“THE MAN BURNS IN 16 DAYS!!”
We’ve been preparing for this “camping” trip since we bought the tickets in March.
It’s interesting how many people here in the Midwest have never heard of Burning Man. Growing up in Southern California, it’s as well-known as Vegas and Tijuana. (I’m sure you’ve heard of Vegas…Tijuana is a well-visited tourist trap on the border of San Diego and Mexico). Those that have heard of BM usually have the same reaction that I did initially–“isn’t that a hippie festival with lots of sex and drugs??” Just like the evening news shows only what’s most shocking to get your attention, the perception of the 7-day event has gotten boiled down to frivolousness.
It all started over an alcohol-infused July 4th party at a friend’s a year ago. We’re a fun group of over-grown middle-aged teenagers, and we were discussing our bucket lists. It was fascinating to hear how different each of our lists were. We decided right then and there that we would not only write down the #1 bucket list item on each of our lists, but that we would, in solidarity, do everything possible to help one another make their number one bucket list dream come true. Mine is learning to scuba dive; another’s is singing karaoke in a crowded bar; another’s is running a half-marathon; and so on. And my husband’s was “attend Burning Man.” We went around the group one-by-one, describing our choices and what they meant to us and why they were important to us.
I am a firm believer in validating people’s feelings and experiences, mostly because mine weren’t growing up. Years of therapy have made me aware of how necessary it is to validate one another on this planet. I have taken to heart each of my friends’ bucket list choices but unfortunately, we have not progressed to crossing any of the choices off any of our lists as of yet.
We are about to cross off a big one–I’m attending Burning Man with my husband next week!
In the five months that have transpired since we purchased the tickets (which, by the way, are incredibly expensive and almost impossible to get–30,000 tickets sold out in 35 minutes this past March) I have watched countless YouTube videos and read even more articles on “Surviving Burning Man” than my teenage daughter has watched episodes of “Futurama”. My emotions about BM continue to see-saw between utter panic and unbridled excitement. It’s a bigger-than-life adventure, and if you Google anything about BM, watch the videos of the art.
The biggest problem for me when people ask me “what’s Burning Man?” is trying to describe it. It’s not a festival. It’s not a sex-and-drug hippie free-for-all. What it is is hard to describe, and since I haven’t gone yet, the best I can do is explain that it is a camping trip like no other.
It takes place in a remote area somewhere in Nevada. People come from all over the planet to create a man-made city called Black Rock City that exists only one week a year. It is a journey of self-reliance, as there are no trees, no stores, nothing to buy or rent. You set up your camp and bring everything you need to survive in the harsh atmosphere of the “Playa”–the surface of the campground is a powdery dust made of alkaline and the temps reach in the hundreds during the day and dip to the fifties at night. Each person is recommended to bring a gallon and a half of water to drink a day–that’s about 20 gallons for the two of us–not to mention food for seven days. There’s no campfires allowed, and the most important of the 10 Principles of Burning Man are “leave no trace”. There are no trash cans.
The emphasis is on giving and participating. It’s not something you just go to and sit and watch. “Radical inclusion” is what it’s called, and my gift will be free life-coaching advice. Kind of like a Lucy from Peanuts giving psychiatric help for five cents. She’s no more qualified than I am but I’m planning on getting my certificate this fall.
All I know is, after hundreds of hours of Googling and YouTubing, it’s what you make of it. Burning Man is an ideology of leaving behind all competition, technology, and conveniences for one week to reconnect with your soul and your fellow man. I think of it like a shortened “Alone” (the History Channel series) but more fun and I won’t have to scavenge for any limpets.
The “man” in Burning Man is a gigantic effigy that stands for whatever you want it to stand for. To me, it means something similar to what Jack Black as Dewy Finn refers to in “School of Rock”: “…the world is run by The Man. The Man, oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall….M.s Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the Amazon, he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock-n-roll, but guess what oh no, the Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul!”
The night before the final day, the Man at Burning Man is set ablaze. And whatever that means to each of us who will be present to see it destroyed will have an emotional reaction that I imagine will be indescribable. I can’t wait. It’s at the end of the event for good reason.
The following day, the Temple burns. The Temple is also constructed to be destroyed. People visit the Temple as pilgrimage for many reasons, such as pray for lost loved ones or to seek forgiveness for transgressions. Thousands and thousands of notes are written and left inside the Temple and on Sunday, the last day, the entire enormous structure is lit afire. I’ve heard that it is just as emotional as burning the Man.
Aw we continue to pack and gather up everything we’re going to need to survive not only a week in the desert but about 30 hours in the car each way, I have moments of sheer panic as well as excitement. I’m not a fan of port-a-potties but hey, it beats pooping in the bushes, so there’s that. I look forward to time alone with my husband on the road trip of a lifetime. We are two weeks away from becoming empty-nesters, and frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for us to go on this journey.
And yes, there will be AMAZING art, there will be music, there will be people who take drugs (unfortunately)and there will probably be half-naked people.
But that’s missing the point. For a princess like me who doesn’t really like camping at all, even with modern conveniences like having a shower nearby, this will be the ultimate test of my mettle. How flexible will I be, how resilient? How will I cope with all the challenges of self-reliance? I’ve heard that emotional breakdowns are common on the Playa and I’m already planning mine. I need to think ahead how I will handle the hard things. I already know there will be lots of fun things to do–making friends, visiting the different camps that offer everything from bracelet-making to “free hugs” to the infamous orgy-dome. With 61 pages of themes to choose from, if anything, we will have an intense case of FOMO because a week isn’t long enough to do and see everything.
Black Rock City will be an experience like no other, and I’ve heard that it’s so amazing people actually have a hard time transitioning back into mainstream society once it’s over. For all I know, I will be one of those people.
Having an open mind and a positive attitude is the most important thing I need to remember to bring to Burning Man. It’s as important as bringing enough food and water.
I plan on leaving my laptop at home and allowing myself to be in the present. I plan to write more on here when we return of course, and share my experiences with you. But for one week, there will be no cell phones, no TV, no news, no contact with the outside world whatsoever.
I CAN’T WAIT!!!!
Feel free to visit these sites to get you started. Maybe BM should be on YOUR bucket list!!!