creative work, Process, Writing

Light a Candle

What I want to remember about ritual.

The difference between ritual and routine has nothing to do with the task and everything to do with how I approach it.

Rituals help me feel safe and connected. They also remind me that the unknown is everywhere—around me and within me.

Light a candle.

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I may never know why or how rituals work. I don’t need to know. I should do them anyway.

Sometimes I need to act ‘as if.’ As if I am committed. As if I believe in magic. As if I know what I’m doing.

Doing the same practice over and over again leads to limitless creativity and possibility.

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Move my body. Call this a ritual. Worship the movement.

Use magic instruments liberally. If rose water, massage oil, beeswax candles, prayers, crystals, or the Tarot turn routines into rituals then use them. Shrug at the part of me that thinks this is silly

Write everyday. Call this a ritual.

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creative work, Process, unfinished, Writing

Words by Mail

As a part of our Two Create project, Kelly and I send each other postcards. We collage one side and write a few words about collaboration, creativity, or process on the other side. The postcards are a slow motion version of our phone calls and text messages. We’re always talking about these themes but the postcard asks us to slow down, to imagine our thoughts in both images and words, and to be concise.

When I get a postcard from Kelly her words live in the back of my mind. I collect examples of what she’s talking about, relate it to what I’m reading, and imagine what it means for our work together. Then, when I’m ready, I sit down with old books and magazines and arrange images in a way that continues the conversation. I read her postcard again and respond, giving our work this small, silent, sacred space.

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December 2016

Kelly, you’re right. Making is part of the way forward. I like to think of a lineage of creators, that we are part of a tradition of exploring, understanding, and re-making the world in words and images. Sometimes I forget my artist-self, forget to see. But when I remember her, everything is better and I’m powerful again. Love, H

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January 2017

Heidi! Maybe that’s why we get so excited about understanding other people’s processes, too—it’s motivating and inspiring to see what’s possible, to see how something works, and to know we’re not alone. Even if none of us knows what we’re doing, it’s comforting to have that conversation. I think making something is an act of being vulnerable—one payoff of that is richer, deeper relationships. Love, Kelly

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Process, social work, Writing

What the Research Taught Me

It has been over a year since I posted about the compassion fatigue study I designed while in the MSW program at the University of New England School of Social Work. I’ve been thinking about it recently because self-care practices feel more relevant than ever right now.

I was reflecting on this research project while writing my morning pages and I started thinking about what I learned. Here are five lessons I’m keeping with me.

  1. Ask the right questions. Uncovering a research question, designing interview questions, and crafting writing prompts are all practices in the art of asking. This is where I see the intersection between social justice work, mental health care, and writing: in all three realms the work is about finding the right questions.
  2. Honesty is a gift. One of the participants in my study had a strong negative reaction to the writing practice. Her reflections were some of the most valuable because they reminded me that everyone processes information in different ways, that even when offered “choices” people can feel pressured or coerced, and that I’m doing something right when people feel comfortable offering their criticism.
  3. Words heal. The students who participated in the writing and follow-up interviews noted that getting their thoughts out on paper helped them to process their experiences as new social workers, allowed them to build confidence in their work, and offered an opportunity to work through insecurities and challenges.
  4. Process. Is. Everything. Sure, I have final data showing rates of change in the Compassion Fatigue Short Scale, but it’s lessons from the process that stick with me. This message was echoed in follow-up interviews with the students as well. They noted the freedom they felt in writing something no one else would see, without needing to restrict their words or strive for perfection. It’s amazing what changes when we shift our focus away from a final product.
  5. We need multiple and varied tools for self-care. Writing will always be one of my go-to tools for processing, reflecting, and purging. And, attending to my body (dancing, sweating, walking) is equally important. When I carve out time to move I’m more attuned to the messages my body sends me and I’m better able to respond to myself and others.

I know I’m doing the right work when I end a project with more questions than I had when I began. I pull lessons from the process and toss out the new questions, seeds for future work.

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Process, Writing

Writing and Change: An Interview with Alex Meyers

A couple of weeks ago Alex and I joined other folks from our MSW program to give a presentation about the Applied Arts and Social Justice Certificate. Afterwards I talked with Alex about unfinished work. I love what she has to say about how as we change, our work changes–so it’s never truly complete. Read more about the “unfinished” project here. 

What is your unfinished project?

My blog is an ongoing project that I don’t know if I can ever complete. I started the blog as a deal I made with a friend four years ago. If she held up her side of the bargain then I had to start. I was moving to Yellowstone that summer so she thought it would be cool for me to write about my experiences. That’s how it started. I kept up with that for about two years and then when I moved to Guatemala I transferred platforms and kept writing. Now it has evolved again and I have a section for Portland and a section for my time in Guatemala. In the Portland section I reflect on things I learn in our program and also just everyday things that I think about and imagine other people may benefit from reading.

Why do you think it remains unfinished?

Even after I write about a topic I find myself going back to write about that topic again. I think my perception or understanding of what I’m writing about changes over time. If I wrote about something in Yellowstone, that’s four years ago, now I’m going to have a different idea or opinion of what I originally wrote. As I grow and have a better understanding of myself and my views of the world my writing is also going to change–it’s ever evolving.

When you think about your unfinished project, how do you feel? What do you think?

Sometimes unfinished work gives me anxiety. I’m typically a person who likes to start a project and finish it but with the blog, because I’ve had it for so long, I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s something I want to keep going with. It’s never going to be finished because I will continue growing and changing and as long as I continue to do that so will my blog.

“As I grow and have a better understanding of myself and my views of the world my writing is also going to change…”

Where do you keep it (the physical work and/or the idea)?

I have pieces of paper and notes scattered about–whether it’s in my room or on the dining room table. I have a bunch of different notes in my phone, nothing is ever organized. Sometimes I go through my phone trying to clean it out and I find blog topics in four different notes. I like to think that I continue to inspire myself at that point because I think, oh yeah, I wanted to write about that. I should think about it more and pursue it.

If you could look through the unfinished work of another creator who would it be? Why?

I have a couple friends from home who are really artistic and creative, their names are Liv and Ryan. Their ways of thinking are fascinating and so different from my own and from other people I know. They’re some of those people who once you talk to them you could sit there forever and you just want them to continue speaking. Ryan works in the music industry and he has an eye for visual art and writing as well. He’s just a really profound thinker. Liv is a painter and she’s also incredibly well spoken. To have them both together is so interesting because he has a completely different perspective from her. I love spending time with them because I learn so much.

Alex Meyers is a full-time MSW student at UNE and a part-time letter writer — having vowed to never let the art of handwritten letters die. She often wonders what it would be like to be organized but prefers chaos to keep her on her toes. She’s constantly seeking adventure, new creative outlets, and cute local coffee shops.

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Writing

Some Thoughts on Book Reviews

When I write a book review I feel like I’m having a conversation with the writer. To ease my discomfort with this task (reviewing someone else’s work) I ask  the writer questions in my mind. I love searching for the places where I connect to the book, the lessons I might pull for my own life, and the combinations of words that I repeat–awed at how they are just right.

I’ve been writing these reviews for the Portland Press Herald, sporadically, for a little over a year now. I took a break this fall when I went back to school for clinical social work but I missed it so I’ve started taking a few more assignments. It’s important for me to remember that literature was one of the first places I looked to unravel the mind, relationships, and this human experience. Books continue to be one of the most insightful and nourishing places for me to explore these themes.

IMG_0197“Nichols is expert at shining a spotlight on private moments. A mother dances alone late at night in her attic. A boxer’s mind wanders just seconds before his fight. An alcoholic rationalizes each drink at the bar when he knows he’s meant to be home to greet his children at the school bus. In each instance, time seems to slow down and the character’s thoughts and movements betray weighty emotions.” – from my review of “Closer All the Time” by Jim Nichols

“In his canoe on the Temple Stream, Roorbach notes that “lines on a map don’t translate into anything in nature.” Instead of lines, Roorbach has mapped Temple Stream in stories: skiing across an old mill pond, swimming with his wife, throwing bottles filled with messages into the water, the naming of his daughter. In one of Roorbach’s most interesting encounters along the Temple Stream, a woman gives him an explanation for the time he spends there. “That’s what’s so important about spending time where you want to be: you meet people of like mind, or at least you meet yourself.”” – from my review of “Temple Stream” by Bill Roorbach

“There’s a density to Thomson’s sentences, and his paragraphs could be explored like poems. It’s a styleIMG_0963 that fits the tropical landscape explored through most of the book, where we find some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. And it builds the feeling of travel, where every detail becomes sharp, because everything is new and unknown.” – from my review of “fragile” by Jeffrey Thomson

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social work

Inspirations: Developing a Course for MSW Students

During the fall semester I took an independent study course with Lori Power, coordinator of the Applied Arts and Social Justice Certificate at the University of New England School of Social Work. We developed a syllabus for an advanced year social work course that will prepare students to facilitate writing workshops in the community. I started a blog to track our progress, share resources, and ask questions. I’ll cross-post some of the entries here. This was one of my first posts, a small collection of inspirations that helped to fuel our thinking as we built the foundation for this class.


lightbulbAs we begin thinking about how to structure a jail-based writing workshop we’re looking at other models across the country. I sifted through a number of arts organizations that work with incarcerated populations, some of which I share in another blog post. As I was reading about these organizations I looked for philosophical themes that can direct us to content for this course. I know that inspiration for this work comes from diverse sources so I struggled to choose just a few themes. These are the three that I noticed most often and believe will be impactful to students who are learning to facilitate writing workshops.

In order for critical pedagogy, dialogue, and thought to have real effects, they must advocate the message that all citizens, old and young, are equally entitled, if not equally empowered, to shape the society in which they live. –Henry Giroux

  • Critical Pedagogy is a model of education that comes from the work of Paulo Freire and is continued by people like bell hooks, Henry Giroux, and Peter McLaren. In critical pedagogy, education is a transformative process that draws from the wisdom and experience of both students and teachers. It asks us to question how power shows up in educational settings, in the books we read, and in society as a whole. Like the social work profession, critical pedagogy has a commitment to social justice.

I consider writing an athletic activity: the more you practice, the better you get at it. The reason you keep your hand moving is because there’s often a conflict between the editor and the creator. The editor is always on our shoulder saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t write that. It’s no good.” But when you have to keep the hand moving, it’s an opportunity for the creator to have a say. All the other rules of writing practice support that primary rule of keeping your hand moving. The goal is to allow the written word to connect with your original mind, to write down the first thought you flash on, before the second and third thoughts come in. – Natalie Goldberg

  • Writing as Process isn’t an actual term for a particular orientation towards writing but is a way of naming the idea that we can focus on the writing process rather than the writing product. There are many types of writing that focus on the process, including expressive writing and proprioceptive writing. And there are writers, like Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, who describe the writing process and encourage commitment to creation above product.

The facilitator’s job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding and cultivates shared responsibility. – Sam Kaner

  • Participatory Facilitation asks that everyone teaches and everyone learns. It denies the idea that some individuals are experts and instead acknowledges that each individual is the expert of their own experience.
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creative work, mental health, social work, Writing

Writing and Compassion

It was seven years after I graduated with my bachelor’s in social work that I decided to go back for my master’s with a focus in clinical social work. I know that I needed those years to develop my own centering routines, a depth of self-understanding, and the resiliency to work with trauma in a critical and compassionate way. In her book “Trauma Stewardship,” Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes, “If we are to contribute to the changes so desperately needed in our agencies, communities, and societies, we must first and foremost develop the capacity to be present with all that arises, stay centered throughout, and be skilled at maintaining an integrated self.”

Writing is one of the tools I use to cultivate presence, centeredness, and maintenance of my “integrated self.” When I began my capstone research this summer I started by looking at compassion fatigue and writing. The research led me to a question that I’m hoping to answer this spring:

How does an expressive writing intervention impact levels of compassion fatigue among second year MSW students?

I designed a study where two groups of students completed a compassion fatigue scale, one group engaged in an expressive writing intervention, and both groups completed a post-intervention compassion fatigue scale. I interviewed willing students after they completed the writing intervention, seeking their feedback on what the writing was like for them, if and how they felt it benefited their work or their lives, and other ways they use writing. Part of what I love about both social work and research is that they require a commitment to critical reflection. I learn and evaluate as I do this work, finding new ways to create balance for myself and give support to my communities.

 

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