.

(Trust me: this all is relevant to my Burning Man experience. Bear with me!)

I submitted my Low Income Ticket application in February, and started marking my calendar for the 6-8 weeks that it should have taken to get a response back. 

1 month, then 2 months, then 3 months came and went. By then I was starting to worry that, not only did I not apply in time to get one of these precious tickets, it wasn't even worth them putting me out of my misery to tell me "no". 

Now, during this time of in-between-places-ness and joblessness (save for a few gigs here and there), I'd racked up a ton of credit card debt. I'd been paying for food, gas, the occasional AirBnB, and a month of rent to a friend who let me stay in his apt for a month - ALL ON MY CREDIT CARD. I was already broke when the homelessness happened, so everything was going on credit. How was I able to pay for my next place, you ask? An un-cashed check from my car insurance company. By a stroke of luck, a college kid hit my car at 10 mph and left a dent big enough to pay out $1,000. 

Kept the dent, got a room!

So, through all that, I started aggressively paying down my debt once I got a job. I'd wanted to save a little for Burning Man, but after I didn't get a reply for so long, I thought it best to solely attend to my rapidly falling credit score.

Then came month 4. I got the email stating that I'd been approved! 

"Great!" I thought, "I have nooooo money for that! I was literally homeless less than half a year ago. And look at all this debt! This is an insult, a slap in the face, a cruel joke that I set myself up for!!!"

But...what if it works?

Through my amazingly cool Austin network, I knew a theme camp, The Temple of Uni-Tea, that was going to the playa that might need an extra set of hands. They lovingly accepted me with open arms.

So, I had a ticket and a camp. But, l didn't have time to save up money by the end of August. It was June already. 

The negative self-talk started up again " You're just a temp, you don't even have a real job. Why try when you're not a real employee anyway, they'll never allow you 9 days off, even if you had the money! Just give up." 

That negative self-talk had a good point. I'd been working as a temp call center agent for about 4 months, with no end date listed for my contract. I had no idea if I was going to be hired on or, like the people who'd laid me off before the holidays, if I was going to be discarded after they'd silently replaced us with actual employees. I tamped down my desires and quietly resumed life as normal. Unsatisfied with how this story was ending. 

After a week of feeling grim and restless, I off-handedly asked my boss if I could have a couple of work-weeks off to go to Burning Man. I was partially joking, but he said "yes". He'd said this just as calmly and nonchalantly as I'd asked. Stunned, I turned around in my seat and asked again.


"Yes, just send me an email and I'll adjust the schedule." That was easy. (Take THAT negative self-talk!)

Later, he explained that he thought I'd quit or just never come back if he said no. It's not entirely impossible as I know many Burners who've done just that. An employer can either acquiesce to the wild desire, or find someone else to do their job. Luckily, I worked somewhere that was understaffed. Plus, I was good at my job.

Negative self-talk rebutted this victory: "So, you have a ticket with your name on it, a camp, a task within that camp, and time off work. Where are you going to get the funds? Do you have a way there? You don't have a tent! Are you going to be a mooch, or just give up?"

That's when I saw my family and community come together in a overwhelmingly supportive way.

Here's something about me: I HATE asking for help, especially financial help. After I'd crunched the numbers, I knew what I had to do. I could either wallow in self pity or own up to the fact that I'd put in the necessary work and just needed to ask for help. A lot of help. I did an EFT (emotional freedom technique) session on a Monday night, and made my GoFundMePage the next morning. 

Photo Credit: Rocketman

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