The Not So Pretty Underbelly

April 14th, 2008

Art journal page from when I got home. Girl in boat looks over the edge at all the layers concealed in the depths.

I haven't completely processed my time at Artfest, but I'm beginning to digest the good, the bad, and the ugly and I feel like I've learned quite a bit about myself in the process. I was hesitant to talk about any of the ugly stuff because well, everything you hear about Artfest is so sunshiney and I didn't want to be a wet blanket or sound whiney. But I was inspired today by this post (from Sera Beak which was all about wanting to be liked) and this post from Michelle (about the icky side of Artfest), to just be honest about the totality of my experience. And for the record, it wasn't anything about Artfest in particular that made parts of it difficult for me. Ha, it sounds like I'm breaking up with someone. It isn't you, it's me! But it's true, the difficulties were my own doing.

Spread from my art journal.

One thing I realized pretty quick, is that I don't do well in crowds. I knew this about myself already and yet I wasn't quite prepared for the whirlwind that was part of this retreat (stimulation overload!) I have a way of getting wide-eyed and withdrawn in situations like this. Now, if anyone talked to me, I would chat back. That's the funny thing about introverts, I can perform and talk up a storm, but then later I pay the price by being mentally and physically drained.

Page inspired by the shapes created by the bleed through of markers from the previous page. At the bottom is written, "learning to swim with whales."

I was very glad to have the chance to meet and chat with Bridget a couple times (a super cool girl and fellow introvert), and I made a brief introduction with Liz and Kelly Rae (both super sweet), but in general I had trouble making any solid connections. Some have related the feeling to high school and it did feel somewhat like that, maybe more like junior high...being in this crowd of peers and wanting to be liked, feeling alone in a crowd of people who all seem to know each other. Perhaps if I'd braved having roommates in one of the dorms, I'd have felt more connected. But at the same time, I appreciated having a quiet and separate space off campus to decompress and stretch out. At any rate, I never quite found my footing and ended up feeling like a more quiet, serious version of myself...

Art journal page from after Artfest.

So, what have I learned?

  • Well, I still care too much about what others think of me and I still seek approval. (Poo!)
  • I'm a brave solo adventurer.
  • Travel plus big groups can be especially exhausting.
  • It's lovely to see things with fresh eyes.
  • Exploring new cities and towns on foot is exhilarating.
  • Simple kindnesses can make someone's day.
  • And in the future, I'd probably enjoy a longer and smaller art retreat where I have more time to find my feet and sink in.

Those first bits are something I'm slowly, but steadily working on as I walk my path as a human being. And this all tied in quite well with A New Earth and occasionally, I was able to recognize my ego chattering away and get present, but it was no easy task.

Oh, and by the way, the mandala has grown on me a bit. I was surprised when the hubster really liked it. He liked all the details drawn in on top of everything. So, I'm glad I went through the trouble to cart it home and I think I've found a good spot for it.

At the end of my trip I used my rental car to drive from Port Townsend, Washington to Portland, Oregon...a 4 hour drive that was a bit long, but very pretty...but that's a story for another day.

p.s. I'm behind on email, so if you're waiting for an answer, I'm not ignoring you. I'm just slow. :-)

9 Responses

i think i mentioned to you in an email before your trip that AF is a bit overwhelming, didn’t I? ;) I didn’t want to be negative though, because everyone has a different experience.

I call myself a “friendly introvert” and i think we are the similar. I stayed off campus the first year and at times couldn’t wait to leave campus and be by myself in town! The second year I stayed on campus and it was much better. I never bought into the magical la-la land that people make it out to be. My cynical side thinks that people talk it up because they think they’re supposed to and if you don’t have a magical transformation, then something is wrong with you!! ha! It’s definitely something different and special though and I appreciate it for being a creative retreat in a beautiful setting.

I wish I could have been there with ya! We would have a great time together, I just know it. :)

thank you for being so authentic about an experience i would have had difficulty coping with for all those people and all that energy. i love the drawings below of your inner selves. what wonderful expressions of you. i love the black and blue with red. re the mandala below: pink is a funny’s supposed to be soothing but often has the opposite effect. i hope other than the color, the creating of it was positive for you. of course, i have a bias…. *smile*
~sue okieffe

My first year at Artfest was similar to your experience. I sat in my car watching everyone yelping and hugging while I was alone and knew no one. I stayed in an Officer’s house but my room mate didn’t show up and my other 2 house mates were mother and daughter and while very kind and friendly they were close to each other and I felt pensive and alone. The walk to classes was long and lonely; I looked on as others seemed connected.

After my 4th year in attendance (and this year as a teacher) I can tell you that my only regret is that I am so recognized that I can no longer sit at the table where no one knows me (I do that on purpose to meet new people) and I seldom have the quiet time that helps me recharge. I’m not complaining; I love knowing so many new friends – I’m just saying that I remember how it felt to be on the outside and I no longer felt like someone who could be the one to recognize that “look” and reach out in friendship.

I think if you return you will find yourself with new friends and you will feel increasingly as though you belong. And while Artfest doesn’t change everyone’s life, it has changed mine. I’ve learned so much and my work has improved and the best part is that my heart has opened in generosity to others.

Anyway, take this all with a grain of salt if you wish but I find your work very appealing and honest and that’s why I keep coming here. xo

Great post Leah, you did the right thing writing it honest and true to what you experienced. Thanks for sharing and I’m so glad your husband liked the mandala and that you will keep it! Oh,. and the girl and the whale? is awesome! I look at it and I’m so curious what will happen next. Will he lift her or will she swim by without noticing him? :-)

Thank you for posting such a frank and honest description. I worry about the same issues and feelings myself, so have never braved Artfest or Metchosin. I wonder how many of us there are out there who stay away from great learning opportunities because we can’t face the crowds, the feelings of not belonging, of being an unwelcome outsider. I wonder if it would be easier to commit to that kind of event if one is prepared, and accepts that it is OK to be an outsider, and just take advantage of what is being offered. I know most psychologists would insist that we need to overcome those feelings, but that is a narrow viewpoint from someone who never felt that way…

Hello! I went over and read Michelle’s post after I read yours and found myself nodding . . . and yet, I totally raved about the feeling of community in my own blog!! Which, of course, got me to thinking . . . As an introvert, my expectations for events with lots of people crammed into a short time period doing things (like art) that bring up insecurities are well, low. I pretty much figure that it will be hard for me to connect with people, that I’ll be totally exhausted and craving alone time, and that I’ll feel like an outsider. I think I raved about community because well, it wasn’t that bad! I was able to sit with people I didn’t know and make conversation and at least some of the time, they welcomed me; unlike other events, a lot of people offered to trade with me even though I only had Moo cards; I really connected with my teachers, and felt like there was a real attitude of sharing. I even had a random conversation with Teesha about our love of gourmet food . . . the whole thing just felt more accessible. That said, I still found myself wanting to just cling to you like a little burr, “Hurray! A friend to share these things with!” while really wanting to make sure that I gave you the space I knew you needed . . . and who knows, maybe you can convince Theo do a week-long Introvert’s Intensive! :)

Hi Leah !
Thank you for sharing the good,the bad and the ugly of your Artfest experience. Isn’t funny how sometimes we have expectations about what a certain situation may have in store for us but when we go through it, it turns out that there are other lessons we are meant to learn ? You certainly seem to have gotten a lot out for your creative time away, whether or not it was the sunshine and flowers that some people make it out to be. The work you have done is amazing ! Your drawings are so rich with movement and imagery. I am really touched by how honest and open you are in your writing and your art work. Pretty expressive for an introvert, ain’t ya ? Take care,

Oh gawd, this sounds like hell. Bleh! Not because of what you said in particular just because I too hate crowds. And the whole “jr high” thing…pitiful on their part. Anywhoo, I’m glad you were able to identify what you liked and didn’t like. The jr. high thing was interesting to read because even in “blogville” you see it. It really is a shame.

Don’t you dare change anything about yourself though. You are who you are and I think you are truly amazing. Honestly, I wish more people were like you. Just look at your sidebar and how you’ve set aside posts each week for people to promote themselves. That my friend is a sign of a very, very evolved person.

I am really struck by these intuitive drawing Leah and I love your honesty.

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