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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #5: Radical Self-Expression Edition

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

THE CHAPLAIN'S WEEKLY SCREED


How to describe Burning Man? Festival – nope. A city – yeah, but not just a city. An event – sure, but not like any other I know of. An art show? Adjacent, maybe. But I won’t write too much about the art here, as I want to focus on SELF-expression. When we go to see the art, we are witnesses to others’ self-expression.


One description I’ve never heard: a forum. There’s good reason it’s not called a forum. The Roman Forum was primarily a place for commerce. And today, when we think of a forum, we often think of a place to debate politics, ideology, etc. – or maybe an online forum. None of those sound like my experiences at Burning Man. But I do see Black Rock City as a type of forum. In fact, it may be more like the Agora of Athens, minus the commerce. The Agora was not just a place to conduct business, but a place to socialize, listen to philosophers and watch performers.


It was considered a sacred place and its architecture was meant to reflect this. From Wikipedia:


“The layout of the agora was centered around the Panathenaic Way, a road that ran through the middle of Athens and to the main gate of the city, Dipylon. This road was considered tremendously sacred, serving as a travel route for the Panathenaic festival, which was held in the honor of the goddess Athena every four years. The agora was also famously known for housing the Temple of Hephaestus, the Greek god of metalworking and craftsmen.”


Yeah, that sounds a bit like Black Rock City, if the Agora was built spontaneously and then the temple was burnt to the ground at the end. Perhaps Burning Man could be called a temporary, dynamic hyperagora. What BRC and the Agora share most was that they were places meant for self-expression. None of the Ten Principles is as readily visible in BRC as Radical Self-Expression[1] (NSFW link.)



In the Default World, we are chastised for being too colorful. We wear a façade to get through the check-out line at the grocery store, enjoy dinner with our in-laws or get along with our neighbors. Before we go to work, we check that we look acceptable and put on our business face before we step into the office.


We spend most of our day looking different, talking different and doing different things than we want to. There are a million things we can’t do the way we want to in our lives. Some are for good reason – it’s about respecting and caring for others. Some really shouldn’t matter, like what we wear (or don’t wear.) Sometimes, we suppress expression for the worst reasons. The two things I think we suppress the most are love and hate. Hate makes sense to suppress. But how often do we keep our love to ourselves? And why? Because, we know that, if we make ourselves vulnerable, we might get hurt. In all likelihood we’ll get hurt by someone who didn’t want to make himself vulnerable to our expression of love!


As Assless Chaplings – please let me know if when you come up with a better term – we should hold this reality close to our hearts. Our place will be a place where expressions of self and love are welcome, encouraged and the lifeblood of our miniscule slice of society.



Now, of course, not all Radical Self-Expression is about love. Much of the art I love most at Burning Man is edgy, frightening, naughty, disruptive or annoying. And I love that Burning Man creates a safe space for discourse – visual art, performance or just being – that is not safe elsewhere.


←←This is Nambla the Clown. His name is derived from the acronym for North American Man-Boy Love Association. I wonder if he still attends Burning Man.



In 2010, I was surprised to see that someone organized an Occupy Wall Street event on the Playa. It took place at a mock-up of Wall Street that featured buildings like “Hells Fargo Bank” and “Merrill Lynched.” It culminated in a Burning of this parody of Wall Street.


It was the only time I had ever seen a political protest at Burning Man. That’s all good with me – to each Burner her own Burn and clearly many people had something pressing to express. But I do think it’s good to have a sense of humor about things, especially on the Playa. I don’t know if it’s still done, but every year I was at BRC, there was a Save the Man protest against burning the Man. Why? Because it’s funny.

So, Tzvika, Red, Marcelle, Maggie and General Shrimpmeat (my Playa name at the time), organized a counter-protest.We went out there with signs that said things like “Greed is Good” and “Fuck the 99%.” It went over poorly. All we got were nasty looks – although we were tolerated – until one couple came up and whispered to me “I wouldn’t say it out loud, but we agree with you guys.” No one got the joke. Well, at least it made me laugh. To each Burner his own Burn. For a brief moment I thought of publishing a free book to hand out at my next burn called “Mein Camp: General Shrimpmeat’s Stories from the Front Lines of Burning Man,” just to see how that’d go over, but I’ve got better things to do.


On a personal note, I just wanted to thank everyone of you for being a part of this journey to the Playa. For me, this Burn means so much. It’s a chance to honor my friend Danny by giving others a Playa wedding, like he did for me. It’s a chance to get out of my spreadsheet dungeon and (radically) express myself. I’m so excited to do that with you all.


[1] For the (very interesting) story of the picture this link takes you to, as told by Larry Harvey, see: Jiffy Lube Incident


GROUP NEWS


No major group news. But we’re adding two new members to the group, both of whom have been added to the spreadsheet. The first is Ziad’s son Antony and the second is Sia’s friend Alejandro, who will be our DJ.


I also spoke to two couples this week who would like us to marry them. One couple actually wants a legally binding wedding. I’ll update once I know more.


BLACK ROCK CITY NEWS


You can check out the newly-released 2022 Placed Camp Listing here: https://burningman.org/event/2022-camp-listing/.


Burning Man does an annual report on how they’re spreading Burning Man culture to the world, called the Dispatch. Read it here.


Burning Man has launched a publishing arm that just put out two books. Read more here.


Here’s a podcast from Burning Man Live about what’s cooking for BRC this year.


And here is a piece of art, called “Catharsis”, planned for the Playa this year. Add that to my checklist.



PLACEMENT / TICKET NEWS


So, we’ve got a couple of pieces of big fucking news! First, as you know, we are officially listed as a placed camp. When I emailed Burning Man, I told them that each ticket below 6 that they allocated us would mean we had to scale something back; that less than 5 tickets would require a substantial scaling back; and that less than 2 would mean we shouldn’t be placed. It was a gamble. But, if they’re communicating internally, that should mean that they are planning to allocate at least 2 tickets (or else they wouldn’t have placed us.) So, that’s encouraging.


The other big news is that Burner Express Plus tickets will go on sale at noon PST on June 15th. I have no more information on it than you can get from clicking the link. I would recommend that Antony, Alejandro and Tzvika all try for these tickets. Please, please, please! Unfortunately, they are not transferable or refundable, so we cannot try to get them to pass off to each other. It’s up to Antony, Alejandro and Tzvika themselves.


If anyone wants to discuss the logistics of making this happen, let me know. Since they’ll be joining a camp, however, this seems completely doable. If at all possible, get tickets for Saturday before gate open, so you can help with build. Brief breakdown of ticket options:


· You can take off from Reno Airport or San Francisco Civic Center.


· The basic ticket is for you and two pieces of luggage whose length, weight and height, added together, cannot exceed 62 inches.


· You can also get a ticket for your bike.


· Finally, you can also purchase water that will be waiting for you in 1-gallon jugs when you arrive.


I will have a full-size tricycle available to make it easier to transport your gear.


In short, some good news this week. We’ll make this work!


UPCOMING TASKS


Look out tonight or tomorrow for emails from me to set up Zoom meetings. I want to start divvying up some of the prep work for everyone.


CLOSING THOUGHTS


I always think of expression as something you put out there in the world – and it is. But when I’m on the Playa, I feel that more than expressing myself, I am being myself. To me, that’s what self-expression is about: being. Radical Existence maybe?


Last week, I wrote about how Radical Self-Reliance was the one of the Ten Principles that I’ve taken off the Playa with me the most. I think Radical Self-Expression is the most difficult one to keep with you when you leave the Playa. It’s a big deal among some in my professional circle that I’ve grown my hair out long. I can’t imagine if I was truly myself in the Default World, the way I am at Black Rock City… but maybe I should start.


“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” - Pablo Picasso


The Man burns in 87 days.


The Man, 2007, the year of the Green Man, was burned around 3a on Tuesday, as a protest by Paul Addis for becoming an “Alterna-Disney.” He claimed to be part of an underground guerilla cell, called Black Rock Intelligence. He further claimed all his co-conspirators took suicide pills to evade capture. His act of protest/vandalism/sabotage was the 10th anniversary of the time he attached giant testicles to the Man. This is a picture of the Man after staff and volunteers successfully scrambled to rebuild him in time for the Burn.

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