It’s been just over two weeks since the gates closed behind us in Black Rock City. Since returning from the confines of that filth-infused adult playground… what some might call Nirvana in Nevada… a lot of friends have asked me, How was Burning Man?
There’s a video out there you’ve probably seen. “How was Burning Man?” she asks.
“How was Burning Man?”, he replies. “It’s a fundamentally absurd question. You should be asking me how wasn’t Burning Man… It was spiritual, physical, mental. It was everything.”
The parody is heavily based on the ramblings of your average attendee. We won’t shut up about it, if you give us the chance to start. We will jump on that pedestal and preach of the greatest city on earth and all its glory. We won’t let anyone “less informed” stomp on our sky castles.
We will try to convince you, even as your eyes glaze over, that your very soul would reach near enlightenment should you pedal a week on this numinous playa. It is dazzling out there. It is dusty. It is more than we could tell you without smiling. There are parts we won’t remember, but more we’ll never forget.
To anyone thinking about going to Burning Man for the first time, there seems to be a lot to weigh up.
Yes it’s expensive. Yes it’s a pain in the arse to get to. Yes it’s going to eat up a shit-load of your vacation time and yes, you are going to be without the Internet for a week.
You could laze it up in the Costa del Sol. Or Center Parcs. You could even just go to Glastonbury. All of them would be cheaper. And cleaner. You’d even still have WIFI.
In order to know for sure whether going to Burning Man is worth it, you’re going to have to fork out the two grand (more-or-less if you live outside of the U.S), hire yourself a car/U-Haul/exorbitantly-priced RV and traipse your way through Trump’s Nevada to a land he could never understand.
A land where the imagination, resilience and utter absurdity of 75,000 people makes anything possible.
You’re just going to have to go.
And maybe by the end of your Burning Man week, you too won’t understand how there are people out there who don’t know about this. You too won’t want to get back on the Internet. You too won’t want to look at the news, not right away. You won’t want the magic to end.
It will make you feel a thousand things out there, screwed by a sandstorm, floored by human spirit, equally impressed and disturbed by the capacity of your fellow city-dwellers to roam for days without sleep in their psychedelic stupors.
One afternoon, I was wondering at the point of a writing desk in deep playa, when I started to chat with a man in his late 50s, in a mohawk and tight leather pants. He explained he’d written five letters before coming to Burning Man. Each was meant for someone different. He told me he’d know who those people were when he met them.
We ended up chatting for about an hour. Then he handed me an envelope.
I waited till the gates had closed behind us before I opened my letter. It was all about courage. I had seemed courageous to him, apparently. And I’d reminded him of a time when he’d had to be courageous himself. I found that really weird. I’d been feeling a bit shell-shocked at that point, to be honest. I’d gone out alone to be… alone.
You’re never alone at Burning Man.
He had his reasons, he wrote, for having to summon the strength to go on. Like others on a sandy pilgrimage to the playa’s towering temple, he’d brought his pain and his suffering to Burning Man. In writing his letters, too, he felt he’d made a good start in letting it all go. He came to find peace, he said, and to leave everything else in the ashes.
Some come to Burning Man to party, to roam for days in a psychedelic stupor. Some come for the art. Some come to make a fresh start. Some come to do it all. The theme this year was robots. There were a lot of robots. But what we found most of was humanity.
We share what we have. We ensure everyone has enough of what they need. We have booze, we have food, we have rules. We have compassion, we have kindness. We have fun.
We work together to make the good stuff happen. And it is a lot of work. It’s hard to get there, and it’s harder when you’re there.
So should you go? Isn’t it all just a dust-riddled hippy fest? Isn’t this blog just woo-woo crap from another sleep deprived idiot who should really be doing her laundry, (which is still white with dust in a corner). Won’t you smell, and come away poor, and wish you’d gone to the Costa del Sol?
But maybe it will teach you a lot about yourself; a week that feels like a year. Maybe you’ll find peace and a leftover bag of weed in a pile of teddy bears.
Maybe when you close your inbox in Reno, you’ll start to address some stuff you’ve left unopened inside you.
Maybe you’ll come away lighter, after leaving your secrets with strangers.
You want to twerk and play Twister at a Miley Cyrus party, eat mashed potato and gravy from an ice-cream cone, and watch two trains smash together in an orchestrated wreck? Why wouldn’t you?
You want to attend an eye-gazing ceremony and quiver your way to ecstasy without touching anyone, or anything, then have a pillow fight with a 75-year old woman and her son? Why shouldn’t you?
You want to dance to a Mayan Warrior under desert skies? Toast another sunrise with free-flowing champagne? Lay your memorial to a loved one on the dusty ground and cry, cry, cry? It’s OK to be sad here. It’s OK to be happy right after.
You want to kiss a man who three-hours ago was just another stranger in bunny ears and a tutu? You want to witness art the likes of which took people months, even years to plan and place out here, in the middle of nowhere? This is the place for you. This inimitable neon galaxy that pulses with bass and blazes with bicycles and makes you feel alive.
In this place, regular life and logic will literally eat your dust. Your eyes will be blurred from seeing too much and sleeping too little. If you choose such a perspective, you will witness magic and miracles… or brain-hurting head-fucks daily.
You can look at it all as a noisy, ridiculous, never-ending filth-parade you’d rather die than participate in again. After all, have you seen those porta-potties at 1am?!
You can turn a blind eye to your “default world” and spend a day getting spanked, or making cat-faces out of your nipples, or learning blow job techniques and eating grilled cheese sandwiches handed to you in lacy panties.
You can make lasting friendships with people just like you, and with people who are nothing like you at all.
You can come home! That’s where “Burners” love to say they are. They come home to the kid who never grew up, who still prefers to buzz through the day in butterfly wings. They come for the good of the kid they once were, before they lost faith, or love, or hope… or everything. Sometimes they even bring their real kids.
There is glamour here…
But there is horror.
You will have never been this dirty. You will have never been this tired. You will have never experienced such FOMO while simultaneously experiencing more fun than you thought it possible to have. Every party is the best party. Every time you sleep… and sleep you must, eventually… you miss out.
Unless you’d prefer to miss out.
Only you can decide if you should go to Burning Man, because yes, you might hate it.
Or it might be one of the best things you ever did.