Why I Will Never Go To Burning Man.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Aug 26, 2010
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(Yet I still dare to call myself an artist.)

I respect the concept of Burning Man and think it’s a pretty cool idea. I say “concept” and “idea” because I’ve never actually been to Burning Man. I can’t remark with confidence on something I’ve never done. And as a rule, I don’t think you can judge something until you’ve experienced it. But I can say with 100% confidence that I will never go to Burning Man.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area since the dawn of “the playa” and have many friends who go every year. I have to live through their waffling for the weeks and months leading up to this August event, and also endure their endless, “You’ve never been to Burning Man? You HAVE to go. YOU would LOVE it!”

I bite my tongue every time a person I just met a minute ago takes me aside, holds my hand, looks me dead in the eye, and tells me with utter confidence that they know for a fact that Burning Man is going to be my personal spiritual salvation. Followed shortly thereafter by some smug commentary about how I can’t possibly know what Burning Man is like, what it’s really all about, until I go and experience it for myself. The convincing is relentless, insistent, and a bit presumptuous.

While I am generally a big believer in trying everything once (except skydiving, crystal meth, and murder), I am quite sure that Burning Man is not for me.

These might be the reasons you think I don’t want to go to Burning Man:

  1. Because I don’t like art. Au contraire, mon ami; I love anything creative! Yay for Burning Man and creativity! With that said, I don’t necessarily think that donning glittery hotpants and phosphorescent platform shoes (and nothing else, for a week) necessarily renders you an “artist.” (And yes, I get it; there’s more to it than that. But, there’s also that.)
  2. Because I don’t get it. I definitely get it. I grew up in a very progressive part of The Berkshires (Massachusetts) where even our summer camps were like mini Burning Mans.  My parents were young idealistic hippies who let us dress ourselves from day one and insisted that we call them by their first names. Our “costume trunk” held more outfits than we had real clothes.  We lived in a tent in the yard for an entire summer while the foundation was being laid for the house my parents built—with their own hands—with wood from an old torn-down tobacco barn. We barely had plumbing, and to this day my mom doesn’t own electric appliances. I think it’s safe to say that my entire upbringing was a prerequisite for Burning Man.
  3. Because I don’t like to get dirty. I’ve heard other people say that they don’t understand why anyone would want to spend a week in the desert getting dirt in every orifice (see below). I actually don’t have a problem with that. I’m not overly attached to showering and quite appreciate the idea of a hot, dusty, dirty week in the desert. Alone.
  4. Because I don’t like camping. I love camping. Again, alone.

Here are the actual reasons why I’m sure Burning Man is not for me:

  1. I don’t like people. Well, let me qualify that. I like people; I just don’t like big groups of them in one place. Especially if that place is locked in by miles of desert and horrible traffic jams.
  2. I don’t like festivals. See above, and also, they are loud, and frantic, and filled with people whose drug ingestion has hindered their perception of appropriate personal space. (Disclaimer: I’m not specifically talking about Burning Man here, since I’ve obviously never been to attest to this myself. I’m just talking about festivals in general and my experience of them.)
  3. The air of preciousness around it. Not long into high school I developed an aversion to clique-ish situations. The moment the world was divided into “been to Burning Man” versus “haven’t been to Burning Man” camps, I knew where I stood. The same place I stood in high school: on the outside.
  4. Because I have an aversion to situations that masquerade as non-conformist when they are actually the norm.  If you’re going to do what everyone else does, don’t pretend like it’s some radically new and different idea that’s going to rock the establishment and start a counterculture.

I’m not the only freak who doesn’t want to go to Burning Man.

I asked a few of my other really cool, creative friends why they won’t go to Burning Man, and here’s what they had to say:

“It seems like the place where repressed people go to give themselves permission to act with abandon.  If I wanted that I’d hang out with Republicans at a rave. ” – Vanessa

“I’m 40, that is why. If I went to Burning Man I would arrive on a private flight, party for 24 hours and fly straight out.  I don’t think I embrace the spirit of the Burn when all I want to do is check out the shit show and shower ASAFP.” – Kevin

“I can see why people go to Burning Man and have a blast.  BUT SORRY, NOT FOR ME.  Where do I even begin?   The idea of spending days in the desert with the sun beating down on me and sand blowing in my face is not my idea of fun.  I would consider going when Four Seasons opens a hotel there.   I could then try to have fun during the day, and then go back to my hotel for a spa treatment, followed by a gourmet meal, and end the day sleeping in a comfortable bed with air-conditioning. ” – Tom

“I’ve never been to Burning Man because it operates on a bartering system and most people want to barter drugs and I hate doing hard drugs in crowds with Port-O-Potties and no showers.  And I hate people that are on drugs.  And I hate Port-O-Potties.  Even though I’m fine with no showers. ” – Leslie

“Burning Man is the king of all icebreakers. Remember in school, or in groups, when the teacher would say, ‘Ok, now I want you to break off into groups and come up with…’ Or, ‘Ok, now we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say one thing nobody knows about us…’ There are those who cringe and want to cut themselves under the desk when they hear this, and others who are secretly ecstatic at the idea. There are ‘icebreaker lovers’ and ‘icebreaker haters.’ Guess what I am?” – Jen

“It’s a cult started by some man who’s discovered a way to charge thousands of people approximately $300 to go camping. Also, I would die of thirst and starvation out of fear that everything was ‘kool-aid.’ And the freaky ginormous ‘Burning Man’ seems a little too KKK-ish to me. I mean why burn him? At night? Why couldn’t they paint him with glitter or use all that wood to build houses or something?”  – Christine

So yes, I hear you when you say that I would LOVE Burning Man, but trust me on this one, I wouldn’t.

Brilliant illustration uptop by my very talented friend Vanessa Fiola: www.vanessafiola.com

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About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]

Comments

153 Responses to “Why I Will Never Go To Burning Man.”

  1. Very glad to know that I am not the only person who has zero interest in Burning Man 🙂

  2. ali says:

    my sentiments, exactly. 🙂 (If i was to ever experience it, I agree with Kevin's statement.)

  3. Emma says:

    Oh, I have been and never had people try to barter with me, let alone with drugs. Everyone was very generous.

    BRC is my favorite city, a vacation from commercialism, excess in a different way. But we go there for different reasons than to worship our creations.

  4. mletag says:

    So glad you wrote this! I have also been told, very seriously and enthusiastically, why I would love it the same way the pentecostal kids used to try to get me to go to their church when I was a teen growing up in the bible belt. I am so glad Burning Man is there for the people who need it and feel at home there, but it is sooooo not for me.

  5. Andrew says:

    The sculptures there look awesome, and I admire the radical freedom ethos, but I am with ya Joslyn. Waving my pee pee around while wearing furry knee-high boots, a pink boa and devil horns like everybody else is not my idea of self liberation.

  6. zuko says:

    Thank you, Joslyn. This article provides affirmation for me(and others) 🙂

  7. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    I forgot to mention one of the most important reasons I don't go to Burning Man — because I can't stand costume parties! Oh lord, I hide in a dark closet on Halloween.

  8. Kara N says:

    Amen.

    And the conclusion that it follows from a lack of interest in burning man that there is a lack of creativity or artistic sensibility is just daft. Not only does that conclusion require an extremely narrow understanding of art, but it fails to note that most of the artistic endeavors taking place at burning man are mediocre. It isn't exactly Bildung out there.

    In any case, actual liberation requires discipline.

  9. ARCreated says:

    where have you been all my life? I LOVE LOVE LOVE your posts! 🙂

    I think about 5 years ago I still had a vague thought about going to burning man…now? nah when I go camping I'd rather be alone or with my husband and my dog…I have noise and chaos in life — camping is reflective.
    I don't need to express myself in over the top ways and "let go" been there, done that … I have a quieter way now.
    I seek peace and tranquility now…I used to do things like ren fair and punk rocks concerts and festivals …. I'd rather weed my garden LOL I guess I'm old?
    PS I no longer poision myself with drugs, and i don't miss 'em and now that I'm "straight" drugged people kind of annoy hehehe.

  10. ARCreated says:

    In any case, actual liberation requires discipline.

    WOW so true — I hadn't thought about it but amen Thank you

  11. Kara N says:

    Pretty sure burning man is a nightmare for very introverted people.

  12. Guy Liesure says:

    Sorry Kara but can you explain how liberation requires discipline, with precision please? It seems antithetical to me.
    If by mediocre you mean common or ordinary then you may be right because everything here or at Burning Man is art. These days the standard search for Bildung gives about 3 pages of cartoons and no classic citations, so iam not sure where you are going with that.
    No love of costumes how about going straight and making your contribution in service to the many functional groups?
    Pink Boas don't liberate you? The point is to find out what does liberate you and explore it.
    Tom your gift could be to take people as close to the Hilton as you can get in the middle of all that is not.
    Don't get caught up in the star power of the veterans go and have your opinions and preferences, but go with the attitude that if it sucks it may be because making magic out of nothing is hard and go to celebrate those that have provided you with the raw and cooked material for that liberation that was mentioned earlier.

    And ultimately your are right ,please stay home because the whole thing is founded on participation, acceptance of other peoples creativity and reflexive participation. It seems that is a hard place for some to go.

    Rebuttals please.

  13. ARCreated says:

    actually maybe not…it may be the one place they can let go…I am the opposite of introvert and I am sure that is why I don't want to go to burning man…my off time I prefer to go in since I spend so much time "out there" .

  14. Kara N says:

    "These days the standard search for Bildung gives about 3 pages of cartoons and no classic citations, so iam not sure where you are going with that."

    I would suggest not attempting to use google image searches to understand the concept of Bildung and its relation to art.

  15. Kara N says:

    Liberation is the *process* of attaining freedom. It is a transitive state. Furthermore, a person must be liberated *from* something. If you want to think about it, you might start with working definitions of liberation and freedom as well as some indication of what it is you believe people at burning man are being liberated *from*.

    In any case, I'd really rather not get into a pissing contest with a guy who cannot spell "leisure."

  16. Guy Liesure says:

    You seem to know a bit. Why do you like it?

  17. Guy Liesure says:

    If it is transitive what is it's direction or destination? If it is a state can it also be transitive?

    The liberation and its associated freedom are unique to each person so my definition is useless except for me.
    I would also like to not pin any one thing or reason or cause on Burning Man remember it is about your individual liberation they just provide a crucible for you to craft your own process.

    Don't be mad I like what you have to say, it just seems a bit rigid.

    Dam I cant spell I have dyslexia for specific letter groups.

    I still want to know what is so cool about Bildung.

  18. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    I can only speak for myself, but as an introverted person to the extreme, the very last thing I find enjoyable is the thought of "letting go" in the vicinity of other people. Oh hells no. Needless to say, I don't do karaoke either.

  19. Guy Liesure says:

    I guess its just interesting to me.

    Even easier to understand if we remember the Bildungsroman genre of literature. The hero's journey towards wholeness, accumulating companions, skills, tools and experiences.

    Also very much what many people are able to experience at BM. You help and interact with others meeting your needs and theirs while sharing resources within an artistic and symbolic world. Cool.

  20. Liz says:

    It's obvious from your first sentence that you're not an introvert. No need to spell it out! 😉

  21. Guy Leisure says:

    Don't be sad NellaLou some people can express themselves with props and if you pay attention you can understand why.
    I would like to see how you express yourself without them. It is not an other defined place it is a place defined by the all of who shows up. With props or without (including the mental propping everyone is so concerned about).

  22. Hi, Joslyn. I'm so happy you wrote this.

    I have a close friend who lives and breathes Burning Man. Every time he tells me another of what he considers to be an irresistibly intriguing anecdote, I become even more convinced that I would never want to be there.

    Like you, I have nothing against people like my friend who love it. Thank God people are different. But it will never be for me.

    I'm with you on all your reasons, but I'll do you one better–I would also not like it for three out of the four reasons you listed as "These might be the reasons you think I don’t want to go to Burning Man": I like art OK, but I don't really get Burning Man, I don't like to get dirty, and I hate camping!

    There's a reason why I make a great Yoga Cyber Hermit. These are them.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  23. Jhon says:

    The naked women freaks there r HOT

  24. freddy says:

    too many tripping burn-outs for me. good piece!

  25. Vanessa says:

    I think you've hit on the only acceptable reaso.

  26. Sam says:

    My best description of Burning Man: Whatever you're into, there's a lot of it there.

    There are hundreds of yoga folks who are on a very different schedule to the hard party crew you hear so much about. I just go and make as much music as my poor body can stand in the elements, no drugs for me! Burning Man is the only place I know that people who are scared of crowds can go and freely assemble. Yes, there are a lot of people, but there is also a lot of SPACE. If you want to be alone there, you can, within the context of the community.

    But I support your decision not to come. You should not go if you're not open to it. Burning Man is a not an easy place to be, physically or emotionally. It is the best of times and the worst of times, rolled into one. For me, though, it is one of the precious few things that gives me hope for the world. And that is why I go back, every year. And that I why I try to give others the opportunity to share in it.

    Know that you will be welcomed, if you ever change your mind. "Never" is an awfully long time to hold on to your judgments.

  27. Kert Hubin says:

    Amen, sister. Never been a joiner, never will be.

  28. Robin says:

    For someone you consider to be a "really cool, creative friend", your friend Leslie seems to have a lot of hate in her…
    This article appears to be an excuse to talk about yourself.

  29. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    Actually, Leslie is just being funny. And I would venture to say that anyone who writes an article about their personal experiences is entitled to talk about themselves. It's called self-expression.

  30. ARCreated says:

    I get that jh but seriously I was once a shy person (UBER shy) and what brought me out of my shell was theater because I could be "outrageous" because it wasn't me. burning man is exactly the kind of place that allows for some introverts to feel a level of anonymity to "let loose"
    Karaoke is a spot lite so horrific for the introvert but Burning man? everyone is nuts all at once you can blend 🙂 Well maybe not you, but other introverts might see it as a vehicle 🙂

  31. ARCreated says:

    Yeah why can't i just not want to go? I'm open to it…I'm just not interested 🙂
    I express myself just fine…I don't feel repressed, I have no burning (pun intended) need to go…what's to get??? Some of us are happy doing what we are doing, expressing ourselves the way we do and living…it would be like me telling me people that same line when I invite them to a kirtan… if they aren't interested fine…just because I get something from it doesn't mean someone else would — hell it doesn't even mean they NEED to get something at all…

  32. ARCreated says:

    I am liberated…I guess that is the point I feel with this whole line of thought…I don't feel the desire to attend because I have nothing I feel I need liberating from…I have always felt free to dress up in costumes when the mood strikes me, I have opportunities to express how I feel about life and spirituality everyday… My life is one big celebration of liberation…so I'm good…if YOU get something you feel you are missing when you go to burning man AWESOME!!! enjoy it, love it, relish in it and celebrate it…but don't assume everyone is seeking what you seek, needs what you need. Just because we don't seek our liberation in the same way doesn't mean we "don't get it" … we just don't need it….I had a similar conversation with a church going friend who couldn't understand how I didn't need church…what about a sense of community? HUH?

  33. ARCreated says:

    One persons church is not another’s… one person's liberation or art or spirituality or expression is not another — and if someone expresses differently doesn't make them inferior or clueless … and PS spelling constraints suck 🙂 I used to really judge people on spelling and grammar and then I got liberated LOL (no what I got was a dyslexic son that taught me the ability (or lack there of) to spell has no bearing on intelligence or intent 🙂

  34. anon nonburner says:

    THANK YOU!!! I am so tired of hearing people tell me why my life will not be complete until I go to burning man. I seriously lost interest in going the second someone told me there's now an airstrip to land private planes…what?! I like costumes. I like art. I like intelligent, nonconformist discourse. I like yoga, I like people, I like festivals, I like parties, I like the desert, I like camping, I like music, hell I even like drugs, on occasion…but at the end of the day, for something that's supposed to be a statement against our oppressive society…it seems pretty similar to society to me, or at least the society/people I see around me. The clique-yness, the competitiveness in creating themed camps, the conformist "radical self-expression" (really? so you ALL are so RADICAL you can't think of a better costume than the feathers, the goggles, the tights? every single one of you?), the drugs, the cliche of it all. All of the pictures I've seen, all of the firsthand stories I've heard (and believe me, it's a lot, I swear every year the number of friends I have going doubles, as they recruit one another!), make me think it's just like any other rave-y festival, on a city-sized scale. I agree most with the poster who said "But for the money, you could easily travel somewhere new and learn about something real." I guess I just think if I wanted to spend a week with my friends and/or masses of strangers "expressing myself," I might try to pick somewhere/something that every single college kid whose ever done ecstasy isn't attending, as well…something that (gasp) I actually individually thought up and that will allow me, myself, just as I am, to discover something new about myself and the world, without the need for fitting myself into someone else's idea of what kind of setting I need in order to properly "self express." Thanks for posting.

  35. danielle says:

    Uhhh, how is the fact that Joslyn has chosen to write about herself a problem, exactly? Particularly since it's titled "Why I Will Never Go to Burning Man" (and not say "Why You Should Never Go…" or "Why No One Should Go…")?

  36. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    Whoa.

  37. Robin says:

    Having been to Burning Man, Ill say that Burning Man is a metaphor for life, its whatever you make of it. You can make it a drug laiden party fest, you can make it about connecting with community, you can make it a spiritual experience, you can make it about expressing yourself artistically or appreciating art or you can get overwhelmed by it and just complain. In the end, we choose how we see the world. Burning Man is just a microcosm for our life perspective.

  38. Mary says:

    Glad that you made this self conscious decision, and staying in town. We do not need another whiny yoga instructor on the playa. And seriously, who cares why you go, or not go to certain places? I don't go Nascar racing, roller derby, americn football and other crap that i have no interest. But write an article about it?

  39. elephantjournal says:

    True, true. I ran into a very non-stereotypical non-raver style friend of mine in the "green" "outdoor" biz this morning, and she was on her way. She works with Leave No Trace to make sure the event has less of an impact than such a crazy week might otherwise have. Not sure how "eco-responsible" the event is overall, but good to know that she was taking part in a whole camp devoted to such, and that they were holding workshops.

  40. elephantjournal says:

    Let's keep it nice, ya'll, agree to disagree.

  41. Shy Sayar says:

    I might actually go one day, but I haven't yet for so many of the same reasons. Thanks for giving voice to so many of us plenty cool people who just don't feel the need.

  42. Robin says:

    The problem, exactly, is that the article is written in a "i know better than those fools" tone and is just a blatant act of self promotion. And while i may have lowered the tone with my second message, I am not going to keep quiet when someone gets all "Actually," and "It's called" as a response. I don't agree with Joslyn writing an article about not experiencing something and saying its about personal experience. There must be lots of folks who thought themselves too uptight to enjoy an event like BM, got dragged there by friends and ended up running around naked and laughing with joy. The article is only going to reduce the chance of people letting go and learning about themselves. There are countless wonderful things to promote or dreadful things to warn people about, such http://www.killercoke.org/ but "why I won't be going to Burning man" isn't one them.

  43. mike m says:

    the grateful dead parking lot scene is the catalyst to the burning man scene as well as the summer camping music fests. the grateful dead parking lot was like bonnaroo/burning man at every one of their concerts.

  44. thomasina says:

    great article,

  45. Bonita says:

    Wow. Thank you! Your reasons ring true for me.

  46. Dana J says:

    Interesting perspective. When we lived in the Outer Ave's of SF in '88 or '89, we happened upon one of the first BMs .
    After wards, we considered attending @ BRD several times, but in the beginning, it was a lot different than it is now, and we decided that the desert was not for us. Now you have RV's & private planes. Not the same at all.
    But I respect those select few that do attend, one of our friends is now going for the first time. I hope she has the experience of her life.
    But its still not for us. Dana from Costa Rica

  47. I think there is a difference between being shy and being introverted. Shy, in my mind, is wanting to let loose but being too self-conscious or timid. Introverted, on the other hand, means you actually prefer solitude and the company of your own thoughts. Of course, those are just my personal definitions. I was once called a SHY EXTROVERT by my yoga "guru" ex-boss. But actually, I am more of an OUTGOING INTROVERT. I'm friendly, but given my druthers, I'd rather be alone 🙂

  48. I love this account. Thank you so much for sharing. Super courageous and well-spoken point of view! Sometimes, if you really want to be DIFFERENT and YOURSELF, it means not doing what everyone else thinks is "different."