When Two Strands Become One

We live and tell stories from our life every day but finding the words to commit to the page can be really challenging.

We want them to be the right words. We want them to sound great, like the writers we admire.

But our lives contain many more than one storyline. These crisscross and intertwine like the yarn in a complex tapestry.

Which color? How much? And in what order? These choices make it hard to pull out that single thread we want to express for that article you may be writing, presentation you are preparing, social media promotion, academic assignment, essay, memoir or story for the stage.

But it can be found and when we do, it’s so gratifying! To communicate an idea, write or tell a story from your life, speak your mind, say what you want to say so that others understand is an extraordinary experience. It’s like the first moment a child is understood by someone else – it’s a hallelujah! There’s been a successful exchange. In the language of the weaver, it’s called “double ending”  – two ends are woven as one. Down deep, I believe that’s what we all want. To be heard. Understood. Seen.

It may begin as the work of the mind, but once it moves from our heads through our hearts and into our hands and onto the page, it’s handwork, craftspersonship. It enables us to leave a part of ourselves in the world.

This year, I took enormous pleasure in helping to facilitate and witness others find their storyline as a coach and teacher. I learn so much during this process.

From the psychotherapist working on a feature article, I was reminded of how we struggle to find a balance between our professional and personal voice on the page.

From the educator preparing a multi-media presentation illustrating how she approached sensitive topics with women in other countries, I learned how productively we can exchange ideas without a shared language.

From the activist who wanted to improve his social media posts, I saw how content and passion can often be more compelling than spelling and grammar.

From the writer who sent draft after draft in an effort to understand her origin story, I was moved by how determined we are to make meaning from our experience.

From the novelist-turned-memoirist, I was struck by the impact of changing the sentences from she/he to “I.”

And when a student becomes a contributor to Thread or Stitch, what a gift for the writer, the editor and reader! Four pieces generated by current or former students in my workshops were a fit for Stitch this year. Check out the beautiful 100-word work of Renee Moses, Marie Davidson, Carol Skahen and Sarah Crewe (forthcoming in March.)

This month also marks the end of a robust year for Thread and Stitch:

  • Thread earned its second notable in Best American Essays and celebrates five years of publication! Watch for the Spring Issue in March/April 2019. Save May 2, 2019 for an evening of stories at the Skokie Theatre, a night we’re calling Threadaversary.
  • Stitch posted its 30th flash essay.
  • A shout-out to Alexandra Yetter, who gifted both publications with her astute administrative, editorial and production support as our first intern.

It has also been a productive year in my own realm as a writer and storyteller which energizes and allows me to support others:

Holiday discount offer! In appreciation for my students, coaching clients and readers – and in time for the holidays – I am offering discount incentives for getting a project underway. Contact me before December 31, 2018 and schedule an appointment for January, February or March, and you will receive a 10% discount on one or three-hour coaching session. (That’s $30 off a three-hour session and $15 off one hour!)

To the festivity of the season and a more peace-filled new year!

Find Thread and Stitch on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

Creativity is Contagious

Waterlogue 2

I am surrounded by some really creative people and in the past year this has had a profoundly productive effect on me.

It all started in March 2013, when my husband and I and a few folk and blues-minded friends  – Pam, John, Deb and Tom – formed a monthly, house-hopping gathering where we make music with our guitars, drums, harmonicas, accordions, violas and voices. The music loosened me up, shook off the cobwebs and opened up some room inside.

In June, I went to New Mexico with a group of painters with the plan to write, but the charcoal pencils and oil pastels found their way into my fingers and all I wanted to do was sketch and paint.

A month later, in July, because my innovative new friend  Jill asked, I read a personal essay I had written in front of a live audience at a Chicago bar which led to meeting a new group of writers and another reading night at an independent bookstore in January.

Then, in February, because Lori, another out-of-the-box thinking person asked, my photographs were hung on the walls of a nearby café that features local artists.

What’s particularly interesting to me is that a significant number of dear, longtime friends are in a similar state. All of us are women who are seasoned and ready to serve up what’s been marinating within us for a long time.

I feel compelled to share what they are doing so that you, too, might catch a whiff of the atmosphere that’s created by creative people.

My friend, Nina, an author and bibliophile, is opening an independent bookstore in Evanston.

Alysse, who makes sculptures and transforms landscapes from a wheelchair, is project managing an art exhibit made by people with disabilities at Moss Rehabilitation Center just outside of Philadelphia.

My oldest friend, Leah, whom I’ve known since we were five and is also a Philadelphian, has returned to something we did together as little girls: she’s writing beautiful songs on her guitar and is preparing to record them in a studio. You can hear them under construction on her Sound Cloud site.

Rebecca, director of Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, writes a column for The Business Journals on ways women can start and grow their businesses. She provides sound, non-nonsense professional advice.

Judith, a Chicago-based psychotherapist, author and activist in the health-at-every-size movement, just published the second edition of her book “Beyond a Shadow of a Diet.” 

Marianne, a painter and teacher in Denver, is transforming lives through the presence and practice of art. She was recently profiled in Colorado Expressions magazine.

My friend, Sean, a family archivist who lives across the street from me in Skokie, provided artifacts and memories and was interviewed for a documentary and museum exhibit about her amazing grandmother, Marjorie Lansing Porter who archived the music of the Adirondack region.

Kacky just went international from her home in Vero Beach, Florida, by launching an etsy site offering her beautiful handcrafted crochet, bridal and vintage jewelry. 

And Mary Ellen, a Chicago writer and blogger was nominated for an “Inspire to Aspire” award that celebrates bloggers who inspire through their posts and stories for “On the Wings of a Hummingbird,” her blog about joy.

Alll of this energy seems to have spilled over to my writing students several of whom have had their work published in the past year (see “Writing Dreams Do Come True” from earlier this year), as well as my husband, David, who was inspired to write and tell his own personal stories, one of which was recently featured in a Story Sessions podcast.

Creativity is contagious. Hope you catch it and then spread it around.

Many thanks to my very creative friend, Lori, who told me about a cool new watercolor app to apply to photographs.



Finding Your Story and Writing it … for Self Discovery

 Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.  

Maya Angelou

There’s a story you want to write. It hovers. Pokes at you. Maybe even stalks you. You’ve thought about it – in fact you have taken a seat, a pen and pad in hand, but you just didn’t know how where to start and you hoped the feeling would pass.

But it hasn’t. You’ve shared parts of the story with friends and they have urged you to write it down. It felt really good to tell it. You think it would feel as good — perhaps even better — to get it into words. Words that you could return to and read aloud, to feel it again and share with others. A bird, compelled to sing her song.

Anais Nin wrote that we write to taste life twice. Writing offers second chances, writes Jonathan Safran Foer, and allows us to reframe our life, to take it in and give it back differently,  “so that everything is used and nothing is lost,” write Nicole Krauss.

There are so many reasons to write your story but, sadly, there are more reasons not to.

And most of the time, we chose not to because it’s so big … so time-consuming …  so complicated … so scary… so personal … so private …. so hard.

I know all this because I have felt all of these feelings as I considered, struggled or walked away from writing personal narrative. But allow me to share three secrets about writing personal stories.

1)   Finding and writing the personal story is better (not easier, just more pleasant) with someone – a knowing, trusted someone – rooting you on.

2)   Having captured your story (or “having written,” as Dorothy Parker wrote) is one of the most satisfying, joyful experiences you can have in life. (Okay, I’m a little biased, but this I can guarantee.)

3)  The third and perhaps best secret, so well expressed by Anna Quindlan,  is about writing is for self discovery. She wrote:

I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.

Thinking about working with a private writing coach? I work with writers of all levels – face to face, via telephone, email or Skype –  that is as unique as the individual and the project. I’ve rarely worked the same way, twice. Feel free to email me at ellen@ellenblumbarish.com to set up a free telephone consultation to see if private writing coaching is what you need to find your story and begin to write it.







Still Life

Like everyone I know with a high-resolution, smart phone camera, I’m taking pictures. I’ve always taken them –  I have two bookcases full of fat, metal-ringed bound albums covering the first half of my life, especially when my daughters were young.

But now, like everyone else, most of the shots I take live in my iPhoto app or on Facebook or as blog images. But that’s where I am these days so, oddly, even though my photographs are mere shadows and light on my electronic devices, I’m actually spending more time with them than ever before. I’m inspecting them at closer range. And I’m seeing how the good ones – not necessarily the pretty ones but the ones that I tend to linger on, contain so much story. Stories that appear bent on telling themselves. They simply come to the surface, effortlessly.

Something makes me want to still the moment, but the moment ends up showing itself in a surprising way. It’s a reminder to me that to be human is to have that desire to tell, capture, to facilitate story telling.

Some images to help make my point:

photo copy 3

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

So on one of those glorious late afternoons last week, spring actually showing itself as pure spring, I wandered into my backyard toward my very aging shed. It’s in dire need of a new roof, some window adjustments and paint. As I drew in closer, I noted the double window image. That cool way you can look through one window into another for two distinct views. Looking in and out at the same time. I pulled out my iphone, which, these days, is always at hand, and snapped that moment. It wasn’t until I sent it to my iPhoto folder and looked at it later that night that I saw the my reflection in the glass. Not just two views, but three.


photo copy 4

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

And just yesterday – one of the wilder weather patterns whipped through Chicago. Temperatures in the upper 70s, high humidity moved into a strong rain, the kind that wets you down in the 10 seconds it took you to get to your car and then stopped after 20 minutes. The temps stayed high, the sun came out and it the cycle repeated once again. I was driving west, into all of this, to take my daughter to a doctor appointment. Thirty minutes later, the clouds went all cottony and that arch of color appeared in the sky and out came my iphone (yes while on the road but only when I came to a full stop!). The rainbow took its bow, after its atmospheric drama.

Like the adage, it does appear to be true, that a picture can do so much …  saying. But I just love the surprises that can come when we trust the telling.