Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Three More Good Things (one word: Squam)

Despite a tiring, rainy day outside, I'm feeling happy and shiny in my soul because I'm off to New York this weekend for a long awaited visit with a friend. The weather forecast is calling for coldish weather, but the lows don't go below 20 degrees (Fahrenheit). After enduring single digit temperatures for a few weeks this winter, anything above the teens feels manageable. So while I'm gallivanting around Brooklyn and soaking up the goodness, here's your second tidbit of soul sunshine. (Don't miss the first part. It's a good one.)

I actually have three things to tell you about today.

First is for those of you who attended the Squam Art Workshops (SAW) last year.

Liz Kalloch (also known around blogland as Athena Dreams) has pulled together a wonderful opportunity for 2008 SAW attendees: the First Annual Squam Art Show: A Vision of Squam. This show is open to anyone who attended or taught at the 2008 Squam Art Workshops. "This show is meant to be the story of how your work may have shifted and grown, how your lives as artists were perhaps changed, how the experiences you had at Squam in 2008 may have allowed you to see your work in a different way, how each of your artistic communities have grown and expanded and finally, what kind of work came out of your experience," says Liz.

The submissions deadline is April 30, 2009. (That may sound like you have plenty of time, but don't be fooled. Mistress Spring has a habit of flitting in and out of the month of March, tempting us all to distractions like flowers, flirty dresses, and cupcakes. The end of April will be here before you know it. So get to it!)

The jurors for the show are Susan Schwake, Liz Kalloch, and Mary Jo Monusky. The show will be held at artstream Gallery in Rochester, NH and opens on September 1, 2009. All of the details about submissions and the show are available here.

Secondly, this is for those of you who attended SAW last year but may feel a little shy about entering work in a juried show. (Like me!) Liz has also put out a call for a Collective Media Submission. All 2008 SAW attendees are encouraged to submit something to this category. Here's how Liz describes it: "These pieces will all be hung in the gallery like prayer flags, like meditations on a moment, like beautiful memories, or maybe even like cocooning butterflies." Doesn't that just sound too lovely not to be a part of it? Submissions for the Collective Media Submission must arrive at artstream Gallery by August 1, 2009. Again, you can find out more here.

And thirdly, this is for all of you who didn't attend the Squam Art Workshops last year. What about this year? Want to try your hand at knitting, painting, or songwriting? How about a class on storyweaving, mixed media art, poetry, outdoor sculpture, jewelry making, or photography? There are even classes on tapping into your creativity and slots for open studio time.

There are two sessions of SAW this year. The Spring Workshops will focus on fiber arts (with a few other types of classes thrown in for good measure) and will be held June 3-7, 2009. The Fall Workshops are more multi-faceted and will run September 16-20, 2009. You really need to check out the website to get all the details. Because the goodness runneth over!

I had mixed feelings after attending SAW last year, all based on my own conflicted feelings and issues. The event itself is fabulous. Over the past five months, the experience has had time to mature and mellow, and to develop a nice patina. I've realized that despite my feelings of isolation while I was there, I was actually developing new friendships that continue to grow and deepen. So I'm looking forward to going back this September. In addition to spending time with these friends, I'm looking forward to playing with paints and words, all mixed up into one messy, thrilling experience.

If you're intrigued, I hope you'll dig a little deeper and consider attending. Registration has been open for a little while now, and spaces are limited. So if you feel this opportunity tugging at your soul, don't dismiss it.

Okay, that's the Goodness Report for now. I'll be back next week with tales from the big city.


Hello, my name is:

Awhile back, I wrote about my failed attempt to rename myself and the lingering desire to try it again. To sum up the original story: During my freshman year of college, I tried to add a vowel to the end of my name in hopes that it would make me stand out from the sea of Jenn's in my generation. Due to a friend's honest question and my timidity, it didn't stick.

But over the past year, I've realized that the name Jenna calls to me, beyond my desire to be different . There's something about it that appeals to me. I wondered if it could feel like home, but I wasn't sure I was ready to rename myself. In June, I wrote, "Names get into our being. They're part of the story we tell to ourselves and about ourselves. I don't know if I can cast aside Jenn or Jennifer for Jenna."

Three months after writing that, I decided to take Jenna out for a test run. I've always been fascinated with the idea of going to a place where nobody knows me and creating a new persona for myself; not because I'm ashamed of who I am in my "real" life, but because so often I get bogged down in who I'm expected to be. Or more accurately, who I'm accustomed to being, which, despite my best attempts to live authentically, does not always line up with who I really am or want to be.

So in September, I traveled to the woods of New Hampshire to meet more than 100 strangers at the Squam Art Workshops. I "knew" a few of the women there through blogging, but had met none of them in person and had never spoken with any of them on the phone. The extent of our interaction had been reading and commenting on each others' blogs and sharing an occasional email. It was as good a place as any for my name experiment.

Two months earlier, I trotted out my new name a few times while at BlogHer in San Francisco, but I had a hard time being consistent with it because I'd already met several of the people there. I wasn't completely ready to commit to that extra letter.

But for five days in New England, I said, "Hi, my name is Jenna." For five days, I heard people say, "Hey, Jenna...." and then realized they were talking to me. If I'm being completely honest, I felt like I was lying about my identity. It was just one tiny extra syllable on top of "Jenn," but I may as well have introduced myself as Mathilda. My own name sounded foreign to me.

And yet, I stuck with it during the whole retreat. I resisted the urge to abandon my experiment and fall back on the familiar. So now a whole group of people know me as Jenna. I told one of my closest and oldest friends about this experiment, and she admitted that she could never think of me as a Jenna. I understand that. The verdict is still out on whether or not I can.

Then today I read something that Karen Maezen Miller wrote on her blog:

Our mind is so swiftly conditioned to an acquired understanding of names and labels. Like all forms of delusion, we attach and identify erroneously with names when they are just tools. Identifying yourself with a certain name is like mistaking the fork for the food.

It reminds me of Popeye's famously jaunty song: I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam.

I am Jennifer/Jennie/Jenn/Jenna Ann McGuiggan. Call me what you will, I'm still me. And that's all that I yam.


Only Connect: The truth I SAW

me, as seen by Melissa Piccola

I want to tell you the magical tale of 120 women (and a few men) in the woods of New Hampshire, gathered together for art making and soul digging. I want to write about the lovefest that was Squam Art Workshops: how we were inspired, our artful souls lifted high above the trees that grow so straight and true around Squam Lake; how deep, soulful bonds were formed and first time meetings felt more like reunions of old friends; how we surprised ourselves with our own abilities, our similarities to one another, and our capacity to connect.

I've read so many blog posts from SAW attendees that touch on or delve into these very things. I want to tell you that magical tale, but it's not my story. I wish it was. But mine is messier, less cheery. I'm still deciding if it's less magical.

I wish I'd spent five days feeling elated and connected and rooted and artful. Instead, I spent a lot of that time feeling disconnected, tentative, needy, and bothersome.

Epiphany in the Woods

One afternoon at SAW, I found myself walking to the dining hall alone, feeling sorry for myself. I tried to take in the beauty all around me, but felt completely separate from it. I silently berated myself for being a killjoy, for being awkward, for being alone at that very moment when surely everyone else was deep in the throes of exhilarating conversation with their new found soul sisters. Then I had a small epiphany: "Oh. This always happens to me when I go away."

I remembered how a similar feeling of disconnect and discontent followed me around like a palpable presence in San Francisco at BlogHer this year; how even after the conference, while sightseeing with friends, I couldn't shake this specter of sadness. The same thing happened the year before at BlogHer in Chicago, even though I'd fulfilled my wishlist of "BlogHer deliverables."

I realize now that this feeling is achingly familiar. I felt it as a teenager in a very small high school; as a college student with a diverse group of friends; as a young volunteer in a foreign country; in various jobs that quietly killed my spirit. All my life, I've battled the feeling that I'm on the fringe of things.

Why do I always feel like an outsider, even when I'm somewhere I want to be, doing something I want to do, with people I want to be with? Feeling this way unnerves me, confuses me, saddens me. It flies in the face of all that I hold most dear.

At My Core

During Andrea Scher's Superhero Life session at SAW, we did a life coaching exercise to uncover our core values: the ideals that act as our guiding principles; our highest hopes and expectations; the traits we most cherish and respect. I was sweetly surprised when the exercise led me straight to the things I already knew I loved.

My first core value is Joy & Wonder. For me, this means living with my eyes and heart wide open, loading up my life with things big and small that bring me joy and fill me with wonder. It means seeing magic and beauty all around me, much like Anne of Green Gables and so many of the bloggers I love.

I wrote about Joy & Wonder in my 2007 Retrospective:

For the first time that I can remember, I had days when I was just happy to be alive. Each day suddenly held beauty and joy and meaning. I was shocked to realize that I was excited about the coming day; that I looked forward to the possibility of getting up tomorrow and seeing what would happen. This new sense of euphoria left me breathless. For so long I've wanted to live a life of joy and wonder. And for so long, it escaped me. I finally realized that I had to create such a life if it would not just come to me. Of course, the more I sought to create it, the more it came to me.

My second core value is Connection. The fullness of this word for me is complex, but part of it means that I need to connect with people to be happy. I savor time alone, but I need big doses of deep conversation and riotous laughter with kindred spirits. I need this connection in order to feel whole. Without enough of it, it's hard to live with Joy & Wonder.

Come Away With Me

I don't know why I have this fringe problem. How much of it is insecurity clouding my judgement of how people view me? How much of it are those nasty internal gremlins preventing me from connecting? During The Superhero Life, Andrea said that the gremlins' job is to keep us safe. When they whisper that we aren't capable of something, we're tempted not to try. And if we don't try, the gremlins protect us from the pain of potential failure. Perhaps mine tell me that I can't connect in order to protect my heart from the pitfalls that come with living so wide open.

I want to tell you the magical tale of 120 women in the woods of New Hampshire, but for now I can only tell you the story of me. My art retreat experience did not go how I'd hoped. But it's opened my eyes to some important truths about how I experience the world, including how I experience myself and other people.

I came away from SAW feeling sad and a little bruised. But I think this has little to do with the event and the people, and much to do with me.


It's All Happening: Mondo Beyondo Update

heart in Union Square, San Francisco

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a retrospective on 2007 and a Mondo Beyondo Prospective for 2008. (Find out more about the Mondo Beyondo concept.) I named 2008 my year of Opportunity, Abundance, Prosperity, Plenty, and Creation, and made a list of intentions for how I want to live and what I want to do. I also named and claimed some Mondo Beyondo dreams for this year and beyond. I'm amazed and joyful and humbled and pleased to see several of them coming to fruition.

I wanted: "to start creating mixed media art and find my own path as a visual artist." Next week, I'll go to my very first art retreat, where I'll take a painting and mixed media class. I'm also taking a travel journaling class and attending the Superhero Life workshop. I'm particularly excited about this last one, as it's being taught by the Super Duper Andrea Scher of Superhero Designs. I met Andrea very briefly at the BlogHer Swap Meet this summer and can't wait to learn from her. Plus? Her lovely assistant will be Jen Gray, who I "know" through blogging and a few emails. (It's hard to know if the word "know" is really the right verb in these cases, isn't it?)

And as if that weren't enough, Jonatha Brooke will be providing camp fire music, Boho Girl Denise will be running around taking artist portraits, and Kelly Rae Roberts, one of my favorite artists, will be hosting a discussion about living the creative life.

But wait! There's more! I was serendipitously connected with Kelly Barton of Camp Indigo Soul to share a rental car between the airport and the camp. After connecting with her, I realized that she is the woman behind one of my favorite Etsy shops. And speaking of serendipity, I'll also get to meet the inspiring Liz Elayne Lamoreux of Be Present, Be Here and The Little Room Etsy shop. (Remind me to tell you the funny little story about how we "met" online.) I'm also looking forward to meeting Kirsten Michelle from In the Land of the Lovelies.

I have a feeling that once I get back from New Hampshire, I'll be gushing about all of these women and more, as well as the whole Squam experience. (fair warning!)

I wanted: "to uncover and be at peace with my decision about having a child." Although I haven't reached a decision or a place of total peace yet, I have had a major epiphany in this realm, which has helped me to understand the swirl of emotions surrounding this issue for me. I'm not ready to tell that part of my story yet, but the plot is definitely taking a few twists and turns.

I wanted: "to spend a week at a writers' retreat somewhere beautiful, comfortable, and nurturing." Earlier this year I reconnected with a writer friend from college (hi, Jamye!). Several months ago, she asked if I would be interested in joining her and some other women on a writing retreat. The details are still unfolding, but it looks like this little dream will come true the first week of November.

At least one other Mondo Beyondo dream is in the works and looks like it will become a reality. And that's just what I can see. What if all the others are unfurling in their own way and time? I don't know where my dream cottage is yet, but I'm sure it's out there.

There is more of the year behind us than in front of us, but there's always time for dreaming and scheming. What are you up to lately?


Life After Death

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on the last post, emailed me, or sent their support via Twitter. I appreciate each of you so much. The flurry of activity that surrounds death came to a head with yesterday's funeral. Now comes perhaps the hardest part of all: the denouement back into everyday life.

I've been removed from my normal routine for more than two weeks now, what with traveling across the country, spending days at the hospital, and grieving with family members. I'm weary in body and spirit. Trying to jump back into the fray of normal life has been hard. I long to get back to my easygoing routine that barely qualifies for the word "schedule." I want to cook dinner, weed the garden, sit on the patio, do some freelance work, laugh with my husband.

But this morning, I didn't even want to get out of bed. Still, I did. And I managed to take Gatwick the Catwick for one of his periodic haircuts, return library books (on time!), pick up a few groceries and household goods, and do two loads of laundry. This means that we now have some vegetables in the refrigerator and I won't have to shower with a paper towel, like I did this morning. I also wrote 19 words of an assignment and stared at my notes for said assignment.

I'm glad I spelled it all out like that, because I was feeling a little loser-ish and a lot overwhelmed. But now I see that I did accomplish something. Several things, in fact. One thing at a time. Living is always that way: one thing at a time.