Outside Lands 2017

View of K. Flay ten yards from the epicenter.

Nestled between a bout of off-season flu and an eight-day existential crisis, the scheduling gods aligned for one foggy day of freedom. I decided to spend it weaving amongst the clumps of rancid porta-potties and artisanal taco trucks we call a music festival.

Defying all common sense, I brought my 12-year-old along for the ride. My stomach bucked and bobbed along the snaking entrance lines, wondering at my foolishness. At last propelled through the narrow nozzle of security, my bladder was already at maximum capacity, my bag dragging at one shoulder to counterbalance forty pounds of water and snacks. Must. Not. Complain. My job was to have a friggin’ awesome time, and to make sure it was contagious. Otherwise, why were we here?

As expected, the park was chock full of twenty-nine-year-olds—the “new nineteen!”— popping molly and strolling in white spa robes, or dressed as Super Mario, or waving totems plastered with Bill Murray’s face. I looked at my own ensemble of ripped jeans, Vans, and flannel. What a bunch of overgrown children, I thought, eyeing my sensitive child anxiously and forcing a weak smile.

But Miss Twelve grabbed my hand and plowed into great clouds of marijuana, into 50,000 fans abuzz with bass and adrenaline, bumping and dragging me until the warm bodies became an impenetrable wall. There in the epicenter, one could sing along at full volume, shout and laugh and pogo with abandon, all without attracting attention or judgement. So we did.

At one point, half a dozen strangers hoisted a man in a wheelchair over their heads. He sang too, arms afloat, head thrown back, silhouetted by a blanket of bright fog. The crowd was delirious.

From punk-hip hop to jungle house to indie folk, throngs throbbed and bore us six miles back and forth through the urban forest, laced and lit with a thousand colored lights. Bare limbs stretched like Dementors’ arms, now bright pink, now glowing green. Spotlights pierced the fog, rays of rock band sun, and music shuddered through the shadows to reach our ringing ears, even as we stood in line for $6 gluten-free cupcakes. And for eight hours straight, there was no middle school drama, no teenage drinking, no job search, no overdue bills.

On the bus home, Miss Twelve asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if Outside Lands was every day?”

“No,” I said. But we’ll be back next year.

 

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Prairie to Peak

The trail up Mt. Sabattus, which I've climbed every year since before I was born.
The trail up Mt. Sabattus.

I grew up in South Dakota, where the horizon rolls indefinitely in all directions. Hot summer days bred lightning storms and tornado warnings, whose zap and buzz and chartreuse cast I could see from miles away. Despite my Midwestern roots, however, I’m most content at the seashore or—better still–atop a mountain, drinking the view like water for my soul. My first hikes were before I was born, and I’ve sought them ever after–laughing, sweating, berrying, eating warm grapes and half-smashed sandwiches, uttering marriage vows, and spreading a few of my father’s ashes before God and Shawnee Peak.

Fears

Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com
Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com

Then

  • Clowns
  • The dentist
  • The basement
  • The dark
  • Getting lost
  • Getting lost in a dark basement full of dentists dressed like clowns
  • Escalators
  • The principal
  • Being a disappointment to my parents
  • Drowning
  • Caves
  • Mean girls
  • The Shining—never, ever read Stephen King books in grade school
  • Being tickled until I wet my pants
  • Juvie

Now

  • Jury duty
  • The mortgage
  • The Internal Revenue Service
  • Airport security
  • Serious illness
  • Insomnia
  • Mammograms
  • Hand guns
  • College tuition for my kids
  • Ignorance
  • Colonoscopies
  • Being a disappointment to myself
  • Termites
  • Alzheimer’s
  • The basement
  • The dentist
  • Clowns

Somehow stuck at 90 words today, but this note makes it 100.

****

I realize that was a total copout, but a) I’m human, and b) tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. I need to spend a little more time cooking, cleaning, and being grateful instead of tearing my hair out over ten words.

 

Through the Window

Photo credit: S. Carter
Photo credit: S. Carter. So yeah, this isn’t the window. It’s not open, and might not open at all. It doesn’t make sense with the text, but I figured the wrong image was better than no image at all.

 

I waited until everyone filed to the backyard for the party before locking the door and pulling it closed behind me. Suppressing a bubble of laughter, I picked at my potato salad, waiting for someone to need a fork, a drink, the bathroom.

Instead of a laugh, I got a teetering, terrified trip up an extension ladder to the roof, where I climbed through my sister’s bedroom window–the only one ajar.

Descending the stairs as squeamishly as I had mounted the ladder, I unlocked the door for my mother and a spanking–stinging more for its publicity than pain.

100 Words on Teaching

©2008 Beret Olsen
©2008 Beret Olsen

I had vowed never to teach: unending hours, little pay, no glory, plus—most damning for someone in their early twenties—both my parents had done so.

Yet somehow I could not stop myself when the time came to choose a path.

Over drinks, I would hear about my friends’ glamorous lives. I would moon over their law degrees, paychecks, publications, and wonder what I’d been thinking.

Later I would reach into my bag for my wallet, coming across a crumpled note that read, “I love you Miss Olsen.”

It reminded me what I had instead…and why I would stay.

A Slice from High School

from www.pratie.blogspot.com.
from http://www.pratie.blogspot.com.

Marnie and I hung out at Burger King, downing free refills of Diet Coke and baring our souls. We tried to buy beer; when that failed, we bought Wonder Bread, tucking slices under strangers’ wipers in the parking lot.

We wrote deranged poems and dialed random numbers to recite them. We laughed endlessly, helplessly.

She’s how I survived high school.

When we met again after freshman year of college, I was wearing a t-shirt bearing Ronald Reagan’s face with a line through it.

Marnie studied my shirt for a long moment before asking, “You’re a Democrat?”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

Bus Boycott

Image thanks to Don O'Brien.
Image thanks to Don O’Brien.

 

I once took the bus from Manhattan to Albuquerque.

With the money I saved, I bought a pair of purple cowgirl boots that I foolishly took to Goodwill–and frequently mourn.

The journey out was zen-like; we crossed into New Mexico as Aquarius played in my headphones, and the first perfect snowflakes tumbled from the sky.

On the way home, however, there were two arrests at the state border. A woman became suddenly and violently deranged, and we waited again for police. When the bus caught fire, I huddled on the side of the freeway, pledging to fly next time.