Starwood 2015: Three Ways to Make Friends

Starwood 2015: Three Ways to Make Friends July 23, 2015

I still have Wisteria mud on my trusty vehicle, Starbug; and the camping gear has yet to be cleaned and put away. But I’m home from Starwood XXXV. And already it’s worked a change on me: at the big bonfire Saturday night I was pulled into a mini-sumble, a drinking ritual based on ancient Norse practices. As the mead went around, I toasted “To music, and to making more time for it in my life.”

I hadn’t been home 12 hours before I was contacted by a friend who’s doing booking for a bar in Canton (the Baltimore neighborhood, not the town) asking “Do you ever perform live? Do you wanna?” And so I’ve got my first paying music gig in over a year, and my first full evening one in several years. (Which means a flurry of practicing some dusty parts of my repertoire the next week or two. If you’re local and free August 1st, come on out!)

That’s just how it goes with Starwood. Besides the friendships and the personal connections (I’m still fanboying that my learned colleague Ian Corrigan specifically asked me to come to his talk on Pagan theology) and the brilliant speakers (like Phil Farber telling tales about Robert Anton Wilson and George Carlin), a tremendous amount of magical energy gets raised. It can change your life. (By “magical” here I don’t mean anything supernatural, but that’s a topic for another time.)

This was my sixteenth Starwood, and my thirteenth as a presenter. I would not be who I am today, this blog would not exist nor would Why Buddha Touched the Earth, without it. It’s something I always look forward to, but I really needed it this year. The months before had just about exhausted my supply of cope, from day job stress to behind-the-scenes chaos at FSG to an emotionally draining unexpected meeting with an ex-girlfriend. (The last was long-term positive in that necessary things were said, but it was a difficult moment.)

The Starwood (2015) Bonfire. Photo by the author.
The Starwood (2015) Bonfire. Photo by the author.

So by July 3rd, the Friday before Starwood, I was ready to roll. I like that my road to Starwood takes me through the mountains; “All true paths lead through mountains,” as Gary Synder’s Smokey the Bear Sutra says, and even when the journey is by car rather than on foot there is something about crossing the rough terrain that makes the trip seem more significant than the flat road to the beach.

I went early partly to catch the “X-Day” festivities of the Church of the SubGenius, when dues-paying SubGenii will be picked up by the flying saucers from Planet X…one of these years. Since the Xists failed to appear and the world didn’t end, X-Day was pretty chill, an opportunity to rest and finish up some writing and play guitar and just hang out. Starwood proper started Tuesday, with the opening ritual led by Ian Corrigan and Liafal — watching them is a master class in ritual in itself. This year, though, the spiral dance somehow managed to cross in upon itself. It took a while to sort out but I took the chaos as a blessing from Lady Eris.

By Wednesday I’d been on site for several days so I had to run into town to do laundry, returning just in time to do my first workshop, an introduction to shiatsu and acupressure.

And let me tell you: for the rest of the festival, everyone who attended that workshop waved to me, offered me food or drink or a place to sit in the shade or out of the rain. Making people feel good in their bodies is an excellent way to make new friends.

Another way is to play music for people, and I got to do that at the Bardic Stage Wednesday night. On that big stage with the lights shining at you you’re never quite sure if anyone is out there paying attention, so I was happy when someone complimented me on one of my original songs the next day.

One thing this year’s Starwood reminded me was that my day job in software was originally supposed to be a temporary undertaking, something to allow me to make a living as I ramped up my shiatsu practice. I’ve let than languish, though it’s not a horrible thing since I wrote a book in the meantime. And it’s no shame to have a day job; I often reflect on how Thoreau supported himself as a surveyor. But it’s time to press forward on making more of my living from the arts: the healing arts, the martial arts, the literary arts, maybe even the musical arts and the visual/photographic arts. And James Gyre’s workshop on “Social Media Magic” gave me a few ideas about how to move on that.

Thursday morning they gave me the 10am workshop slot, so I had to get up early to talk about Zen Paganism. (Yes, 10am is early, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) But a handful of people got up to join me, and even didn’t fall asleep when we ended with ten minutes of zazen. The weather even cooperated, with the heavens refraining from opening up until I was done.

Oh yes, did I mention the rain and the mud? It was a significant presence, though not horrible, and the sun came out Friday afternoon to dry things out in time for the big bonfire Saturday night.

But first Saturday morning (not the early slot, thank goodness) had me presenting on “Building a New Myth for the Mature Masculine.” And here’s where Starwood really shines. I’d given this talk twice before and had a pretty well planned out presentation about some archetypes of different elements of masculinity. But I ended up with such a thoughtful group of men and women attending that we veered off into a lively — but respectful — back-and-forth discussion about gender in general, and we never got to the part about the archetypes! Not to fear, though, nothing is wasted: the talk as planned will be adapted into a series of posts here in the near future.

Holi at Starwood. (Note this has been cropped and blurred to remove identifiable faces -- please be careful about sharing photos of people at Pagan events.)
Holi at Starwood. (Note this has been cropped and blurred to remove identifiable faces — please be careful about sharing photos of people at Pagan events.)

Saturday also had me doing something new, my first foray into event photography. I was walking around doing some nature photography on Friday afternoon when my friend Tracy recruited me to take photos of the Holi party she’d arranged for Saturday afternoon. I now have the joy of two friends having set their Facebook profile photos to pictures I took. I haven’t been so proud of a visual arts accomplishment since Mom hung that fingerpainting on the refrigerator all those years ago.

Then Saturday night, the bonfire. It’s big. It’s fire. What more can you want? I went around giving out wine and chocolate. And that’s another excellent way to make friends.

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