Saturday, May 16, 2015

Psytrance, trance, trance culture

Deep in the Heart of Trances: dance floor 8am Sunday
Someone asked me about trance and trance culture and out of curiosity, I googled it. I wasn't really satisfied with some of what came up, so... though I’m far from an expert, I have learned a little in these past five years. Here is how I see or experience trance (primarily psytrance) and trance culture. Other people will experience it differently – there’s room for us all. Speaking of which, Hey older people! If you liked festivals in days gone by, these events are basically everything you probably wanted a festival to be, except the music is different. Hit me up if you want to go to one of these.
Here is a link to a soundtrack for this journal entry. Just click and play in a different window and click back to here... Aes Dana - Summerlands (chill) or Alwoods - Psychedelic Dream (faster).
Into the forest!
Of course there is the music, but the culture is about more than music. There are shared values and views – including a high value placed on transformation and growth, and an openness to other people’s values and views. For me, trance culture is more about the people and scene than the music per se.
Psytrance! Here is what it’s like. To begin, you have to find out where and when an event is being held. Some of the big ones like Lucidity, Enchanted Forest, Lightening in a Bottle, and Ozora are widely advertised. The smaller ones are discovered via friends, flyers, Facebook, and so on. I want to focus on smaller events, which I prefer over the larger ones (easy to connect with people, easy to find quiet space, and not as much craziness as at some of the larger ones). 
Armadillo Acres
The gatherings are nearly always outside – such as in a forest, at a beach, or desert. Typically there is a drive of at least several hours to an obscure country setting. When you get close there may be one or two small cryptic signs that you have to look for to see.
Down some narrow road and through a gate and you’re on a one lane dirt lane now, winding through trees and ahead is a shade shelter, table, and two or three people (if it’s after dark, there will probably be sparkling lights). Pull over, get out, and walk to the table where you’ll usually receive a friendly greeting from the crew members (maybe my friend Ally Fiesta and me) working the gate. Sometimes the land-owners are at the gate, in which case, it’s more of a business transaction.
Sonic Bloom 2011 (Colorado)
Your ID will be checked, you’ll pay (for smaller festie, about $50 for Friday-Sunday – Not Bad!), and have a discussion about things like leave no trace camping and what to do if things get too intense.
Drive further along that one lane road, up hill and down dale, until you start to see scattered campsites with tents and canopies, sometimes with cars and trucks parked around. Some gatherings have no car camping, some have limited car camping, and at some, almost everyone is car-camping. Car-camping just means driving in and pitching a tent next to your car or truck. Some people sleep in their van or SUV.
Art Outside, near Austin, 2012

It’s a good idea to take some time choosing a campsite. Some people like to be as close as possible to the music and dance floor, while others like to be farther away. The music gets really really really LOUD, so some distance and not in a direct line with the direction of the speakers may be a good idea. Some people will have art or related materials at their campsite. I hang fabric woodblock prints I made as well as Tibetan prayer flags and crystals, and like at home, I always have an altar (there are also altars at the sound stages).
Set up your campsite. People are always willing to lend a hand if you need help. A nice hug is all the thanks anyone will want. You’ll have noticed by now a fair number of people with long hair, dreads, tattoos, piercings, feathers, and so on. And there will be a fair number of people with no outward counter-culture manifestations. Oh look, here comes a guy dressed in a giant bunny suit. Starting to feel like home!
Atrium Obscurum morning meeting
Let’s say it’s Friday afternoon. Sit back and relax OR walk to the dance floor or to the chill stage or dome or wherever to lend a hand setting up. It’s a good way to meet people and get started… there is high value placed on “co-creation” – in other words, these gatherings are not about passively attending, listening to the music, dancing, and so on. They are transformational gatherings, where we’re all involved in making it happen, i.e., co-creating – and in every case, working toward a higher vibe, a higher experience, a tranceformation for everyone.
For several years I’ve been a member of a crew – Atrium Obscurum – that puts on events. In addition to doing stuff that any crew member does like setting up, taking down, working the gate, and so on, I also bake cookies to bring (15-20 dozen, always with extra chocolate chips, of course) and I often present a workshop. More on workshops later.
Making deco, Kai and Tyson (Atrium Obscurum)
The sun is going down, but the music hasn’t yet begun. Maybe time to wander over toward the dance floor. Someone said something about a ceremony… sometimes the ceremony involves designated people wearing all white clothes with chanting and incense, and sometimes the ceremony will bring everyone in so that at some point there is a joining and swirling togetherness and the music starting up thump thump thump it’s really LOUD and this is really fun! The dance-trance ritual has begun.
At the events put on by Atrium Obscurum the music starts Friday night about 9 and stops Sunday about noon with the main climax happening from about 4 to 6 Sunday morning. There is a main stage for dancing and a chill dome for cooling out, though there is a lot of back and forth and at times there may be more people dancing at the chill dome than the main stage.
The Wave Farmers at Soul Rise near Austin
Into the night the tempo picks up and there are poi spinners and hooping, and other flow arts happening. People spinning with fire are off to the side for safety reasons there are lighted hoops and poi and it’s pretty to see. People are dancing and there are little groups of people sitting and talking with one another. Friday night is generally more subdued than Saturday. But the music never stops.
Saturday morning is quieter with the volume and tempo down. People are having coffee, yerba mate, and so on; cooking up some breakfast; wandering around, seeing friends; just a nice social time. Around noon or so, workshops will be starting (see below).
Art Outside
As the day unfolds into Saturday afternoon, the music tends to be mostly chill – for a relaxing day with old and new friends, taking a nap, taking it easy. I’m walking around, passing out cookies. There is a beginning anticipation of Saturday night.
There are artists set up beside the dance floor (which, by the way, is dirt or sand, usually shaded by trees and maybe a fabric shade). These are visionary artists who will paint or draw or otherwise create art throughout the gathering. Two of the artists you’ll sometimes see at Texas, Colorado, and other regional events are ChopsWanderweird and Chance Roberts.
Art Outside
As the sun goes down, lights begin to come on with some campsites having little sparkly lights and some having art light installations. There is someone else with a bunny suit on and there is someone with nothing on and someone with a tuxedo (no shirt of course) and some kandy kids are starting to come out and as night falls, the music is loud and good and people dancing and outside of the lights the darkness is good and it’s safe and if you need a hand, someone will help you. There are folding camp chairs and blankets (you brought your own, right) at the edge of the dance floor and it’s all a friendly and relaxed scene.
Artists working through the night
Into the night the tempo picks up and more people showing up on the dance floor – ecstatic dancing, being, laughing, swirling, stomping, yeah, this IS psytrance and you may realize that this music which you thought you didn’t much like is entering your self… The music and dancing continues well into Sunday morning, usually tapering off but not all the way off around 8 or 9 and mellowing out through the morning and finally stopping about noon. At least in the U.S., there will be almost no trash left as “leave no trace” is part of the trance/transformational festival ethos.
Workshop at gathering near Austin
Here is something I wrote a couple of years ago: Many of the people are from my tribe and to some extent (from a lot to a little) many seem to have hippie values. It is just so good to be around them. It feels good; it makes me happy. Now I’ve become friends with some of the people here and of course that’s even better. Some wonderful times hanging out, socializing at campsites.
I’ve experienced the transformational potential of the music, the dance, the dancers, the art – of the people who participate in other ways. The magic and the transformational potential is in the whole co-created milieu. A few weeks ago I spent time in a naming ceremony camped at the far edge of a festival. It was a perfect time and place in every way.
CK teaching re the end of life (honoring Adrian McF)
Of course there is ecstatic dancing, beauty, saying true things, euphoria, insight, validation, transformation, integration. I am amazed that I’m doing these things. At this age.
So, I’ve described a weekend of music, good times, and fellowship. How is this a “culture?” For some people it’s pretty much what they do, but for others, these events are an important part of life and liberation. Where else will we experience the freedom of ecstatic dance surrounded by others doing the same? Where else are values of peace, transformation, acceptance, and loving your neighbor so highly valued? Well, actually, these things are valued in other places – religious or spiritual settings, for example. But for me (and who else can I speak for?), there is no place or setting as conducive to growth, as accepting, as ecstatic, as connected as within trance culture.
8 o'clock Sunday morning on the dance floor
Music (from Wikipedia): “Psychedelic trance, psytrance or just psy (derived from the ancient Greek word ψυχή "psyche", mind; soul; breath; spirit) is an electronic music style characterized by arrangements of synthetic rhythms and complex layered melodies created by high tempo riffs… Psytrance lies at the hardcore, underground end of the diverse trance spectrum.” Think in terms of loud, repetitive, and usually very fast (140-150 bpm) electronic dance music played by DJs. There are what seem to be infinite genres, sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, and so on. You can read about some of the musical details via google.
InertG at Unify in Colorado
Drugs: Some people use drugs and some do not. Psychedelics and cannabis are the primary substances used, though there are also alcohol users. There are Sanctuary spaces for people having difficult experiences with psychedelics.
Sex: Drugs, sex, rock & roll! Not really. There is sensuality, but this isn’t a cruising scene. It’s a lot more about relationships and if sex is an outcome of a relationship, fine, but sex doesn’t seem to be the purpose. But maybe that’s just me, my age, and my relationships LOL. Suffice it say, all my experience in trance events says everyone is safe all the time. Have you ever been in a people pile? That’s where 5 or 8 or 15 or however many people will kind of pile up together just to be close and kind. Sweet. These are not a fraternity parties! Burner culture is apparently more overtly sexual, but I’m just repeating what I’ve heard on that.
Chops and Jeff at New Era Transmissions
Workshops: The workshops are an integral part of transformational gatherings. Throughout the day there are workshops on yoga, edible plants (a walk in the forest), flow arts, permaculture, and related. I’ve led several workshops on psychedelic healing in PTSD and at the end of life. People seem to be hungry to learn and share – to gather knowledge and understanding (tools for life) to take back to everyday life.
From my campsite near Dripping Springs
Spirituality: Some electronic dance music (EDM) events are just about the party, while some have a strong overlay or even foundation of spirituality (at least as I experience them). From the unification of ecstatic dance to the workshops on yoga and flow arts to the ethos of safety and belonging the focus stays on the human potential to be at one with one another and with nature. There is no dogma, no preaching at, no charismatic leader – rather, there are those old messages: You are beautiful, I am beautiful, we are One.

Here is a video on global trance culture, The Bloom Series. I told Leslie that it’s kind of an idealized view and she said that fits well with my view – and she was right.

And here is an earlier 7 Minute Psytrance Documentary. I showed this to Leslie to help her understand what I was doing. I think it played a small part in her being so supportive of my involvement with the psytrance scene - though she never cared much for the music and was a total non-camper.

My list of things to bring for a summer event in Texas
Some venues have water, electricity, cell reception; and some have no water, electric, or reception.
Day pack with flashlight, water, gum, Gatorade, DEET, anti-itch, lighter…
Ice chest(s) with yogurt, coffee, sandwiches, apples, ginger ale, Gatorade, water, protein drink. You need lots of ice in Texas!
Water 2 gal/day minimum for drinking – and you can actually get a fairly decent shower with 2 gallons of water (get wet, clean up, rinse)
Freezer bag food, Tabasco
Cooking pack with super cat stove and fuel
Mug, plate, plastic ware, paper towels
Medicine, fiber (all the necessities), batteries
Change of clothes
Jacket, cap
Sleeping pad [large or small]
Car air pump
Sleeping bag (non-REI) and/or fleece, sheet
Pillows, sheets
Fan (portable) with extra batteries
Insect repel
Fest box with decos – textiles, hangings, etc.
Mats for ground?
Phone and charger

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thank you

I’ve written a lot in recent months about pain and grief. Now I’m writing to say thank you to all the people who have reached out with kindness and understanding to David and me. And I’m writing to express my appreciation for Facebook for being an important means for us to be connected.
I want each one of you to know that every kindness, every memory, every visit, every practical assist, every listening heart, every hug, every prayer, every conversation, everyone who came to the memorial service, every phone call, every card or letter, every gift, every email, every message, every text, every heart, even every FB “like” – every everything – it all counted, it all helped. Thank you.

If I could sing only one song, I'd sing of you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Two months

May 5, 2015. Today is two months since Leslie passed from this life. It’s been an eternity. It’s been a hard, hard time. There have been some good times within these mourning times too – as I began to transition from a man defined by grief to a man who is grieving.
How momentous it was that I held you as you passed from this earth, this life. Life! I was beside you, embracing you, caressing you, whispering of love and your beauty. How I trembled, knowing what was to come. And then I was calm, I was sorrowful, I was in love. I was strong. I was pure.
At every turn I see how incredibly fortunate, how blessed I’ve been with your presence – your love – in my life all these many years.
And at the end, to hold you and whisper these things!
Yesterday was hard. I ran a lot of errands, including taking the wheelchair back to the medical supply place We were minorly ripped off for $50, but fuck it. I thought of how you became weaker and weaker, going from walking slowly but without assistance to needing a walker to needing a wheelchair… I drove by the house on Robin Road where you grew up, where we first kissed.
I got home around 1pm and thought I would take a nap. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted – I was weary as hell – that I lay down on the floor in the front room (I just couldn’t go any farther) and despite being cold, basically passed out.
When we were living on LaVista
You never believed me when so many times I told you how brave you are. You insisted that having fear meant not brave. I would say, “Hey man, I lived with some of the bravest men on earth. Being brave isn’t fearless; it’s going in despite the fear.”
To have known you through so many seasons of your beautiful life – from 16 to 70.
Today (Thursday) was better. I went to Whole Foods for breakfast – took my time, talked with someone from the gym, read the NYT. I came home and did the first steps in baking walnut bars. I went to Central Market for lunch and came home and finished the walnut bars. In the afternoon I got an email from the lawyer re probating Leslie’s will. I had a physiologic response to it – a wave of something bad.
Later I was thinking; later I cried – hard again – thinking of the momentousness of how it happened. Remembering the anguish of realizing your condition was deteriorating. Remembering the enormous relief seeing Dr. Lichliter coming down the hall…
First trip to Hong Kong
And later that awful night, embracing you. What an extraordinary thing – leaving life as you entered it: loved, adored. Leaving my life as you came into it: in this embrace of love and adoration.
I’m so glad I was able to do it – that I took care of you. It does not matter that you won’t be able to do it for me. It does not matter that you won’t be here to hold me as I pass away because we’ve done it already. It’s all been done. Complete.
Yesterday I said to John that I can’t tell any one person all the everything that’s happening – it would be too much. Then I thought, well, let’s just get it all out there… and so I wrote down all the bad stuff, and I wrote what sustains me, and I wrote what I’m doing to take care of myself (Adrian’s question).
Hard times between Leslie and me in November and December – the hardest days of our marriage (but some extraordinarily good times too)
The physical changes from unassisted to wheelchair-dependent
My great aunt Eloise died. We were not close in recent years, but still.
On Ko Samui (Thailand)
I found my brother dead. I was pretty sure then that he killed himself, but didn’t find out for several months.
John and I going through the huge volume of Tom’s stuff and finding things we’d rather not find – seriously.
Leslie’s condition worsening.
Leslie in ICU.
Leslie passing away – a 54 year love affair.
Working on all the paper, learning to pay bills on-line, dealing with banks, lawyers, people.
Filled with grief and gratitude.
The first month, crying so hard, sobbing, groaning, the pain. Then decreased frequency and intensity of crying, but then some stimulus (like taking the wheelchair back) and the deep crying that leaves me utterly exhausted. And then more stimuli – someone in my Bible study group’s wife died from MS. 20+ years of in sickness. Talk about the Hero’s Journey!
Finally received Tom’s amended death certificate: “toxic effects of fentanyl… overdose of prescription drug.”
Daily dipshit stuff – getting a parking ticket, bill from the m-fing surgeon who failed to manage Leslie’s pain, letters from Tom’s creditors. I’m pretty raw.

Through it all I am sustained by…
Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park, 2014
David – his presence, his help, his steadfastness.
Memories – how you and I loved so fully, without reservation; all our years together; knowing you through so many seasons of your beautiful life; your beauty; your incredible life of service/mercy/how you saw the beauty in others; how I took care of you when you were sick; how brave you were through the physical and cognitive changes; everything.
John – my brother, a good guy, helping in a thousand ways (and I hope I’ve been helpful to you too).
Jeff, who comes with the dust and is gone with the wind – and at the right time
Friends reaching out, being present.
Activities – working in the yard, baking, etc.
Future – I feel like I have one.
Being fairly healthy.
In front of a sex club 
Being actually pretty resilient.
David and Charles – you too, Jake.
Very little guilt or second-guessing.
(A couple of months in) I’m laughing as much as I’m crying.
The kindness of strangers/random people.

What am I doing to take care of myself?
Connecting with David.
Enjoying memories.
Hanging out with John.
Connecting with others, like David O, Ron, Shirin, Charles B, Jim Z, Melvin, Chris, Freda, Lance and Chhorvy, Shane, Jay, Sarah Spirals, Bill McF, Ally Fiesta, men in my Bible study group…
Experiencing fully the grief.
Evening bowl.
Monkey girl
Getting out: eating at WF, going to used bookstores, Central Market, talking with people, etc.
San Francisco!
Baking, working in the yard.
Not rushing (through grief, business stuff).
Reflecting on all the years of love and work and travel and just everything that went before. Having some of the photos I have has been huge – Leslie and Baby David, Leslie and David embracing a month before she passed, Leslie in Hue with David and me…
David, Charles, and Jake.
When we were working with refugees
It is good to be known – to live where people know you – some people already know what happened to Leslie and some do not. I went to place today where Leslie liked to go for lunch (Spec’s) and Katy, a young woman who works there (we would always go through her line) asked, “Where is Mrs. Kemp today?” I told Katy and she literally burst into tears. We talked and hugged and she told me that her great Grandmother and her good old dog had died last week. So Leslie’s passing triggered her grief…
Earlier I noted that the wife of a man in my Bible study group had died from MS. It had been a 20+ year journey. Epic. I went to the memorial service at my old church. I took a few notes…
January 2015
Exactly what I wasn’t looking forward to – people saying, “I’m sorry to hear about your wife…” And I’m wishing I wasn’t there. I sat in the back, to the side and then I saw two people I’m glad to see – Elvis and Joan. Then old Dave Kerr comes to sit beside me and then the first hymn and I realize Susie Grissom (a sweet person) is sitting on my other side. Glad I went to the restroom earlier and got some toilet paper, because the tears are coming down and before the first hymn is over I realize I’m in a good community and I’ll be coming back.
For better, for worse; in sickness and in health…