Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Power of Words: All Roads Lead Home

Here is faculty member Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's account of the Power of Words conference, a conference that began in IMA and that Caryn organized for the first seven years.

For the last six days, I've been immersed in the Power of Words, both lower case (as in how powerful our words can be when it comes to changing the world and our lives) and upper case, as in the 8th annual conference of the same name. For me, this event was a homecoming of many dimensions: the conference was held at Goddard College, my second home (who every knew that this phrase would apply to a dorm room where I live approximately one month divided over three visits each year for the last 15). It was also a conference I founded in 2003. But mostly, I found my way home to that newborn glow of what can happen between us all when we create together stories, poems, songs, performances and exchanges about what matters most.

Maybe that newborn glow also had something to do with the newborn -- Nahar Nadi Keefe-Perry -- daughter of the TLA Network co-coordinators, Callid and Kristina, who were responsible for organizing the conference. Born less than a month ago, this inquisitive and beautiful new being was a constant reminder to me about how precious, alive, tender and beautiful the life force is. The Network, by the way, is the not-for-profit organization started by Goddard students, faculty and alumni and others who resonate with what we started at Goddard in the name of TLA.

The things we do at this conference include the usual suspects for most conference (workshops, big group sessions, performances and panels) along with the less-than-usual (talking circles each morning where each of us could speak deeply in a small group, hearing ourselves through having good witnesses and learning how to listen fully to others). Performances were dazzling:

  • S. Pearl Sharp's performance poetry brought to the surface an artful and soulful combination of ceremony, humor, deep wisdom and the astonishing dance of Nailah.
  • Kim Rosen recited the poetry of Rumi, Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott and others with great passion and joy.
  • Gregory Orr's reading and talk on poetry as a way to praise the body of the beloved (which could be interpreted as the life force, Book of Poetry, or whatever we love most) illuminated everything I know and want to know about language.
  • Nancy Mellon's combination of superlative storytelling, mythological weaving and anatomy showed us how our bodies are our stories.
  • Greg Greenway's singing, songwriting, guitar- and piano-playing journeyed us through the heart of music in praise of homecoming, liberation and the hard work involved in being fully human.
  • Katherine Towler's reading from the third book in her Snow Island anthology took us to a small Rhode Island island, just on the edge of time and history, and shaped by a kind of yoga of the imagination so visible in her writing.
  • The Coffeehouse of Wonder was so gorgeous, full of the most expansive humor and wildest edges of grief, love, joy and courage that those of us in the crowd went wild every few minutes.

But what brought me home most of us was simply being in such a diverse community, covering age (from newborn to elders), race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, life experience in so many varieties that we made a community that had each other's backs and hearts. Sitting in the back of the haybarn last night were a pact of African American storyteller-shamans. Walking across the campus was a teenage girl who would still share her full imagination with her mother, both of them attending workshops together. Sleeping in the dorms were people ready to stand up and follow their callings as well as those leaning forward to open the door.

I'm back in Kansas through the magical surrealism of plane travel, but I'm still carrying that dazzle and depth, lightness and weight, freedom and connection of being part of the Power of Words.

Pictures (from top): Jen, Callid, Kristina & Kim; Nahar in the arms of Suzanne with beautiful mom Kristina looking on; Katie Towler; Scott and friends performing; a gorgeous pact of shamans; leaving Vermont.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trust the Process: What Starting Goddard Is Really Like

Joanna Young, a new student in the Individualized MA, wrote this blog about what she experienced when starting Goddard. Check out her blog to see how it all turns out!

How do even begin to write about my week? It was intense, exhausting, relaxing, exhilarating, freeing, validating, educational, empowering.

On Thursday evening I drove into Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. I felt ill with nerves. Even a walk around the stunningly beautiful campus couldn’t settle the raging butterflies. (This is a campus like no other – an English garden-type maze, a water garden with fountains, garden house complete with carved animal heads, trellised walkways, a clock house… and a barn converted into the community center and Haybarn theater. This also included the silo room – or as my advising group came to call it – the Womb Room.)

I was about to embark on a life-changing adventure as a graduate student. I was facing a week, semester, two years of unknowns. And I’d have a room mate. This was a major challenge to me. Having never gone away to college as an undergrad, I had not experienced the right of passage that is sharing a room the size of a bath tub with a complete stranger. Walking into the room for the first time I was taken aback by the close proximity of the two miniature beds. What if she talked too much, snored, farted… what if I did?

Although I was beyond excited and anxious to start something I had been wanting to do for 15 years, the Unknown was eating away my insides. But once my husband left I became calmer. Stronger. Empowered. I unpacked my clothes and my confidence and went off to meet my fellow graduates.

Now, I don’t mingle well. My shy teenage-self is who usually shows up when the my role (i.e. mother, teacher, bank teller) is undefined and “just me” is standing there, exposed. When I walked into this first “check -in” I quickly realized this was one of those times. I felt my shoulders itching to concave, my eyes to cast down and my acne to pop. But before I had a chance to find a dark corner in which to dissolve, a tall, blond man from Wisconsin asked if I was a newbie. I said I was (could he tell by my deer-in-the-headlights stare?). He welcomed me and asked me what I was going to study. I began to relax and by the end of the evening, thanks to the incredibly welcoming returning students and faculty, I had pulled it off (I think). Joanna: Graduate Student.

That evening sitting on my crunchy bed (sans roomie still) feeling slightly forlorn, I wrote in my journal:

I have this song running through my head: “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here…” But I do belong here [Our minds love to tell us crazy untruths.]…. A first step on a strange new journey – fearful, excited and a little overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all.

I let those voices of fear rob me of an opportunity by convincing me not to go away to school at 18 because of The Unknown, of looking foolish in front of strangers and distrust of my own abilities. No more. I ignored the voices and faced my fears. Instead I listened to my passion and believed the path would become visible once I took that step forward.

It did.

To learn more about trusting the process -- parts 2, 3, 4 & 5 -- check out Joanna's blog,