I’ve been thinking about what happened last night pretty solidly today and it’s to the point now where if I don’t write about it I’ll burst. I am frustrated and completely unsure how to talk about this without coming across as a complete asshole, but hear me out… This hasn’t been easy to write.
Last evening I attended my second ever, women only, power evening. The first one was years ago, in Wisconsin, and was a life-changing experience. There, I helped to build and tend a fire, engaged in activities, and when the time was right we roaring creatures raked out the shimmering lava-red coals and walked them in our bare feet. I still have a small jar of the charcoal and a little handwritten “I am Jen who walks on fire. Anything is possible.” mantra in a frame. We did not drink alcohol. We built ourselves up in positive ways and did something dangerous and scary. We changed that night. I changed profoundly.
Last night has changed me too, but not in any way I expected.
I love the idea of what was to happen last evening on the beach between us local ladies. Though I rarely pop into Facebook (I prefer my life without it), I know that the organiser (an American friend of mine) had put the details up for this fourth annual solstice get-together. I got the highlights from her at our yoga class and was told to bring something to drink, there’ll be a beach bonfire, we all wear willow crowns with flowers, and – weather permitting – we’ll all jump into the sea. It sounded great! I even volunteered to make the crowns (I fashioned sixteen woven crowns).
I know what she was trying to promote among us, but I fear what transpired was little more than a bunch of women drinking on the beach, many smoking, a few with babies, and only two of us actively tended the fire (the other had supplied all the wood).
Crowns were half-heartedly distributed, a few beautifully dressed in flowers, but most discarded or ignored them as the wine and cans of cider emptied. I have saved a bag full of crowns for next year, but I am not sure why.
My friend read about the importance of the solstice and recited a poem from Maya Angelou, but I felt disconnected. I knew a few of the women there, but most of them were shocked to learn I’d been living amongst them in this very village for three years. “How have I not met/seen you before?!” I was asked several times over. I have no way to answer that. I am uncommon looking in my hairstyle and dress. I go to the café, I occasionally go to the pub on a quiet early evening. I walk these roads to go to the shop. I walk for fitness in the mornings with my best friend Pete. I have taught adults and children art for two years. I have been a part of two different yoga groups. I paint sets for the local plays. I am not hiding. I am clearly not like them though… a gulf which opened wider when it came time to jump into the sea.
I had prepared for this moment by wearing a two-piece athletic bikini under my clothes. I began to strip off, gasps and whoas going around and the “you’re insane” looks from my fellow females. I was gung-ho and ready to go; I was going into the sea. I looked around me; no one else was budging from their seats on the rocks, their discussions between mini-groups of women. I shouted encouragement and ‘come on!’ until a few began to roll up the cuffs of their jeans to wade in. No one else was wearing a swimsuit.
I ran to the sea, it distancing itself by the minute thanks to the tide retreating, and heard whoops and hollers from the women far behind me. I needed to pee. I’d do it in the sea. I met the water and it was not as cold as I thought it might be, but that could’ve been the sangria helping. I splashed. I dropped to my knees and let the waves wash me to my shoulders. I was baptised by that solstice ocean before most of the rolled trousers got to the water. I fetched my towel from a rock and warmed myself by the fire I’d tended. I felt utterly unlike anyone around me. This isn’t what was supposed to happen… not in my mind, anyway. So I got drunk.
I’ve been thinking about the events all day. This group of women would never walk on fire. I wish they would, but none were enthusiastic about getting into a late June sea, though it borders their lives every day. There was a point in the evening where we threw a flower into the fire in honour of a woman who made a difference in our lives over the past year. I had no one. I instead threw two flowers in and announced them for my mom and for artist Joan Mitchell. Both were inspiring, mould-breaking women who would never have stood for what I was a part of last night. In spirit, they too are fire walkers.
If I attend next year, I’ll do things differently. I won’t be drinking. I won’t offer to make crowns (no one seemed to care about them anyway). I won’t go to the pub after. I will make a point to help my friend lead and hopefully inspire through words and actions. I will help to make a positive difference rather than slink away and hide behind the flimsy excuse of having nothing in common with these women. I don’t honestly seem to have much in common with most of them, but that shouldn’t matter.
I know this post will be auto-fed to Facebook, and I know that some of the participants from last night will see it. I hope they read it with open minds and be honest with themselves about what they got out of the event. The solstice get-together has changed me, that’s for sure, but not the way it was intended. It makes me want to scream, it makes me want to shake people, it makes me want to do more with my life. I am a fire walker and a sea jumper. Fuck normal. Fuck complacency. We matter not only as women, but as human beings. Get fire in your bellies and change something.
I am thankful for last night. I haven’t been able to think of much else all day. It impacted me deeply. I have no regrets. Perhaps I walk a different path to most females. I’m OK with that, and I hope you are too.