What is it like living in Black Rock City?

I’ve tried writing a description of my time at Burning Man, but I found writing about the physical environment uninspiring – lots of other people have already done it, more eloquently than I could. Instead, here are some of the things that stood out in my experience.

Relaxedness with appearance

At Burning Man, as the week progressed, I began to care less about my appearance. Actually, that’s not quite right. I cared less about what others thought of my appearance. Normally I’m very self-conscious about this, so this was a big change for me.

At Burning Man, there is always someone crazier, more naked (can you be more naked than naked?), more out there than you are. It’s implicitly okay to experiment. It’s fine to wander around in your PJs in the morning (or at any other time, for that matter). More than just being okay, I would have felt out of place if I hadn’t pushed my boundaries a bit. The norm, the average is much further out along the do-crazy-stuff continuum than the default world, and living in that environment was quietly liberating.

By the end of the week, I wanted to get rid of most of my default world wardrobe (it’s so grey and boring!). As I travelled back to San Francisco, even dressed in default world clothes, I gradually began to feel more and more out of place. We stopped at a rest stop, and I was reminded by the mirror that my hair was full of playa dust and that I hadn’t shaved in a week. I felt out of place amongst the other people there. I’m trying to pin down what it was about those people at the rest-stop that made me feel out of place. It wasn’t that they were clean; there were clean people on the playa (fresh from a shower), and I didn’t feel unclean for their cleanliness. It wasn’t that they were well-presented; there were plenty of people in amazing outfits and I didn’t feel inadequate (perhaps inspired). Maybe it was something like conformity, an implicitly agreed-upon set of boundaries for what was okay to wear, do, look like. An implicit agreement to not stand out too much, to blend in and not attract attention. This is the sea we swim in normally, and don’t notice because we can’t see it until it’s gone.


It’s no secret that there’s lots of nudity at burning man. What was new for me, not having spent much (or indeed any) time on nudist beaches, was being in an environment where nudity is not a big deal. In comparison, regular society is comically uptight about this stuff.

As well as physical nudity, I found the environment at Burning Man very authentic. I only noticed this when I returned home and found several things in my life feeling artificial and fake.


At Burning Man, I felt like I always had something in common with the people around me. I’m learning to be more open to starting conversations with strangers, and I could have used a good three months in an environment like that to really sink into it and open up more. Friendliness was the default, but it was more open-hearted than regular everyday friendliness. Hugs, compliments, gifts, hugs, cooking meals for people, conversations about important stuff, hugs. In essence, I found the people there to be very openly loving. There are people and whole groups of friends in my regular life who are like this, and I’d love to expand their part in my life. Being surrounded by so many awesome people for a solid week was pretty special.


Constantly seeing little things that made me go “Hell yeah” provided continual doses of awesome (Cars with flamethrowers! Glowy bikes! Fishing for hippies with glowsticks! A random oasis in the desert with a cushion pile!). More than any one particular thing, the city as a whole, especially at night, was beautiful. I felt like the city was constantly inviting me to go out and have an adventure.

Go fourth and Burn!

Like reading about a city you’ve never visited, all of this writing can’t convey what it’s like to live in Black Rock City. It’s merely an invitation and an encouragement to check it out for yourself, if you feel so inclined. See you in the dust!

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    One Response to “What is it like living in Black Rock City?”

    1. T.O.
      3 October 2011 at 11:46

      Nice summary. I think I would love a trip to burning man, because I love to explore with an open mind.

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