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Words Transform Lives: An Invitation

You are a coach, consultant, teacher, clergy, or community organizer who uses songs, stories, poems, or other creative expressions to bring communities and organizations together and help individuals transform their lives.

Meet others who use spoken, written, and sung words as tools for personal and collective change by taking an online class sponsored by the Transformative Language Arts Network (tlanetwork.org).

Join me for a six-week online course, “Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices.” We will explore ways to build community and foster transformation by focusing on the question “What’s right with this picture?”

“Joyful Inquiry” is for anyone who wants to use a strengths-based approach to helping groups and individuals respond to challenges.

The course takes place April 19, 2017 through May 30, 2017. Get a 10% discount if you enroll by December 31st.

Tuition: TLAN members $210; nonmembers-$240.

To learn more about “Joyful Inquiry,” including weekly topics and registration information, go to http://tlanetwork.org/event-2375971

Ruth Farmer
ruthfarmer.com
Farmer Writing and Editing

Moments of Gratitude

I love the light and the dark.

This time of year lends itself to contemplation. There are fewer daylight hours. It is cold. Life slows down, giving you time to appreciate the simple things.

Yesterday, I stopped writing midsentence and dashed outside because the sun was shining so brilliantly.
A few nights ago, I was drawn to go onto the deck, to stare at the moon, the stars, the stark, leafless trees and the shadows they made on the land.

I am grateful for sunshine and moonlit nights and the long periods of velvet darkness that lead to self-reflection.

New Perspective

As I was driving from town to my home, I saw the houses, streets, landscape in a different light. I didn’t recognize the house where I buy gladioli throughout the summer. Without the table and colorful cut flowers perched in front, the place looked abandoned.

Looking up as I continued my drive, I noticed the multicolored mountains capped by a strip of clear blue and nestled by a blanket of gray cotton.

There is a green house behind the local school that I’d never seen before. It is accessed by a private lane, like so many houses in this area, including mine.

The luscious leaves that come in spring and delight in summer, and the brilliant golds and yellows of fall are so beautiful they blot out everything else. Sometimes I want to freeze the moment, forestall the cold white that is inevitable.

Today, rather than seeing fall as a prelude to winter, I notice what is revealed after the leaves have floated away. The land is new.

Look up. Look around. Notice what you’ve not noticed before.

Thoughts Like Puppies

I am not ready to write. I’m not ready to process, to put onto paper my feelings and thoughts this morning. They are my thoughts. They are my feelings. They are floating in the ozone in amorphous wonder and delight and being free to be what they are and not nailed down, categorized, prettied up, and made to dance a dance that I can understand.

Sometimes words escape me, not just when I am speaking to others or when I am writing, revising, rethinking. They escape me like a recalcitrant puppy that will not heel, come, sit, or stay. They are not at that moment ready to yield to the containment of ritual, routine, or just the inability to accept such wild energy.

My thoughts are puppies, which I love. So why can’t I love these thoughts that are not able to land in the categories that I can understand? Right now, I know they are there and I know some are wild and some are just seeking a place to settle but not that place that I think they should land on. Even as I write this I don’t know for certain what it is I am saying but I know for certain that I love that I have the courage and openness to say it, this, and that. I don’t have to have a polished thought every time I open my mouth or write in my journal or type on this computer. There is a shine to them, a glow to them whether or not the grammar and direction and argument and focus are clear. That I can get out of my own way to say anything is a sign of growth for me.

A puppy has energy and wholeness and puppyhood. There are very few people who do not like puppies. They might fear them or fear for them, but they probably like them, simply for their unbridled and curious natures. Getting curious about my thoughts, allowing my thoughts to be thoughts of curiosity is not the easiest thing for me to do. I want to say, yes, you are so cute and funny and energetic and wild and now that I’ve acknowledged those wonderful traits, it is time to get real and get focused and to make sense.

Do puppies make sense? On some level they do and yet suddenly they sprint away to do who knows what. Suddenly they bare their teeth or jump in your lap or the lap of someone whom they don’t know. Sometimes they won’t eat or they gobble up your socks and the bugs attached to your spider plants. Sometimes they just do stuff that is unpredictable and we say to ourselves, how cute at the same time that we know, we absolutely know, that we must teach the puppy not to be so terribly spontaneous. We must align the puppy with the life that will keep him safest and healthiest. That is what we tell ourselves.

How to do that without damping down this energy? That is the question that I ask myself about my wild and unfocused and totally energized and spontaneous and amorphous thoughts: How do I cultivate them without blocking the energy that keeps new unbridled and innovative and unexpected thoughts from coming and receiving my full attention and love?

How do I retain my puppy self?

Getting it Done

So on Monday, I spent the afternoon revising an essay on leadership, which is to appear in an anthology on pedagogy. The due date for the essay was … let’s just say, earlier. Much earlier.

I drafted the piece in February and spent weeks writing and rewriting, researching and rewriting, straying from the point and coming back.

I submitted the essay (late) and was asked to revise it. I left it on my desk for several days –many, many days! – thinking about how to approach this phase of revision. I re-read the essay and re-wrote it, confident that I had conveyed the points I was trying to make.

The editor asked me to revise the essay again.

When I submitted the draft on Monday, I was oh so tempted to add a plaintive note: “This is all I’ve got. If this version isn’t what you are looking for, I understand (Wah, wah, wah!). I’m sure I can get it published elsewhere” (Someone else will appreciate my writing).

I did not write the note. I discourage my students from offering such disclaimers before they read their pieces to an audience. “Let the work speak for itself,” I say.

Sometimes I follow my own advice.

Showing up

If you are like me, one of your favorite things to do is to reflect on the textures and colors of the world (literally and figuratively).

An important part of my day – perhaps the most important part – is the time I spend writing. Sometimes I write personal reflections; sometimes I write fiction or poems.

What matters is that I show up. Even when the words don’t flow easily, I value the time spent expressing myself.

***

In my upcoming teleseminar, I share some techniques I use to keep the writing process fresh.

Join me on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:00pm Eastern for Joyful Writing: 3 Ways to Gain a Fresh Perspective on Your Prose & Poetry.

Email me if you would like me to send you a link to the teleseminar: rfarmer@gmavt.net

Keep writing!

Ruth

Every Story Has Value

An important principle by which I live is that everyone has value. We are all created by a Higher Power, and we are all here on this Earth for a reason. As an educator, I put this fundamental principle into action through the practice of paying attention to individuals. Attending to another person seems easy. However, it can be challenging if you don’t believe everyone has value.

Believing that everyone has value does not mean that everything that everyone does is perfect. Seeing a person separately from their actions is essential, so that judgment doesn’t get in the way of accepting their essential value.

For me, paying attention entails listening, literally and figuratively. Listening means more than not speaking. It means beaming attention, hearing from the heart, moving your focus from your expectations of what the person might say, or should say, to hearing what they are saying, and accepting that there is worth in what has transpired.

This principle is a foundation of my work as a writing coach. Every person, every story has value. In helping writers complete a novel, memoir, academic essays, poetry, or other form of expression, I pay close attention to the writer. By doing so, I can help individuals discover the heart of their work, their authentic voice, and support them in creating a publishable manuscript.

That’s why I’ve just created my new 90-day Write To Publish coaching program, where I take writers through a three-step process to draft, revise, and edit their manuscripts. If you would like to talk with me about my program, email me at rfarmer@gmavt.net and I’ll tell you more about it.

A Writer Reads

I love to read. As a writer, reading is enjoyable and educational. Here are three books I’m in the midst of reading. I may provide an update once I’ve finished them.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield: In the first few pages, Pressfield offers valuable advice:

“The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”

“develop empathy”

“switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer.”

       I have just finished chapter 61, in which he explores the distinctly “American” story principles of Hollywood movies. Pressfield also talks about making a living. This book is a worthwhile read for anyone serious about building a career through artistic expression.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear: Elizabeth Gilbert’s perspective on creativity won’t appeal to a lot of folks. I find it refreshing. I just finished the chapter on permission, in which Gilbert explores the paradox of art as “absolutely meaningless” and “deeply meaningful.” Her basic premise (so far) is to lighten up and play. Works for me.

The Bones of Paris: I love mysteries. Laurie R. King’s lush narrative set in 1929 Paris seemed promising when I thumbed through the book. Private investigator Harris Stuyvesant is looking for a missing woman. So far the book is big on atmosphere and low on dramatic tension. Also, I really don’t care about any of the characters. Having stalled at chapter 17, the book has become an assignment: What techniques does King use to draw in the reader? When does atmospheric charm get in the way of the story? As a writer, I want to understand why I find such a well-written book so dull.

By switching between the perspectives of a writer and a reader, I can discover what works and what doesn’t, while indulging in one of my primary pleasures, reading.

What are you reading?

Editor or Coach? Which do you need?

I talk with a lot of writers in my daily life as a teacher and director of a graduate program. Writers are among my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues; many of them derive some or all of their income from working with corporations, community organizations, educational institutions, or as freelancers. Others write for pleasure or to work through a problem. This latter group may or may not be interested in sharing their words with others; i.e., publication. Those who are so moved want to communicate clearly, whether they are composing marketing emails, blogs, reports, academic papers, poems, novels, essays, or books.

Sometimes a writer needs support. That support could be an editor or a coach. How does a writer know which to hire?

An editor’s focus is the writing project; for example:

•Refining an essay’s concepts
•Helping to organize a manuscript
•Reviewing grammar and usage

A writing coach focuses on the writer. A coach might help a writer:

•Understand reasons for writing or not writing
•Get to know characters’ motivations
•Explore emotions that emerge when writing about family or friends

Do you need an editor or a coach?

Let’s talk about how to answer to that question. Contact me at rfarmer@gmavt.net 802-377-3001. Or complete this form:

I have no war poems

I stopped writing poems many years ago. I could explain why, but I won’t. I found this poem on my computer today. I was tempted to update it, then decided I would leave it as is.
***

I have no war poems, no sermonizing about
the inhumanity of man to fellow man we have
heard enough of this, and we have not learned so
why waste words and time?

Last night I looked in the western sky, the television
mumbling behind me late night news without information
the stars stood out white against the blue-black infinite
the streetlight across the road could not dim the brilliance

though like the blare of voices commercialized to nothingness
the competition was strong. I know so much about Iraq and America
and terrorists and patriotism I have grown ignorant of everything
human and so I look to the sky which isn’t

we are waiting for Isabel’s remnants, we heard of her fury
we are reminded every day that we are not central, not even peripheral
we are unimportant and ephemeral our only immortality is the serial
continuation of genes that mate and mutate and become what was not

clouds buffeted by gusts whiten turn purple release rain and let
the sun brillantine the waiting land and the trees know but their
whispering voices make no sense to our arrogant ears wars are as
permanent as trees as prevalent as genes and as constant as the stars

but I have no words to express their meanings, so I look to the sky
and the blue-black infinity sparkles and calms.

Ruth Farmer
9/19/03