I met Gwen about seven years ago. I was introduced to her as part of a mom’s playgroup I was invited to be part of after the birth of my second. The rescue was providential because it was right around the same time I was planning to lose my mind. I was the bleary eyed, t-shirt stained, shell of a woman sitting in the corner wondering what happened to my life and she was the hostess of the group … super put together, smiling, and seemingly unfazed. I seem to remember that she was discussing an entrepreneurial venture with some of the women in the room. I’m pretty sure she was also offering me a plate of homemade hor d’oeuvres.
Years later when I had my retail store we showcased Gwens tremendously successful line of artistic and funky T-shirts and apparel for women and children called “Simply Chickie.” Little did I know then – that the shining, resilient, and creative spirit we captured in these photographs is a testament to her commitment to seeing the world through a positive lens. It’s so easy to judge a book by it’s cover – and yet -can be so deceiving. Gwen is one strong chick who has faced seemingly unscalable mountains… her main concern in making the climb is the most appropriate footwear – skates?, white go go boots?, hiking boots? I love you Gwen- you are awesome. Thank you for not being afraid to be who you are and to show all of us what it looks like to “skate” through life with a smile on your face and a song in your heart- no matter what the weather man is predicting.
TRP: Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
GWEN: I’ve lived my life backwards with the idea that you can still smell the roses if you are running with them in your hands. An acquaintance once said, “I’m going to work really hard and retire early at 40, so that I can spend the rest of my life traveling and experiencing everything.” I remember thinking—That plan won’t work for me. There is another way. I didn’t have any money to travel, but I could earn some to get to other locations and then work in those locations. So, I worked three jobs to earn enough money to get on my first plane flight the summer before my junior year in college—to Tokyo—and I kept going…
My goal has always been to value and pay attention the best I can to people and events everywhere. In that quest, I’ve scaled Mt. Fuji to view the sunrise at 4:00 a.m.; been to the mountains of Otavalo; crossed the equator on a sailboat with five other crew members on the way to Nuku Hiva and Rangiroa—basking in that big darkness with the dolphins and whales; skied a lot; strolled the streets of Managua, Panama City, Bogota, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito, and Caracas among many other cities around the world and experienced the kindness of amazing people over fabulous feasts. I did attend a women’s college, so jumping in head first, confidently, just became part of my fabric.
Now, I own Simply Chickie, an organic clothing company that focuses on clothing that tickles the funny bone for babies, children, and women since 2004. I am also co-owner of Great Place to Learn, a comprehensive tutoring agency that has been in existence since 1990.
Since the age of twelve, I’ve been an ice-skater.
At 48, I’m a single mother of a sassy, smart seven-year-old—she is the frosting in my life, and I appreciate her everyday. I know the big world that is out there for her—and I will show her with me—or let her find her own way in her own time.
TRP: What are the biggest challenge’s that have faced you as a woman?
Gwen: Being a mother dealing with creating balanced time and space for my daughter, my two businesses, and myself.
TRP: What are some of the issues that you think are important to explore as it relates to being female?
Gwen: I’d refer to the above answer.
TRP: What frightens you?
Gwen: The loss of my daughter.
TRP: What is your “Life Mission?”
Gwen: I am a catcher in the rye. I save children before they fall off a cliff in the educational sense… I help them get their footing, and give them the tools to climb with the team.
TRP: How do you keep yourself inspired in life?
Gwen: Music, family, and friends. Every time I turn around there is an awesome song that I haven’t discovered. Or, a friend will call or text. Or, I find a new way to eat or exercise. Or, an ice skating competition. My mother always said:
“you must be interested to be interesting.”
I’ve followed that path my whole life.
TRP: Have you ever hit “Rock Bottom?” Can you tell us about it?
Gwen: Of course, we all learn through pain, and there have been several “rock bottoms” in my life.Divorce. My nearly fatal car accident. The sudden death of my dear friend of nineteen years in 2001. The death of my father. And, there was a hot week in late August 2004…on Wednesday, I was told I was pregnant—on Thursday that I had cancer.
So, I called my mother who called my sister. We all sat on the couch, but I don’t remember any conversation.
What did it teach you? That falling and failing just happens—that I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again—create my body again, just try another endeavor, any endeavor again.
TRP: Is there anything in particular that made you feel like being part of the Revelation Project was a good idea right now?
Gwen: My daughter and I had just played Wii fitness, and the screen flashed 69 years old for me, because, apparently, according to the computer guru I cannot hit a golf ball or baseball well. She flopped on the floor, raised her arms as if she were going to do the back stroke, and asked, “Mommy, will you look like you do now at 69?” I said, “No.” She shook her head and asked, “Really? Will you be using a cane?” “Well, I hope not,” I said. She pouted. “I want you to look just like you do now!”
I said, “That’s not possible. That’s life.”
I did think at that moment, though, I could take a picture of what I look like now, so I called Monica. Additionally, I wanted my daughter to know what happiness looks like; I’m happy now.
About the shoot:
TRP: What did you think about the approach of the upcoming photo shoot (before you got there) and what were the results you were expecting?
Gwen: I was excited because I rarely take pictures of myself. I rarely take pictures of anything and anyone. Period. I didn’t really have expectations that I can put my finger on—I live presently—so I take things as they come.
TRP: How did you feel during the shoot and was there anything in particular that made you feel more or less relaxed or open to the process?
Gwen: I really liked having Monica put make-up on—it took me back to my teen years in the bathroom with my cousin—re-creating Farrah hair and the “natural” make-up look. I thought the go-go boot part was super fun—because I just love those white boots, but I have to say—when I wear my love shirt, I feel love and receive love. And, that is exactly what happened with all the wonderful women circling me all morning.
TRP: Can you describe in three words the way you felt before we shot?
Gwen: Excited..like a model after the make-up was on…that’s nine words, forgive me.
TRP: Three words for after:
Gwen: Grateful, full, and very tired.
TRP: Three words for when you saw the results:
Gwen: surprised, young, and grateful.
TRP: After you left but before you saw the results – did you have any thoughts about the experience? What were some of the things you thought about on the drive home?
Gwen: I thought –that was really fun—I got to know three really wonderful people just a little bit more. I was also thinking practically—I said to myself—well, that takes care of having to do anything to my hair and make-up for an event I planned to attend that evening. And, most everyone I ran into during the day did a double take. My daughter’s teacher said, “Oh my, you look amazing.” I laughed. She then said, “Oh, I mean, you look great anyway, but…” I laughed again. “I have make-up on,” I said. She nodded and smiled.
TRP: When you saw the results can you tell me your first impression?
Gwen: I thought they were fun, and I felt they were an honest representation of me in a variety of manifestations—serious, soft, and playful.
TRP: Can you talk about the feedback you received from those who saw your photographs?
Gwen: Everyone thought they were great and felt that they represented me—my spirit.
TRP: What are some words you would use to describe how those comments made you feel?
Gwen: Happy because I do want others to feel joy around me. I hope I give off the spirit of joy and playfulness, and I felt the pictures represented that inner me.
TRP: Did you learn anything new about yourself from the experience?
Gwen: Yeah, that I should put make-up on more often!
TRP : Did you feel empowered?
Gwen: I did think more about female power; and, in fact, began ruminating around adding a women’s line to Simply Chickie. It debuted in New York at the Green Festival: “That Girl,” “Nauti-Girl,” and “Ruffle Some Feathers,” are among my favorites. And, in regards to the students I had/have at Great Place to Learn, I found myself saying to them more often, “Trust Yourself.”
TRP: Since the shoot happened a few months ago can you talk about the lasting impact of the experience? Has it altered the way you view yourself or your surroundings?
Gwen: I feel that it reminds me of the power of remaining joyful and the importance of surrounding myself with the men, women, and children that I enjoy having in my life. Because that smile on my face in those pictures is me thinking of laughing with so many friends and family members.
TRP: Do you think this was an important/valuable experience for yourself? Why?
Gwen: Yes, for the reasons that I listed just above.
TRP: Do you think it’s relevant for other women? Why?
Gwen: Yes, because we can be so serious taking care of all that matters in life, but we should take time out to laugh and connect. It’s a reminder–a metaphor–It’s as important to lace up my skates and/or dance a few times a week with my friend(s) as it is to write a report on time.
TRP: How would you use the photos moving forward? Professionally? Personally? As gifts?
Gwen: Both/all but I haven’t figured that out quite yet.
TRP: What is your favorite song and why?
Dave Matthews, You and Me. You ask why? …Just is…I’ll let the song speak for itself.
TRP: Why do you think this project is important?
Gwen: Because… real displays of emotion are indicative of real worth and consequence. It’s important to be visible…I’m not invisible here. These pictures show a story of one woman. And, everyone has a story that is integral to the culture.
TRP: If you could sum up the experience what would you say?
Gwen: It was as fun as Latin dancing.
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