So. I brought the little bitty computer with me to Kripalu with the express intention of writing every night while I was on retreat. But it turned out that even checking my email on the little machine was akin to trading on the NASDAQ from a cigar box, so, um, yeh, that really didn’t happen. But honestly, this was the first time in four years that I went on retreat and brought any electronic business with me – usually I go up there and unplug pretty completely; I don’t even call home, right? So perhaps this was a sign from the Universe that really, unplugged is the way to go while I’m on retreat. Or that the little lappie just gets bamboozled when taken out of its natural environment.* But, um, I’m back \o/

Anyway! What a fantastic week this was! This was the second year that Mom and I went to Kripalu for the Vibrant Visionary Collage Workshop, and it did not disappoint. We were both a little apprehensive that the course material would repeat from the year before, but no such thing – the presenter, Karen Arp-Sandel, had a different angle of approach this year from the year before, and it was just as delightful as it was the year before.**

So the workshop is just what you might think it is from the title – it’s a week of collaging, cutting and pasting, and playing with paper and pieces, and learning techniques for treating paper and other images. Which, in my book, is pretty dandy all in itself. But wait – there’s more: tho’ we were working in the studio all week,*** really, the focus was on Sisterhood. Now, before you tune out because that sounds all new-agey, try and embrace the crunchy granola spot inside you, because it was really truly osm to be in the presence of such business all week. (Also, please go read this, which I had the luxury of reading directly upon return – funny these rhythms, huh? Also, this.****)

I truly felt a strong vibe of Sisterhood in that room full of interesting, strong women. For someone who struggles (frequently) over the notions of safe spaces v. ghettoization of women, it was kind of a big deal for me. Maybe it’s easier to begin explaining it in terms of what it was not: it was not divisive, it was not anti-, it was not aggressive, it was not political beyond what the personal is in all of us. I don’t remember any talk about men in terms other than in terms of the husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers that we love.***** Actually, I don’t remember a whole lot of talk about men overall – primarily the talk was about women in our lives. There was a lot of talk of sisters and mothers. There were three mother/daughter pairs of participants in the group (I was honored to be part of one of those pairs, myself). And the energy in the room was about bringing together, about shared experience and consciousness as women, and about play expressed in in that scope.

It was also about claiming one’s art.

Let me take an aside here for just a minute, if I may. I’ve always done art, right? As long as I can remember, there was always paper and paint and glue and string, and I always (always!) have played with it. Some of my earliest memories were of construction paper and Mod Podge, and my mother freaking out about how I was, “…making millions of tiny pieces all over the place, omigod!”****** I have always made things. I have always delighted in the process of making things, and as well, praise that followed successful work. I literally do not remember a time when I have not made art, whether it was visual, written, or composed. The mediums change from stage to stage of my life, but the fact of art never does. And yet, I have never truly integrated this with myself – I’ve never actually, on a gut level, taken myself seriously in relation to my artwork. And so much of it has to do with economics. A dear friend  and I had a conversation a few months ago wherein she posited that perhaps I had some trouble taking seriously anything I do that doesn’t pay the rent. And I think she really was right (incidentally, I’m also really crappy at relaxing). I spent a lot of time thinking about that this week. And I’ve come to the conclusion that what I really need to do is to take my art a little more seriously, embrace the fact of being an artist, stop blurring the line between humility and self-humiliation, and really really get my game on – allow myself to be an artist, rather than to be someone who makes some art. I think I’m ready.

And that’s something I don’t know that I could have done in an atmosphere that wasn’t derived from a space of Sisterhood. The support was different than it has been when I’ve talked about this stuff with men. Not that I don’t find support from men – I value and cherish their support; I cannot do without the people I love – any of them. But being in a room full of people that I had so much shared experience with, as a woman, as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, was just… different. There were things I didn’t need to explain. There were politics of body and heart and commerce that I didn’t need to tease apart or educate on. It was like… we were all up to speed on the basics and there was a lot of room above that to delve into.

The most striking thing about the women in our circle this week was how different and how the same everyone was. There were women there who worked and lived in a wide variety of spheres – from lawyers to temps, to government employees to retirees, to landscape architects to corporate trainers, to self-employed to unemployed – here we were, and all focused on the same stuff. And everyone was either in the thick of, or on the verge of transition. Which made me really understand something, that I’m working on putting into words, about the women and change, and the fluid nature of cycles (and the tide, too, maybe? I’m working on this. I’m working on this).

And so here we are, and here I am. And I am grateful. That little note up there was on my backjack  (there’s a lot of sitting in the floor at Kripalu, fyi) the day that we left. Karen did a letterpress project this year and gifted us each randomly with one of the pieces that she made. It was a beautiful coda to a grand week full of discoveries and creations (more about discoveries and adventures after I download some pictures from my camera – there were so many!). I’ve hung it in my artspace, above the desk, to keep looking at. It’s true. So very true.


*The desk drawer.
**Actually, it was even better.
***O, LUSCIOUS STUDIO TIME! There was SO MUCH studio time! Such a treat!
****Also, please read and take note of the comments and commenters. Nono – really.
*****Only once do I remember a conversation about men who were outside of that sphere.
******When we moved from that house, my poor mother found that at some point I had spilled Mod Podge behind the wooden toybox, and it had become part of the wall/carpet. Apparently, the stuff does not actually remain tacky forever, as I believed it did from experimentation. Much swearing ensued. It may or may not have been the first time I heard my mother utter the word, “fuck.”