This blog was featured on 06/23/2017
Writing in Community

I am a writer who chose to dive into life rather than attend college. I left my home on the East Coast to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My story after that decision is filled with alterative lifestyle experimentation, having kids, travel, multiple losses of family and friends, moving over and over again, losing myself in difficult relationships, re-claiming my voice, becoming a performance poet, living in Mexico and co-founding an art gallery, providing full time child-care as a grandparent, publishing books of poetry, submitting to journals and rejections and acceptances, and finally creating a life I once dreamed of: a writer's life. 

I always wanted to facilitate writing groups but it was after the loss of my son that I realized I had hard-earned wisdom as well as a desire to be of service. I created Writing Circles for Healing as a way to not only earn much-needed income but deepen my own healing. 

2008-09 McKnight grants enabled me to bring a performance-writing workshop to one high school and a writing-art installation project in another. I also volunteered writing workshops at non-profits: I wrote with victims of domestic violence and clients who were HIV+. It was a way to hone my teaching skills.

In 2012 a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board gave me the opportunity to teach at 12 non-profit human service and arts organizations and I connected with Mn Prison Writing Workshop (just a group of writing instructors with a common purpose at the time.)

This lengthy explanation is to provide a bit of background to what I do now: facilitate writing workshops in cafes, spiritual centers, yoga studios, healing centers, libraries, prisons, high schools, and community venues such as community ed. 

I am fortunate to live in a city acclaimed as one of the most literate cities in the country. We have publishers, bookstores, reading series, open mics, slams. The largest literary center, The Loft, is here. We have poems on busses, a book festival run annually by Rain Taxi (a free literary review magazine), and poems imprinted in the sidewalks of Saint Paul. We are the home of Graywolf Press who published the current US poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith. We have free classes in the public libraries and cheap classes through community ed. And we have colleges and universities that offer MFAs. 

We also have money for the arts, thanks to an amendment tacked onto a clean water bill in 2008.

I don't have a MFA or an extensive book list, although my work has appeared in over 40 literary journals, anthologies, and magazines, many of which you never heard of. But I know how to pay focused attention to workshop participants and I have a keen sense of intuition. I create intimacy by sharing my own writing, demonstrating how spontaneous free-writing can flow effortlessly with deep emotion and rich detail or can be really really crappy writing. 

I love what I do. Sometimes tears are the sign of  finding one's own voice. Always, there is laughter (you would be surprised how much fun we have in a prison writing class). Sometimes someone will have a break-through or transformation during class.  One young woman who had almost never written before found herself writing daily. Others have typed up poems to share for the first time since their school days. People report back that they have started writing on a regular basis or have re-discovered writing. (Proud of our students in MPWW programs, 6 just won awards in PEN's annual prison writing contest.)

The thing is, I believe there is a niche for everyone. I believe we all have stories to tell and some of us have important stories. Some of us are the story-bearers for those who can't quite yet tell their stories. I have heard stories of abuse, grief, fear, regret, addiction, depression, and shame. I have heard stories of the will to survive. I have heard stories of unremitting guilt and stories of enduring love.

My goal, I tell my students, is to get you writing so that when this class ends, you are motivated to continue. 

Occasionally I get emails from people asking how to do what I do. I remind them that I have a multi-stream income. In other words, I do not earn enough to live soley from teaching. Not yet. But I do have notebooks filled with characters, story ideas, self-reflection and knowledge, poems and possibilities. 

"Writing is a practice," I tell my participants. "The more you practice, the more you find your voice and the story you are compelled to tell." 

I have manuscripts I want to publish, including a memoir/craft book. I would love to present at writing conferences. I have dreams and visions for me, the writer. But there is a satisfaction in teaching that keeps me looking for poems to use as jumpstarts, articles about craft to share,  and ways to encourage those who come to my workshops, hoping to find the perfect words for the story they have inside.


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