Why would two retired 75-year-olds with a comfortable home and children and grandchildren to spoil hit the road in late summer to spend two weeks in the desert for the Burning Man Festival? Let me count the reasons:
1. It makes us feel young. It’s not just about being with young people (although our camp is filled with what we call “kids”), it’s also about stretching your mind and your body and getting those brain synapses firing again. Burning Man is an adventure in non-comfort-zone living in a harsh desert environment, and having fun doing it. That’s why we’ve gone 12 times since 2005 and plan to keep going until we can’t do so physically.
2. The creativity inspires us. We see art installations and art cars on the Playa that are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. There are monuments to the spiritual (the Temple), inventive ways to show the power of fire (the Fire Tornado), and astounding travelling artistic statements such as the Porcupine mutant vehicle. The desert surface is the artists’ canvas at Burning Man, and that space provides artistic opportunities unlike any art gallery or museum. We come back motivated by the infinite power of the human mind and with the desire to do more with our own lives – and that means staying active and engaged.
3. The whimsy makes us laugh. We love that Burning Man never takes itself too seriously. There’s a wink behind every artificial palm tree, and a smile hidden in even the most assiduously constructed art pieces. Whenever we begin to make too much of day-to-day life, we only have to think about Burning Man to take it down a notch.
4. The people teach us about life. We’ve learned to look beyond outward appearances and dress (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) to find the connections we never knew existed between us and people who simply don’t look like us. It’s added a deep appreciation of diversity and a powerful desire to bring new, often exotic people into our lives.
5. Eroticism is our fountain of youth. Burning Man is not as sexually outrageous as some people believe, but there’s plenty of erotic reminders out there. A bit of nudity, a touch of provocative dress (by women and men), a multitude of camps and sites devoted to sex from an intellectual or practical perspective; the Playa exudes eroticism and the life-force that it represents. For us, as a couple married for nearly 53 years, it’s a constant reminder that sex remains valuable in human relationships, including our marriage. In fact, everything about our marriage has gotten better since we started going to Burning Man.
6. The desert gives us courage. On my first trip to Burning Man, I thought I would die out there in the heat, the blistering sun, and the dust. But instead of diminishing me, the desert raised me up to a higher level of confidence in surviving and thriving in an environment that I had feared. I’m not a daredevil because of Burning Man, but I did decide to start teaching skiing last season at age 74. And while I still worry about “losing a step” as I age, I realize that my experience – including Burning Man – can easily make up for lost horsepower.
We’re deeply involved in our Burning Man community, having taken on the responsibility of running a camp each year as well as participating in numerous off-Playa activities and meetings, including those at Burning Man Headquarters in San Francisco. The more you do for Burning Man, the more it does for you.