Monday, September 23, 2013

The Fountain of Youth - Burning Man 2013 for AARP

It’s no wonder Ponce de Leon never found the Fountain of Youth. He was searching for a water source. The real fountain seems to be a barren, dusty lakebed which many refer to as “The Playa.” And every year around Labor Day, thousands of people join together to roll around in the dust and shake off the constraints of the default world.

After last year’s burn, I told myself I wasn’t going back next year. By the end of the week, I found myself exhausted and hung over, with a craptastic attitude. I could blame it on a million different factors. The heavy wind, dust storms, extreme heat and cold, the constant thumping of bass, whatever. When I left, I was over it. I felt weak, jaded, and defeated. Looking back, I was acting spoiled.

I felt that way up until March, when I happened upon a ticket. I had been talking with a photo editor at AARP and he asked if there was anyone that attended the event over the age of 50. I said, “Of course. Those are the badasses that run that place!” So next thing I knew, I found myself with an assignment to cover the old folks that make this thing happen.

I went this year with my only intention of meeting interesting people that didn’t let their age impede on their life’s adventures. There were burners from every age in that barren wasteland. I’m pretty sure the age range goes from 0 to well over 80. The more I hung out with these beautiful souls, I realized how much fun you could have through the entirety of life.

I used to be one of those people that would say, “I don’t want to live past 60, or if I my body can’t handle the stress of adventure anymore.” Then I met a guy that was near 60 with two prosthetic knees, and was teaching people how to wind surf in deep playa. Then I met two wonderful women in my camp that were both past 70, and they had come out for the first burn. One of which came along with her daughter.

I remember one time I had made a snide remark about obnoxiously loud music to one of them, and she just shrugged and said, “Well, that’s Burning Man.”

She totally put me in my place.

There’s always something you can complain about on the playa. Someone else is always ruining your burn. And you’re probably ruining someone else’s, somehow. I met so many fascinating people this year. No one acted their age, or even looked it. It made me so excited to keep living my life and make every year better than the last.

I celebrated my 25th birthday on the playa this year. It was by far the most monumental birthday of my life. I am now more excited than ever to keep growing up. I shook a lot of personal nonsense loose over the week. I realized that my mood gets in the way of my happiness, my laziness and apathy gets in the way of my fun. I learned this year that my strength and energy comes from within. I can be as strong, positive, content, and creatively inspired as I can possibly dream.

Every moment that I felt annoyed this year, I decided to keep calm and focus on the positives. Like when I showed up at my camp this year after spending a good amount of money to make sure I had certain needs met by my camp, such as drinking water, and shade. Both of which were non-existent when I arrived. This threw me for a loop when I heard and started bitching about it. And just as I start complaining, all of my needs were met by my over-prepared and generous campmates. By the end of the day, I had all the water I needed, and comfortable shade strung up over my previously baking tent. Big thanks to all the wonderful folks at Camp Charlie!

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I’ve been back in the default world. The sparkle has not yet dimmed. There is a new sense of calm and confidence within my soul. Burning Man, you’ve done it again.