North’s Eight-Step Guide for Burning Man Virgins

North’s Eight-Step Guide for Burning Man Virgins

by Chriztopher North
on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:59pm

Hello all,
It’s about that time again. I wrote this note in 2010, but it still applies. Here’s my curmudgeonly advice from my eight burns to all of you heading out there for the first time. Good luck! I begin with:


Yes, this includes drinking and other mood-altering substances. However, I’d say it’s just as important to include the bodily basics: suntan lotion and water. I know way too many virgins who wander off from camp on Monday morning only to come back burnt on Monday afternoon. Imagine spending the rest of your week trying to hide from the beating burning sun in the desert, or getting heat exhaustion and taking two days to recover. It’s really not a good time.


Find yourself overwhelmed? Slow down and do something for somebody. Make a friend by carrying ice for a few blocks. Haul something for an artist for an hour or two because they worked their ass off for months to make it for you. Don’t worry about what you do being big or sexy — I don’t know one camp on the playa that would object to you doing their dishes, because no one on the playa wants to do their own dishes. A little service will make you feel good and make friends.


Do it. Showering, meditating, yoga, vinegar on your feet, whatever. Organizing your tent is a also a good idea. Taking time for self care will help you stay grounded, and notice where you’re at. Check in with yourself, and with your good friends. Being aware of what’s going on and processing as it goes along can make for a much better burn.


So someone in your camp decides all 21 of you should all go out on the town. Don’t do it, at least not for long. The larger your group, the worse the group mind. I have a few really good friends I love to hang with on the playa. If we do start out as a group, our smaller group make it clear that when it takes waaaay too long to get everyone moving, we’re moving on. If you’re with a group, it’s easy to be bored and waiting. Which brings me to my next point…


Change it up! There are fun things to do at Burning Man, and some really bad boring ones too. Figuring out how to find what really is worth staying for is an art. Don’t think that means it has to be whatever someone else thinks is fun. Sometimes chatting at camp with really cool neighbours is better than big shiny things. After seven burns, I find the burning of the man to be a bit dull, so I don’t always go. If it’s your first year, you’ll probably find it new and exciting. Make up your own mind about where you want to spend your time.


One of the great and terrible things about Burning Man is that there are fewer social rules. It can be wonderful and honest, and annoying at the same time. For example, someone may bluntly proposition you. Under these social rules, it’s honest more than rude, and may be complimentary if they don’t push you further. You can actually address sexual attraction honestly. For us straight folks, this is nothing short of incredible.

However, there is a real line here that you need to keep. If someone does push your boundaries in a way you don’t like, you can and should push back. If you want them to stop, it’s your responsibility to tell them. If they keep on doing it, remember there really are no private places on the playa. Use a loud voice to declare: “This person is an asshole who doesn’t respect boundaries!” and at least two of the 30 people who just happen to be around you will come help you. Believe me, the perp will back the fuck off.

Be careful getting so intoxicated up that you can’t keep your own boundaries. Just because it’s Burning Man doesn’t mean you can trust everyone. It’s a big city, and just like every other big city there are creeps and sexual predators. Yes, there are also fantastic people and good spaces, but that doesn’t mean you can give your critical judgement a week off. If you are going to get really trashed, go with a small group and watch out for each other — just like you would in the default world.


There’s always noise. There’s no privacy. People get uptight about dumb things. There’s dust and stupidity and you walk in someone else’s piss spot. There’s couples/campmates fighting about dumb shit. The camp down the road that has nothing by heavy metal karaoke when you’re more a Johnny Cash-type (or vice-versa). Cacophony is a pleasure and a curse.

The more you can embrace cacophany the better your burn will be, but don’t be surprised if every surprise is not shiny or beautiful. Some of it will not be to your tastes, and that’s okay. You’re going to expand your mind, right? Which brings me to my last and most important point…


Someone has probably told you “Burning Man is the-most-amazing-mind-blowing-fantastic place you’ve ever seen or could see.” Please, lower you expectations. Really. Lots of us enjoy it, and keep coming back. Some people hate it, and while I love it, I can see their point. Going in saying “This will and must be the most amazing life altering experience of my life,” is just setting yourself up for disappointment. Don’t do it. Burning Man is an annoying expedition into community with annoying people who you have to offer radical acceptance with survival camping thrown in just to make it more complicated. Aren’t you glad you’ve made such a huge sacrifice to go there? 😉

That’s it. Go, be smart, Enjoy!

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