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.
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.