Why Michfest Matters

Though the particular idea for Voices From the Land came to me as I was pouring over scattered Facebook posts and so many energized and smart letters addressing the LGBT organizations who had participated in the Equality Michigan Petition against the Festival, the idea of collecting and documenting the Festival has been with me since the first time I stepped foot on that Land eight years ago. Like so many of you, I knew immediately that what I was witnessing on the Land was unlike any thing I had ever seen, unlike anywhere I had ever been and was therefore beyond anything I could have imagined. We are embarking on this community experiment together. I am grateful. And I am hopeful.

As a Michfest videographer for the past eight years, I have had the privilege of sitting with so many of you. You’ve looked into my camera and told stories that I couldn’t imagine having the words for, let alone the courage to tell. I’ve struggled to hold my camera steady while tears streamed steadily down my face more than once. Some stories have been shared off the record, after the camera was put down and we were just two womyn sitting together in the tall grass. You’ve shared your recovery, your love affairs, how you learned to love your body, your progression from the shy shower, about the grove of trees where you scattered the ashes of your best friend or the woman you called your wife. You have squarely faced the lens, cleared your throat and said thank you and good-bye to the Land knowing that you would likely die before the following August. You have recounted chance conversations that altered the course of your life. You’ve spoken about how you took claim of your own desires and began to make love on your own terms. You’ve spoken about how you learned to take up space by stating your truth out loud in a room full of womyn who listened.

I’ve seen teenage girls scamper up trees without their shirts or shoes on – strong and wild. I’ve watched you teach your six year older daughter how to hold and operate a drill. I’ve heard you say you were not physically strong only to see you swinging a sledgehammer like you were born to do it just two days later. I have seen you shoulder the weight of a womon who just received news so devastating that she could not breathe. And I’ve seen you genuinely laughing, relaxed in the sun, open faced, bare shouldered, not a trace of the armor we all wear in the world.

Those stories are what I hear when I walk the Land. Your stories, in addition to my own, are what I hear when I sit down to write about that beautiful, wild and complicated place so many of us refer to as Home. I am so deeply honored to be a witness.

When I put out a call for your stories, it wasn’t because I imagined this collection would be incredible and powerful. I knew it would be. I am not asking whether or not you have stories to tell. I know that you do. Some of you have said to me that you are not writers and that your fear about not being good enough is a knot that is sitting in your chest on top of your words. I so want for you to hear that you are a writer once you commit that first word to the page, any page. You are already better than you think. Your stories will write themselves. I truly believe that and I believe in you. Your sisters believe in you.

Words have energy and power. Words are social currency. Words stay with us long after we hear them. Much of the bruising to the heart and legacy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been done with the written word. In my personal life, I reach for certain book passages or emails from from friends when I am struggling through something. Ironically, most of those struggles are born from the words I use against myself. It’s hard to remember that our words have more impact than we think. I believe that only good can from come from taking responsibility and ownership for the way we use our words.

I am endeavoring to create a space where we use our words to convey the meaning of our own experience. Voices from the Land is about the Festival and from the Festival Community but it is also a space where we are liberated from public debate about the Festival. I am committed to building a space with you where there is nothing to defend. One of the the most noted aspects of Festival experience is how undefended we are on the Land. There is simply no disputing that you were released from 25 years of shame by unbinding yourself from the secret of your rape, there is no disputing what your mother’s face looked like when she quietly but excitedly whispered to you at the Acoustic Stage that she hadn’t put a bra on that morning for the first time in almost 60 years, no one can discredit how it felt to walk alone through the dark of the woods unafraid. Those things just are. On the Land, we just are.

These stories of ours matter because someday we will all be gone – even the youngest amongst us now. I have a recurring image that as that happens, the work we did together, the ways we have loved one another, the ways we emancipated ourselves and honored our cunted bodies, the things we’ve said, the ideals we envisioned – and specific and unique reality that we built in service to those ideals will alchemize, distill and be inherited by girls and womyn whose faces we will never see. We are ancestral memory. Ours will become the stories those girls and womyn read, and the ones they simply intuit. As we go, we will become one with the same Voice that whispered in the ear of a nineteen-year-old working class dyke from Bay City Michigan, that she should begin. And that she should persist. Always persist.

Your story. Your experience. Your words. Let’s talk about Michfest.

– Sara St. Martin Lynne

October 2, 2014

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