The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

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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.

9.27.2008

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:

Blogger kelly rae said...

jennifer,
trust me, trust me, trust me when i say you are not alone in this.
i often walk away from these experiences feeling very tender, wondering why i'm not feeling all the love that everyone else is expressing in blogworld. these events can be certainly life changing, but it doesn't mean it's easy. it just means they are important - perhaps for all the reasons you've listed - so that you can begin to create the experiences you most need.
i so wish i had been able to spend some time with you!
as much as squam was ultimately good for me...it was indeed very hard at times.
not alone...i promise :)
and thanks for sharing your bravery in this post.

9/28/2008 12:09 AM  
Blogger Jen Ballantyne said...

I think this is very brave Jennifer. I admire your honesty and you are not alone I am positive of that. I know there have been many times when I have felt as though I'm living on the 'fringe' of things too, what a great description! I guess it boils down to being quite sensitive and perhaps lacking some self esteem somewhere along the way. Either way I love this post and it's utter honesty, thank you. Take care darling girl, Jen xx

9/28/2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger jenica said...

just so you know, you were one of my favorite treats of squam. a new friend. i'm grateful for your words here.

xoxo

9/28/2008 11:19 PM  
Anonymous jin said...

Oh how I love and identify with what you have expressed so eloquently and beautifully here... I can relate so wholly. Just got back from Utah, will write more soon - but had to just tell you how much this speaks to me. Bravo for your brave honesty. xxx

9/29/2008 12:17 AM  
Anonymous stacy kathryn said...

You definitely were not alone, I felt that way at times too. I could not express it as well as you did here. I'm glad I got to meet you and hang out with you, and it is so cool that you got into painting while there!

9/29/2008 2:40 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

your honesty is also you and you should be so proud that you have the ability to say what others probably thought about their feelings, but were too scared to put down in words.....

9/29/2008 5:29 PM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

jenna,
if it's any comfort, i often feel on the fringe of things--almost always. but for me the fringe is my very safe place, where i don't have to conform, where i get to belong only to the people i choose and where being out of sync with the rest is proof my path is not meant for the masses--a sure sign secret wonders wait for me there.

one man's trash, another man's treasure!! i think my equivalent to your fringe is anywhere i'm stuck in the middle of something--home, work, responsibilities, all things regular life. :) it's ridiculous torment.

anyway.

here's hoping that the fringe can be your space to incubate, to empower yourself and to have the time apart you need to observe, soak in what you need and then go back to your favorite most comfortable places prepared to move deeply into your most beautiful joy, wonder and connection. the inside of things could be overrated.

lots of love...

9/30/2008 1:48 AM  
Blogger Karen Maezen Miller said...

As a nearly solitary wordsmith, I will chime in and say: well done. It seems to me that no matter what kind of company we keep along the way, the journey is always only our own. Come to know yourself and you will be quite comfortable off the path. Anyone you meet there will be your neighbor.

9/30/2008 6:21 PM  
Blogger liz elayne lamoreux said...

i have felt this fringe feeling so often...i was saying to a friend the other day that if i could be very good at a job called, "how to feel the most alone when in a group" or something similar. i have been there many times, even surrounded by my closest friends.
i am not sure exactly why, but something has shifted for me in the last year or so. it is as though i finally recognized it for what it was and that gave it less power. i am trying to experience more and judge (myself and others) less. and trying to let go of the need to fill in the blanks of what others might think about me and instead concentrate on my own forward momentum. not sure if that all makes sense...but i just wanted to say that i hear you and understand pieces of this.

thank you for sharing your truth.

10/10/2008 6:53 PM  

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