Behind the Book – Joan Stanford, The Art of Play
Written by
Joan Stanford
January 2017
Written by
Joan Stanford
January 2017

I hadn’t planned to write a “real” book, never imagined being published. I do not identify as a writer, do not do research or create characters. Nor am I a memoirist although what became my book does relate my journey. So the story behind the book…

I had discovered expressive art-making over twenty-five years ago. I was amazed that I –a non-artist – could create pieces that spoke to me, that offered insights. I would write in response to a collage or a painting, often with poetry. Friends would ask for a copy of something I had made or written and I always obliged as it seemed helpful to them. The work often spoke to their experiences as well.

After discovering the power of the process I returned to school to receive my MA and became a board certified, registered art therapist. I encouraged those I worked with to honor their creations, and to leave them displayed, allowing the imagery to enter their consciousness more deeply.  Exposed, the images are themselves an invitation to further exploration. However, I was not practicing what I preached, instead stuffing poems written on scraps of paper into drawers and piling collages into heaps under desks.

Over the years I had told friends and colleagues that I wanted to create a small book with the piled images and stashed writings. One day I decided the occasion of turning 65 – still nine months off – was the time to finally do so. I pictured a simple project, a small hand made book with a center tassel.

My first task was to type up what I had written long hand into my computer. Next I asked a friend, a published poet and artist, to help me select what to include and suggest how they might best be organized.

As she perused the material she remarked, “You know the really amazing thing is how you don’t identify as an artist or a poet, run a twenty-four hour a day business, and have a family, yet did all this. You really need to have a section, an introduction that addresses your journey and tells how you discovered creative process as a tool for insight. There’s movement here – healing and joy. Busy people need to know they can do this, too.”

A compendium of images and writings for friends was now becoming a text: a how-I-did-it and you-can-too!  Then, in the process of exploring this new incarnation, I realized the key component was the concept of play.  The emphasis has to be on the process of discovering through play rather than on creating a product, an art piece. To invite someone to make “art” is intimidating, but to suggest he or she simply play with art materials sounds more fun. Playing allows the reconnection to the child self who delights in open-ended exploration. I knew “Missing,” the image and poem about reclaiming my playful child spirit would be presented first in the book.  



“Where is the child

with wide rainbow eyes

crescent moon barrettes

in sunshine hair…”


I also knew “Whisper/Moon/Butterfly” would be last as it reflects the resolution of my quest for belonging, for accepting “the dance… of life and loss, love and longing.”  

“Whispers” was the original working title. This morphed into “Listening to your Whispering Soul” and “The Souls Speaks in Whispers.”  I had to slow down, quiet down in order to hear myself. Our own voices speak in whispers and we need to listen closely and carefully to hear the messages.

Whisper/ Moon/Butterfly

“I am a whisper in the ear of eternity,

a butterfly in the forest of forever,

a moonbeam in the light of love…”

Like many writers before me, I started down one path after another only to find myself stuck and discouraged. A friend suggested returning to my original impulse: to honor and share my words and images.

Writing is very much an act of faith: Faith that our words matter; faith that someone needs/wants to hear them. Writing is also a test of commitment. I had many opportunities to abandon writing, many bumps in the road to cast doubt on my resolve. My busy life provided ample opportunities and excuses for avoidance but something always pulled me back.  Completing the project felt important; silencing the inner critic that chastised, felt important.  Creative process helped along the way: when really stuck I would do a collage or drawing.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I envisioned a small pamphlet type book with a lovely cover that I would print myself, but the project had taken on a life of its own and my 65th birthday had come and gone. Those who saw the project expanding said, “This needs to reach a larger audience…have you considered going with a publisher?” I remembered attending a reading at our local bookstore with a panel of SWP authors. I remembered how they encouraged the telling of our stories–that they believed telling our stories was healing, empowering, important.  I realized I had found a home at SWP and here I am.

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  • Joan Stanford

    Thanks Melissa and Michelle.  Just did a talk and am always grateful when someone is inspired by the book!

  • Melissa Gween Meek

    You have intrigued me to look for this book!

  • Michelle Cox

    Lovely, Joan!  Congrats on your book!  Can't wait to discover it.

  • Joan Stanford

    Thanks for these comments! I hope to inspire so glad this spoke to you. I encourage you to trust the process and journey onward with your own creative projects. I love the title, "We're All Nuts!"

  • Colleen Cooper

    thanks Joan for you inspiring story! I've been putting together a book based on my work as a teach, faculty member, executive coach and consultant. I'm feeling that I need a boost of energy to get the "right" format. I find the concept works with all ages and backgrounds. The title is "We're All Nuts"! You are inspiring me to keep on task

  • Peggy Pepper

    Joan....I loved your story.  It speaks to creating a life that leads you into it, rather than searching for all the "answers".  As a mentor for women who are searching for their "next", your whole journey speaks to me as well, as I allow "process" to trump "product".  Thank you so much for sharing.  I would love to stay in touch with you, as our futures might well intersect!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Love your cover picture! Glad your book found a home. Congratulations!