The RV Metaphor

I think we’ve begun to resemble our Burning Man RV. Not only is it an aging model, but it needs some replacement parts. Foremost among the needed upgrades is a new generator. Ours bit the dust (pun intended) after the last Burn. It’s critical for us because it allows us to run the air conditioner. Without AC, the RV turns into a hot box in the desert. We also have a medical device that requires power so the gennie is a must-have for our stay in Black Rock City.

Fortunately, our son – also a Burner – recently found a used version of the exact same model built-in generator for a reasonable price. The new one will also need some repair, but we’re confident our old model will provide all needed parts. Of course, there’s still the issue of roadworthiness (for both us and the vehicle). Hence, we’re getting ourselves checked out medically while we kick the tires on the RV

As you can probably tell, the RV is the perfect metaphor for us. In addition to the aforementioned need for a replacement generator, the vehicle’s speed and reliability are far from ideal. I have some replacement parts of my own – titanium in my left femur, for example. And we’re both nearing the age when more alternative body parts may be required. Like the vehicle, we absolutely move slower and less reliably than in the past.

Taking the RV in for a tune-up and inspection will help; but, as far as we’re concerned, even our Primary Care Physician can’t prep us with an oil change and some new tires. So we and the RV will be heading to the Playa aware of possible breakdowns along the way.

Just as we know to pack extra oil and coolant and to bring battery cables, we have to line up the assortment of meds and vitamins that get us started and keep us humming along every day. That takes some additional preparation. We not only have to remember to bring the meds, but we have to recall where we’ve stored them once we’ve packed the RV.

We’ve also got to do more limbering up than previously. We can’t just head out to the Playa and jump on our bikes for the first time in months. We need to start riding now. We won’t have a good time if we end up with strained muscles on day one and spend the rest of the Burn in pain.

Worst-case scenarios are not our expectation, but guarding against them seems wise. How to Burn when you’re nearing 80 years old takes thought and planning. As it does for everyone prepping to spend a week in the harsh conditions of the Black Rock Desert. Check the Burning Man website ( for tips on how to have a safe and fun Burn. If all goes according to plan, we’ll see you there.

Judging Burning Man

You have to give up a lot of creature comforts to spend a week or so on Playa. But one thing I gave up at Burning Man turned out to be a relief: thinking judgmentally. I’m not sure when I realized that I was no longer spending time and energy judging people, but I know that it happened in Black Rock City. After years of living a corporate life and gauging others by that standard, I instead embraced the value of differences, not only in others but in myself as well. I began to understand that inside me are all the possibilities of the human condition – male, female, straight, queer, sane, crazy. Not only did personal judgment largely fall away, but political judgment did as well. I haven’t changed, but I’ve stopped caring whether others fall into one or more of my preconceived “acceptable” standards.

No wonder I return from Burning Man in a completely relaxed state. But the world around me has not changed, and I continue to encounter people endlessly judging me and others. In that environment, it’s difficult to maintain the non-judgmental spirit of Black Rock City and to avoid falling into the habit of instantaneously measuring others against arbitrary standards. But after 13 years as a Burner, I’m better at sloughing off that tendency to judge others based on appearance, dress, or their own judgmental statements.

Recent political divides in the U.S. have made instant and arbitrary judgments more difficult to overcome because voices that had previously been viewed as well outside the norm have increased in volume (both loudness and quantity), challenging me to keep the non-judgmental spirit of BRC alive. I’m not always successful at doing so, except when I’m on Playa. There, politics seems to evaporate into the desert air. If only that spirit could be moved to the default world, lessening the impact of politics on all our lives and increasing our willingness to accept each other.

Alas, these days it has become common to refuse any form of interaction with those who disagree with us politically. This sense of acute judgment has polluted our community life and separated people even more than previously. So when you go to Burning Man this year, look for ways to drop judgmental thinking from your way of being. Then, see if you can bring that approach home to your default life. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be totally successful, but you may shift your thinking a little and by doing so encourage others to do the same. That’s the spirit of Black Rock City extended into the real world.

As you watch the rise of antagonism toward others – whether based on nationality, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or other differences – you can insert the Burning Man principle of Radical Inclusion into your reaction. Even those who express arbitrary hatred of other human beings have a right to exist and to express their deepest-held beliefs, just as you have the right to disagree with them. Changing others may not be possible, but creating a world of love and kindness around your own way of thinking could help make the entire world more like Black Rock City. If we start by encouraging ourselves and others to accept that alternative lifestyles do not represent an existential danger, we will have taken a tiny step toward the ideals of Burning Man. And what a relief that would be.

Back to the Future: On Playa Again

I’m coming home. After a three-year absence (including Covid), I’ll be returning to the Playa for Burning Man 2023. It’s a source of great joy and excitement to know that in only a few months I’ll be surrounded by all the excitement, the art, the eroticism, and the dust that makes Burning Man what it is: a uniquely American experience that embraces the entire world.

My wife and I are coming dangerously close to our 80s, which reminds me of our first couple of Burns. In 2006, when we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on Playa, we met a group of “older” people who called themselves the Wisdom Camp. We thought we were ancient until we discovered this group of Burners who still had the fire within them. As the years passed, many of these folks disappeared from Burning Man. We worried about them but considered the possibility that they had simply stopped coming because of age and the stress of preparing for and attending the Burn.

Now, we are those people. While we’re far from the longest-attending Burners, we’re certainly among the oldest. And though we don’t claim to have the market cornered on wisdom, we can claim experience. The good news is that we still expect to be surprised by what we see at Burning Man 2023, and to come away feeling younger than our years.

That’s the heart and soul of this blog – to remind ourselves and others who are no longer chronologically young that Burning Man is a Fountain of Youth. It’s hard to come away not feeling younger – and for sure you won’t feel older from the experience.

That doesn’t mean we’ll be pretending that we’re twenty or thirty years younger than we are. We can’t operate on the clock of a 40-year-old with a 78-year-old body; we need more rest, and we build that into our experience. We’ve always stayed in our air-conditioned RV during the hottest part of the day, and that strategy will remain in place.

But we actually plan to see more of Burning Man this year. Our camp responsibilities are somewhat lessened now, so we’ll actually have more time to roam around, enjoy the art, meet more people, laugh at the displays of whimsy and joy, and eat and drink more of the gifted offerings. Staying out of the hot part of the day gives us more time and energy to enjoy the fiery night scenes, which have always been our favorites. We love the do-it-yourself artworks that allow some control over the effects. And we’ll take advantage of those Zen moments sitting under lighted art installations programmed to music.

Speaking of music, we’ll be searching out as many performances as we can fit into the schedule – especially by groups like the ad hoc symphony orchestra and the marching bands. We may even dance at one of the discos.  And if we tucker out, there’s always the center camp stage with its cushioned seating.

What we’re looking forward to the most is the renewal we experience at every Burning Man. Feeling younger makes us younger, and the infusion of that youthful spirit into our lives is something we’re eager to embrace once again. See you on Playa.