1. Being cool is overrated.
You already know it was hot. However, having spent a few summers in places like the Dominican Republic and Belize, I have learned you just live differently in the heat. You let go of things. You let go of expectations. Once again, I had to accept being uncomfortable and grateful for simple things, like fresh lemonade (squeezed right in front of you), and that my 7 year-old boy still says, “Daddy, up!” when feeling to0 tired to walk, and will settle for holding my hand when Daddy is too hot to carry him.
2. Knowing the cool people is overrated, too.
There were people floating around who could be considered celebrities. They have sold books, appeared on national television serially, and prayed with Presidents. However, there were no ‘keynote’ addresses. Most of them have ‘broken the Inner Ring’:
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it… if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship.” C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
3. It’s cool to be high touch and low tech.
Wireless access was limited, to say the least. Twitter would have facilitated some useful spontaneous gatherings that did not happen. However, there was an upside to this. We had to ‘be here now’. You were stuck with the people you were with, listening and lingering longer. It also means the narrative of what occurred those several days has been cured well before offered for immediate consumption online.
4. The coolest people were under represented.
Who are the coolest people? Students – middle school, high school, and college students. Kids (under 12) had a great time with some really great folks creating, singing, and playing. There were not, however, many students, which I think is perfect. Let me explain. Upon arriving, my two older boys (almost 12 and almost 14) acted like they had just arrived on an alien planet. “What is this?” they asked. “Dad, this place is full of hippies,” (I didn’t know they had any idea what a hippie might be). The tent for students was, actually, just right – couches, stuff to create things with, etc. There just were not many students. The conclusion had been made: this place is not cool and it is boring. However, something happened.
5. Three Memories
First, because mom (my wife, actress and singer Lynn Witty) was working on a play written by Peter Rollins (“The Gallows”), we had time to wander. As they continued to complain about the heat, they discovered the “Wall of Grievances” (courtesy of the The Gathering community in Salem, MA) where ‘grievances’ were written on shingles and stapled to the wall. When we arrived, only two grievances had been hung, “When my sister takes my toy train” and “When others speak on behalf of God to me and my family.” My boys were unimpressed, but something happens when you have what we so often feel impoverished of: time. Hours later, I found all three of them at the wall. They had collaborated and hung two shingles, two ‘grievances’. One simply read, “What’s a grievance?”, the other, “violense” [sic]. No one corrected their spelling or told them their question was inappropriate.
At dinner time Saturday night I gave the boys money for pizza and lemonade. The enormous cups of lemonade were discounted for those who reused their cups. The boys were excited by this prospect, both the lemonade deal and to fend dinner for themselves while I helped with preparations for Peter’s play. Later, I checked on them, all set up with pizza and lemonade on a their blanket nestled beneath a large tree sparsely lit with white Christmas lights. The middle son said, “Here you go, Dad,” as he handed me the ten dollar bill I had given him for lemonade. He was responsible for drinks and my oldest for pizza.
“How did you pay for the drinks?” I asked.
“Some guy paid for them,” he replied. What is important to know is that this particular son has exquisite radar when it comes to adults who have less-than-questionable boundaries, who are unaware of their eagerness to be liked by kids, if you know what I mean.
Suspicious, I asked, “What do you mean?”
He replied, “I ordered the lemonades, and while they were being made, this guy…he was older than you I think [in his eighties, I presumed], asked if we were having a good time. I said, ‘Yes’. When it came time to pay, he paid. I said, ‘Thanks,’ and left. You should meet him dad, he seems nice.’ He repeated this last statement several times.
I checked on the boys a second time on my way to the Main Stage where Reverend Vince was doing his thing, joined by Michelle Shocked. It was rockin’ and could be heard everywhere. I invited the boys to come along and, perhaps, even bring the blanket with them and eat while watching the music. Both my wife and I are musicians and the boys love music. Instead, however, they chose to stay where they were. “Too many people,” they said. “We’re doing our own thing, having dinner together.”
What’s so significant about these memories of mine? The Wild Goose Festival provided an opportunity for my family, my three energetic, curious, and creative boys, to slow down, to create, to listen, to laugh, and to meet people who are living their lives trying to fix what is broken. Wouldn’t it have been better to have music aimed at teens, games, a celebrity or two…something with more of a wow factor, something more ‘attractional’ (like I’ve done 1000 times?) I don’t think so.
The Grievances Wall gave my boys a space to articulate what’s broken.
The guy who bought them lemonade gave them a simple gift they couldn’t repay.
Their time on the blanket reminded them that though they bicker and fight, it’s good to share a meal.
What I noticed at Wild Goose 2012 is that Christianity can be as simple as sharing grievances (without being condemned), giving simple gifts, and sharing meals. Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Steal Like An Artist. Number nine of ten ways to Steal Like an Artist is, “Be Boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)”
Looking for cool? Don’t bother with The Wild Goose. It’s boring, and the only way to get work done.