If you put your nose too close to a piece of art, you won’t be able to appreciate it, much less see its full magnificence. You need to take a few steps back to be able to view it properly and give it the attention it deserves. That is precisely what I did on the last weekend of January. I took a break from my everyday and headed to the mountains of Izu with my month old baby to take part in the 56th Women’s Conference. I have just given birth and occasionally feel that my life has dwindled into nothing but childcare and house chores. The brief time away enabled me to consider my life and recognize what I have with greater clarity and perspective. I personally don’t think that the word “conference” appropriately describes the weekend, having attended many conferences that were formal, academic, or work-related. “Retreat” would certainly be a better word, with the lovely connotation of withdrawing to a quiet and secluded place.
LoAnne Olson, Chair of this year’s conference, invited us to relax, slow down, and savor everything about the conference – each breath of clean air, the food wholeheartedly prepared, the snacks shared, the stories recounted, the presence of each person. And the fact that we don’t have to cook or wash dishes for the next two days — how grand is that? I had the additional luxury of enjoying my baby by himself, something I’m not able to do properly when I’m back home running after my two year old and getting things done around the house.
This year’s theme is “Treasuring Our Gifts” and the main speaker is Lorelei Johnson Ver Lee, founder of Creative Women of the World. Lorelei shared uplifting stories of women who used their creativity, resourcefulness, and skills to start their own businesses and free themselves from poverty and oppression. The gorgeous products that she brought to the conference manifest a kind of artistry that speaks of empowerment and confidence. I helped a dear friend pick out a kooloo scarf with shades of intense blues from the boutique Lorelei set up at the conference and was pleasantly surprised when she gifted it to me. I wear it now hoping to soak up the warmth and creative energy of the woman who made it.
I am reluctant to name my gifts, unsure of what I’m good at or good enough to admit to others. I’m afraid that my admission will be judged and my gift deemed mediocre at best. Then again, maybe the time has not yet come for me; after all, some people find their niches late in their lives when the kids have all grown and left the home. Then again (again), maybe I keep aspiring for gifts that I don’t have, for a life that is not mine or is not for me. Maybe the envy is keeping me for seeing the gifts I have to share with the world.
The gift I have “discovered” is the gift of writing. I love to write. It is something I would do even though I’m not paid; writing is its own reward. I thrive when I write. A good friend and art gallery owner Bob Tobin (of Tobin Ohashi Gallery) wrote in his blog post “A Gallery Owner’s Advice to Young Artists [& The Rest of Us]”:
Only you can do what you do. You and your work is unique. You don’t have competition. There are other artists but the other work is different. It appeals to different people. No one wants to hear from an artist who says, “my work is nothing special.” There is a thin line between confident and arrogant. No need to be arrogant or angry, just be able to say confidently, “this is what I do.”
So yes, this is what I do. I write. My gift is the gift of writing, of expressing thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways that people can relate to, that move people, or inspire change in themselves and in their lives. And I will continue to write, even if it means it takes me days, maybe weeks to come up with anything decent because I could only write short snippets at a time (I deserve some gold stars every time I’m able to successfully put my two kids to nap at the same time and free up two hours to write!). I still doubt my writing is good enough, witty enough or meaningful enough. But at least I’ve made some progress in owning my gift.
There couldn’t be a more ideal place to embrace my gift along with all my insecurities and baggage than within this circle of women. They are wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, lovers. They are women from different places, from all walks of life and with all sorts of battle scars. They need not tell their stories – you could see it in the gentleness of their manner, the kindness of their words, the understanding in their eyes, the firmness of their hugs. If psychologist Carol Gilligan found the ethic of care, what I have experienced at the Women’s Conference is the circle of care. Within these circles, women are free to let their hair down, to be exuberant (my favorite is the toast “To nipples!”), to laugh, to cry. These are safe spaces to be a woman and to be understood, supported and encouraged in ways that only another woman could. It is unfortunate how these circles of care have become less available to women as society has become more fragmented and women more isolated, and this is especially true for women who move to a foreign country.
It was such a nourishing weekend that I reentered my regular life with renewed enthusiasm and eagerness enough to last till the next conference. One of my favorite quotes is from Jeanne Achterberg, “When the feminine emerges, life is honored.” After this weekend, I know exactly what she means.