Category: Expressive Arts Therapy

The Velveteen Rabbit: A Ballet Forty Years in the Making

Choreographer Kathleen Rea with her old stuffed bunny and the life size version created for The Velveteen Rabbit by Canada's Ballet Jörgen. Photograph by Peter Madison

Choreographer Kathleen Rea with her old stuffed bunny and the life size version created for The Velveteen Rabbit by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. Photograph by Peter Madison

When I was five years old, I fell in love with Margery Williams’ classic story The Velveteen Rabbit. That year I asked for my very own velveteen rabbit for Christmas. At the time, stores only sold stuffed rabbits around Easter time. My mom searched high and low and finally found a stuffed rabbit for way more than she could afford in a Yorkville toy shop. I loved that rabbit into being real and it kept me company through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

One could say that this production of The Velveteen Rabbit ballet has been in the making since I was five years old. But it officially began in 1999 when Bengt Jörgen asked me to create a ballet for his company Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I pulled my old stuffed bunny out of its keepsake drawer and asked the Ballet Jörgen prop builder to build a life sized version. I then worked for months choreographing the ballet and was able to see the stuffed rabbit come to life on stage.

Last year, Bengt asked me to remount The Velveteen Rabbit. It has been an extraordinary gift to come back and reshape a work fifteen years after I first created it. I bring to the new production a wealth of experience and knowledge that my younger self did not have. I am now a mother of two boys and the eldest is almost five, which is the same age as the character of the boy in the ballet. When I explained to Daniel, who plays the little boy, how he should throw his housecoat in the air and gleefully run away, I smiled because I had just experienced a similar scene that morning as I was getting my son ready for school.

The new production has more of a theatrical feel. I have been telling stories through dance over the past 15 years, and I have learned a thing or two. All the characters now have clearly defined back stories and plot dilemmas they are trying to resolve. I worked to create a relationship triad between the Nanny, the Velveteen toy and the young boy that speaks to the power of love as a transformational force. The Nanny gives the Velveteen Rabbit to the boy so he has something to hug when he is lonely. It is the Nanny’s love for the boy as realized through the Velveteen Rabbit that helps the boy’s heart grow bigger. He learns compassion for others and that the world is not all about him. The more the boy’s heart grows the more he is able to love the Velveteen Rabbit. His love starts to make the toy real. The more real the toy becomes in the boy’s eyes, the more the boy’s heart grows helping to make his toy even more real. The transformation that occurs in the boy and the Velveteen Rabbit is something they have to do together. Together they learn that becoming real can hurt because is involves having a heart big enough to take in both the joys and sorrows of life. It is the growth in the boy’s ability to care for and love another that ultimately conjures up the toy fairy who turns the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.

Yes, I know that is a whole lot of depth for a ballet created for children! But I believe that kids have more emotional depth than we often give them credit for. They might not be able to name the concepts portrayed, but it is my hope that the story of becoming “real” in one’s heart will live in their hearts. They may actually understand the story better than us adults because the magic of toys becoming real is something they know to be true.

VR_Large_picture with BJC logo

Canada’s Ballet Jörgen presents

The Velveteen Rabbit
A story ballet for all ages choreographed by Kathleen Rea

In Toronto for two days only
October 4, 2014 – 4pm
October 5, 2014 – 2pm
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St., Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2G6
Tickets: $16 to $32
To purchase tickets please visit https://ww2.ticketpro.ca/jorgen2014.php?aff=krn&languageid=-1
or call toll free at 1-888-655-9090

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Relationship in Movement: Working on relationship issues with couples through contact improvisation

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Working in Toronto during the last year, Kathleen Rea, an expressive arts therapist, author, contact dancer and choreographer, and Brad Johnston, an embodied life coach and contact dancer have been developing an approach to working with people in relationships using principles of contact improvisation.

We developed our approach through a process of dancing together and talking about our dances. Coming from a coaching and therapy perspective, we both notice that simple movement dynamics involved in lead and follow and giving and taking weight were metaphors for what was happening in our growing friendship. We both became curious about how contact improvisation could illuminate relationship dynamics and facilitate learning for couples.

Through a workshop called “Relationship in Movement” people in relationships – ranging from life partners to newly formed romantic relationships – are led through contact improvisation exercises.  Participants are often asked to take on clear roles such as leader and follower and then asked to switch roles. The simplicity of intention and clarity of roles invites people’s relationship story to quickly come to the forefront. In one workshop, a woman married for twenty years commented on how hard it was for her to follow her husband and how easy it felt to lead him. Her husband started laughing and said that’s because you’re always in charge. As they continued, they had the chance to practice and gain comfort with the lead/follow roles that were less familiar to them.

The couples are invited to dance without talking and with minimal eye contact so the greatest amount of body sensing can occur.  The feelings brought up through the movement are then shared verbally through non-violent communication methods that encourage listening and reflecting back what was heard. Conversing about their dance experiences gives people a safe way to discuss what might otherwise be very loaded issues of power and control. For example, rather than having their usual argument about finances, a couple can instead dance together. The power dynamic at the heart of their conflict will likely show up on the dance floor and can be explored through movement and verbal discussion about how the dance affected them without ever having to mention the heated topic of their shared bank account.  Instead of rehashing their usual argument, they are working with the relationship dynamics that underlie the argument.

 During our co-facilitation of the “Relationship in Movement” workshops, we make sure to demonstrate each exercise. We aim to be present so that our improvisation demonstration is alive with our “real life” relationship issues. This transparency lets participants witness us working on our friendship and co-facilitator relationship in real time on the dance floor.

 In our society, touch is often sexualized and all about performance (i.e. pleasing your mate successfully). Through the workshop, participants experience touch and dance simply for the sense of enjoying moving and feeling their partner. Many romantic couples tend not to move together in ways that are intimate but non-sexual and not related to performance. Through the workshop, the role of touch within their relationship can expand. They can then find satisfying ways of being with each other physically that might have been previously unavailable to them.

One of the exercises in the workshop involves one person lying on the floor while their partner practices draping themselves over. We then teach the person lying down how to redirect weight back to their partner and how they could do this at any point in the draping process. We tell them that this technique lets them communicate through movement: no, not now or yes, now is good. As they progress and switch roles, it is beautiful to witness their trust and playfulness in practicing clear physical communication.

 Even though this exercise is playful, participants have many “ah-ha!” moments. One participant was surprised to hear that her boyfriend felt more at ease when she gave him clear physical cues as to when and how much weight she wanted him to bear upon her. He explained that when she was clear, he did not have to second guess the amount of weight he was giving her. She then expressed how using clear physical cues made her uncomfortable because she worried about hurting his feelings. When these types of realizations happen through a dance exercise, either of us might step in to offer the question: “How might this experience you just had in your dance feel familiar to something you experience in your everyday life?” When presented with this question, the man said, “Having to second guess what you want when we are dancing kind of feels similar to how you never gave me a clear answer about whether you wanted to go for brunch this morning.”  

We believe that practicing new relationship dynamics in a dance has a carryover effect. For a person who has a challenge saying “no”, practicing clear physical signals in a dance and being encouraged to do so by a partner can increase his or her ability to say “no” in everyday life.

We also believe that repetition is an important factor in establishing a new pattern. Participants are encouraged to name the elements of contact improvisation that stretch them emotionally. For someone who has a deep fear of abandonment, this could be the ending of a dance when the couple is called upon to separate and find their own space. Participants are asked to practice these moments with their partner in self-designed contact improvisation exercises that provide a chance for them to repeat and gain familiarity with the triggers that they have identified.

 In “Relationship in Movement” workshops we have held thus far, we have worked mostly with people in romantic relationships. As a next step we want to explore how these methods can facilitate learning in different types of relationships. For instance we plan to run a family series for parents and their adult children.

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This article was written by Brad Johnston and Kathleen Rea. Please note, details of the personal stories told in this article have been adjusted to protect the confidentially of the workshop participants.

For news on Relationship in Movement Workshop Retreat coming up August 23 and 24, 2014 (Unicamp Retreat Centre, Honeywood, Ontario) see

 http://www.the-healing-dance.com/news.html

 http://www.flowintolife.com/group.html#Relationship_Retreat

Brad Johnston and Kathleen Rea photogapher Jeff Moskal for online

The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance

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Frames of Control, photographer David Hou

I wrote a post for the Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Blog (launched the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign) about the day I was shamed for being too fat and to thin and how the ludicrousness of the situation helped me realise that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself.

“The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea”

 
For a decade I suffered from bulimia. During my recovery, I came to know Merryl Bear, the director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).  She had heard that I was a dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada and asked if I would choreograph and perform a dance based on my recovery at their upcoming conference.  I said yes even though the prospect of being open about my struggles scared me. 

Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!”  Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.

I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.

The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances.  Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight.  I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished “creature” would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging.  And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying — a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on. 

I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage!  By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight…

 
 
“Love our Bodies, Love Ourselves!” is a movement launched by the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW), coordinated by Amy Pezzente, to bring awareness to the public in preventing eating disorders and building  self-esteem with a positive body image!

Flying dragons, run-away clothes and hide-and-seek toothbrushes: Imagination in parenting a pre-schooler

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I read an early-years parenting book and in the first chapter the authors said that the way to relieve parenting stress and become the parent you always wished you could be is to arrange your life so that you never have to be anywhere at a given time. The author was joking but the joke was made with the understanding that parenting becomes challenging when you have to get your pre-schooler somewhere by, say 3pm with: his or her teeth brushed, clothes and shoes on, and with a well thought-out day bag (packed, of course, by a sane and calm parent). Trying to accomplish this with a spirited pre-schooler is almost enough to make a grown man or woman weep. The reminding, the cajoling, the chasing, the wresting him into his clothes, the related parenting injuries (usually a head-butt to the lip) have at times completely depleted all my energy and ability to think or do anything except weep.

 I was at a dinner party recently, describing my challenges getting my 3-year-old son Wyatt ready to go, and my friend Gary said, “Failures in parenting are due to failure of imagination on the part of the parent”. He explained that when he is able to make up an imaginative game to help get things done, everything goes so much better for both him and his three-year-old son.

 I was momentarily stunned by his statement. These were my own words being spoken back to me! I knew exactly what he was talking about, but in the heat of my pre-schooler struggles, I had completely lost sight of this!

Allow me to explain: I am an expressive arts therapist. My clients dance, paint, play music, sing, write poetry, and act out scenes with the intention of overcoming psychological suffering. In my recently published book The Healing Dance: The Life and practice of an expressive arts therapist I wrote:

…psychological illness is a failure of our imagination, in that we become incapable of imagining a way out of our suffering. People come to see me, an expressive arts therapist, to train and strengthen their imagination. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, but through creative ingenuity we can find resourceful ways through…

 When my clients describe life stories or issues they are facing, no matter how intense or tragic, my response is always the same “okay let’s play with it”. A client who suffers from anxiety can create a painting that shows what his anxiety feels like, and then have an imaginary dialogue with the painting. I, as the therapist, am the play companion who helps “exercise” the client’s imagination. And in the same way, I, as a parent, can be the play companion who helps exercise my child’s imagination.

 I had succumbed to the stress of getting our pre-schooler ready to go because I had failed to use my imagination. I had failed to make a game out of it. We had failed to play. It was time for this expressive arts therapist to take the medicine that I provide for others.

 On the car ride home from the dinner party, with a sleeping child in the back car seat, my husband and I committed ourselves to using our imagination to find ways to make our everyday parenting struggles into play. We knew it would take extra initiative on our part. When facing a whiny toddler it’s easy to get stuck in frustration and resignation or to slide down the escalating anger spiral. It takes a leap of the imagination to see past your child’s resistance to the creative potential that lives within their “nooooooo”.

 Wyatt’s pants now run away from him shouting “you can’t catch me”.  He then catches them by putting his legs in them. His tooth brush has habit of hiding behind things and teasingly popping its head out. A whiny standstill at the front door changes into a car race or a flying dragon game down the front steps.

 Things take just as much time to get done as before, but we all have fun doing them and by the time we get Wyatt into his car seat, I am no longer in tears. I find that I often need to push myself to initiate a game. But once I get involved in the fun of it, my stress level decreases and I leave the experience with more energy.

 As parents we can model the use of imagination to shine light on the path ahead. This is one of the most important lessons that we can teach our little ones. A lesson they can use when they face the inevitable challenges life will throw them both as children and adults.

A parent getting messy with the paints

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Painting # 1 by three and a half year old Wyatt and his Mama

Parents who understand the value of creativity often send their kids off to ballet, violin or piano lessons. While learning a pirouette or a Mozart sonata does teach rhythm, grace and technique, these activities are often too directed to let kids truly explore the world of free-play and self expression.

How about sending them them off to the “art room” with a blank paper and paints? Yes this will help them practice self directed creative choices. However I suggest a more effective way to support their creativity is to go off to the “art room” with them.

Young kids look up to their parents as models. If you model an interest and excitement about getting messy with the paints and seeing what happens, they will follow your lead.

My husband says “When I put paint in front of Wyatt (our three and half year old) he just paints the whole page the same colour. I don’t know how you get him to use so much colour?”

Here is how I do it:

Project – Paint With Your Child
Preparation: Tape a large plastic sheet to the wall with a lip for spilled paints. Tape a huge piece of paper on top of the plastic. The paper should be at least three feet wide by two feet tall or bigger. Kids love to move and if you make the painting area as tall as their arms reach they will be able to dance and move around as they are painting. Set up a tray of non-toxic wet paints and a box of crayons. Put a smock on your child and wear clothes that you are comfortable getting paint on. Put a mason jar of water in a shallow plastic bin for washing off brushes or for watering down paints. If your child accidentally spills the water (which my son does frequently) it lands in the plastic bin and no big clean up needs to happen.

Step One: Grab a crayon and scribble on the paper. Your child will follow your action. Scribble big and fast, without care as to what it looks like. The fun is in the action not how it turns out. Once you start using wet paints the crayon will help create a layered effect.

Step Two: Move on to wet paints. It is okay to establish some ground rules. Mine are 1) Paint is for the paper… i.e. not for eating and not for your clothes or the walls of the house or for Mommy’s face. Often my son will create other “rules of play”. His rule of play from the example above was “paint over everything Mommy paints”. This rule led to a game of paint tag in which he was chasing my paint brush. The rule of play I added in is “we must fill up the paper and leave no space not painted”. I liked this rule because it was fun to fill up the paper and it gave our painting a creative end point that helped us know when it was finished.

The most important aspect of this project is to engage in the fun of it without care about how the painting turns out. When you and your child or children are finished painting you all can then stand back… and you might be surprised with what you have created.

My final suggestion is that sometimes negotiation is needed. In the example below I had painted a tree with leaves. My son started to paint dark blue over it and I felt sad because I really liked the tree. A negotiation process proceeded in which we agreed that he would paint over my leaves and then we would use the end of our brushes to scrape the leaves back into the picture.

The great thing about this project is I felt relaxed and enlivened by the end. There is nothing like the tactile feel of paints and creating something out of nothing to make my parenting day alive with joy.

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Painting # 2 by three and a half year old Wyatt and his Mama

Climbing The Apple Tree

This is a video of my three and a half year old son and I dancing Contact Improvisation. Contact Improvisation is a social dance involving two of more people in which momentum is used to create dance moves. It shares similar principals to martial arts practices.

I teach Contact Improvisation to actors and dance students studying at the professional level at two different university programs. I also founded the Wednesday Contact jam fifteen years ago through my company http://www.reasondetre.com

This past Wednesday was officially a heat wave. There was no air conditioning in the studio and it was hot! Yet 19 people still showed up to the Wednesday Contact Jam. Due to the heat my son who usually moves around at the speed of a whirling dervish was moving slow enough to actually catch on film! And how rare that my husband had our camera with him to do so.

I think the fact that Wyatt’s dad is filming is also an integral part of this video. There are moments when Wyatt looks at the camera (his dad Jeff) and is so comfortable and happy. Jeff is also a contact dancer and used his dance skill to dance around us and with us as he filmed. So really this film is about a family dancing together.

I also enjoy how through much of the video Wyatt is gazing at the musicians fascinated with what they are up to.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do!
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Film Credits

Description:
Wyatt dancing with his Mama

Dancers:
Wyatt Ray Moskal
Kathleen Rea (www.the-healing-dance.com)

Location:
Filmed at The Wednesday Contact Dance Improvisation Jam, Toronto, Canada, July 2013.

Musicians:
Jesse Stewart (www.PartnershipPlanet.com)
Iven Simonetti
Rebecca Danard

Camera
Jeff Moskal

Produced by:
REAson d’etre dance productions
http://www.reasondetre.com

The arts have value – $1600 dance video project that helps the IRS employees boost moral sounds cost effective to me

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I think spending $1600 on a dance video project that helps the IRS employees boost moral is well spent money. A stress relieving dance project like this probably reduces health insurance spending and number of sick days logged and is therefore very cost effective.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/31/first-on-cnn-irs-on-defense-over-employee-dance-video/

Artsy Parent Contest. Enter to win a copy of my new book “The Healing Dance”

For email #D with pages cropped

Who is the contest for?
Calling all “artsy parents”.
I define an “artsy parent” as anyone who values creativity in their parenting choices.

How do I enter?
Send a short description or example of how you are an artsy parent. You are welcome to send as many as you like. Each separate description is considered to be one entry. You can send your entry to me via email kathleenrea@rogers.com or through the comments to this post or through my Facebook account. Posts about adult kids as well the little ones, are welcome. Please start all posts with “I know I am an artsy parent when…”

Here are some examples:
“I know I am an artsy parent when…”

– I bump into my three year old accidently while he is building Lego and he says “Mama you ruined My Vision”.

– I don’t have any branded toys in the house for fear they will interfere with my children’s creativity.

– I dig up a patch of my garden so my three year old can have his own mud pit because I read that mud is the #1 top creativity-promoting toy.

– My adult daughter rebels against her unconventional “artsy” upbringing by becoming a high stakes banker.

– My child shows up for a family wedding wearing a tie-die shirt, different colour socks, pajama bottoms and a bumble bee hat because I let her choose her own outfit.

What will you do with the entries?
All entries be put in a “hat” and I will pull the winner out of the hat.
I will also be writing a fun blog about artsy parents in the new year. If you enter your post might be included in the article.

What will the winner receive?
The winner will receive a copy of my new book The Healing Dance. See book info at http://www.the-healing-dance.com.

When does the contest close?
The contest closes on July 01, 2014 after which time the winner will be chosen

Wyatt with brush pointing my pic cropped out

Robbie Wychwood Interview with Expressive Arts Therapist Kathleen Rea

Fire Warming Light by Kathleen Rea

Robbie Wychwood from The Sacred Fire Blog, sat down to interview me just after the launch of my book The Healing Dance: The Life and Practice of an Expressive Arts Therapist. Robbie is a singer/songwriter who has a passion for creative and sustainable living. He is also a painter, writer and ecstatic dancer. He is currently being mentored as a spiritual counselor in pagan traditions. After several previous interviews with hosts who had not read my book, it was refreshing to talk with someone so well informed and passionate about expressive arts. He will be posting the interview two parts.

Here is an excerpt from part one:

 I made it out to celebrate the launch of Kathleen Rea’s book, ‘the Healing Dance’ at Café Arts and the Norman Felix Gallery in Toronto.

The gallery was packed with Kathleen’s family, friends, mentors, peers, students and fans. During her introduction Kathleen’s sister, Lovisa commented “only Kathleen could have a book launch like opening night for one of her shows.” Indeed it was a wonderful evening of art, readings, and with original music performed by Kathleen’s long-time friend, Ariel Brink.

Her former ISIS Canada-mentor, Steven K. Levine started the evening with a lovely, heartfelt endorsement, saying “this book demonstrates to me that my student, Kathleen, might know more about being an Expressive Arts Therapist than I do.”

Having anticipated this book for some time I was blown away by how captivating it was. Kathleen’s tells a very personal, deeply moving, and powerfully transforming story.

I caught up with her a couple of weeks later in her home for the following interview.

 Robbie Wychwood (RW): I was at the book launch and it was a wonderful gathering. It is wonderful to see this book come out knowing the story, and that it was a big project for you. So I would like to start there. There are many arts to Kathleen Rea, the artist, the dancer, the choreographer, the ballet company director, the expressive arts therapist… and now Kathleen Rea, the author. Tell us about becoming an author, and the process. I gather this was not an easy book to write?

 Kathleen Rea (KR): The book began as my Master’s Thesis which I actually started in 2000. There was two years of writing even before I thought I should make this Master’s Thesis into a book.

 Read more at:
http://robbiewychwood.blogspot.ca/2013/01/an-interview-with-dancer-therapist.html

Writing From The “Wrong Side of The Brain”

As a professional dancer, I can form my body into a prefect pirouette.  But when I write, my words arrive on the screen so garbled that spell-check can’t even recognize them. I rewrite the word over and over again in slightly different ways until spell-check finally recognizes what I am trying to say.

I have known that I have a learning disability since I was young, and became ingenious at hiding it. I was ashamed to ask for help and ashamed to let anyone know. Luckily in my job as a dancer, writing was not needed. It wasn’t until I quit ballet at the age of 30 and went back to school to study expressive arts therapy that I built up the courage to be tested. I was diagnosed with limited working memory. Working memory is defined by researcher Alan Baddeley as “brain systems that provide temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning.” Working memory is like a “desk top” in your brain upon which you organize your thoughts. My desk top is too small to even be considered a desk. It can barely hold any word longer than three letters. Half way through writing a word, I become lost in letters, and the result is illegible. So, what is someone so profoundly handicapped in writing doing in Open Book: Toronto?  Charles C Thomas Publisher is currently publishing my book, The Healing Dance: The Life and Practice of an Expressive Arts Therapist, and Open Book: Toronto has offered me the chance to share my process.

During my learning disability testing, I scored highest in the ability to complete a task. That is a nice way to say that I am incredibly stubborn and rarely give up. I began writing my book in 2002, with the goal of describing my work as expressive arts therapist. Expressive arts therapy is the career I chose after being forced to quit dancing due to cartilage damage in my knees. It is a form of psychotherapy in which the client and therapist communicate with each other not just through talking, but through dance, poetry, music and visual arts. In my practice, I worked intuitively. I define intuition as knowing something without actually knowing how you know it. In writing my book, I was trying to explain concepts that I didn’t actually know how I knew with very little space on my desk top to organize my thoughts. My first drafts were virtually unreadable. I plastered my actual desk with yellow sticky notes that acted as the desk space I was missing in my brain. I had to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until the concepts that kept falling off my way too small desk top finally began to organize themselves on their own. I had dreams in which the just-right description of a concept would arrive. I would wake and then run to my computer and write something like this: “If ioen seranches for creats aert for brastly sake then the chalisling will antaige any possibly of beatruy arribe because beaty is somethst that aaribes sunexectign and sursprsices uss.” I would sigh and then begin the task of un-garbling my words. I began to gravitate towards story telling as a way to describe expressive arts theories because the emotional thread running through a story helped order my writing. As clarity arrived, my learning disorder became even more frustrating because my ideas started arriving with great speed, but I was trying to catch them with a net with huge holes in it.

Five years into this process, my writing started to give me the same sort of adrenaline rush that dancing on stage gave me. I began to miss my book when I couldn’t spend time working on it. I had been working on it for so long, it had become my companion — a companion that I felt needed to meet the world. To help me believe this would happen, I took one of my favourite books and taped my name and book title over the author’s. I put this mock-up on my desk and every time I looked at it, felt joy at the thought that my book was going to be published. This helped to override the shame of having a learning disorder that made it difficult to believe I could write a book. I started to send my manuscript to publishers and editors. I got some interest, but no takers. Ten years after I started writing, my book started to feel complete but I still did not have a publisher. I decided to hire a professional editor and self-publish the book. However, I continued to send my manuscript to publishers. One month before my self-published version was due to be released on Amazon, I received two publishing offers in one week.  I accepted an offer from Charles C Thomas, and now the real book sits on my desk. 
I share with you my final words that end my book: 


In my forties, I am surprised to discover that I am a writer. With my learning disorder, I have struggled with writing my whole life. But a persistent need to document my way of working had been following me, like someone tapping on my shoulder. From the chaos of my dyslexic words, this book gradually emerged and I fell in love with writing. I am the crippled dancer who can no longer leap. I am the crippled writer whose words stumble along for years before finding grace. Through the process of writing this book, the message I discovered and rediscovered again and again, is that our humanity and beauty are in our imperfections. And that’s my final “wrod.”

 

 

Professional Mourners

The Mourning Flower Blossoms by Kathleen Rea

The Mourning Flower Blossoms by Kathleen Rea

I am halfway through reading “The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father” by Maxine Harris.

In the book, Harris describes the custom of having professional mourners at funerals. She explains how many cultures believe that crying and weeping and feeling one’s pain is a fundamental step in the grieving process. So much so that at funerals, the grieving family and friends are joined by a group of professional mourners whose sole responsibility is to make sure that family members feel their feelings. When a professional mourner sees a family member trying to supress their emotions, they move closer to them and start wailing and saying phrases they think the family member is thinking, such as “I am angry that you left me”.  This inevitably draws the family member back to the experience of their emotions and helps them avoid the devastating numbness that can occur if they fail to grieve in an embodied manner.

 In Expressive Arts Therapy, the beat of a drum, the sweep of a paint brush or the ecstatic dance are the “wail” of a professional mourner calling someone home to themselves.

As a parents, we can also be professional mourners by giving our children space to experience their emotions.

On the weekend, my son and I were at a play centre in which the kids put on construction outfits and were building a house with foam bricks and shingles. My three year old tripped over another mother’s foot and starting wailing for me, “Mama….Mama”, with big tears in his eyes. He was grieving his own vulnerability and grieving the fact that I was not within arm’s reach. The mother who had accidently tripped him picked my son up and said, “Stop crying. Construction workers don’t cry”.

I was sad that someone would so quickly dismiss my son’s need to cry. The experience made me think about how important it is for me to be a professional mourner for my son—to give him space and encouragement to feel his feelings in the face of a world that so often will tell him that men do not cry.

Reference:
Harris, M. (1996).  The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. Plume/Penguin Group, NY, NY.