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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #23: Nagging Edition

The Chaplain’s Weekly Screed

I remember hearing, a long time ago, that 1996 was the last cool Burning Man. Until 1997, there was no real BORG bureaucracy or rules. Yes, there were the laws of Nevada, enforced by cops; and you had to buy tickets; but, in the Playa battle between chaos and consideration, chaos was winning. John Law* ziplined off HELCO, an anti-corporate art installment, seconds before it was blown up. I think they still had the drive-by motorcycle, machine-gun shooting range.

It might be that 1996 was the first year someone died or that it was the last year that John Law[1] – a man whose name couldn’t be more inappropriate – was a part of the event. It might be that in November 1996, Wired Magazine put out the article that first brought media attention to Burning Man (especially in Silicon Valley).

Anyways, come 1997, cars were banned, guns were banned and an official city plan was implemented (on a different site, actually.) Burning Man got a website. In short, it stopped being dangerous and was on its way to the mainstream. People still made – and still make – a big deal of the whole self-reliance thing, but, eh… it’s just tough because we’re old now. Soon came the bureaucracy: theme camp registration, ticket lotteries, mutant vehicle registration, online surveys, diversity censuses, fuel purchase registration and the list goes on and on. John Law would not have approved, but I think even he would agree that there’s good and bad to these changes.

Last year, as some of you surely remember, I completely overthought everything and generated far too many lists and spreadsheets and whatnot. This year, I will tone that down a lot… a lot. But I still need some feedback from you all, so please read on and get back to me.

*Law organized a precursor event out on the Playa, while Larry Harvey burnt the first Man on Baker Beach, in San Francisco. They merged the two events and, voilà, Burning Man.

Group News

The Group

I heard from Lishy today. She’s not coming. Here is our current list of 10 campmates:

In for sure:


Clayton (Katie’s boyfriend)


The Assless Chaplain Red Curtis Sia

Maybe coming: Squid Karine & Ziad

Still need to get me the signed agreements document:

Katie, Clayton, Curtis, Red, Sia, Karine, Ziad

Black Rock City News

The Playa is covered in snow. Weird, huh? I’m hoping that means it’ll be a harder Playa surface this year. Easier for my shitty-ass tricycle and less severe whiteouts.

Here’s an interesting article on Burning Man’s archival projects. In addition to Burning Man HQ, there’s some archiving at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno and, apparently, in a permanent collection at the Smithsonian!

Cherry, a young Burner I met last year who was camping at Camp Caralho (the bears that got to watch us shower), reached out to me. She wants to collaborate on a few things. They might be willing to do some cooking-based interactivity for some of our weddings. I’ll let you know if anything comes of this.

The Burnal Equinox is March 25th and its theme is the Beastly Bash, in line with the Animalia theme. Basically, it’s a Burning Man party in San Francisco that happens every year on a weekend roughly as far away from the last Burning Man as the next one and roughly around the time of the vernal equinox: one of two days during the year that night and day are of equal length. I guess I’ll get to try out some new Playa costume.

Still hungry for more Burning Man?! Why not read this month’s Burn Before Reading?

Placement / Ticket News

Placement Application

I filled out the Placement application. I’ve attached it to this email. Feel free to read it and send me your feedback. It’s not written in stone. Even though we already have tickets, I plan to keep showing my face to Placement. I’ll be at some soiree at Burning Man headquarters next week and am looking forward to it.

BORG says they’ll create the city map during May and announce our approximate address in June. Then we’ll find out who our neighbors are in July.

Ticket News

Let me start with the bad news. It seems we will not be able to buy Mona’s tickets. By the way, Yosi and I just paid for 2 Steward Sale tickets and 1 vehicle pass each (a total of 4 and 2). This is, of course, our full allocation. That means that, if everyone can make it, we’ll need to snag 6 more tickets.

Sia (and anyone else who may qualify for Ticket Aid), please start getting your application for Ticket Aid ready. When you’re approved, also buy the vehicle pass. You can see what you need here. Applications open March 16th.

For everyone: make sure you are clearing your schedule in advance to participate in the Main Sale, STEP and OMG sales. If you plan to be a part of the ticket pool, please send me your signed Agreements.

Ticket Status: 0000XXXXXX

See below for our running list of the remaining ticket purchase options:

1) FOMO Sale: You’re welcome to spend the $1,500 or $2,750 tickets, if that appeals to you, but I am not including this in our plan. Ongoing as of February 8th.

2) Ticket Aid Program: If you can, please apply to the Ticket Aid Program. This is for people on limited income. It’s a lot of paperwork, but the success rate for low-income applicants is, as far as I can tell, 100%, so long as you apply early. It’s important that you apply right away – if we get you a ticket through another pathway, they’ll cancel your application or award. If you do get the award, get the car pass, too, as it’s half-price! If you do apply for this, then talk to me about helping with other tickets, as making the wrong step could get your ticket cancelled. Opens March 15th.

3) Main Sale: So, by my calcs on anecdotal info, any one person without a bot has a 3% chance of scoring tickets in the Main Sale. You must register first and then you have to get in a cyber-line on April 12 for a sale at noon PST. Your IP address has to be recorded as trying to buy the tickets at the exact millisecond the sale opens. If you haven’t done this before, please talk to me so I can prepare you for it. EVERYONE should make sure to take time off work in advance to do this. Even if you got a ticket some other way, be prepared to do this. If you got tickets through FOMO or Stewards, you’ll have to register in someone else’s name to do this. If you haven’t officially gotten a ticket yet, then you can try AND have another person try for you! Registration Apr 5 noon PST to Apr 7 noon PST. Sale Apr 12, noon PST (but login an hour early).

4) STEP: After most or all of us fail to get Main Sale tickets, we each have the option to register for STEP tickets, which are those resold through BORG. This works much like Main Sale, except after you register you can get the tickets at any time, if someone sells them back to BORG. I’ve never known anyone to get tickets this way, but we’ll all give it a try, even if it gets us only 1 ticket. Timing TBD.

5) OMG Sale: This is another chance to get tickets that works much like Main Sale, except you’re also excluded if you got Main Sale or STEP tickets. Registration Jul 26 noon PST to Jul 28 noon PST. Sale Aug 2, noon PST, (but login an hour early.)

Upcoming Tasks

· Block off the ticket sales lottery dates on your calendar. If you think you would qualify, apply for Ticket Aid.

· Read, initial, sign and date the Agreements document and send back to me. Let me know if you plan to come, but don’t want to commit to the ticket pool.

Closing Thoughts

There was a period where some pretty cool art kept popping up in public spaces in Healdsburg, the little town I live nearby. It was kind of weird stuff, like designs made from pebbles and sticks wrapped in string. It turns out it was a homeless guy – a pretty nice guy – with an artistic streak. He was an interesting, but well-liked member of the community.

For some reason, the municipality couldn’t accept the presence of his art. It ended up being removed more and more frequently and he was, apparently, warned from continuing with his art. Instead, the city started a program where someone could apply to the city to display art in a designated public art zone. There is no art there now.

One of the big shifts in Burning Man between my last two burns – 2012 and 2022 – is the increase in bureaucracy and decrease in spontaneity. There is a lot more paperwork and need to comply with rules, not just on the Playa, but in order to get to the Playa and participate. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the event grew from 80 people to 80,000 people. Among 80,000 people, there are bound to be hundreds of assholes who would ruin things for everyone, if left to their own devices. On top of that, far more than 80,000 people want to go, so BORG needs a way to select for participants – and market pricing would not produce the desired result.

And the reduced spontaneity also has other causes. For one, people are on phones now and Burning Man. That was a new one for me. They also show up with fancy e-bikes and walkie-talkies and walk the Playa less, so we all randomly run into each other less. In short, we’re starting to trade convenience for enrichment, as we do in the default world. I also think that there are just less weirdos doing weird shit. It’s become harder for those folks to score and pay for tickets and, as more normal people show up, it also becomes less interesting to the true weirdos, like Dicky (in a box), Dr. Megavolt or Nambla the Clown.

Of course, Burning Man still has plenty of spontaneity. Municipalities in the default world, like Healdsburg, could learn a great deal from Black Rock City. One of the big things in city planning right now is the creation of spaces in which people can interact spontaneously and build community. Apparently, some municipalities are learning from BRC, according to this article in They send bureaucrats to Burning Man to learn how to “activate space.” San Francisco works with the Black Rock Arts Foundation to create art pads. Parklets saw their day in the sun during Covid, but their sunrise was when Burners took the Burning Man ethos back to their home cities and started creating unauthorized parklets themselves. One key to BRC’s success is that Burning Man encourages civic engagement in a much broader way: who needs to vote, when you can just do the thing yourself?

I’m trying to keep this in mind during the planning process for this year’s Burning Man. I definitely went overboard last year, but knew we literally had to deliver a detailed plan to BORG. This year, it’s an easier lift and I plan to chill out. But I’m still a bit bummed about how much less spontaneous interaction I experienced on the Playa last year. Some of that was due to BORG requiring that everything be planned. I think of Burns from back in the day when my favorite interactivity might be talking to the guy doing eyeball shots or the blind drunk gymnastics of some smiley ladies wearing nothing but fishnets body stockings. That appeals to me much more than the camps with bulletin boards full of planned workshops on healing the wounds of living in a capitalist society or standing in line for some camp serving shitty breakfast tacos to open up.

Last year, some of the most fun I had at camp was actually the two random folks we badgered into marrying themselves. And that gets to what I’ve been meandering towards: how do I bring that spontaneity back to my burn? And how does the Assless Chapel bring that spirit of spontaneity back to the Playa? I don’t have answers right now, but I look forward to figuring them out with you all.

“All plans shatter upon contact with reality.”

- The Assless Chaplain

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