The Importance of Storytelling

 

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The Journey Awaits

“Laptop open and hair pulled back, I sip on an Americano and act as a conduit for my clients.  Being present is a gift.  We all just want to be heard over the noise.”

First appointments are usually tentative, as we find commonalities, craft a path and map out goals. Subsequent sessions often involve hugs or tears, and delightful transformation.

Participating with gratitude and humility, I sit back and watch the rainbow of humanity cross my path at my “Starbucks office”.

Who do I work with and why do they come to me?

Engineers, CEO’s, accountants, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, graphic designers, sound designers, construction workers and restaurant managers – all of whom want to: edit a resume or LinkedIn page, discover their “special sauce” or Personal Brand, reinvent themselves professionally or actualize entrepreneurial dreams.

At least these concrete tasks are what usually motivates clients to send me a text or email in response to one of my many online ads.

Students also seek out my consultation: high school students trying to write better papers, undergraduates applying for select graduate programs, and PhD candidates writing complex dissertations.

American and international geniuses from Europe, Asia and South America all show up, with carefully crafted documents and hopeful dreams of change for the future.

These are the demographic markers of the hundreds of people I have worked with for over 20 years, as a writing coach, editor, academic/business/life coach, content creator, and personal brand consultant. I have titles and my clients have titles, which bring us together and help propel our careers, but underneath it all is the PROCESS.

What I really DO, on a spiritual and “deep dive” level is hold out the metaphorical microphone to whoever is sitting in front of me – provide the time and space and silence and patience for them to FIND THEIR VOICE.

Putting words around:
memories-dreams-accomplishments-fears-realizations-stories-conclusions-assumptions-facts-theories. I hyphenated that list because that is what stream of consciousness feels like, one long, continuous idea that is like an audio loop in our MINDS, an undercurrent or theme that seems disconnected except that it wakes us up in the night and recurs in our journal entries. Pulling on our shirt tails like an insistent child that needs something.

So what I do is provide the container for my clients to finally slow down long enough to give that child a chance to be heard, to elaborate on that whim or to clearly spell out that conclusion. It is cathartic and rewarding and satisfying. Being heard. Realizing that you actually have something to say and that you matter.

Words are powerful. Clarity brings about change. Taking a mental sabbatical, whether for 2 hours or a year, gives us the opportunity to let go of the grocery list mentality and take a broader view of our lives.

This is the work of honing our vision, setting, re-setting and course correcting when our compass is off track. Assisting others in this clarification process is impactful and important work. My obsession with story-telling began as a kid. I remember listening to Studs Terkel on the radio, and reveling in how he drew out the oral histories of regular Americans. Now, at 52, I am blessed to have a calling that involves encouraging and assisting others to find their true north.

In the end – what else do we have to show for our time here on earth but our story, our message and the tribe we leave behind?

What is your story and how do you support your tribe in sharing theirs? I would feel honored if you could share your story or any other feedback with directly with me or with all of us – in the Comment Section below.

The PERSONAL is POLITICAL

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I work with students from around the world, as a private English language tutor.   I am lucky in that I spend my days in cafes, sitting at tables with students from Russia, Japan, Korea, France, Spain, Mexico, and other countries.

Some days we parse out which words are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.  We construct complex sentences or we deconstruct abstract grammar concepts.  Other days they just want to chat, and we cover everything from politics, to history to cross-cultural communication styles.  These are my favorite sessions, when we can break down the barriers between us and get REAL.

Today, a young student from Russia asked me why I referred to myself as a “Radical Feminist” in  the title of my upcoming memoir –Experiments in Living:  How a Radical Feminist Endured Motherhood on a Suzuki TS250X.

I was happy that he had read my blog and was curious about my writing.

“Great question, which word are you asking about “radical” or “feminist?”  I asked.

“Well, I know what feminist means but radical makes me think you hate men.  It is so extreme.”  he said.

From there a discussion ensued that began with the liberation of African Americans and the MLK Movement.  I told him how many white people felt that any form of “Black Nationalism” or black power was a threat to or indictment of white culture.  We talked about how the liberation of one group does not have to demean or limit another, and how women’s liberation is about empowering women, not hating men.

My journey into feminism began back when I was 13 and going over to a boy’s house to play Monopoly.

As I was leaving, my mom said, “I know you are good at Monopoly, but let him win. Boys like that.”

I proceeded to purchase many houses and hotels,  and to buy up all the properties on the board.

I cannot blame my mother, whose rhetoric was steeped in her 50’s upbringing and the fact that she attended college just to get her M.R.S. degree.

I am not my mother.  I am not my grandmother.

Now that our son has turned 13, I can see how this formative time will set the foundation for many of his decisions and relationships.

Last month my husband and I threw him a birthday party.  Both boys and girls came to his “dinner and a movie” event,  which started at a local hamburger joint.  After eating, the boys all stood up to go and the girls started to clean up the wrappers and cups.

“Woah.  Hold the phone!”  I intercepted.  “Here’s how it works, boys, you ate the food – now you must help clean up too.”

My husband proceeded to assign duties, role modeling.

I re-direct and educate and empower and discuss and enlighten others on a daily basis about the role of women in our society, in our homes, in our schools, and at our jobs.

This is a daily choice and by having these discussions I encourage myself and others to question our assumptions about what it means to be a girl or a boy, a woman or a man.

Who decided that females must cook and clean for men?  Who decided that, in order for men to feel confident, women must be less than, demure, apologetic?

Any real man can handle a woman who is powerful,  and will support his woman in developing her intelligence and creativity.  He will see her evolution as an asset to his own life.

As women, we were born into these bodies and into this American culture at this period of time, but we do not have to accept others’ ideas about what that means for us, what we can (or cannot) do, how we should dress or what we should say.

We are free, and yet we also have the legacy of those who came before us, setting the stage for that freedom and remembering that the each day we make decisions and statements that show us:  the Personal is indeed Political.

The Work of Parenting/Writing/Teaching/Loving

Ok, so Sunday, after a long week of work and going to AWP, I accomplished the following other tasks:

  1. filled my SUV  up with gas
  2. went grocery  shopping with my man
  3. took my kid to Gameworks  Seattle with his friend
  4. paid bills
  5. swept the floors
  6. did the dishes

Then, after all of that, and hearing numerous stories of school and work from my family of 3, I sat down to write, feeling like a balloon that has lost all of its air.

I remember, when our son was a year old and I used to take him in his stroller to a Barnes and Noble near our coach-house in Beverly, Chicago.  I would wear my head-wraps, buy my coffee, read a few pages at a time in a book that I couldn’t afford to buy and look at the other women in the bookstore cafe.  Inevitably, there would be a woman there alone, with make-up on, coiffed hair, and a cute outfit that took more than 5 minutes to assemble.  She always had a relaxed, reflective look on her face and I hated her.  Jealousy of her freedom and independence and matching clothes came off of me in waves that I would try to hide.

It’s different for me now, that my son is 13.  I still long for the luxury of staring at an open closet and wondering what to wear, reading a book from beginning to end and having my biggest concern be the state of my hair.  But I am a part of something more complicated and challenging and fulfilling and poignant now, my family.  These male beings who have been brought into my life challenge me to be more, to balance better, to dig deeper and that, if I keep it in perspective, can help me as a writer.

Our families inspire and challenge us, give us material but also take away our sacred time and mental focus.  Maybe the pressure of having less time forces us to write when we can.  Maybe the multi-tasking of parenthood makes us better at managing deadlines/ second edits, writing in our cars or while waiting at yet another sports practice.

Somewhere on those post it notes, ideas scrawled on a restaurant napkin and late night epiphanies lies a memoir, an article, a novel.  String it together and give it life.  Water it and listen to it and pay it as much attention as another school/work story over dinner.  We deserve this much.

Thoughts on AWP#14 Seattle

I attended the 14th Annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs  (AWP) Conference this past week in Seattle, and it was a  life-changing experience for me.    I took enough notes for fill an entire spiral notebook, and attended about 18 workshops/lectures over a 3 day period, along with navigating a crowd of 15,000 writers, editors, publishers and fellow book lovers.  I slowly networked in the massive bookfair, and met editors/representatives from Creative Non-Fiction, Bitch, The Sun, So to Speak, Phoebe, Boulevard Magazine and more.  I found out about VIDA, Hedgebrook, A Room of Her Own and other organizations that support women writers through workshops, lectures, retreats, fellowships and guidance.

I feel so supported in this journey of writing and publishing.  I feel I am part of this huge community now, and not just a woman sitting on her iPad in a Starbucks listening to The Caravan World Music Show on KBCS FM and trying to find her voice.  Even my Americano tastes better, and I can face down the blank page with courage and conviction that writing is a valid, serious,  and important way to spend yet another rainy Sunday afternoon.