Spring Squam 2016: Children of the Arts
This is going to be long. I can't do the Squam blog in brief. It is what it is. Last year, in 2015, I came home from the Squam Art Workshops with my mind and heart blown wide open. For a peek at my attempt to capture that first teaching experience at Squam in words and pictures, click HERE. I went back to Squam this year to teach Modern Heirloom for beginner rug hookers again, and to add to my offerings a more intermediate class called Hook What You Love. Once again, I struggle for words. Where to begin? What was the most wonderful, meaningful, woo (that word is for you, Elizabeth...) thing that happened? I don't even know. But the woo was happening almost as soon as I arrived.
At the beginning of each retreat there is an opening gathering. Our opening gathering occurred on Wednesday evening, June 1st. I had spent the day arriving to Squam, setting up my amazing classroom space, Zodiac, at the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps, and just generally getting my head together for teaching. My attention was seriously divided, however, because some 500 miles away, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, my second son, James, was graduating from Dalhousie University. And I couldn't be there. I was committed to teaching this session long before I knew that this would be his graduation date and as the mother of three other sons at American colleges/universities, I had assumed graduation would be in May. Nope. At this particular Canadian university it was June 1st. My husband and my son's girlfriend had provided pictures, though, which I had been looking at on my phone all afternoon. At Squam's opening gathering, founder and fearless leader Elizabeth Duvivier asks each teacher to speak a little bit about her class and then that teacher must answer "the question." No one knows beforehand what the question is going to be. Long time friend, Squam roommate, and teacher of Found Poetry, Sarah Sousa and I were (a little nervously) mulling over what "the question" would be. Last year we had to talk about shoes. No lie. Shoes. Sarah and I are so not fashionistas that we were nearly stumped. This year, however, the question was something like this: "Tell us about something someone else made for you." One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received was from my son James, the one who had graduated that day. Back in 2007, when he was just starting high school, he'd taken an art class that involved clay sculpting. Around that time I was 42 years old and in the midst of throwing off a lot of things in my life that were not working, and I had come to relate strongly to falcons. I don't want to go as far as to use the term "spirit animal," but I had falcons in my mind as a constant companion as I navigated that turbulent time. They were free, they were badass, they soared, they were not weighted down, they knew what they wanted, and with supreme but hard earned skill, the achieved that. I had not mentioned any of this to my sons, and yet, one day, James came home with a sculpted falcon for me as a gift. Somehow, he'd made me a falcon, without previously knowing what it would mean to me. It sits on my desk at home still. So...I told this story at Squam. And I thanked Elizabeth for her question, for bringing my son to me in that way, on that day, when we could not be together. There is magic at Squam. The "Squam Bomb" goes a long way to set the mood. If you want to experience proper yarn, paper, and fabric bombing, it happens there.
Squam is where you can pin your dreams to the biggest dream catcher you've ever seen... ...and I can attest to the fact that they do come true. But it was on the path between my classroom in Zodiac and the Rock Dining Hall on the very last day, that I had a revelation about a huge factor in how the magic happens at Squam. I had an hour or more between the time I had cleared my classroom and the time I needed to set up for the Spring Art Fair. I decided I would go out and walk around the camp, taking pictures. On the path, I encountered a student from Hook What You Love, Sally. This was her first year at Squam, and we started to chat about our experiences there and why it is so magical. At one point, when we were talking about rug hooking, I said to her, "Teaching here is so amazing and the students are so creative, so open, so relaxed, so not worried about competing with one another or proving anything. It's like teaching children." And I laughed. As soon as those words were out of my mouth I realized that they could possibly be taken the wrong way, in a negative, pejorative way, but that is not how I meant them at all. I meant them in the best of ways. Fortunately, Sally completely got my meaning. That is the magic of Squam. We become children of the arts. What happens to us as we age and get away from the time we are five or ten years old and we are so open and alive and curious and risk taking? What has life done to us that we are fearful of experimentation, or feel the need to compete with the person next to us, even at play? Who told us we weren't creative or that we couldn't draw/paint/write/knit/hook/whatever-it-was? And why did we listen? It seems to me that at Squam, among our creative peers and mentors, under the incredible leadership of Elizabeth and everyone assisting her (Forrest, Mindy, Kat, and others), on the shores of that crazy spectacular beautiful lake alive with fish and loons and moths and butterflies, in those cabins that have sheltered souls for over a century and smell of wood and smoke and s'mores and maybe more than a little wine, we forget the squashing that can happen in adolescence and adulthood. Or perhaps more accurately, we remember who we were...who we ARE. And I am so, so grateful. I am grateful to every single student I've had the privilege to teach in this crucible of magic. I learn from them anew how to be joyful in creation, how to play, how to try new things, how to be a child of my art. When children enter a playground, they often run straight for what calls to them. Maybe it's the slide or the merry-go-round. Maybe it's the sandbox or maybe they want to hang upside down on the monkey bars until their heads feel funny. They generally don't say to everyone standing around, "Gee, what do you think I should do?" NO! They know what they want to do, and while they might take your hand and ask you to experience their bliss with them, they're going to follow their own jam. At Squam, we follow our bliss, because unlike in "real" life, there's nothing to stop us. And maybe that's a lesson to take from this wild and creative space, to learn to discern what it is we want to do and whether or not there's really anything standing in our way. Sometimes there is, but sometimes...well...if you really look at it, there isn't. "It's really a different kind of life." I sincerely hope that you will consider spending a magical weekend at a Squam Art Workshops retreat. Maybe I'll even see you there one year. Happy dreaming, happy creating, happy magic making, and happy hooking - Beth P.S. It doesn't hurt to have a giant inflatable rainbow unicorn on site....
- Elizabeth Miller