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Burning Man, Fighting Ageism, Senior Living and My Moral Compass

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By Steve Moran

I survived . . . I am still processing . . . But here are my initial impressions.

Sex, Drugs, Dirt and Debauchery

My my biggest surprises were in these areas.

I had read about the dust, and prepared for it and yet . . . I had no idea how dirty the experience is. Black Rock City is on an alkaline playa that is covered with very fine alkaline dust. It was everywhere. Nothing was immune. I was particularly nervous about my camera and sound equipment. It was in our tents, in our dishes, in our hair. Even after putting on clean clothing, 2 minutes out of the tent and you were dirty.  

The only way to  handle it was to just embrace the dirt.

Based on what I read, I expected drug use, sex and general debauchery to be rampant. It wasn’t that way. In my two-and-a-half days, I saw maybe 15 naked men and 5 or 6 naked women. There were a moderate number of topless or nearly topless women, but overall still a tiny percentage. If you wanted sex, drugs and debauchery, it was indeed available for those who were seeking it out -- but it was not nearly as blatant as I had expected.  

Altered Reality

Perhaps the big appeal of Burning Man is the unique amazing altered culture of openness and acceptance. You can walk up to just about anyone and offer or ask for a hug and it will be well received or given freely. Conversations flow easy and there are hardly any limits on what gets covered in those conversations.  

But it goes beyond hugs and conversations. It would be possible to show up at Burning Man with no food, no water, no bed -- nothing except the clothing on your back -- and find people who are willing to provide you water, feed you, clothe you and even offer you a sleeping bag or blanket and a place to lay them down.  

It is not a true utopia (at least for me). I spent a lot of time talking to folks about their Burning Man highlights and not infrequently they described sexual encounters or drug use that in another setting would be considered outrageous or immoral, but at Burning Man becomes just another variant of normal.

Yet, I found myself wistfully thinking how wonderful it would be if conversations between strangers would flow that easily at the upcoming LeadingAge, NIC, AHCA, SMASH, SHINE and Aging2.0 conference.  

Burning Man, Anti Ageism and Senior Living

The big idea for the Aging Insurrection Camp was to bring attention to the problem of Ageism and put a more positive spin on growing older . . . to proclaim that older individuals need to be celebrated. Or maybe more accurately, to recognize that in so many ways -- young or old -- we are all the same. We have deep desires to create, to connect, and to learn. We all have fears, laughter, joy and sadness.   

We had a number of events planned to inspire positive conversations about aging. They went far from “as planned,” but we had some great conversations and learned a bunch of things:  As a last minute impluse, AARP supported a really cool activity where we asked “Burners” to write their thoughts on growing older on ribbons, then tie them to some netting. We had more than 100 great conversations doing this.

Lynne Katzman videoed a bunch of Burners talking about what makes them happy and I put a bunch of Burners in front of my video camera to ask them to give advice to “the other generation.” In other words, for older people to give advice to younger people and younger people to give advice to older people. (Each of these projects will likely result in separate articles.)

You could likely argue that what we did was a tiny drop in the bucket of changing the conversation about aging, but it was something and it was cool. Will we do it next year? I think the jury is still out on this question. It will likely take the team several weeks to process and think about this. In my own mind I have gone: Yes, No, Yes, No.  

Overall, I am glad I went and it was a great way for the industry to say we are standing up against Ageism.

Late Breaking News:

Just by happenstance, Laurie Katzmann and her daughter Lynn Katzmann were “stars” of a Reno News story... click on the button below to read the full story.


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