(This blog post is dedicated to the sisterwives. You know who you are.)
This is always a bittersweet time of year here at the farmlet. While everything is bursting into fruitful life, I am, as I have for 20 years, turning my head and heart away from the North Carolina soil, and toward the Michigan forest: my family home.
I think I’ve mentioned here before that I have a tenuous and complicated relationship with my family. You see, I’m not only adopted, but a number of factors led most of my family to break off connection with me in the early 90s. While it’s sad to be a bit adrift in the world, untied to the anchor of relations, it’s not an unfamiliar experience for queer folks. And while that’s only part of the picture, I’ve been lucky to build a strong family of choice: friends and heart companions that fill that hole to overflowing bounty.
Much of this kinship is centered around my long years of first volunteering for, and then being on staff at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (also know as Michfest). From my first fest in 1996, (when I attended for 3 overwhelming, beautiful, crazy days) through now, when I spend 3 and a half months each year helping to build (and tear down) our village in the woods, the women of this community have been my strongest support, dearest loves, and best sparring partners. We’ve raised children, tents, and political fervor together, knowing that a bunch of women can do anything at all, from lengthy personal experience.
But once I started becoming more rooted, in a really literal sense, to this piece of ground, this community, this land, it’s been harder and harder to leave for so long. Last year was almost physically painful, driving away…and I’d been dreading leaving again this spring, despite my excitement and passion for turning my hands to the work of the festival, my annual homecoming to work I love with women who are my true family. This past winter, I started saying “this has to be my last summer for the long haul,” “I need to get a real job,” “I don’t want to miss the summer here,” while feeling conflicted about how this need interacted with my love for the festival, our vibrant community, my friends and lovers and co-conspirators. I needed to think long and hard about how to integrate my desire to not be away so long with my desire to be in community, how to shift that mindfully and with purpose.
And then the decision was made for me. This year, our 40th celebration, will be the last. This summer, our last one to sleep together under spreading tree limbs and a star-filled Michigan sky.
At the same time (because it doesn’t just rain, it pours… particularly when your rain boots and jacket are back at the tent, while you’re making tofu kotapita for 500 lesbians), my new job came along. And so, I will actually be leaving my hearts’ home early, to come teach anthropology to young men and women here in NC, unpacking the complicated tangles of race, class, and gender using the tools I learned not from graduate school, but from the wisdom of the women and the time spent talking as we turned our hands to one common task after another.
But before I dive into my summer, for a shockingly painful, beautifully conscious and celebratory ending, I wanted to take a moment to make a little list. Comedian Elvira Kurt, who’s a frequent Night Stage performer at the festival, makes a Top Ten list every year, but there’s no possible way to boil this down to 10. Plus, I imagine it will keep changing. But still, it’s a start:
What I learned working at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival:
an ongoing and incomplete list
- Ask for help, and it will be given to you
- A couple of women with shovels can do just about anything
- Napping in a tent with the windows open in the middle of the day is glorious
- Sound travels really far in the woods
- Start as you mean to go on
- You can feed 25 women with one hotel pan of food
- Women will put raisins and brown sugar on just about anything at breakfast time
- Sometimes taking a moment to cry is the right thing to do
- Show up for people, and they show up for you
- All women have bellies, and they’re beautiful
- Kindness will take you a damn far way, as will the ability to say “I fucked up, I’m sorry.”
- Fix your problems with people by springtime, because they’re going to be in the next shower in August
- The world is more beautiful when you get 10 hugs before breakfast
- The open-hearted appreciation of others (also known as flirting) should be shared widely
- There’s always next year, we don’t have to hurry (this is STILL true)
- Don’t leave food in your tent
- Make sure you’ve closed the circle
- Follow the recipe
- Bring more socks and underwear than you think you need
- EVERYONE has social anxiety. Really. It’s not just you.
- You can find ANYTHING on the land to borrow. I once tracked down 8 turquoise tutus (from different sources) in less than a day.
- FMS (the fear of missing stuff) is real, but not as important as sleep
- Take your meds
- Taking a nap or taking a shower starts a whole new day, no matter what time it is
- I don’t have agree with everyone in order to do good work with them
- If we keep talking about it, it will make more sense
- I am beautiful, and loved. You are too.
In 20 days, I’ll get on a plane to go join my family. And despite the ending of the festival, our strong and resilient community will still be the place I turn, when I am joyous, afraid, sad, or celebratory. It’s the place I learned how to love.
Until next time,
(It’s the final year of the festival, which has changed the lives of thousands and thousands of women, including mine. You can read some of their stories here. Our 40th celebration is going to be truly epic, and you should come. Tickets are here.)