A Writing Quilt

At RCWMS, we love providing time and space for women to be creative together. One of the ways we’ve done this is by sponsoring weeklong writing retreats at Pelican House at Trinity Center, Emerald Isle, NC. For over a decade, women have been nourished by quiet days of writing and evenings of community sharing. While we are always happy welcoming new writers, some participants return year after year.

We also love new projects that are inspired and cross-fertilized by our time together. An example of this is the recently completed quilt that Marcia Rego got the idea to create after several visits to Pelican House. A woman of many talents, Marcia is originally from Brazil, has a PhD in anthropology, and teaches in the Thompson writing program at Duke. In her spare time, Marcia creates beautiful and meaningful quilts. This is what she wrote about the project before heading to the beach again at the beginning of May:

“I’ve been to the Pelican House retreat four times (and going to my fifth one), and every time I go, I bring a quilt project to work on in the evenings, during “share” time. Last time I was there, it occurred to me that it might be a cool idea to gather pieces of clothing from all the women writers who go to the retreat. I got lots of fabric in the mail, from people I haven’t even met – so that was really cool. It took me a while to get started because I had a busy semester, but I had fun trying to figure out what to do with such different (and often clashing) colors and patterns.”

Well, she certainly figured it out! Despite the wide range of fabrics provided by previous Pelican House writers, Marcia was able to piece them together into a beautiful design. You can observe her process in a delightful time-lapse video that Marcia’s husband, Hermes, created. And consider joining us on a future week of quiet and writing at the beach. You never know what might come of it!

Rebecca Welper has an MFA in playwriting and teaches writing workshops at RCWMS.

Moments Magnified

photo“Evocative, sensual, suspenseful.”

That’s how Carol Henderson described strong writing to 25 women who gathered on the first day of spring for Carol’s annual Resource Center weekend writing intensive. Many of the women were veterans of Carol’s writing workshops and dove in eagerly. Entitled “Moments Magnified,” the two-day workshop encouraged participants to write powerful vignettes about their lives, and leave with drafts of short pieces that would later begin to connect into a larger whole.

To inspire deep and thoughtful writing (with a dash of humor) Carol read earthy poems and threw out juicy prompts. In the light and airy Colony Hills Clubhouse, pens scratched and keyboards clicked, as participants reached into their lives for narrative themes that cut across time and memory.

A deeply personal writing journey for many blossomed into a community experience as well. Quiet writing periods were broken up by opportunities to share freshly generated writing. After finding inspiration and encouragement from each other, the writers would turn back to their own notebooks and computers for yet more writing.

The whole weekend was brought to a sweet and celebratory close with several participants’ readings, which shared beautiful, painful, and brave moments in their lives. The writing indeed turned out to be evocative, sensual, and suspenseful – moments magnified into something greater.

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Masks & Mirrors

IMG_20150315_140226What happens when you bring together a yearning at RCWMS to showcase someone’s art, a gorgeous venue, and the idea that a day should be designated to celebrating women in the arts? “Masks & Mirrors,” that’s what. “Masks & Mirrors: Works By Mary Jane Rivers & Friends,” which opened on March 15 at Cassilhaus, a home and gallery between Durham and Chapel Hill, NC, is sponsored by RCWMS and Cassilhaus.

Mary Jane’s abstract forms reflect a vibrant conversation between the conscious and unconscious. Her paintings portray the dialogue between the masks we present to the world and the vulnerabilities that peek out from behind those masks. Her works are mirrors of an interior landscape. This exhibition features a selection of her work, along with paintings by Marcy Litle and wildlife sculptures by environmental artist, Bryant Holsenbeck.

IMG_20150315_174210During the planning stages, and inspired by the model of SWAN (Support Women Artists Now), scheduled each year in March, Mary Jane determined that this celebration of her work should also showcase the work of local artists in other media. To include more friends, as it were. This decision blossomed into a series of associated events, including a rousing concert featuring Randa McNamara on March 19, an upcoming evening of readings by local writers, and a participatory jazz improvisation during the show’s closing.

The opening on April 15 and performance on the 19 brought out lively and enthusiastic crowds. You can find photographs from the exhibition and some of the events on the RCWMS Facebook page.

The exhibition runs through April 19, with gallery open hours on afternoons of March 19, 26, April 2, 8, and 16. (Please contact masks.mirrors@gmail.com if you need directions.) Mary Jane Rivers and Marcy Litle will be present during gallery hours, happy to chat or to leave visitors alone to contemplate the artwork.

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Art Weekends at the Beach

IMG_4911During the last week of February, a large beach house on Emerald Isle—with a magnificent view of the sound in one direction and a one-block walk to the beach in the other—was filled with pencils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, charcoal, pens, and blank canvases. By the beginning of March, a revolving cast of women had explored, rediscovered, and deepened artistic expression and soulful connections. Inspired by the sometimes icy views, the women filled sketchbooks and canvases under the warm and wise guidance of veteran artist and teacher Sue Sneddon.

IMG_4929Some participants were returning to the beach for the advanced “Making Your Art” workshop, and some ventured out the following weekend for their first RCWMS event, “Finding Your Medium.” After the workshop, one of the first-timers, Kate, shared her joy in re-connecting with an important part of herself:

What a gift! “Finding Your Medium” with Sue Sneddon was magical for me and helped me to recover my artist soul. I have been yearning to learn how to paint, but I have been carrying within me the discouraging reactions of several art instructors who had convinced me that I was no good at it. Several weeks ago I stumbled onto the RCWMS website and discovered “Finding Your Medium.” What drew me was the first line of the course description, “I can’t draw a straight line.”

I am an introvert and have always felt intimidated making art in front of other people so it was a HUGE leap of faith to sign up to spend an entire weekend with a group of strangers at a beach house making art together! I had to talk myself into going several times before the weekend started. I told myself I was going to give up painting if I came home feeling discouraged.

What happened was the opposite! What I experienced was a group of kind women who were supportive and non-critical, and in this environment I discovered that art is fun, joyful, and a gift that all of us possess, including me. I gradually began to relax, and as I got lost in the various art mediums, I discovered that my young artist inside has lots to say and express. I am very excited to continue painting and to allow my artist soul to flourish.

Sue Sneddon is so much more than an extremely gifted and accomplished artist. It is who Sue is as a person–her warmth, her “realness,” her gentle encouraging spirit, and her unique ability to draw out the “vulnerable child artist” in each of us–that makes her a really great teacher.

At RCWMS, we so are grateful to work with talented artists and teachers like Sue Sneddon, and open-hearted women who are willing to risk, explore, and grow. We hope you will join us for a workshop or program soon!

Rebecca Welper has an MFA in Playwriting and has taught writing workshops at RCWMS

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2015 RCWMS Essay Contest Winners

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 RCWMS Essay Contest, “Embodying Faith.” First place goes to Rebecca Lanning of Durham, NC, for her essay, “How to Pet a Porcupine.” Second place goes to Sarah Woodford of New Haven, CT, and third place goes to Lauren Kilbourn of Chapel Hill, NC. An honorable mention goes to Lucille Gaither of Cheverly, MD. Click here to subscribe to our print newsletter, South of the Garden, and read the winning essay in our March issue.

Many thanks to this year’s judges: Marcy Litle, Jocelyn Streid, and Rebecca Welper. The judges report that they were touched by the thoughtful honesty and inspired by the great variety of this year’s submissions. Here is a behind-the-scenes-look from one of the judges, who reflected on what it was like to be on this side of the submissions process.

I thought it would be pretty easy to sit down, read through the submitted essays, and come up with my favorites to compare with the other judges. But as I read through each essay, I was struck by the beauty of the lives being shared with me. It felt like each essay was a gift from these women’s souls, with all the prickly parts, the aches, the longings, and sweetness. I started to wonder what it meant to pick winning essays. It felt like I was being asked to assign more worth not only to the pieces themselves, but to the lives and women behind the words. That didn’t feel right.

I realized this perspective came in part from having been hurt in the past when putting forth my own work. But while reading the essays submitted to the RCWMS contest, I was filled with gratitude to be let in on a small slice of these lives. I felt inspired reading each essay, no matter which ones we ultimately deemed most fitting for this year’s theme. As I found myself hoping that each one of these women would keep writing and sharing their important truths, I was reminded that we never know how we will touch others, but when we share authentically, we do. Thank you to everyone who submitted an essay for this reminder. I’m hoping you and many others keep sharing.

Befriending Death

What would it look like to befriend death?

That was the question presented to a circle of women on at the first session of a series of workshops sponsored by RCWMS on January 18th. Titled “Befriending Death,” the series seeks to explore how we may spiritually, mentally, and emotionally grapple with the realities of death – our own, and others’.

Led by Anita McLeod, Betsy Barton, Stacy Grove, and Jocelyn Streid, the group met in the warm and sunny living room of a private home in Durham. This past Sunday, twenty women gathered together over tea and treats. The workshop opened with the lighting of a candle and a reminder that when women circle around a fire, they participate in a centuries-long tradition of wisdom-gathering. At the beginning Stacy Grove centered the group with a simple flute melody, and Anita McLeod asked participants to honor the community they formed—by maintaining confidentiality and withholding advice and judgment, each member would contribute to the creation of a safe space.

Over the next three hours, participants shared their own experiences of illness and mourning, fear and acceptance. The afternoon included poetry-reading, silent meditation, journaling, and conversation. In small groups and as a whole, the women discussed how previous encounters with loss shaped their perception of death and how they hoped the workshop might allow them to reimagine their relationship to this final transition. Several spoke of how personifying death as a female figure offers a new way of thinking, and explored the use of the term “Sister Death.”

As one leader explained, “You can’t befriend what you can’t imagine.” As such, the group engaged in an activity that had originally been conceived by RCWMS board member Jehanne Gheith for a class she taught at Duke University. Participants took a few minutes to sketch their ideal death, thinking about where they would be, who would be there, and how they might feel. The session ended with a communal reflection on the truths, questions, and challenges the women had encountered during the afternoon.

Participants lingered after the closing of the workshop, chatting with old friends and exchanging contact information with new ones. They will convene again in a few weeks to continue the conversation. Good things take time, it seems; befriending death isn’t just about facing it—it’s also about learning how to be in relationship with it.

Jocelyn Streid is a graduate of Duke University and an intern at RCWMS.

Epiphany Labyrinth Walk, January 6, 2015

IMG_20131003_155551In the Christian tradition, Epiphany is the celebration of the visit of the three wise people to the baby Jesus.  Epiphany comes from ancient Greek meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.”  We use the work in English to denote a striking revelation.

We invite you to walk a labyrinth this year on Epiphany and to let the experience reveal to you whatever it might.  You may want to carry a question with you on the walk or simply be open to whatever appears to you.

We have checked with a few of our favorite labyrinth locations and have listed them below. You may find others through your own networks or at: http://labyrinthlocator.com/

January 2-8, 2014, 8:00 am-10:00 pm
St. James Room, Trinity Center, 618 Salter Path Rd.,
Pine Knoll Shores, NC 28575
Canvas Eight-Circuit Renewal Labyrinth created for an Eagle Scout
Project by Ben Brake and gifted to Trinity Center in 2010.
Contact: 888-874-6287

January 5-6, 2015, Thursday, 6:00-9:00 pm
and Friday 9:00 am-4:00 pm
First United Methodist Church Cary, 117 S. Academy St.,
Cary, NC 27511
This is a modified medieval 7-circuit 24′ Octagonal Canvass labyrinth. Enter the church thru the West Templeton building entrance (educational building) and take the stairs to Room 200 on the second floor.
Contact: Rev. Judy Stephens, Judys514@nc.rr.com, 919-815-8836

January 6, 2015, open all day
Millbrook Baptist Church, 1519 Millbrook Rd., Raleigh
Outdoor 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth. This lovely outdoor labyrinth will be available all day for individuals to walk. Inspirational materials will be available.
Contact: Carolyn McClendon, 919-247-4240, office@millbrookbaptistchurch.org (Groups may use this contact to arrange a designated time.)

January 6, 2015, 12:00 noon-8:00 pm
St. Francis United Methodist Church, 2965 Kildaire Farm Road,
Cary, NC 27518
Outdoor labyrinth will available for walking during daylight hours.
Contact: Joan Purcell, joanpurcell4@gmail.com

20th Annual Interfaith Celebration of Community, Spirit and Change

IMG_4723A week before the Solstice, the Resource Center hosted the 20th annual Interfaith Celebration of Community, Spirit and Change at Beth El Synogogue in Durham. We had to keep adding chairs in ever widening circles around our eclectic altar, to welcome the largest crowd we have seen in years. Over eighty-five people gathered with us (about a third of them for their first Interfaith Celebration) for an evening of story, song, dance, and above all, sharing light and prayers amidst the darkness.

After Stacy Grove shared a peaceful, centering flute melody, RCWMS Executive Director Jeanette Stokes greeted everyone, inviting us to breathe, be open, and stay comfortable for an evening that would “go on a little longer than you’d want it to,” although no one was caught sneaking out before the end! Rinah Rachel Galper led a beautiful meditation on IMG_4746“going into the pit” of sometimes painful, multi-generational memories to find healing and wisdom, instead of avoiding difficult realities. In the meditation, Rinah Rachel made one of several references woven throughout the evening to the pain we are facing as a country around police violence against communities of color. This evening provided space for healing, as well as celebration, through a variety of practices. Stacey Grove also brought up the painful past, in introducing a Torah that survived the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia, which she had on display at the Celebration. Stacey reminded us of the power of story, a theme echoed by Rachael Wooten in her potent narration of Tara, the female Buddha of Tibet.

IMG_4702As always, the musicians filled the space with beauty and magic, inviting us into active celebration. Julie Purcell introduced the Dances of Universal Peace to the group, coaxing the experienced and curious into concentric circles of joyful movement – while allowing the non-dancers to stay in their seats and join in singing a mantra if they desired. Kathleen Hannan led the lively band and brought us together in singing “Thank You Mother Earth” and chanting “Mitakuye Oyasin” during the dances.

IMG_4738For the traditional closing ritual of the evening, we darkened the room in honor of the season. Then we slowly passed the light of the flame from candle to candle, as we each voiced a prayer from the heart. We held up prayers for compassion, for those grieving, for the Earth, for love, and many more. And then everyone joined in a joyful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” waving candles, greeting friends, and bringing to close a warm, friendly, transformative evening. If you weren’t able to make it, we hope you’ll join us next year to learn, be together, and celebrate change.

Rebecca Welper has an MFA in Playwriting and has taught writing workshops at RCWMS.

Homegrown: NC Women’s Preaching Festival

RCWMS is excited to sponsore the 2014 Homegrown: NC Women’s Preaching Festival.

In October of 2012 and again in 2013, over 65 North Carolina clergy women gathered for two days of celebrating, learning, worshiping, and community building. Participants commented that the festival was “refreshing,” “healing,” and “overwhelmingly wonderful.” Attendees represented the African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Moravian, Non-denominational, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Holiness, and Quaker traditions. They served as solo pastors in rural congregations, associate pastors in urban settings, chaplains in hospitals, senior pastors of multi-staff congregations, professors, students, lay preachers, and executive directors of non-profits. We hope you will want to add your name to the list and join us for a celebration of proclamation!

Join us for the third annual NC Women’s Preaching Festival to be held October 23-24, 2014 at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC. Click HERE to register! Cost is $40.00 general, $10 for students, and free for all Duke Divinity Women Students.