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.
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.