After 30 years, someone turned the difficulty level up.
Burners who have been here for decades and never had a problem with the amount of water they brought are suddenly wondering if their supplies going to make it through the week. By Saturday afternoon I’m down to two gallon jugs and an assortment of electrolyte drinks. Probably just more than I need to make it through exodus. Probably. If nothing goes wrong.
Passionate Burners are thinking of leaving early, eying the hypothetical exodus lines, wondering if they’ll regret leaving this behind even a day early. “Why do we make it so hard on ourselves?” they ask.
In some ways first-time Burners are handling the environment with more aplomb: people told them it would be hot, and lo and behold, it is. They don’t know the air is thicker with suffering, and their long habits aren’t being broken.
But nothing could have prepared them for the psychological impact that the old-timers have to carefully walk them through.
“I just had the best day of my life, and the worst day of my life,” a virgin Burner said to me, struggling to process. “It’s been so amazing, but so impossible, and I think it’s changing me, and in good ways, but I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t understand it.”
And then he asks me. “Why does this have to be so hard?”
The other day, I got an unexpected answer.
Thursday night was the first one that felt a little chilly, and people who might have complained about it in years past seemed to take comfort in the idea that they might want to put a jacket on after 11 o’clock. I stopped by BMIR, where I was informed that a group of Irish videographers were there shooting film of people reading single pages of Finnegans Wake.
“What?” I almost shouted. “The Finnegans Wake people are here? Where are they! Point them out!” They pointed.
I walked over to one. He gave me a puzzled look. “I’m Caveat!” I said, because I couldn’t actually remember the name of the person I wanted to talk to.
His look grew more puzzled.
I turned to the next. “Caveat!” I said excitedly, pointing at myself. He gave me a look that bouncers give people about to be asked if they can show themselves out.
But then the third man by the camera perked up. “Caveat?” he said. “YOU’RE Caveat!”
And I was suddenly embraced in strong and grateful hug – which was not what I had expected to happen at all.
“We couldn’t find you last year!” he told me, arms squeezing. “It was always ‘oh, he was just here, you just missed him!’”
“It works better for everybody that way,” I explained.
“Well, man,” Gavan said (his name is Gavan), “it is wonderful to get to say thank you! This project is all happening because of you!”
We broke off the hug and I gave him a sincerely puzzled look. “That … isn’t true at all.”
“Really. It is!”
“No, honestly, I was nothing but the asshole getting in your way.”
He laughed, “yes you were!” but shook his head no. We were going to have to argue this out.
In 2016 Gavan sent Burning Man a media request asking if he and a small team could come to Burning Man to take video of people reading Finnegans Wake, one of the surreal masterpieces in western literature, which was written entirely in a kind of idiosyncratic, portmanteau and pun heavy, English doggerel. Gavan intended this to be his final piece for his MA in filmmaking, and thought it could be a kind of commentary on the nature of consciousness.
Of course they could do it (since they had tickets), but it was one of the most off-beat requests we’d seen that year. And while I haven’t actually fielded press requests since 2013, Zac – who was managing the Burning Man press team at the time – sent it over to me, saying “I will give you one chance to take this guy under your wing.”
I replied “Oh … oh … yes.”
And then sent Gavan back a response written entirely in an imitation of the Finnegan’s wake style:
Hell Gavan, lo!
My bane Caveat, si, it is my name, and I press with the team. Spinning truth from straw men, raw men, drawing men in drawing rooms under the old new moons. Clickity-Clack!
Filming the Masters shows class. Finnegan wakes? It icks! Oooo! Consciousless studies peaks dear old neurons, gets under the I. Would. Would you? Aye aye!
Do not care what the thwarters think! We who live under heaven and watch the land overtaking the sky, seeking sabbaths for nomads, dreaming of dry pyres, attempting temple temptation, see limited use as a blessing. A sermon mounted. Is consciousness personal? Socrates hemlock mocks post-docs.
For words mean no more than dust means no more than flame, verbs storm privacy, release! Sign! Sigh and sign! Will you signify all of the mollusk policy?
A man’s camera is his soul that he risks to the world when he opens its eyes. No one can morbid forbid that which you sea to destroy you. Yet still all consciousness must consent.
Will you come and go with the breath of your subjective?
Spear me sincerely:
To which Gavan responded that same day:
“ Will you come and go with the breath of your subjective?”?*!
I see your indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: your potency over effluent and refluent waters: your power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency. Me twagesty , Twill you be me murning ban virgil during the dark knight of HELLo? But who has twine for this outwage on June twixteenth, neither hear nor they’re, an awe-stwicious day. and yes s/he said yes s/he will Yes.
His Finnegans Wake doggerel, incidentally, is much better than mine. But of course I couldn’t let this go. So I responded:
Deer Gavan Lo:
Weaken sign tea cataract inn blood.
All things tall tails when you signify the mollusk policy.
Virgil virgins damn Dantes in the Cervantes! Ho no! Naughty eye! Media Mecca in media res, for cameranomicon and playing tags with obscura. The pwomissed band is no panopticonference!
But bitter ice, fleet sno cones! Sing amuse, of the wraith of a fillets!
Weeval seas the hoary warring storm, the darning dusky dawn, and woes the uncommon conundrum, thundering potents sea under eh fornicausing moon. Grumbling interlude, then howl. Flee. Break, blow, berm.
Canoe falafel up she foruman?
I then asked for the following information, which is a Finnegans Wake version of our media request form:
Play a individious (optical):
Organ in nation/ Heresy factory:
What gears have you when or seers consulted, riding thyme across the odious ripe fruit of sooner seasons:
Harmonious thrum, if any, to arising jesters tossing wogs:
Have ubu red Dress & Medium, tedium, in BRC:
Have ubu red Brights & Chancellories:
Have ubu red the only Living Guile:
Incumbent exes stencil mud on the thwum, calling sibling stains:
A whisk repository of noble Constantinople holds the whole eRelics:
Some men come to the desert sooner and buried the metronome under the dunes:
How due ewe honey trap home made semantics:
Who sees the deuces praying poker?
Erronious felonious mistributous in tents:
He filled out the form in the same style, and by God, neither of us ever let it go. We kept writing like this through the entire approval process, for almost two months, in Finnegans Wake style conversations, and gradually I hooked him up with other people in Media Mecca, and Journeylizm, and BMIR, who were as able to help him as they were baffled and amused by the strange conversation dumped in their lap.
That was 2016. And apparently everything worked so well for them (you can see their project here) that they’ve decided to expand the project: not just recording people reading some of Finnegans Wake at Burning Man, but videoing Burners reading the whole book, one page at a time. They expect it to take 17 years, one year per chapter – exactly the amount of time it took Joyce to write it in the first place.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen the media team hustle more to support a project,” Zac would later say. “Everybody was just so motivated to help these guys get what they needed.”
“And it’s all happening because of you!” Gavan said. “You made this possible!”
“Oh no, no no,” I said, stunned. “I was just the guy making your life hell by insisting we talk like the book for the whole time. I made it so much harder for you than it needed to be!”
“Oh, it was terrible!” he agreed, laughing. “I was sitting there all the time thinking, ‘dammit, I have to figure out my food and WHAT THE HELL IS HE TELLING ME NOW?’ I was pulling my hair out. But it was also wonderful and funny and inspiring to do, and then everything with the project just fell into place. Fell into place perfectly, couldn’t have happened better, couldn’t have happened any other way, and now we’re fucking doing it. It’s amazing, and I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to thank you.”
“Well, okay, but really it didn’t have to be …” and then I stopped, and decided to just accept the win.
I mean, didn’t I do this on purpose? Choose weird and fun and maybe even inspiring over efficient and sensible?
Isn’t this how I wan the world be? The way I want things to work?
Cover Photo a screen shot of Gavan Kennedy’s 2016 Finnegan’s Wake project