In January I launched the very first session of Unravelling and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine i'd be where I am now, with four classes under my belt and about to enter into a fifth, each session selling out faster than the last. What i also hadn't imagined was how this course would create some wonderful online tribes; i've been amazed and humbled by how the Unravellers bond so tight and continue to work together even after the course has ended. I've heard of Unraveller meet-ups, phone calls, secret santas, an Unraveller's calender and rumours of a secret Valentine coming next year too!
There was so much to learn as my classes and online world stepped up into being a business of sorts (also didn't expect that) and I had to learn about marketing and promotion, making my word of 2009 become a reality in more ways than one (more on that tomorrow). This was also the year that…
All in all, it's been a good year. I danced with bouts of illness and workaholism, and discovered that i don't always look after myself when busy, but through it all i've felt a renewed sense of purpose. I feel many ghosts from the past have been put to rest, and the grief of 2005 and beyond is far enough behind me to be able to put my hand on my heart and know it is healed. I feel proud of my independence, and my survival. I feel really proud to be doing work that is helpful to others while supporting myself. That is truly amazing to me, and i'm cooking up lots of good things for 2010. I'm so happy you're all here with me – thank you x
[Alex & I searched long and hard but we finally found it - the rainbow house in San Francisco!]
1. Putting together little videos is so much fun – i need to do this more. 2. Seriously – photos that move! who knew? 3. Thank you to everyone in this wee clip – you made my stay so much richer, and more fun. And I'm sorry I didn't get to film everyone – lots of people are missing, so i will have to catch you next time. 4. Special thanks to Jeanine, who was my partner-in-crime for the whole week… Louise to my Thelma. I love you, lil Frenchie. 5. If you're thinking Squam Art Workshops might be your thing, please please meet me there next year – there's time to save… there's time to plan! The new classes will be announced in the new year. 6. I have one post about Montreal simmering on the stove and then it's back to normal programming, including a special Creative Life interview tomorrow…
There are two moments that stand out for me from my time at the Squam Art Workshops, and for both of them I was alone. I discovered very quickly that you have to find your own rhythm when you attend a retreat of this sort; it's very easy to turn up at your cabin with a suitcase full of expectations, and it's definitely best to leave them on the plane. I was surrounded by friends I already knew, bloggers i felt i knew and could finally hug in person and people i had yet to befriend. One of my biggest thrills was getting to meet some Unravellers in the flesh – it's wonderful getting feedback in an email, but sitting down and discussing their experience of the course over breakfast completely knocked my socks off.
After a few days filled with people and hugs (and a LOT of coughing – I wasn't able to shake off the cold, and spent the entire week sounding like Kathleen Turner meets Marge Simpson) i found myself alone on Friday afternoon. It had started to rain and i wasn't sure the clouds would clear – Friday was my designated day to take photos of the lake – but as i toyed with the idea of lighting a fire in the cabin, the sun suddenly came out (as captured above) so i grabbed my cameras and ran outside. People-hugging aside, this trip away has, surprise surprise, been all about the Polaroids for me. I've had moments, in both Montreal and by Squam Lake, when i thought my head would explode, there was so much new stuff to see and shoot. My camera and I were bonded at the wrist, and I discovered that Polaroid portraits are my new obsession. That afternoon, as i walked along the twisting path by the lake, i tried to capture the scene…. the changing leaves… the stillness. Sitting on a rock at the edge of the water, i flipped through my polas, as you do when the sun is on your face and you can only hear the leaves rustling. And it was at that exact moment the wind raised its head and whipped one of my Polaroids in the air, flipping it out onto the lake. I let out a very ineffectual and croaky 'noooo!' as i watched my Polaroid float away. For a split-second i wondered whether i should wade out and get it, but the water was cold, and i was ill, and as ridiculous as it sounds now, i honestly had to say to myself with a soupcon of irony you've just got to let it go. So i stood on the rock, and watched my photograph bob along the water, getting smaller and smaller. And it was then that, out of nowhere, a man in a green canoe came paddling around the rocks. 'Is that your photo?' he shouted. "Yes!" i shrieked back. This magical being of the lake paddled over, scooped my Polaroid out of the water, and paddled back to me on the shore, the sun glistening on his tanned muscled forearms, a dashing twinkle in his eye. Oh okay, it wasn't really an Eat Pray Love ending – he was actually a rather portly gentleman named John who was holidaying by the lake with his family. We spent a good half an hour chatting about life – turns out he'd spent a few years in London in his twenties and that was when i saw the twinkle in his eye. As I walked to the dining hall later that evening i kept marvelling at the saved Polaroid. I mean, what are the odds?
[the saved Polaroid]
My other Squam moment happened later that night. I'd spent the evening with friends talking about work and life, sat by a crackling fire in what was affectionately dubbed the 'party cabin'. When i got back to my own cabin i discovered Jeanine had lit a fire before going to bed, so i entered the warmth and sent her some extremely thankful vibes through the wall. Earlier she'd been telling me about the previous night's skinny dipping and wine by the lake – Canadians are apparently very hardy! – and while i knew there was no way i'd be getting in to the water (are you sensing a theme here?) i knew i had to be out there, so i wrapped up extra warm and trundled out to the dock with my torch and tissues.
I felt a thrill being out alone in the darkness; it was a perfectly clear night, and i lay back on the wooden jetty, staring straight up at the stars. I didn't feel the cold, I didn't need to cough, i just lay there: looking, thinking, wondering, planning. I whispered a few words to the universe, and before I closed my eyes I saw a shooting star. People, i'm not making this up. It happened; it was magical. After half an hour of communing with the stars I took my tired self indoors and sat by the fire for a while before going to bed. i felt full. i felt content. It was a really good feeling.
i remember reading the post-Squam blog posts last year and feeling a mix of envy and curiosity. And i'm here to say that, yes, it really is that good of a time. But there was no levitating over the lake (i tried – it didn't happen ;) and while friendships are made and renewed, it really was mostly about reconnecting with yourself and your creative dreams, and sitting under the shade of the trees, and having some much-needed fun. Lots of smiles. No stress. The perfect way to spend four days. Elizabeth has created a special place we can visit, and i hope it grows and expands as the years pass. There is room for all of us.
I'll be there again next year for sure, so if you are too, can i take a Polaroid of you?
Something really unexpected happened yesterday. Abby and I were in town; we'd had lunch out and were perusing the high street, drawn to shops with air conditioning (it was insanely hot yesterday). As we were nearing home time and starting to flag, we popped into one last shop for a last-minute present, and to try on a few of the dresses that were on sale. We were helped by a lovely young woman, who was wearing the most fabulous top (from here; i asked her). On our way out we paid, did our usual sister-comedy routine at the till when we realised we'd forgotten wrapping paper and a card, so doubled back, chose some, and paid again (are you keeping up?)
It was when we were about to leave that the lovely woman in the fabulous top looked at me and tentatively asked: 'Is your name Susannah?'
'Yes it is,' I said, feeling my face flush a little.
'I read your blog,' she said.
Friends, this has never happened before! I was two parts embarrassed to one part thrilled. It was humbling and weird and lovely, all at once, and completely made my day. We chatted for a bit before Abby and I made our exit, and when I got home i mused on how my word for the year – visible – has now officially been achieved. Paula, I'm so glad you said hello!
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In other news, I've been rather visible on the internet over the last week or so – i know, i know, it's an addiction. You can find me chatting about the creative life over on Create Well… Create Often, and I'm moaning talking about my rainy summer in a guest post for the lovely Stephanie Levy. And if that's not enough, you'll find my final Super 16 column for Paper n Stitch here.
Happy Wednesday! and ps. i have a Creative Life interview to share with you tomorrow that i am really excited about……
"Your guidance and how you share what you’ve been through really is a beacon that leads the way. In our society it’s difficult to find the time to come together as women and be supportive and share in a group, but you have found a way to create this, across countries no less! This course has really opened my eyes and heart and awakened so much compassion inside me, for myself and for everyone in the world."