Humanity exists because of the stories we share. It is in the telling and sharing of our stories that we know we are not alone…that we are loved, that we are one and the same despite our differences. These are things I know to be true, but that I am reminded of every time I leave the house to teach at an art retreat and then return home to ponder the events and interactions of the week.
There were a number of profound moments this time at CREATE in Chicago. There were students who read and follow my blog whom I was able to talk to face to face. I felt a familiar connection, a bond that exists in person and not just something that often feels like I’m having a one-way conversation. Moments that reminded me that when I sit here alone in my studio and write words into the wildness of the Internet that, indeed, someone somewhere is really reading.
There was an amazing woman who took my classes who lost her beloved only two weeks ago, but who still had the courage to come be amongst others despite her grief and shock. She was in my class the first day and I noticed her quietness. By the end of the retreat and the last class I taught Saturday night, she was a bubbly, smiling person. I made a comment about how wonderful it was to see her talking so easily amongst the other students in the class. She responded by saying that was her true nature and how thrilled she was that she listened to her heart and came to make art anyway. I couldn’t help but keep watching her out of the corner of my eye and smiling a deep, satisfied smile that I felt in my soul knowing that I was witnessing bravery and baby steps of moving forward.
I met another woman in my art journal jewelry workshop who has faced cancer three different times and won every single battle. Her limp is testament to her bravery. She shared her smile, spirit and art so readily with the class, and I was touched to hear her story and see the intuitive imagery that came from her mind and hands.
And then there was the group of girlfriends who are all art retreat pros. These ladies are the epitome of “been there, done that”. They cracked me up with the stories they shared and their true love for one another. The last thing they said to me is a simple, universal truth. There are few things in life better than one’s girlfriends. For them the art was secondary. It’s all about making shared memories so they can re-tell and share their stories for years to come. As we parted ways, I had to smile because I know for sure that in the future my name will come up and a small piece of me will live on with them.
I decided to write a much different blog post today than I originally planned. Rather than a straight forward wrap up, I wanted to acknowledge what it is about the art retreats that keeps me doing it. It’s the moments in between. The spaces where I get to connect with strangers who — in an instant — I recognize as members of my tribe because we’re there for the same reasons, the same interests. It’s getting to see and hear and learn and grow from other artists. It’s for the time during class where I’m able to impart something…be it a technique, in inspiring image, a small tip or a story of my own that makes sense in the moment. It’s for the times when I get to be quiet and witness the authentic interaction between two people and know that, in those moments, life is being lived fully by all involved.
I teach because it’s how I learn best right now to be a better human being, a more patient parent, a more giving spouse, a kinder friend..a more well-rounded artist. What I get in return is a thousandfold more than I give.