Thoughts From a Wholesome Burning Man Virgin

September 11, 2012 :: Posted by - simplyjen :: Category - Uncategorized

the beginning

That may be a bit of an overstatement.

Ok, so wholesome is only apt here to mean I don’t do drugs.

But, that was enough to make me Never want to go to Burning Man.

I’ve since learned the old cliche…never say never.

I don’t do drugs, I don’t really like crowds, I’m not into raves, I don’t particularly love electronic music and I’ve often called glow sticks (or any similar glowing accessories) my kryptonite. The presence of a glow stick in a sticky crowd usually makes me go from my default happy position to a more uncharacteristically pouty, irritable person who wants to be anywhere but in the presence of said glow sticks. And I like to shower. And sleep about eight hours/night, especially on the weekends, when I like to wake up to a hot cup of coffee and the newspaper at my door, or at least on my ipad.

Suffice to say, I always equated Burning Man to be the closest reality of my hell on earth.

Then, in a moment of restlessness and spontaneity a few days before the burn, friends I like, respect and know not to be drug-addled up-all-night partiers tried their best to persuade me to open my mind and go.

And I acquiesced.

It actually followed them playing me a burn-inspired parody of Dr. Seuss’s “The Places You Will Go,” Ever since I think I’ve been thinking in rhyme….But it showed the promise of an extraordinary time.

I now know that rather than the closest reality to my hell on earth, Burning Man is so surreal, it’s hardly reality at all.

It’s taken the seven days since I’ve been back to begin to process what happened, and I’ve decided, despite being a ‘writer,’ like a photo couldn’t capture the moment no matter how good the camera, I can’t begin to fully explain the experience.

My best attempt – It was like walking through the looking glass and being Alice in Wonderland, like escaping into Narnia or visiting another dimension for a few days, knowing that anything could and would happen, but like entering any place that’s not real while in a dream or lost in a book, you’re conscious that in a short time you will leave and all that will remain are the memories and nagging question, “Was that real?”

The only difference with Burning Man is that you’ll make a lot of new friends you may otherwise never have crossed paths with to remind you of the memories and confirm they were indeed real.

Yes Jen, the intense heat you felt was because you were standing too close to the metal octopus shooting fire from its tentacles…


as a shark floated by…


this  pirate ship was set on fire…

pirate ship

and Wall Street was blown up…

Wall St. pre-burn

Wall St. pre-burn

Wall St. on fire

Wall St. on fire

…. in the pop-up Black Rock City in the middle of Nevada desert – while surrounded by 50,000+ other people, many of them naked as the day they were born. Yes, that was indeed real.

And now that city is gone, dismantled in less time than the week it came together and the people who occupied that city back living their ‘real’ lives, most successful professionals, hedge funders, entertainment industry executives, writers, lawyers, producers, doctors, artists, yoga instructors, bartenders, techies and teachers. Face it while no money may be exchanged during the burn, the privilege of ‘surviving’ in the desert while it’s going on isn’t something that generally comes cheap.

If contemplating your first burn, be prepared to make a little bit of an investment on things like shelter, food, costumes and gas or plane tickets to get there, not to mention the $400+ ticket for entrance, like you might on a vacation…But also know, it will be worth it.

You’ll be encouraged to embrace your true self and find it easy to lose your inhibitions in a place where it’s more awkward not to…

Beginning the moment you get in. When your car pulls up to the entrance you’re approached by greeters who ask if the car contains any virgins. Our car of six had four! In pairs of two we were instructed to get out of our vehicle, roll around in the sand and then hit a gong. We made sand angels.

sand angel

the gong

This led me to running around the desert in tutus and bikini tops, sometimes even wings, handing out candy to make people smile. I’m not sure if I’d want a psychologist to translate what this means about the inner me, but even covered in playa dust, bathing for three days with only baby wipes, sleeping on an air mattress in a packed RV, turning off my blackberry Thursday and not communicating with the outside world again until Monday and adorning myself in yes, glow sticks…for those 3.5 days I was completely happy and carefree, sparkling like the glitter on my lashes.

This happened...

This happened...

...And even this!

...And even this!

But, rather than awkward, as one outside of Burning Man would assume, dressed up in the desert I did a lot of jumping for joy…


Some say the experience is spiritual.

I say like many other things in life, it’s a matter of perspective and perception and it can be whatever you make it be.

When we visited the temple (there’s a different one built annually that’s burned on the last night) I, as many did, wrote a tribute on the wood wall with permanent marker to my dad, who always worried he’d one day be forgotten. If not ‘spiritual,’ it was comforting for me to know he could be there with me in spirit, although he died last year.

note to dad

Then I wrote a light-hearted dream on the dream catcher in the temple’s courtyard, and tied my wings around it to symbolically give flight to my wish as well as the others written on the wooden frame (Yes, in and out of Burning Man, I’m a bit or a dork).

Embracing DreamCatcherwings

Will it make my wish come true? I wish it may I wish it might…

Do I think magic and mysticism will help? Not sure about that, but I do believe in the power of positivity and when 50,000 + people can spend a week together in the desert, less than sober, and smile rather than scowl at one another and hug and dance rather than engage in a fight, I think that’s some kind of powerful.

temple group

After I left my butterfly wings at the temple, I stumbled across many more…


I’ll leave you with food for thought from writer, scholar and activist Jay Michaelson’s recent Huffington Post blog

But if religion creates boundaries, mysticism and spirituality efface them. In the transcendence of ordinary distinctions, peak experiences such as those encouraged at Burning Man give a glimpse of the ultimate, the infinite. It may seem absurd to suggest that Burning Man is a mystical event. But then, if it’s just a big party, why is there a temple in the middle of it?

If you’re an apprehensive first-time burner, I hope I’ve helped provide perspective that helps you make a decision…

Then you can get on your bikes and ride off into the desert sunset with friends new and old…


And, of course, see the man burn…

the burn

* Special thanks to Jerry, Aude, Jj and Dave for convincing me to see past my apprehension and join you and the magnificent CAMP MORNINGWOOD for being unbelievably fantastical and welcoming us virgins at your camp.


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