This essay first appeared in Exploits issue 21 on December 2, 2019. Edited by Ed Coleman.
When I moved to Orlando for school three years ago, everything felt bigger. Walking out of my dorm shortly after sunrise, I could see further in every direction than the built-up suburbs of my childhood. And on those clear, sunny days that mark Florida’s winter, there could be a dozen paral- lel and intersecting trails in the sky. Originating from one of the many airports in Central Florida, these paths inscribed a blank canvas with direction. There were so many to choose from: some coming and others going, some thirty thousand feet above and others roaring in descent, some to and from the parks while others to and from the beaches. On the ground still, Orlando is a literal crossroads. If you dip into the peninsula, say, on tour, then you’ll pass through. Or maybe you’ll play. Still, you might stay.
These, and many other paths, orient us to and away from different possibilities. Sara Ahmed’s metaphor, from Queer Phenomenology (2006), describes a phenomenon guiding both tourists in the parks and the people living in Parramore on the other side of Division street. The city’s benches, sidewalks and signs filter particular bodies down certain paths, orienting us to and away from others. The nondescript entrance of my freshman dorm and long walk to the dining hall pointed my gaze up, the signs around Lake Eola (and police enforcers) violently push the homeless out. When the path we are on orients us away from others, it can start to look like like it must have been formed by something beyond any person’s control. This is how anti-homeless design is naturalized and how theme parks maintain their facade. But when the crossroads before us already delimit our existence down the road, we must make our own path. Do it yourself, or die.
In 2019, I started going to shows, finding myself on a path I didn’t know existed before. Orlando DIY is what Ahmed would call a well-trodden path, paved in venues, group chats, promoters and impressed upon by every band and patron at each show. These paths form infrastructure, like the city’s roads and highways do. They are always changing and growing to facilitate our coming together. I’ll always remember a summer night in a tiny second-story apartment off Mills with no AC in what used to be a swamp on Seminole land. Yet like the city’s infrastructure, there’s friction in the scene too. That tiny second-story apartment was up a flight of stairs that filtered bodies out of our space.
What I like to think our DIY scene improves upon most of all is the on-ramps – or rather, the people that function as on-ramps. For me, these have been the familiar faces at bars, the conversations with strangers between sets, circles of people smoking or vaping outside. Talk about band shirts becomes catching up with one another becomes checking in on one another. They motivated me to leave my off-campus apartment during my most anxious nights of this year, all to hear so many bands I had never heard of. In these sites of vulnerability, that sincerity is more honest than any possibility on my previous paths.
The paths I was on before, in manhood, in heterosexuality, in higher ed, in the suburbs, turned me away from DIY. I’ve spent the past month failing to describe to family and colleagues the scale and significance of Fest; my mom can’t quite picture what a “show” at a bar or a house even looks like. The paths I was on before lamented “music these days” while disregarding the hundreds of local queers and punks struggling and thriving as they describe our very surroundings. Expert Timing, a wonderful trio that was one of my on-ramps into this community, describe the housing crisis and sense of displacement in our changing city. Mag.lo raps about nerd cul- ture, queerness and Blackness, making beats and rhymes that fit the soundscape of urban- ized Central Florida. (My friend and wonderful human being) Please Be Kind articulates the feelings of shared frustration and loss I’ve taken to DIY spaces to find solidarity and comfort in. I’m starting to see why those paths I was on before turned me away from this.
How we find these somethings matters. Our paths determine not just what we come into contact with, but also change how me may take something up or discard it as well. In my favorite album of this year, Orlando-based I Met A Yeti comes to understand self and all sorts of messy relationships through taking up animation.
The post-hardcore group wears these inspirations on their sleeve, going so far as to borrow proper nouns from the land of Ooo, the Grand Line and the world of Duel Monsters. Adventure Time is at the forefront of most of the lyrics, artfully performed by Daisy Chamberlin in the EP titled Camp Yeti. Concerned with an ambiguous subject and their relationship to the narrator, these are stories of painful contact as each make an impression upon the other.
Each song could be related to specific characters and relationships, and understanding these paths helps us make sense through the ambiguity. “Magic, Madness, and Sadness” and “All Magic Users Swim in the Loomy Gloomy” describe familiar characters, Finn the Human and Huntress Wizard – the bewitching botanist whose “leaves fall from their tepid hands.” The standoffish wizard, whose power, like all wizards, is tied to her madness and sadness, rejects her feelings for Finn out of a fear of growing weak with stagnation. In track four, “Honey Bee,” sweetness and thirst evoke the storied relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen, while the remaining tracks can be read through the character Simon Petrikov, Ice King. “Blue-Eyes White Yeti,” with an unclear connection to the monster card, is explicitly about borderline personality disorder. Given the surround- ing allusions, we can make meaning of the lyrics through Simon’s corruption into the Ice King, while “Cherry Blossom” painfully imagines the loss of a loved one (his wife, Betty; his ward, Marceline) as this corruption spreads. He literally turns blue (“now I’m feeling blue), forsaken to live in icy solitude (“in the spring I won’t be back”).
While I would totally watch an AMV set to it, Camp Yeti isn’t about Adventure Time. Set amidst the growth and decay of luscious foliage, the songs are about many kinds of messy relationships, mediated through love and illness. Allusion and metaphor abound as I have begun to make sense of my city through DIY. It’s not enough to have the philosophy, you need the people, together, all talking, singing, or yelling about what’s around us. All to say, “a charmed path exists in front of me.”