My hair smells like wilderness, wind, and sunbeams. The curly waves feel like soft grass held together by the stickiness of sweat and morning dew. My soul has been kissed by the elements. My spirit is refreshed. My mind is clear. My heart is happy.
I watched the sun and moon rise. I painted, and spoke lovely words into the wind. Shared in moving conversations and embraces, with friends and so-called strangers. Had great wisdom bestowed upon me by people, clouds, trees, bugs, soundwaves, sunsets, and my inner wise self. I moved upon the Earth with my bare feet and sent prayers of healing down into Her core as I danced upon Her beneath the stars.
I let go.
It felt like home to me.
Art Outside is a three day celebration in the middle of Texas forest and farmland, where a few thousand people come to camp and enjoy music, dancing, performance art, innovative art installations, yoga, relaxation, communal learning, and each other.
It was the perfect three day retreat. I would say I wish it’d last longer, but in this moment I choose to accept that everything is fleeting.
Festival culture has been fascinating me since my first forays into these new worlds in Summer of 2007. I’ve been to Gathering of the Vibes, Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, Rothbury (now called Electric Forest). And Art Outside.
I’ve been to Austin City Limits twice thanks to pure luck scoring free passes, and I’ve attended the poor artist’s South by Southwest three times. (And by that, I mean—$1,000+/ticket has far exceeded my budget, but seeing as the festival officially/unofficially takes over the town, I have found ways to make the experience that is SXSW valuable.)
ACL and SXSW belong in different camps as festivals, though, because they aren’t camp-out festivals—which means they aren’t nearly as conducive to transformational experiences, which require at least a few days of sleeping under the stars to have happen. You need complete (or at least near-complete) removal from the “real world” into the “dream world”.
Or are we exiting the dream world and entering into the realm of the really real…?
One of those.
In either case, ACL is the least exciting and least communal of the festivals I’ve attended. SXSW can be a life-rattling whirlwind of an experience, but it is not very communal, and it’s not contained and separate from the city, but in the city, which influences the dynamic.
I can’t help but feel people are missing out if they’re only absorbing art, music, and culture from the most famous artists and massive festivals. But, perhaps they’ll catch on.
Woodstock was the biggest of its kind, in 1969. Now, an entire Generation (Y) has been—is being—in some way, molded by festivals. While the experience is, of course, make-or-break according to the intentions, whims, and decisions of the individual, certainly there is a shaping that happens when one is exposed to nearly non-stop creative, out-of-the-ordinary stimuli. And psychedelic trips.
Because they happen in the forests, the mountains, the plains, the deserts—separate from the concrete nature of Modern American Life—we are also transported to other realms within ourselves. We re-meet our own Indigenous Spirit; the one who knows we all come from the Earth and are meant to share and enjoy it.
And so, enjoy it, we do. For the most part. Ideally. But certainly transformative experiences aren’t always joyous. There can be pain in the process, but it’s worth it.
I want to see a day where everyone is able to enjoy such beautiful, healing, fun, fascinating, transformative, cathartic festivities. The tragic irony is in the fact that, at this point in human history, one must pay to be in the forest to hear such music, to take part in these communal rituals, to dance, and to embark on psychedelic experiences from substances which originate in nature.
People have walked this land before—and they did all of this far before we or any of our closest ancestors ever did.
(They did it without creating so much waste, I might add.)
The template has already been laid. It was laid long before us. The music. The art. The dancing. The rituals. The dress. People have been celebrating life through festivities for as long as human culture has existed. We are a merely a continuation of that. A modern revival, even, since so much of American culture before the late 1960’s had completely lost ideas of community, sharing, creativity, self-autonomy.
Might we be returning to roots that existed for us before the founding of our nation?
Might we be witnessing the birth of the American Renaissance?
This is the kind of place where so-called strangers greet with hugs instead of handshakes. My soul was soothed with each one. Kind words were exchanged frequently. Some of my lovely festival companions set up shop right in the center of everything. A gorgeous pair of painters, they decorated their canvases, and the bodies of passersby. A friend joined us in our art spot, which became a nucleus for us as we wandering to and from the festival sights and sounds.
I was given the honour of helping this friend with a painting he’d been wanting to finish. We’re both writers, but I think we both discovered a new love with these borrowed brushes. I enjoy exposing myself to different modes of expression. There are never enough.
We switched off with our paintbrushes. Passing hookah, exchanging our most pressing thoughts and feelings. A highlight of the weekend was listening to him read ever-so passionately from his favourite book as I mixed colours and got lost in my brushstrokes.
It served as a reminder that the process is just as important—if not more important—than the product. You don’t have a product if you don’t engage at all. To let go of judgment in the process and let yourself create freely is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.
There is a time to be deliberate, and a time to be wildly unrestrained. The creative process is one in which we are allowed to experiment with both.
Of course, even in an uplifting and ideal space, I was reminded of the adverse effects of modern culture, and how even they are carried into such spaces.
(That is, until we do the real work of addressing these issues openly, and honestly.)
One of the stages at Art Outside was housed beneath a large dome structure. One night, I went in around 4am to completely let loose and dance every single thing I felt, and to move my body freely.
As I began to do this, I attracted the attention of a very large man. And when I say large, I mean tall—very tall—probably around 7 feet. He was dancing himself, and became enthralled by my movement.
At first, we were dancing with one another—feeling and expressing our energies toward one another. Then he became a little too forward, reaching out to touch me without permission, and without establishing a greater sense of connectivity to me through conversation, eye contact. Even a handshake and an introduction would have been lovely. While I did not feel as violated as I have when I’ve gone to clubs and bars in the downtown districts of Any City, USA, I still began to feel uncomfortable.
It served as reminder that while I wish to be seen first as a human being, then as a woman, I am still often seen as woman before a human being…
A human being is free, is self-determining. And women have not, historically, been seen as full human beings; as is the case with other groups of people who have experienced marginalization and oppression.
If I am respected first as a human being, men (and women and all others) are free to enjoy me as a woman.
But I want that respect first. The inherent respect that ought to come from recognition of our shared humanity.
I am intensely aware of the disconnected nature of our current world. I feel my eyes are even more open to it, as they usually are when I have experiences that knock me out of the oftentimes painful, offbeat rhythms, and unbearable stasis of Modern American Life.
On Saturday morning, I wandered over to a giant globe with my mat in hand, for a sound-healing experience.
We ohm’d and hummed and sang together.
Afterward, a man named Quinn came up to spit some truth in what was probably the most incredible 45 minute extemporaneous speech I have ever heard. He dropped out of modern living 12 years ago after getting so low about his job and his mess of a life, and he was especially ready for a change after his struggles with wanting to commit suicide.
His truth-telling shook me. Not necessarily because they were new thoughts to me, but because I’ve thought many of them before, and I’ve had to accept that some of my current ways of living directly and indirectly perpetuate a system which, in my heart of hearts, I do not vibrate with.
(Quinn’s intentional community was wrongly raided by SWAT recently.)
I feel I navigate two worlds in many ways, and this is one of them. Being in touch with the Modern Way and the Natural Way, or the Indigenous Way. I wonder often how they might co-exist. I feel it may be possible, but it will require that more people pay attention to the possibilities, myself included.
I left this festival feeling even more ready to create my own space in a society that wasn’t meant for someone like me…
I don’t fit in a mold. I never have, and I never will. The more time passes, the more I accept this about myself. I wish to let go of my resistance to my own need to resist. The work of my soul is to co-create a world of peace and harmony, so it is no wonder I’ve been met with cynicism, discouragement, and even cruelty when imagining, speaking of, or practicing alternative ways of being and interacting.
But I will continue on, and I will continue to seek others who feel called to do the same kind of work. And I know I find these others in spaces like these.
Peacemaking, crafting, creating art, storytelling, healing, body work, tending to the earth, building community; these are the things we ought to be doing, whether or not we have a “day job”.
I may have a “job”, but yet, I don’t have a job. I simply have work to do.
I have new world to create. Why? It’s an undying need. It was born with me.
As a person who values sharing, being in the flow, and living a compassionate life, not a day goes by without my feeling concerned with our current ways of living. Our dangerous collective attachments to possession, control, and violence run deep.
We would do well to remember we are not relegated to fate.
We have so much more say in our collective destiny than we tend to realize.
I want meaning over money.
I want community over workforce.
I want liberation from all that confines us.
I want to co-exist peaceably and live with nature, as we are meant to.
The next Art Outside is undoubtedly going to be even more spectacular and meaningful now that I know more about what to expect, but I am also looking forward to integrating what I learned that weekend into my current life.
Engaging in communal creativity—whether we are collaborating or simply creating side-by-side—has the power to heal and to transform us. I am, and always will be, an advocate of the arts. Creativity and self-expression uplift, awaken—even save—the human spirit.
While speaking to an artist in attendance, I realized that this experience is not just about creating art outside in nature. It’s a calling to express whatever creative ability lies within us.
To do the work of the art on the inside.
We must get whatever is within us outside of us.
We must empty ourselves of all we hold on to, so that we may be filled with the abundance of good that is all around us.
I am grateful I was able to attend, and grateful such spaces exist.
My deepest gratitude to all those kindred spirits who made that weekend possible.
You beautiful creatures, you.