This month, I am at Abbot Northwestern Hospital Heart Institute support group on Mondays, The Bridge for Youth on Wednesdays, Writing Circles for Healing at The Wellstone Center on Thursdays, and back at Stillwater DOC on Fridays although this is not part of the grant. I also am presenting a free training session for advocates, social workers, healers and therapists to demonstrate my technique at Cornerstone on April 6.
Each workshop has been unique and I have discovered what works and what doesn't. The youth at The Bridge may enter the room with an attitude of resistance (what? another group we have to attend?) but after a couple of rounds of writing, reading and realizing that they are free to speak their minds and not be judged, they want to participate. Unfortunately, by then, it is time for their next activity. But I have heard heart-breaking and affirming poems and stories as they move forward into self-awareness and standing up for themselves.
The women at Harriet Tubman were enthused and the program director told me it led to conversations with others about themselves and why they were at Harriet Tubman, opening up as they shared their stories and their wisdom. Breaking patterns of addictive behavior and leaving abusive situations can be a long hard road. I suggested that they post the affirmations we wrote in a place where they could be reminded that they are headed towards wholeness.
At our first session at Cornerstone, one woman had a deep reluctance to share but agreed to allow me to read her words. As I did, she wept and the other women assured her that she was on the path to self-awareness and healing. The hurts these women have endured are hard to write about and yet, to admit that they have been hurt is necessary for the healing to begin. A break due to President's day threw off our rhythm but the writer who persevered is filling up notebook after notebook.
The workshop at the library had a different focus as writers wanted to work on writing skills. We discussed setting, character, and plot. One of my favorite prompts is to write about an ordinary activity and then have something unexpected happen. Or to detail a character doing an ordinary activity in public and then have another character approach with a secret that they feel compelled to confide. How does the first character react?
At Banfill-Locke, many of the 14 participants had been primed by taking Julian's Drawing by Intuition class, already connected to their creative imagination. I am always amazed at how a prompt can elicit so many different responses. "I am going to start living"....from Edward Hirsch's poem "I am going to Start Living Like a Mystic" led me to write:
I am going to start living as if the past is a bucket of stars. I can take each out and decide to put it on a shelf, paste it on the ceiling, or return it to the bucket. I'm going to start living as if each failure, each dead end, each detour was intentional experimentation....
At The Wellstone Center, I have the most unusual group I have ever worked with: all men. It is the first time this has ever happened to me, most workshops are filled with women!
The Saint Paul Almanac community editors workshop was the most exciting. We did the timeline exercise and heard brief stories from each participant, testimonies to the courage and determination and resiliency of the human spirit. At The Bridge for Youth, one young man said he didn't have anything to write about and I reminded them that we each have a story. As one famous writer said, if you have lived to be seven years old, you have enough material to write about for the rest of your life. But those I am working with have big stories: stories of immigration, abandonment and rejection, life on the street, escaping abuse, finding new direction, pursuing education, pursuing healthy choices, overcoming poverty, racism, and someone else's opinion of who you should be.
I give my writers permission to be honest on the page, permission to write badly, permission to pursue what comes up from their subconscious. As Natalie Goldberg says, go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary...it has lots of energy.) This is where the juice is, the passion that will ignite your writing. Writing is a practice, I tell them, just like any art. You need to practice to get better. And the more you practice, the better you will get. It is also work. Writing will break you open, make you see things you weren't aware of, show you a reflection of your heart and soul.
At Abbot, we wrote about what we yearn for and I found myself writing about peace: peace in the Middle East, peace in North Minneapolis, peace between my grandsons, a theme that has always been important to me and yet one I haven't tackled lately. For homework, I asked them to write to their hearts. I can't wait to hear the dialogue they create with their hearts. Then I will use the prompt from this:
If anyone strike my heart, it does not break, but it bursts, and the flame coming out if it becomes a torch on my path. --Hazrat Inayat Khan
There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put scriptures on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts,and not in them?” the rabbi answered, “Only God can put scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
--Anne Lamont in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
What is written on your heart?
What is the flame that lights your path?
What is the flame that lights your path?
Wendy Brown-Báez is a fiscal year 2012 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. These activities are funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s art and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov, 4, 2008.