Squam by the Sea – Part Two

My time by the sea doesn’t seem so long ago, though it has been over a month and a half now. I am just rolling with how long it takes for pieces to fall into place.

My first class was with Alena Hennessy. I had heard her read from her book at Squam in the Spring, and my mother-in-love had taken her class last Autumn, so I was familiar with her gentle, beautiful spirit. I so looked forward to the opportunity to get to know her better and I was not disappointed. She almost didn’t make it. Alena was in a terrible car accident on her way to Squam. Somehow, miraculously, she walked away with minor physical injuries. And, she managed to continue her journey to Corolla, NC and teach two classes! It speaks volumes to her giving spirit, her resiliency, her strength that she arrived and was there, fully present for us, her students. I am so grateful for her, and for her gentle guidance.


In her class we spent some time with ourselves, meditating, and listening to our inner voices, journaling, sketching, delving in. With some brief instruction on how to use my new favorite medium, India Inks, we were given full freedom to explore and paint and glue and glaze on our wooden boards. I was pulled right into the process. Letting my intention guide my progress, I simply put down color, put down an image, glued down some fibrous paper. I was so into it I didn’t want to break for lunch, just grabbed a quick bite, and headed right back down to the classroom. I have never been so happy with a painting in my life. Not because it is something beautiful for others to see, but because I see my intention in it. It communicates to me just what I wanted it to. Articulation. I value it so highly.


My second class was split over Friday and Saturday and was with Susannah Conway. This has been a year of getting to know my Nikon digital SLR. I started with Amy Gretchen’s class in the Spring and got my footing with the technical stuff. With Amy’s guidance and some practice I have started to feel like I remember how to use my camera as a tool to capture beauty. I participated in Stacy de la Rosa’s Soulecologie course in the Summer which gave me prompts and practice for seeing beauty in everything.


Susannah’s class was beautiful punctuation, bringing all the pieces together. My classmates ranged from some simply using their iphones to those who had brought three or four different cameras, old and new. Talking with them and seeing through their eyes was, in itself, a valuable education. Susannah took me to the next level. She gave us pointers on perspective and using light and framing, and gifted us little cards with prompts like “shadow/light playful/serious” and set us free. That permission, and pulling those prompts out of my pocket as I strolled along the sea…it opened something up in me. I was so thrilled with the images I was capturing. Again finding a way to articulate my intention, almost effortlessly. It just came from my gut.

faces “perspective reality/fantasy”

Both of these teachers helped me open up, broke down some old barrier I had between my vision and my creative action. They each helped me set intention, and gave me the freedom and the gentle nudge to let the medium take me to it. The result was a truly glorious sensation of fully enjoying both the process and the creation itself. With this new-found satisfaction I submitted both my painting and a slideshow of images to the “gallery” we had on our last night. For the first time I can remember, I didn’t need people to love it, or like it even. That hope just wasn’t part of the equation somehow. This time, it was just pure me out there on the table, slideshowing across the screen of my laptop. And, probably not surprisingly to you all, people did like it! I don’t know whether I was just that I began to HEAR people telling me they liked it, where before I would have shrugged off their praise like it was an ostentatious fur coat, or if my work was actually connecting with more people. Probably a bit of both. Either way, it has changed me – this knowing what I am capable of. It is utterly refreshing.

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What is this I’ve landed in?

Goodness. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

I spent Wednesday through Sunday in the woods, by the lake, at Squam Art Workshops and I have so much to tell you. It will happen in due time. First I’ve got to get the pictures off of my camera. I took about a thousand of them in the joyful goddess Amy Gretchen’s class alone. On top of that, I need to let some things settle before my mind can find the words to put to it.


Right now I am focused on giving myself a gentle landing back into everyday life. In the past I haven’t been very good at it. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to keep up with everything I learned, establish those new relationships, read and absorb every attendee’s blog post/facebook update/flickr feed so I can relive the experience again and again, explain every revelation to my family and friends, all that and unpack, do the laundry, care for the little and my partner and the house, return to my desk job…last Fall in particular, I don’t mind admitting, I completely crashed and burned in re-entry. Skipping off the atmosphere between two very different lives. Way to undo all the good of a retreat, hotpants.


This year I am handling it much better. My life at Squam and my life at home are becoming less different, for one. But also, instead of feeling like I have an outstanding balance due to my daily life and the people in it, I am considering that my budget is balanced. I am taking it easy and squeezing every last bit of good out of it. Sure, my desk-job is super busy, in a way that could be overwhelming if I let it, but I’m taking each minute as I can (and probably not surprisingly it is all getting done). I am enjoying the quiet company of my family. The laundry will be cleaned. The stories and the pictures will be there when I am ready.

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The Beginning – Squam Art Workshops

Nervous. Skin-crawling, palm-sweating, heart-pounding anxiety. That is how I felt when I brought my registration form, sealed in its envelope, to the post office in February of 2010 to sign up for the Spring Session of Squam Art Workshops – my first retreat ever. That is how I felt every time I revisited the website and the confirmation letter – checking and double-checking my classes, my roommate, the location of my cottage. That is how I felt when, all by myself, I hopped in the car of a stranger (a welcoming and very calming Squam veteran) to drive up to New Hampshire that first day. My heart was in my throat when I reached the door. And then. This woman. She looked into my eyes, and she hugged me, like we had been long lost friends. I thought…”hmmm she must think I am someone else”. But no. It was just Jen being Jen. Squam being Squam. Like a lighting bolt of positively charged energy. Openness, kindness, genuine curiosity, pure honesty. I was delivered so much of those things in that one look, in that one hug, that old hanger-oner of a friend called anxiety all but disappeared. Not only that, but I was oozing those same feelings to everyone I met over the next 5 days. And then I met the creator, originator, goddess of Squam, Elizabeth. She was so present, and so welcoming, and humble, and spot-on in her knowing what a little someone like me might need. And then I met another first timer, and someone else, and someone else and all of a sudden I was just exactly where I was supposed to be.


That first Squam came to be all about bravery for me. For many, it seems. Bravery as I let “the real me” emerge without hesitation – as I began my first attempt at hand-embroidery – as I opened up with my classmates about what their creations meant to me.  It was there as I met the 9 women in my cabin and we began to share meals, and stories, bits of ourselves and our dreams, until we were just like sisters. Most poignantly I wound up my courage as I divulged my long-standing relationship with anxiety in Jen Lee’s storytelling class. A story about how I had let fear stop me from camping in the woods with friends, and I was determined not to let it stop me again.


Last Spring I couldn’t attend because it was too close to the due date of my first child. But my husband and my 4 week old and I managed to get ourselves up to Squam for the Art Fair. The three of us visited with many of those same Sassy Sisters I had met the year prior, and a few new friends to boot. Just like family, we picked right back up where we left off. Max slept better than he had in his entire 4 weeks of life as he was passed from sister to sister. And in the end, those amazing women presented us with a quilt. Each of them handmade a square and one of them assembled and finished it off. Each square was made with care and love. One square depicted a sketch of Squam Lake, one an image from the story I told in Jen Lee’s class. In the center, my name along with my partner’s surrounds a tree with a nested egg. And, a late addition I’m told, a panel with a scene from Where the Wild Things Are depicting my son’s namesake as he bravely stomps into the woods.

I am thinking about all of this as I begin to pack myself up for this year’s Spring session that starts in just one week – as I start this blog and this journey that would have always remained an idea if not for Squam. Just beginning the preparations fills me with excitement, and anticipation – and courage. Just the beginning.

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