Yesterday’s post was inspired by the experience I had the night before at the Fremont Arts Council’s annual Winter Solstice Feast. Just as we’ve taken part in the Summer Solstice Parade, my family has in recent years added this event to our traditions. Up until the last minute I hadn’t expected to be able to attend, not because I wasn’t free that evening, but because I didn’t think I could find the time to help with “the build.”
Almost everything the FAC does involves a “build” requiring an all-hands-on-deck effort to pull off. We never have any money, so we count on the arms, legs and talents of our members to make it happen. Most of what people see in the parade, for instance, is the result of the community descending upon the Powerhouse (our headquarters) for a frenzied month of working together to make the floats, costumes, and giant puppets that will fill the streets of Fremont on the year’s longest day. The Feast works the same way, with everyone pitching in to prepare whatever large, abandoned space the FAC’s founder, artist, and former Woodland Park parent Peter Toms can secure for us. This year our 500-person potluck was in the former Ballard Library, which is a bit smaller than some of our past venues, but in many ways all the better for it. If you want an invitation, you have to show up and help. When I unexpectedly found myself with a free Saturday afternoon, I beat it to the space to arrange and decorate the first aid room, among other things, thus earning my invitation.
I was particularly excited to be there because a committed contingent of Superhuggers had installed a “hugging wall” adjacent to the coat area. This idea was inspired by artist Keetra Dean Dixon (who I previously linked to here) whose idea was expanded to include three sets of hugging arms protruding from a pink fabric wall.
My friend Barbara was eager to demonstrate how it worked when I arrived on the scene, jumping behind the screen to animate a pair of sleeves. We should have anticipated this, but when you can’t see the person you’re hugging it’s very easy to accidentally place hands in thrilling places. It wasn’t difficult to imagine our innocent, lovely hugging wall, in the wrong hands, becoming an opportunity for anonymous groping, a potential that quite frankly made it an ideal Feast installation. (In a beautiful turn of the tables, our installation was early on taken over by a gang of kids ranging from 5-14 who filled the arms all night long, giving it a brightly innocent aspect throughout the evening.)
There were several other installations, including a fir bough enclosed entry path, Peter’s sculpture of a large rectangular prism of ice being slowly filleted as it melted by a pair of 7-foot tall iron scimitars, gigantic chandeliers, a trippy tea room, cozy cuddle spaces, and walls of strange and magical headdresses hanging from fir and pine branches for the guests to wear.
One of the things that tires me out about the holidays is that it often feels like it’s all about just going to different places to have conversations, which is fine as far as that goes, but sometimes I want to do things with the other people. That’s why I like to spend my Feast either dancing or “working.” This year I chose to staff the door for the bulk of the evening, which I quickly turned into a quest to touch every single person who came or went by establishing the precedent that the toll for crossing the threshold was a hug. And not just some shoulder-tapping, air-kissing hug, but a real one involving full body contact and time to feel it. I spent nearly 4 hours hugging every single person who passed through the door. Oh boy, that was fun!
I was wearing my owl costume, which covers my torso in silk feathers and gives me an impressive wingspan via a complicated fan of armpit stitchery. It’s already a touchy-feely community and my little piece of impromptu performance art met with responses ranging from indulgence to enthusiasm. After awhile, I started insisting that everyone “hug to the left,” so as to place our hearts together, then vibrating deep, transcendental “oms” into one another’s chests. This is a particularly powerful thing to do with other men, as it’s easier to get ribcage-to-ribcage, and our lower tones harmonize into a remarkably resonate vibration, not that I didn’t get there with women as well. I imagined our souls were connecting for those brief moments. I was often pulled in by the peaceful power of what felt like ancient souls, while in others I sensed an adolescent restlessness at their core.
Many of the hugs were bawdy or subtly sexual. I liked those a lot. Others were heavy with sadness and need. I gave those people as much time as they wanted. Many took it on perfunctorily, an approach I worked hard to shake by making them stand there with me, forcing eye contact, not letting go until we had a real moment. There were a few who enthusiastically shared my “duties” for a time, partnering me in the effort, giving and receiving hugs from friends and strangers, spreading a little love.
The best hugs, of course, were the ones returned to me with equal energy. Pow! We both wanted to be there. We understood. We were pure love.
This is the experience I have every morning at school as the children arrive. We're so happy to see each other. And there is nothing more magnificent than the hugs I get from the 2-year-olds when they crowd around my stool at the end of the day. We are so grateful for the time we’ve been together. I’m proud when I get to share that kind of unqualified acceptance with adults. We forget how easy and how wonderful it is.
This probably sounds a little crazy to some of you, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
The hugging walls photos were taken by Hank Graham. Here’s a link to the rest of his photos from the Feast.