The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


Squam Interview on BlogHer

me, as seen by beth from more doors

I was tickled pink when Jen Lemen asked to interview me about my experience at Squam Art Workshops for her Art & Design column on BlogHer. You can read it here.

I'm concerned that my last post about Squam makes it seem like I had a lousy time there. That's not true. As usual, the truth is multifaceted. The truth is, I did feel socially awkward and like I didn't get the experience I'd hoped for. The truth also is that I met some wonderful people, made some exciting new friends, and learned a lot about art and myself. It's all the truth. The truth is messy. And I'm (learning to be) okay with that.

So if you're feeling like a social misfit and want someone to commiserate with, read my last post. But if you're wondering what it was like for a word-loving writer to be thrust into the woods with more than 100 image-making artists, read the interview.

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add to kirtsy | 1:35 PM | 6 comments


Only Connect: The truth I SAW

me, as seen by Melissa Piccola

I want to tell you the magical tale of 120 women (and a few men) in the woods of New Hampshire, gathered together for art making and soul digging. I want to write about the lovefest that was Squam Art Workshops: how we were inspired, our artful souls lifted high above the trees that grow so straight and true around Squam Lake; how deep, soulful bonds were formed and first time meetings felt more like reunions of old friends; how we surprised ourselves with our own abilities, our similarities to one another, and our capacity to connect.

I've read so many blog posts from SAW attendees that touch on or delve into these very things. I want to tell you that magical tale, but it's not my story. I wish it was. But mine is messier, less cheery. I'm still deciding if it's less magical.

I wish I'd spent five days feeling elated and connected and rooted and artful. Instead, I spent a lot of that time feeling disconnected, tentative, needy, and bothersome.

Epiphany in the Woods

One afternoon at SAW, I found myself walking to the dining hall alone, feeling sorry for myself. I tried to take in the beauty all around me, but felt completely separate from it. I silently berated myself for being a killjoy, for being awkward, for being alone at that very moment when surely everyone else was deep in the throes of exhilarating conversation with their new found soul sisters. Then I had a small epiphany: "Oh. This always happens to me when I go away."

I remembered how a similar feeling of disconnect and discontent followed me around like a palpable presence in San Francisco at BlogHer this year; how even after the conference, while sightseeing with friends, I couldn't shake this specter of sadness. The same thing happened the year before at BlogHer in Chicago, even though I'd fulfilled my wishlist of "BlogHer deliverables."

I realize now that this feeling is achingly familiar. I felt it as a teenager in a very small high school; as a college student with a diverse group of friends; as a young volunteer in a foreign country; in various jobs that quietly killed my spirit. All my life, I've battled the feeling that I'm on the fringe of things.

Why do I always feel like an outsider, even when I'm somewhere I want to be, doing something I want to do, with people I want to be with? Feeling this way unnerves me, confuses me, saddens me. It flies in the face of all that I hold most dear.

At My Core

During Andrea Scher's Superhero Life session at SAW, we did a life coaching exercise to uncover our core values: the ideals that act as our guiding principles; our highest hopes and expectations; the traits we most cherish and respect. I was sweetly surprised when the exercise led me straight to the things I already knew I loved.

My first core value is Joy & Wonder. For me, this means living with my eyes and heart wide open, loading up my life with things big and small that bring me joy and fill me with wonder. It means seeing magic and beauty all around me, much like Anne of Green Gables and so many of the bloggers I love.

I wrote about Joy & Wonder in my 2007 Retrospective:

For the first time that I can remember, I had days when I was just happy to be alive. Each day suddenly held beauty and joy and meaning. I was shocked to realize that I was excited about the coming day; that I looked forward to the possibility of getting up tomorrow and seeing what would happen. This new sense of euphoria left me breathless. For so long I've wanted to live a life of joy and wonder. And for so long, it escaped me. I finally realized that I had to create such a life if it would not just come to me. Of course, the more I sought to create it, the more it came to me.
My second core value is Connection. The fullness of this word for me is complex, but part of it means that I need to connect with people to be happy. I savor time alone, but I need big doses of deep conversation and riotous laughter with kindred spirits. I need this connection in order to feel whole. Without enough of it, it's hard to live with Joy & Wonder.

Come Away With Me

I don't know why I have this fringe problem. How much of it is insecurity clouding my judgement of how people view me? How much of it are those nasty internal gremlins preventing me from connecting? During The Superhero Life, Andrea said that the gremlins' job is to keep us safe. When they whisper that we aren't capable of something, we're tempted not to try. And if we don't try, the gremlins protect us from the pain of potential failure. Perhaps mine tell me that I can't connect in order to protect my heart from the pitfalls that come with living so wide open.

I want to tell you the magical tale of 120 women in the woods of New Hampshire, but for now I can only tell you the story of me. My art retreat experience did not go how I'd hoped. But it's opened my eyes to some important truths about how I experience the world, including how I experience myself and other people.

I came away from SAW feeling sad and a little bruised. But I think this has little to do with the event and the people, and much to do with me.

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add to kirtsy | 9:08 PM | 9 comments


A Peak into Squam

Nestled in the woods on the shores of Squam Lake sits Brown Betty, my home for the duration of Squam Art Workshops. There was cabin discussion over whether Betty is named after the dessert or the teapot. (And apparently, Brown Betty is Black-Eyed Susan's pseudonym.) I'm sticking with teapot. Either way, we all agreed that she was lovely.

Adding to Betty's rustic charm was her stout green icebox...

...complete with ice harvested from the lake last winter.

My bed upstairs in the rafters had an impressively warm down comforter, which was especially helpful on that first night with its frost warning. If only we'd discovered the glass storm window for the door downstairs before the next morning, things would have been a little less alfresco.

More reflections on SAW to come, I'm sure....

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add to kirtsy | 2:20 AM | 3 comments


Observations upon returning from Squam

morning fog on Squam Lake, Holderness, New Hampshire

  • My fight or flight instinct is stronger than I realized. I tend to want to jump ship as soon as I get frustrated. (Thankfully, my painting teacher talked me through it and kept me from ripping up my painting and fleeing for the safety of my cabin.)
  • I loved being around so many artsy women and gleaning fashion tips from them. I want to start layering shirts, wearing dresses over jeans, piling on the necklaces, wearing my hair in pigtails (which I did), and being just as fun and funky as I've always secretly wanted to be been, without worrying that anyone will think I look "weird."
  • Almost everyone deals with personal doubts and gremlins.
  • New Hampshire is beautiful.
  • I should take bug spray with me next time.
  • Several of my blog crushes know who I am!
  • I underestimate myself.
  • I now know what matte medium is and how to use it.
  • Getting a cold while in the middle of the woods is not pleasant, but neither will it kill you.
  • Having your ears completely clog on the plane is very, very, very, very frightening, especially if you're claustrophobic.
  • Being stuck in a tiny water closet in a cabin is also very frightening.
  • Listening to your body is some of the best medicine.
  • I'm ready for Autumn.
There's so much more I could -- and should -- say about my experience at SAW, but I'm still processing. Getting sick while I was there is making it harder than usual to jump back into life after being away. But I wanted to peek in and say hello. I'm back. I'm here. The rest of me is just trying to catch up.

Where (and how) are you?

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add to kirtsy | 8:13 PM | 12 comments


It's All Happening: Mondo Beyondo Update

heart in Union Square, San Francisco

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a retrospective on 2007 and a Mondo Beyondo Prospective for 2008. (Find out more about the Mondo Beyondo concept.) I named 2008 my year of Opportunity, Abundance, Prosperity, Plenty, and Creation, and made a list of intentions for how I want to live and what I want to do. I also named and claimed some Mondo Beyondo dreams for this year and beyond. I'm amazed and joyful and humbled and pleased to see several of them coming to fruition.

I wanted: "to start creating mixed media art and find my own path as a visual artist." Next week, I'll go to my very first art retreat, where I'll take a painting and mixed media class. I'm also taking a travel journaling class and attending the Superhero Life workshop. I'm particularly excited about this last one, as it's being taught by the Super Duper Andrea Scher of Superhero Designs. I met Andrea very briefly at the BlogHer Swap Meet this summer and can't wait to learn from her. Plus? Her lovely assistant will be Jen Gray, who I "know" through blogging and a few emails. (It's hard to know if the word "know" is really the right verb in these cases, isn't it?)

And as if that weren't enough, Jonatha Brooke will be providing camp fire music, Boho Girl Denise will be running around taking artist portraits, and Kelly Rae Roberts, one of my favorite artists, will be hosting a discussion about living the creative life.

But wait! There's more! I was serendipitously connected with Kelly Barton of Camp Indigo Soul to share a rental car between the airport and the camp. After connecting with her, I realized that she is the woman behind one of my favorite Etsy shops. And speaking of serendipity, I'll also get to meet the inspiring Liz Elayne Lamoreux of Be Present, Be Here and The Little Room Etsy shop. (Remind me to tell you the funny little story about how we "met" online.) I'm also looking forward to meeting Kirsten Michelle from In the Land of the Lovelies.

I have a feeling that once I get back from New Hampshire, I'll be gushing about all of these women and more, as well as the whole Squam experience. (fair warning!)

I wanted: "to uncover and be at peace with my decision about having a child." Although I haven't reached a decision or a place of total peace yet, I have had a major epiphany in this realm, which has helped me to understand the swirl of emotions surrounding this issue for me. I'm not ready to tell that part of my story yet, but the plot is definitely taking a few twists and turns.

I wanted: "to spend a week at a writers' retreat somewhere beautiful, comfortable, and nurturing." Earlier this year I reconnected with a writer friend from college (hi, Jamye!). Several months ago, she asked if I would be interested in joining her and some other women on a writing retreat. The details are still unfolding, but it looks like this little dream will come true the first week of November.

At least one other Mondo Beyondo dream is in the works and looks like it will become a reality. And that's just what I can see. What if all the others are unfurling in their own way and time? I don't know where my dream cottage is yet, but I'm sure it's out there.

There is more of the year behind us than in front of us, but there's always time for dreaming and scheming. What are you up to lately?

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add to kirtsy | 1:50 PM | 7 comments