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Sam's 2016 FSA Letter

Dear Lynn:

Hi. I'm reaching out to you because I'm really upset when I think about some things that happened the final night of last year's FSG. I don't like how I and people I care about were treated. I was quite angry after the event and it's only now that I'm getting to a place where I can discuss the situation with compassion. I'd like to engage with the appropriate parts of FSA, and I hope you'll facilitate that. I'll note up front that I reserve the right to share anything I receive with others, potentially in a public forum.


I'd like to figure out whether FSG and FSA are a community where I can meet my needs for safety and respect.

Both my concerns focus around how the FSG staff approached the rain the final night of the event and the decision to cancel the fire circle and move drumming and dancing to the dance pavilion. I am not here to question that decision: there was a lot of rain, and part of running an event is making calls like that.

I raised some concerns with Tom Swiss about how and whether I would be able to participate in the dancing at the pavilion. I was very unhappy with the results; I wrote up my feelings at https://venus-ardens.org/blogpost39-Rage-and-Anger-I-am-Human#comments

I'd appreciate it if you would stop reading this note and come back after you've read that blog post; I don't want to copy something that long here, but it's really important to understanding my point.

[I've chosen to fold the referenced blog post into this letter when presenting both in a public forum., Sam 02/23/2016]

 Referenced Blog Text


[This post was written June 22, but published later after extensive editing.]
Much of what I write here is about growth I've done. This is a time where I'm writing about growth I still must do. I'm filled with rage, anger and shame. I'd like to share that to be open about that process and explore how I work through these strong feelings. I'm not sharing this as an attack or judgment of anyone else involved.
In the festivals I go to, I'm known for dancing naked around the fire. I'm proud of my work around the fire; I'm happy that I can help create a place for others to do their work. I've written about my first dances and a more recent dance. Saturday, June 20 was the final night of FSG, the festival where I first found the fire.
Unfortunately, rain got in the way of the dance. Instead of dancing around the fire, staff announced we'd dance in the dance pavilion and place some candles in the middle of the circle to represent the fire.
I was looking forward to the fire. I had been nervous about the weather, but multiple Primal Arts folks had assured me that they would help me out and when I was ready to go they would make sure I got back to my cabin. I felt connected and warm because people I honor and respect valued my participation enough to go to significant inconvenience to help me feel welcome and safe.
One nice thing about these fires is that they're hard to miss. As I'm dancing, the heat of the fire provides a really good landmark for navigation. I wasn't sure about this candle plan, so I decided to talk to Tom Swiss. I suggested it might not be safe for me with the candles; it would be hard for me to notice them before I tripped over them. He said that he'd work something out. I also asked which staff would be there that I could ask for help when I wished to leave. He wasn't sure but would get back to me. It was clear he didn't have time for the conversation we'd had, and didn't have time for any more interruptions. That was unfortunate, because I really needed to go to the bathroom, and I didn't feel comfortable navigating to the bathroom and back. I was scared and sad; I'd gone from a situation where I was welcome and safe to one where I didn't know who I could turn to and where I felt uncomfortable about my most basic needs. I was hoping that even if Tom was too busy to help he could point me at someone.
I decided to go over and see if I could help out the folks protecting the candles. The preferred plan was to put a hula hoop around the edge of the candles, but there were no hula hoops to be found at the moment. There didn't seem to be any intent to affix the hoop to the ground. I was fairly sure that I'd be regularly bumping into whatever was chosen, so this plan seemed dangerous. I tried to talk to people about what might work better but it was clear they were too busy to brainstorm with me; I wasn't able to get their attention. I did find someone to help me get to a bathroom. When I got back, the hula hoop had been abandoned in favor of a loose rope placed on the ground around the candles. I walked the rope several times but my apprehension continued to build.
Around then, the drummers began to get prepared. I exchanged hugs and was reminded of how much I value the community and being part of it. The drummers at least were happy I was there.
We began. You can't just remember a space. You need things you can use to correct for errors that accumulate over time; we engineers call this negative feedback control. As a result, on about 70% of my rounds, I'd run into the rope. It was made harder because the rope was an irregular figure and every time you disturb it, its shape changes. I kept stumbling past the rope.
I was worried that what I was doing wasn't very safe. Around a fire, safety is really serious. There's a fire crew that is ultimately responsible for safety. This is great, because you can go talk to them if you have concerns about safety. I've done this. They tend to be smart folks and actually think about velocity, mass and the physics and have been really helpful in understanding what's really dangerous and what looks worse than it is. I needed that understanding; I was sure I could find any number of people who could give the simple answer "near candles bad." However, I wanted understanding, consideration of what I could do to make things better, and more than cursory thought to how bad they actually were. Since we didn't have fire, there was no obvious parallel to the fire crew. There was no one I felt comfortable talking to who I thought would actually understand the real risks involved and work with me. My frustration with my inability to make things better grew and compounded my fear about my inability to get out of the space or to have basic needs met.
As best I can tell, people watching also thought it looked unsafe, and absent any real authority started making their own decisions.
Some people decided to start dancing with me. To the person with the percussion block, that was fun. Once we figured out a reasonable balance of weight to give for both of us, that worked really well and was very fun. I was having complex feelings. about people just coming up and dancing with me. While the experience was great, I was unhappy that I didn't understand the other person's needs nor did I feel connected because there was no way they understood what I wanted. Someone just danced up and grabbed my hand, no communication, no discussion. Were they getting involved because they wanted to dance with me, or because they felt they had to in order to maintain safety. I would have preferred more communication, and don't really think that just dancing with someone (without that communication) is a reasonable way to address a safety issue. I found myself more in a trance state than I liked in that space, so I left the circle to ground.
Later, when I re-entered the circle, I ran into someone. On the next round, I ran into the same person. "Hi. How can I avoid running into you," I asked. "I'm Craig, one of the medics," he said. "Hi, Craig, how can I avoid running into you?"
"I'm here because you were running into the candles."
Ah excellent. Someone in reasonable authority decided that they would body-check me on every round to prevent me from running into the candles. I was filled with rage. I am human; I need to be treated as someone who has needs and whose input is worth considering. I do not expect that my needs will trump the safety of others or of the facility. However, I need to be involved in decisions about how I will be treated. I am hurt and angered when I am physically manipulated without consultation to address the needs of others.
I also felt incredible shame. I felt that I ought to be able to solve this; I ought to be able to demand to be treated with dignity. I didn't want to fight against the hectic demands on the staff to demand that dignity. I didn't want to fight what I saw as inevitable explanations of the importance of safety. I wanted to be heard not as challenging safety but as searching for something that worked for me and everyone else.
I felt guilt that I was letting the drummers down.
I was sad when I felt the contrast. Previously, I'd been encouraged to join the fire by people who were happy enough to have me there to work with me to make sure I felt safe and had a way home. With the transition to the new plan in the dance pavilion, even going to the bathroom was something that was hard and that I couldn't count on. Asking for my needs to be valued seemed like it was more than I could handle at the time.
These strong feelings were entirely incompatible with being in sacred space. So, I left and when I eventually found myself safe in the shower at my cabin cried the tears of shame and rage that I had been holding in.

No Duty to Complain

I was not in a position to raise any concerns Saturday night. When facing this sort of shame I don't think we have an obligation to ever raise our concerns. We get to decide whether it's worth the cost of being vulnerable and opening ourselves to a discussion of our concerns. If it takes us a while to get there, I don't think we lose our right to complain or our place in line or anything like that. Obviously, if I wanted to participate in the dance Saturday I'd need to raise my concern during that dance. Equally obvious, FSA cannot be expected to be aware of my concerns until and unless I choose to inform them. We can ask why FSA acted as they did in the first place, but I do not expect them to respond or change unless informed.

Sharing to Share

I'm writing this to share my feelings. By being open, by admitting the same and hurt I feel, it's easier. It's easier for me to realize this is a part of being human, a part of feeling. It helps me get past judging myself and helps me grow stronger.
I'm sharing this in the hope that you'll find parallels, and that together we'll be able to draw strength realizing this is part of facing the world.
I'm not sharing this in the hopes that FSA will address the situation. This post is about me being open about my feelings. If I want to suggest to FSA that they do something different, I can go write to them. If I want to decide to just walk away from FSG and spend my energy places where I feel more connected and less shame, I can do that. I'll decide how I'm going to respond later; now I'm just processing my feelings and healing from the experience.
Thank you for taking the time to read and understand.


At the same time as FSA staff were deciding for me what my needs were, I think our community significantly let down the folks down at the the fire who had put in their time and energy. They did build a fire. No one took the time to go consult with them about the decision to cancel their event. No one from staff even chose to inform them. According to multiple folks I've talked to from the Primal Arts community, no one from staff notified folks down by the lake that the event had moved, nor engaged them in earlier discussions about the weather. Lee Harington said that when he learned from staff that no one had talked to folks down by the lake he went and conveyed the message.

I am sad and disappointed thinking about both these incidents for essentially the same reason. The FSG staff did not act with empathy and compassion, deciding others' needs without involving them in the discussion.

Even if staff could not imagine what the folks down by the lake would say to change the decision, their input could have been sought before a decision was made. Staff could have worked with folks down by the lake much earlier to ask questions like whether having a dance at the upper fire circle would be a better alternative. Even if the decision was made to cancel, someone making that decision could have talked to the people who put in hard work building a fire that would not be used, letting those folks know that they are a valuable part of our community.

When I asked about my safety and whether I could participate I could have been involved in figuring out the answer to that. When people thought I was being unsafe, someone could have asked me to talk to them and together we could have found a solution. If the answer was the staff really didn't have the spoons for me to safely participate and lit candles were critical to others participating, someone could have taken the time to share that with me with compassion. When I asked who I might depend on being able to get ahold of/how to ask for help, someone could have actually answered and gotten back to me. If the answer really was "we're not going to be around here in any official capacity," they could have told me that. I might have been disappointed, I might have suggested that it would be better if things were different in the future, but I would not be hurt and questioning whether the community has value to me.

In order to have my needs met in the community, we'd need to be more like what I describe in the last couple of paragraphs and less what I and those down by the lake faced at the last FSG.

I'd like to engage and figure out whether our needs are aligned. Thank you for working with me. I'd appreciate a note acknowledging receipt. Beyond that I do hope you will either engage or help facilitate a discussion with the right folks within FSA.

Finally, I really appreciate your help at the last FSG when I did need to leave sacred space; you said you'd get me help and you delivered on your commitment. That was greatly appreciated.

--Sam

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Page last modified on Tuesday February 23, 2016 19:10:19 GMT-0000 by hartmans.