Dearest Honey, Mother, Son, Daughter, relatives, friends and colleagues,
Don’t bother trying to find me. I have run away from home. Don’t worry. I am fine. Actually, I am in a Big Woods (1) again. A la Design Psychology I’ve retreated to a calm and peaceful oasis.
Yup, I used my Check List to pack the car:
• Old baggage full of childhood wounds
• Mixed bag of crises - - remnants of diseases, deaths, divorces I’ve been washing, drying and trying to neatly fold for friends for months
• Cardboard cartons stacked with “URGENT To Do” lists and ‘Robe to Wellness’ PR blurbs (2)
• My relationship, dry cleaned, protected in a plastic bag, hanging loosely in the back
• MapQuest directions to . . . a place that offers delivery for the spirit of women - - especially women on the edge.
I sense you are worried. Relax and imagine driving up a gently winding gravel road through a forest of tall birches and pines. In the clearing ahead see a Gingerbread Land of sweet white cottages circling a proud, Victorian home (light yellow with pale peppermint green trim) --lively, imperfect, slightly faded (like me.) Notice baskets of pink
geraniums hanging on the porch. Park your car. Walk up the well-kept lawn past the sign marked “Labyrinth.” Climb the porch’s wood-plank steps. Settle down in a rocker and look out over the huge blue lake, sun setting over the backdrop of gentle, green mountains. (Think ‘Picture Postcard Perfect.’)
Still worried? Ok, I’ll tell you where I am BUT only follow me here if you want to help one another (gently) unpack. I am at Wiawaka Center for Women in Lake George, New York. Founded in 1903 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the longest continuously operating retreat center for women in America.
“Wiawaka” means “the great spirit of God in women” and the Center still “steadfastly maintains its century-old mission of providing respite and renewal for working women.” (3) Originally established with female garments workers from Troy, NY in mind, “Wiawaka made it possible for the ‘girls’ to escape the city and enjoy affordable vacations”: (4)
Wiawaka offered an entirely different world for those working women. It was a place for renewal through reflection on the porches of fresh air, leisurely walks through the woods, and playful swims from the deck. . . . Wiawaka was a place of camaraderie as well. Meals were served to everyone at once in a common dining room (as they still are today), tea was frequently held on the lawns in the afternoon and guests often took part in day-to-day operations through cooking, gardening or helping out with the farm. (5)
Artists such as Georgia O’Keefe also were guests here since artists’ retreats were held at Wakonda, the Center’s now-restored Adirondack lodge. (6)
I’ve been here for only three days and already that pinched place in the back of my neck has softened as I’ve shared tea with women - - those newly widowed, some burdened by caretaking their young or aged loved ones, or others simply here to ponder, what next?
“What will you be speaking on here at Wiawaka some of them ask?” I explain that, among other things, (7 ) I’ll be talking about ways to use Design Psychology’s ‘design from within’ process to help women facing major life transitions create spaces that support their positive growth and change. I mention how passionate I am about the importance of places that create our fondest memories and nurture our deepest sense of self. They smile knowingly, looking towards Lake George and the mountains that hug it and them.
I feel delight as I carefully sort out my things, putting only useful items in the dresser of my cozy room. I’ve placed this laptop on the room’s little desk - - just so- - where I can look out toward the water as I write. Next to me is this letter in a simple frame:
September 28, 2008
My name is Mavis and I stayed in this beautiful room on Sept 27-28, 2008. I’m writing this a little before 7:00 AM and the house is still and serene. It’s a sacred feeling, as if the love and energy from all the women who’ve rested here is surrounding me.
I hope that your stay is healing, gentle, and affirming of your strength, beauty and wisdom. I hope that you leave energized, empowered and excited about your life. Leave a little of it here for the next woman passing through.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you be at peace. Live vibrantly, abundantly and believe in your beauty, grace and radiance.
I’ll be back.
1. My favorite childhood place as described in Toby Israel, Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places. (Princeton: Design Psychology Press, 2010)
3. Wiawaka information boards, Lake George, NY
7. Talks and workshop by Toby Israel, Ph.D. at Wiawaka Center for Women, Lake George, NY:
• Oasis: Healing by Design Psychology, July 31, 2014
• Home Design Psychology Day Retreat, August 10, 2014 / (Available online: www.designpsychology.net/nl/workshop/home-design-psychology-workshop.html )
• Women by Design: Transforming Home, Transforming Self, August 13, 2014