Reporting from Black Rock City

Greetings from the Playa.

We’re on Day 4 of our 2018 adventure, hard at work on our camp build while acclimating to life in the desert. We’re thrilled to be here once again and very excited about the new ideas we’ve brought to camp this year.

Our camp serves as headquarters for the Temple Guardians and the site of Guardian training. This year’s Temple (Galaxia) is the biggest ever at 30,000 square feet and the build looks like a major construction project in some business park. As usual at this point in Playa prep there are rumors about whether the Temple will be completed on time, but such talk by individuals not involved in the build is mostly unreliable. Projects like the Temple look very incomplete until the final touches so there’s no way to judge the progress based on what we’ve seen so far.

Part of the Temple build site.

There are now five of us at the campsite and we’re making major strides quickly. However, arriving early presents an intimidating series of challenges. There’s not much to look at when you get here and it can be tough to find your way around with so few landmarks and no road signs. But as raw as everything looks, Black Rock City is already well developed, with streets and infrastructure in

How our campsite looked when we first arrived. Our RV looks pretty lonely out there all by itself. But things are improving quickly.

place and major art installations under construction. The DPW equipment yard is filled with an array of serious gear including forklifts, bucket trucks, cherry pickers, etc. The workers all seem cheerful and excited to be doing their jobs. No surliness among these men and women. One thing that’s notable out here is the sense of equality between the sexes. Women handle the same work as the men and are often in charge of major projects (for example, the head of the Man build team is a woman that we know from our years at Lamplighters).

It’s hard, hot work here and we tend to work early and late, taking siesta time in the heat of the day.  We don’t know what to expect beyond our own planned activities at this year’s Burn (which include the wedding of our son and future daughter-in-law).  When we arrived, there were not yet any Greeters to hand out the What When Where guides, and we’ll have to wait until around opening day on the 26th to get one.  We’ve already heard about the complete Boeing 747 that’s been transported to the Playa and is open for viewing and exploring.

The challenges of working in the Black Rock Desert: wind, dust, heat.

Had my first “trouble in paradise” experience yesterday when I put on our two sets of bike lights.  Turned out mine looked “better” according to Lashes, so I have to pull off the ones installed on her bike and put on new ones that match or exceed mine.  I simply cannot be better decorated than Lashes.

If I can remain connected on the web, I’ll report more over the time we’re here.  Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to be back “home” in Black Rock City.  Hope some of you can make it here as well!

 

 

Burning Vacation?

“Have a nice vacation,” the woman at the register said as I was leaving the store.  I had casually mentioned that we were in final stages of preparing for Burning Man.

Vacation?  I had never thought of going to Burning Man the same way I think of going on a vacation.  I mean, there are similarities.  It’s a diversion from day-to-day routines; you feel refreshed and renewed from your time on the Playa; you often see new and exciting things and meet people from faraway places.

But there are a lot of things about Burning Man that make it different from a traditional vacation.  First of all, you can’t be passive at Burning Man. Nobody’s going to wait on you, clean up for you, cook for you.  Radical Self-Reliance is hardly what you expect from, say, Disney World.  You want places to go eat when you’re hungry, sites to entertain you and your family, stores to buy mementos.   And you want all of it at the tip of your fingers.  At Burning Man, some of those features may be available, but not in the easy-to-access, user-friendly style of a resort or theme park.

Early arrival on the Playa, 2017. Everything still looks clean!

For example, while you might be able to find food (and it won’t cost you anything) you have to supply your own cup, plate, and utensils.  And there’s nobody to wait on you; no place even to sit down in comfort.  Like a regular vacation spot, there are fun things to do at Burning Man, some of them not unlike amusement park rides; but they’re rough-hewn as opposed to the slickness of a theme park, and they’re not watched over by uniformed staff and protected by guards.  Another similarity with a resort is that Burning Man is laid out in a guide that includes a map; but it’s vastly more difficult to find your way around Black Rock City than a paved and groomed all-inclusive vacation site.

But there’s still a bigger difference: Burning Man is “not a spectator sport.”  It’s a place where everyone participates, often working hard to be part of the process of creating this utopian world.  Volunteering for one of the demanding roles is part of the Burning Man ethos.  You can be a Lamplighter one night, a Greeter the next day, then a barista at the Center Camp Café, and dozens of other roles.  If you’re a professional masseuse, you can gift your services to fellow Burners; if you’re an artist, you can turn your campsite into your own creative vision.

Want to read your poetry aloud?  Sign up for a time slot at Center Camp.  Dying to renew your Band Camp days?  Join one of the Burning Man bands that compete at the battle of marching bands on Friday evening in Center Camp.  There are no guidelines for what to do and how to do it.  You find your way to the full pleasures of Burning Man by deciding for yourself.  But what I’ve found to be true is this:  the more you do, the more you’ll love the experience.

You can sit back and be entertained on vacation; but you can jump in and be entertaining at Burning Man.

We’ll be on the Playa in just a few days.  Hope to see some of you there.  Temple Guardians staff camp is at 5:30 and Esplanade.

 

 

Where the Magic Happens

Driving along the nearly deserted two-lane highway that winds its way from Gerlach, NV to what will be the entry point to Burning Man later this year, you wonder how Black Rock City can possibly emerge from the empty playa passing by on your right.  But you’ve seen it before so you know it will happen – almost by magic.

If you drive a little further over the roughening road until the macadam drops off into dirt and gravel, then take the first right turn onto a long gravel driveway, you find the secret underlying the magic.  Burners call this place “The Ranch” or “DPW Ranch”, its manager calls it “Black Rock Station,” and around 30 people call it home for part or all of the year.

Sign greeting you at the Burning Man work ranch, also known as Black Rock Station, The DPW Ranch, or just The Ranch

At this desolate site, you can see the skeletons of Burning Man: bony structures ready to transform into art cars, hundreds of ramshackle vehicles bearing whimsical names and departmental assignments, and acres of containers whose content will spill onto the playa and turn into the various permanent theme camps and departmental facilities that are the core of Black Rock City.  There are also the boxes: brown wooden living quarters for the Burning Man staff and volunteers who make it all happen.  Most of these tiny units – with space only for a bed and minimal storage but mercifully air-conditioned — will be transported to the Playa for the Burn itself and become what their residents call “the ghetto,” a neighborhood of mostly DPW staffers who make the city rise from th empty desert every year.

There are also a few guest quarters cleverly fashioned out of large containers with two air-conditioned rooms per container.  These are not luxury accommodations, but comfortable sleeping quarters for volunteers who arrive throughout the year to do advance work on their camp or departmental facilities.  The ranch staff provides three meals a day at its commissary, not just to the full-time staff, but to short-term volunteers as well.  We were there the weekend of July 1 to do critical prep work for Temple Guardians Staff Camp.

The ranch is staffed by men and women with all the outward appearance of tough construction workers, but a Burning Man ethos of love and caring.  They welcomed us not as strangers but as fellow Burners and offered help joyfully.  Some were familiar to us from past Burns; others were new faces.  The experience was not unlike Burning Man itself in terms of the harsh desert environment, the daytime heat and nighttime chill, the expectation of self-reliance from everyone, the presence of porta-potties (they’re optional; there’s a “real” bathroom with showers) and typical Burner welcoming and farewell hugs.  These 30 or so lean, mean, building machines of Burning Man are the keepers of the Black Rock City infrastructure.  Their year-round effort belies the magical appearance of Black Rock City’s annual birth.

Our container before the clean up…

… and after our work was done

You can’t “visit” the ranch.  It’s a work-only space with no tolerance for lurkers.  You have to schedule yourself there with official approval from the Burning Man manager responsible for oversight of your camp or department.  Once your arrival and departure times are set, accommodations for the numbers of workers you’re bringing are arranged.  Check-in is required and each person must sign a release of liability form.  You’re reminded to work safely because it’s a long way to medical services and the available First Aid is rudimentary.

“Joan Jett,” our borrowed Burning Man vehicle, ready for another trip to the dumpster — one of five loads of material either thrown out or recycled by rach staffers

Ranch staff does more than just prepare for Burning Man.  They are responsible for Burning Man’s Nevada properties, which include facilities adjacent the Playa, in and around Gerlach, and in Reno.  And while most art installations are built away from the Ranch, DPW projects ranging from road signs to administrative structures such as the Box Office are put together in a well-equipped and immaculately maintained workshop.  This year, workers proudly told us, the 2018 Man was built in-house after a contractor failed to deliver on a proposed animated robot representing the 2018 “I Robot” theme.

Our happy band of workers ready to head to dinner and home.  Left to right: Unissie, Lashes, Carousel and Perky

As we drove off property the evening of July 1, we realized that we felt the same sense of melancholy as we did when departing Burning Man.  There is a spirit alive at the Ranch; the spirit that created the event and has nurtured it for nearly 30 years.  While the effect of Burning Man may be magical, it takes hard work, planning, and commitment by staff and volunteers to bring it to life.

Bring Your Creativity to the Playa

Burning Man has been depicted as “not a spectator sport” because you’re not really part of things unless you bring something of yourself to the Playa.  One of the truly amazing aspects of the event is the array of creative, and often whimsical, contributions.  If you’re looking for something to offer as your gift to Burning Man, then think about bringing a creative idea rather than something tangible to give away.

Some of the best and most entertaining ideas I’ve seen cost little or nothing, but entertain large swaths of fellow Burners.  I recall one inspired idea we saw while biking down a busy Black Rock City side street.  A guy sitting at a desk on the side of the road waved us down, looked us over and said, “I can see by your face that you need a second opinion.”  We were flummoxed.  “What do you mean?” was all we could think of saying.

He pointed to another person sitting at a desk across the street.  “Go see that guy and he’ll give you a second opinion.”  So, we did.  And he gave us a second opinion. We don’t even remember what it was about, but we loved the idea.

Another great “on the street” gift came from a Burner all decked out in a tux, standing in the center of the road saying things like “nice smile” and “great costume” to people as they biked past him.  It turned out he was from Compliment Camp, and their gift to the Playa was eliciting smiles by saying nice things about people.

One year, friends of ours brought lots of salad fixings and made unsolicited deliveries from tent to tent.  The transported their gifts in an old-fashion newspaper boy delivery bag, and they called themselves “Salad Camp.”

Another couple brought satellite equipment in their RV and gave free connections to the Internet.  A couple of guys in a camper put a Wheel of Fortune out on the Playa.  When people spun the wheel, the guys jumped out of their nearby RV and hollered “you’re a winner!” Then they awarded the Bruner’s good luck with a martini.

Gaining knowledge on the God Phone

One of my favorites that was a Playa standby during my first few years was the God Phone – a phone booth on the side of the road that connected directly to God (or someone pretending to be God).  You could ask God anything, and he or she would provide an answer that was – of course – perfect.  Then there was the Elders camp, populated by Burners 80 and older, who disseminated “wisdom” to anyone who sought it.

That’s how it works.  You bring an idea with you, spend minimal dollars on it, and offer it to fellow Burners on Playa.  Of course, there are also the more elaborate schemes such as an art car built on a truck or bus chassis (my favorite was the gigantic yellow duck), or a mini Bourbon Street serving beignets and New Orleans-style libations, or your own circus with acrobats and clowns, or even a roller rink with disco music.  You can go low tech, low cost; or high tech and expensive.  What’s most important is the creativity of your idea and its ability to make people happy.

Even if you’re camping on your own, you can become a “Compliment Camp” or “Second Opinion Camp,” or an “Elders” camp.  Adding your ideas to the mix not only helps make the Playa more enticing but also makes your Burning Man experience more memorable and complete.

Getting Ready to Burn

We live in the mountains during the winter so we can ski.  Winter conditions can be harsh.  You have to prepare.  We have a closet full of ski wear, including thermal underwear, warm ski outer clothing, gloves that keep our fingers from freezing, skis and boots.  It’s similar for Burning Man.  We bring goggles and dust masks to protect us from the frequent dust storms, a large supply of water and sports drinks to keep us hydrated, clothing to stay cool during the day and warm at night, and bikes. The point is, when you have the right clothing and equipment, you can overcome even the harshest conditions.

So how do you find the gear you’ll need for Burning Man?  Dusty Depot is a fantastic site run by experienced Burners.  It shows numerous types of dust masks, goggles, playa-appropriate clothing and other needed paraphernalia.  I like the site because it doesn’t actually sell anything, but instead links to a variety of retailers such as Amazon and Costco.

There are great ideas and suggestions on Dusty Depot, but everything they describe comes with a price – a high price.  We’ve never spent anything close to those retail prices.  However, Dusty Depot is a good starting point for your preparation because it lists everything you’ll need to equip yourself for the harsh Playa environment.

Lashes, ready for a day on the Playa.

We prefer to re-purpose existing gear.  Ski goggles that you may already own can protect your eyes as well as an expensive set of new goggles.  A kerchief can be turned into a dust mask. We purchase used bikes on Craigslist or at flea markets and plan to use them for around three Burns before replacing them.  If you bring a fresh new bike, it’s more likely to be appropriated by another Burner than a crappy looking old bike that works okay.  I personally prefer to be able to shift gears as I bike through mini-dunes that the wind piles up, but I’ve successfully navigated the Playa with gearless bikes (the loaners provided by Burning Man don’t have gears).

Our big expenditures are on lights, batteries, bottled water, and sports drinks. Maintenance on our vintage RV (mid-1990s era) can cost a lot.  One year the dust invaded our generator and it stopped working.  That meant no AC.  Fortunately, TPP (The Playa Provides) occurred and we soon had three loaned generators at our disposal.  But fixing our generator when we got home was pricey.  By the way, if you decide to rent an RV, you’ll have to pay double the normal cost because of the wear and tear of a trip to Burning Man.  Some people don’t tell the rental agency where they’re going and meticulously clean up their RVs before returning them.  My recommendation would be to negotiate a deal where the rental company agrees to reduce the penalty fee if the condition of the RV is satisfactory upon return.  If you’re going to rent, you’ll need to make arrangements early because there are a limited number of RVs available around Labor Day.

As I’ve noted before, lighting yourself and your bike is an absolute necessity if you want to be safe.  Headlamps are particularly useful for both biking and walking.  But you have to remember to turn them off whenever you’re in a face-to-face conversation with another person.  There’s nothing more annoying than seeing one of those LED headlamps bobbing up and shooting directly into your eyes as you’re talking to someone.  You’ll find plenty of suggestions for lights at Dusty Depot.  Start there, then shop around.

If this is your first year, spend minimally on Burning Man-specific items.  Once you’ve decided you’re coming back, you might want to spend a little more on items you know you’ll need.  Good shopping!

Some of my friends have wondered why I didn’t write a personal note about Larry Harvey’s passing.  I felt that Marian’s letter was far better than anything I could say.  While I had met Larry a couple of times, read about him in Burning Man books and stories, and seen him interviewed in numerous films about BRC, I did not have the kind of close relationship that gave Marian the insights she expressed in her letter.  I’m saddened by his loss.  He contributed an idea to the world that has resonated with hundreds of thousands of people.  But that idea will carry on beyond his lifetime.  Can any of us ask for more out of our short time on the planet?

Passing of Larry Harvey

Larry Harvey, shown at a party during the 2011 Burning Man event.

I wanted to be sure that all of my readers were aware that Larry Harvey had passed away following a massive stroke.  Some of you may already have received the letter I’ve reproduced below from Marian Goodell, the chief executive officer of Burning Man and a founding board member of the organization.  It was distributed on Saturday.  I’ll let Marian’s letter speak for itself.

Friends,
I have very sad news to share with all of you. Larry Harvey passed away at 8:24am PST this morning. He passed peacefully, with his family at his side.
We resolutely held out for a miracle. If there was anyone tenacious, strong-willed and stubborn enough to come back from this challenge, it was Larry. Your outpouring of love, support, and prayers was felt deeply by his family and friends as we each spent time at Larry’s bedside 24/7 these past three weeks. I truly believe Larry felt your thoughts, healing energy and prayers. I know I did. The love sent to him filled more than his room in the hospital — it overflowed onto each of us at his bedside.
Larry was never one for labels. He didn’t fit a mold; he broke it with the way he lived his life. He was 100% authentic to his core. For all of us who knew or worked with him, he was a landscape gardener, a philosopher, a visionary, a wit, a writer, an inspiration, an instigator, a mentor, and at one point a taxi driver and a bike messenger. He was always a passionate advocate for our culture and the principles that emanate from the Burning Man experience in the Black Rock Desert.
As he told one of us recently, Larry liked to create “scenes” that made people consider the world in a new way. He was extraordinarily successful at doing just that.
The Burning Man Project has lost our original Founder. He liked to joke and say “finders, flounders, founders, a little bit of all of those… at our best we are finders.” The culture has lost a great leader and inspiring mind. He adeptly interpreted the manifestation of what became a movement. I have lost a dear friend who I’ve known, loved, and worked beside for nearly 22 years. The loss of his presence in our daily lives will be felt for years, but because of the spirit of who he is, we will never truly be without him.
We have begun a meditation vigil to help guide Larry on his journey through Monday morning, and invite you to join. Please feel free to participate from wherever you are. We also encourage those in San Francisco to visit Baker Beach, the original home of Burning Man, to honor and celebrate Larry this weekend.
We will also be planning a celebration of Larry’s life in the weeks to come and will share details when we have them. If you would like to share your photos, stories, and videos, you can post them on larry.burningman.org. You can also send your thoughts to TheHat@burningman.org which will also be shared directly with Larry’s family.
Stuart Mangrum, a dear friend of Larry’s for 25 years, has written a tribute to Larry. You can read it on the Burning Man Journal. And Larry’s brother Stewart Harvey has shared a photo essay of Larry’s life, which is also on the Burning Man Journal.
Larry would be the first to say this isn’t an ending, but the start of a new chapter, and we all have a hand in where we go from here.
With love, ❤
Marian

I Have Nothing to Wear

We have four trunks filled mainly with clothes that we wear on the Playa, but we don’t actually need any of it.  For my first couple of years at Burning Man I wore jeans and jeans shorts every day. I brought a variety of tee shirts, assorted underwear, and a couple of hats to protect me from the sun.  I owned zero “costumes” until year three.  Now we shop year-round at thrift stores and second-hand shops for Burning Man outfits, customizing them for Playa use with lights, colorful fur trim, beads and other paraphernalia.

I recall at my first Burn my amazement at seeing a woman who looked like the character Leelu from The Fifth Element.  Because Lashes and I had always loved that movie, I was excited to tell her about the striking appearance of someone who looked exactly like the film character on a dusty road in Black Rock City.  Leelu’s appearance during my first Burning Man inspired me creatively, but it lit a much bigger fire under Lashes, who started to learn more about the costumes typical of Burning Man.  She eventually gained expertise in areas such as EL Wire for lighting up clothing, bikes, etc; she also began exploring different kinds of material that could be turned into costumes appropriate for the Playa.

She started shopping in second-hand stores for retro-style clothing and ostentatious hats, all of which she modified for Burning Man.  At one of our early burns, she noticed the large number of colorful flags waving from tents, RVs, and art installations; so, she began designing and sewing flags based on each year’s theme (some of which were quite challenging, such as Rites of Passage, Cargo Cult, and Caravansary).  We’d often brainstorm ideas for both flags and costumes together, agree on an idea, and then move forward.  It was a year-round effort – especially on Lashes’ part.

Some costumes require a lot of work. This group of Burners dressed themselves as The Stepford Wives

But the reality is that you don’t really need costumes, flags, and other home-made paraphernalia to be prepared for the Playa.  However, there are some necessities:  first, you ’ll need clothing that is light enough to wear in the hot desert sun, as well as clothing that can keep you warm in the cool (and sometimes cold) desert nights.  Lights to make yourself and your bike visible at night, and headlamps or other wearable flashlights that help you see your way around the variable surface of the Playa are also necessities.  Without appropriate lighting, you stand a chance of being invisible to oncoming bikes, or of tripping over something laying on the Playa (such as a sleeping Burner).

You don’t need costumes for the Burn, although you may want some in order to have more fun and make a splash in BRC.  You can always obtain a free outfit from one of the costume shops (such as Kostume Kult) after you’ve reached Burning Man.  There are plentiful choices – especially if you shop early in the week.  Also, you can shop at one of the Prepare for the Playa events held by regional Burner groups around the world.  There you’ll find everything from playa wear to lighting to dust protection gear.

So, there’s no need to stress over shopping for Burning Man finery.  Even if you “come as you are,” you’ll quickly find yourself outfitted for the Burn in the basic attire that everyone wears on a daily basis: a layer of dust.

Overcoming Trepidations about Burning Man

A few days ago, I made a Craigslist purchase just outside a Starbuck’s in Sacramento.  It happened that the item was for our Burning Man camp and that fact sparked a typical exchange.

“I’ve always wanted to go, but my wife is dead set against it.  I’m not so sure either.  We don’t want to take our clothes off in front of other people,” he told me.

I sprung into Defender of Burning Man action.

“You don’t have to go naked; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” I told him.  “It’s the most chilled out place you’ve ever been.”

“But I’ve just had my 71st birthday.  I’m too old to go,” he said.

“You’re perfect for Burning Man,” I told him.  “I’m 73, and this year will be my 11th Burn.  In fact, I write a blog about Burning Man for people 50 and older on why they should go.”

After showing him the site on my smartphone, I made him promise that he’d read some of the posts and give it serious consideration.  So just in case my Craigslist friend finds his way to this site, I thought I’d reprint a piece I did in October 2011.  It is about my initial trepidations about attending, and why I came back over and over again.  Here it is:

Posted on October 18, 2011

I felt great trepidation once I had agreed to attend my first Burning Man Festival.  My fears focused on the many levels of misery I would experience during what seemed like an endless seven days in the desert.

Would I have to get naked? Would I have to take drugs? Would I suffer sunburn and dehydration? Would I get lost in a dust storm?

I was hoping to survive the event, and I certainly never expected to enjoy myself. What a surprise then to realize that Burning Man turned out to be not only fun but also the most pressure-free environment I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing was expected of me. Others may have gone naked (a small percentage, I might add), but no one expected it of me. Others might have done drugs (I definitely saw some marijuana being imbibed, but there was no demand that I do drugs). Others might have partied day and night, but I rested whenever I was tired. It was easy to take care of myself in the desert heat, and one of the prime directives of our camp was to “take care of each other.”

Best of all, from the moment I entered the gates, I felt a freeing spirit descend on me, and the weight of troubles and concerns lift off of my shoulders. It’s no wonder that I came back home noticeably younger looking and feeling.

Year One: Eric and I Lamplighting together at Burning Man 2005

Rather than my week in the desert being a miserable experience marked by sunstroke, sunburn and deep bodily embarrassment, it was the experience of a lifetime between myself and my son –remarkable since he was 40 years my junior and had little reason to stick around with his old man in this clearly youthful environment.

But stick with me he did. He watched me like a hawk, making certain his old man was not only okay, but having a great time and getting adequate rest and nutrition. In fact, the one time I had a bit too much to drink, he looked askance at me and said, “Dad, you’re drunk” in an accusing voice. I turned to him and slurred out the words, “Yes, I am,” and began laughing.

It was the greatest bonding experience ever between the two of us, and one we have never forgotten. Although we attended several more Burns together, we never went again without his mom’s presence, and it was never the same special “guy’s” event.

Year Two:  Judie enjoys her Barbie moment.

As wonderful as my experience with Eric had been, my fears would have been allayed if I had come alone. Nothing I have ever done, and no place I have ever gone, puts less pressure on you than Burning Man. Of course, that was my experience. And I would always caution you to carefully check out the group with whom you’re camping. Some rare camps do not observe the Burning Man spirit of “taking care of each other” and may haze newbies. It should be easy to find that out in advance. If you are camping in a theme camp, do some advance research to determine the history and reputation of the group. If you don’t like what you learn, find another group.

More about theme camps vs. camping on your own shortly.

 

 

Everything’s Sexier at Burning Man

Love is in the air at Burning Man, and it’s a great feeling.  From the moment you arrive, you’ll be inundated by hugs – beginning at the greeter station and continuing throughout the Burn.  There are hug camps and kissing booths, compliment camps, and smile camps.   Hugs are the greeting du jour of Burning Man.  If you have an aversion to being touched by other humans, be prepared to jettison that phobia and embrace another self – your Burner self.

Your first visit to Burning Man can cause some cultural shock waves in your life – and that’s especially true if you’re settled into belief systems and habits.  At my first Burn, I was startled one morning when I stepped out of my tent and saw a group of naked men and women running behind a truck that was spraying the road with water (done regularly to keep the dust in check). After a couple of days of exposure to …  well … exposure, I became accustomed to nudity.  It had quickly lost its shock or titillation power.

However, the nudity, partial nudity and provocative dress combined with the many erotic activities (such as couple’s nude photos by a professional photographer, camps devoted to pleasuring one sex or the other, orgy domes, etc.) made for an immersive sexual atmosphere.  The hugs were fun, but the eroticism was fabulous.

Nudity at Burning Man was startling at first. But I got used to it.

I’ve always believed that sexuality is a life force, and that embracing your eroticism makes you feel young.  What I’m talking about is different from random sexual hook-ups on the Playa; instead, this is a ubiquitous and energizing state that infuses the entirety of Burning Man.  For my wife and I, it has changed our life together for the better, prevented the dulling down of our romance (even after 51 years), and made us act more like a young couple than a couple of old fogies.  We embrace the physical aspect of our marriage far more today than we did prior to the year we fell in love with The Man.

I believe the life-affirming erotic power of Burning Man has its greatest impact on people a few years beyond the “hooking up” stage.  It puts us back in the game of living life to the fullest.

My first Burn was 2005, the theme was Psyche, and the atmosphere was even more erotic than it is now.  Each day was named for a sex act (e.g., Oral Sex Tuesday); nudity was more commonplace than it seems to be today; and it felt like every other camp had some sexual purpose.

I realized after my first Burn that I felt a lot younger, but it took me a few years to make the connection between feeling younger and feeling sexual.  I’m convinced that the connection is real, and that my life is made better by feeling sexy for a week in the desert every year.

Opinions about Burning Man Can Be Wrong

Many of the people who have heard of Burning Man have some deep-seated misunderstandings of the Festivals. Among these misconceptions are:

1. Burning Man is music festival, like Coachella
2. Burning Man is a hippie rave, where everyone is on drugs
3. Burning Man is a one-week orgy, where everyone goes naked and has sex with each other constantly
4. Burning Man is liberal; conservatives are not welcomed
5. Burning Man is for the young – there’s nothing there for older people
6. Burning Man’s art isn’t serious – it’s just part of the entertainment

There’s a touch of truth in all of these statements, but for the most part, they are all inaccurate. I’d like to examine both the realities and the origins of the misperceptions:

First, while there’s plenty of music at Burning Man, it is not a music festival. In fact, the vast majority of music you’ll hear on the Playa is recorded and the biggest “stars” are the DJ’s. While there are a few live bands, there’s rarely anyone famous who performs there. For live music, Burning Man is far more noted for its rag-tag marching bands, drum circles, and volunteer performers at Center Camp (who range from excellent to ludicrous). Music constantly wafts out of art cars as they roam the Playa, but it’s rarely live.

Second, while there may be rave-like parties here and there in Black Rock City, they are neither universal nor part of the scheduled events. They just happen at times among Burners who enjoy raucous parties. The desert is big, and one party can’t influence the whole of Burning Man, so you may never encounter such parties. By the way, few Burners consider themselves hippies, and most of those are in their 70s or older. Many of the attendees don’t even know what a hippie is. And while some people do drugs while in Black Rock City, this activity is not ubiquitous and there’s absolutely no pressure to partake if you’re disinclined.

Burning Man art featured at the Smithsonian show running through next January

Third, orgies are neither universal nor “required” activities. Some people enjoy sexual activity with individuals they have just met on the Playa; others remain monogamous or even chaste. There’s no question about the erotic atmosphere that pervades Burning Man, but how you act on it (or don’t) is entirely up to you. Nudity or partial nudity is common, but not universal.

Fourth, Burning Man attendees probably lean liberal, but there are plenty of committed conservatives who come annually. In fact, the Playa is a haven where you can escape the constant drum of political talk or any form of news. Some of the art may reflect a political point of view, but subjects such as concern for the planet and human rights are far more typical of Burning Man art themes than politics.

Fifth, if Burning Man were strictly for the young, why would I write this blog? There are families with toddlers, young adults, mid-career men and women, and people as old as their 80s. Walking or biking across the Playa, you’d be hard-pressed to identify an “average” age group. Activities are open to all ages, and accessible alternatives with those with disabilities (age-related or not) are plentiful.

Finally, the creative value in the art created for Burning Man is subjective, especially given the frequent whimsical or provocative content. But one measure of the artistic integrity of what you’ll see at a typical Burn is a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery entitled No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. The show began on March 30 and will run through January 21, 2019. Click this link for more information. We’ve always considered the art our favorite aspect of Burning Man, and feel this new exhibit validates our sense of its importance.