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Her one-woman show, "Portrait of a Woman," is scheduled to go up on the wall of Studio 1 today, but if a friendly blond woman accosts you in the street, well, the gallery can wait.
"I told my father, who's a photographer in Canada, what I was doing and he laughed. He said, 'You're falling in love with everyone on the street but you gotta stop.'
"I just think everybody's got a story and a purpose and it's like 'live art.' It's so diverse, and physically, everyone's so different, but maybe we can recognize something of ourselves in these women we could see how similar we are."
The project evolved considerably since she conceived it as a way of paying tribute to a friend, former newswoman Hope Dennis, and recognizing other women of power.
"I thought it would be more about documenting the beautiful people -- whatever that means -- but it's evolved into showing people who make a difference in the community, and showing that everybody's experience is valuable whether you're a senator, librarian or a homeless woman offering her last bit of Coca-Cola to another homeless woman.
"There are people who are not celebrated or praised, so I wanted to recognize everyday people as well as the obvious subjects."
Simpkins said part of the adventure has been watching the reactions of subjects as she's asked to photograph them.
"They'll usually look over their shoulders to see if I'm talking to a person behind them. Maybe there's something wild in them that needs to be let out, but nobody said 'no.' "
Simpkins admits her motives weren't all pure. "There was a bit of ego in getting a one-woman show. I could keep myself busy the rest of my days photographing women, but it's a selfish thing because it's been such a gift working with these women.
"The photographer Imogen Cunningham, whose work I love, once talked about how a photographer leaves a piece of his own soul in his work, but the experience has been so wonderful I feel like I'm taking something. I think I'm doing this backward."
Now that she's been awake two nights editing, she says, "It feels like theater, that crunch time where you go to a different place physically, and things like eating and sleeping don't matter."
So the women of Honolulu are safe, for now, but by Saturday, Simpkins may be back on the streets with her trusty Canon. Then, look out. She plans to build similar shows around men and children.
You'd be wrong.
"There is enough time. There are enough weekends, there always have been, but we sabotage ourselves," she said. "Every woman can relate to this quality-of-life issue. It doesn't matter whether she has kids or no kids, or has a career or is a housewife.
"We victimize ourselves with time. We can have our three days of yoga or five days of meditation. It's just a matter of how we structure our time. We feel resentful of work and our lives, but we to it to ourselves by the choices we make, so we have to remember that."
Structuring time is one of the subjects that will be discussed when the institute hosts its fifth annual Women's Retreat at St. Anthony's Retreat Center on 112 acres of lush Kalihi Valley, providing an opportunity for women to be alone, to rest, to be pampered with spa treatments or to participate in classes that rejuvenate the spirit.
Workshops throughout the weekend will include gentle and adaptive yoga, natural face care, children's art for adults, singing as nourishment for the soul, goddess dancing, guided and silent meditations, and a soul-searching workshop. Facials, massages, pedicures, manicures and private counseling sessions will be available for additional fees.
"Everybody, including myself, works so hard, and on our days off we try to catch up with chores, so we have no downtime," said Massad, who confesses having a selfish motivation in creating the retreat: "I do it for myself, and if others want to come, that's great.
"We talk about taking our lives into our own hands and deciding what our priorities are. Some people miss school and education and reading -- things so basic."
Massad said it's important to remember we are but fragile human beings trying to keep up with a society running on machine time, resulting in techno-stress and the uneasy feeling of falling behind as the rest of the world keeps spinning.
"Technology has afforded us the luxury of being more efficient, but instead of gaining more leisure time, as promised in the '50s and '60s, we have to do more, faster," Massad said. "We're handling e-mails, voice mails; we're way out of balance because our minds are way too full. We have to remember what our priorities are; it's not to be a robot-machine."
But Massad said it often takes another person to point out the obvious. "The women who come to the retreat are so grateful. We have a lot of testimonials where they say, 'I didn't realize how out of balance I was,' or, 'It's been two years since I've spent two days alone.'"
Some who have allowed friendships to disintegrate due to work or family reasons often look forward to the retreat as an opportunity to make new friends, while others choose to remain anonymous. "Silence" badges are provided for those who truly wish to retreat and invoke their right to be antisocial.
"I actually put the sign on, so women would approach me, see the sign and go, 'Oh.' So I'd just point to the other staff. There will be four other staff, so we can take turns."
MASSAD, WHO HAS a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology, said the idea of starting a wellness center came to her while she was in graduate school and "fed up with academics and university learning."
"I wanted to create an alternative learning environment that nurtures people. It's very different from a university, which is 'doing,' and that is exhausting. Wellness is a matter of getting in touch with your being, getting the full mind-body-spirit experience. You don't come here to 'do' yoga, but to feel your body, feel the tension so you can release the tension," she said.
"It's about living, breathing, quieting the mind. I think some women are afraid of some of the classes because they believe if they don't stay on coffee, if they don't keep up the pace they're used to, that they'll realize how exhausted they are and won't be able to return to that pace."
Stress has more than one victim, taking its toll on every relationship. "Our minds are not calm, and people don't like working with us because we're agitated and grumpy," Massad said. "When we're quiet enough, when our minds are clear, we can articulate, 'I feel unsupported.' Many times the people around us are willing to help, but we aren't able to slow down enough to know what we need, so we say, 'You should know what I need,'" she said, when loved ones are not mind readers.
For some, attending a workshop might not be not the ideal way to rejuvenate, and Massad encourages any safe and creative activities that feed your soul, whether it's sampling a new wine or jumping into the ocean for a swim to clear the mind.
"There are many ways to rejuvenate," Massad said. "Being human means being in alignment with your values. Some people say they value alone time, yet they haven't had alone time in nine months. Other people say they value quiet, but they always have the TV or radio on. They're not getting their core needs met because they haven't stopped long enough to know what those are."
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