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Star Island

August 31, 2019

Dude! No seriously, dude.

I just spent a week on Star Island. Actually, I got back exactly a week ago but it’s taken me this long to recover from the lost sleep.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Star Island is tiny island off the coast of New Hampshire that has been operated by the Star Island Corporation for more than 100 years, which in turn is organized by a bunch of Unitarian-Universalist and United Church of Christ members.

They organize the island into week-long camps and programs and have a bunch of folks come over and cult out. And when I say “cult out,” I want you to imagine burning man except for New England WASP-y families of four with lots of knitting and choral singing experience.

Here is the webpage for the week I just went to. It was co-organized by my good friend and yarn whisperer and art historian professor Elizabeth Hutchinson.

Through Elizabeth, I was lucky enough to be invited to a particularly long-lived and intense week as the “Theme Speaker.” What this means is I got to spend 1.25 hours every day for six days talking about my shame book, And dude, yes, that’s a lot of time to talk. So actually I broke it up Occupy style with progressive stack commenting (thanks to Elizabeth for taking stack!).

Here comes the crazy thing about this whole story. Believe it or not, these kind UU folks were not only willing to have me, they were totally into the topic! The audience never diminished, and I think it might have actually gotten bigger by the end of the week! It was truly amazing and I’m incredibly grateful for their attention and patience, because now I’m feeling much more confident about how my book is going to function as a narrative.

Here was the outline:

  • Day 1: What is shame?
  • Day 2: When does shame work?
  • Day 3: Fat shaming and wellness culture
  • Day 4: Poverty shaming and meritocracy
  • Day 5: Social media, incels, and anti-vaxxers
  • Day 6: AI and automated shame

I got tons of great questions during each talk and, because I was often to be found sitting on the porch knitting in a rocking chair, there were plenty of moments for people to talk to me in between talks and make thoughtful and useful comments. A truly intense and wonderful week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Thank you, Star Island folks! Thank you for welcoming me and my son, for having a ton of music to enjoy, and a talent show that my son participated in eagerly, the armada boat race made up of duct tape, and the slip-and-slide hilarity (I’m talking about you, Cece).

Dude, though, back to the cult thing. The last day, after the last dinner at which every person was thanked for their help with the amazing week including the cooks, wait staff, and bell hops, we all danced around the island holding hands and singing about promises to return next year. By the end of it  I was a little worried that my son, who is 10 years old and had a blast the entire week, had been irretrievably indoctrinated. By the next day I was no longer worried, because he absolutely had and we will be returning next year. We will, we will, we will.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 31, 2019 at 8:20 am

    I’ve been hearing about Star Island since I was a UU kid summering at Rowe Camp (UU) in western Massachusetts. The shame topic sounds intriguing, if not necessarily comfortable.


  2. Auros
    August 31, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Heh, that sounds a lot like the experiences I had with Shrinemont (except with liberal Episcopals, rather than UU).


  3. Jalapeno Bob
    August 31, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Just got back from WorldCon, the World Science Fiction Society’s annual bash, held this year in Dublin, Ireland. I believe that you would make an excellent speaker or panel participant. Please consider in inviting yourself. WorldCon 79 is in Washington DC in 2021. Your son will probably love it and you will get to talk with writers and fans of science fiction, fantasy, cosplay and other genres. (WorldCon 78 is in New Zealand – an expensive trip by any standard.)
    See you in DC?


  4. john hacker
    September 2, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Glad to hear Chautauqua’s are alive. i thought the elder statesmen had gone away.


  5. September 3, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Cathy!

    I hope you’re doing well. I reached out a long time ago asking you for coffee but it never materialized. I’m still up for it, if you are.

    The main reason I’m writing is because I’ve written a book called Ada and the Supercomputer. It’s basically about a thirteen year old girl that builds her own supercomputer and her adventures along the way.

    I was hoping you could help me. In particular, do you know any smart teenagers or math/science club kids who could serve as beta readers? Target audience is 12+. And also, do you know any people in the book writing and publishing world that might be interested or helpful to me in the hope of eventually publishing the book?

    Thanks a lot in advance. And I love your work.



  6. psychosis123
    September 5, 2019 at 11:59 pm

    you can’t just list the 6 day outline and the. leave us hanging! come on!


  7. September 16, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    I’ve known Star Island and Chautauqua enthusiasts over the years. Both are still ongoing and not all that changed. Have other such groups survived? Does anyone think TED talks will still be around in 100 years, except maybe on backup media?


  8. September 25, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Yay! You will come back! That’s music to my LOAS 2 cult ears!


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