Susie Sue Series 2011
I am the world's worst evangelist. I know this because only now that this years Women's Conference that my church hosts is over am I thinking to give it some coverage here. I've never been very good at plugging things. When I worked in retail all those years ago, I was the person that knew all the customers by sight and name but rarely managed to actually convince them to part with much of their cash. I was always okay with that though, after all I like people and I'm not so interested in products. None the less, there are different types of customers out there and I realize now that there's a whole market that I was neglecting. One tends to play to one's strengths and I know that I'm good at talking to people, I like being around people and I am comfortable even talking to people that are uncomfortable talking to me. But when it comes to talking about my faith, I have become more and more introvert and quite frankly my customer service has been poor.
I attended my first conference last year and was blown away by a rich and inspiring experience. This time last year I was feeling anxious and was really beginning the journey of examining my new identity. I was both recalling the woman I had been and mourning her in some ways, bidding her farewell and at the same time trying to remove the dust sheets to see a dusty but still preserved me beneath. I was starting to see a window for 'me' time and the fact that I was able to leave the children for a whole day to attend the conference was a huge breakthrough. It felt like such a gift last year, just as I was wrestling with which direction my life was so going in, wondering if I had made the right choices to be a full time mum, to not return to work ... it was soothing to be amongst women who shared my experiences, who were familiar with my mixed feelings and who were able to comfort and reassure me with wisdom beyond my years or experience. Women who literally patted me on the back, who encouraged me and told me that I was doing a great job and that they knew that because they too had worked with the same job spec and had come out the other side, with a whole new set of skills. Having some focused time for silence, prayer and meditation was so uplifting and knowing that my experiences and feelings were in no way unique was a powerful and positive assertion of hope, of a future beyond the mist.
When I was asked to be involved in the planning of this years conference, I took a leap of faith and jumped right in. Although I had a deep desire to be a part of something that felt so exciting, at times I questioned what I had to offer amongst the incredible team of women I was working with, a retired headmistress, a physiotherapist, a pastor, a teacher and admin/finance/techy extraordinairre plus a mother/prayer warrior/intellectual!!! An amazing outcome of our nine months planning the conference together was recognizing how God uses our individual gifts and in really practical ways too! We each played a part in the planning guided by our super hero retired headmistress, a humble, unassuming, incredible organizer and all round lovely, lovely person.
This year's conference was aptly titled 'She Who Dares - Celebrating Women of Courage'. I was present amongst around seventy diverse women openly sharing their life experiences and their feelings. We sang our hearts out worshipping, watched video testimonies by some of those amazing 'women of courage', we watched an incredible and moving dance performance that explored the theme of conflict, shared and ate some lovely food with a bring and share lunch which somehow just united the whole sense of togetherness. Amy Harris brought us 'She Who Dares', her one woman show exploring women in the Bible which was a great balance of funny and thought provoking, contemporary and relatable. All of this was followed by a choice of five workshops: Drama, Art, Creative Writing/Journalling, Bible Study, Prayer/Meditation.
I led the Art workshop which involved presenting my group of women with a bunch of assorted mixed-media materials and inviting them to play whilst standing back and observing. It was delicious to watch people's different approaches to selecting their materials, to creating a piece of work to take away with them, to see how some like to play, experiment, take risks or stick rigidly to a system, some conform, others pull away. It was fascinating, like life itself. I also had the pleasure of helping out with organizing an Art Exhibition of work made by some of the women attending the conference. It was exciting to discover people's hidden interests and talents, from cake making, knitting, collage, installation, needle point, sculpture to Susie Sue herself!
My art work and my art practice are something I generally make a point of not talking about in my church life. I think partly because my experience has been that people generally don't get what I do or why I do it or why I would do it if I dont even get paid for it. In defense of the churches I have previously attended, lots of people in lots of settings in my life don't get it either. So, by default I avoid talking about my art and so the idea of revealing any part of my artist identity was quite a big decision for me. It would have been easy to put some of my 'prettier', 'more normal' work in the exhibition but then that wouldn't have been very interesting or brave or representational. I tried to think of some of my art work that I thought might be quite unusual for the setting, something that I thought might not even be understood or have an audience in this 'context' (and yes I was being patronizing and quite frankly a little judgemental!!!). So, I thought of the Susie Sue series and picked a couple of the drawings to show, sorry, I didn't get chance to take photos with all the running around!!!
However, what was interesting was that I was approached by a woman, in her mid to late fifties whom I had not met before who asked me if I was the Artist of the piece of work pictured above. I said I was and was expecting her to ask me why I like drawing weird looking moustached women and I was psyching myself up for a generic response when she said this: 'Can you tell me a little more about this woman's story, about the text?'. The text reads 'When I was young we moved a lot which often led me to feeling displaced'. This lady, and she was very much so a lady, then started to tell me that her father had been in the Armed Forces and that as a child she too moved regularly, that she too felt displaced and that this experience had hugely impacted on her life and how great it was to read and see someone talking about a similar experience. I explained that Susie Sue was an alter ego that I had created, that Susie often took on aspects of my family members lives and experiences and that this text was referring to experiences of boarding school and new kid-itus. She went on to tell me that wherever they moved to, she would have mastered the local accent within days, a way to 'fit-in' quickly. She explained that she had lived in the same house with her husband and children for the last thirty years and that perhaps this constant 'fitting in' experience was the reason why she had chosen not to have to do that for the last thirty years. It was a great conversation and right there in that moment it felt once again like a gift to be part of something so much bigger than me, bigger than Susie Sue. I am so thankful to the great team of women that I had the opportunity to work with. As a group we just gelled and our time together became so much more than the planning of the conference, to be amongst these women was a learning experience, a journey of friendship. I greatly appreciate their reassurance, their encouragement and their recognition of my God given gifts that gave me the motivation to be a woman of courage .... for a day anyway!
NB How come you've never got the right image on the your computer when you need it? I apologize for not being able to show the final piece discussed in this post!