Friday, July 31, 2009

Healthy Media Choices, Families and Stories: Mary Rothschild

When Mary Rothschild was seven, television entered her home, and her family's life changed on a dime. “On a very visceral level, I had a very direct impression of my father turning away from us and toward the television. Even all the furniture got turned toward the television.” After having her own children, Mary investigated how television effects all of us, especially young children, a calling that led her to found Healthy Media Choices, a not-for-profit organization.

She founded the organization after another pivotal moment. When she was teaching craft classes to children, one day she found herself baking bread with six or so small children all under the age of five. “We all had our little pieces of dough, which I showed them how to knead without getting their fingers sticky. It was about 45 minutes of absolute silence, everyone paying attention to their kneading, and I remember thinking, 'This is why I was born.' Then this little girl looked up to me and said, 'Mary, the Lion King video is too loud.'” There wasn't any Lion King video playing, however. “I said, 'I don't see it,' and she said, 'It's in my head.' It was a moment I really felt a very strong call to really focus on what was going on with kids.”

From there, Mary threw herself in researching children and the media, and with other parents, meeting for potlucks, discussions, and eventually a conference on children and the media. “I began to see what was happening with the children, and how it dovetailed with the research. Even at a young age, images of media distract them.” She also attended a media literacy training in Albuquerque, N.M. and joined several media literacy organizations.

Healthy Media Choices now offers workshops for teachers, and parents (of children from birth through fourth grade) on media and children. Her weekly show, “Healthy Media Choices Hour,” airs on WVEW-1p-FM in Brattleboro, Vermont, and features long conversations with movers and shakers in the field of media literacy. She also presents talks, and consults with people on how to interact with media and find the best individual solution for their household. “Each household is an ecosystem. It's very unique unto itself.” A solution for one household might be to limit television viewing for young children to an hour a week; another family might just devote an hour each week to shutting off TVs, Blackberries, computers and other media and taking a walk, playing games or telling stories. Mary explains that even an hour a week of families interacting without screens can go a long way to offsetting the main messages of our culture that come through media, which she sums up as “You can never have enough stuff, you can never look good enough, violence is an acceptable way to solve problems....and if something is wrong, take a pill.”

Instead, families can rediscover or discover anew the power of storytelling born from their own values and experiencing instead of just watching the stories that come across the television screen. Mary suggest sharing “our story of struggle, success or failure, strength and courage in the face of difficulty....My experience is everyone is a storyteller. They just don't know it.”

Although very successful in founding Healthy Media Choices and plenty busy with the work, she decided to pursue a master's degree at Goddard to explore and learn from her own story and to expand the reach of Healthy Media Choices. “You could only go so far in my experience on vocation. I needed the interplay with professionals who could look at my work and say, have you seen this, or just evaluate what they saw. There is a phenomenon called founder's syndrome. There is something so intrinsic to my own inner life, my own vision of the world. That can have negative aspects, and it needs to be informed by a wider vision. I really found that in spades at Goddard.” During the last three semesters, she studied media literacy, ecology and culture, archetypal stories and the power of myth, and narrative theory and therapy. “Each step along the way has just broadened the lessons I can bring to my work.”

And while television can be a great way to see more of the world and get glimpses into the everyday life of other cultures, Mary values even more the glimpses of our own lives we can share with her families and community. “We have the strength to be able to joyfully take full advantage of our stories,” she explains.

Visit Mary's blog, and listen to her radio program on streaming audio or download podcasts.
You can also follow Mary on Twitter @mediachoices, and visit Healthy Media Choices on Facebook and Linkedin.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Residency Workshops: A Sampling

As the fall 2009 residency approaches -- Aug. 7-14 -- so do a charm of fascinating workshops. Here's a sampling of what will be offered at the residency, and what kinds of workshops in general are offered (including everything from moss to birth to dancing with the devil).

Moss, with faculty member Ralph Lutts: We walk through (and on) a world of wonder at our feet, but pay little attention to it. This is the world of mosses. There are more different species of mosses than any other group of plants other than flowering plants. You can dry them, store them for years, add water, and they will continue to grow. They are extraordinarily beautiful. Have you looked closely at them? In this non-technical workshop we will take a close look at mosses. We will discover their distinctive ways of living and their places in the environment. We will also take a close look at their beauty and learn how to tell the difference between species. Join us as we explore this amazing new world at our feet.

Cognitive Significance of Birth, with faculty member Ellie Epp: We’re mammals. We come into being cell by cell inside an already existing human body. As we grow from two cells to many, the means by which we perceive and feel construct themselves in reference to a small, tight, wet, and instantly provident bedroom. Then comes an extraordinary passage, violent and outrageous, in which immensely strong waves of force bear down upon us to eject us into what must seem a cataclysmically foreign world. How does this central fact of human embodiment inscribe itself in our physical and thus our psychological being? Can we detect its traces in our intuitions, our metaphors, our habits of feeling? Our religions and philosophies? As a root both of brutality and of hope, structural traces of birth and prenatal life are visible in poetry, philosophy, science, spirituality. This workshop is an introduction to a form of self-investigation which thus also becomes cultural investigation.

Marketing Your Business, Project, Art or Organization Without Losing Your Mind, Blowing Big Bucks, Or Selling Your Soul, with faculty member Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and special guest appearance by faculty member, Katt Lissard: So you have an idea for a business, project, performance, or organization, and you know it's the right thing to do, but how do you build excitement, interest, and support around your vision? In addition to working collaboratively with others in your community, addressing real needs, and following your calling, you need to market what you're doing in a way that is true to your work, and ethically in concert with your values and community. Effective, ethical and creative marketing can help you reach new audiences, members, clients or customers; find and keep funders; and make vital connections with others doing similar or complementary work. Come learn how to create your own website, business cards, postcards, find funding and fiscal sponsorship opportunities and do ethical, far-reaching, low-cost or free outreach.

Ethics Whose Story Is it? With IMA student Kathleen Connolly and faculty member Jim Sparrell: In this workshop, we will consider ethical questions related to telling your story or doing research that involves other people's stories. Our aim is to facilitate a discussion as a group about what it means that someone could be “hurt” by the telling of a story, and what it means to “speak your truth,” by developing questions that we might consider to help in making difficult decisions and break out of dichotomous thinking. In addition to sharing anyone's experiences of telling stories and hearing responses (bring your story!) we may consider recent controversies involving writers such as Honor Moore, Kevin Rouse, Linda Grey Sexton, James Frey, and Lauren Slater. Technology permitting, we will try to listen to or watch some relevant interview segments from these people.

Ah, Raza! The Making of an American Artist, with IMA faculty member, Gaelyn Aguilar, and special guest Gustavo Aguilar: In 1996, percussionist and composer, Gustavo Aguilar, experienced a moment of psychic disequilibrium that prompted him to examine what it meant to identify himself as an American artist. Set against the backdrop of Aguilar’s border town hometown of Brownsville, Texas, Ah, Raza! The Making of an American Artist traces a line of continuity to the spaces that have mapped themselves out onto him, and to the people whose dispositions are also his own. Intertwining various sonic environments (sound ethnography and an original score) with an intersection of a multiplicity of gazes (video ethnography and still photography), Ah, Raza! is a confederacy of components that broadens one’s vision of how to be what one is.

Images of Islam, Reflections in Contemporary Western Culture, with Francis Charet: Islam is perceived as a radical, violent, fundamentalist and authoritarian religion, one that subjugates women. Or, alternatively, as a tolerant, sophisticated religious tradition that created the basis for a flourishing culture and civilization. These images are taken up, mirrored in the media and advocated by specific groups, resulting in a confused mix, often without clarity. The intention of this presentation is to explore some of these images, unpack them, and see what credible or otherwise foundations there are for them, in order to generate a conversation and open up the subject with a view to deepening our understanding.

Dancing with the Devil: Finding a critical voice in writing and scholarship, with faculty member James Sparrell: In this workshop we will examine the value of contradictory or challenging perspectives in grounding work, making it persuasive and interesting, and on working for positive social change. Nothing stands out with uniformity. What is the resistance to this kind of work? Some sources of resistance include reluctance to engage in the arguments or ideas coming from dominant cultural perspectives that have perpetuated and perpetrated abuse, oppression, and violence in the process of domination; difficulty in developing a mindfulness that dichotomies can be transcended; incomplete scholarship; confusing values with logical arguments; and working within a supportive, progressive, (continued) democratic educational environment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Poet Laureate of Kansas: Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

IMA faculty member and founder and coordinator of Transformative Language Arts Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has just begun a two-year term as Kansas Poet Laureate. Appointed by the governor after being recommended by the Kansas Arts Commission, the poet laureate travels around the state to promote poetry and the literary arts, something Mirriam-Goldberg has plenty of experience with during the 18 years she's been leading community writing workshops. Mirriam-Goldberg is also an experienced writer, who has 10 books in print or forthcoming, including a new memoir, The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir about Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, and a fourth collection of poetry, Landed, which will include a CD of the author reading her work along with singer Kelley Hunt performing songs co-written with Mirriam-Goldberg.

On July 1 at the Lawrence Arts Center, Mirriam-Goldberg took the torch, which was literally a giant sunflower (the symbol for the State of Kansas), from outgoing Poet Laureate Denise Low in front of a packed house. The event not only celebrated the outgoing and income poets laureate, but launched the first publication of the new Imagination and Place press, a project of the Committee on Imagination and Place.

During her 14 years at Goddard College, Mirriam-Goldberg has taught extensively in the Individualized MA program, and before that, the combined BA and MA program. She also founded Transformative Language Arts, which provides education for those drawn to writing, storytelling and performing -- using the power of words on the page and aloud -- for community building, spiritual growth, health and well-being, and social change. As someone who's offered writing workshops to a wide variety of people -- including housing authority residents, people of color, adults in transition, teens, intergeneration groups, and people living with cancer and other illness -- Mirriam-Goldberg has helped many find more of what they need to create and share as well as how to make stronger community together by witnessing one another's writing. She has also co-written songs with rhythm and blues singer Kelley Hunt, who performed at the July 1st event, and with Hunt, co-led Brave Voice: Writing and Singing for Your Life workshops and retreats.

"The poet laureate position follows the line of my life," Mirriam-Goldberg explains. "I'll be simply doing TLA on a much bigger scale in my home state and also in other places in the country. My main project for this position, 'Poetry Across Kansas: Reading and Writing Our Way Home,' is a combination of writing workshops, trainings and support for community people to facilitate ongoing writing circles, readings and presentations. I'm also thrilled to be doing a monthly radio show, available in podcasts, on High Plains Public Radio, which will give listeners a writing exercise to try at home as well as expose them to the writing of Kansas and other High Plains writers."

In reflecting on the life she leads, mostly in Kansas but also regularly in Vermont, Mirriam-Goldberg said, "I know that Kansas and Vermont are about 1,400 miles away, but there's a seamless connection between the value of the arts for changing the world both here in my town, which has a long history of social activism dating back to its Free State roots during the civil war, and Goddard College, which has long been a light for changing the world."

Listen to a podcast of Mirriam-Goldberg reading some poetry from her forthcoming collection, Landed. This podcast includes a collection of her yoga poems. See her website and blog too.
Photos, from top, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; Mirriam-Goldberg, Denise Low and Rick Mitchell from the Imagination and Place committee; Kelley Hunt; driving through Kansas; kayaking in Kansas at Brave Voice.