School of Hard Knocks

By Kate Russell, a.k.a. HoneyBee

Bouncing through the Black Rock Desert in the back of a pickup truck with billions of stars visible overhead, my friend and I had one of those conversations that ends up changing lives, and not just our own.

After swapping deeper, really private life stories, we came to the conclusion that many of our adult decisions had been contaminated by lies we were told about ourselves as children. Being children, we had believed those lies and acted accordingly, for decades. Those beliefs and actions had, over time, hardwired our brains to think and work in predictable patterns of self-destruction — and all because of a lie. At first, we laughed it off as having survived The School of Hard Knocks, but then we realized that there wasn’t anything funny about it.

schoolofhardknocksWe asked ourselves and each other what would happen if people could see those lies for what they really were — fictions created by others — and perhaps even find more of the person they were born to be, without those lies. In a matter of minutes, The School of Hard Knocks interactive art piece was born.

Mounted on a kiosk in Center Camp Café in 2016, The School of Hard Knocks was a 2D one-room schoolhouse, complete with bell tower, featuring a chalkboard divided down the middle with an old yardstick. The simple instructions told participants that lies from childhood had created scars that self-perpetuate themselves in adult choices. They were asked: What lies were you told about yourself that you’ve had to unlearn? What truths do you now know about yourself? They were asked to share their lies and their truths on the chalkboard to help others see that they are not alone on this path.

The response was overwhelming.

The chalkboard filled up within just a few hours. It had to be erased twice a day (after taking photos, of course) to make room for more responses. People gathered, talking quietly or silently reading. The most common sight was a person standing in front of the chalkboard, hand over mouth, as if they were unsure about declaring their own truth, or horrified at the lies faced by others (and some of those lies really were horrifying).

To put it simply, many of the lies were atrocious attempts to make another person feel unworthy and unlovable. In most cases, we must assume that the lies were told in response to lies they had been told. Some of the lies were unintentional, or even accidental. Here, we must apply Hanlon’s razor, when he tells us, “Don’t assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding.” Of course, there were also the funny lies about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. This is Burning Man, after all! The best part of the piece was reading the truths that had been realized. They were were boundless and joyful. People claimed their own validity and practically shouted their intentions of creativity, love and self-acceptance.

Because of the response, we have decided to petition the org for an art grant (and start a crowd-funding campaign) to fund building a free-standing one-room school house on the playa in 2017. We hope this larger installation will give more participants a chance to recognize and put aside the lies they were told and to start celebrating their truth.


(Top photo by Debra Wolff)

About the author: Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa

Tales From the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.

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