A week ago at this time, I was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch to the right in the above photo, coffee in hand, listening to the loons, water like glass…. You get the picture.
I taught my Found Poetry workshop for a second year at Squam Arts Retreats on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. And for a second year, I roomed with my long-time friend Beth of Parris House Wool Works. Beth teaches rug hooking, but is pictured below with her name cut out of paper, origami-style, in a small workshop we took. I’ve known Beth, and her family, for over 15 years. I was the librarian in a tiny library housed in an old jail on Paris Hill in Maine when Beth’s oldest son was young enough to be reading the Redwall Series. In fact, I ordered those books just for him. He’s 26 now! I keep in touch with Beth, but would have no reason to share a small bedroom with her, eating too much chocolate, laughing uncontrollably at 6 a.m., hanging out on the dock, eating meals together for 5 days. Squam has given me that unexpected gift, among others.
One reason Squam may be so special to participants, teachers, and organizers is because most adults gave up summer camp years ago. I never went to summer camp. And Squam is certainly summer camp for adults, but no one is telling you what to do, when to put the lights out, waking you with reveille (is that just in the movies?) There’s a sense of freedom and aimlessness, coupled with a pretty powerful creative energy, the lake, the trails, that casts a spell.
‘It’s like a mild amnesia.’ I said to Beth on the second day. ‘I can’t remember what I was worrying and thinking about before I came’. I’m still calm and I attribute that to one Squam experience in particular: media fast. I’m an NPR news’ junkie and always listen to a couple hours every night while I’m making dinner and cleaning up afterwards. I also listen while I’m driving, and I do an inordinate amount of driving. That adds up to a lot of tragedy, scandal, violence, subterfuge, and a smattering of interesting news. I didn’t listen to any news at Squam and only checked email occasionally. Now, this was also the case last year, but in true Squam style, this year was a different year. My media fast delivered the dawning realization that I was happier, calmer, more clear-headed without the constant barrage of ‘news’ and voices cluttering my thinking. When I returned home I didn’t resume my news’ habit. I’m listening to audio books on long rides and nothing at home. Interestingly, maybe predictably, that sense of calm is still with me.
Important lesson number two: body image. Most of the participants at Squam are women. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities; they have myriad talents, day jobs, beauties. I recommend that all women spend a few days with a large group of women from all over the country and the world. I didn’t see one stereotypically perfect body in the mix, but I saw beautiful, unique women, laughing, eating picnics on the docks, swimming, hiking, knitting (lots of knitting), creating art, sharing art, huddled together in deep conversation and, most importantly, being completely themselves.
For all these reasons, the students I’ve encountered in my poetry workshops at Squam have been a pleasure to teach and write with. Most don’t have a regular writing practice, aren’t pursuing poetry to any end; they bring other reasons why taking the workshop was a high priority. Every one of my Squam students has been surprised by what she’s capable of writing, the memories that the writing process draws forth, the writing of her fellow students. It’s so fulfilling to lead poetry workshops at Squam because the experience is truly immersive. Students engage in the writing process for hours at a time, the combined focus and introspection create the perfect energy and atmosphere for writing. They aren’t jaded by years of writing workshops and they aren’t writing with publishing as the major goal, they’re writing to experience the joy of writing, which is pretty refreshing. This year, one of my students gave an impromptu evening reading of the poems she wrote during workshop to her 12 or so housemates. And, because it’s Squam, all the students love the mini magnetic poetry kit making. This year, two students had never worked with Mod Podge, so I was the crafty expert for a change.
And it doesn’t hurt when your classroom looks like this:
So Squam has commenced for another year and this introvert is still surprised at how easy it was to share a cabin with eight women. In fact, I wish I had been more social, gotten to know people a little better, spent more time by the fire and in long conversations. It takes a lot to get me out of my head and into the world, to appreciate the communal aspects of life, get me into swimming shorts, to turn off the news, share a bedroom, lead a class for six hours, and feel completely comfortable in my own skin.You did it again Squam! Thank you.