I have a profound need to actively engage in my own life. Whatever the hell that means. I am a doer. When I gain knowledge of something that interests me, I think, “Let’s go. Let’s do this.” I struggle with ‘someday people.’ I am the type of person that if someone says to me, “I have always wanted to go to Thailand,” I respond with, “Let’s pull out our calendars.” If that person looks at me sideways and simply says, “I’ll go someday,” you can bet money, they will never go. I heard about Burning Man from a friend. He tried explaining it to me; he tried showing me pictures. I still didn’t get it, but I wanted to. I kept looking at pictures and reading blogs on fire dancers and costuming. I thought this is something I need to do, to feel I have experienced the full range of life.
I have had the privilege of attending Burning Man twice. I went 2015 and 2016. Both burns were completely different experiences. As the point of this blog is to help inspire doing something for this first time, I will focus on my first burn.
The story of my first burn began in August 2015. I had started dating a man, let’s call him EDH. I had gone on three dates with EDH at the time, and I sat across from him quietly picking at my drink. “Have you heard of Burning Man?” I asked. “I think I am just going to go.” He gasped several times. He told me how he had wanted to go to Burning Man for over a decade. I smiled and said, “I’ll have to tell you about it when I get back.” I wanted this trip for me. I wanted to experience this on my own.
My first burn fell together so easily. I obtained a ticket (and didn’t get scammed) and accommodations came together for me in an RV. I went out and bought outrageous costumes, I joined multiple facebook groups, and I still had no idea what to expect.
I made the drive to Black Rock City with my car loaded up and butterflies in my stomach. I was greeted at the gates with a bear hug by a dust-covered man wearing only a kilt. He scanned my ticket and told me, ‘welcome home.’ Through those gates, I went on to have one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Every morning, I got up and rode my bike onto to the playa. I stopped at various tents and talked to people giving away coffee and wanting nothing in return. I rode my bike to the different works of art. Nights, I would ride from DJ to DJ dancing to music and meet new people. It was one of the most amazing and random experiences at the same time.
The most meaningful part of my first burn was my visit to the temple. The temple is a wooden structure. It is a solemn monument standing among the eclectic art. The temple is a quiet place for reflection. On the walls, you see tributes and memorials to people who have lost loved ones. I took a moment to write a note to my step-grandmother, in sharpie, on the walls of the temple. I told her I was sorry I didn’t try harder to visit her before she died. I then, sat alone under my writing and cried. I had never fully processed her death, or my guilt for denying her requests asking me to make the drive to El Dorado, Kansas to visit her one last time. As I cried, strangers came up and hugged me. One man looked at me and said, “I am just going to stand next to you, as a presence so you know you are not alone.” To me, that is burning man. That is radical inclusion. It isn’t the parting or the costumes; it is being accepted in your most honest form. I was sitting alone in the temple, wearing a rainbow-colored corset and matching tutu, bonding with strangers who wanted only to provide comfort in a moment of pain.
The majority of Burning Man is fun and games. The city quickly becomes a community. Walking along the streets of Burning Man, I have stumbled across a full-on roller skating rink, twerking contests, dance parties and anything else the creative human mind can concoct. Last year a piece of a Boeing 747 was brought in and used as a lounge. My favorite camp is near center point. Every morning a group of people come together and hand out freshly baked focaccia bread and mint tea. It is a place to relax and socialize. My favorite event every year is the French Toast and Lingerie party. Wear your favorite outfit and get served some yummy french toast.
Burning Man is a place for people to go out and be their most authentic self. It is amazing how natural it feels to dress in wild costumes and hop on and off wild artistic cars. I acclimated quickly to all of the quirkiness around me. Decompression, as it is called (coming home after burning man) can be a rough transition. You go from wearing clothing that makes you feel expressive, to wearing what the latest magazine tells is trending. After seeing people put so much time and energy into creating transportation illustrating their personality, you return to the real world of silver and white cars all looking the same. It can be a bit sad for people. That is why you will hear so many people refer to burning man as home. And from one burner to another I can tell you, there is no place like home.
Master of Burning Man:
David Bell is a veteran burner. He has burned 12 times and heads Camp Shrunken Heads. To prepare for my first burn, I joined a local facebook group and was quickly put in contact with David Bell. When I asked David for his number one piece of advice is for a first-time burner he said, “Don’t worry about the bullshit, you can buy ice and melt it for water. Just get a ticket and get your butt down there. Mentally you have to be tough. People can be assholes in the desert just like in the city. It’s not nirvana. I always sleep inside my car. I had a spare tent, but it got run over by a drunken dinosaur.”
“Burning Man is no one thing. It is a self-fueled art expression festival. The point is seeing the people. We are all so fucking scared in life. In America, we are scared shitless. At Burning Man, you get to relax and play.” I asked him how he responded when people ask about the sex and drug aspect of Burning Man. “It definitely has a lot of adult shit. You aren’t going to be walking down the street and have someone ask you if you want drugs, but they are definitely there.”
*Please note that some pictures are from 2015 and others are from 2016
**Click here for Part 2: Burning Man for the First Timer