10 Myths of Burning Man Debunked

RadiaLumia by FoldHaus Collective (Photo by Eleanor Preger)

I sparkle-ponied my way into my first Burn several years ago. Since this legendary gathering to end all gatherings is approaching, I thought I’d take time out to reflect on my virgin experience and share some of my nuggets of wisdom and self-discovery with you. Here are my 10 myths of Burning Man debunked:

1. Trading & Bartering. Burning Man uses a gifting based economy, meaning you are supposed to contribute to the society and gift people things without asking or expecting anything in return. Whether it’s free alcohol, precious playa bacon, a jewelry pendant, party favors or just a listening ear, gifting is part of what makes the playa the happiest place on earth.

2. Nudity. Nudity is somewhat common here, but the vast majority of people are clothed. And just like your local nude beach, most of the naked people are older white dudes. There are a fair amount of topless women. I tried freeing the nipple but the dry air and sandstorms caused almost immediate chapping, so I stuck to pasties. I saw was a guy doing backflips naked on a trampoline. And scarf cocking is the new shirt cocking.

3. Orgy Porgy Pudding Pie. They’re out there but they’re nowhere as frequent as you may think. I do know that if you enter one, you must participate. Some random trolls strolled into one of the orgy domes wearing occult animal masks and just sat there and watched people. They were kicked out promptly for "killing the vibe."

4. Not everyone here is on drugs. There are plenty of families with children running amok without fear. During a 70 mph sandstorm day, amidst the chaos I witnessed one little girl slowly and solemnly playing the violin. This place will never fail to surprise you.

5. Worst Coachella Ever. Burning man is not exactly a vacation where you can kick back and forget about your problems (unless you’re one of the assholes sitting pretty in million dollar row, where the extremely privileged and the Hollywood celebrities keep themselves cloistered). You are forced to face your problems head fucking on. You’ll find yourself alone, stranded who knows where in the middle of a dust storm thinking about your relationships, hopes and dreams. It’s a place of emotional, physical and spiritual struggle that breaks you down utterly and completely. When you dust yourself off, hopefully you’ll find that you’re a stronger, more fully realized version of yourself.

6. Sparkle Pony Realness. Remember how I mentioned I sparkle-ponied my way onto the burn? Sparkle pony is a pejorative term to describe a high-maintenance individual who arrives totally unprepared for the harsh conditions of Black Rock City. I brought a tent and an EZ-up my first year (yeah, super embarrassed to admit that) and found myself homeless on Wednesday due to a sandstorm that ravished and completely demolished my sleeping area. Luckily I had some friends who had done their research. They built a sturdy carport shield serving as an outer layer to their large tent. I slept in the corner of their structure for the rest of the week.

7. Follow your first instinct, always. For days I would bike past a beautiful lotus temple. I felt pulled to its beauty, yet I found myself suppressing my urges, telling myself I had all week and I could see it later on. Flash forward to several days later and the temple was aflame and burning to the ground. You never know if your chance to explore something will end. If you want to check something out, do it now before it’s too late.

8. Laughter is medicine. If you have a dark and twisted sense of humor like I do, Burning Man is the place for you. Every day I would see so many things and witness so many people who just made me laugh so hard. We witnessed a port-o-potty on wheels fully equipped with a loud air horn and a skeleton rave fairy wearing kandi inside chasing people down at 8 a.m. I also saw a naked man doing backflips on a trampoline. Shit is hilarious.

9. The Aftermath. I was not okay for a long time after I left the burn. I found it heartbreaking returning to a detached, competitive and ruthless world after being fully immersed in a place filled with open-hearted, compassionate and communicative strangers. The month following was trying and traumatic for me. My dog passed away right after I got home (I still blame myself) and I felt a helpless sense of despondency. Not everyone will have a hard time like I did. But be aware that you will never look at the default world the same way again. Lots of sleep, nurturing your body, going to decomp parties and spending time with other burners is the best salve you can serve yourself to sooth post Burning Man blues.

10. Fuck it! This will be one of the hardest things you will ever endure, but if you play it smart and manage to stay healthy, it will also be the most fun you will ever have on planet earth. Period. Stay alert(ish), pace yourself, drink plenty of water, wear lights at night and have a fucking blast.

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