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May 24th, 2011

gfish: (Default)
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 04:37 pm
Wow. Somehow I let it slip almost 3 weeks since my last post. The Mackenzie canoe trip might have been the last time I went so long. Not sure what happened, just kept failing to find the time. I fear this signals the beginning of the end of my regular blogging era, but we'll see.

Since I'm home sick, I thought I'd make a post which demanded lots of images and web research of the kind I try to avoid at work. Ever since the 2011 Temple was announced, I've been meaning to make a post about it.

So, every year a Temple gets built at Burning Man. The design changes, and currently a different group builds it every year. It is burned on Sunday night, in what I'm told is a much more solemn and moving ceremony than the burning of the Man. I've sadly never been able to stay due to travel time constraints.

I really like this year's design, and I'm looking forward to seeing it on the playa. I think this is the first time I've bothered looking up the design ahead of time, but last year's design didn't really work for me. It was very different, and that's not a bad thing. It did have a very interesting organic details and some neat little nooks and cranies that I appreciated. But it was roughly and ugly and not a little bit spooky. Overall it made me think of a design from those studies on how to mark nuclear waste disposal sites so that even post-collapse, illiterate societies will know to avoid digging wells there. It very much sent the messages described in that study:

This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.

(I'd love to see some of the other designs done as an art installation on the playa. They're beautiful and terrifying and incredibly evocative. They're just not Temple material!)

The Temple is non-denominational; it's not even religious. Many people would consider it strongly spiritual, certainly. I'm not sure how to classify how I feel about it. The tradition is that people write notes and leave items to be consumed in the fire. These are usually in regards to a loved one who has died, or some other painful experience. Most notes are just jotted onto the unfinished wood with sharpie, but there are a lot of pictures, some very nicely framed and obviously prepared ahead of time. I once saw a wedding dress.

Let's be honest -- I don't always handle religion very well. It's a character flaw of mine, and as I've gotten older I've become a lot more tolerant. But deep down, part of me is still pretty scornful of the whole thing. The Temple is by far the largest bit of vaguely organized spiritual expression that has ever really moved me. Every year I go and spend an hour or so wandering the structure, reading the notes. Most are simple goodbyes. Mostly to loved ones, some to those for whom the love had soured and turned to hate. Some are sad, some are accepting, some are bewildered and lost. The sense of the scope of human suffering and loss is staggering, and very raw. There is no attempt at mythological explanations to hide the pain, no dogma or sacrament or ceremony to get in the way. This is several thousand people screaming into the void that they exist and that existence hurts at times. And that ever with that pain, existence is still a rare gift to be treasured.