Missing Burning Man

Rob V. G. and Stephen in front of the De(s)sert Confe(c)sions (Confectionary Confessional) booth, Black Rock City, Nevada, 2000

Rob V. G. and Stephen in front of the De(s)sert Confe(c)sions (Confectionary Confessional) booth, Black Rock City, Nevada, 2000

Burning Man started today.

I first attended Burning Man ten years ago, in 1999. (The posi-web essay I wrote about that experience is still up on my old site.) I was blown away. I went again in 2000, the year the photo above was taken, and had a comparatively miserable time, in part due to the weather, in part due to some circumstances related to my traveling companion. I almost didn’t go in 2001, but how different my life would have been, since that was the year I met Kimi, camping next to her at 2:30 and Lover. We attended together in 2002 and 2004. In 2005 Kimi and I were wed, and later that year Sammy was born; we haven’t been back to Black Rock City since.

While many children of all ages do attend Burning Man, I’m not eager to take our kids there, because I think it would be too much for them, and I’m not interested in attending without going along with Kimi. We’re also not keen to leave our kids with anyone else for a week, so it’ll probably be at least ten years before we go back.

This year is the first year I’ve really really missed it.

Look, it’s certainly not easy to go there. It’s expensive. (The ticket price of $240 – $360 is the least of it.) Packing is a lot of work. Unpacking is even more work. It’s dusty. The weather is extreme. You get no sleep. It’s dirty. It’s loud. Every single second of every single day you’re within earshot of music you hate, probably at eardrum-shattering volume. You’re surrounded by drunken altered naked yahoos.

But it’s also home to the best live music, the best DJs, the greatest art, the most creative projects, thousands of warm and welcoming people, the most incredible sunsets and starscapes and sunrises. It’s home. And this year I’m homesick.

7 Responses to “Missing Burning Man”

  1. slacy Says:

    Why not go, camp in “quiet camp” and just not really worry about “seeing the sites” with the kids? If the weather is reasonable, I would think that it would actually be a pretty nice family vacation. Is there a “families” section?

  2. Stephen Says:

    There are indeed many family camps, including some very nice people at Kids Camp, and there are some informal guidelines about more family-oriented sections near the back, where it’s less loud.

    See http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/kids_at_bm.html for a great write-up.

    But despite all that, I think it’s just too loud and too harsh for Sammy and Sophie at their current ages of nearly 4 and nearly 2. As you’ve seen, the weather is never really reasonable, and we’re stretched keeping them safe and comfortable on a beach trip for a day, let alone camping in the desert.

    Someday maybe! But knowing my kids, it’s not really for them. Yet.

  3. slacy Says:

    From my experience at Berkeley Family Camp this summer (berkeleycamps.com) I can say that extended duration (7 day) camping with kids really changed the way I think about them. It was the first place where I felt comfortable letting Isaac really roam a bit and “do it myself” (as he likes to say these days). The car-free environment makes a huge difference, as did the mealtime routines. Towards the end, I basically trusted him to find his way through the 300+ person dining hall, and find our table and sit and get ready for meals. It was also one of the few times where he really got to interact with kids of all ages, in an environment where the older kids weren’t as competitive/abusive as they can sometimes be at other places (parks, fairs, etc.).

    You should know how flexible and adaptable kids are. Isaac was a bit hesitant at the beginning of our camping trip, but left with a real confidence and feeling of self empowerment, and we (as parents) ended up with the same impression of him, growing up, being able to do things on his own, not needing 100% supervision 24/7, relying on the kindness of our friends and the kindness of the other families there, and trusting that nothing bad is actually going to happen.

    Anyway, clearly this isn’t the year for you, and I can totally understand that, but remember: Parenting is about doing what’s best for you first, and what’s best for the kids second, because if you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of them. Make plans, figure out what it’ll take to go next year or in 2 years, and make it happen.

    I’ve heard there’s good camping in Death Valley — maybe that’s a good introduction for them. 🙂

  4. Davis Freeberg Says:

    I’ve always wanted to attend, but can’t get over the ticket prices. I thought that the whole idea was to shed material possessions and embrace nature? It seems like a lot of fun, but now that it’s a big business, I would be afraid that it would lack the authenticity that existed when you first started going.

  5. Stephen Says:

    Davis, it’s not really a nature-loving event (although some of the folks who go fit that, I’d say most don’t). The event eschews commerce and promotes a gift economy, but you need a truckload of material possessions to survive out there. Check out these principles:

    http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/about_burningman/principles.html

    The one thing you can count on is that every single year people will say that it’s worse than the year before. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still damn awesome…

    In conclusion: GO! Plan now for next year!

    The ticket prices go up the longer you wait… Yes, tickets are expensive. But everything else (travel, food, supplies, costumes, art projects) is even more expensive… It’s certainly not cheap.

    But it’s still worth it…

  6. Merrilee Says:

    Stephen,

    Okay, I’m late to the party because I was attending burning man, with my family.

    My daughter (now 2.5) had her third burn this year (her fourth if you count the year I was pregnant. At this point, I’ve gone as many times with a kid as without. We’ve camped for the last three years with another kid who is a little older, and we’ve had a great time. It limits you in some ways, but opens you up in others (I am up earlier, am generally more sober, and see more daytime stuff than ever). I am GREAT about taking naps, and we bought an air conditioner that fits in the window of our VW bus for this purpose! We have an air purifier in case things get really dusty. We used it the year I was pregnant in 2006 (because Keith was paranoid) and in 2007 (which was a dusty year), but not much since then. We camp on the outer rings which are quieter and not so dusty! We all keep each other hydrated, carry snacks always, and love art that features shade. We do not camp with kidsville, although she’s visited (not with me, campmates took her). With 40,000 people, there are probably about 40,001 different ways to experience Burning Man. I’m not trying to convince you because if Kimi isn’t into it, and you aren’t into it without her, it’s not going to happen. But others reading this should realize that it’s not only possible but a ton of fun. I wouldn’t go without my kid at this point!

  7. Stephen Says:

    Merrilee! First off, great to see you and also to read your blog and learn about your growing family. Let’s make sure to set a play date!

    Second, glad you had a great time and your story does inspire hope. Right now my assessment is that my son (who turns 4 tomorrow) would not do too well in that environment because he’s so picky about things — his bedroom has to be just so for him to fall asleep, for example. But echoing what slacy said earlier, kids are adaptable and maybe I’m not giving him enough credit.

    Our longest time camping has been three nights, and he did well enough there.

    Kimi’s into Burning Man (after all, I did meet her there) but she shares my reluctance to go back with kids. It may be selfishness on our parts; we’re used to experiencing the event the way we experienced it, as adults, which is very different from the family approach.

    Need to think and assess.

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