Brain Games on the Playa

It was well after midnight (our favorite time on the Playa) and we were trying out food and drinks gifted by different camps when we began to hear some music wafting toward us. We were drawn in like moths to a flame only to discover that a live hip-hop group was performing at an intimate tent-based nightclub. As people in their 70s, we have never been especially fond of hip-hop. In fact, we’ve found most of it repulsive – especially the “gangsta” style rap with its violent and misogynistic lyrics. On the other hand, we’ve enjoyed work such as Common and John Legend’s Oscar-winning song from Selma, which combined Legend’s singing with Common’s rapping. And that was the very type of hip-hop we ran across that night at Burning Man.

The group consisted of two male rappers and a female singer. They were uniformly excellent. The music track was pre-recorded, but it was their own composition and performance. We fell under the spell of this group. The woman’s singing was tuneful and enticing. Best of all, it meshed perfectly with the rap, which was poetic, funny, and pointed. This may have been the first time we listened so carefully to rap lyrics. We stayed around for the entire set, dancing and joining others in urging the group to “play one more” whenever they announced that this was their final number.

The jellyfish from last year’s Burn. Is this what made my brain work better?

We’re never going to be hip-hop aficionados, but we discovered that rejecting all hip-hop out of hand was limiting our artistic experiences. So now we’re paying more attention to rap, aware that it’s both poetic and musical, and watching as the art form evolves and broadens its appeal. Without this Burning Man experience, we’d probably remain in our musical bunker and continue to avoid rap/hip-hop as an art form.

Finding and engaging with new experiences (whether it’s music, art, or the people we meet), is a positive brain exercise – especially important for older people. It’s probably one of the reasons that we return from Black Rock City energized and feeling younger. So, you can choose to dine on jellyfish (or take Prevagen) or go to Burning Man for a shot of youthful energy and brain stimulation. I don’t know if Prevagen works, but I am certain about Burning Man.

On another topic, many of you may already be aware that the 2018 theme for Burning Man is “I, Robot,” which is the name of a hit movie starring Will Smith. The film was originally inspired by a short story by famed Sci-Fi writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov. But this year’s theme is not the only Asimov-inspired aspect of the 2018 Burn. The Temple (artists’ rendering above), which is currently in early stages of construction, will also be named for a work linked to Asimov, “Galaxia”. According to the Org, the Temple is “inspired by Gaia in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, GALAXIA, which celebrates the hope in the unknown; it is the ultimate network, the fabric of the universe connecting living beings into one entity.”

So BRC in 2018 will be a sci-fi lover’s feast, and personally, I can’t wait.

No Pain, No Gain

I understand why people find Burning Man intimidating and feel resigned never to attend – even if they have an interest in the art or participating in the Burn’s unique, principles-driven culture. Given the harsh desert environment, the requirement to bring your own food and water, and the presence of those dreaded porta-potties, I can’t fault anyone for such a decision. In fact, that’s the way I felt as I approached my first Burn. I had to fight through personal apprehensions as the date neared and felt fairly certain I would not survive the experience (I have a tendency toward overblown fears). But the minute my son dragged my sorry ass through the gate back in 2005, I felt a sense of freedom, unlike anything I had ever known. The experience of that first Burn, and each one thereafter, has made a permanent impact on me and enhanced my life. Let me count the ways.

People: After more than 30 years as a corporate executive, I found myself judging people largely on external factors – how they dressed, speech patterns, grooming, etc. At Burning Man, I learned to see through many of the surface features to find the real people underneath. I wasn’t just interested in “accepting” a broader array of people, but in embracing them. And while I began this practice at the Burn, I have expanded it to the whole of my life ever since.

Awareness: For reasons that are hard to explain, I seem to be more aware of the world around me since attending Burning Man. I’m particularly alert to natural beauty, which is especially pleasant during the winter months when we live adjacent to Lake Tahoe. Maybe it’s because spending a week or two in the flat, lifeless Black Rock Desert has taught me to find beauty everywhere.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe. Now I see it. (iPhone Photo by author).

Love: After 51 years of marriage, my wife and I love each other more than ever. Has Burning Man played a role? I think it has. It’s a shared experience that we both love and reflect on throughout the year. It’s a period of time when we rely almost entirely on each other. It’s provided us with a whole new set of friends – many of them quite young – who inspire and energize us and renew our own relationship.

Sex: Burning Man is suffused with eroticism, and its presence adds a dimension not just to our time on the Playa, but to our lives as a whole. Since we began attending Burning Man, our love life has blossomed. Sex is not a fading aspect of our marriage, but an ever growing and improving wonder.

Creativity: Year in and year out, we are amazed and inspired by the creative energy on display at Burning Man. The art is not just aesthetically pleasing, it is clever and innovative in ways that make you re-think your own ability to add fun and enjoyment to the world. Typical Burning Man art engages both sides of your brain by employing both technology and traditional art to create something unique. Sometimes, the best art at Burning Man is of the mobile variety. The art cars are something to behold.

Would it be worth enduring the trying negatives of Burning Man for the plusses I’ve listed here? It is for me.