Back to life, back to reality. It's always like that after a vacation, but coming home after a week at Burning Man is a wee bit different. I returned to my 9-5 job to wiggle my way through the inevitable question "where did you go on your vacation?". To some it was "a roadtrip with my girlfriends", to others "camping in the desert", and to a few I would admit my real destination, only to be asked "what's Bernie man?".
So, Bernie man. No, no, I say. Burning man, a festival that was started 20 years ago by some guy on a beach in San Francisco with some of his friends, they burned a sculpture that was the shape of man. Or something close to that. This year 35,000 of his friends joined together in the same ritual about two hours north of Reno, NV, in a dry lake bed of the Black Rock desert neighboring the little town of Gerlach, NV. But what is it, they continue to ask, what do you do out there?? Someone nearby inevitably says (as if) knowingly "it's the modern day Woodstock!". I now must pipe in with my formal scripted answer: Burning Man is an experiment in temporary community, a gifting culture, a pack-it-in pack-it-out camping trip, focused on self-expression through art. Many wear outrageous costumes, many express their sexuality. Many walk around nude. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
In the 20 years since its birth on a nude beach in San Francisco, Burning Man has grown from one man's personal bonfire into a fiery bacchanal that attracts more than 40,000 people from around the world. Artists, intellectuals, nonconformists and the curious spend Labor Day week at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, where everyone expresses themselves freely and anyone can be an artist.
As with any experience, Burning Man is whatever kind of adventure you would like it to be. If you have a family, you can camp in Kidsville, the kid-friendly area including trampolines and toys (or whatever it is those families do on vacation). If you're into sex kink, you can find it, if you're questing for your spiritual adventure, you can find it, drugs… well, of course there's a whole lotta that everywhere.
If you're like me, you go to wear fancy outrageous costumes that are like a combination of Alice in Wonderland and Disney characters on Acid. You spend an entire year dreaming up exotic outfits with far too many trips to the fabric and thrift stores. Then, the month before, you sew your fingers off and end up only to deal with disappointed expectations because you didn't know that when you sew fur it stretches and therefore your Wonder Woman cape is completely crooked. But none of that matters anyway when you end up cheering on thousands of topless bike-riding women yelling "YOU ARE A WONDER WOMAN" during the Critical Tits parade.
Speaking of expectations, a warning to virgin Burners… you may party your ass off, you may love it like you've never loved anything before. You may come to delight in the fine silt that coats parts of your body you never knew could be coated and return home never to be the same. But no matter how fabulous, mind-altering and bizarre your first year is… your second year Burn (like mine this year) will be hit-or-miss. I over-planned, over-packed, thinking I could minimize the unpleasant and maximize the glorious. Things I thought were guarantees had me chasing last year's parties and last year's conversations. All said and done, "next time" when I return "someday", I vow to follow whatever I fancy in that very moment. Ah, promises.