Design Your Self: Up the Contrast, Nov. 2012 retreat

Design Your Self: Up the Contrast

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

What: A retreat to explore the design element of contrast, both in the contexts of design and of philosophy—how is contrast useful in building our understandings of self? How does it or can it shape our visual, physical, and emotional experiences? What would our lives look like if we “upped the contrast”?

When: Evening of November 16 to noon on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where: Shalom Hill Farm, Windom, Minnesota (about 2.5 hours southwest of
the Twin Cities)

Our first retreat in August on the topic of white space generated interest in putting together this next one, and some of us met and came up with the theme “Up the Contrast”. Contrast is often thought of in dramatic terms, like black and white, hot and cold, rich and poor. But the definition doesn’t always have to be so stark. Contrast can help us bring blurry things into focus if we look hard enough. The nuances of contrast in a visual composition and in our lives can provide some of the most interesting things to talk about.

Join us the weekend of November 16-18 for some good conversation, good food, great stories, and art-making about where we find contrast in our lives.

Some background: Peter Shea and I, two instructors for the University philosophy course Lives Worth Living: Questions of Self, Vocation, and Community(Philosophy Camp), had a brainstorm/conversation during last spring’s course about playing with the intersection of design and philosophy by looking at one through the lens of the other. To further explore this idea we decided to initiate a series of occasional weekend retreats, playing with design elements and concepts like contrast, hierarchy, proximity, etc. We do hands-on design activities and use design concepts as metaphors for telling and listening to stories from our own and each others’ lives.

The format for the weekend follows one used in a series of “folk school retreats” that helped develop the ideas that eventually became Philosophy Camp. In the spirit of “design it yourself”, participants work together to design parts of the retreat. Everyone is invited to help with meal preparation and clean-up and there are open times when participants are able to create group or individual activities.

Participants can attend one retreat or may be inspired to attend several, depending on their interest and availability — each retreat will be a theme that is independent of the others, so it won’t be necessary to attend them all or in sequence to get something out of the experience.

Rough schedule for the retreat weekend:

Friday, November 16
Arrive in time for 6 p.m. dinner (arrive around 4 p.m. if you would like to help with cooking). After clean-up we’ll do an introductory story circle and evening design activity

Saturday, November 17
Breakfast will be a self-serve assortment of baked goods, granola, fruit, and yogurt. Eggs are also available. We’ll meet at around 9 a.m. for a story circle, then break to prepare and eat lunch. After lunch there will be a hands-on design activity. Later in the afternoon there will be free time available to go for a walk, take a nap, do some sketching, or whatever. We’ll start preparing dinner around 5 p.m. After dinner and dishes are done there will be more open time for conversations, walks, and/or group-generated activities.

Sunday, November 18
After breakfast we’ll have a closing story circle, then be ready to leave by noon.

Cost for the weekend is on a sliding scale: $72, $92, or $112.

The actual fee of $92 includes a single room for two nights and all food.
Pay the lower fee of $72 if that’s what you can afford, or the higher fee of $112 if you can afford to provide a scholarship. If you share a room your fee will be $10 less for the weekend ($62, $82, $102).

We can accommodate up to 20 participants.

Shalom Hill Farm is a modern retreat facility on a historic farm near Windom, Minn. The surrounding landscape of restored prairie, wetlands, and wide-open skies provide a peaceful and rejuvenating experience. Although it’s not a working farm, there are chickens (and fresh eggs), sheep, cats, and Otie, the Jack Russell Terrier (who loves to go on prairie walks).

RSVP to Nance at, by Friday, November 9 and then we’ll get information out to you about driving directions. Let me know if you have any dietary restrictions so we can plan the food accordingly. Meals will be simple and vegetarian, with a vegan option if needed.

Contact me at with any questions. Feel free to forward to anyone you think may be interested. Hope you can make it!

Organizers: Marisol Brito, Nance Longley, Martha Megarry, Mary Ellen Shaw, Peter Shea

Author: Lynn

Contributor of ideas and possibilities for cooperative governance, education, and society; maker, mother, daughter, life partner; lifelong learner.