The Red Room, Photo by Stefanie Renee, www.stefanierenee.netIt's hard to remember now how it all started.  Last winter I longed for a gathering in February--something to anticipate and carry me through the last cold, dark months after the holidays, when the festivities are over and spring seems still so far away.  Then there were all the friends who have visited us here in Brooklyn, who rearranged their thoughts or found clarity in long-held dilemmas, teaching me early on that Brooklyn can have that effect on people.

While planning to teach last year at Squam, I realized that I have more to share than what I can fit into an afternoon, or a day, and I began dreaming of hosting a longer conversation.  And while I was there, I met some dream-believing friends that swore that if I created a retreat in Brooklyn, people would come.  (A thought that felt like a major stretch for me.)

I found a lovely house for us and set a date, and they came.  A whole house-full, from across an ocean and a continent, from down the street.  I am still trying to wrap my mind around this.

I wanted to create an experience that would enable women to recover and reclaim lost, censored or silenced aspects of their voices, to excavate their stories that hold keys to the past, clarity for the present and guidance for the future.  I wanted to show as tangibly as possible the central role that togetherness and community plays in this journey, and the best way to do that was to invite special guests and storytellers from my own story community to create the retreat alongside me.

Fatou Coulibaly, Photo by Stefanie Renee, www.stefanierenee.netIt was an honor to have Fatou Coulibaly join us, in her first trip to New York City.  Fatou is an anthropologist from Senegal, who left her country when she received death threats in response to her PhD dissertation.  Through a long friendship that spans many years, Fatou has been a companion for the journey of international story catcher Jen Lemen (Picture Hope, Mondo Beyondo), passing along her unique wisdom and sage guidance. 

Jen Lemen, Photo by Dixon Hill Girl,

We were so fortunate to have Jen Lemen join us for the weekend, too.  Fatou and Jen did double-duty as storytellers for the group and personal security blankets for me.  Fatou was my left hand and Jen was my right, and together there was a completion, a power, a depth and richness of storytelling that none of us could have created alone.  And so it always is with a supportive story community.

Love and courage were the mainstays of this weekend, and together they wove a safety net that made us feel like we could leap in the most tender and true ways.  Jen said long ago, "Stories can change you and me forever," and many of us are still feeling the reverberations of the stories we received and the stories we told as we transition back into our lives, changed.

Kathy and me, Photo by Stefanie Renee,

I have spent the last week soaking in the deep joy this experience left in its wake, letting all that I learned and witnessed rearrange me in such a way that I carry it with me going forward.  I've been missing these companions, and celebrating all the gifts from our time together.

You can see more amazing photos from our adventure together in our Flickr pool.

Join us in April, as we use voice, story and more to bridge the divide between our fragmented parts and Integrate. (Single and shared rooms are still available.)