040 | Words :: Burning Man, 2015

I think, this picture was always what I had in mind for this week’s theme.

In hindsight, my trip to Burning Man was meant to be. I invited a new friend to go snowboarding with me, and on the ride back she mentioned that she had an extra Burning Man ticket. At the time I didn’t even really know much about it, but accepted the invitation anyway. Only later did I realize that it was actually quite a gift to receive a much coveted ticket, especially from someone I did not yet know so well.

The group she was camping with ended up being a familiar bunch. I had traveled with a few of the main organizers, and it didn’t take me long to get integrated. I have to confess I did not realize how much work it would be to plan for it all, from the camping gear to the costumes, and all the logistics involved for such a large camp. When the date finally neared, I also caught an unfortunate bug, and let’s just say that the only drugs I took that week ended up being Dayquil and Nyquil, which wasn’t entirely a bad deal for me.

It was my second night at Burning Man. We got on our bikes and rode into the desert, visiting a few of the main artworks, then venturing into the darkness in search of a certain DJ. It seemed that we had been riding forever and further and further away from people, when we saw this neon sign in the middle of nowhere.

“You are exactly where you need to be…”

I was wearing a sports bra and lit-up tutu with a leather jacket that I picked up from a lady selling leather jackets on the sidewalk of Valencia street, riding a beat up bike wrapped with lights borrowed from a coworker who received it as a gift from an old roommate, in a desert in Nevada in 40 degree weather, with a group of mostly strangers who were high on life and other things, chasing a mysterious DJ’s art car, at 1 in the morning. At any other time prior to that moment, you could not have convinced me that some day, I would think that was exactly where I needed to be.

But yet I felt a pang when I saw that sign and thought it was the whole reason I ended up there. To see the sign, and feel ok about where I was in life, at that moment.

It had been a year since I left Shanghai. The joy of moving back the San Francisco had faded. The motivation of a new job had faded. Life had become mundane once again, and I was feeling restless. The question lingered — is this really where I should be right now? Should I be more settled? Should I be more successful? Should I have more friends? Or perhaps fewer friends? Should I be spending more time socializing? Dating? Studying? Exercising?

In Shanghai, because almost everyone considered it a transitory state of living, those questions don’t surface as much. It was just one giant holiday anyway. Back in San Francisco, I’ve lost the excuse, and those questions creeped up, especially with every social media post of a new engagement, house purchase, or baby announcement. So it was perfect timing to see the sign. It was like the universe giving me an answer to all those questions — just don’t worry about it. You are exactly where YOU need to be.

That was almost exactly 2 years ago. The next year, the camp I was with lost their prime spot on the Esplanade. This year, most of the friends I went to Burning Man with didn’t make it to the Playa. Some were busy with wedding planning, some busy with babies, and some just no longer felt the calling. Had I not accepted that fateful invitation two years ago, I may not have ever made it to Burning Man. If someone offered me the ticket this year, I probably would have graciously declined, being in a completely different state of mind and station in life. Most tragic of all (or perhaps not tragic at all), I would not have thought I missed out on anything special.

As I scroll through all the photos from friends at Burning Man this year, I saw a similar neon sign. It said — “Everything you need is inside you.” Perhaps, had I been there, I would be more awed. But looking at the picture, it’s just another nice picture, and the words don’t mean much to me. Then I realized that for those looking at the photo above, they probably would feel the same. Or maybe even less impressed, because the composition is pretty terrible, and the photo’s blurry.

When I started this project, I had meant to showcase my best works of photography. Then as I started picking the photos, I realized that I really just want to tell the best stories, which are not accompanied by the best pictures. Then I realized it’s not even about the best stories, but just those that are meaningful to me. The project is no longer a showcase, but a documentary of the impressionable moments of my life. And perhaps it’s self aggrandizing, but even though our time on this planet is fleeting and our impact in the grand scheme of things minuscule, my life is all I have, so why not remember it while I can?

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