My Spirit Animal: The Cat (and Drum Circles)

This past weekend I was a speaker at an amazing women’s retreat in Starkville, Mississippi. The retreat was organized by Alison Buehler, director of The Homestead Education Center. I’ll do a post soon with more about the retreat workshops, led by four contributors to the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. For today, I want to share something that came to me during the retreat that was a bit inspirational and also a lot of fun.

We were making “nichos”—little jars filled with items that have special meaning to us in some aspect of our personal growth—during the workshop led by Nina Gaby on Saturday. Nina is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a writer, and an artist. When Nina talked with us about her art, and also about making our nichos, she said:

We are all artists. The creativity within each of us gets us through the dark times.

Me and Oreo, a few days before she died.

I had chosen to take with me a small (3-inches tall) sculpture of a cat by Susan Lordi (Willow Tree) called “Love My Cat.” I had a cat named Oreo who lived 21 years. She brought me much comfort and joy, and now I collect figures of cats from all over the world when I travel.

I also chose to take with me for my nicho tiny prints of the covers of all four of my books, some small sea shells (because the beach is my favorite place on earth and the place where much of my creativity and growth have happened), and even tiny prints of my husband and one of me that represents my spirituality and my shadow, because I’m wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket, and I’m kissing a large pectoral cross that belongs to my husband, who is an Orthodox priest. And one tiny print of the weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt (my patron saint) which is on the back cover of my novel, Cherry Bomb. It was so much fun filling the jar with several of these items and gluing the others to the outside, finishing it off with some shiny silver ribbon with stars on it, to remind me always to shine.

For some reason, during the retreat, I came across this web site that’s all about spirit animals, so I looked up the cat, and this is part of what I read:

Those who have the cat as spirit animal may be encouraged to develop balance between independence and time of togetherness. Harmonious relationships between light and dark, action and observation are also attributes of cat spirit.

Cats (and two peacocks) in our foyer

This was so point on, as I struggle sometimes with loneliness, although I treasure the time I am able (and must have) to spend alone as a writer. But I also treasure my friends and times I’m able to spend with them. The words about light and dark, action and observation also spoke strongly to me. As did these words from the same site:

The cat carries many meanings revolving around the balance between seemingly opposites, such as inner and outer, action and rest, light and dark. It’s strongly symbolic of the connection with what usually hides in darkness or the unknown. The cat generally represents:

  • Patience, waiting for the right moment to act

  • Independence, yet enjoying social connections

  • Spirit of adventure, courage

  • Deep, relaxed connection with self

  • Healing from the inside out

  • Curiosity, exploration of the unknown or the unconscious

And these words, which intrigue, invite, and encourage me:

If the cat shows up in your life as a spirit guide or you have this animal as totem, you may be inclined to start exploring areas in your life or aspects or yourself that you do not know well yet.

Jeri leading drum circle (me learning)

Maybe some of that exploration came at the end of the weekend, when I participated in my first ever drum circle, led by Jeri Vanwinkle Mangum, a native of Oklahoma now living in Starkville. Jeri brought many drums with her, from numerous countries and cultures, and we took turns—moving to a different place in the circle after each song—so that we could experience more than one instrument. Since I was new to this, I read a bit about it first, and found this article helpful: “The Unwritten Rules of Drum Circle Etiquette.”

Twenty or so of us women who has spent the weekend sharing many personal things about ourselves and growing together sat in a large circle learning to beat out rhythms on many styles of drums as we chanted together. It was at times joyful and uplifting, and at times very somber. I ooked around the room at the faces of these wonderful women—many of whom had experienced much trauma in their lives—and I let each of their stories fill my heart and find their way to my hands as they played the drums.

(The sign at right was on the wall in the living room at the Homestead Center. I loved it and had to share it!)

Thanks always, for reading, and come back in a few days to read what several women have to say about their experience at the retreat.

 

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing our Closing Ceremony Leader

Jeri Mangum

Jeri Mangum

I’ve done several posts recently to introduce the speakers/workshop leaders for the A SECOND BLOOMING RETREAT to be held at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3. More information and registration are here.

Links to the previous posts are here:

Ellen Morris Prewitt, “The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting”

Nina Gaby, “Little Altars Everywhere”

Jennifer Horne, “How Our Stories Shape Us

Kathy Rhodes, “Pushing Up the Sun”

Today I’d like to introduce the woman who will be leading our closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

Jeri Mangum or ‘Just Jeri’ as she calls herself is a survivor!

She was a working wife and mom who retired from Mississippi State University in 2009 when her husband’s health became an issue. Jeri learned a lot of life lessons during the two and a half years that she cared for Bob as his health declined. After his death, Jeri discovered the work friends and couples friends were no longer there. And that is where her story begins . . .

drum-circleDuring her husband’s time in the nursing home, Jeri had observed the residents’ love of outside visitors who came and performed a variety of talents. It was that seed that drove her to fulfill her yearning for playing the drum. Hand drumming is her “happy/healing place”. She has led drum circles in Starkville at the assisted living center, the nursing homes, and for interested women who meet for renewal. Research is proving the therapeutic benefits of drumming and Jeri is living proof!

ASB cover w PQ badgeHer close circle of friends (FROGS/ Friends Readily Offering Genuine Support) know her to be the extrovert of the group who is always planning the next event or outing. Jeri is always willing to try new things and admits she loves making people smile.

So, come and bloom with us: create, write, discuss, walk, do yoga, drum, read, listen, eat, rest, and be inspired. Everyone who comes will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

Spaces are filling, so register soon!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 4

I’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

And on Tuesday I featured Jennifer Horne.
Kathy for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet our final workshop leader, Kathy Rhodes. Kathy and I were co-directors, with Neil White, of the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi. We’ve remained close friends and I was thrilled to have her contribute an essay to A Second Blooming. “Pushing Up the Sun,” which I placed in the section titled, “Blooming After Loss,” is about the sudden death of Kathy’s husband, and her subsequent “blooming” as she worked through her grief.   Here’s more about Kathy and the workshop she will lead on Sunday morning during the retreat:

Kathy Rhodes is author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing. Her essay “An Open Letter” appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3, and was singled out for a review in The New Yorker. She is Senior Writer/Editor at TurnStyle Writers. Rhodes lives in Nashville, where she enjoys gardening, kayaking, and walking her cocker spaniel.

Pushing Up the Sun – As life happens and hurts come, you have a choice of sitting by and waiting for healing or standing up and helping healing come: pushing up the sun. The more light you let in, the brighter your world will be. This workshop will be about proactively working toward healing, surviving, and thriving. Writing down thoughts and feelings helps you make sense of your own personal story. We will do some journaling with prompts. Journaling gets whatever you’re dealing with out of your mind and onto the page. It’s a tool to new insights, new perspectives, and self-discovery.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel.

I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 3

I’m following up on an earlier post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

Jennifer for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet my friend Jennifer Horne.

I met Jennifer in 2006 when she was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books the last year it was held in Memphis. Her panel featured the anthology she had edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was a life-changing day for me, because I also met Wendy, Cassandra King, Lee Smith, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who would all become mentors for me and my late-life writing career. The next time I saw Jennifer was in November of 2008, at the last Southern Writers Reading event in Fairhope, Alabama. I told Jennifer (and Wendy) how much All Out of Faith had meant to me, and they said they were putting together a sequel. I was honored to have an essay published in that sequel in 2012: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Fast forward to 2017 when A Second Blooming was published, with Jennifer’s wonderful essay, “The Second Half,” included in the collection. And then in 2018, my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, included another essay by Jennifer. As the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, Jennifer has much wisdom to share with us at this retreat. Here’s a little more about her and the workshop she will be leading on Saturday night:

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021, and is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classes and workshops around the South.

How Our Stories Shape Us – How we tell our own stories, and those of others, affects the meaning we make of them—narrative not only orders but influences our knowledge, memory, and sense of self. Likewise, our senses contribute to and often evoke our memory of story: fresh-cut grass, chalk and erasers, home-cooked food. In this workshop, we’ll play with group stories, help you reflect on your own story, and begin the process of constructing fresh narratives by drawing on sensory memories and revising interpretations of past events.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing the Speakers Part 1

ASB cover w PQ badgeI’m so honored to be invited to lead a women’s retreat at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3! All the information, including how to register, is here:

A Second Blooming Retreat

I met Alison Buehler, director of the Homestead and retreat organizer, at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Meridian, Mississippi, last July. What a smart, creative, energetic woman! After our meeting, she read the first anthology I edited, A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, and contacted me about hosting a retreat around the book. (A Second Blooming was the February 2018 pick for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, and I enjoyed moderating a panel with several of the authors at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January of 2018 for this book.) Each retreat participant will receive a copy of the book, and Alison asked me to invite four of the 20 authors who contributed essays to the collection to lead workshops at the retreat.

ASB talk prep

 

On Friday night, March 1, I’ll be giving the keynote talk. It’s from 7:30-9:00 p.m., but don’t worry. I promise not to lecture for an hour and a half.  I’ve put together a short “workbook” for everyone to use with several short exercises. We will examine the first half of our lives and consider how we will “bloom” as we move forward into, or continue in, the second half. My session will be interactive, so hopefully it will keep everyone’s attention and warm us all up for the four amazing workshops on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to introduce each of the workshop leaders here on my blog, one at a time. Today’s “bloomer” (that’s what I call the authors in A Second Blooming) is Ellen Morris Prewitt.

Ellen for ASB RetreatEllen Morris Prewitt is a writer who has explored group creativity in hundreds of workshops. She leads workshops based on her book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete Press, 2009); for eight years she facilitated a weekly writing group of men and women experiencing homelessness, which culminated in their book, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (Triton Press, 2014). Her recent work is a novel, Tracking Happiness (June 2018). She splits her time between Memphis and New Orleans. Here’s a bit about the workshop she will be leading on Saturday morning:

The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting – Labeling ourselves as uncreative often holds us back from exploring new activities that call to our hearts (I know it does for me.) Turning to the comfort and support of a group can be really helpful. In this workshop, we will talk about the three basic elements of group creativity that make exploring new ventures—from shibori to chi walking to speech writing to launching a new website—fun. We’ll make a very simple book to both experience these elements and to produce a journal for our resulting creative thoughts.

Here’s the retreat schedule:

FRIDAY

3:00 – 5:30 REGISTRATION / GREETING / TEA / GETTING SETTLED IN

5:30 – 5:45 OPENING & ORIENTATION

5:45 – 7:00 DINNER AND RECIPE SWAP – Please bring 20 copies of a recipe that helps share your story.

7:00 – 7:30 INTRODUCTION OF PRESENTERS – Alison Buehler

7:30 – 9:00 A Second Blooming – Susan Cushman

10:00 QUIET TIME/LIGHTS OUT

SATURDAY

7:20 – 7:50 MORNING WALK or Gentle Yoga

8:00 – 9:00 BREAKFAST AND CLEAN-UP

9:00-11:00- Using Groups to Support Your Creativity – Ellen Morris Prewitt

11:30 – 2:00 Lunch and Break

2:00-4:00 – Little Altars Everywhere – Nina Gaby

5:00 – Dinner in Town

7:30 – 9:30 How Our Stories Shape Us – Jennifer Horne

10:00 Lights Out

SUNDAY

7:20 Morning Walk or Gentle Yoga

8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Pushing Up the Sun – Kathy Rhodes

10:30 Closing Celebration – Jeri Van Winkle Mangum

11:00 – 12: Clean Up and Departure

 

 

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