Thursday, September 8, 2016
For Dina Kaplan, Labor Day weekend means camping out in the Nevada desert among 60,000 of her newly minted besties, finding her Zen among sunrise meditation sessions, outrageous costumes and a commitment to “human decency” at the annual, anything-goes Burning Man festival.
“They give you water if you’re thirsty and feed you if you’re hungry,” says Kaplan, a five-time veteran of the festival and a West Village-based entrepreneur and yoga enthusiast who declines to give her age. “Some people will dance for 18 straight hours.”
But today, she’s finding it difficult to readjust back to the real world as she returns to life in NYC.
Who’d ever think that joining a self-sufficient outdoor “camp,” using baby wipes as a pseudoshower for a week and, for some, taking copious amounts of drugs would be so hard to give up?
A number of New Yorkers, dissatisfied with their lives, flee westward every year for the weeklong festival known for its constant hugs and no-money mandate. But upon their return, many are experiencing palpable withdrawal symptoms as the transition proves tough for those who continue to see the mirage of Burning Man, even when back in Manhattan.
“You’re trying desperately to hold onto the good energy [of] Burning Man, but it is so hard to do that amid the bustle of NYC,” says Kaplan, who recalls an episode at the airport in which a fellow “Burner” jumped the cab line and hissed, “We’re not at Burning Man anymore.”
To cope, some Burners are hosting support groups masquerading as “decompression parties” around the city.
“When Burning Man is over, it’s like the day after Christmas. Suddenly it’s real life again,” says 28-year-old Anastasia Alt, who’s producing a “wellness retreat inspired by Burning Man” called Playa to the Pool, to be held Saturday, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to help Burners relive the experience. The event includes a $600 poolside-cabana option, face-painting and hair-braiding à la Black Rock City, and a must-see “Rock Star Shaman” workshop. Some ticket brackets have already sold out.
“I’ve been going to Burning Man parties in New York for some time,” says Andrea Wien, a 30-year-old writer from Williamsburg who’s a regular at “regional Burns.”
“They’re pretty crazy — a lot of people are in full costume. You’re not talking about work or networking,” says Wien, whose favorite festival ensembles range from daytime bikinis to evening faux-tiger-skin jackets. “You talk to people about what they’re passionate about, not necessarily what they do in the real world.”
She describes one Burner at the festival who paraded around in the nude, only to turn out to be a high-powered lawyer. “He said, ‘My whole goal is to be naked the whole time I’m here,’ ” she recalls.
But that’s not even the best part of Burning Man for Wien. “You can hug a thousand people in a week — and you embrace for five to seven seconds.”
And, predictably, the post-Burning Man crash can be brutal. “It’s a little depressing to get back into the swing of things. Your perspective changes on what’s important,” she says, adding, “You have this amazing experience and connect so deeply with other people. Upon return you feel so hollow.”
The comedown is especially hard for corporate types.
“How do you transition back? You feel fake — you feel like you’re an imposter. I experience depression because I have imposter syndrome — that’s what I suffer for weeks coming back,” says Joanna Nabholz, a mom of three kids under 6 who works in tech and declined to give her age. “You feel like you’re lying to yourself.”
It’s not uncommon for attendees to re-evaluate their raison d’être post-festival.
“You find people who question their job or who quit their corporate environment — some job that’s not their mission,” Kaplan says. “It’s a common story.”
For Martin Duncan — a 40-year-old Scot by way of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, who goes by the name “The Captain” at Burning Man, where he tended bar at an Irish pub erected in the desert — letting go of his festival alter-ego proves difficult.
“Every time I go, it takes me a week to come down from the high — of that community, of that spirit — to my daily job,” says the startup exec. “Coming back to your routine is tough: Getting on the subway, putting on normal clothes. They call it coming back to the default world — to the real world.”
Still, he says, the Burning Man ethos endures long after the party ends.
“In a post-apocalyptic world, post nuclear-Holocaust, this is the way people can survive.”