I got involved in Burning Flipside and burns in general through firedancing. At the time I got started in firedancing there was a weekly firedancing get-together at Pato’s Tacos (RIP), and most of the people I met there were involved in Flipside.
My first Flipside was in 2004. Even before that, I got roped into coordinating the fire conclave. I overthought it and ran myself ragged during the event finding fire performers to take part. It turned out pretty good.
I skipped Flipside 2005, but returned to coordinating the conclave after that and continued doing it. One year some hoopers who were not using fire asked if they could be in it. I asked Pat, then a board member, and he left the decision to me. This was a small thing, but it taught me an important lesson about how Flipside works.
Over the years I continued to improve the way that I ran the conclave, and I took on other related responsibilities. I took over as a theme-camp lead. I helped run the informal secondary market for tickets. I joined Flipside’s advisory body. I helped organize a major art project.
It was in April 2012, during a work day for that art project, The Hive Project, that I got a call from Sparky, a then-serving board member, inviting me to go on a ride-along with a board member during the event, and to consider joining the board. I crumpled up on the floor but said OK. My reaction was both “why me?” and “if not me, who?”. I couldn’t expect other people to do it if I wasn’t willing to. I still argued that I felt I was contributing to Flipside without being a member of the board. I forget exactly what psychological aikido move Thomas used on me to counter that argument, but it worked. In the tradition of the microscopic culture that is Flipside’s board, two other invitees, Princes and Izzi, and I sat down with the board for beers at Scholz Beer Garden, to discuss joining them as provisional members. We all said yes.
The ride-along shift itself, with Beth, was uneventful and did not scare me off.
I had a severe case of imposter syndrome about the whole thing, but I also made a conscious decision that I was going to dedicate a big chunk of my life, my time, and my thoughts to my new role.
I continued serving as a provisional member until September or October 2012, when I signed the paperwork to become a full member.
Flipside 2013 would be my first event as a board member, which kicked my imposter syndrome up to a new level. I lost a huge amount of sleep in the month or so before the event, lying in bed and mentally working through scenarios. During the event, on the afternoon before burn night (when we’re all busy with burn-night prep), a massive pecan tree fell, while I was on shift. It didn’t hurt anyone, amazingly, and luckily there were experienced safety volunteers to manage that incident because I was not ready to (a tree collapse was not a scenario I had mentally rehearsed).
Over time my imposter syndrome ebbed, and I saw possibilities for improving the event that my role made possible. I focused in particular on improving documentation for the event. Old board members retired, new ones joined. Eventually no one who had been on the board when I joined, or who joined when I did, was left on the board.
Right at the beginning of 2020, I resolved to compete in the Trans Am Bike Race, and to focus on that, I would need to resign from Flipside’s board. We all know how that went. The TABR was cancelled in 2020. Flipside was cancelled in both 2020 and ’21. Because of those cancellations, I did not feel that the board could do an adequate job bringing new people on (no ride-alongs), and if I quit with no successors lined up, that would leave four on the board, which is not enough. So I stayed on. I did start TABR ’21, but had to abandon. But with Flipside 2022 in the books, we had four people lined up who were interested in joining the board. I wanted to take another stab at the TABR. And it was time to give other people a turn at the wheel. I gave plenty of notice and documented the things I did as a board member to smooth the transition. I set today as my last possible day.
On the Slack workspace that the organization uses for board members and senior managers, I announced that today was my last day as a board member. I had some powerful and complicated feelings after I sent that message. I’ve been doing this thing for over ten years, and it has taken over a big chunk of my life. I am glad I have something else to focus on, but it will be a strange feeling with nothing planned for Monday nights. Joining Flipside’s board has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done with my life.
I thought about when I moved back to the U.S. from Japan. I had somewhat similar feelings then. For one thing, I had put a lot of work into figuring out how to live in Tokyo, and I felt like I was throwing that investment away. I’m not feeling that way now. But being an American living abroad, being a Japan hand, had become part of my identity, and I felt like I was giving that up too, and I am feeling some of that this time. Being a board member for Flipside has become a significant part of my identity.
I also thought about something I’ve observed in some other volunteers that I call the Death Grip. You hold on to a role, not because you enjoy it, but because you’ve convinced yourself the role needs you–no one else can do it. I’ll admit I felt a pang of that, but I am letting go.
And of course, there’s the camaraderie that develops among board members. We spend a lot of time with each other. We have bonding through shared hardship.
PS: What’s up with cryptic title? My callsign on comms is “Blister”; “clear” is what you say when you’re ending a communication on comms.