Every year there are four getaway gatherings that I attend purely for the way they make me feel:
- The Friends of Calligraphy Spring Retreat, in March
- Jazz Camp West, at the end of June
- My Create & Incubate Retreat, in August (sign up here)
- Life is a Verb Camp, in November
All four events have business benefits, but I go for me, first and foremost. In fact, these events have become sacred on my calendar. Nothing gets between me and these four gatherings.
They are like islands of time during the year that feed me and fuel me for the months in between.
Last week was the first of the bunch for 2016: the Friends of Calligraphy Spring Retreat. It’s five days (and actually six, because I always pay extra to come a night early) of unstructured time, where I get to do whatever I want.
The setting is beautiful and serene: Santa Sabina Center in San Rafael, a Tudor-inspired building constructed in 1939 as a convent for novice nuns.
There is a lush a central courtyard (above), and beautiful gardens surrounding the building, fresh flowers grace the common rooms downstairs, and the doors and common areas sport signs hand-lettered in calligraphy, thanks to a 30+-year relationship with the Friends of Calligraphy.
(In fact, I did a few signs one year at the retreat, including the one in this picture, taken from the opposite side of the courtyard:)
The biggest common room is transformed for the week into the Scriptorium, with dedicated table space for each of our 30+ retreatants.
(Here’s a view from the back of the room:)
Oh, and Santa Sabina also has absolutely delicious food! Better than any other institutional setting I’ve been in. They actually produced a cookbook in 2014, because the kitchen staff was swamped with so many recipe requests from guests.
Last week was my fourteenth year going to the FOC Retreat. I’ve missed only one year since 2002, and I’m not unusual. People are so devoted to this retreat that of the 33 people at our opening circle on Wednesday night, only one was a newbie.
Once people experience this retreat, they come back, over and over again.
The first year I went to the retreat, 2002, my original plan was to take the five days as a much-needed vacation. The spousal support that filled in the gaps after my divorce had ended in 2001, and I was working like a dog to grow my ketubah business enough to make up the difference. I needed a break, bigtime.
But I didn’t get one…
Not long before the retreat, I had agreed to produce print versions of two ketubah designs (this one and this one) for couples getting married a few months down the road. The designs were based on ketubot I had previously created as one-of-a-kind originals, but those artworks now lived in the new owners’ homes, which meant that I had to not only create new original art (a time-consuming process on its own), but I also had to letter out several different texts for each design (ketubah wording varies depending on who is officiating the ceremony), then I had to have the artwork and calligraphy scanned, proof the files, and have everything printed, laser cut, and foil stamped.
In short, I had a ton of work to do, and because the final prints had to be done in time for me to personalize them for use in my clients’ weddings, I had a hard deadline.
It was insane. And because a lot of the production was out of my control, my stress level was through the roof.
So my original plan was to take the FOC Retreat as playtime away from the stress, but instead I ended up having to work on the ketubah print jobs, because of the time crunch to get them done.
What a disaster.
While everyone else was lingering over meals and relaxed conversation, I was running around with my shoulders up to my ears and my blood pressure through the roof. It was miserable!
I wanted to be like my fellow retreatants, laughing and sighing contentedly about how lovely and relaxing this week was. But instead, I was trapped in a prison of my own making.
That year at the retreat taught me an invaluable lesson, and I vowed never to work on client projects at the retreat again! Playtime only!
In fact, for the next eight years, until I had my big awakening in 2010 that launched me on my journey to a full-color life (and started this blog!), the Friends of Calligraphy retreat was the only place I made art purely for the joy of it.
Sometimes I’ve made art at the retreaet that directly benefited my business — one year I painted four new ketubah designs (including this one, this one, and this one), another year I made 27 paintings — one for each letter of the alphabet, plus an ampersand (which became this ketubah, and this one), and one year I wrote 3,500 words each day on a book project — but the rule is that I only do things that I want to do, because it nourishes me to do so.
Some years I arrive with an idea of what I want to work on, and other years I just load the car with supplies and figure out what I want to create while I’m there.
And sometimes, like this year, I have a very clear plan of what I want to do… and the week turns out completely differently.
Often it’s years like this that have the most gifts.
On Tuesday, when I loaded up my car to drive the 90 minutes to Santa Sabina, I had great plans for the week:
- Make an animation every day.
- Draw every day (continuing my daily black-and-white doodle drawings, which I’d like to eventually turn into a coloring book when I have 20 or 30 of them).
- Map out the content for my next keynote presentation.
This didn’t seem too much to ask. In fact, it seemed quite reasonable to me. But, as is so often the case, my eyes were bigger than my plate.
I did make an animation the very first night, after setting up my work table (raised with bed risers, so I could stand, like I’m used to doing at home).
Things seemed to be off to a great start, despite the migraine that had started sinking its claws in before making the drive up…
And the next day, plagued with headaches on and off throughout the day, I mostly napped and read. Fiction, no less! So indulgent!
While I did have some wonderful art-making time (below are a couple of snapshots of works in progress on my table at the retreat), for the most part it ended up being entirely different from what I had planned.
The daily animations?
Well, I did eventually make a second one… on the last night!
When I arrived at Santa Sabina on Tuesday, my plan was to make an animation every day. Plus draw. Plus write. Plus, plus, plus… This was my *plan*, but it was not what happened. Instead, I made ONE animation (on my first night here!), and although I did do some drawing (and painting!), and a tiny bit of writing, I allowed myself to enjoy long conversations, naps, reading (for pleasure!), and just BEING rather than my usual m.o. of “Do! Do! Produce! Produce!” I allowed myself permission to BE, which, it turns out, was exactly what I needed. (This retreat has a way of doing that—showing me exactly what I need, regardless of what my plans are!) Even the daily migraines have been, in a painful way, a gift—a reminder to slow down and take care of my needs, allow myself to rest and breathe and be. And here it is, the last night, and I’m finally making another animation. Yay! Simple and fun. It’s good to play. 😊 #stopmotion #animation #claytoon #claymation #focretreat #fullcolorlife #creativesandbox #livingacreativelife A video posted by Melissa Dinwiddie (@a_creative_life) on
The black and white coloring book drawings? I spent maybe a half hour. But after looking longingly at the paints and pastels and colored pencils and pens other people were playing with, I realized that what I really wanted to do was play with color.
So I did.
And the keynote content mapping? Ha! I spent about ten minutes jotting down some notes, then accepted that I wasn’t in the right headspace, and let it go.
Let. It. Go.
As I wrote in the Instagram post with my second animation (above), the retreat has a way of showing me exactly what I need, regardless of what my plans are.
And remember that migraine I had on the first day? The whole week was like that: migraines on and off every single day.
Turns out my body was going through withdrawals from weaning off the Amitriptyline I’ve been taking every night. It hasn’t worked to prevent my migraines, but boy, oh, boy, weaning off of it has sure created a lot of them!
Funnily enough, the headaches were a sort of gift, albeit a painful and unwanted one.
I couldn’t power through the way I tend to do. Instead I had to take time out to read and press acupressure points. And while this slowing down gave the driven side of me fits, I’ve reached a point where perhaps the self-compassionate side is starting to tip the scales…
As I indulged in long conversations that lasted well beyond mealtimes, and just generally went with the flow, I couldn’t help but compare Retreat 2016 with Retreat 2002.
What a difference!
In 2002, I was stressed out, migraining (from stress), unhappy, unpleasant-to-be-around.
In 2016, I was relaxed, albeit migraining (from withdrawal!), happy, much-more-pleasant-to-be-around.
Of course this transformation didn’t happen overnight. And it’s not limited to my experience at the FOC Retreats. Over the last fourteen years I’ve changed a lot.
I’m not the only one aware of it, either.
Three different people, over the course of last week, specifically mentioned how different I am now from how I was even just five or six years ago.
I’m calmer. More grounded. More comfortable with who I am.
I can feel it. I’m aware of it, so I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that other people are, too.
And because the FOC Retreat is something I go to once a year, every year, I can really gauge how I’ve changed.
It’s really gratifying, because I’ve been working very diligently for the past several years on letting go of the perfectionism and the workaholism, springing the Comparison Trap, accepting and loving myself, truly practicing self-compassion.
It all started with giving myself permission to create again — that is the seed that spawned everything.
The change has often felt tiny and incremental, but as I always say, baby steps add up, and if you’re persistent, they’ll take you anywhere.
When I started this post/episode, I wasn’t really sure where it was going. I knew there was something really important in my experience and my noticings at the retreat this year, but I needed to get it out of my head and into words in order to figure out what it was.
I guess the upshot of this ramble is the importance of positioning where you are now relative to where you used to be. And to remember that change takes time.
Set the intention, chart your course, and just keep aiming in that direction. One of these days you might just realize that you’re there. You might even discover you’re at an even better place than the one you were aiming for.
And then it’s time to chart the course toward the next intention.
Thanks for Listening!
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Now go get creating!
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