A day in the mountains of empowering women—panels, workshops, cruelty free food, inclusivity, community, knowledge, growth; it was everything I wanted to absorb and radiate. The advertisement sold personal pussy power and I felt it's call as if it had my name in bold at the top of the page and a curling finger luring me to proceed to checkout. Other like-minded women would surely too feel the call and we would share in this day of self discovery and bloom like one big fucking transformational flower.
I had the windows down and Queen at high volume. The sun praised my ambitiousness, kissing my cheeks and flushing them a courageous pink. The operatic vocals of Mercury filled me with power and the guitar, piercing my pleasure valve, filled me with confidence—I was doing this, taking my first leap into the woman I knew I was…Mrs Fahrenheit!
I pulled the car into a small paddock connected to a two-story house among the leafy landscape. The tall maples along the edge of the property framed the open space intended for the day. From the top of the slope, where cars were parking up, my eyes and heart marvelled at the view—a pond as the backdrop to an area marked out with handcrafted décor. There was bunting, a tee pee and dried flowers all around; there was steam rising from a large pot, full to the brim with home made chai and fresh fruit laid out openly as if there were no mountain critters present to make a cunning advance on the feast. My thoughts wondered off as I watched women gather at the bottom of the slope; women with clear differences in their self-expression by way of style, body modifications, hair or lack of, babies attached to their hips or hips showing dedication in hours spent at the gym. I was entranced by my own presence in such a place, with such women, so much so that I almost didn’t notice the woman with pigtail plats and a straw hat greeting me.
“Hi, how are you? Welcome.” she said, dragging longer on the words hi, you and welcome.
Thinking too much about the coolest, most self-aware response I could muster, I stumbled with a very un-enlightened, “Good thanks.” Such an idiot! I didn’t even ask how she was, I thought, torturing myself. Noticing my need for a little more warming up, she smiled and with a short and reassuring release of air through her nose she continued with her welcome script.
“So, just a few house keeping bits and pieces to make sure we’re all fully present today. We ask that you leave your phone off and in the car and obviously it’s a drug and alcohol free gathering—so that’s the boring stuff.” She stopped to take a breath and then, continuing to drag out the final syllables of every eighth word or so, she dove into the next part of her spiel. “There’s fresh fruit and home made breads down at the Nourishment Space. And there’s some really yummy home made chai—enough to keep a small army of powerful women warm so enjoy as much as you like.” She let out another reassuring humph from her nose as my mind thought of Kool Aid at another mass gathering in history; I had to stop myself and reel in the darkened images that started a smirk forming in the corners of my mouth. The woman with the pigtails then carried on explaining the intended timeline for the day: food, discussion panels, activities and a rough idea of when the day was expected to come to an end…when empowerment, I expected, was to be achieved.
Beautifully crafted rugs and throws had been spread out for us to sit together and face the pond. The speakers and leaders of the day would join us positioned between the eager attendees and the picturesque body of water. An opening ceremony relaxed and reassured me; there was a welcome to country and acknowledgment of the original custodians, there were introductions to the collective that had put on the day, and to those women who had been asked to bring their workshops and ideas into the event.
Up first were the discussion panels; excellent, I thought—I love listening to open minds and women who speak with conviction. The first panel was about sexuality and identification; five women expressing themselves and hitting home that these two topics were an individual’s decision and no one else had any right to suggest otherwise. I felt strengthened in my own sexual fluidity, and although I was yet to come out, I felt the confidence my voice would need for when the time was right. The next panel had four women breaking down lies and stigmas around birthing and raising children both inside and outside the womb—a topic I listened to with unbreakable attention after trying to fall pregnant with my partner without success for, at that point, the previous year and a half. The women spoke freely of issues no childless woman would know or have been traumatised by.
The panels wound up and our first flame of empowerment had been lit, I remember feeling it among us, among us all but burning as one. It was time for lunch and the rumblings from the kitchen spilled out across the paddock in large cast iron pots, I recall thinking of witches and cauldrons and how fitting it all was. The vessels were carried in the strong arms of women both skilled in the kitchen and committed to the cause. The lunch menu consisted of dahl, with all the extras—home made and in abundance. I had two thoughts, one: of course it’s dahl, and two: lucky for the toilets sake they hadn’t served coffee. The line was full of friendly chitter chatter and guidance to help with navigating the Nourishment Space. My day and decision in taking part felt right.
In one hand, my bowl of curry and in the other, a homemade piece of flat bread. I turned to leave the bustle and togetherness of the lunch line and headed toward the hearth—the rugs and throws. I assumed most women knew each other in one way or another as they gathered in small groups to eat. I thought that maybe some women had the confidence to approach another after only knowing them online up until that day or maybe they had been to things like this before and were enjoying their chance to reconnect. I, however, sat alone. It was in that moment that I felt the fade of my theme song, Don’t Stop Me Now, being replaced and drowned out by my new anthem, Under Pressure. I could not find the will I needed to sit with any of them and I panicked.
I finished my bowl of dahl and, still alone on the grass, I toyed with the idea of going back for seconds so I could regain that feeling of belonging I had felt earlier. Instead, I snuck up to my car to have a few puffs on my vape pen; a hit of nicotine, I thought, would help in bringing me back down to earth and out of my anxious mind. However, not enough that I thought it no longer necessary to crouch in the foot well of the back seat and blow the vapour into a blanket I kept there.
From the top of the slope, hiding inside my car, I peeked out of the back window to find there was a shift happening from food to work shops. The thought of involuntary groupings or pairing offs actually filled me with hope—someone would have to talk to me now. The activities that proceeded from that point only continued in tugging the thick rope of my anxiety that ran from the crown of my head, through my body, down my spine and down, down into the ground until the only thing left for me to do was to curl up into a ball on the grass and wait for it to all be over. Alas, I took part in the list of activities. We danced in a moving cluster—encouraged to face every direction and each other instead of following the natural instinct to face the pond or—the front. We were told to look into each other’s eyes as we crossed paths and without making any other gesture, maintain eye contact as we sauntered in circles around the grassy paddock. I felt exposed and uncomfortable. I was thinking that nothing could top my feeling of vulnerability on that un-intoxicated dance floor; no DJ to direct my stare toward and definitely no chance to close my eyes and feel the music, it was about the connection with the other women and I felt nothing but disconnect.
As it turned out, I could feel worse and I did as we were paired off into a “Warrior and Hunter” roll playing dance activity; great, I agonised—more dancing. The concept of this new task was that woman number one, the Hunter, would stand still and keep her eyes on her partner, woman number two—the Warrior. The Warrior would then dance in circles around the Hunter. The Hunter’s eyes were to remain glued to the Warrior and wander not to others or our surrounds—complete and undivided attention. I couldn’t tell you which role made me feel like liquifying into a puddle of useless muddy water more. How did these women do it? Is this what empowerment looked like? Why did I feel so out of place? My anxious mind scrambled and clouded until I was unable to do anything other than hate that I had put myself there in that position. I was getting the exact opposite to the fulfillment I thought I had signed up for.
Now, I must note that during the welcoming the facilitators had drawn our attention to the tee pee—not just for aesthetics after all, it was the space provided if anyone should need time away from the day’s events. The woman spoke softly and with sincerity when explaining that: should anyone start to feel overwhelmed, they could take space in the tee pee. Inside the adorable shelter there were books to read, pillows, blankets and, should you consent to it, someone there to tend to and help you with what you were going through. My thoughts at the time of this announcement went straight to: Well, that’s nice and how could any one possibly feel negatively overwhelmed in a place like this? And when it boiled down to my crumbling confidence, all I wanted to do was escape the place entirely. My thoughts changed to: How inconsiderate! Why would anyone sit in a beacon of panic, on display for every enlightened goddess to gaze and gawk at what panic and anxiety looked like in this rare and raw form!? And truth be told, the only thing that kept my attendance that day was the rows of gift bags, stashed below the Nourishment table and the prospect of one of them being mine—no matter how one feels, the power of an unexpected gift brings great strength and in my case, on that day, endurance.
The activities seemed endless and with the exception of an Incense Making workshop, which kept my mind occupied for an hour, they continued to stricken my rope of anxiety until it had no where else to go but around me like an anaconda ready to feast on my weak meat.
“Okay, it’s sad to say but today is coming to an end”, a woman from an earlier panel announced and then paused, leaving space for the communal sigh of disappointment “so if everyone could join us in a big circle on the rugs please? We’d like to have a group reflection before everyone heads home.”
Home, I sighed—out of time with the group. I should have known they wouldn’t just set us free at the end. The anaconda chord tightened as I moved with the group to where the circle was forming. I strategically chose a position behind the main shape—aptly, the outer circle. I had hoped my seat there would deter any request for an individual contribution but reflection was, unavoidably, going to be made around the circle, one by one. Of course—we were empowered now!
Like a ticking time bomb filled with human eating snakes, I waited for my turn. Most women had words of gratitude and expressions of their blooming flower within. However, if you asked me to recollect anything anyone who went before or after me said in this round a bout of reflective torture, I would only be able to mimic the high pitch ringing I heard between my ears. My face burned up and the sweat squeezed its way through my shirt as I opened my mouth to speak.
“I think what I have discovered today is that I have very little” I choked up, tears longing to burst out all over the glow of the group, “very little…confidence in myself.” I finished with a sharp relieving outward breath. There was little to no response or support from this large group of strangers. Apparently, the blooming transformational flowers had risen too high that day and no one could reach down from their sun-drenched petals and pull me out from the jowls of a giant snapping serpent.
I learnt a lot about myself that day and although it was far from anything I had expected to learn, growth did spur from that experience. And, although I know I am not the snake that hisses anxiety and slithers a lack of confidence, I know that I am definitely not a fucking flower, pretty and short lived.
Cue We Are The Champions because I’ll keep on fighting, until the end.