Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride 2018: Salt Lake City

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Why I don’t wear costumes at Burning Man

I’m the Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist. I’m that guy who will show up to your party, a business meeting, or a first date wearing pantyhose, heels, tailored shorts and a blazer. When people find out that I’m a Burner, they almost always include, “I want to see all of the pics of you in your costumes at Burning Man!”

I hope you are ready to be underwhelmed by my answer.  I think most people assume I’ll take my normal look:

and multiply it by BURNING MAN YEAAAAHH!!!!

They conjure me in ridiculously flamboyant heels, weirder tights, skirts, all manner of sartorial debauchery.

At the risk of disappointing you all, Here is a picture of my typical Burning Man attire:

There are two basic reasons I don’t wear crazy costumes at Burning Man:

  1. I’ve already Radically Self Expressed all year long: Radical Self Expression is one of the “Ten Principles of Burning Man“, it’s the one that gives permission to people wear whatever they please – or nothing at all.  Most people spend their days wearing clothes they’d rather not be in, to jobs they’d rather not do – I understand their intense desire to let loose and wear all kinds of weird shit. Hell, back in my mail man days, a part of me died when I had to start wearing a uniform for 60 – 70 hours out of my life every week. I was like a broken stallion. In a mail truck. Bringing you pizza coupons every Tuesday. And your power bill.  Conformity for conformity’s sake has always made my guts uneasy.  I radically self express every day, all year long – I spend my days doing work I love, dressing exactly how I want to. I don’t have any fashion wiggles to get out of my system when I arrive in Black Rock City.
  2. Style vs Fashion: Burning Man is an opportunity to be completely genuine, to abandon social norms.  This includes dressing like the masses. See point #1.  There is a growing “Burner Look” in Black Rock City. Function gave way to form, which gave way to fashion. It’s kind of a cool look – don’t get me wrong. And, there are so many sexy people out there – holy shit. That being said, “the burner look” is a thing. It’s becoming more and more of a fashion show. While I’ve always loved style, I’ve never cared for fashion – they are two very different things.  Style is rooted in a deep knowing of one’s self and the boldness to be it. Fashion is all about following instructions. Dress the way the fashionistas have instructed you, and you too, can be cool. We are social animals – the temptation to fit in with the crowd is deep in our DNA. For me, Black Rock City is the one place where that thought should be the furthest from my mind. Hence, my completely boring, functional desert style.

Nevertheless, Black Rock City is still the most inclusive, loving, open minded, egalitarian city on Earth. Being mindful of these things is how we’ll keep it that way.  Fortunately, the worst judgement that gets passed on me for being a dude out there with a decent haircut,  normal clothes and horrible dance moves, is that people often think I’m an undercover cop. (Yes, there are cops everywhere out there, and a surprising number of them are undercover).  Not my favorite thing – I guess that’s the price I pay for being authentic.

Not gonna lie though. Just the thought that some might think I’m a cop is enough to severely tempt me to don some glittery fairy wings, striped tights, pink tutu, and a sequined captain’s hat.

Happy Burn!

Bombs and the Mormon Temple

On Aug 9 2018, a Saudi led coalition bombed targets in Yemen, leaving dozens of children dead.  This is a picture of shrapnel from the blast. This bomb was made by American firm Lockheed Martin. Much outrage has ensued.

The conversation around this picture of shrapnel got me thinking a lot about Mormonism.  There are some deep, obscure doctrines espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are worth contemplating as we look at this thing that killed children:

I’m bringing you right into the heart of the Mormon Temple ceremony known as “The Endowment”.

For my non-Mormon readers: Here is a major simplification of the 3 main ceremonies that are conducted in Mormon Temples:

  • Sealing (the Mormon version of marriage which they believe grants the opportunity to be together forever as a couple in the hereafter),
  • The Endowment (Mormons believe this ceremony gives them both a clearer understanding of their relationship to God, AND gives them the secret passwords and handshakes that are necessary to proceed past the angels who stand as sentinels as they walk back into the presence of God in the hereafter), and
  • Proxy work for the dead (granting these ceremonies to people who have already died, via living proxy workers.

I’ve been through every Temple ceremony countless times, I will speak in first person about a particular aspect that grabbed my attention the very first time I went through and continues to reside in my mind:

There is a point early in the ceremony, after having gone through a symbolic “washing” and “anointing” (it’s extremely similar to Catholic baptism – one drop of water is considered a sufficient symbol for total immersion in water).

A few minutes later, I find myself in the next phase of the ceremony. We are about to watch a movie in small movie theater, depicting the creation of the Earth and the Garden of Eden story. A narration is playing:

“…you have been washed and pronounced clean, or that through your faithfulness you may become clean, from the blood and sins of this generation.”

“Reconsiderations” by Paul Duane

 

Now, hold on just a fucking second here.

As a Mormon, I was raised to believe in a system of moral accountability that is highly individualistic: that Man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions (and ostensibly anyone else’s). It’s every man & woman, for themselves.

Seems fair.

But here I am in The Temple, receiving what is ostensibly the most essential ceremony one can receive in their lifetime, and I’m being told that because of that symbolic drop of water “washing” a few min ago, now I’ve been “washed and pronounced clean from the blood and sins of this generation”?

WHAT IN THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE

I HAD NO IDEA THAT I WAS ON THE HOOK FOR EVERYONE ELSE’S SINS

We live in a world where where most people believe in a sense of moral culpability where you can be guilty in degrees –

For instance, if I’m driving you around in my car, and you jump out, rob a bank at gunpoint, and then jump back in, ordering me to drive away quickly – I will be held partially accountable for your crimes. Most reasonable people can see how being an accessory to a crime brings a degree of culpability, guilt, and accountability.

Let’s take another look at that shrapnel:

That bomb didn’t build itself.

Lots of hard working Americans were paid to design it, test it, build it, and sell it.

That bomb could not have done it’s job without those hard work Americans.

This is not a criticism of those Lockheed Martin employees. I trust that they would be horrified to know about these fruits of their labors.

It doesn’t stop there.

How many bombs have Americans dropped that have caused “collateral damage”? (This is a military term created to sanitize the truth – it refers to the unfortunate fact of innocent people being killed while we go about the messy work of trying to get the bad guys).

Untold numbers of innocent children and adults have been killed in this way.

With bombs built by Americans.

Dropped by Americans.

Paid for by Americans – you, me, and mostly our grandchildren, who will still be paying off the debts incurred by these wars.

If facilitating a crime constitutes responsibility, then by paying for these deaths, you and I, and our children, and our grandchildren, are, to an extent, murderers.

I know it sounds harsh.

It’s true, though.

Mormonism is the only religion I am aware of that makes a SERIOUS contemplation of moral accountability on a global scale like this.

[note: I’ve never met another Mormon who has even thought about this… so, I’m speaking in hypotheticals here. The reality is, 99.9% of Mormons just go through the motions in the Temple and never dig deep into what they’ve experienced, so don’t worry about talking to any Mormons about this. Sad, I know.]

For me, this part of the Temple Ceremony essentially says, ‘Modern life is very complex, very messy, we are all entangled in webs of money and influence that we are often unaware of – and we are all in this together’.

That, brothers and sisters, is a painful, messy, and beautiful truth.

much love –

Paul Duane

The Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist

Mormon Church: I understand why you want to keep the youth “worthiness interviews”

The traditional practice of “worthiness interviews” between youth and adults leaders has caused a lot of stress, on both sides. I understand why.

[For my non-Mormon readers, a bit of background: Mormons have a strict code of sexual behavior for all ages: no sexual activities outside of marriage. Period. That includes masturbation and anything like unto it… and as every former teenager knows, this is where the spotlight turns to the kids. It is a Mormon tradition to have regularly occurring interviews between the congregation leader (the Bishop), and it’s members. They often ask specific questions about sexual behavior. Failure to comply brings very heavy social and religious consequences. For a Mormon, this stuff is a BIG DEAL.]

Let’s start with the premise that it’s a good idea to mentor kids as they mature sexually. Parents should be the first and foremost resource in mentoring kids, through word, deed, and loving dialogue. Obviously, this is an ideal scenario that doesn’t always happen.

It does take a village to raise a kid. We are tribal animals, and it really is good for kids to have positive mentorship relationships with adults in their community. I most definitely benefited from many adults in my life outside of my good parents. It has been argued that it’s a psychologically healthy thing for Church leaders to talk about sex with kids. Proponents claim that kids who have significant adult mentors who are religiously literate fare better as adults.

In secular society, we’ve become honest about the oft-failure of parents to take care of the basics, and have developed backup plans. Head Start, school breakfast programs, and… God forbid… television – all have become surrogates, safety nets, to fill in the gaps that parents often miss. The above argument for Church leaders stepping in to teach kids about sexual ethics reminds me of the increasing reliance on The State to step up where parents stepped out.

Moms, Dads, We are the first line of defense, the first line of resource, for the kids. Let’s handle the really sensitive stuff in the walls of our own homes so that the bishops, scout leaders, teachers and neighbors don’t need to pick up so much slack, but can perform their role as extra adult role models.

That being said – this interview practice is not sustainable. It’s a ticking time bomb. Mormon Church, you are determined to hold your ground and I understand why. Let’s cut right to the chase:

If you stop asking kids about their sexual behavior, ie, conducting “worthiness interviews”, this will eventually spread to the adults too.

“Reconsiderations” by Paul Duane

No more interviews about sexual behavior = No more enforceable policies about sexual behavior. This will cause a doctrinal and cultural landslide. It will echo into the walls of the Temple, because a major part of Temple worship includes entering into a covenant to maintain “sexual purity”. Suddenly, a person’s sexual behavior will be between the individual, their partner, and God – and that’s it.

For me, being a Mormon means believing in the essence of what Joseph Smith claimed: that if the individual desires to commune with The Divine, it will be granted, in private. No intermediaries are necessary. We believe in a God that is conscious of, and attendant to, every individual seeker of truth.

Eliminating “worthiness interviews” might just force The Church into a strictly supportive role, rather than an investigative role. It would force the Church to trust each individual to pursue virtue on their own terms…

…just like every prophet of old has done.

 

In love and freedom –

Brother Paul Duane

#SoulAnarchist

 

 

 

miracles when it feels mundane

Its 5am, I lay awake in bed, for the muse has arrived. I hope I’ll be able to communicate this delicate idea. Let me know if you can relate:

I’ve always had this notion that to do awesome work, I had to also feel awesome. What that’s led me to is a pursuit of “feelings”, which can quickly turn into addiction, like a caterpillar into a moth. Ask any junkie. TV, crack, or cookies, it’s all the same. They are feeling chasers, regardless of the drug of choice.

During my radio years, for instance:

Live radio is unforgiving. The clock, nor the audience, care how your day has gone. At 14:06, the second the pre roll commercials are done, it’s on, ready or not. There were days I’d prepare well, show up early and have a good solid show. Sometimes I’d think I had an awesome show prepared and it would fall flat. While that was confusing and frustrating, even legendary teams lose on their home field sometimes. Though these losses were mystifying, an even deeper mystery lurks:

There were days when I felt completely uninspired. Tired. Empty. Nothing “to say”. I wasn’t physically ill and couldn’t justify calling in sick. I would go through the motions of packing up my laptop, walking out the door, and going to the studio. A mild, low level terror would begin to set in as the clock ticked into the upper reaches of the 13:00 hour.

Sure, I had a show plan, I did the work, but I just wasn’t “feeling it”. Looking over my show notes and the impending 120 minutes, I wonder if sherpas ever feel this way when looking at the nearly impossible peak as they begin their 578th ascent. I wonder if anyone is ever exempt from that deflating feeling of “Oh shit. This is going to be really, really hard, why do I do this to myself?”

(This, by the way, is but one of the reasons I adore the band RUSH). Want to see what eternal youth looks like? Go see these men in their 60’s pushing themselves as hard as they can, doing 3 hour long shows, of ever increasing intensity at an age when most dudes are happy to just cash checks and play golf).

I digress.

So many times on these “oh shit” days, A caller, a current event, an idea in my head would combine in the cauldron of the present moment to yield a moment of pure brilliance. I would walk out of the studio in complete awe at the unsuspected unfolding of inspiration.

These moments of unsuspected brilliance are not limited to the radio days. It’s happened in the Photo studio, in writing, and I once met a great love in similar circumstances. I didn’t feel like being there but showed up anyway, magic ensued.

This has me thinking a lot about feelings: of preparedness, of interest, of ability. Have you ever had the experience of doing your finest work on a day when you initially were sorely tempted to shirk?

I think it’s sensible to expect that under stress we rise to the level of our worst preparation. Good practice and preparation cannot be undervalued.

When I peel back the layers of my own experience, I realize that a certain level of my own feelings are just the weather of my own human condition. Rain or shine, they do not change the facts of that which is being built on the ground. The work – the practice, the preparation, always adds up. It creates something inside you that can be pretty easy to overlook.

What’s the point of this all? I want you to know that the little things you do every day to build yourself – the journaling. The meditation. The exercise. The rehearsals – they all matter, even if they feel mundane. ESPECIALLY when they feel mundane –

Because one day, you will find yourself in a place you don’t necessarily want to be in. You won’t feel your “best” but you’ll be there anyway. You will unceremoniously do the thing. You will go home, and soon realize that you just participated in a life changing moment. You will realize the value of showing up regardless of the weather of your silly little soul, and life will never be the same after that.

Ultimately, you will come to understand that the basic act of showing up is a self fulfilling prophecy of your (sometimes hidden) knowledge that you are worthy of that which you desire.

Much love-
Paul Duane

Hefner, Creativity, and the Purpose of Life

One hot summer day in the desert, my friend Adam and I happened upon a camp offering refreshments of the palate and the eyes: delicious, ice cold cocktails, tea, and an assortment of vintage Playboys ranging from the late 70’s through early 2000’s, piled high on a coffee table between two dusty sofas. Oh, Burning Man… how I love you – a place where everything is possible and no idea is too silly to bring forth.
 
I’d like to muse over the act of creation for a moment:
 
Consider a jazz musician who will take the stage later tonight and thrill the audience with flashes of blazing improvisation – music that is spontaneously created on the fly – one of the most spectacilar feats of human creativity. That same musician is practicing scales, with a metronome, right now, in a highly controlled way. Working in an environment of temporary restraint has a way of preparing for blast off later.
 
I believe that we are higher dimensional beings having a temporarily downgraded three dimensional experience, for the purpose of learning. I believe that the purpose of life is to refine our ability to take a non-material idea, and bring it into the world of “material” three dimensions.
 
That’s it.
 
Creativity.
 
I don’t care what it is you create… whether it’s an accounting firm, or a sculpture, or a baby human, or some weird poems – everthing we do as humans is an act of creation.
 
When you endeavor to move something from the realm of idea into the physical plane, all manner of challenges must be overcome – several varieties of fear, being chief among them. Overcoming fear is the most fundamental goal of the human experience. Being creative is the vehicle for that.
 
Occasionally we encounter humans who have GRAND visions of something that never existed before, and they proceed to bring it from the realm of idea, into the world of “reality”. These creators know things about the human condition and their relationship to the abundant Universe that, statistically speaking, few other humans know.
 
Hugh Hefner passed away yesterday. Regardless of what you think of the merrits of his work – one must concede – this man was a master creator, conjuring an entirely new reality in his mind and bringing to fruition. How many people do that?
 
If I were at your funeral, Mr. Hefner, I would simply stand with ovation and clap slow claps of awe and admiration.
 
Well done, sir!

I DO

He said it like a man who had worked hard all day in the heat and was being offered a tall glass of perfectly chilled ice water.

She said it like a woman who knew exactly what she wanted and knew she deserved to have it.

“I do”

Over the course of my career, I’ve heard countless couples say the words, but I’ve never heard the two syllables said with more joyful certainty, solidarity and knowing, than Rachel and Jonny.

Beethoven once said,

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”

As an artist, there comes a point where unconditional dedication to the instrument opens up a world of secrets that only the wholly committed are permitted to enter. There are days when your fingers are sore, but you practice anyway. There are days when you feel like you are a worse player than you were last week and you wonder how you could suck so much… you practice anyway. There are days when practicing is easy and playful – you practice anyway, because you know it’s part of something vastly bigger than your disposition today and are honored to be part of it. In forcing your way into the secrets of your art, you learn things about yourself that you could never know otherwise. It becomes a mirror that creates a singularly unique vantage point to see yourself, your relationship to the world, and ultimately, The Divine.

As it goes in the practice hall, so it goes in marriage. We are all souls at various stages of development in the cosmic scheme of things. Nothing is for everyone, not even marriage. For some, however – I believe that the lifelong commitment of marriage can raise men – and women – to the Divine.

What does God think of your Facebook Thoughts and Prayers?

Virtue Signaling: ever heard of it?

How many times do you see people post something that – if you pay close attention – is crafted to advertise to the world how concerned they are, how righteously angry they are… that they are “worried” about the “right things”?

Being “virtuous” has never been more in style – problem is, it’s really just a game of “Hey everyone, look at me! I’m better than ________”.

Ninja level question: How often have YOU done that?

I certainly have done an embarrassing amount of it over the course of my social media career, and yes, calling out the virtue signalers can be read as a meta-version of that. Yep. I get it.

A desert dwelling guru called Yeshua once said,

“When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

I think if Yeshua had known about Facebook back then, he would have said,

“When thou prayest, remember that Thy Father is in heaven, and not on Facebook. He hateth that shit. Whilst thou may use Facebook to gently invite others to pray for the downtrodden, thou shalt not advertise thine own prayers, for thou runnest the risk of thy reward being the approval of men, rather than communion with thy Father and / or Mother who art in heaven, but are divorced and not on speaking terms with one another, so you’ll need to call them separately, but that is another story for another parable, beloved ones”.

Burning Man 2017

Memories from Burning Man 2017.

Trying to explain what Burning Man is, visually, or with words, is like peeping through a pinhole at the night sky and trying to describe the heavens.

 

 

Radical Self Reliance: thoughts from Burning Man 2015

It’s Burning Man season! Be warned: This is all I’ll be talking about until mid Feb 2018. With that, let’s get on to tonight’s thought:

There are a lot of people who are super sad these days. Angry. Offended. Scared. I feel bad for them, because I’ve seen this other way of living:

Burning Man is a brilliant primordial soup of human potential, creativity, and possibility unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never seen so many people acting in so many beautiful ways. Our dusty home in the desert is governed by 10 Principles. Principle #4 is “Radical Self Reliance” and it goes like this:

“Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

On the surface, this means that you are solely in charge of bringing your own:

  • water
  • food
  • shelter
  • fuel
  • electricity
  • drugs (JUST KIDDING NOBODY DOES DRUGS OUT THERE)
  • sunscreen

Burning Man is a place of abundance! There is always extra to go around, and usually extra stuff to bring home. When you get 75,000 people together who have all taken seriously the idea of self reliance, synergies occur and tremendous excess is the result. If someone happens to fall on hard times once out there – like, if your tent burns down – chances are that people around you will have you taken care of in no time at all and back to the party.

“Radical self reliance” goes beyond physical provisions: it’s about taking responsibility for my own experience. Not just on the Playa, but in the rest of life as well. I am in charge of my own feelings. Nobody can “make me” feel anything unless I allow them to. Being offended is a choice. Being happy and blissfully content is a choice.

A wise old desert dweller once said,

“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

(B. Young)

Anyway – that’s it for now. I’ll be posting more from my last burn as I get packed up during the next few days.

THE MAN burns in 16 days!!
)'(