One of the things they tell you at Squam is that you’ll have a hard time explaining it afterward to other people. I’ve been thinking for over a week about how to communicate to you what a wonderful experience Squam was for me, and though I’m pretty sure I’ll come up short, I’m going to try.
Squam Arts Workshop is a retreat for creatives (think ALL kinds of creatives: this fall’s workshop topics included printmaking, knitting, spoon carving, sewing, writing, and diorama-building). The setting is the Rockywold-Deephaven camps on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. The lake is huge, and rocky, and deep, and beautiful. Loons call at night while you’re falling asleep. One morning: beautiful fog. Another morning: a gorgeous blanket of mist. The camp itself is full of history and beauty; the old buildings date back to the 1800’s, and the iceboxes in each cabin are filled each day with ice that was harvested from the lake in winter and then stored in sawdust during the year in a beautiful old ice house, which we passed each day on the way to meals and classes. The camp offers a gorgeous and peaceful environment.
Squam begins with dinner on Wednesday and ends with breakfast on Sunday, and the schedule includes two full day workshops (I took photography with Tori Williams, and sewing the Matcha Top with Meg McElwee), meals, free time, yoga, evening presentations, and the Squam Art Fair on the last night. The fact that there is even a schedule seems to be more just an excuse to bring everyone together, as so much seems to happen outside of the schedule, but the workshops were wonderful and I learned a ton.
I had never been to Squam before, and I really had no idea what to expect going into the weekend, but it’s safe to say that I knew I really needed, and wanted, a break. Elizabeth, Squam’s founder, sent out an email the week before we arrived with instructions to “clear your mind of all expectation of what the weekend might be for you,” and I tried my best to do that. Back in January, I had chosen “BREAK” as my word for 2017, and had invited myself to be open to all of the possible ways that this word might manifest itself to me throughout the year. Big break, more little breaks, break with the way I had been doing things, break open…there were a lot of ways I could think of that “break” could translate. The most obvious seemed to be to go on a retreat, so I signed up for Squam early in the year after doing a little research into creative retreats (there are others besides Squam, including The Craft Sessions, Camp Workroom Social, and Craftcation, all of which are still on my list, but Squam was the one that worked out this year).
Post-Squam, I’m happy to report that I sincerely feel renewed. On the plane ride home (which in itself is like a spa vacation when you don’t have three kids with you), I wrote down so many things I wanted to remember. Two pages were just about the people I met and what they had taught me. The many conversations I had with the other creatives were so helpful to me. One conversation with an artist who is no longer making art sticks out to me. Another lesson: that being “present” — something I often feel like I’m not — is really just as simple as thinking about what you are doing while you are doing it. Whoa. I’m happy that I really did have the ability and the space to relax (the loose schedule with plenty of free time helps) and just be. Such a wonderful feeling. And I’m happy to have made so many new and wonderful friends.
It was nice that most of the people at Squam didn’t “know who I was,” which I truly hope doesn’t sound half as self-centered as it feels to write. When I’m around people who are familiar with Made by Rae, I often end up having long conversations about myself or my business, and while those interactions are always lovely and encouraging, they can also be a bit intense. I love to talk, and I very much want to be helpful to others, but it can leave me feeling drained and overwhelmed rather than relaxed or inspired after I return home, not to mention then having to deal with my stupid inflated ego. Feeling largely unrecognized at Squam allowed me to have an experience that felt more authentic, if that makes any sense?
One thing I feel challenged to do after Squam is to write more. I don’t have much confidence in my writing ability, or really even love to write, and writing (especially on this blog) has been hard for me lately. Over the years, I’ve become more intimidated by the idea that so many people are reading (and possibly judging) my writing and work. That’s Fear talking, and I’m trying to look it square in the face and remember that writing can be an act of love. I know how many of you have felt a connection through my writing over the years, and just sharing the experience of being a creative person who is also a mama of three is helpful to many of you. And also, my mom wants to know what I’m up to (hi, Mom!). I’m inspired now not only to write more, but to love the writing process more.
I can’t end this post without mentioning what a blessing it was to spend time with my dear friend Meg (of Sew Liberated, above). Meg had a slightly different, more intense experience than me, as she was teaching the Matcha Top workshops, which was one of the workshops that I took (so fun!!). Meg and I met five years ago at Quilt Market (a much different environment), and have connected on and off online over the years; she is a true kindred spirit. Meg was one of the very first indie pattern designers slash sewing bloggers, and in addition to designing beautiful patterns, her writing is amazing, and if you haven’t been following her for years like I have, please start. I’m often amazed that despite unschooling three kids of her own and running her own small business like I do, she finds time to write such beautiful things (this is a favorite post). When I asked her how she manages to do this, her answer was that it sometimes takes months, literally months, to write some of her posts. She also — and I love this, because it really takes guts to truly take a “break” — stepped away from her business and sewing for a number of years while she was dealing with her son Lachlan’s heart condition. I’m grateful to her for all of the wonderful conversations we had at Squam, and to Elizabeth for putting us in the same room so we could stay up late and talk and talk and talk into the night.
OK. After all this rambling, I hope I’ve managed to communicate something to you about this beautiful experience. Thanks for reading my thoughts here, lovely readers. I hope someday you will have a transformative experience of your own that relaxes and renews you, if you haven’t already.