It’s that time of year again, when a few friends and I spend four weeks planning out our dreams and goals for the upcoming year, and of course in order to do this, we begin by looking back on the year just ending. The reason we do it now, as opposed to using a tradition calendar year, is because our project is called Summer School.
Remember your first experience with the notion of ‘summer school’? As a kid I thought of it as the long version of school detention. The students that had to go to Summer School had been absent too much (or absent-minded too much), so in order to be promoted to the next grade level, they had to put in extra time in a sweltering classroom while the rest of us kids were either goofing off, having summer jobs, or spending time with our families. Summer School was like a punishment for having been dull or distracted. It wasn’t at all like other summer learning experiences, like going to Music Camp, or Sailing Camp, or Scout Camp. No, it was Summer School. (Cue dark, minor-key chord, struck twice.)
Over recent years I too had become overly distracted and I needed to do extra work in order to advance to the next level. The purpose of our Summer School is to help us recall what we were learning before we got distracted by paying bills, going to work, tending to a rambunctious family and aging parents. Somewhere along the way, each of us had lost track of the syllabus and had gone into survival mode instead. I had found myself feeling like the proverbial nerdy kid stuck in an endless series of gym classes.
So, what do you do? For a while you suck it up, you survive, but you sense you’ve lost the thread entirely. After a while, if you are lucky, you hit a point where you just can’t carry on. That is when you need Summer School.
In order for Grown-Up Summer School to really work, you need exactly three things:
- First and foremost, you need you, curious brilliant you, clamoring for the joie de vivre that you know is possible, but you just forgot where you put it, perhaps under the piles of laundry and dirty dishes and doctor appointments.
- Second, you need a methodology that you don’t have to invent. You cannot be both teacher and student, so let yourself be led by a loving, gentle, clear mentor. If you long for the freedom to experience creativity through writing, visual arts, craftsmanship, music, or theatre, then the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a possible guide for you. I just completed the twelve-week program and it was life-changing, much more so than when I read the book in 1992 when it was first published. The reason it worked so well this time is simple: I was not doing it alone.
- You need a tribe. Finding the one that actually fits your needs may be the hardest work of your life, as well as the most rewarding. Many dead-end roads will present themselves. For example, over the years I easily found people who enjoyed watercolor, or sketching, or writing, or heart-led spirituality, or playfulness, or cartooning, but none of those rabbit holes seemed to connect underground. There was no warren–there were only individual nests. In the past I felt forced to choose between them, and tried to let the rest of my heart’s desires wither, a Sophie’s Choice of the soul. Excruciating, but it seemed like the only way to go.
A few years ago, I began again to search for a tribe that would support all the sides of the diamond that is me (and is you as well, in case you didn’t know). It is so much easier now, lucky you! Back at the beginning of my search, there were no such things as Facebook Groups or even Facebook (founded in 2004), no Meet-Up groups (created in 2002), no Sketchbook Skool (founded in 2014), no Zoom video chat rooms (created in 2011). All you had back then were your local colleges, garden clubs, civic organizations, and adult-ed art classes. They were wonderful at teaching specific techniques and skills, but were less focused on creating deep and meaningful community.
And community, your true tribe, is that third essential ingredient. It is what you need in order to get yourself back on track. You need and deserve a group of like-minded folks who also feel they have misplaced their joy, want it back, and are willing to put in some serious time to rediscover it. This is not a new idea really: there’s a reason why young boys form garage bands to learn to play music better. Even if you suck, you don’t suck alone.
But first things first: now it’s time for you to ponder. Do you sense a fulfillment gap in your life?
Part 2 to follow shortly…