A woman's experience with turning her focus inward, for a change

The Tribe, with the author second from left. The group spent five days in a cottage on the Oregon coast, inspiring and supporting one another in their creative journeys. That was only the beginning.
The Tribe, with the author second from left. The group spent five days in a cottage on the Oregon coast, inspiring and supporting one another in their creative journeys. That was only the beginning. (MELISSA DOWLER)
Posted: August 05, 2012

The hollering startles me awake. "It's a great morning for skinny dipping!"

I open one eye, and my froggy voice can barely croak out, "What time is it?"

The answer comes from my equally comatose roommate on the bottom bunk below me: "5:25 a.m. . . .. I think." She sighs.

The ruckus continues right outside our door, with the offenders showing no concern for those of us still sleeping. Their voices get louder. My eyes are now wide open, and I know they will not close again until late that night. As we rise, my roommate and I mutter curse words in unison, through the reluctant smiles we can't contain.

Moments later, eight women are running naked down the Oregon beach and into the frigid Pacific Ocean, whooping and joyous.

My husband and children are 3,000 miles away. I am 43 years old and this is my summer vacation.

I found my Tribe in the summer of 2011, or more aptly put, my Tribe found me. As a full-time working mother of two adolescent boys, I had spent the majority of the last 15 years outwardly focused, marching to the beat of those around me. And I had done so happily, seemingly unaware of how neglectful I was to the call of my own song.

So when the invitation came in 2011 from a writer friend to spend five days in a cottage on the Oregon coast with a group of women who wanted to inspire and support one another on their respective creative journeys, I didn't hesitate. A week of navel gazing sounded heavenly, almost indulgent. So I signed on, eagerly expecting a few days of writing exercises, art projects, and new people to meet. What I got was so much more.

That first year of the Tribe can only be described as magical. While we each engaged in some type of creative outlet - writing, photography, filmmaking, art - that was the extent of our connection. We were mostly strangers. Our founder, Meghan, had convened the group thoughtfully but somewhat randomly, comprised of a few women she knew, but most were those she admired online for their work, and others, like me, who were recommended to her as good candidates for this leap of faith. The anonymity coming in was part comforting, part confounding. I could be anyone I wanted to be with this group. But who were they?

As it turns out, "they" were a remarkable group of women committed to making our time together matter.

We were each gently tasked to bring with us one activity and one "small kindness" for the group. We took our assignments seriously, and descended upon Manzanita, Ore., that June with sound tracks, art supplies, writing exercises, cameras, poetry, and touchstones of inspiration.

But, as if driven by a higher purpose, we also brought our true selves to that cottage. And as we moved through our days together, it became more apparent that while we were all "creatives," we were also unique individuals who were balancing our souls on life's various edges. Throughout the course of our time together, we shared these pieces of ourselves that, for many of us, had never before seen the light of day. We wrote our mission statements, talked about our greatest fears and sorrows, and offered unconditional support for the lives we each wanted to lead. It was here that we bonded and vowed to return each year.

So we did. Our experience this year was rooted in "traditions" from our first gathering and augmented with new activities to try, exciting developments to share, and disappointments to work through. Some of us made tremendous strides in achieving last year's goals. Art work had been sold, films had been made, and regular columns had been secured. The victories were inspiring, especially to those like myself who were feeling stuck about where to go next. But we knew that the space was reserved with the Tribe to let it all out. And we all left Manzanita with a new sense of purpose for the coming year.

Each of us deserves a Tribe, a set time and place to ponder our existence. We have lives that are crowded with blessings, but afford us so little space of our own. Like many women in similar circumstances, I had adapted without protest to the constant detours from my emotional and creative growth. Finding my Tribe has granted me that needed space - fully lined with love and support - to chart my very own path. For a few days each year, I take a break from asking "Who is driving carpool?" to asking, instead, "What is driving me?"

It is remarkable how clear life becomes when the mind unclutters, the static disappears, and the spirit feels safe to dream, explore, and, yes, jump naked into the Pacific Ocean at sunrise for no one else's reason but your own.


Emily Mendell is a freelance writer in Wallingford and cofounder of www.mothersofbrothers.com. E-mail her at emily@mothersofbrothers.com.

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