Marissa Krupa is a displaced Chicago Blackhawks fan who, like many 'Hawks loyalists, watched her team from afar as it won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961.
"I was so supremely bummed I couldn't be there for all the fun with the Cup during the summer in Chicago. I was like, 'Wow, how can I bring the Cup closer to me?' said Krupa, 34, of Oakland, Calif.
"Maybe I should do something for Burning Man ... like throw the Cup in the fire.'"
Burning Man is the annual festival of community and self-expression held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada every September. The climactic moment of the week-long festival is the ritualistic bonfire of a large wooden effigy, as well as small effects that attendees toss into flames for personal reasons.
Krupa's cardboard Stanley Cup currently under construction — whose progress can be seen on YouTube and Facebook — is a creation whose inspirations have gone from a way to honor the Blackhawks to something much more intimate.
The Cup symbolizes so many different things for the players who win it and the fans who witness it. For Krupa, it's a symbol of hope and strength for families like hers that have suffered, and battled, through the horrors of cancer.
"People are so focused on the death part for cancer. There's all this fear," she said.
"But what about the fact that people are beating it, more and more? Why don't we celebrate that they're still here?"
Her celebration? Putting the names of survivors on the Stanley Cup, and then setting it on fire.
Krupa admits that her initial motivations were "more selfish" than anything: Create a replica Cup, toss it on the fire at Burning Man as a tribute to the Blackhawks' championship.
As construction began on the cardboard Cup kindling, she began to chronicle it via a video project:
"Being able to experience [Chicago's] Cup run this year ... talk about an amazing distraction for me personally," she said.
Krupa needed one after the unrelenting anguish that marred her family in the last year.
Both her mother, Margarita, and her brother, Mickey, were diagnosed with Stage 3 neurological tumors within a couple of weeks of each other, in March and April 2009. Margarita had a brain tumor; Mickey's tumor showed up in his spinal column and was virtually inoperable, growing at the base of his neck. There was a serious risk that, through surgery, he could become a quadriplegic.
Her brother's diagnosis crushed Krupa, who saw the 43-year-old as a lifelong athlete and a loving father. "If he had gotten his poop together, he probably could have been on the U.S. National Ski Team," she said.
Margarita's recovery is underway, as she just completed chemotherapy. Mickey, however, had a major setback in April: More tumors developed, and doctors found cancer cells in his spinal fluid.
Krupa spent time with her brother during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, watching Game 5 of the finals at Mickey's house. She said he looked like hell: skinnier and skinnier each time she saw him. But in that moment, surrounded by family, everyone "just made peace with each other watching that game," she said.
"Just talking about it now brings tears to my eyes. That we were able to bond over them playing so well, being so close to the Cup. I just thought, ‘I gotta show my thanks to this organization,'" she said.
"My brother got to see them bring the Cup back [to Chicago]. Who knows how long he's going to be around?"
When Krupa decided to build and burn the Stanley Cup, she had a tough call to make about realism.
Sure, she could make the cardboard skeleton, cover it with paper mache and then paint the outside metallic silver, like so many Cup avatars you see inside the arena during the playoffs. But did she want to meticulously recreate the names on the Cup for her project — or was there an alternative?
Inspiration struck her while she was thinking about her family. After all, a guiding principle of Burning Man is that "transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation." So Krupa decided to transform her Cup into a tribute to those who have survived cancer and those affected by their struggle — writing their names on the Chalice and burning it in tribute.
"Maybe other people would want to honor their family in this way," she thought.
"It's really easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of despair. If I can find some way to keep it positive with this silly thing — to help people focus on being alive."
So she began collecting names of people she knew, and set up a Facebook page to collect even more:
Here is Marissa Krupa's Burning Man 2010 project. It's a paper mache Stanley Cup replica, that'll get thrown in the fire at this year's festival. On it will be the names of cancer survivors, or people who are fighting cancer right now. If you are a cancer survivor, or you want to put a loved one's name on the Cup, stop by the Decadent Oasis camp at Burning Man! If you won't be there, email StanleyCup4Cancer@gmail.com, and the name will be written on the Cup. Yay!
It's a chance to honor those who fight, and a chance to offer some semblance of spiritual relief for the helpless.
"Standing around watching your loved ones struggle for their lives leaves a person feeling like a wastoid. I'm not a doctor — what can I do? Other than paying medical bills, offering hugs, and lending an ear, there's not much," she said.
"Doing this project has helped me to keep my hands occupied, and given me a sense I'm doing something ... even if it's silly, makes no sense, and has no monetary value."
There are two major burns at Burning Man: The several-stories-high man toasted in effigy while a "crazy, orgiastic dance party" gyrates near it; and a second burn called The Temple, which is a structure meant for meditation and reflection.
People write goodbyes or messages on the planks, and are welcome to place things in the Temple space before it's burned down. Krupa, a Burning Man rookie, believes that might be where her Stanley Cup is ignited. It should be completed in about two weeks, well ahead of the festival.
As a hockey fan, is there any part of her that feels strange about lighting the Holy Grail of puck on fire?
No, she said. First, because a tenet of Burning Man is decommodification, and the Cup has become somewhat representative of corporate excess thanks to the NHL. But along with that notion, Krupa said:
"It's like the burning of the flammable cup keeps the real Cup a symbol — something no money can by, something that can apply to people battling for their lives, battling traffic to get home to their kids, battling for civic rights, battling for a career change — this one's me — or any other kind of battle.
"In a way, the Stanley Cup symbolizes a very intense battle for something the players and hockey fans believe in. By writing names of cancer survivors on a likeness and burning it, it's harnessing that 'battle' idea, and transforming it. Like the clichéd Phoenix rising, people who have beaten death knocking on their door, and are still here, are also being renewed, cleansed and honored for their hard work and the life they still have ahead of themselves."
To learn more about the Stanley Cup 4 Cancer project or to suggest a name for the Burning Man Cup, email Krupa at StanleyCup4Cancer@gmail.com.