Dear Virgin Burner,
You must know by now that Burning Man is not your typical festival. As you take time to prepare your gear, costumes, art and yourself I want you to think about your life as it is now because it will never be the same. Since your decision to make the pilgrimage that many have made before you, your life has already changed and you probably didn't even know it. You have begun to learn about playa dust, dubstep music, the dangers of dehydration and other things like that. You may be learning about the pros and cons of nylon tents and how to build a monkey hut. You may even be wondering how your electronics may fair out in the hot dusty days and the cool nights. You may be thinking about many many things, however I want you to consider this. You are about to experience something that you will remember for the rest of your life. Whether or not you come back year after year or never go back again you will be changed in so many ways that you can't imagine.
You may have been told the playa is like the moon or another planet. It just might be. You may have been told the parties last all day and all night. Some do! You may have heard that for one week a city of freedom and self expression springs forth from the desert for all to enjoy. For some it does. For many it is the culmination of months or even years of hard work, sweat and tears. For some the city is a place of sanctuary and for others it is a week of therapy. You may even have been told that people walk around naked in the sun and run around lit up like some odd Christmas decoration left out under the stars. Some do. You may have seen strange mechanical monsters breathing fire race across the playa with partying and dancing on board. It happens. But what can't be photographed or captured on a video camera is what is happening right under your newly dusted, faux fur lined with EL wire hat. What is happening to you? Only you will understand the experience, at least from your perspective. You will never be able to explain it to anyone fully, however while you are on the playa you will experience something with so many people that just can't be explained.
There is a reason an event like this is held in such an inhospitable place. What you bring with you is all that you have and oddly enough the more you have with you the more there is to come between you and the experience. My first year I slept on a cot. It was comfortable but not enough for me. My second year I had a nice air mattress. It was even better. My third year the air mattress had grown mold on it and when I opened it up in my tent on the playa it stunk. I had to wrap it up in a large trash bag and pack it back in my crates. I ended up sleeping directly on the ground. (tent floor) It was the best nights sleep I've had in a long time. I'm not suggesting that you run around naked, but sometimes when we bring the comforts of the default world to the playa it comes between us and the experience. You may have heard experienced burners say "I brought way too much stuff my first year" and it is true. Be smart and pack the essentials but only the essentials. Bring what you need to express yourself fully without the confines of the default world to hold you back.
On more serious note, you shouldn't throw caution to the wind. As I said before the playa is a very inhospitable place. You should read the Survival Guide and take it very seriously. Oh yes there are medical tents and you can get antibiotics if you end up with an infected cut but you really don't want to be that burner. Take water everywhere you go. Maybe take an extra bottle so you can gift it to some dusty, thirsty burner who forgot to bring some. Sitting in the Med tent for three hours with IV fluids is not fun.
When you are out there exploring the playa take a look at everything. I know it will be hard because the event is just sensory overload for the first three days or so. Your body will need time to acclimate. It's a tough place. Talk to some of the people who work at the camps you will visit (big and small). Ask them about how much time it takes to set things up. Ask about how early they arrived and had to wait to be placed by a placer. Find out what a rebar puller is. When you walk around the inner playa and take in all the awesome art that is out there take time to think about the time, labor and love that is put into these pieces. And think about the months of organizing and planning that goes into making the piece you are viewing. Ask yourself why the artist did it? Ask yourself why does it make me feel the way I do when I climb on it or make it spin. Ask yourself what have you done lately to make someone feel the way you are feeling without even being near you. Ask yourself what can "I" do to make someone feel this way soon.
Burning Man is not an easy event to experience. I'm sure you have heard all the horror stories. The dryness, high day temps, low night temps, dust, dehydration, people getting impaled by rebar and/or run over by mutant vehicles. Much of that is extreme things that have happened over the past 25 years. Just take into consideration all the work that goes into this festival by participants like you in the crazy environment that is the playa. Some bad stuff happens but if you are careful you will be fine.
Burners are artists, musicians, performers, sculptors, doctors, electricians, computer geeks and structural engineers. Burners are the people behind the scenes of a large theme camp who hang the lights and wire the sound systems. Burners are the people who work together to bring their special talents to the event to make it what it is. What special talent have you brought with you? You don't have to be a welder or a specialist in LED lighting systems. All you need to do is give of yourself without the expectation of something in return. If you can do that then you have one of the best talents in the world. There is so much to take in at this event. There is so much to see and to do. If you acclimate to the environment and are able to open yourself up to the immense love and wonder that is this special event then you have achieved something that most people in the world will never comprehend. You will have participated. You will have helped someone else. It is far better than some burning man swag, temporary tatoo or blinky.
The opportunity to give without reward and the ability to take that opportunity is the best gift you can receive from the playa and all the only person you need to ask to get it is yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to read this note. I hope you will think of this note when you are on the playa. I will look for you in every burner, both virgin and veteran, when I'm out there. Because I know you will be there giving yourself.
Enjoy the experience,
Build a man a fire and he'll be warm for a night.
Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.