GUYS. I went to Art Outside this weekend, a multi-day camping/art/music festival in east Texas. I had expected a few days of fun and costumes, and got much more instead. It was not the easy diversion I had thought. Instead, the weekend was an emotional microcosm – I was challenged, amazed, worn out, self-critical, self-accepting, inspired, overwhelmed, and ecstatic all in quick succession.
First, the good.
We arrived just after sunset on Friday, and spent about an hour getting our tickets and setting up camp. We walked into the event space after dark, which was spectacular. The campus was full of live oak trees lit from below in green and purple lights, music was pumping out from three different stages,over sized commissioned art pieces were positioned everywhere, and beautifully weird folks were wandering around. The whole space was filled with a wonderful anticipatory excitement. It felt magic. Apache Pass had been transformed into a thrilling wonderland, and our collective hearts were responding in kind.
I felt that thrill throughout the weekend. Here was a space that humans, in all their cultural/spiritual/heartsong madness, had consciously created together. Giant animatronic face? Check. Over sized birds nest created with sticks and mud for children to play in? Of course. Leaf shaped hammock/seats arranged around a slowly spinning 20ft globe? Got you covered. The depth of creativity and expression was intoxicating.
Our camping cohort was terrific. I went with my dear friend Andrea (of The Everyday Soiree), and my newer friend Nick. I felt like we all complemented each other really well as moved through the weekend. Andrea brought her go go go! enthusiasm, our living room furniture (seriously, check out the photo gallery below), her Art Outside expertise, and tubes and tubes of glitter. Nick gave his calm spirit, mini blueberry muffins, and ability to connect with anyone. We would move back and forth through the festival, coming together for some events and then stretching apart for others, gently morphing. There were also a handful of other lovely friends at the festival: Grace and her family with their whimsy, Justin and Emily Sparkles for chill chats, and bad ass April. It was wonderful to walk around and know that I’d run into caring friends anywhere.
Next, the not so good.
During the weekend, I banged up against some pretty big insecurity walls about body confidence and being open/vulnerable.
Part of the beauty was people pushing the limits of ‘normal’ clothes: costumes, wigs, skirts on dudes, sequins and glitter, and skin everywhere. In general I felt sparkly, magical and tough (BAD ASS BITCH ARMY, ASSEMBLE!). My new purple Dr. Marten’s were a big part of that. But sometimes, I didn’t feel so hot. My inner critic would pipe up, particularly when I looked at photos of myself that people were taking. How can I feel so good, but look so bad in these photos? I’d think, seeing the lithe belly dancers on stage, or the petite artists walk by in their paint splattered bikinis and hippie skirts. You look doughy and thick, girl. I’ve experienced these feelings before, but I got blindsided by them this weekend. They’d hit me all of sudden, and I’d feel disembodied. Is this how others are seeing me right now?? The solution was two-fold: re-embody myself, and gratitude. I’d get back inside my arms and muscles and sparkle skin, and turn a cart wheel or dance and then smile, smile, SMILE at others doing the same. LOOK at what my body can do. Look at what OUR bodies can do. THANK YOU BODIES.
Art Outside is more than just a music/arts festival, they also host workshops throughout the day. I went to at least one a day, sometimes more. I really loved most: shakra meditation yoga, beginner hooping and intro to acro yoga. But I was seriously challenged by the final workshop on Sunday afternoon: Authentic Relating Games. Games? I thought, SIGN ME UP! I love games. I founded a frakkin’ outdoor games organization. I am the QUEEN of running, jumping, competing, organizing, winning. This session, however, was not focused on those kinds of games. Instead, it was about connecting. Deeply. With strangers. Sustained eye contact, vulnerable truth telling, spontaneous hugging, etc. And I couldn’t handle it. Even describing the games right now is making me anxious. I got 10 minutes in, and had to leave. Couldn’t even make it past the warm up. We started by walking around each other and looking at the ground, as we checked in with ourselves. We were then instructed to then look up and start making eye contact with people as we passed them. I started to feel uncomfortable. Next, we were to ‘make a connection’ as we looked at each other: do a little dance, high five, or give a hug. As the facilitator said that, I felt my anxiety spike. Hug?? From a stranger?? What?! I stopped being friends with a girl because she touched me too much, and now a STRANGER’S gonna touch me?? A young woman, who I’m sure is perfectly nice, reached up her arms to give me a hug and touched my arm. I freaked out. My hands reared up defensively, and I stumbled out of the tent, my breath ragged with tears streaking my cheeks.
It wasn’t just the emotional reaction that cut my heart so badly, but the shame at not being able to do it. I had come in thinking it was going to be a game, and damn, aren’t I so good at games? But it wasn’t a game I could win. It wasn’t a game where you run away, or a game where you get a megaphone and boss people around. It was about being open, and letting yourself be seen and touched. Writing this blog is an exercise in vulnerability for me, but this is a venue where I have control. I decide what gets shared, and I decide how to frame myself for your observation. How and what I write influences your perspective. These relating games was an intimacy that I was not in control of. How can you influence what someone sees as they hold eye contact with you? How can you frame your brand against a hug? That frightened me. Even more, my reaction to that fear shamed me. How can I write a blog about being authentic if I couldn’t play a damned game for an hour without breaking down? How can I trumpet vulnerability if I have such a violent reaction to it?
Clearly, I’m still processing this. The workshop revealed this knife edge of growth, and it cut me deep. But I saw the edge. I am profoundly conscious of the growth I need, and it’s not something I’m going to forget. Even that was a gift that the festival gave me. Awareness. Of beauty, of magic, of gratitude, and of growth. Thank you Art Outside. I look forward to next year!