Friday, May 9, 2014

The gift of words, friendship, connection and the magic of Write: Doe Bay.

There was a lot of divine intervention at Doe Bay. The three and a half years that preceded my attending this retreat seem connected somehow. I have written and re-written this post every day since returning. Finally I just gave in went back to my original draft, re-read it, and left it exactly as it was. I did split it in two parts, the path that led me to Doe Bay and WRITE: Doe Bay – the retreat.

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The path that led me to Doe Bay.

I, like many others, was a bit nervous signing up for a writing retreat. Was I really a writer? I knew I enjoyed writing my blog, but I hesitated for a moment before signing up for this retreat. I think it was the idea of the kind of writer I wished I would become that drew me to attend Write: Doe Bay. I want to be a writer that connects with others. I want to share my ideas and thoughts in an effort to inspire people to make each day count. I want to live authentically, to embrace it all, the happy and the sad, the tough times and the amazingly good times. I want to share that because someone else shared that with me and I am in awe at how powerful that can be.

I had followed Kelle Hampton’s blog, Enjoying the Small Things, for almost four years. Kelle’s voice always spoke to me, it was almost like she showed me a part of myself that was always there but tucked just out of reach. I found her blog shortly after my sweet friend Diane had been diagnosed with both stage 4 ovarian cancer and a second primary cancer in her breast. I was devastated by my friends’ cancer, and I guess in hindsight, I was looking for something to make sense.  

Kelle’s blog made sense, it changed my perspective and it changed how I reacted to my friend's diagnosis. I honestly feel her words helped stitch my broken heart back together and that really surprised me. How did this blogger 3000 miles across the country have that gift, that power?

Kelle has shown me that even though we are all so different, even though our lives are completely different, we really are all the same. We love the same and we are sad the same, but most importantly we all have the ability to make the most out of every day, not just the good days. She has shown me through her own pain and within the depth of sadness, there is beauty. She showed me that if you choose to show up and walk through it, you will be better for it.

In the past three and a half years I have learned that when we are faced with painful times, we instantly get a crash course in reality. When we are forced to deal with difficult times we learn to let go of things that are too heavy, things that don’t give back to us, we cut out the drama and we really find what is most important to us. We end up editing our life because we know that life can change in an instant and we want each moment to count. So we are more conscious to suck the marrow, throw caution to the wind, and to live authentically. We love deeper, have more gratitude, more patience and a deeper understanding of what is really important in life. Instead of competing with others we see the value in supporting one another. Instead of taking from the world around us we are driven to give back, and leave the world better than we found it. And all of a sudden we linger with friends a bit longer, we are the last to let go of a friendly hug and we are compelled to make the most of our, one wild and precious life. And the incredible side effect of that perspective is our life becomes more meaningful.

Kelle’s blog is honest, raw and real and it was such a gift to me. I emailed her a few times over the years and thanked her for showing me through my own sadness.

She always wrote back.

It was December when I saw Kelles' post about Write: Doe Bay I knew I wanted/needed to be there. It is easy to get distracted in life and it seemed my life was taking me away from my writing. I needed to be refueled and inspired with regard to my blog among other things and I thought this writing retreat would rekindle that, and I knew it would be filled with kindred spirits.  So, after triple checking the cancellation policy, I signed up. I honestly did not think I would cancel but I had doubts if I was qualified to be there.

Soon came Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day. I would call my friend regularly and we visited as much as we could. And then, like a switch was flipped, I started to see her change.   A few weeks later there was a hospital bed delivered to her home and a book supplied by hospice that detailed what we were to expect. Gone from my sight, is a little book that I found so valuable.  It can be read in just a few minutes and truly walks you through the process of dying in the most gentle and beautiful way.  Family came from out of state, the most vibrant rainbows were seen over her home, and love filled the air in her final days.

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My sweet friend passed gently, on April 2nd, at home with her husband by her side.

Three years and seven months had passed since her initial diagnosis but we chose to look at that time differently. We saw that time pass, not in days but in picnics, in dinner parties, and in champagne bottles. We saw time in the weekend trips to the beach, the laughter, the amazing low tides and the long summer evenings in the backyard. We measured time in the hugs and the "I love you's", and the deeper connection we found post cancer.  My friend once told me over lunch, that through cancer she had found a connection to others, to the universe and to herself.  She said she had been searching for that connection her entire life, and then she paused and said, “As strange as it sounds, I have to thank cancer for that.”  She was amazing.
She loved my little blog and she was equally excited for me to attend this writing retreat on Orcas Island. I have not written much in the past six months.  The last thing I wrote before going to Doe Bay was her obituary. It was hard and healing and left me very raw.  Concerned about going away so soon after her passing, I found myself completely afraid. Afraid of letting it all come out. What if the pain settled in? What if I arrived there and couldn’t stop crying? What if I was angry? What if I was not really myself? What if…?

I really had no expectations of this retreat. I think every so often things just unfold as they should and Doe Bay did just that.  A two hour drive North with a quick stop at the tulip fields, an hour and a half ferry wait then an hour ferry ride and another forty five minute drive over rolling hills, scenic vistas and pristine waters I had finally reached Doe Bay Resort.

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I felt completely away.

I arrived at Doe Bay raw, my head swirling, and a little lost. I met some amazing people, true kindred spirits and I intend to keep and nurture those friendships. I learned a lot in 3 days, both creatively and technically. And I left with a new focus, a stronger voice and a deeper confidence in how I want to share my words and thoughts. I also left with a deeper connection to those who truly open themselves up, it’s hard to do.

And Kelle, yeah she’s pretty amazing. She speaks in hugs and with a focused attention to her audience of one or thirty eight. She is open and lovely and I thanked her for the gift of her words.

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WRITE: Doe Bay - The Retreat.

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Doe Bay, is known for many things, a resort for Hippies, home to a renowned music festival, an award winning farm to fork restaurant, and for its pristine 38 acres on the edge of Orcas Island. And Doe Bay is all those things but for the 38 creative beings that shared meals, cabins, music, poetry and stories from April 10th-13th in Spring of 2014 it will always mean so much more.

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I loved at Doe Bay, I gave myself away and took a bit of everyone with me when I left. And I felt at Doe Bay, a deep connection with each and every person within our very special group, and within myself. I laughed and cried and was uncomfortable and completely at peace, all at the same time. I gained insight on how to move past writers block, how not to let other voices change my own, how to see each moment with a bit more beauty and how to procure the avenues to share my words and see my stories published, if that happened to be my goal.

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Returning from Doe Bay has been different than I expected. I left early the next morning, before the closing ceremony, to attend my friends’ service; which was set for that afternoon. Sometimes I wish I had stayed for that closing ceremony, wrapped up my experience with the ritual I heard takes place on that last day. I wonder if there was cohesiveness in the closing day that would have sent me back a little more complete than I felt when leaving. It’s hard to imagine but in many ways I actually felt a bit more raw and unraveled than when I had arrived. I have since learned that we all felt this way upon “re-entry”.

Arriving home, those 3 days away felt like a year.

Life has been a bit of an adjustment since coming home, sinking into my friends passing, busy at work and balancing getting back in my routine. Sometimes it feels as though I am afraid to lose what was discovered on that tiny island. So keeping that in mind, my goals post Doe Bay are as follows: I intend to fit more creativity into my life, music, books, art, I need it. I intend to seek out more of what brings me joy, truly connecting with others. And I intend to let my voice share, inspire, guide and give back.
Many people have asked me about my time at Doe Bay and I find it somewhat difficult to explain. I have read my fellow Doe Bay writers’ words describing their own experience and while they are all so different they are all so incredibly accurate. I love reading their words, I loved meeting them and sharing that sacred space, and I know when we meet up again, we will pick up exactly where we left off. Until then I am grateful for social media to bridge the gap and I look forward to supporting their creative spirits.

We are storytellers, novelists, songwriters, singers, movie makers and poets. We write and share our stories, and we support each other in finding our own unique voice. And we are all forever changed and connected for our time and experience together.
     Photo credit Jesse Michener

We are different but we are also exactly the same, and we are better for attending Write: Doe Bay.

Thank you to Jenn and Jesse, thank you to Daniel, Kelle, Nici and Claire, thank you to Rebekkah, our amazing chef, thank you to Joe and the Doe Bay staff and thank you to the rest of the kindred spirits who left beautiful marks on my heart on that island far, far away.
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