This is all to say that if you try to contact me between Sunday, August 24th and Monday, September 1st, I will not be able to answer.
I’m a virgin. A Burning Man virgin.
This year, I’m headed to the Playa for the first time, and the planning for it has somewhat taken over my life.
Since I’ve never gone, I cannot really describe it. But from my hours of reading and research and conversation, I have come to surmise that Burning Man is a sort of music festival, art fair, better-world conference, camping trip and self improvement workshop all rolled into one bacchanalian week far out in the Nevada desert in a pop-up infrastructure dubbed Black Rock City. It revolves around the themes of radical self expression, a non-commoditized gift economy, and self-reliance.
I first heard about burning man through Elephant Journal and thought, “Well, that sounds weird. And kind of cool. But mostly weird.” I don’t think my 23-year-old self was ready for it. But as I’ve matured and developed my sense of self, I’ve become the kind of person who really, really wants to go to Burning Man.
1. Last year when I wrote a piece about absolutely loving but getting bored with the music scene in New York, a commenter said, “Clearly, you have never been to Burning Man.”
2. It’s the largest “Leave No Trace” event in the world.
3. In the name of “radical self expression,” you get to dress in whatever way makes you happy, whether it’s a tutu, vintage dress, your bare skin, bikini, jeans and a cowboy hat, tuxedo, rave wear, or whatever else speaks to your heart’s innermost style desires. How fun is that?
4. The art is incredible. In the literal sense of the word. Unable to believe. Crazy. Lights-blinking, larger-than-life, gorgeous, out-of-this-world, in-the-middle-of-the-desert-in-a-sandstorm incredible.
5. There is an entire camp/volunteer corps of people dedicated to protecting the environment of Black Rock Desert. They’re called Earth Guardians.
6. There is absolutely no service or internet. None. No Instagram or Facebook or hashtags or Google or text messages or calls. I’ve been feeling super ambivalent about my relationship to my phone lately. And I get really sad when I find myself in the middle of a “phone party.” So, this forced disconnection is so tantalizing.
7. They have a term for any and all litter and waste, MOOP, which stands for matter out of place, “a convenient way of referring to anything that is not originally of the land on which our event takes place. So everything that wasn’t originally ON or OF the Black Rock Desert, no matter how small, is considered MOOP.” They are serious about not letting any MOOP stay on the Playa after Burning Man is over.
8. So many yoga classes! Starting at 6 am through the morning, with a break for midday and then starting again in the afternoon, you could easily spend your entire Burning Man experience trying out several styles of yoga, including AcroYoga, naked yoga, sunrise yoga, vinyasa yoga, and yoga under black lights. Or you can meditate. Or you can go on a group jog. Whatever you want.
9. There is a temporary, full-sized temple, where you can lay to rest all the things you are ready to let go, whether it’s bad feelings, old relationships, grief over a lost loved one, or past mistakes. On the last night, it is burned in a striking visual metaphor for letting go and moving on.
10. Burning Man operates on the gift economy. Once you are there, everything is free, and you are expected to give back in some way. You do all your massive spending before to get supplies and costumes and plane tickets and rent an RV, but once you get there, no bottle service-type bullshit exists.
11. The gift economy and no-waste mentality have intersected, giving rise to a drumbeat that encourages the gift of self instead of trinkets or things. An economy of helpfulness, as far as I can tell, has flourished, as people give the gift of extra helping hands or lending a tool.
12. You are encouraged to incorporate this ecological philosophy into Burning Man fashion, by having a MOOP bag–and small cloth bag that you can clip to your belt or bag or pack–where you can put MOOP that you produce, and MOOP that you come across while walking around the Playa. (I’m using one of the nice cloth bags I’ve gotten with purchase of eco-friendly accessories.)
13. After the event is over the Department of Public Works’ Playa Restoration Team stays on for months to carefully clean up the last of the MOOP from the Playa and make sure everything is as if humans never set foot there. And they publicly call out camps that did not effectively clean up after themselves. The next year, that camp will get stuck at the back in an undesirable location.
14. Knowing you have to pack everything back out again incentivizes you against extraneous packaging and waste. Everyone is expected to have and carry around their own reusable cup, bowl, and eating utensils. This has given me the rare and juicy opportunity to helpfully educate my RV mates about using less packaging and going bulk, cleverly hidden under the guise of improving their Burning Man experience.
15. My boyfriend is playing three (maybe four) sets while we are there. One of them is at sunrise and I CANNOT WAIT OMG.
16. You can improve yourself. With workshops on relationship communication, how to be a feminist in the bedroom, breaking bad habits, negotiation, belly dance basics, dreamcatcher crafting (aw, reminds me of summer camp!), survival skills, lucid dreaming, meditative eating, telling a compelling story and more, I’m sure I’ll come away inspired to change my life for the better.
17. Everyone gets around by bike. (Except when one is on a traveling art car, a bus usually equipped with a fly sound system.) There’s even a camp that will fix your bike for you.
18. There’s a special TEDx conference at Black Rock City.
19. There is a guideline to creating outfits that aren’t MOOP-y. Feathers, which fly loose and are not natural to the Playa (try making leather feathers instead!), faux-fur, glitter and sequins, Mardi Gras beads, gems, false eyelashes, bindis, body gems, belly dancing coin belts, fringe, pom-poms, grass skirts, and stuff attached with hot glue all fall off. And they don’t want it in the desert. So basically, skip the trashy stuff and go with well-crafted, beautiful items instead. I’m down with that. In fact, they encourage sustainable outfit-making, by recommending thrift and vintage shopping, and encouraging you to patronize outfit makers who craft from upcycled clothing.
20. There’s plenty of time to relax, with camps providing chai tea, a bedouin oil bath, margaritas, hammocks, gongs, and everything else you need for a moment away from the chaos.
21. There’s a camp called Farmer’s Market, where you can get a freshly made smoothie mixed with the help of a bike.
22. Greywater management is serious business. (Greywater is the water produced when you shower, wash your hands, brush your teeth, etc.) You have to bring your own water, than bring it back out again. If you shower, you have to put the greywater back in a jug. I would imagine this encourages extreme thoughtfulness when it comes to using water efficiently. They even have published instructions for building a contraption that helps evaporate your greywater for easier management.
23. There’s an entire camp devoted to recycling your aluminum.
24. They incentivize renewable energy use, in lieu of generators, with a program that lets you affordably rent solar panels for your camp, called Radically Affordable Solar for Playa Artists. You can also take one of several tours that teach you about renewable energy projects throughout Black Rock City.
25. A well-developed network of trash and recycling is available for everyone leaving Burning Man, in order to eradicate dumping. (And they encourage you to keep your trash and recycling separate for easier disposal.)
26. It’s sex positive. Here anything and everything goes, including spanking, orgies, naked partying, a place for discreet experimentation by the bi-curious male, temporary divorce, temporary marriage, group masturbation … really, whatever! As long as it isn’t damaging or hurtful to someone else. So it may be a little crazy, but it’s all very consensual. Event descriptions say things like, “Get involved with some of your closest Playa friends and some new friends in trading your old Playa Dust in for a clean body ready to be dusted again. This event honors your stated boundaries of where you do want to be touched and washed.” And you can walk around naked without someone catcalling you or assaulting you and saying, “She was asking for it.”
27. I have it on good authority that it will be life changing.