One cold, dark, beautiful morning…

vt in october

I wrote this post almost nine years ago, in November 2009. My life looks very different now — I no longer need to lay out my children’s clothes, for one thing, thank goodness! — but the main message, that we all need support and friendship, is particularly on point for me right now. 

When I originally wrote this post I didn’t have a true friend with whom to share intellectual conversation or a listening ear over coffee or wine. But just a couple of days ago a relatively new friend, whom I feel so, so fortunate to have in my life, and I were talking about how important interpersonal relationships are and in particular how incredibly vital it is for women to surround themselves with other strong and supportive women. I re-post this today in honor of my dear friend and all the other women out there who believe in the power and beauty of women who hold each other up. Thank you.

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Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed an hour earlier than usual. The coffee wasn’t on, and, because I had forgotten to do so the night before, I had to lay out the kid’s school clothes and get their backpacks ready in the dark and cold. I dug out my own dusty winter coat and gloves, kissed my sleeping children goodbye, and went out to my chilly car.

As I huddled over the steering wheel I wondered if this trip was worth it. But as I wound along a road that hugged the feet of golden tree-shod mountains, through small villages and farmland where woodsmoke and cow breath was visible in the frosty air, I realized the journey itself was more than worth it. When I arrived at Hildene, the summer home of President Lincoln’s only son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in Manchester, VT the mist hovered over the mountains, muting the splendor of fall foliage. Oh, Vermont!

Inside I found the room I was looking for – warm and smelling of coffee. A small group of women were chatting over their paper cups and I suddenly felt shy and lacking in confidence. But a friendly woman shook and my hand and welcomed me to WBON: Women Business Owners Network.

The speaker, Chris Berkhout of Alchemy Productions, was funny and shared great information about making goals, sticking to them, and being confident your own ability to get where you want to be. She spoke about how writing down what you want makes it happen. I know this so well! My writing refuge is just one example .

The camaraderie in the room was inspiring; although a new “business” woman and feeling inferior, maybe even doubting that what I was doing was a business, I felt accepted and motivated. We were not a bunch of catty women competing against or judging each other, we were there to offer advice, encouragement, and… business cards, lots of business cards.

I once had a boyfriend who was so deeply stuck in his own creative rut that he couldn’t see over the sides into the real world. He believed if he stayed in his room practicing his art night after night that he would one day “make it big.” He didn’t think he needed anyone else’s input, inspiration, guidance, or even fellowship. When I mentioned he might consider getting a mentor (at the suggestion of my professional artist father) he flipped out and accused me of thinking he wasn’t a real artist and not believing in his talent. Our relationship never recovered from my offense.

I confess I would probably have had the same response. I used to believe that if I couldn’t do something well without help or practice then I obviously lacked the natural talent and shouldn’t be even attempting it. I have applied this philosophy to piano playing, singing, art, and most recently, giving birth and parenting (I still struggle with that one). But the truth is, we all need help. Just like the flower needs the bee to help it fulfill its own destiny, we all need the input of others in order to discover our full potential. It is not a weakness to seek out assistance – it is a strength. Utilizing other people’s strengths can only give you more stability and resistance. No two people think exactly the same which means we can all offer each other something new – maybe even better.

This is why I came away from this meeting of fellow business women feeling sturdier. I now know I have a buttress of local, creative, ambitious, imaginative, self-believing women to whom I can turn for help and connection. Although I already believed in myself and my dreams, knowing this made the cold, dark morning a truly beautiful one.

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Path to Publication, pt 18: Book Launch!

2 books 2 authors2-page-001

This photo of Lilian Baker Carlisle, the subject of my book, from 1970 when she published her first book, has been a source of inspiration for me over the last two years. I envisioned creating this side-by-side from the first time I came across it. 

Well, I did it. The book is finished. Lilian Baker Carlisle: Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure — A Scrapbook Memoir is, finally, gosh-darn really real!

I truly didn’t believe it was real until the moment I first held it in my hands at the book launch. It’s always just been a one-dimensional design on the computer, even the printer’s proof was digital. Now I can literally flip through the pages instead of figuratively doing it by clicking the “next” arrow. And, oh, it feels good. Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 17: It’s happening! (pt2). Subtitle: ARGH, the Critic!

Good grief.

Nine months ago I wrote a post in celebration of the fact that the first draft of the book manuscript was imminent and that layout was finished, meaning in just a few months more the book — a (mostly) visual biography of a local historian and writer — would be ready for publication.

HAHA… heh.

Yeah. No, that didn’t happen. Why?

Continue reading

I’m not here to teach you anything: Some thoughts on facilitating & coaching

I originally wrote this post in 2014 for the blog of tlanetwork.org, the website of the Transformative Language Arts Network. It seems appropriate to re-post as I am preparing a graduate course on Expressive Writing in the classroom for Castleton University’s Center for Schools. Although in this situation I will be technically a lecturer/teacher/professor rather than a facilitator and I will be imparting more information than I would in a workshop, I will still apply the methods I know best and which have proven to be helpful to participants.

~

Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Justus Sustermans – Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

“I am not here to teach you anything.”

Expressions of confusion flicker across the faces of those circled around me. Wasn’t the very reason they signed up for this workshop to learn something?

I continue: “I am here to show you how you can learn from yourself.”

Smiles break out and the workshop begins.

While this is not intended to be an op-ed on the benefits of teaching critical thinking, how I facilitate is how I believe children should be taught: Teach them to learn for themselves. And this is how I approach my workshops. I give guidance, I provide prompts, and then I sit back and witness my “students” learning from and for themselves (and from the words of others in the room) — not to impress me, the “teacher.”

How does this work with TLA?  Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 16: It’s happening!

Wow, it’s been a looooong time since I last wrote, especially on this publication series. And here’s one of the reasons why: I’m about to get published!

Quick background: Over 18 months ago I was hired — as a history buff, writer, and someone with some graphic lilian-scrapbookdesign skills — by a historical society to put together a biography/memoir on a local historian — Lilian Baker Carlisle. This required traveling regularly 90+ minutes to Lilian’s former home (now owned by her daughter) to go through 80 years worth of scrapbooks she kept starting in 1925 when she was in 8th grade. Now all these months later, the text is written and the layout (which looks like a scrapbook itself) will be finished next week.

And let me tell you! For the past few months, since I have been able to see the end of the tunnel, I have been like a woman possessed. Having dropped all other freelancing projects so I can give this one my full attention, I have nothing else to occupy my mind (oh, don’t worry, every once in while I remember to take a shower or feed my kids).

I go to sleep thinking about the book and I wake up thinking about it. Like this morning, a Saturday, I was awake at 5:30AM worrying about the details — I wonder if the table of contents page get numbered? How do I know what goes on that very first page where the publication details go? Will I EVER finish?! And even when I’ve put in a “full” day of work (“full” for this intensive work is at most six hours, but I can usually get in four hours before my eyeballs start to shrivel and shoulder muscles go into full spasm), I am thinking about what and when I will do next, sometimes forcing myself to stay watching TV instead of escaping to my office to put in a few more minutes.

When the book committee first told me the details of this project, passing over a large file book smelling strongly of stale cigarette smoke (Lilian was not a smoker, it was from the researcher before me), the stage at which I am now seemed an impossibility. How to pull 94 years of an extremely active life into one book with a theme without it sounding/looking like a long run-on sentence of “and then she did this, and then she did that…” felt like a monstrous challenge.

Did I doubt I was up to it? Of course I did. Almost every day. But I didn’t let that stop me. I kept doing what I had to, believing the next step and then the next step would become clear. And they did, step after step through the stages of the research and the compilation.

lakeviewAnd every step was fabulous! I carefully skimmed crumbling scrapbooks from the 1930s and ’40s, guided the photographer through shoots and scanning photos and brochures and newspaper clippings and articles in huge binders from every decade, all while looking out over the most amazing view of Lake Champlain from Lilian’s house. I visited museums and the state historical society. I enjoyed a comfy bed, good food, and good conversation provided by Lilian’s eldest daughter and I oogled over carefully preserved clothing my grandmother might have worn in her younger days. AND I will have a book with my name on the cover at the end! I feel like I hit the jackpot of freelancing.lilian-suit

But here I am, just weeks away from having a completed manuscript in my hands and I feel like I will never make it. All the details are swimming in my head and I have never felt quite so overwhelmed. I’ve never put together a book before and so I don’t know all the details, and I don’t have to (*she reminds herself as writing that sentence*); the members of the historical society have done it many times and the printer we are working with is ready to help in any way. But that doesn’t help my obsessive thoughts. Even on weekends (notice I am writing this on a Saturday), I can’t leave it behind my office door.

This is, I realize, a lot like a pregnancy. At first you’re in disbelief that one day there will be a new little person (book) in your midst but you just go along doing what you’ve got to do, eating right, mulling over names. Then it starts getting kind of uncomfortable, your belly (manuscript) and thoughts of the new arrival get bigger and take over your life. Then the reality of it all takes over and you begin to think, I can’t do this! But you know you have to. This book is in its last month of gestation and soon it will enter the world. When it does, I will be exhausted but ecstatic.

When I began this Path to Publication series, I never, ever thought it would veer off in this direction, that the path would take me to publishing someone else’s book before my own (but that’s next!). But I’ll take it, happily. It has been — and continues to be — a fantastic ride.

I will be very glad to be done with it though. I’m tired (obsessive thoughts are pretty tiring), I’m ready to sleep for about a month. I’d also kind of like to (don’t laugh) clean my house and start paying my bills on time. And shower on a regular basis.

In January 2017, look for news about the “birth” of this book. I will most likely be doing some book tour-ish type things at local libraries, bookstores, and museums, mostly in the Burlington, VT area but hopefully in my hometown too.

So, I’ll be off — back to my worrying, er, I mean, pondering pagination and ISBN numbers…

Envisioning a Write New Year

This post is an edited version of the first posting of my newest column in the Rutland Herald called “All Write!” which ran January 2, 2016.

 
pen journalWriting isn’t only my career (something for which I am extremely grateful), but also has been my lifeline since I was a teenager. I started writing a diary at age 12 and began what I now call expressive writing, or journaling, a decade later while reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” The benefits I have personally experienced I now share with others.

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a slight twist on typical resolution-setting: writing to help you envision your hopes and intentions for the future. There is something magical about dreaming and envisioning what you want out of your life. But it is also

Buy it now

as necessary and practical as a map (or GPS) on a long road trip.

In “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,” Christina Baldwin writes:
Before we can do something significant with our lives, we have to do three things: imagine it clearly so we know what we want, be willing to want it very, very much and take action that moves us to attainment … focused vision, focused longing and focused action.
To begin this process, you must first know where you are now, here in the present. Writing about your current situation and emotional state — what’s going on at home, work, with family, in the world — helps you to get a clear picture of your life and hopefully clarifies what things are working for you and what may not.
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To then look forward to how you may want to make some changes, you can write about a currently unknown future. “Journal to the Self” author Kathleen Adams recommends a journaling technique called “Perspectives,” which is to write as if it is already a future date.
Writing from a different perspective can … hurtle you forward in time, allowing you to create a visionary picture of what you want your life to be like. This can be a very important factor in aligning your will with your unconscious desire, thus helping to ‘create your own reality.’
Allow those “impossible” dreams to have their say. This is your road map to the future. The trip may not take the exact route you thought it would, and you may end up somewhere slightly different than you imagined, but just be open to the journey.
Once you know where you are starting and you have decided on your destination, you can plan your first steps, or your action items. And think baby steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself with huge goals. Start with making one phone call or getting your resume in shape or buying a new set of paints. Just start the ball rolling, get the car started, put the walking shoes on. Starting is always the hardest part, but just do something, anything, no matter how small. And then celebrate each step.
New Year Writing Prompts:
  • “Where I am now in my life is …”

  • “It is January 1, 2017, and …”

  • “The first steps towards this future are …”

Happy New Year! Here’s to a 2016 that’s just write!

So you want to be a TLA (writing for healing/change) facilitator?

This evening I was asked by one of my online students how to start a TLA (Transformative Language Arts) — Writing for Change or Healing — practice/business. That is a big question and not one easily answered. There are too many factors to consider: location, niche, experience, education, personality, and financial situation, among others. So, instead I will tell my story, as briefly possible.

How to (possibly) start a TLA practice:

journal-with-lock

  1. Start a diary at age twelve. Keep writing daily through high school. Stop writing during college except for sappy and maudlin poems after break-ups with each new love of your life and consequently completely lose sight of who you are.
  2. Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and artistsway-tstart writing “Morning Pages” like your life depends on it. (It kinda does.) Fill binder after binder with complaints and dreams for the next few years. Start calling yourself an Aspiring Writer as you write (embarrassingly pitiful) stories and essays early in the morning.
  3. Leave your job and the state to become a stay-at-home mother. Get bored real fast and design a journaling workshop and offer it at the local bookstore. Discover the Center for Journal Therapy and start the instructor certification.
  4. Move again and take part time jobs while finishing the certification and caring for two young kids.
    JTTS_Instructor_Logo
  5. Finish the certification, get marketing materials (business cards, fliers, website, social media pages) together, and start offering workshops at the local wellness centers, bookstores, coffee shops (including a monthly one for free to get your name out there).
  6. Contact/join writing groups/centers, networking and social service organizations, colleges and schools, and get your name on a list of alternative practitioners.
  7. Keep offering workshops despite low turn-out and cancellations. Get posters up wherever you can and blast social media. Do this for … years.
  8. Keep writing. Finally get the courage to call yourself a Writer. Get published. Start freelancing. Put your “facilitator” in your mini bio at the end of each article.flyer_Lower Stress Write Way
  9. Ask, and accept invitations to speak at networking, wellness, and writing events. Collaborate with other facilitators and organizations.
  10. Discover there is a Masters program in this field in your home state (at Goddard College) and spend the next three years transforming your life in the most amazing way imaginable.
  11. Open your own writing center and offer weekly workshops. Start getting more name recognition, more speaking engagements, and more writing work.

So, that’s my story in a very small nutshell. But my journey from designing my first workshop to today was a not a short one — at all. My daughter was two when I began and she is about to turn thirteen! And it has been almost seven years since I got certified and I am only just beginning to feel I am “making it.”

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have helped along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. I know many people.
  2. I live in a small, rural state and am one of very few who does this kind of work.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity until I found my niche (I can  adapt my work to many areas and populations).
  4. I am a freelance columnist. My name is in the paper every week.
  5. My connections through the Center of Journal Therapy,  Goddard College, and the Transformative Language Arts Network have allowed me many opportunities.TLAN-Banner-940x198

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have hurt along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. There is not a huge population to draw from.
  2. I live in a small, rural state. Writing as wellness is not considered a mainstream activity.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity and took a long time to get focused enough to find my niche and in what/with whom I worked best. My “brand” and “elevator speech” have therefore been unclear — trying to be too many things for too many people.
  4. (Related to #3) I don’t enjoy marketing myself and may have not always used the most successful methods.

What I believe you don’t have to do that I did:

  1. Get a MA or other advanced degree in this field. Experience is the best teacher.

What I believe you do need to do:

  1. Be passionate about this work.
  2. Do the work yourself. Be introspective and Write. Write. Write.
  3. Have some training/experience in ethical and successful facilitation practices. Creating safe space for your clients is a priority.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the theories and modalities of TLA/Writing for Change (through the TLA Certification, for example.)
  5. Collaborate!
  6. Find your niche(s). Find your people. Stay focused. (But be willing/prepared to puzzle-piece your career together with lots of different projects and collaborations).
  7. Be confident that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly.

But my number one piece of advice:

Never stop believing you can make this work because if you can’t imagine doing anything else, you will.