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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My …

Lions. March comes in like a lion …The Spring Issue of Thread – the ninth issue – is now, officially, released, offering essays that are funny, poignant, reflective, sensorial, playful and surrendering. Six essays by six wildly different writers explore what it feels like to be in the wrong job, feel the suffering along with a loved one, reflect over things not said, listen to the sound from a jail cell, mull over the multiple meanings of words and let go in the midst of life changes. The Summer Issue of Thread will be released in June. Watch for Stitch on the first of every month.

Tigers. After months of revision, fingers shaking, I mustered up my inner tiger and pressed SEND last week. My memoir manuscript is now in the hands of an agent. Now, the wait. I’ll keep you posted.

Bears. To be bearish is to be frank, open, direct, candid, honest, outspoken, straightforward and sincere. All of these things happen in writing workshops when we talk about published personal narratives (appropriate when the facilitator’s name is Barish!) The discussion makes us better readers and writers and we have a ton of fun doing it! My six-week, summer writing workshop starts June 20 through August 1. Email me if you’d like to save a spot.

Oh my! I will be offering coaching programs, writing workshops and work-in-progress reviews designed to boost your personal, creative or business goals beginning June 2018. Could one work for you?

New One-to-One Coaching Programs

Do you want to complete a draft of a memoir or personal narrative collection in one year? Develop an outline for a book-length project? Improve your grades, boost your business writing skills or complete an academic writing assignment? You have three ways to get your work started, moving or off of your desk to meet any budget. See more here.

Workplace Writing Workshops

Could you  – or members of your staff  – use a boost for their business writing skills? Consider scheduling a lunchtime learning writing workshop for your staff. For more information, email me.

Work-in-Progress Reviews

Have you been thinking of submitting to Thread or Stitch or some other publication but you feel like you could use some feedback on your work? For $95, I can provide you with a detailed review of your essay. You’ll get a thoughtful response to your work with concrete suggestions for revision. To learn more about how to set up a review, email me at ellen@threadliterary.com.

For updates on these and other goings-on, find me on Facebook.

 

 

Leaving Your Mark

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Getting naked is the last thing we want to think about in winter. Especially those of us who live where snow falls.

But I think the more we mirror nature rather than draw the curtains on it, the closer we get to feeling balanced. Steady. A reasonable goal during these very unsteady times.

That’s my plan for this upcoming winter and early spring. To get a little bit naked. Bare a little more of my soul. Leave my mark in the world. In words.

Like the tree that falls in the woods when no one is around, your mark won’t reverberate unless you share it with others.

So let’s get naked together this winter and spring. I’m starting the year off with a one-day writing workshop in the woods (January 14th at Little House of Glencoe) and following it up with half-day, four-five-and-six-week workshops, as well as private coaching options.

Go to the Workshop page of my website for more details or email me with questions.

Let’s strip down to the bare essentials. We’ll leave quite an impression.

 

WRITING WORKSHOPS with ELLEN BLUM BARISH

WINTER/SPRING 2017

Half-Day & One-Day Workshops

Friday, December 16; 10:45 – 12:15 pm (Beth Emet The Free Synagogue)

Saturday, January 14; 10 – 4 pm (Little House of Glencoe)

Friday, February 3; 1-2:30 pm (Women’s Exchange)

Thursday, April 13; 9:30 – 11:30 am (Off Campus Writers Workshop)

Four, Five & Six-Week Workshops

Thursdays, March 2 – 23; 10:30 – noon (Women’s Exchange)

Tuesdays, February 7 – March 14; 1-3:30 pm (Skokie)

Wednesdays, May 3 – 31; 1-3 pm (New Trier Extension)

 

 

 

 

What Change Looks Like

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It has been an unusually busy fall, enough to keep me from my twice-monthly posting. But I suspect your inbox has been as full of political email these past months as mine, which has made logging in even more overwhelming than usual.

May this message offer you a brief respite from all of that, bringing you literary news and perhaps a twinkle of inspiration.

Since we were last in touch, I’m delighted to share that Thread has:

More important to me than the numbers is what I’m seeing in the variety of submissions. I was determined to publish a diversity of voices across gender, age, perspective and geography. Contributors to Thread, Stitch and the live readings write from as nearby as Chicago to as far away as Switzerland and Spain and their experiences were formed in the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and Hawaii.

I’ve been teaching “Writing for Personal Discovery” workshops in my home since January and thrilled that the work of six students – John Hahm, Ellen Hainen, Marie Davidson, Nina Kavin, Brad Rosen, Michael Rabiger – made it into Thread, Stitch or a live lit reading this year. While it isn’t everyone’s goal to write for publication, I am committed to publishing emerging writers who are seeking just that.

Next winter and spring, I’ll be trying something different by offering shorter-length workshops  – one day and four-week sessions – for busy people who would like to give this personal narrative thing a try. I’m also teaching a morning workshop on Friday, December 16th titled “So That Your Values Live On: Writing Your Ethical Will” at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue. Check the Workshops page of my website for more about my winter and spring workshop schedule.

Finally, I promised to keep you updated on my inhale year. I’ll provide you with a complete report in my next post, but until then, let me say that the experiment in not writing has had some very surprising writerly results.

I leave you with a quote I found in a wonderful book I’m reading called The Artist’s Torah by David Ebenbach. He reminds us that creation is the result of destruction. Change is hard. Scary. Our tendency is to keep what we know, because even our current scary is a known one. But he reminds us that,

As artists we are asked to the truth we see, without and within. It asks us to be willing to grow – to destroy what we’ve been so that we can be something new.

What better example of this than in autumn’s own natural art exhibit?

Could next year be your year to start – or return to, writing?  Private coaching can make this happen. Gift certificates make a very thoughtful – and unique – holiday gift.

 

A Fire Burns in the Ice

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This year marks my tenth as a writing coach and it’s got me musing on how we end up doing things that we love that we didn’t set out to do.

I liked school well enough to pursue a graduate degree, but I wasn’t anything close to a stellar student. Enthusiastic, sure. Yet far from a star.

But I sure put that degree to use. My bylines appeared in Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Self, my essays aired on public radio and I helped several publications earn editorial awards. I felt really lucky to enjoy so many of the pieces of my chosen field – the reporting, writing, editing, and publishing. I even liked rewriting and proofreading.

Twenty years after I graduated, a former professor of mine at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications where I received my fine j-school education, recommended me for the editor post at the school’s alumni magazine. I was delighted at the offer and happily accepted.

During my three years there, that same professor thought I might be able help coach students who were destined for fine journalism careers but struggling with some aspects of writing. So in addition to my editorial duties, I coached a few students on the side. I keep up with a several of them on Facebook and boy have they have soared!

I’m not exactly sure what it was he saw in me then that promised some skill at working with people on their writing and helping them to reach some goal. I suspect it had something to do with my love for the work, dedication to excellence (even if I try and fail), and a certain gusto that I still carry with me.

Gusto, I guess, because I’m not that patient when it comes to other things. Very little else holds my attention like the process of making something appear — into what is often gorgeous and artful – out of nothing. There’s something extremely appealing to me about the blank page, something alluring and challenging that offers us a chance to capture an experience, a thought, an idea, a memory, or simply a series of words, that if handled in just the right way, provides an answer or a clue, is a gift to someone else or, perhaps most importantly, remains forever.

To leave a legacy behind, even a small one, made of static words on the page that have the power to move people. How cool is that?

Many years into a career, some folks burn out. I feel like the fire glows brighter for me now, especially at the sight or sound of a spark in the eyes, voice, or written words of the writer with whom I am working.

In the gem world, the tenth anniversary merits a diamond but because it’s below freezing here in the Midwest, I’m leaning toward readily available ice as my metaphor, with a multi-faceted look back at some of the successes I’ve seen in the writers with whom I’ve had the joy of working:

  • One of my first tutees from j-school has a high-level communications role in the Democratic National Committee.
  • Three personal essays of a writer I met at one of my book readings were recorded and aired on Chicago public radio.
  • Numerous stories that were struggling to leave the head of the writer, looking for a safe place to land, found their way to the page.
  • Many stalled final papers, dissertations and business proposals became unstuck.
  • Writing prompts given to four of my students turned into essays that I felt were good enough to publish in Thread.
  • I believe that the strong personal essays for graduate school applications helped send at least ten writing students into the programs of their choice.
  • A powerful story was published by one of my writing students in Shambhala Sun, another in More Magazine and a third in Blood Orange Review.

If you have been thinking about working with a coach, consider this year as the one where you make that dive.

Click here for more on my coaching.

Does working with others sound better to you? Try one of my workshops – online or live – that start next week!

Subscribe to Thread.

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Support Thread.

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Thoughts? Questions? Something you’d like to share? Comment below or email me at ellen@ellenblumbarish.com.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.