This past Friday afternoon, instead of heading south on my normal 40 minute commute home to Palo Alto, I headed North. North of San Francisco, through the traffic and away-for-the-weekend crowds and the wet, cold gray that typifies the late San Fran summer. North on the 101, and across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was so fogged over that it was only through previous experience of there being a bridge that one would dare drive across it. It was like driving into a cloudy abyss. I was on my way to The Mighty Summit.
It seemed suitable to pass through a cloudy, foggy portal to cross over to this gathering of accomplished, diverse women. The weekend, organized by veteran bloggers Maggie Mason, Laura Maye and Helen Jane Hearon, brought together 25 women from many walks of life: there were writers, foodies, mothers, television producers, marathon runners, artists, cheese lovers, designers, photographers, and more. What happened over the course of the weekend was the creation of a real community; not the cliché of that term which has sadly been co-opted and overused by the internet, but in the real sense of people coming together and realizing that no only do they like each other, but that they are able to help each other. It can be hard, day-to-day, for women to ask for help; we want to be strong, and self-reliant, and sadly, we are not always supportive of each other in the pursuit of our own ambitions.
But when women are brought together in a place where they feel they can let their guard down and be authentic, something interesting happens. We see the extreme contrasts that we carry around with us on full display. The confidence and the insecurity. The joy and the sorrow. The satisfaction and the yearning. Do men possess these as well? Most likely. But I find women tend to carry the contrasts in equal measure, like a yoke on their back. And it all gets pretty heavy over the years.
What seemed to bring this all into focus were the life lists we all shared with each other in preparation for the weekend. What do you want to do in your life? Such a concise question, but one that can be answered in so many ways. Some simple goals: learn to make donuts was the first on my list (fyi, I already crossed off that one this past Easter morning with a batch of visually unattractive but delicious balls of fried dough). Some are more ambitious, like Maggie's goal of tasting 1000 fruits (she's well on her way!). In analyzing the lists of my fellow Summit-ers, we see some interesting patterns that might start to address the age old question, "What do women want?"
I don't presume to say that this composite represents the sum total of female longing; after all, this was not your average group of ladies. But I do find that the yearning to learn, to make, to see, to visit, to GO, is both inspiring and also poignant. Technology, while it has freed us in so many ways, has also shackled us with increasingly impersonal and isolating ways of communicating and living. So much of what we create today is digital; you can't touch it or feel it or smell it or see it.
Women have always been sources of creative energy in families and society, and we have always been the makers of things. We knitted, we sewed, we cooked, we quilted. We were able to express our care and affection by feeding, clothing, and wrapping people up in our creations. And while we were and are capable of so many other things, both artist and intellectual, we've lost something in abandoning these basic creative pursuits. And in fact, we've vilified them at some level over the years, making it seem unambitious or wasting your potential to focus energies on the seemingly humble craft of living.
For myself, I feel I've lost touch with my creative self. Having spent the last 10 years of my career fostering creativity in others as a design manager, I've neglected to cultivate and nurture my own need to create beauty in the world. And I feel certain that if not properly attended to, my soul will wither a bit every day as a result. So my big goal this year is to outfit a studio for myself in our garage, a place, to quote my own life list, "to paint, sew, draw, dream...."
As I headed back home early Monday morning after this emotionally charged yet satisfying weekend, the bridge was once again fogged over. That view of the Golden Gate never fails to take my breath away as I come around the bend. And as I drove into the clouds once again, I was reassured in the knowledge that I know this route (even without my GPS!), and that getting back is just a matter of will and the desire to be my whole self. And maybe, just maybe, that journey will be as easy as walking out to my own garage.