words of encouragement

Is it just me, or is this a tough time of the year made even a bit more challenging with Winter still showing up on our doorstep?  Transitions are tough.

That’s my thought for the day, the week, the month– this season.

Change, even when it is wanted, it always disruptive and so perhaps a page out of the book of natural order is what we need here.  Go slowly.  And then? Even more slowly.  Change takes time to integrate. Of course, if we are moving at a measured pace, that means we will be standing longer on the uncomfortable ground of that terrible unknowing.

You know what I mean.  The place between the places– the gray, misty, unformed, undefined place where you are not yet where you are headed but you are no longer where you once were.  That place.

Awful, right?  Only age brings us the wisdom to breathe through this familiar discomfort.  We don’t like it any better, but at least we’ve been through a few of these spirals before and we know this is part of the process.

Below is a letter that I received last week from a spectacularly talented woman who lives and works in NYC.  Because of her position in the design world, she has asked that I don’t share her name although she graciously allowed me to share her thoughts and experience.

Dear Elizabeth,

I hope you are well and surviving this interminable winter. I for one have been holded-up indoors and finding solace in Goethe (more on that later), my needlework, and the light and scent of my favorite Diptyque fig candle.  Spring will be here . . and not a day too soon!

But I did not write to bemoan the frigid temperature. This letter is an overdue giving-of-thanks.  It has taken me this long to express my gratitude because I’ve spent the entirety of the past six months to process and internally debrief that September weekend by the lake.

I stumbled upon Squam in a moment of deep personal crisis and professional transition.  I will spare you the gory details, but all I will say is that Life had thrown numerous trying circumstances at me and I found myself, in the middle of last summer, completely lost, floundering, and questioning my very self worth and creative talent.

I heard about Squam from the store manager of Purl Soho.  She  made it sound too perfect, almost hokey in its wholesome, energizing, crafty goodness.

I’m a hard-nosed, cyncial New Yorker –
what would I be doing “making art”
in the New Hampshire woods?
What exactly would I do?  Would I fit in?
Who would I talk to?
What should I take and wear?
Should I spend the money?

All the same questions that you’ve no doubt heard innumerable times.

When I emailed you to enquire about the registrations process, I was half hoping that you’d say you were full.  When that didn’t happen, I was secretly hoping my impending jury duty would tie me up for the month.  But even the court system played truant and let me off the hook after just two days.  So what else could I do but bite the bullet and mail my cheque to you.  I thought that if I absolutely hated it, I could send an S.O.S to my husband’s cousin (who lives outside Manchester, NH) to come and rescue me.

But no such emergency demobilisation was needed after all.  I showed up at the camp with my over-stuffed luggage and a lot of questions, and decided, impromptu, that I would leave all that metaphysical baggage at the cottage door.  My housemates greeted me warmly, and I got caught up in the whirlwind that is Squam’s opening night.

In fact, I don’t quite know what happened the next few days.

I remember meeting a lot of smiling women, kind teachers, convival mentors, and lots of rain.  I attended workshops and made “stuff.”  And to top things off, I caught a nasty head cold and wheezed all night.  But what did it all mean?

I tried in vain to find something “meaningful” in the numerous conversations I had; I tried to ascertain the “significance” of shared artistic breakthroughs; I tried to “tabulate” the number of people I met for the first time, but felt that I knew forever.

But there was nothing there. There was no special meaning to anything. I wanted there to be something because I needed it to be there–to justify my decision to attend; to justify my self to myself.

The moment I realized that,
I knew my expenditure had been worth it.

What I learnt was that the weekend was not about anything other than the joy and act of simply making.  Just that.  I found that I again smiled when I held a brush in my hand.  I found that I again breathed more steadily to the pace of my sewing hand.

I found that I could indeed be around sensationally creative people
and not question if I belonged amongst them.
Squam did not teach me that. I taught myself that.
But Squam allowed me the time and space
to miraculously find the me in myself.

GRAZIE MILLE for conjuring that miracle, and for making it happen again and again. I want to finally leave you with a passage that justly encapsulates the overwhelming wonder that was my first Squam:

A wonderful cheerfulness has taken possession of my soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I delight in with my whole heart. I am alone, and enjoying my life in this region, which is made for souls like mine. I am so happy, my dear friend, so immersed in the feeling of quiet, calm existence, that my art suffers from it. I couldn’t draw now, not a line, but I have never been a greater painter than in these moments. When the dear valley mists around me, and the high sun rests on the tops of the impenetrable darkness of my woods, and only isolated rays steal into the inner sanctum as I lie in the high grass by the falling brook, and closer to the earth a thousand different blades of grass become astonishing to me; when I feel closer to my heart the teeming of the small world among the stems, the innumerable, unfathomable forms of the little worms, the tiny gnats, and feel the hovering presence of the Almighty, who created us in his image, and the breath of that universal love which bears and sustains us, as it floats around us in an eternity of bliss; and then, my friend, when the world around me grows dim to my eyes, and world and sky rest entirely in my soul like the form of a beloved, then I often yearn and think: Oh, could you express this, could you breathe onto paper what lives in you so fully and warmly that it would become the mirror of your soul, as your soul is the mirror of infinite God! – my friend!- But it is destroying me, I am succumbing to the power of the gloriousness of these apparitions.” from Goethe’s the Sorrows of Young Werther

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I am, forever, wordless with gratitude.

bisous, e

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