This morning, my to-do app presented me with today’s tasks, and one of them was to “email TCOs of the past two burns” — which means that I needed to open up the placement databases for Alchemy 2018 and Alchemy 2019 and send an email to the Theme Camp Organizers to let them know that registration for placement at Alchemy 2020 would soon be upon them.
Of course, that’s moot, because the burn is canceled —all burns are canceled — for 2020, so that depressed me.
But then my eye fell on a notebook on my shelf that I truly couldn’t remember being there; it was full of morning pages that I had started writing in September of 2013, right after I was retired from GHP by the vindictive Governor Nathan Deal (whose actual target was Dr. John Barge, Supt. of the DOE). All my pain and grief were there for me to revisit (along with some positive things like the cross country trip and the composition of Five Easier Pieces).
And there on one of the last pages I bothered to write (12/2/13) was this:
For some reason, I began thinking about Burning Man and what my cadre might have to offer. Here’s the image that came to me: Three Old Men — loin cloths — gas masks — large walking sticks — single file — in sync — slow motion dance with the walking sticks.
When I went back to my to-do list, suddenly the placement task was not so depressing, because unlike GHP, the burn will be back in my life. This is only temporary.
If you’ve read this blog for even a year, you know that in my spare time I am a dirty freaking hippie who attends “burns,” which are regional events modeled on Burning Man.
Not only that, but since I am cursed with skills and competence I have risen in the ranks of leadership to Placement Lead, which means that when the 130+ theme camps register, I get to decide where they’re placed on the map. And not only that, but because of the organization’s moving from its long-time venue a couple of years ago, we’ve been on new land three times in two years, which means that as Placement Lead I get to design the burn from the literal ground up.
I am not complaining. It’s a huge amount of work, but it appeals to the ritualist in me to be able to take a piece of property and lay out boulevards and squares and byways that add up to a complete, explorable, community.
Here’s the new home for Alchemy (our fall burn):
It’s a lovely farm, owned by a burner, in northwest Georgia. As always, it’s not as flat as it looks from space, but it’s flat enough to be an exciting canvas.
For those keeping score, here are the things on my list of things to procrastinate:
Back in 2010, my Lovely First Wife and I found ourselves in Seattle, where we were staying with inlaws-to-be and attending the Winter Olympics across the way in Vancouver. While there I purchased a little charm, as in charm bracelet/pendant thingie, an old typewriter key: MARGIN RELEASE.
tl;dr: on old typewriters, margins were set by physical metal “tabs,” and if the word you were typing at the end of the line were only going to go past the margin by one or two letters, you could press this key and it would allow you past that boundary.
I bought it to be a talisman on the new Utilikilt I purchased there in Seattle at the flagship store, and I wore it on a little chain attached to a belt loop, along with a little clay talisman of the Man-in-the-Maze design that I got in Jerome, AZ. The effect was trés woo.
Alas, it has vanished. I’m thinking that it was last week when I was vacuuming/mulching all the leaves from the labyrinth for an evening out there. If so, then I might still come across it somewhere.
However, it just as easily could have vanished at any point in the last four or five months. If it fell off at Alchemy, then I know it’s gone—although I have repeatedly stumbled across items there that I thought were gone forever. Still, I’ve ordered a new one from Etsy, all the way from Australia. That’s the one in the picture, actually. I’m prepared to face the margins again. If the old one shows up, I can gift the new one.
In preparing to write this post, I did a quick search for the original post and realized with something of a shock that it was written at about this time in 2010—seven years ago. This was before getting and losing the directorship of GHP; before retiring; before becoming ordained by the Universal Life Church so I could perform wedding ceremonies; before I even thought seriously about attending Burning Man or indeed knowing that there was a regional burn here in GA; before formulating the Nine Precepts of Lichtenbergianism and beginning my crusade for world domination.
You should know that last week I joined the gym. Ugh. But especially during the winter months I become more and more sedentary, and it’s just not healthy.
The problem is that the only—and I mean the only—form of exercise I can stand for more than five minutes is swimming. Yes, I can walk around my lovely neighborhood and downtown (risking that I’ll become the next ‘character’ out there), and yes, we have an elliptical downstairs, but OH MY GOD THE TEDIUM.
Why swimming is any less tedious is just one of those weird mental glitches, I suppose.
So I joined up out at OneLife Fitness, gaining a student rate because of my steely-eyed insistence that I would never, not once, use any machine, take any class, and in general not even look at any part of the facility other than the pool. Which is both saline and heated, thank you.
I used to swim regularly back when the old Racquetball Club was open on Bullsboro Drive. I would leave school and go straight there every day. But then it closed and I just never got back into the habit, possibly because the alternative gyms were not on my way home.
It is important to understand that I was never an athletic child. On the contrary, I was a stick-thin weakling. Super thin. Starvation-level thin. All the other boys grew chests and biceps; I never did, so that’s been a point of envy for a very long time here.
Also, because I was not athletic I was not a habitué of the locker room. I vividly remember the first time I entered the locker room at Stegeman Hall at UGA for a required PE course. Merciful heavens, all these creatures walking around stark naked, all bigger and burlier and sleeker than I would ever be. I was daunted, if that’s the word I’m looking for.
So when I joined the Racquetball Club, I was surprised at how quickly I got over all that. Trotting from the locker to the sauna to the shower without bothering with a towel just became second nature. I was not even abashed when one day a member of the church choir I directed at the time inquired about a tattoo that otherwise he would have never seen. Part of that was being 40-something instead of 16, of course, but part of it also was coming to terms with my own body and what it was.
I was therefore not concerned about this new venture, other than the usual uncertainty about the culture therein. (For the record, out-and-out nudity doesn’t seem to be the thing there.) It’s a very nice locker room, all wood and tile and luxurious appointments. There’s a flatscreen TV. Tuned to Fox.
So why am I writing about this at all? This gym is a much bigger, much busier place than the Racquetball Club, and fitness culture has likewise ballooned since the last time I swam, so there are a lot more men in the locker room than the old place, and more than a few of those men are beautifully put together, prime examples of young manhood. It’s kind of thing that you would be lying if you said you didn’t notice.
And I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me aware of my now-60-something body in comparison. But you know what? Because of what I’ve done in thinking through, planning for, and participating in 3 Old Men—my theme camp for burns—all that happens when I see a nicely built younger man is that I think, “Yep. My body doesn’t look like that, because I am an Old Man. I have the body I have because of who I am, of what I’ve lived through and experienced. Cool.”
Plus the godawful amount of work they have to put into maintaining that physique. OH MY GOD THE TEDIUM. Ugh.
To see what my thinking was that led to 3 Old Men, at least about the physicality of our bodies, see here and here.
First, a clarification. These are technically not “Lichtenbergian goals.” In our official ritual/agenda, they are “Proposed Efforts.” A subtle difference, and a valid distinction: if we don’t get around to doing one of them, we haven’t missed a goal. We just didn’t get around to it.
With that in mind, here are next year’s Proposed Efforts.
I’m carrying forward my 2016 goal to finish Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy and find a publisher for it. It’s just sheer laziness that prevented me from achieving that this past year. As I move forward, I will continue posting chapters to this website (although see below about Lichtenbergianism.com) and about my efforts to implement the strategies outlined in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP].
I will also continue building Lichtenbergianism.com, both through the blog and the introductory material.
One of the strategies in EGGYBP is to establish yourself as a speaker/workshop leader, both of which I am extremely qualified to do. I’ve already started putting out feelers and hope to start this aspect of the project soon.
Backstreet Arts writing project
Another carryover: work with Kim Ramey at Backstreet Arts on establishing a writers’ group for her audience. Basic journaling, story posters, whole books, compilations of stories—I’ll start wherever I can and go from there.
SUN TRUE FIRE
Not really a carryover, but if I’m going to compose at all, it might as well be this piece.
[REDACTED] at Newnan Theatre Company
Since it has not been officially announced, I won’t name the play I’m directing for the 2017-18 season at Newnan Theatre Company. Suffice it to say that with auditions in Jan 2018, I will spend most of 2017 preparing for the show.
For this production I am going to pull what we used to call a “full Dale” and which everywhere else is called “standard operating procedure,” i.e., full designs for costumes, sets, and lights, with individuals who are not me in charge of production. Production meetings; crew recruitment; maybe even classes to teach people how to do these things. Reach out to sewing fanatics via Jo-Ann perhaps; reach out to the artists at Backstreet; find people who aren’t involved and drag them into it.
3 Old Men
I want to continue to lead 3 Old Men, of course, but now we have another goal for the year. Burning Man’s theme for 2017 (Aug 24–Sep 4) is Radical Ritual—how can we not at least attempt to plan to go? So there’s that.
I also want to continue as Placement Lead for Alchemy and Euphoria, now that I’ve had greatness thrust upon me. Especially if we move to new land again: I want the opportunity to design a burn that becomes a home for years.
This one just developed last week when I was trying to explain the music I had used in the labyrinth for the Tour of Homes, Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night. Years ago I had tried to get in touch with Mr. Kline to see if he’d allow us to do an Unsilent Night parade in Newnan, but never heard from him. When I looked the music up to show people, I was super pleased to see that Unsilent Night now has its own webpage, and that indeed they were encouraging parades all over.
I’ve already made contact and started a Facebook group to begin planning for the event next December.
Establish a routine
I got out of a daily schedule this past summer and fall, so I want to reestablish specific periods of work each day.
Seven goals, some of which have massive subgoals themselves. We’ll see how I do.
For those of you who are just joining us, the Lichtenbergian Society is the group of men who are my soul brothers in creative procrastination. Every year we have an Annual Meeting around the fire in the labyrinth, and part of the ritual is that we propose our Efforts for the coming year, which our Recording Secretary duly engrosses in the journal.
The other part of that process, of course, is to have this year’s Efforts read back to us and to confess our success or failure. Cras melior est is the appropriate liturgical response to any failure.
Since the Annual Meeting is this Friday, it’s time to prepare my soul for the ordeal. Let’s see how I did in 2016.
I wanted to finish Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy this year. Somehow that did not happen. Something to do with procrastination, I think.
On the plus side, I’ve made headway in my own head towards thinking about getting the thing actually published. Part of that effort towards world domination was establishing Lichtenbergianism.com, which is not nothing.
But actually finishing the book? No.
3 Old Men
If my goal was to expand my burner theme camp to include a 50-foot square arena for “yelling at the hippies,” well… cras melior est. We didn’t have enough campers at Euphoria in May, and for Alchemy, we didn’t have enough space.
But there in the last paragraph of last year’s post, look:
I also want to continue working with Flashpoint Artists Initiative, the nonprofit which runs Euphoria/Alchemy, as a small-time volunteer on various projects.
Ha. I was certainly accomplishing that goal, doing my usual webmaster volunteering for the art fundraiser and even going so far as to volunteer to be Co-Lead for Placement, right up until the morning that I woke up one morning to the email saying that I was THE LEAD FOR PLACEMENT, KENNETH.
So if my goal was to remain a “small-time volunteer,” I failed miserably. You can read about it here.
Cras melior est. I lent a sympathetic ear to Kim Ramey and offered what I hope was helpful advice, but mostly I was missing in action. However, she has forged ahead and this past month the studio (behind Bridging the Gap) passed its inspection and will soon be open for business. I hope I can get my act together enough to volunteer down there and create a space for writing and publishing.
This was my Undefined Universe Project, in which I decided not to work on music which had not been specifically commissioned for a performance. As I said in the post,
So my goal is to allow the Universe to send me a project which is attached to actual production.
Cras melior est, although that’s on the Universe, right? I did decide to pick back up on SUN TRUE FIRE on Retreat (here and here), but otherwise the Universe certainly gave me the finger. Oh well. It’s not as if I haven’t been busy or creative in other ways. Which is the point of TASK AVOIDANCE in the first place, right?
In the normal state of affairs, I would have blogged in great detail about this whole thing, because I’m incredibly wonky about process and I would have loved to share every excruciating detail about How I Did It, but in this case there were hippie-feelings involved. Just posting the first draft of the graph paper map on the Theme Camp Organizer [TCO] Facebook group (to show them that the process was under way) was enough to set off a frenzy of squinting and worrying about where they were. I learned to blur the map as I teased them with my progress.
So now you’re just getting the Cliff’s Notes version of How I Did It. Sorry, future Placement Leads—I’ll try to write it all down elsewhere. It’ll be under the third rock on the right after you enter the HeadSpace…
Wednesday, early entry day for those camps who need a bit of setting up before the burn starts on Thursday. Most theme camps are arriving, especially the big ones.
I am given a walkie-talkie and a golf cart. Do you know how many years I have avoided being given a walkie-talkie and a golf cart (or their equivalents)? All of them, Katie. Oy.
But it was a miracle: only a handful of camps had real issues with their spot—and I had predicted which ones might, in my head—and by the time I tootled up on my cart, each had a solution to their problem that was viable and acceptable. All I had to do was give my imprimatur and hop back on my cart in a cloud of red dust and gratitude.
In short, it worked.
It worked, it worked, it worked!
The photo above is an aerial shot taken Friday afternoon (by Christopher Curzio) when almost all the theme camps (and open camping) were in place. You can see the boulevards, the art garden circle, the paths—none of which were actually there 48 hours before.
You can also see the 3 Old Men labyrinth in all its splendor. Doesn’t it look swell from the air? Most impressive.
When I finally got out of camp on Thursday night, I walked the entire burn, and it was working exactly as I thought it should. All the hippies were happy,1 and the place was alive and humming as if it had always been there. It worked.
And 3 Old Men? Have I mentioned we made an improvement this burn?
IT LIGHTS UP, KENNETH! More than that, the strands glow and fade and dance in patterns you can control from your phone, because it has its own little mini-wifi point! It was amazing. (Kudos to Old Man Scruffy for the design, construction, and programming of the whole project.) As usual, I will not go into details, since what happens at a burn stays at a burn, but there were spirituality and abandon in equal measure, generosity, astounding creativity, good friends, beautiful weather. What’s not to like?
All in all, a good burn. I learned a lot about placing all the hippies and of course will do it again, although if we move to a new property again I may have to issue a stern statement of concern.
updated 10/23/16 to add: Holy crap, Bubba, I just realized—I have designed the “largest burn in the U.S.,” other than Burning Man itself.
1 As far as I could tell, obviously. I’ll do a post-mortem survey of the TCOs next week to find out for sure. I know there was one camp who was extremely surprised at how small their allotment was, but when I got home and checked, they had requested exactly what they got. But they were right: it was not enough room.
Having organized my thoughts by writing a manifesto on the design of a burn, I began to see how much I could apply to the property. Since it was less than an hour away, I was able to drive up to the farm repeatedly to walk every inch of it, measuring with my handy-dandy laser rangefinder and making disastrously incomplete notes. Pro tip: besides a rangefinder, you also need a kick-ass GPS coordinates thingie, one that will give you accurate, precise, and above all repeatable coordinates for any spot you’re standing on. Unlike your phone, for example.
I started a Google map, and on that I began to lay out the main thoroughfares—the boulevards—for the burn. Pretty simple, actually: other than the existing road, you just draw lines down the middle of the main masses. Then it was a matter of figuring out where the infrastructure went: Center Camp, the Effigy/Temple, other burnable art, etc.
Then, using my handy-dandy FileMaker Pro database, I printed out little “chips” for each camp:
Notice how it has almost everything I need to know about that camp: dimensions, area, acreage (Google maps deals in acreage, not sq. ft.), whether it’s outward-facing, inner-, or bedroom (read the manifesto), any village they’re part of, and a color code for kid-friendliness. (“The Middle Ground” is the neighborhood, which in my case I already knew because I’m the Placement Lead and I already know where my camp is going LOOK ON MY WORKS YE MIGHTY…)
There were 109 of these. (There were 79 additional chips for art projects, but most of those were contained within their camps.)
I commandeered the dining room table and drafted a large version of the Google Map on an 18×24 piece of engineering graph paper.1 I then cut out little rectangles for each camp.
Then I placed them. See? Piece of cake.
No, it was actually quite difficult. Sound camps had to be restricted. Not all sound camps could be where they wanted to be. Everyone, literally, wanted “flat, near the trees, on the road, centrally located, away from the sound camps.” Some had contradictory or illusory requirements (e.g., “near the Effigy and Center Camp,” or my favorite, “out in the field near a power source”).
Corrections (“Did you really mean to request 52,000 sq ft??”), revisions, and unending Successive Approximation, for two weeks. Done, released into the wild, and done.
Except then it was time to make it real, leading a team of fantastic volunteers through the vision, whacking wooden stakes into dry, brick-hard ground and stringing surveyor’s tape between them, and not panicking when the measurements simply didn’t work. Whole camps vanished and had to be relocated. Space opened up where there had been none. Open camping areas got smaller and smaller as the theme camps had to be shifted around.
That was Sunday. I retreated from build weekend knowing that I had done the thing, but stressed beyond belief as to whether the thing would work. I packed 3 Old Men on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday went back up for early entry.
You may have noticed, in my gargantuan list of activities from yesterday, that a great many of them had to do with Alchemy, our fall regional Burning Man-style gathering. Here’s what happened.
Last spring, we were on new property over in the Great Eastern Wastelands of Georgia and were thinking we had found a new, permanent home. (We hadn’t.) It was my second time helping the Placement Team lay out the burn, i.e., measuring out the campsites for the theme camps and marking them with stakes and construction tape, and even as we did it I figured that the layout was going to be problematic: it was little more than two straight streets, one each on two great legs of land in a V shape, with camps to either side. (It didn’t help that Euphoria, the spring burn, has fewer participants and many camps set up away from the road, leaving huge tracts of land seemingly unoccupied.)
Sure enough, after the burn the complaints were consistent: it didn’t feel like a burn. The hippies said it wasn’t explorable; it felt as if you were walking down a midway at a carnival.
Not a problem, I thought. The Placement Lead and I had discussed the planning a couple of times, and he had readily admitted that this burn was an Abortive Attempt—just get it down and see what happens, and then we’ll make changes for the next burn. Exactly as it should be, I thought.
And so that’s why I volunteered to be Placement Co-Lead. I wanted to provide some insight on the “urban design” of the burn. Toss in a few ideas, jigger with the map, and show up build weekend to drive stakes and stretch tape. What could go wrong?
Here’s how that went wrong.
First, we moved again. Rather than the Eastern Wasteland property, we were now on completely new territory. Not a problem. I mean, it’s just unfamiliar terrain, right? (Actually, I was pleased. I had issues with the previous property; I intended my input to ameliorate its deficiencies.)
Second, Real Life™ overtook my new Placement Lead, and so one morning in August I awoke to find an email from our superior assuring her that Dale could step up and handle it. Oy. Of course I could handle it, but that’s not the point, hippies. I have made it a part of my guiding philosophy not to be in charge any more.
But I did it. I redesigned and streamlined the registration form. I whipped up a FileMaker Pro database to suck up all those registrations and slice and dice the info in ways that made sense. I drove up to the farm about eight times to tromp all over that property, taking measurements and making notes as to which areas were unsuitable for camping.
(I may or may not have also picked an absolutely perfect spot for 3 Old Men, my own theme camp. Sue me.)
But before all that, I wrote a manifesto. I pulled A PatternLanguage 1 from my shelf, picked the patterns I felt would contribute to the overall well-being of the hippies, and wrote a 14-page treatise entitled Patterns: the language of burn layout & placement. You should read it. (The dry response from one of my trusted mentors in the burn community: “This is brilliant. No one else needs to see this.”)
Thus secured against surprise, I sat down before the fire to take my gruel. Wait, no, that’s Christmas Carol, a whole ‘nother set of blog posts.
…to be continued…
1A Pattern Language: book, website, pdf. This book has been influential in my life in many, many ways. Highly recommended.