A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man (repost)

The Man burns in 50 days!

I believe everybody deserves the opportunity to go to Burning Man. Whether or not you decide to take that opportunity is a decision only you can make. Never let someone else tell you whether you should or shouldn’t go. Only you can determine just how willing you are to deal with adverse climates and how open you are to letting go of all societal inhibitions. But there’s nothing worse than being left behind because you’re told you probably can’t deal with it (especially if, in your heart, you disagree). I have a pretty rigid layer of societal inhibition, but it is also pretty thin. When I made the decision to go to Burning Man for the first time, I also made a decision to let that layer go. Turns out, when I opened my eyes on the playa that first morning, I took to that dry lake bed like a duck to water.

That said, Burning Man is not something to take lightly. It’s not camping in Yosemite with the grandparents and it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a mindf*ck, and it’s everything and more you could ever want it to be. But it helps to be prepared. And not just with your camping gear, but with your entire being, mind, heart and soul. To really go to Burning Man, you really have to BE there. To do that, you have to come mentally prepared.

So here is a list of suggestions to help you prepare for your virgin trip to Black Rock City:

1. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, you MUST read the Event Survival Guide. In order to be mentally prepared for Burning Man, you must first be physically prepared for it. Make sure you have good shelter, proper equipment to protect yourself and your camp, enough food and water, and other creature comforts to ensure your basic survival. People think Burning Man is all about dropping acid and having sex in the desert, and while for some people that is true, you can’t do either of those things if you’re suffering from dehydration or you’ve effed yourself on some wayward rebar in a duststorm. While people are more than willing to help, there is no guarantee they can and it’s not fair to assume you can leech off the good will of others. It IS radical self-reliance.

2. Bring the craziest, awesomest costumes you can think of. Nobody expects you to act or dress in any particular way – and that is the beauty of Burning Man: you can be WHOEVER the f*ck you want to be. You can go as Superman; you can go in your prom dress, you can go as your total free self; you can even go completely naked the entire seven days you’re there. If you could step into an alternate universe and your outfit could really reflect your inner mushu dingbat fliftybuck, what would it look like? Whatever that is, wear that. You can look however you want to, but do think about it and prepare for it, because otherwise when you get out there and see everyone else floating around with their mojo shining, you’re gonna wish you did that too. My absolute favorite outfit from my first time was a bright hot pink miniskirt with matching cowboy hat and Hello Kitty pasties. And I was hot. Not because I was topless save for two little stickers, but because when I wore that outfit I just exuded confidence and my own little spirit and other people responded to it. It’s not uncommon to walk around the playa and have random strangers tell you how beautiful you are. Because not only are you less inhibited to be yourself, you’re also less inhibited to recognize the beauty of others and tell them you appreciate their existence.

By far, the biggest concern I hear most often from Burning Man virgins is that they fear they don’t have the self-confidence to put themselves out there like other burners. My first response is: Don’t worry about it. Absolutely nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear. So if you don’t feel comfortable dressing up, just go in your comfy camping/vacation clothes. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There are absolutely NO expectations regarding dress codes. My second response is to remind you that you have an entire week to get acclimated. So bring what you would wear if you had the cajones, and decide once you’re there whether you want to wear it or not. Most likely, once you see all the cool stuff people are wearing, you’re gonna want to do it too, and you’ll have started to get used to the whole no-judgment atmosphere. The only thing that would suck is to wish you had an outfit to wear, but to be stuck having brought nothing. It’s better to at least have the option.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, take a gander at Patrick Roddie and Scott London’s photos of what people have worn in past years.

3. Set your intentions and release your expectations. It helps to go to Burning Man with a goal in mind, but you cannot have any expectations for what will happen, how people (including yourself) will be, or what it will be like. Burning Man will screw with you if you expect something out of it. But if you have a little wish, it’ll deal it back to you in ways you could never dream. My first time, I wanted to recover from a very difficult and traumatic experience. My only aim was to go write something on the Temple and hope that it helped. When I arrived, when I discovered the Temple that year was the Temple of Forgiveness, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear; it was exactly what I had come for. I made my gift for the Temple and when I sat in the silence with tens of thousands of others watching it burn, I felt the most incredible cleansing and release. I found forgiveness, and I found it in abundance. So come with a wish. It can be as little as to just have a good time, or as big as a soul-changing experience. Just don’t have any preconceptions for how it’ll play out.

Photo by Toby Keller

4. Bring a gift. You’ll hear this a thousand times: Burning Man is not a spectator sport. It is full participation. One of the best ways to participate is to bring something you can offer the community. Last year, my camp brought a full bar stocked with $1,500 worth of good booze. We unloaded it ALL by the end of the week. And remember, it’s a GIFT economy; you give, you don’t barter, and you sure as heck don’t sell. In fact, it’s very odd and disconcerting to make your first cash transaction after leaving the playa and re-entering the default world; it seems a gift economy is the way things should be. But the number one reason why giving is great participation is because you put yourself out there and meet so many wonderful people. My first time, I baked 200 cookies and walked around with a little spray bottle filled with water and lavender essential oils, asking everybody I saw whether they wanted a cookie or a misting. I met so many wonderful people and got to see so much cool stuff, it was pure joy to do it – it just feels good to give. And within two days, people would recognize me and call out, “Hey it’s the Cookie & Mister girl!” (Don’t be surprised if you develop a playa name.)

5. Lastly, I would recommend bringing one or two items that would just make your trip the tits. The one or two creature comforts that transport you from doing just okay, to saying, “Life is aaaalll rriiiiight…” For me, that is baby wipes and the lavender water. I take little “baths” with the baby wipes every morning to freshen up, and the spray bottle helps cool me down in the heat and the lavender oil is relaxing and refreshing. Perfect for my soul. But find your thing, whether it’s your kick-ass homemade bloody mary mix, your favorite tunes, or your must-have comfort food (dry ice does wonders for keeping things cold), and be sure to bring that along.

Burning Man is a million things indescribable, but the first words you’ll hear when you step foot on the playa are “Welcome Home.”

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For scenes from last year’s burn, click here.

After the Burn: Evolution

Part IV of IV

man-at-nightMy impression of Burning Man this time was that it had changed. It might have been, in part, due to our location as a theme camp. We were one block off the Esplanade (the main street of events before hitting the open playa), which was very convenient in terms of our proximity to things happening. But it was less convenient as it may have attracted a different crowd than the more residential types of streets that were further away and also quieter.

Nevertheless, most of my impressions of the general atmosphere and attendance were, I think, not particularly related to our specific location. There were more darkwads this year (people who do not light themselves up with glowsticks, LEDs, or headlamps at night), thus endangering themselves and others by reducing visibility. There was more thievery (though this might be more a function of our location). I had never before felt the need to lock up, but this time several of our camp had lost things and had to be more protective of their things – a reality completely counter to the ethos of Burning Man. There was less truly large-scale, astounding art, perhaps due to the economic woes of the times, but it does suggest more observers attended than participants. And the overall sense of community seemed to have dwindled. People smiled less at each other, greeted each other less along random street passings, and were in general less open than I remember in the past.

I realize that this post comes across quite cynically (and I hope people will read the other posts – see links below – to put things in the right proportion). I want to say that the sense of community was still much stronger than in the default world, and I would by no means say it was anywhere near lost on the playa. (And by many accounts, in many ways, this was the best year ever.) But this year, the sense of community did not overwhelm and engulf me to quite the extent as it had in the past. I remember before how people passing in the streets would call out genuine compliments, welcome virgins home, and show their appreciation for one another on a continual basis. It seemed such warmth was harder to find this year in comparison. It would seem more of the default world had infiltrated Burning Man.

The initial reaction is to reject and to protect that which has been most precious to us. What I first started thinking of was ways to keep “true burners” protected and weed out the darkwad thieves of our utopia. But this sentiment too, is antithetical to the ethos of Burning Man. We must accept human beings in all their states and forms, for even trouble and sorrow have their place and right to be.

So rather than rejecting that which is foreign and hunkering down in like reactionaries hoarding our goods, burners will have to learn to evolve with the changing times. Along with the darkwad thieves, Burning Man is also seeing more diversity: more foreigners and more people of color, and that is something that should be cherished. (And no, I’m not suggesting the two trends are linked.) So with the bad comes the good and Burning Man must evolve and adapt to continue being more inclusive while still preserving its signature ethos and character. Apt, considering this year’s theme was Evolution.

Maybe next time, I’ll bring extra glowsticks and hand them out to all the darkwads. Also, I will be sure to smile and compliment more, so that I might be the change I wish to see.

For the previous posts, click the links below:
Part I
Part II
Part III

After the burn: what I brought home

(Besides the dust.)

Part III of IV

templeIn my Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man, I advised everyone to have a dream, or wish, or goal: something they wanted to get from Burning Man. I also warned that though their dream will most likely materialize in far greater ways than they could ever imagine, the probability was high that it wouldn’t come in any way they expected.

So true, young Padawan, so true.

I followed my own advice and set my intentions, and got exactly what I wanted in a way I could never have anticipated. My hope for this year was not grand or so deeply soulful as my first time. This year, my only wish was to have a true vacation from the demons in my own head: the worry, the stresses, the constant chatter of shoulds, musts, and fails. I imagined a week spent lounging in the desert could probably give me the mental space I needed to recharge and revitalize my mental energy.

The goal – or at least how I imagined it beforehand – seems laughable in retrospect, given how much sheer work and effort went into Burning Man. A vacation? Pfff. The building, the preparing, the driving, the lack of sleep, the hostile environment, the adjustments…and then taking everything back down and leaving no trace at the end…. If you need relaxation, I suggest Club Med.

But when I thought back on the moments that meant the most to me, the pictures I took with me in my memory of what the week was, I realized that the parts I cherished most lay in the joy of others. The sheer astonishment and child-like delight on Toby’s face as all burners of the Burninator set off around us, the playful wonder of Jamie and Erin’s first burn together, Julia shedding her layers of sadness and hurt to rediscover her naturally generous and loving self and everyone around her falling in love with her, the dynamic of love and mutual strength among the first early crew, Melissa becoming more grounded and foundational like Mother Earth herself, Nico’s first view of the ethereal other world, and Aroon’s perpetual energy and enchantment with all that surrounded him…these (and countless more) are the things I take with me.

And I realized this burn, for me, was not about myself. It pulled me out of my own head so much that I merely floated through it. Though I participated fully, I was more of an observer this time. Not an observer of the event per se, but of the dynamics and energy of the people around me. It was a vacation from myself, and I gloried in the abundance of beauty of others.

Being disconnected from myself in a way did have a slight down side in that I felt disconnected from my husband. I felt a vague twinge of sadness through the week as I felt he and I were burning separately. We did things together and we took time out alone together – much of which is truly memorable – but spiritually we were somehow walking apart. We packed up after the event and drove most of the way home in exhausted silence.

But then, in the last few hours before we reached home, we began to talk. As vision and experience began to settle down into words, we talked about our takeaways from the event, what we learned, and what we saw. And we discovered that though we burned separately, we had gotten much the same thing from the event. Like two strands of a braid, we had to separate for a while in order to come back together again to make a stronger, more cohesive whole. As it turns out we were not so disconnected after all, and the moment we reconnected was a moment to remember.

It is funny sometimes, how the most beautiful aspects of Burning Man happen when you’re not even on the playa.

To see Part I of After the Burn, click here.
And click here for Part II.
And Part IV is here.

you capture – something you’ve never captured before

After the Burn Part II of IV

This week’s You Capture challenge delights me because it turns out to be a challenge I met without even knowing what it was. Photograph something you’ve never photographed before. Going to Burning Man already makes that easy. Having never even taken a camera there before means I didn’t even have to narrow my options. And then, of the photos I had taken, I chose sunrise. I chose sunrise because I’m normally never up anywhere near in time to be aware of the existence of sunrise.

But most importantly, sunrise on the playa is my favorite of all places and times.

youcapture_sunrise1There was a large swing set where the swings were made of full-size couches. I loved to sit, swinging gently on the couches as I watched the sun slowly light the playa.

youcapture_sunrise2One of the first mornings I took our French friend out to see the sunrise and saw the awe light up his face. I gloried in the sweet, shared moment between friends.

youcapture_sunrise3Of all the experiences shared there, this is one I will always take with me.

Part I of After the Burn can be seen here.
And click here for Part III.
Part IV is here.

More You Capture responses are on Beth’s website, I Should Be Folding Laundry.
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After the burn: A Chronicle of Happenings

Part I of IV

the_manCapturing what Burning Man is verges on impossibility. I can only tell you what my own experience was like, and even that will be pieces and fragments. The story I tell will not help you understand Burning Man, it will only give you a glimpse of the little window I had. Like truth itself, Burning Man is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Each of the four posts to follow is just one piece, one facet of one little dimension, and even all of that is not all of what I experienced. Some things are too complex or too private for words. As powerful and versatile as language is, I felt a vague sense of dread as we drove home. I dreaded having to explain this to others for I was too full of the experience and I knew that putting it into words would flatten it and reduce it. I needed time to finish processing before I could open it up and share it with the outside world. So here it is, in pieces, starting with the most superficial: that of the chronicling of events and happenings. I say superficial, but it is a good a foundation as any with which to start.

Our pilgrimage (and I use that word very deliberately) began on Friday the 28th of August as we loaded up the truck with all of our camp equipment, food, dino art car, bar full of $2,300 worth of booze to give away, water, bikes and shade structures. We were running a steady four hours behind schedule and did not hit the road until 4 p.m. Going south through Montecito at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon is never a wise move. It took us far longer than we had hoped to hit the 126 so we could cut over towards the 395. We drove that as far as we could the first night, stopping in Mammoth Lakes around 1 a.m. We found a campground, slept in our truck, got up at 6 a.m. and continued on towards Reno. Reno is the major stop for last minute food, camp, and water items before you hit the playa and are thoroughly cut off from the rest of the world. We filled up, offered a ride to the Ranger Sasquatch, and took the long last road out to the Black Rock Desert. By this point, we were positively thrumming with excitement. Because we had early passes, we got in rather easily with only about a 45 minute wait (we had heard of others who had to wait over 6 hours to enter). So our first view of the playa when we reached our campsite was that of sunset.

The first night and following day, there were only a core group of 7 of us who had passes to arrive early. We spent that time building as much of the camp as we could and preparing for the arrival of others. As happy and as thrilled as I was to see the joy and excitement of the others as they slowly filtered in and joined us, and as wonderful as it was to burn with the people who made up our camp, it was actually the first few days on the playa that were my favorite. Those first few days were the ones of peace, quiet, solid hard work, and hard core burners collaborating to make the whole thing run smoothly.

butterflyOn Monday we opened up the bar to all the people freshly arriving from the default world. Still unsure, still adjusting, still relatively free of dust, burners from all over started arriving for refreshing libation. I love tending bar on the playa because there is no exchange of money, no concerns of the precision of drink, only the exchange of service and stories. There is nothing more pleasing than telling a virgin, all hot, bothered and bewildered, that they can have whatever drink they can imagine: be it everclear, moonshine, vodka redbull or mai tai and then serving them up a fresh mint mojito and asking for nothing in return but their name and a handshake. The bar was quickly hopping and the whole of an afternoon disappeared in the blink of an eye. A fifth of the booze evaporated and thus I plunged myself directly into the event.

rocketThe first nights were also among my favorites because of the energy. It is raw, still full of awe and still full of potential as people discover what is already there and watch what is still yet to be built. The steady beat of music begins, and with it begins the rhythm and heartbeat of the playa that continues through the rest of the event (light sleepers beware). The art cars emerge, trundling along the vast darkness like glowing alien creatures across a surreal alien landscape. Everything glows and pulses and you begin to see the expanse of human creativity unleashed. You are awed not only by what human beings can imagine, but also what they can create in this harsh, hostile environment. One man brought out a large spinning cylinder lined on the inside with bright colored lights. You step inside and as he spins it around you, you feel yourself begin to lose your other senses as your sense of vision becomes overwhelmed. You wander some more and then you discover the Burninator. You feel the rush of heat engulf you as the cannons let loose hot bursts of flames. An angler fish heads towards the deep playa, a rocket is launched, and a glowing dragon rickshaw passes you by.

CubitronEvery day has its own energy, its own dynamic. And even different times of the day have their own rhythms. You learn to settle, to let go, to succumb and to flow along with it and by Wednesday or Thursday you find yourself truly integrated with the playa, dust storms be damned. I lost my camera, I had left it behind at the Cubitron one night. The following morning it resurfaced, thanks to the benevolence of one generous soul. My gift to the camp is always food, taking charge of feeding the masses burritos, pasta, curry and beef brisket feasts. My gift to the larger community this year was little quote cards, which I gave out at the Temple.

The Temple is a sacred space (and this year it was a beauty) where people release their fears, their sorrows, their wishes and intentions. They share gifts and sacrifices to loved ones who have passed away. They write out their anger and forgiveness to those who have hurt them. And they express their desires for things to come. The raw emotion in the place is palpable in the air, even as you approach it. Tears and embraces are common sights in this sacred space. And at the end of the week, when everything that is meant for this place lies collected within it, the Temple is burned for all to see and to let go.

This year, I personally did not need the Temple, at least not in the way others do or that even I did two years ago. I have come a long way since, taken a lot from it, and this time it was my turn to give back. I wrote quotes on little cardboard pieces; quotes that have been important to me in my life for their ability to inspire, provoke thought, or succinctly encapsulate philosophy, human nature, and universal truth. And I wandered around the Temple finding the right person to receive the right quote. Under normal circumstances I would consider it the height of hubris to imagine I could judge a complete stranger and know which quote they should have. But here on the playa, people let their walls down. They are more vulnerable and more open. If the quote was not meant for them, I trusted that through them the gift would find its way home. I did this over the course of two days. The first day, I only gave out about a third of the ones I had brought. When I handed them to people, I received hugs and thank yous. But I also received tears. Some tears were cleansing and led to song. Others were earth-shattering and I cried too in empathy. I became very aware of the power I was wielding, the responsibility it entailed and I had to take some time away to prepare myself for what I was actually doing. So a couple days more passed before I felt ready to embark on that endeavor again. When I did, it was worth it, to see how others responded. One card I gave to a Ranger. The card read, “Sometimes you have to surrender before you can win.”

He read the card and called out to me, “Can I ask you a question?”

I turned back and nodded, feeling under my dust mask and goggles the extent of my anonymity.

He frowned at the card. “It says ‘Sometimes you have to surrender’…surrender to what?” he asked.

“That is something you have to discover for yourself, I believe,” I said.

He looked at me for a moment, contemplating my response. Then he nodded. “Thank you,” he said, and he embraced me.

The week culminates on Saturday night with the burning of the Man. A long, harsh dust storm hit that day and progressed onward into the night. With such high winds and such thick dust where you could not see 5 feet in front of you, it was uncertain whether the Man would be burned that night. But the stalwart, stubborn burners we were, a group of us clung hands together and marched out in the general direction of the Man. It was surreal wandering in complete dust and darkness, with no sense of where you are or where you are headed. But as luck would have it, our intuitions were not far off and we navigated our way out to the Man. Being so brave, we found seat at the very front row and others who had waited for the storm to pass filtered in behind us. It turned out the wait was not so long before the dust and winds began to die and the Fire Conclave began their performance. They spin and breathed fire, they lit dragons and cracked whips of fire as they danced and moved to the rhythms of drum beats. Then fireworks lit the sky above us, more, brighter, and closer than any display you’d find in the default world. And finally, then burned the Man in one giant explosion that lit our faces, heated the earth, flashed in our hearts and burned so bright the heart of the flames were white. We watched in awe as the flames erupted in slow building torches around the burning Man.

And then the party began.

The end of the week is when everyone rips out and lets loose and pure energy vibrates throughout the entire playa in one final explosion before it becomes time to transition back into the default world.

The transition is exhausting, wrenching, and a pilgrimage in its own right. After seeing what human beings can be when they are not encumbered by fear, it is difficult to reenter. You balk at the notion of having to put back on the layers and masks and reasserting your walls. You don’t wish to shut out others, though it is painful when you re-encounter the walls the outside world has constructed. It is like deliberately going back into the cave after you have seen the light and trying to content yourself with the shadows on the wall.

And on top of all that, you’re covered in dust, everything you own is covered in dust, and you have to unpack, clean and organize when all you can even think of doing is taking the longest most luxurious shower of your life, crawling into your own bed, and succumbing to that blessed thing called sleep.

Part II of IV can be found here.
Click here for Part III.
Part IV is here.

From the Sacred to the Profane, Insane to the Mundane

Well, I’m back! And exhausted. My mind is whirring and my body is crying. The burn was, as usual, beyond words. It was exactly what I needed and not quite what I expected – as I expected it would be. Predicting a burn is never possible and each is its own unique experience.

Though my body weeps with exhaustion, I am lonely for my husband, who is still miles away dealing with the last remnants of the aftermath of the burn and will not return until the morning. So I cannot decide whether I should crash by myself in front of the television, or push the adrenaline just one inch further to go socialize with others.

More posts on the burn are to come in the next few days. In the meantime, I’m going to go seek comfort.

You Capture – Friends

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After months of lurking around Beth at I Should Be Folding Laundry’s website and checking out the various contributions to her You Capture challenge, I finally decided I would up and take that challenge. When I saw this week’s You Capture was Friends, I thought to myself, “Sweet!” We had a slew of friends visiting this weekend, and even better, a bunch were coming up to collaborate on a project: the birth of the Spearmint Dino art car for Burning Man. What better opportunity to capture true friendship than a bunch of friends putting their heads together to create a communal art project?

Goes to show, what works in your head doesn’t always turn out on film. So we’re just gonna have to make do with “happy accidents”, m’kay?

I wouldn’t say these are the most gorgeous pictures I’ve taken aesthetically, but oh, I do love them for their irony.
You can see here, the guys are contemplating the art car because they have effed up have been presented with a challenge. Having built the majority of the art car, they (yes, apparently just now) realize they need to get it from the shop to the house where it will be stored and they hadn’t quite planned that far out in their schemations. Trouble is: with the dino coming off about a foot on either side of the golf cart, it no longer fits in the bed of a truck. Being a golf cart which zooms along at a stunning 25 mph, it can’t exactly be driven down the 101 – lest even slow-ass old grandpas be reduced to gesticulating rudely in our general direction. Built for the playa, it’s meant to be outpaced by passing butterflies. And the guys, as proud little papas of their new baby, are loathe to dismantle it for transportation.

So what do they do? They call AAA.
This picture makes them look like a Christian rock band. ‘Cept they’re burners. Which is pretty much the antithesis of a Christian rock band.

AAA is entertaining the idea and asks for the addresses of pick-up and drop-off. My husband is negotiating with AAA, but doesn’t know the address of the guy’s house where it will be stored. Jeremy, the guy who does know the address has gone to the loo. So our friend, Jaime, is calling the guy in the loo for the address on one phone and relaying the information to Toby, who is on the other phone to Triple-A.
They’re talking to each other while on their cell phones – just not on the phone with each other.

So while this week’s You Capture was supposed to capture friends, and I was going for collaboration, what you see in the pictures is anomie. And a whole lot of technology.
Oh, the irony. (But hot dang, my man – the one in the black top – has a hot bod. Mm. Sorry. Easily distracted, I am.)

And as it turns out, AAA has no problem towing a recreational white and pink dino. What they do have a problem with is the fact that it is unregistered. No unregistered white-pink dinos for Triple A. Their dinos must come with papers. So after all that, the boys had to rent a U-Haul to tow it. Then the U-Haul turned out to be about 4 inches too short and they had to dismantle the dino anyway.

Because this happened:
Dino upload FAIL.

But it’ll all be worth it once that dino hits the playa.

A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man


I believe everybody deserves the opportunity to go to Burning Man. Whether or not you decide to take that opportunity is a decision only you can make. Never let someone else tell you whether you should or shouldn’t go. Only you can determine just how willing you are to deal with adverse climates and how open you are to letting go of all societal inhibitions. But there’s nothing worse than being left behind because you’re told you probably can’t deal with it (especially if, in your heart, you disagree). I have a pretty rigid layer of societal inhibition, but it is also pretty thin. When I made the decision to go to Burning Man for the first time, I also made a decision to let that layer go. Turns out, when I opened my eyes on the playa that first morning, I took to that dry lake bed like a duck to water.


That said, Burning Man is not something to take lightly. It’s not camping in Yosemite with the grandparents and it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a mindf*ck, and it’s everything and more you could ever want it to be. But it helps to be prepared. And not just with your camping gear, but with your entire being, mind, heart and soul. To really go to Burning Man, you really have to BE there. To do that, you have to come mentally prepared.


So here is a list of suggestions to help you prepare for your virgin trip to Black Rock City:

1. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, you MUST read the Event Survival Guide. In order to be mentally prepared for Burning Man, you must first be physically prepared for it. Make sure you have good shelter, proper equipment to protect yourself and your camp, enough food and water, and other creature comforts to ensure your basic survival. People think Burning Man is all about dropping acid and having sex in the desert, and while for some people that is true, you can’t do either of those things if you’re suffering from dehydration or you’ve effed yourself on some wayward rebar in a duststorm. While people are more than willing to help, there is no guarantee they can and it’s not fair to assume you can leech off the good will of others. It IS radical self-reliance.

2. Bring the craziest, awesomest costumes you can think of. Nobody expects you to act or dress in any particular way – and that is the beauty of Burning Man: you can be WHOEVER the f*ck you want to be. You can go as Superman; you can go in your prom dress, you can go as your total free self; you can even go completely naked the entire seven days you’re there. If you could step into an alternate universe and your outfit could really reflect your inner mushu dingbat fliftybuck, what would it look like? Whatever that is, wear that. You can look however you want to, but do think about it and prepare for it, because otherwise when you get out there and see everyone else floating around with their mojo shining, you’re gonna wish you did that too. My absolute favorite outfit from my first time was a bright hot pink miniskirt with matching cowboy hat and Hello Kitty pasties. And I was hot. Not because I was topless save for two little stickers, but because when I wore that outfit I just exuded confidence and my own little spirit and other people responded to it. It’s not uncommon to walk around the playa and have random strangers tell you how beautiful you are. Because not only are you less inhibited to be yourself, you’re also less inhibited to recognize the beauty of others and tell them you appreciate their existence.

By far, the biggest concern I hear most often from Burning Man virgins is that they fear they don’t have the self-confidence to put themselves out there like other burners. My first response is: Don’t worry about it. Absolutely nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear. So if you don’t feel comfortable dressing up, just go in your comfy camping/vacation clothes. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There are absolutely NO expectations regarding dress codes. My second response is to remind you that you have an entire week to get acclimated. So bring what you would wear if you had the cajones, and decide once you’re there whether you want to wear it or not. Most likely, once you see all the cool stuff people are wearing, you’re gonna want to do it too, and you’ll have started to get used to the whole no-judgment atmosphere. The only thing that would suck is to wish you had an outfit to wear, but to be stuck having brought nothing. It’s better to at least have the option.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, take a gander at Patrick Roddie and Scott London’s photos of what people have worn in past years.

3. Set your intentions and release your expectations. It helps to go to Burning Man with a goal in mind, but you cannot have any expectations for what will happen, how people (including yourself) will be, or what it will be like. Burning Man will screw with you if you expect something out of it. But if you have a little wish, it’ll deal it back to you in ways you could never dream. My first time, I wanted to recover from a very difficult and traumatic experience. My only aim was to go write something on the Temple and hope that it helped. When I arrived, when I discovered the Temple that year was the Temple of Forgiveness, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear; it was exactly what I had come for. I made my gift for the Temple and when I sat in the silence with tens of thousands of others watching it burn, I felt the most incredible cleansing and release. I found forgiveness, and I found it in abundance. So come with a wish. It can be as little as to just have a good time, or as big as a soul-changing experience. Just don’t have any preconceptions for how it’ll play out.

4. Bring a gift. You’ll hear this a thousand times: Burning Man is not a spectator sport. It is full participation. One of the best ways to participate is to bring something you can offer the community. This year, my camp is bringing a full bar stocked with $1,500 worth of good booze. We will unload ALL of it by the end of the week. And remember, it’s a GIFT economy; you give, you don’t barter, and you sure as heck don’t sell. In fact, it’s very odd and disconcerting to make your first cash transaction after leaving the playa and re-entering the default world; it seems a gift economy is the way things should be. But the number one reason why giving is great participation is because you put yourself out there and meet so many wonderful people. My first time, I baked 200 cookies and walked around with a little spray bottle filled with water and lavender essential oils, asking everybody I saw whether they wanted a cookie or a misting. I met so many wonderful people and got to see so much cool stuff, it was pure joy to do it – it just feels good to give. And within two days, people would recognize me and call out, “Hey it’s the Cookie & Mister girl!” (Don’t be surprised if you develop a playa name.)

5. Lastly, I would recommend bringing one or two items that would just make your trip the tits. The one or two creature comforts that transport you from doing just okay, to saying, “Life is aaaalll rriiiiight…” For me, that is baby wipes and the lavender water. I take little “baths” with the baby wipes every morning to freshen up, and the spray bottle helps cool me down in the heat and the lavender oil is relaxing and refreshing. Perfect for my soul. But find your thing, whether it’s your kick-ass homemade bloody mary mix, your favorite tunes, or your must-have comfort food (dry ice does wonders for keeping things cold), and be sure to bring that along.

Burning Man is a million things indescribable, but the first words you’ll hear when you step foot on the playa are “Welcome Home.”

Come find our bar at Spearmint Dino (Adapt & 7:30) and we’ll pour you a drink!

The Ballad of Jack & Rose


Watching this movie, for me, was something like watching an exquisitely produced and gorgeously rendered slow-motion series of train wrecks. It was so beautiful, and yet so traumatic to watch. The acting, direction, and cinematography were all absolutely superb, and the characters had such great – or at least understandable – intentions and desires, but they went about them all the wrong way. And you, the audience, know the travesty is coming and are powerless to stop it.

My husband and I got two very different readings of the movie. Or perhaps, more accurately, we came away from it with two very different messages. Honestly, what he got from it was probably much closer to the filmmaker’s intent. It’s as the film wanted to say “See? This is how it’s supposed to be! Happiness is freedom from the corruption of others.”

I wanted to shout “No! You’ve got it all wrong!” Because if that is indeed what the movie intended, then I disagree with it’s basic view of human nature and the purpose and effects of human society, and I can draw evidence from it’s own characters and plot to show why I disagree.

I realize at this point I’m not doing a very good job of selling this movie. But if you like independent films, films with multiple possible interpretations, or movies that make you think about where you stand in this world, then this is the movie for you. (Highly recommended for burners, artists, philosophers, and political and literary theorists. Burners especially will relate to the difficulty of moving between an ideal world and the ‘default world’.) I don’t want to spoil any of the movie for anyone, so I won’t say exactly what happens in it. Beyond its premise, I’ll only say what it made me think about.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an outstanding job of portraying an environmentally-conscious father, Jack, who raises his daughter, Rose, on a remote island where they are almost entirely self-sufficient. They live in near total peace and happy harmony until he becomes terminally ill and realizes he must work out some other arrangement to care for his daughter when he passes away. So he tries to introduce other people to their little happy commune and trouble ensues from there. Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges also star in this film.

It’s rather difficult to discuss without getting into specifics, but what I thought when I saw the movie was that it shows just how powerful socialization is in shaping us. Our parents and all the people around us have a very important role to play in shaping our beliefs, in how we interact with the world, and what we know to be right and wrong. And what I really thought when I saw it was that what is really important is to have a variety of people around us, to teach us right from wrong as well as how to interact well with others. Perhaps it’s the Buddhist in me speaking, but what I saw was a need for balance: that going too far for one ideal means sacrificing others (and in this movie, it puts you in the awkward position of facing the question: is incest wrong because society says it’s wrong, or is there something inherently wrong with incestuous relationships?). Growing up with only her father, Rose acquired all his ideals, but she also suffered tremendously because of his failings. Because he didn’t know how to communicate, she didn’t either – and her attempts at communication devolved into increasingly hurtful and dangerous actions designed to protect her self interest. I’m not saying she is wrong; only that she didn’t know better. She had only ever been allowed to be with her father, could only know what it was to love him, which led to a sexual mess when it came to any positive feelings towards men.

We may not always like what people different from us do and say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are indecent people. As different as people may be, we do share commonalities, and more importantly, there is often something we can learn from others. Ideology is important, having a set of values is what defines us as a people and as individuals, but sometimes ideological coherence is not itself ideal. Ideals taken to the extreme can lead to suffering, and ultimately undermine their own purpose.

How You Know Clothes Have Been to the Playa

And by the playa, I don’t mean the beach. I mean Burning Man, the place where all collective intentionality coalesces generating a mind-bending, spirit-stretching, communo-phenomatic experience.

Yesterday I posted about the clothing swap. Well, at said clothing swap I picked up a gorgeous red-pink-magenta-maroon-toned, hand-knit scarf. I’ve seen similar ones at Urban Outfitters, but never could quite convince myself to pony up the cash for an accessory. So when I saw the scarf, I did not hesitate to grab it and stuff it in my pile of takens before anyone else did.

However, when I got home and pulled out the scarf, an overwhelming, overpowering odor hit me upside the snout. It wasn’t musty like attic, or noxious like BO. It wasn’t even a bad smell, really, just some indefinable brand of pungent. And there’s only one thing on earth that could create a smell like that–the Black Rock Desert. And clearly this scarf had not been washed since. Most likely its former owner came back exhausted, euphoric and caked in playa, shoved the scarf into some unknown recesses not wanting to deal with de-playafying it and forgot about it until the swap. Tossing it in the swap pile is easier than coping with such an object.

This object, this scarf, was the succubus of clothing. The smell was so pungent it infiltrated all the clothes around it, and infused them all with its evil. I had to hand wash it separately to prevent further spread of the nefarious fumes.

And this is how you really know an object has been to the playa: it takes four separate hand-washings to get out the grey alkali mud that is so fine it is invisible on the object, but nevertheless fills the suds you rinse out of it. It takes four washings to turn the soap suds from grey to white. Then it takes a fifth washing to get the object to almost smell as if it had been washed. And your hands feel chalky even though they’re clean. It almost makes you want to douse the thing in vinegar, set it on fire and have done with it.

Cleaning up after the Burn is a pain in the ass. I bitch, but anyone who has been to Burning Man knows, I bitch with love. (And would happily subject myself to it all over again.)

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