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Tuesday, Dec 01, 2020
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by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

This is the second year in a row I'm not going to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

And oh, my heart is breaking.

For seven years, summer was defined for me by Michigan. It was the place where I could finally relax, shaking off the stresses and healing the bruises of the year.

The festival is happening this week, and as I sit here, I'm imagining the opening ceremony, with hundreds of women standing to sing "Amazon Women, Rise." I'm imagining the campfire by Triangle, where the drummers' rhythms coax dancers to a frenzied ecstasy. I'm imagining showering in the sunshine. I'm imagining the humble campsite that is more home than home.

Michigan - or "Fest," as it's often called - is not just about the music. In fact, for some people - like me - the music is just an excuse for gathering and conversation. But what conversations they are.

Michigan is not perfect, of course - the Trans policy is more than troubling, even though it seems like it is now rarely enforced - but Fest is magical. Partly, it's because there is almost no access to phones, e-mail, the web. But mostly it's because Michigan is a loving, exasperating, unusual community of women where you can find soul-mate friends in a dinner line and feel deeply comforted by strangers.

Fest is a place with very few expectations. Women expect you to respect others. That's it.

If you want to sleep for a week, or drink for a week, or go to every musical performance for a week, you can. If you want to stay out in the woods with a book and without seeing anyone at all, you can. If you want to sleep with a different woman every other hour, you can. If you want to two-step, or do yoga, or play basketball, or learn to quilt, or talk about raising chickens, you can. If you want to wear heels and a boa (and nothing else), or a beard, or the same tank top for a week, you can.

And because you can do any or all of these things, you learn quickly which restrictions others have placed on you and which you have placed on yourself.

My first year at Fest, for example, I thought I had to be everywhere and do everything. I ran myself to weeping exhaustion. And then, a new friend - who is now an old friend - said, "It's OK if you just take a nap. Or just stare into the woods. No one cares. Just do what you want to do when you want to do it."

That was revelatory to me - the idea that there was a place where people expected you to do what you wanted, when you wanted, as long as you respected others. I had a crisis that first year, because I realized that I didn't KNOW what I wanted to do. I was used to doing what others expected of me.

By the second year, I had learned. And I grew up.

At Michigan, I learned to celebrate who I was - not because of what I do, but who I am. I learned to see beauty in everyone, including myself. I learned that experimenting, that pushing my own boundaries, that spending time with people who were radically different than I am, only gave me a firmer sense of self.

These lessons stayed on after Fest. I live with them daily. But Michigan is my dearest home, and it hurts not to be there and see the 6,000 women who are my family.

Why am I not going? There's not a good reason, honestly. They need me in the office this week, and since I'm covering the Democratic National Convention at the end of August, it seemed a bad idea to spend eight days out of contact. I want to go to India, South Africa and China, so I'm trying to save my travel fund. And Michigan seems so much farther away, so much harder to get to, now that I live in New York instead of Chicago. There were summers that I decided at the last minute to go, hopped in my car, and was there by sundown.

Those days are over.

But that, I think, must be another lesson. We can't allow ourselves to avoid the things we love just because accessing them is hard or different than it used to be.

Nevertheless, this year I'm not there, though my heart is.

Next year, my body will join my heart.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com.

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