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What I Learned at Burning Man 2011

I had a specific goal in mind about what I wanted to learn my first year at Burning Man. I was going to go more or less on my own, find evidence that all my suburbanite friends were unnecessarily taken in by the hype regarding rampant deviant behavior/ harsh environmental factors at the event, come back home and convince everyone I know to go with me next year based on all my emperical evidence . Did that happen? In the end, I have to conclude that my road to Burning Man was paved with good intentions but I'm home now without the conviction I thought I would have to get my friends to camp with me next year. But I do have a few answers to the questions I've been getting most:

1) Is there rampant deviant behavior at Burning Man? Yes. No. Maybe so. Depends on your perspective. If you're able to let go of your idea of what is "normal," even for just a few days, and just go with the experience, you'll be fine. I did see some things that my brain didn't even bother to process thoroughly and then there was that fascinating/wicked/bloody full body piercing I saw take place on the Playa that might have given someone else pause but there's nothing I'd want to un-see. I can't say the same for the last episode of The Jersey Shore that I watched.

2) Was the camping rough? No. Yes. Even with the luxury of my little camper, this was not easy. I think we got lucky this year. It was awesome weather and after a few car washings, my truck is as good as almost new. Almost. But I'm not fooled. The pessimist in me expects epic rains and dust storms next year. At the very worst, I'll be prepared. Best case scenario, I'll be pleasantly surprised as we pessimists frequently are.

3) Was it fun? No. That is not the word I would use at all. If someone had offered me a quick ride out of Black Rock City last week, I would have jumped at the chance about 6 separate times. My campmates had a pretty solid Burning Man Melt Down which I now refer to as the Apocalypse Now Evening which wasn't fun (even if it was probably inevitable). But the sum total of the experience for me was that it was amazing. Awesome even.

4) Why aren't you posting a ton of photos? Yesterday, I took over 100 photos at a 4 year-old's birthday party. The birthday boy was cute but I'm not even related to him and it wasn't even my camera. I just love taking pictures. But Burning Man was so unusual, so about the experience of being in the moment, photographing every second seemed kind of irreverent. It also seemed pretty futile. Many moments just couldn't be captured in their true essence digitally and I could feel that as the moments were happening. So I have some. Some I can't post because one of my campmates would rather I didn't. Some I won't because, although I made sure to take very few pictures of people at Burning Man without their permission, it was crowded and it seems wrong to post other people's private moments at an event like this.I have edited down a few that I can share here:

5) Would you bring your kids? Maybe. Someday. I'm not opposed to it for the reasons you might assume. They could absolutely handle what they would see even if it meant that I had to go into some explanations I might not be prepared to go into on an average day in suburbia. But it would be a lot of extra work to watch them and to watch myself all at the same time.It was hard enough to remind myself to drink enough water, eat at least one meal a day and try and get some sleep in such an over-stimulating environment.

**Update: I DID take my kids. You can read how that went here: Things That Might Happen if You Take Your Kids to Burning Man)

6) Should I go? What has become crystal clear to me is that I can't answer that for anyone. If you want to go, read up on the event and go. If you have any hesitation, read up on the event and make up your mind based on what you read. I completely agree with what I've read that emphasizes that it is a really terrible idea to try and force someone to go to something like this. You have to want to and you have to be prepared to find out that you can't just go as a "tourist." Somehow, in some way, you will become a participant. Even if you didn't mean to be.

7) Are you going again next year? I will have to find the right people to camp with but at the moment, my answer is yes. I have lots of rhinestones left and my combat boots still have plenty of life in them. And if the temple is anything like it was this year, I won't be able to stay away.


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Reader Comments (7)

Fantastic post. Loved the slideshow. Would love to be camp mates next year. If only I can figure out how to sleep in such an environment!

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Top notch report Angela! You are definitely in the running for my "Virgin" of the year award! Reading this has me very excited for our scheduled chat tomorrow :) Also, I agree with the previous comment: Excellent Slide Show, you have a gift with that camera! One big question: is a )'( Scrapbook in the works?

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDusty Bacon

Thanks, Laura. I did not employ this tactic but a friend told me that the answer to your sleep question is in 2 parts: "Am-bien" ;)

Thanks so much, Dusty. Huge, huge compliment coming from you.

September 13, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Angela Daniels]

Parts of the event make me want to go almost more than I want to go anywhere else. I hate camping, though, even cushy camping which sounds like a weird dealbreaker. Maybe someday soon I'll find an inner strength to deal 'cause I know the trade off of the rest of the experience would be spectacular.

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKizz

"Burning Man was so unusual, so about the experience of being in the moment, photographing every second seemed kind of irreverent. It also seemed pretty futile. Many moments just couldn't be captured in their true essence digitally and I could feel that as the moments were happening."

Very well put. I find myself trying to say this sort of thing every year.

I also really appreciate your impressions/reactions. I'm usually confused by people who think that everybody should go to Burning Man, or that it's perfect in every way. It isn't, but it's a place where you can bring your imagination and leave with some new discoveries.

That full body piercing... was it a girl hanging from hooks in the Thunderdome? I believe that may have been my friend Anna.

Thanks for posting your thoughts!! Hopefully I'll see you there next year.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Hun

Oh! And for sleep, I prescribe good earplugs and a lot of walking.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Hun

Hi Angela, I'm boobugbear's husband, and she linked me to your post after learning that you'll be going to the playa this year as well. We're looking forward to meeting you at some point! I loved your post, and I have to concur with what you said re: 6) Should I go?. This is what I wrote on the same topic after going my first year in 2010: "I can unequivocally say that this has been one of the best experiences of my life, but at the same time I cannot recommend it to anyone under any circumstances. The subtext to this statement is this: If someone thinks they want to come to Burning Man, it cannot be based on the account of my experience. That is a responsibility that I disavow. It must be a calling inside of themselves that will enable them to surrender to the conditions and endure what may come in order for them to find their own ecstasy in Black Rock City (the double rainbow kind, not the MDMA kind)."

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDhammaSeeker

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