What It Feels Like to Be Older at Burning Man

There are a variety of reasons that older people I know offer up for not going to Burning Man – some of them perfectly legitimate.  Asthma victims or people with compromised lungs have good reason to be hesitant about spending a week in the dust-laden world of Black Rock City.

But there are lots of bad reasons too – let’s just call them excuses – for choosing not to go.  Among them is the fear that they’ll feel too old in a crowd of young people.  Another is that they don’t share a common set of ideals, or even language, with young Burners.  A third is that they can’t keep up with all the activities.  And a fourth is that there’s just nothing appealing to older people at Burning Man.

Let’s take these one at a time:

Young? Old? Who cares?

Young? Old? Who cares?

  1. I feel too old to be with all those crazy young people.  I guess you’ve forgotten that it was us baby boomers (and I’m even older than that) who started the whole counter-culture movement, and may also have forgotten some of the spit and fire that we used to feel for life lived on a different plain.  When I’m at Burning Man, I often feel more at ease with the my Burner friends, young and old, then do some of the one-hit-wonder young kids who come once, gawk and never return.  Most Burners either don’t care about your age, or respect it. The fact is, there are plenty of us alums of the 60s who can’t wait to see something new around the corner.  Your body may be older, but if your mind remains nimble you’ll have a ball re-living that sense of freedom that made your earlier years so memorable.
  2. I don’t share the ideals embodied in the 10 principles The range of people who for one week share the ideals of Burning Man will genuinely amaze you.  Corporate executives, senior engineers, McDonalds servers, college professors, the unemployed and unemployable, active and retired military – these and more all come to Burning Man.  You might never even know what the guy standing beside you does with his life, because at Burning Man it just doesn’t matter.  One of the greatest benefits of Burning Man is meeting and knowing people whose belief systems are different from yours, whose lifestyle is 180 degrees from yours, whose look and dress is anathema to your everyday experiences.  You’ll come home with a new appreciation for the meaning of the word “diversity.”
  3. I can’t keep up.  The truth is, nobody can keep up with the frenetic pace of Burning Man, so we all pick and choose what we can do and what we want to do.  There’s no coupon book to get punched proving you went to all the “attractions.”  Some people’s first year is spent mesmerized by everything going on, or just people watching from a comfortable spot in Center Camp.  While Burning Man itself is frenetic, for the individual there literally is no such thing as a “pace.”  Need a nap?  Take one.  I do every afternoon so I have the energy to head out at night when everything is ablaze.  But here’s something I’ve discovered about many of the young people at Burning Man:  they take naps, too.
  4. There’s nothing appealing to older people.  Those of you who have read this blog in the past know how I feel about enveloping yourself in the erotic atmosphere of Burning Man.  Naked bodies, lots of sexual talk, provocative dress by both men and women.  It’s amazing what this aspect of Burning Man will do for your life.  Eroticism is a life force, and it pervades Black Rock City.  You’ll go home feeling younger from that alone.  But there’s so much more – creativity, art, whimsy.  You’ll see what humanity can do when it turns off the money switch and turns the world on its head for one glorious week in the Nevada desert.  Take an art tour, ride in an art car, make love with your spouse (or someone you’ve just met).  Nothing appealing?  I can’t wait to get back.

See you on the Playa.