It’s that time of year again: Burning Man.
A time when tens of thousands of people from around the world gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create a temporary, participatory metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.
As a past attendee, I can attest to just how radical and life-changing of an experience Burning Man really is. It’s more than just a city in the desert or an art festival -- it’s a culture of possibility among a network of dreamers and doers.
So instead of buying that flower headcrown and changing your Facebook status to “desert woke,” you’ll need to mentally and physically prepare yourself for what might be the best, most enlightening, and potentially challenging week of your life.
Have questions or need advice? Well, in a world where Google can’t answer everything, Alexa is unavailable without wifi, and SIRI STILL DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING, this guide shares the real information you need to Burn right.
First, let’s cover the basics:
Yes, you may use these as #’s when you harass the internet upon returning
Black Rock City (BRC): The annual, temporary city created by the Burning Man (BM) community
Burner: attended the festival at least once; pursues a way of life based on BM principles
Burn Virgin: You
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): A harmless mental disorder caused by the overwhelming scope of things to do and see in BRC; may lead to sleep deprivation.
Gremlins: People who turn into little party monsters once the sun goes down, exposed to bright/neon lights, or fed various things.
MOOP: Matter Out Of Place; litter, debris.
Playa: think “beach in Spanish,” not “promiscuous individual...” (though you’ll find both)
Sparklepony: Derogatory term for one who fails to embrace radical self-reliance (overly relies on the resources of friends/community). Often fashionably attired, since they packed nothing but costumes.
Theme camps: Tribes with communal space for members; offer interactive opportunities (music, art, events, food, etc.) to festival community
The 10 Principles: the core of BM: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, Immediacy
Moving onto those #Burning questions on your mind.
What not to ask the internet
Q: An entire week outside? Will I have to pee in a bush?
A: Of course not -- there are no bushes in the desert.
Not only are there are clean portapotties (at the beginning of the day at least), but it’s also highly unadvised to excrete outdoors (hint: that’s MOOP). Leave no trace of doodoo behind.
Q: Am I completely cut off from the outside world?
A: No -- there’s a BRC postal service to keep in touch with muggle friends.
If you arrive before all 70,000 expected attendees, you might have cell service. But only use your phone to CAPTURE photos, even if you’re one of the lucky few with signal. It’s against BM etiquette. Plus, if you POST on social media, your boss will know you’re not completely off the grid. Enjoy answering emails in the desert.
Q: Do I have to join a Theme Camp?
A: Not if you prefer doing WAY MORE work yourself, especially on vacation.
People in camps are assigned different roles and shifts (kitchen, bartending, building, etc) which means you don’t have to spend your entire day surviving/working. You can instead go enjoy the marvelous art and activities other camps are offering.
Q: Is there really a sex dome? Naked people? Weird Sh**? Drugs?
A: What ye seek, ye shall find...
But don’t worry. Ye is safe and ye personal space is valued.
Q: No Rules...as in I can do WHATEVER I WANT?
But keep in mind that Burning Man takes place on federal land, and is subject to local, state and federal laws, including those involving illicit narcotics. Officers are on-site.
Q: But how do I clean up without running water?
A: If you’re Greek, Windex.
Other options include solar showers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, dry shampoo, etc. There’s also a theme camp that offers a “human carwash.”
Q: What if I get hurt at the Festival?
A: You’ll die.
- There are FREE emergency medical services with volunteer EMT’s and doctors. I may have tested it out first hand last year … Best X-rays I’ve ever had.
Q: Is it true that everyone at Burning Man is on drugs?
A: Only on days that end in Y
No. In fact, many participants are sober, and there are even support groups (like AA meetings) that take place! Plus, SO MANY camps offer free drinks and enough fun to keep you entertained legally.
And now for the fun stuff…
HOW TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BURN
Prep like your momma made you: though you don’t necessarily have to tell her you’re going
The more you plan in advance, the more carefree fun you’ll have. Plan your outfits day-by-day, what you’ll eat (snacks vs camp provided meals), create a checklist of what you’re bringing, and figure out how you’re getting it all there and back (return journey is arguably more difficult). Reminder: don’t be a sparklepony.
Tried-and-tested ways to have the best f***ng experience ever.
Items to always have on your person: Strap it to your fanny or put it on your back
A Quest/protein bar, moisturizer, sunblock, goggles (sunglasses alone won’t help during dust storms), bandana, chapstick, water bottle, hand sanitizer, cup with lid, a notebook/pen, your ID (it’s still 21+ to drink), and a tampon (even if just to gift to someone unprepared).
Make a loose agenda: #noFOMO
Though your plans will always change (like when you meet those New Zealanders that ask you to witness their wedding 5 minutes from now) identify the must-SEE’s and must-DO’s in advance. Give yourself a guideline of what you want to experience outside of partying.
Go Glamping: Girls don’t poop -- but if we did, we’d prefer to do it in an RV.
If you have the means to do it, do it. Save up and stay in an RV, or make friends with people who have one.
Give Superior Hugs: the average BM hug lasts WAY longer than a civilian hug -- and it’s MAGICAL. Give hugs out like candy on Halloween.
Bike, Babe: Treat bikes like boyfriends -- dress them up, take them with you, and lock them down.
1- Unique bikes are easier to spot in a sea of THOUSANDS. Wild designs and materials (fur, totems, lights, etc.) will satisfy your inner child.
2- Even if you’re going somewhere closeby, you’ll meet people who want to explore...don’t get left behind without a bike handy.
3- Burners don’t steal (I’ve seen laptops, passports, wallets, etc. returned) but Gremlins often mistake bikes as their own or think “they’re borrowing it.”
Network: Float like a butterfly, but don’t sting like a bee
Many influential artists, creators and leaders have called the Playa home (Elon Musk, Heidi Klum, Katy Perry, etc). Set your intention to rub dust-bows with inspirational people, and spend time with strangers. But don’t schmooze, it’s against the code. Friendships may carry into the real world, but don’t lead with that.
Volunteer: BM is not a spectator sport
There are so many opportunities to keep BM running by getting involved and meeting badass people. You can sign up for shifts at Center Camp including: postal office, lamplighting (an epic nightly ceremony), Moop, at theme camps camps, etc.
Make Fashion Your Passion: BM is like Halloween for adults (even though Halloween is really for adults)
Go all out with your costume -- headdresses, jewelry, props, wigs, hats, glitter, body paint, statement pieces -- and have people appreciate the art you’re wearing. TIP: recycle old clothes, get combat boots, shop at Goodwill, braid your hair for one hair-do, and go faux-fur.
Gift, gift, gift: you are what you give… (but seriously, Usher)
They say happiness can’t be bought, but it can be shared. Who needs money in a world where everyone gives time, love, and tangible items like food, trinkets, etc.?! The Playa is a desert oasis, contribute accordingly
You should drop everything and go Burn.
All humor aside, it’s hard to paint a picture of just how impactful and life-changing Burning Man was for me. I went in with the intention of finding myself -- and because I was prepared, I did that plus way more.
I let my guard down and explored strange ideas with new friends of all ages, and cried an embarrassing amount of times. I questioned my spirituality, mentality and social constructs. I prayed, meditated, and mourned. Witnessed marriages, sunrises, and art. And frankly, I partied pretty damn hard. But for a week, I let go of who I “thought I was,” and instead, allowed my authentic self to be who I am.
I hope you’ll experience the magic as well. You’ll understand when you arrive and they welcome you home.
Every time I think I'm out of outrage — emotionally exhausted from how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fragility of all our society's systems and unable to think about it for another second — something forces me to dig deeper and find another well of it stored within me.
It's hard enough to watch people sick and suffering, families being split apart, healthcare workers risking their lives and well-being to provide care, and people losing their jobs left and right. It's even harder knowing that so much of this could have been prevented or lessened but for the poor decision-making and horrifying gaslighting that came from the White House in the weeks and months leading up to COVID-19's appearance in the U.S.
But to see some politicians use this pandemic as an excuse to ban abortion has been a low I wasn't prepared for while I shopped for extra canned goods and toilet paper.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a governing crisis for legislators at all levels. There is a role for everyone to play, from your city council members all the way up to your U.S. Senators. There are real needs these legislators should be focusing on to protect us all. But, instead, scores of politicians are using this moment to declare abortion care as "nonessential" and are forcing clinics to close.
Amid the necessary stay-at-home orders and guidelines for what kinds of services or procedures are considered essential and which ones must be delayed, Governors in Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma have acted to declare that abortion care is considered "nonessential."
They claim that these procedures must be stopped so medical personnel can preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for fighting COVID-19. But abortion isn't a procedure that can be easily delayed.
The longer you wait, the more expensive it is and, eventually, you run out of time altogether — sometimes because of existing restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy. Restrictions that these very same politicians support or maybe even put into place.
Abortion is connected to innumerable other issues that our society grapples with: employment, paid family leave, gender-based violence, generational poverty, adequate and quality childcare, job security, immigration, transportation, health insurance... HEALTH INSURANCE.
Every structure and component of our daily lives can and does impact a person's decisions around family-building and their ability to access healthcare when they need it. This doesn't just stop because of a pandemic.
Every single one of these issues is at risk right now, and leaving women with nowhere to go if they're facing an unintended pregnancy that they wish to end, is a new low.
To anyone who has been paying attention, how quickly our systems have buckled or how fragile our economic and health security actually is (and always has been) should come as no great surprise.
People with incredible privilege have been able to look the other way for years. But as their stocks tumble and they are forced to consider their health and that of their family members, perhaps they, too, will see that significant structural changes must be enacted to respond to the world we are living in.
The completely arbitrary nature of so many of our laws is being laid bare. The soul-crushing burdens of trying to manage everything — child care, working full time, and running a home and a family during a once-in-a-generation crisis — without a broad, systematic set of structures to support that process is being shown to be utterly impossible. It's simple logic.
Though opponents of reproductive rights have never been much for science, it's appalling how even now that is so blatantly true. Their argument for cutting off abortion access to preserve PPE for other health care services is easily countered when you note that continuing a pregnancy requires multiple prenatal visits and ultimately a hospital stay for actual delivery. All of which require a much higher amount of PPE being utilized over a significant period of time.
Meanwhile, we could transform the landscape of abortion access overnight if we simply expanded the availability of medication abortion, allowing women to get the safe and effective abortion pill without even having to go to a clinic. The U.K just took action to make this a reality. There's no reason, beyond petty politics, that the U.S. couldn't do the same. But, so far, the FDA isn't budging.
Of course, if we attempt to counter these increased abortion restrictions with facts, we'd be presuming that these opponents of abortion are arguing in good faith when they are absolutely not.
This isn't about health and safety during a global pandemic, and it's not about looking out for peoples' best interests. There's no reasonable argument to be made for forcing someone to continue a pregnancy against their will, especially while our entire world is in an upheaval.
The fact that these proponents of abortion restrictions are willing to twist a global pandemic to suit their own needs, and in antithesis to the simple facts of health and safety, is appalling. It is only adding more stress and heartache to already-challenging circumstances. Women in Texas and Oklahoma don't deserve that; no one does.
Pushing for abortion restrictions at a time like this isn't about healthcare, PPE, or even safety. It is a purposeful and manipulative political agenda that will make things even harder at a time when we can all agree things are hard enough.