(Remember) How to Burning Man Part 3: Pro Tips from Bona-fide Black Rock City Professionals

Looking for a handy refresher on the burnerly arts? Feeling a little rusty or wet behind the ears? Whether 2022 is your first time going to Black Rock City or your gazillionth, we’re rolling out this series throughout the summer of Waking Dreams to acculturate and amuse with tips, tricks, and pearls of wisdom to help you thrive in Black Rock City.

It’s that time of year when EVERYONE is a Burning Man expert, doling out endless playa tips — what to wear, what to eat, how to think, what to build… And thank goodness! Because if this whole Burning Man thing is new to you, you likely need all the help you can get.

But whose advice do you heed? What do you ignore? We sure don’t want to be that Burner-ier-than-thou advice-giver who smugly givest too many pro tips. SO we cut right through the noise and sought Black Rock City advice from the very people who have been building the city for decades. Stacked together, these humans have more than a century of Burning Man experience. Noodle on that for a minute.

From Cultural Co-founder Crimson Rose to DA, Andie Grace to Halcyon, I asked each leader the same question: “If a starry-eyed new Burner walked up to you and asked, ‘How do I do this Burning Man thing?’ what would you tell them?”

Listen to the companion podcast on Burning Man LIVE:

Here’s their advice.

The More You Prepare, the More Fun You’ll Have

Karen ‘KJ’ Jacobs: Learning Manager at Burning Man Project (Burning since 2001)

(Photo by Jim Raubenheimer)

You can’t prep enough on the logistical level. I’ve been going for a lot of years. And the years where I kind of threw it together at the last minute, I had a worse experience on playa. The more prep I did, the more fun I had out there, because you’re trying to handle your survival and also bring everything you could need for your comfort and enjoyment.

I always lean into the acronym H.A.L.T.. Someone taught me that early in my Burner years and I felt like it was so true—H.A.L.T. stands for ‘Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.’ If you find yourself at a breaking point or you have been HALTed, check in with yourself and—more likely than not—you are either hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  And then you need to address the thing that is going on with you before you can move forward.

There’s a Right Way to Photobomb

Evil Pippi: Co-founder of Media Mecca in 1997 (Burning since … forever)

(Photo by Jared Mechaber)

If you like pranks (and I certainly do) I think a very fun thing to do is to photobomb. There are a ton of people out there, especially [models] who are getting their photographs taken, often by pro photographers. 

I feel like it’s fully in everyone’s right to photobomb, but there’s a right way to do it and there’s a wrong way to do it. You know, by just slowly easing into the shot and smiling… because if you smile, then they have to deal with you. And just being behind the model and doing a funny pose, then they get an amazing shot. Afterwards, we usually engage with the photographer or with the model and have a hug. It’s really fun. 

Let Go of All Expectations

Rachel ‘Crafty’ Saad: Executive Director of ACE Makerspace (Burning since 2000)

(Photo by Matte Straube)

[This is] actually applicable to both new Burners and old Burners. And the tip is: let your expectations go, let them go. They’re going to hamper you. They’re gonna mire you in mental and emotional distress. Because the source of much drama in life is unmet expectations. If you let your expectations go, you’re not setting yourself up for that failure, that mental frustration, that emotional disappointment. Let your expectations go. Then you’re also coming to the space in a way that’ll allow you to be more present than if you have a bunch of expectations. When you have expectations, you’re looking for those to be met or to be let down. And it really limits what you’re open to. 

Don’t Let Black Rock City be Your First Big Gathering

Crimson Rose: Cultural Founder, Burning Man Project (Burning since 1991)

(Photo by EspressoBuzz)

The first thing I would say is: don’t let Black Rock City be the first large gathering you go to. We have been sequestered for a while; it’s not a bad idea to maybe go to some smaller events just to get your feet wet, so that Black Rock City doesn’t become overwhelming… ’cause it will be overwhelming <laughs>, no matter what.

I think by the time we get back to Black Rock City, it will have been three years. Now that can seem like an eternity. I think [we need to be] kind to ourselves, I think some of us will become very overwhelmed, emotional. We’ll want to do everything. Try every piece of interactive art, jump on it, go to the Temple, go to the Man, dance all night… Just be kind to yourself. And remember, it’s a high altitude. You want to be hydrated, and drinking booze does not necessarily mean you’re hydrating. So drink lots of water and be kind to yourself.

Explore Radical Awareness of Your Own Boundaries

JR ‘Nexus’ Russ: Regional Contact for Washington, DC (Burning since 2013)

(Photo by Tynisha Brooks)

No matter what, take care of yourself, right? And if that means taking a nap, ’cause you’re tired… as many things as you’re going to miss if you rest, you’re going to have that many more things to be able to take advantage of and see and experience. The next most important one for me: be candid about the impact of other people’s actions and the experience you have. Sometimes that means sharing how great it is. And sometimes it might be, “Oh, this maybe isn’t for me.” And that’s fine because there’s so much to do and see. And it’s all good and it’s all valid. I think the third thing would be: be open to yes, but lean into your nos. Burning Man is a great chance to experiment, not just with Radical Self-expression, but radical awareness of your own boundaries. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that I’ve learned.

Restock Your Playa Bag When You Get Back to Camp

Molly Vikart: Burning Man Project Administrator & queen of special projects (Burning since 1995)

(Photo by Melanie Jones)

You need a “go” bag—a little bag or your backpack or whatever. Every time you go back to camp, you restock it and make sure that you have got things like bandaids and zip ties and chapstick, and a small package of baby wipes and sunscreen and dental floss (because there’s a lot you can do with dental floss… You may need it for actual flossing, but it’s really strong stuff). Having that bag ready to go means you can just get up and leave, you don’t have to go, “Oh my god, where’s my this? Where’s my that?” So you do it when you get back, not right when you’re about to venture out into the night or the afternoon or whatever.

Save Some Mojo for Strike, LNT, and Exodus

DA of Black Rock: Environmental Restoration Manager (Burning since 1997)

(Self-portrait by DA)

Leaving No Trace for sure is remembering that this is a big picture. This is a marathon. Not only do you need to get to Burning Man safely and you’re going to have your Burn, you’re going to need to pack up your camp and everything you brought to it. And you’re going to need to sweep it and leave no trace and make it look like you never were there. And then you’re going to need to go home safely.

You need to pace that out—your mojo at the end. If you peak too early, you’re out of the game. And next thing you know, you’re looking at your camp, and you have no energy, and nothing’s getting done on the back end. You have to do strike, and that takes effort. And then leaving no trace takes effort. And then getting home safely, especially safely, takes effort and focus.

Say Yes, But Also, Say No

Lulu Lurline: Black Rock City Ticketing Project Manager (Burning since 1995)

(Photo by Rebecca Throne)

I have two pieces of advice that are sort of the same. They are two sides to the same coin. And the first piece of advice is to say yes, which is when someone asks you, “Do you wanna go out to this crazy spiderweb art piece?” You say yes. If a group is getting together to go to the Dust City Diner, don’t wait for an invitation, ask if you can come along. 

And also say yes to your body. If your body is saying, “I’m really tired and I wanna stay in tonight,” do that. And at the same time, say no. Set your boundaries, know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with. And if what you need to do is say no to doing more, to staying up till dawn patrol, then don’t do it, stay at home. You know, FOMO is real, but FOMO is not something that needs to control you. 

Don’t Try to Live Your Life in One Day

Patrice ‘Chef Juke’ Mackey: DMV Council Member & Burning Man Project User Success Manager (Burning since 1994)

(Photo by Rusty Blazenhoff)

There’s that feeling when you get there that there’s so much to see and you will never see it all. And so some people hit Gate, they get their camp set up, or maybe they don’t even wait and they just run out and try to explore it all right now. My advice there is: what was that Howard Jones song? “Don’t Try to Live Your Life in One Day.” Don’t try to experience all of Burning Man the moment you get there because that’s a match that burns all of a sudden. And the next thing you know, you’re spending a day or two in your tent recovering because you’ve tried to do too much, too quick. 

Burning Man Starts the Minute You Leave Your House

Andie ‘ActionGrl’ Grace: Philosophical Center Producer (Burning since 1997)

(Photo by John Curley)

It starts with when you leave. David Best [likes to say] that Burning Man starts the minute you leave your house to go to Black Rock City… You can start having that ‘right now, immediate experience’ the minute you get in the car or get on the bus, and ease into it. There’s no point in stressing until you get there, because it’s gonna take as long as it takes. And it does take a long time to get there. 

There’s a lot of relationship advice I could offer. People have different expectations. I think it’s a good idea, especially in a romantic partner relationship, to talk about how you plan to Burn and make sure that you’re on the same page. Some people are gonna want to grab that WhatWhereWhen and go to every workshop and tick the boxes and play all day, and other people are gonna want to snooze all day and then go off at sunset and just see what happens and travel at their whim. And sometimes those can be sources of great conflict for a couple or even just friends who come together. Figure out what your plans are, and maybe plan some time apart to do the things that are more important to you individually.

Learn the 10 Principles, then Follow Your Impulses

John ‘Halcyon’ Styn: Pink Heart Camp Co-founder and Lead (Burning since 1998)

(Photo by Scott London)

So much of our life we have been trained and pushed to do it right, and to do what we’re supposed to do. And this is one of the rare places in the world and the community that actually doesn’t want you to do what you’re supposed to do. They want you to listen to your inner calling, and listen to your inner artist and start to really follow your impulses. However, you wanna do them within the 10 Principles. So the two paths I would suggest to you are: one, make sure you educate yourself on the Principles; and two, start listening to that inner voice. 

Do Not Let ‘No Friends Monday’ Ruin Your New Friendships

Dave X: Fire Arts Safety Team Manager (Burning since 1992)

(Photo by Karen Jacobs)

You’re gonna meet new people. And as you meet those new people, they’re going to become your friends… And there’s this chance in life that these people will become meaningful to you in some deep way, going forward.

But there’s a treacherous part, which is the Monday after the event ends, right? By that time all your dopamine is gone. Any extra reserves of energy or compassion you may have had are long gone. It’s the end of the event. And even though you may have committed to doing cleanup at your theme camp until Wednesday after the event, that plan goes out the window and you go over to the camp and you tell people, “Hey, I’ve got a reservation at the <insert favorite Reno casino hotel> in a couple hours and we gotta head out. You guys got this cleanup covered, right?” And then you’ve destroyed all the friendships that you’ve made, you know? 

So I just encourage everybody to remember on Monday when things start going sideways and you risk losing all those great connections that you just made to let it slide and do your part and get out of there gracefully. Remember not to let ‘No Friends Monday’ bring you down or ruin those new friendships.

Now take a deep breath—breathe in, let it all out. Repeat this playa incantation: “May I get the Burn I need.” And carry on with your packing, planning, spreadsheeting, double-checking, repacking… You’re doing a great job.

(Cover image: Photo by George P. Post; Design by Deets Shay)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

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