Only Connect: The truth I SAW
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.