Slow Words

 

 

In his Ted Talk praising the virtues of slownessauthor Carl Honore describes the moment he became aware that he was racing through his life. It was bedtime, his only time each day with his young son, and Carl found himself speed-reading through The Cat in the Hat.

We are in the midst of what Honore calls “road runner culture.” We like things fast. There are advantages, for sure. But there are also consequences, especially in how we read. As a writer, editor, teacher and word lover, I see the impact of this every day.

Each week I assign a published essay for discussion and urge my students to read it twice. Because life often gets in the way of a second review, I allow time for us to read the piece aloud when we are together, taking turns with each paragraph. It’s usually after this second read that I hear writers say, “I didn’t like this piece when I first read it, but I get it now” or “Now that we’re talking about this, I see a structure I didn’t notice before.”

We all do so much necessary skimming of email, texts and headlines that I believe we’re losing practice in efficient reading.

And we’re missing a lot.

I discovered the power of a slow read when I began to study Torah several years ago. Reading the Old Testament line by line can sometimes be an excruciating endeavor – it’s not the easiest read –  but when you unpack sentences at the word level, you can see the wisdom or the questioning in the word choices, the emphasis in the order or how words can shed light on the gray areas. And for those of us who read via screen, it feels good – even grounding – to touch paper and turn pages.

I’m also noticing how much we don’t see —  word wise — in my personal life, too. Even the shortest texts and emails are frequently misread. I’m amazed at how many what-when-where-how-and-whys I receive in response to email or texts that specifically provide these.

There’s no getting around the fact that we like things speedy. But there are counter-movements growing. You may have heard of theslow food movement, a global response to fast food by organic farmers and foodies. There’s also the slow city movement (more park benches and public gathering spaces) and even a slow sex movement (from a 30-second orgasm to slow–motion tantric sex).

I’d like to make a case for the slow read.

Whether it’s a passage from the Bible or Koran, a poem, an essay or short story, magazine feature article or chapter of a book, a good, slow read is the best chance words have to resonate with us. It is, after all, what words do best.

I’ll go one step further and say that I believe that a slow thoughtful read keeps our listening skills whole. Whole body listening keeps us plugged into the moment. It allows an organic flow to and from our feeling chambers. When we rush through reading – a symptom of our overscheduled time – we keep ourselves from our feelings which can take a toll on important human character qualities like tuning in to ourselves as well as empathy and intimacy for and with others. We can easily get out of practice in feeling these. I recently read about a study showing that while screens allow us to read faster, we don’t understand or retain that information in the same way as we do from a printed page.

So it isn’t such a leap to say that reading can positively impact emotional, spiritual and even physical health.

Save the fast read for street signs, social media feeds, last night’s scores and blog posts like this. Give yourself the pleasure of one slow read a day.

Photo from freestocks.org.

What Falls into Place

 

The little publication that could. I was delighted to learn that an essay from the Fall 2017 Issue of Thread was recognized by the discerning editors at Best American Essays this year. Richard Holinger’s “The Art of Passivity” earned a spot as a notable in this year’s edition, a coveted list that acknowledges excellence in essay. Kudos to Richard  – and Thread  – for this second recognition in BAE! Randy Osborne’s “Seaside Bohemia” was selected as a notable in the series’ 2016 edition.

 

 

 

 

A memoir makes its way. The journey to publish my memoir continues. I was over the moon to find an agent in June and now I am learning a great many things about the state of publishing. These are challenging times for the memoir. Editors are saying the loveliest things about the manuscript, accolades that you would think could sell a book, but if one isn’t a well-known writer or celebrity, the memoir is a tough sell, they say. My advisors are telling me to buckle up and prepare for a wait as long as a year. I am working on cultivating patience!

 

Coaching café. My writing clients are working on such interesting projects! An MFA grad, who is also a hospice nurse, is working on collection of personal essays. A university professor and elementary school teacher are working on memoirs. A psychotherapist is working on a professional article and a personal essay. And a performer/educator is completing a professional presentation reflecting her life’s mission. Watching their words find their way onto the page is my life’s joy.

 

 

 A taste of personal narrative. My October workshop is currently full, but there are more opportunities to dip your toe into personal narrative in November. Check out this four-week introduction to personal narrative at Ice House Gallery. Monday nights, 6:15 – 8:15 pm. And take a look at this theme-based afternoon on “Writing Wrongs” at the CG Jung Center. Saturday, November 10. 1-4 pm.

 

 

Mark your calendar! Save the date!

Thread celebrates it’s fifth birthday in 2019 and we are celebrating with a night of storytelling with some of Chicago’s finest tellers at the Skokie Theatre.

Thursday, May 2, 2019
7:30 – 9:30 pm

Keep up with the latest updates on Facebook or by subscribing.

Tickets on sale March 2019.

 

Photos courtesy of Ellen Blum Barish, healthymond, rawpixel, Agency Olloweb and Skokie Theatre.

 

Words that Move

 

Like so many people I know, I fell into despair after the election in the fall of 2016. As a usually upbeat person, I didn’t know what to do with these new dark feelings.

It hit me especially hard in the realm of my work. Throwing myself into writing, teaching and coaching  – work I love – always raised my spirits, allowing me to lift and support others.

But I couldn’t turn off the sound of a disturbing question that echoed in my head:

How was being a writer, and a teacher of writing, really going to make any difference now?

A few months later, though still anguishing, I was functioning, getting along. When I explored why, I realized that it was because of art. Art  – through humor, empathy, community and beauty – was anchoring me, steadying me. I mused about that here.

So when the gloominess returned this summer, it muddied up my heart and felt like a prompt to dig deeper.

I found myself searching for words that had made actual change in the world.

Some highlights I found across genres:

Song. As he tunes his guitar, Pete Seeger introduces “We Shall Overcome” (written by Charles Albert Tindley) with, “If you would like to get out of a pessimistic mood yourself, I got one sure remedy for you.”

Essay. James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son,” educated an entire generation about the civil-rights struggle.

Poem. Kevin Power’s essay, “What Kept Me from Killing Myself” credits Dylan Thomas’s poetry for pulling him through a serious post-war depression.

Memoir. William Styron’s memoir of depression, Darkness Visible, was identified as the book that opened up a public discussion of mental illness in a recent NPR interview.

Essay Anthology. Terry Tempest Williams’ Testimony: Writers of the West Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness made a mark on environmental policy when President Clinton held the book in his hands at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, dedicating the new Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument in 1996, saying, “This made a difference.”

Law. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg quite literally changed the laws around gender equality and equal rights with her legal arguments.

Fiction. Harriet Beecher Stowe lit the fuse that led to the Civil War inUncle Tom’s Cabin. The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood illustrated the perils of misogyny and male privilege. Censorship took a hit in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Opinion. I was writing this blog post, this piece de resistance in the New York Times and Barak Obama’s speech at University of Illinois materialized.

Do these examples raise my spirits?

Yes. Yes, they do.

But not all words are designed to make people change their mind or behavior. Not every Beatles song became a hit.

Some words expose, educate or simply entertain – remember the global reach of Pharrell William’s song ”Happy” ? – but it’s fair to say that words strung thoughtfully together share one mission: to move.

And movement – even if it’s temporary –   is a treasure. It can be breath allowing. Perspective giving.

We need the writer’s words to prod, stir, calm or badger. To remind us that we are still alive.

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The Fall Issue of Thread is now available for your reading pleasure!

Online.

For free.

Summer’s end. A healing creek. A Russian bath.
A New York subway ride.
An afternoon in California. A muse on checks and balances.

 


 

See September’s Stitch!

Looking for submissions.

Find out more here.

 


 

Interested in joining me for a writing workshop?

See if one of these works for your schedule this fall.

 

 

Photos courtesy of unsplash.com. Top by Val Vesa. Bottom by Greyson Joralemon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Hire a Writing Coach?

Years ago, I hired a closet declutterer to help me organize my office shelves.  And just last summer, I found someone to teach me how to set up a spreadsheet for business accounting.

None of these tasks came naturally to me. Neither did throwing a Frisbee, following a recipe or figuring out the tip for a restaurant bill!

But with guidance, I learned how. And I got better at them.

Writing isn’t any different. Finding that perfect opening sentence, riveting middle or satisfying ending doesn’t always come naturally. Some of us get stuck at the start. Some lose our way, midstream. Many of us can lose perspective  – and our confidence – in the whole project because we are just too close to the material.

That’s where an experienced, patient and tender-hearted writing coach can make a difference.

Maybe you are pursuing a degree and your academic writing assignments are taking far longer than you think they should. You need help organizing your thoughts and getting them onto the page.

Maybe you are good at your job, but your co-workers are not responding to your emails and reports as you would like. You know these could be better summarized, less wordy and more to the point.

Maybe you’ve been writing personal essays and you are ready to run them by a thoughtful reader. You want feedback from someone who can provide you with concrete suggestions about how to make them better. You want more feedback than what you feel you are getting with your critique group.

Or maybe you are looking to explore your creativity, to experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the flow, doing something for its own sake.

 To get your toes in the water, consider registering for one of my writing workshops this fall.

Three hours of coaching can jump start you on a project or help you complete one already underway.

For a ready-to-go project, – take a look at my one-month, three-month and one-year programs.

Shake your life up just a bit. Make something by hand.

What if writing – whether it’s for fun, publication, a business or school assignment – could open you up in a different way?

What if writing could lead you to personal discovery?

 

For more information, hop over to my website or send me an email.

 

Prompts for the Page and Publishing Progress!

 

While some people may arrive at the page overflowing with creative energy, others may need a gentle nudge to get started.

That’s where the writing prompt can help.

In recent years, prompts have become part of the DNA of the modern writing workshop. I offer a fresh one every week for my students so they have no excuse not to write.

A prompt can be simply a word, short phrase, paragraph, idea or image designed to inspire, spur or focus you in the writing process.

I was resistant to using prompts at first because I usually have plenty on my mind to start. But when they did such a good job inspiring my students, I was prompted to use them myself.  They have the ability to spin a topic in roundabout ways with very satisfying results. They can help you get unstuck from a piece currently under construction or surprise you by providing insight from the back door.

For a taste, here are twelve of my go-to writing prompts:

  • A treasured object. Identify and describe a beloved object in your home and write the story of how you got it.
  • A place you cherish. Write about a place that made you feel happy, safe or changed in some way.
  • A favorite food or meal. Make the reader understand why that food or meal has stayed with you.
  • A memorable scent. Bring a person, animal, meal, indoor or outdoor moment to life by way of its aroma.
  • A song with meaning. Why has a particular song stuck with you?
  • Allow a body part to speak. Write what a body part would say if it were able to speak.
  • Where were you when? Where were you and what were you doing during a major moment in history such as when Apollo landed on the moon, Kennedy was shot or when the towers went down?
  • An inherited trait. What gestures or behaviors — that you like or dislike — connect you to a family member?
  • Breaking a habit. Describe a moment that motivated you to make a change.
  • Send a letter. Write a letter to someone with whom you have unfinished business.
  • A do-over dialogue. Rewrite a conversation that you would like to redo.
  • Two voices. Take a memorable event and write it from your current age and perspective. Then, write it from your age and lens at the time.

Publishing Progress!  

If you have been following the journey of my memoir in its quest for publication, I’m now a step closer. In late June, I found an agent! The contract has been signed and we are now, officially, in sell mode. I promise to keep you posted.

Fall Issue in the Works

The Fall Issue of Thread is scheduled for a late September/early October release. Six compelling essays by six beautiful writers. An end-of-summer reflection on the end of life. An end of summer story set in the 70s. A perspective-altering subway ride. A sanctuary-offering creek. A cleansing Russian banya. And a meditation on the checkmark. Stay tuned for their release by subscribing for free, and following Thread on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Mark your Calendar!

Thread took a hiatus from live lit productions in 2018 but we’re gearing up for our biggest show yet! Save the date: Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. in Skokie Theatre, Evanston, IL. As the Skokie Arts Commission pick for Artistic Excellence Award 2018, I wanted to throw some love back at my home city by celebrating Thread’s anniversary. Eight seasoned Chicago-area storytellers have been invited to celebrate Thread’s fifth publishing year by reading their work aloud. Storyteller and ticket information to come.

The Twenty-Fifth Stitch

“Daughter” by Gila Berryman marked the 25thedition of Stitch, the “flashiest” section of Remnant Publishing featuring essays of 100 words or less.  The reading period for Stitch and Thread is on a short summer hiatus, but submissions will be back up and running on August 1st.

Ellen Blum Barish
Photo by Aaron Burden, courtesy of Unsplash.