Reflections is written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in remote coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront
By Tarah Waters
Picture this: nine girls age 11 to 14, three adult leaders in their 20s, and tents pitched along the shore of Cobscook Bay. It was a four-day camping trip finale to five weeks of sessions exploring what it means to be a woman in the world, through hard conversations, the viewing of the documentary Girl Rising, rock climbing, meal sharing, and more.
Girls Leading Our World—GLOW—became more than something we did on Saturdays. It was a place we gathered to tap into ourselves, question, dream, and live authentically, challenging the stereotypes that loom over women through our actions. By the time we hit the road for Cobscook Bay State Park, we were bonded in a bold and beautiful way.
As the fire crackled at our feet, our hands slowly turned the sticks as we roasted our marshmallows on the open fire. Like many of the crucial activities in life, transforming an unroasted cylinder of whipped sugar and gelatin into the beautiful gooey blob that can be easily plopped onto a piece of chocolate and graham cracker is at the heart of creating the perfect campfire s’more. Everyone has their own preferences and no one way is the only way. In art, as in life, there really is no “best.” There is simply personal preference and expression. Learning about and accepting each other’s preferences and different ways of expressing ourselves is truly at the heart of community building.
Some choose to slowly turn their marshmallows well above the fire, patiently roasting the white surface until it is an even, golden brown, while others poke their marshmallows into the flame until it suddenly ignites and burns, yanking it from the flame before it drops off their stick. Never mind that it looks like a piece of coal, that’s the way they like it.
It doesn’t matter what the approach is, the end is the same—a perfect dessert for the creator, sticky fingers, smiling faces, and happy bellies.
As we stood around the fire cooking and devouring our treats, our conversation flowed from our latest favorite books and music, to pet peeves and life hopes, desires, and dreams.
Seemingly, without effort or fear, we allowed ourselves to simply be present with one another. There was no agenda or need to prove one’s coolness, no talk of commercial commodities, and no desire to cut one another down based on differences. We were united by openness and our desire to support one another in exploring the beautiful world around us, as well as our internal worlds.
The room is dark and a soft hum falls over the crowd. Music begins and slowly the lights illuminate the scene. A backdrop of a foggy forest and three grotesque and terrifying witches cackle on center stage. There is excitement in the air as all the young actors take their places to perform “Macbeth” after five months of preparing.
Like those who gathered around the campfire, the young actors courageously step out onto the stage, letting their guard down and trusting they won’t be burned by any harsh criticism that might come from peers or the people that sit in the seats before them.
Vulnerability is a powerful and scary thing for most anyone. The young bohemians who come to perform in the Children’s Theater Workshop each Saturday at the Eastport Arts Center are not daunted by the challenges. They are actors, artists, entertainers, and costume designers. They are the youth of Washington County and together they embody the glue that holds community together, a way of living that strives for unity without uniformity.
Everyone has their own art to living. Whether you stand up on a stage, share a meal with friends, paint the sunset, or simply roast a marshmallow, the way you live your life is your art.
As communities, and more importantly as individuals, we can choose to either inhibit artistic expression or help build spaces to nurture it. I believe if we take time to shift and reshape our definitions of art in community and youth spaces, we would open doors to more people and opportunities of creative freedom.
Tarah Waters works with the Eastport Arts Center to strengthen community partnerships through innovative arts programing. She is a graduate of Salve Regina University with a degree in international studies.