If there's one thing that awakens my fear of aging and death, it's a music festival that I'm not attending. There's the feeling of missing out on an eternal summer: photos of beautiful people in their flower crowns, crop tops and fringe, evoking feelings of first times and the wonder that comes from new makeouts with other beautiful people, new drugs and seeing your favorite band live.
My own time spent as a teenager at music festivals was not exactly idyllic like this. Either I was not getting fucked up because it conflicted with my eating disorder—I was afraid alcohol would make me fat and weed would give me the munchies—or I got so fucked up that I ate everything, tried to make out with not-beautiful people and then got dragged around in a black-out. I'm not really good at having fun.
Yet, in spite of this retrospective clarity about the way things really were, I still yearn to go back. Perhaps it's because I never experienced the fantasy of youth as I imagine it should be. It's like, I feel nostalgia for something that never existed. Maybe it never exists for anyone like that, at least, not in the way youth is made to look on blogs, Instagram, and in ads. Still, when I see photos of people at music festivals, I feel an ache in my heart. Such is the nature of romanticization.
This year, tired of feeling FOMO, I decided to go to the FYF Festival in Los Angeles and perhaps try to live out my fantasy. If nothing else, I thought I might at least see some suffering amongst the younger festivalgoers up close—a line for the port-o-potty, a bad shroom trip—something to debunk the grandiose fantasies that cause me pain.
For the first day of the festival I had a very special goth-youth-eternal summer-dream-makeout outfit planned. Then I got my period, a week late, and the outfit didn't fit. I felt gross, and not feeling gross is crucial to my festival fantasy. I didn't go. I pretended my bed was FYF.
On the second day, it took me 90 minutes to get into the entrance of the festival, because I parked in the wrong place and have spatial issues. I was glad that I wasn't on acid or shrooms, because if I had been tripping I never would have navigated my way in. I probably wouldn't have made it out of the car.
Once inside the gates, I was also glad that I didn't have a crush with me. The language of big, organized events can be embarrassing when you have to say certain words—like "voucher"—out loud in front of a crush. Also, as I hurriedly made my way to one of the stages, I felt self-conscious that I looked like I was "marching" to the beat of the music. I felt like people were watching me (they weren't) and tried to walk on opposite beats.
But other people weren't so self-conscious. At Girlpool, I talked to Lev—one half of a beautiful, 17-year-old festival-going pair.
"It's just good to be in the moment, not looking to the future, just embracing everything as it is right now," he said. He and Natalie, the other half of the pair, said they were "sort of together."
Natalie wore her long, thrifted Goodwill floral dress, bleached-out hair and chewed off red lipstick immaculately. She said she felt that "17 is a great time to be alive, because you're not close to old but you can do more stuff than when you're 15." Good for her.
Some of my friends were roaming around the festival, but I didn't make an effort to find them. I liked being alone. At one point, I sat on the ground in an outdoor area called "The Woods" watching all the kids on molly dance as Leon Vynehall DJ'ed. I became hypnotized by the sounds, also captivated by their different styles and apparent happiness. I remember when I used to take ecstasy at clubs in my late teens. Instead of dancing, I preferred to just recline in a big chair—particularly when the ecstasy had heroin in it—not speaking, just watching and feeling. Back then I always felt ashamed of going to events by myself, but now I don't feel like I have to defend it so much. Like, I'm more OK with being an introvert. Score one for being old.
So are festivals a good place for introverts? I talked to Chaz Bundick, known by his artist name as Toro Y Moi, about this. He was wary.
"Festivals are just like being thrown into a giant social gathering, like, OK, hold your breath, try to remember people's names," said Bundick. "I wanna do what I gotta do here and then sort of go back to my hole, recluse back to wherever I came from. I'm not much of a socialite. I'd rather hang out at a friend's house or my house than go to a bar."
But he did have fond memories of his first festival.
"The first time I went to a music festival was in Columbia, South Carolina, and it was called Fallout. It was about as South Carolina as you can imagine. Filter played, Incubus played, not the most ideal bands, like I wasn't really into those bands, bands like Puddle of Mudd, that kind of stuff. But that was my first time being in a crowd of people, smelling pot for the first time, seeing crustpunks for the first time, people that I'd never seen being in high school in the suburbs. That was definitely an amazing experience. And still to this day I talk about it all the time."
The difference between Bundick's experience of music festivals then and now made me wonder if the ability to be totally swept up and captivated by these events is relegated to novelty and youth.
At one point, I thought I spotted a sullen teen—seated by the fry truck, dressed in all black with heavily kohl-lined eyes (I would say "soft goth"), no older than 16, sadly dipping a fry into some ketchup. Her name was Emily. But when I asked her if she was having a good time, her pale face brightened with delight.
"Oh, yeah. It's so amazing! The vibe and the music. It's the best environment to meet new people because if you guys are listening to the same music it's already something you have in common. Live music is a whole different level of thing. It's like… the vibes. It's soooooo raw."
Emily said she had been to four other festivals this summer, including Coachella. "It's heaven," she said.
Then I asked her about romance, if she had ever been to a festival and experienced love.
"Yeah, she said. "Last night. I think he's really cute. But I don't know his name so I have him saved in my phone as 'blue shirt.'"
"Do you think you'll ever hear from him again?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "He's meeting up with me in ten minutes."
The closest I came to experiencing heaven for myself was at Nicholas Jaar in a seat high above the crowd, in the dark, watching the people morph into swaying shadows, then joyful ravers, then sort of like a Nazi Youth rally, waiting for their next aural command. It was cool watching Jaar be the puppeteer of so many people.
I decided to go down onto the dancefloor. In the heat of those bodies, I found this one gorgeous boy and sort of danced my way over to him. He was early 20s, scruffy, wearing a weird blazer, but otherwise perfect. I wanted to ask him to kiss me. I wanted to be like, "Hi, can you just kiss me totally anonymously in the dark?" I wanted to script the kiss, the way Jaar was commandeering the crowd: dance up against him, maybe bump teeth or tongues to teeth. I felt that the anonymity would be almost like a first kiss. Also, I would be emotionally safe, because we wouldn't exchange numbers and I wouldn't have to wait for a text. It could be the total fantasy. Then I saw he was with a girl. So I didn't approach him further. I felt stupid for thinking I wouldn't have seemed creepy. I felt sad.
As I left the arena, I was intercepted by a tweaker—about my age, probably—a white bro with dreads. Never good. He tried to touch me—first on the shoulder, then the waist. I kept walking and looked at my phone. He followed me.
He said, "Texting texting texting texting texting."
I said, "Get the fuck away from me."
It's never the ones I want who follow me. Even when the follower in question is not a tweaking harasser, the reality of being pursued does not match my fantasies. Perhaps this is because I need distance to make things beautiful. Perhaps it's because the adrenaline of want makes everything gleam a little shinier. As a fantasist, I am always the wanter, even when the fantasy involves being wanted. Such is the case with youth. It looks so delicious now that I want it. But back then I just wanted out.
So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its anonymous author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of abiweekly column on this website.