Advice for a 1st Time Burner

A friend of mine is off to Burning Man for the first time.  He wrote and asked what advice I might offer a newbie: Do’s; Don’ts; Regrets; that sort of thing.  Below is my counsel.

Hi, first, take the Survival Guide seriously, especially if you are there for 5+ days.  If you have a tent and do not have re-bar, change that plan.  Candy cane the re-bar so you do not screw up your legs / feet.
I strongly recommend signing up for a shift at Camp Arctica (if it is not too late).  I was surprised at how much fun I had doing that last year.  
If you are there early in the week, volunteer to help build the Temple (just show up and ask how you can help).  As a general rule of thumb, when you see people building something, ask whether you can help.  It is a great way to meet folks and get involved in shit.
Take risks.  Wander off by yourself.  Don’t get caught up trying to see everything everyone else is talking about: enjoy what is in front of you.  Make sure you get out in the backstreets of the city, especially at night.  There is always stuff going on in the most out of the way spots (though you may walk / ride for two + blocks w/o seeing anything).  There are tons of little art / interactive installations in the back and side streets that people blow by in their rush to see the cool stuff that everybody raved about out in the Deep Playa, etc.  Know that there is no private space in BRC: people expect you to walk into their camp and introduce yourself.  If you show up and there is a lit up dome that is deserted, it is almost certainly a space to be enjoyed: people turn off lights, and close up their camps (with chairs, closed tent flaps, etc.) when they are out and do not want visitors wandering through.
Do NOT show up without a bike that is yours for the week (sharing will not work well).  Bring a lock and use it.  Light yourself: make your back visible from a distance—lighting your front is less important b/c you can see what is coming your way, but light both.  Use both passive (reflective) and active light.  One of the most frustrating changes is the percentage of fuckwads who are totally f-ing dark at night.
Pace yourself, and embrace the boredom, dirt, frustration, or whatever comes your way.  Treat wounds, especially anything early in the week: it is a harsh environment.
Stop  often, and just look around.  At night, remind yourself that you are off the grid. Marvel at the scale of the place, and the absence of commercial transactions.  Don’t let the fact that it is all only possible due to capitalism in the default world ruin your enjoyment of this.
Don’t take photos (other than candid shots).  Skilled photographers will shoot the stuff you want to look at, and do it far better than you (unless you are skilled in ways I do not know).  The scale of the place kills photography: it is like shooting in the mountains or on the ocean.
Play.  If a group of people are doing something, get off your bike and join them, especially if it looks ridiculous.  
Enjoy Who, What, When, Where as something fun to read.  Know that almost nothing listed there will go off on time.  And DO NOT wear a time piece and make a list of things to do.  When an urge to plan grabs you, quash it.  Just go.
Lastly, do not feel compelled to contribute.  Other than jumping in to participate on the fly and/or being involved in a project someone in your camp has created, a newbie just can’t contribute much.  Accept that and enjoy.  I struggled with that a bit in my first year.
Catch at least one sunrise.
I think that’s it.  I am envious.  Unlike sex with someone new, the first time is the best time.  Have a frigging blast.


About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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