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Blending Old and New—A Story in Three Parts

The setting

Last week, as I imagined reconnecting with folks during my 50th high school reunion, I decided to I would seek to go beyond small talk in conversations. (Mind you, I can do small talk, but I don’t enjoy it.) I would lead with my two main areas of interest (aside from my art)—my work as a death literacy specialist and graphic facilitator with a focus on capturing people’s end-of-life plans, wishes, hopes, and dreams. While I love my work as a bikablo trainer and Drawifier/illustrator, I am shifting my focus to use all of my skills in these newer areas of work. 

I crafted a simple yet different question as my opening: “How are you spending your time?” While one of my favorite questions is, “What’s new and exciting in your life right now?” It’s not always easy for people to answer. This was a social occasion, and I was guessing people didn’t think they would be pressed for much more than casual conversation. 

Early in the evening, I sat down at a table (as my back was not in party mode/ready for standing still for periods of time). I met two women who were the spouses of classmates. As you can imagine, when asked how I came to be at the event (meaning, class of ’74, ’75, or as a partner), my answer brought us into a juicy conversation and bypassed small talk. After sitting with the women for 15 or 20 minutes, I got up to circulate. As I was about to step away, one of the women said, “You dive right into deep conversations, don’t you?” She nailed it. The evening was enjoyable as my questions for folks and my responses to their queries made for many meaningful exchanges. I also fell into easy, deep conversations with several classmates. I love that we could quickly create comfortable connections about what is essential in our lives. 

Picking up where I left off with a good book…

Driving home from one of the parties, I started listening to Pete Davis’s book, Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing, again. (Honestly, the book is so good, so filled with rich detail, that I want to take notes, which is impossible while driving, so I’ve put it aside for a while, knowing that I need to have pen and paper or a keyboard nearby when I listen.) In my effort to stay awake while driving home, I listened to him speak about lives filled with browsing and the joy of anonymity—how we can slip in and out of experiences because we don’t commit. I find this related to my desire to commit to having authentic conversations with people at the reunion and for the rest of my life.

Conscious Choices

As we step into a long holiday weekend here in the US, I wonder what you are thinking about the events you’ll go to, the people you will see, and the types of conversations you will have. (For y’all who aren’t having a long weekend, I bet you’ll be seeing folks, too.) I’m not advocating for deep, thoughtful, or soul-searching conversations with everyone. (I have been known to make the occasional joke.) For me, it’s about making conscious decisions about the quality of conversations I want with people based on who we are/how we know each other, and where we are at that moment in time. 

What’s your thinking? I’d love to know!

 

PS: I’m researching a new project about helping people become well-informed and more confident in planning for their end-of-life. This work will focus on decisions around planning—health care choices about quality of life, burial options, ceremonies, talking with family and close friends, and more. If you’re interested in this topic and would like to share 20 minutes of your time so that I can ask you some questions and talk with you, your answers can help me design a program that will best serve those desiring to make their end-of-life plans.

I will be having these calls over the next two to three weeks. If you are interested and available, I’m including a booking link here so you can choose a time that works best for you. If you would like to email me before scheduling a call, that’s fine, too. (If you don’t see times that fit your schedule, just let me know, and we’ll find a way to get together). I’d love to learn what you think. These are always interesting conversations. 

If you know of people in your circle who might be interested in a conversation, please share this information with them or introduce us via email. Thank you!

How do you heal?

Our family is in the throes of an unexpected and heart-rending loss. 

I have been thrown into the very material I study and work with in my spiritual care practice. While I knew this multidimensional experience was happening, Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, Kitchen Table Wisdom: The Stories That Heal pointed it out to me very clearly. She writes, “… each of us heals in our own way” (p.18), which seems so obvious yet is so critical to understand. I feel myself having two different experiences—I am in the grief itself and observing the grieving processes of my husband, daughter, and myself. 

None of us is yet at the point of healing. We are caught in the liminal space of grief, and I feel fortunate that I have tools to use and to share for working with the range of thoughts and feelings. We experience the sadness, tears, desire to go back in time, the memories, and the longing. And we also step away in an effort to create a respite or maybe some “normalcy.” Just as Remen writes, I have noticed that we are processing—being rattled by and expressing our grief—using our skills and working with it (with varying degrees of success). I feel especially lucky to have studied grief (of course, there is more work to do), to have been a companion to others experiencing grief, and to have my work inform my experience now. I can understand my thoughts and feelings more easily and have resources and methods for supporting myself and my family.

We all experience loss. Often, it is passed over, unacknowledged, downplayed, or unrecognized. We don’t know how to let grief enter our lives (though sometimes we have no choice as we are overcome by it). There are many reasons—it hurts, we are not well-practiced in the language of expressing our feelings, and it feels like we may not find a way out of the jungle of our feelings if we open ourselves up to it. While it’s understandable to turn away from pain, suffering, tears, loneliness, and more, we must find ways to do so. Fortunately, there are so many resources and opportunities for support. We need courage to find and use them. We must remember to be gentle with ourselves. Grief is not something we “get over.” Over time, we often find a new path forward.

Here are some of the books I’ve discovered. Of course, there are many excellent podcasts, too. (I prefer to linger over passages and so generally prefer reading.)

  • Altars, Day Shildkret
  • Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne Cacciatore
  • Bittersweet, Susan Cain*
  • Finding the Words, Colin Campbell
  • I’m Not a Mourning Person, Kris Carr
  • Grief is Love, Marisa Renee Lew 
  • Sacred Sendoffs, Sarah A. Bowen
  • The Grieving Brain, Mary Frances O’Connor
  • The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller

*As you can see, I am a (frequent) visitor to the local library.

Writing/journaling, finding poetry, looking for prayers/blessings/chants, making certain types of impermanent earth art and talismans, and creating rituals (as simple as lighting a candle every day and making space to remember) support my grieving process. I believe that the depth of my grief is a reflection of my love. That is a reminder to me to endeavor to embrace it.

I feel so fortunate to have a close circle of friends with whom I can share. I am also grateful that I have developed the capacity to decide clearly with whom and how I will share my grief. 

This unexpected event clearly points out that I must remember—people carry so much we never see or know about because it is not the time or place, or we are not the people with whom to share their pain, sorrow, or suffering. It reminds me to offer grace, kindness, and compassion as much as possible. 

Deep Dive into Challenging Content and Processes… It’s Awesome!

Last week, I devoted five days to a retreat at the Omega Institute to explore mortality (in general and mine in particular), create remembrance gifts for family and friends, and craft a legacy project. I returned home, having had the time and space for deep reflection and creation.

(Photos from Long Pond Lake, the labyrinth, and the Sanctuary.)

This week, I continue my journey into project design and development, leveraging my experiences at Omega, my readings, research, and previous programming to create a new offering. The summer is off to a fabulous start!

What about you? What’s on your calendar?
What are you doing that is exciting, fun, different, necessary, and/or …?
What’s your plan for these summer months, and how’s it working?

Next month, I’m off to another retreat as I am stepping into the Portland Institute’s Art-Assisted Grief Therapy program. With my chapter about the integration of visual practitioner work into my chaplaincy internship completed, my article for the AI (Appreciative Inquiry) Practitioner about AI in “the wild”/real life well underway, and my second article on integrating Appreciative Inquiry, leadership, and visualization mapped out—I am excited! The end of July will bring, Urban Visual Storytelling, and the opportunity to sharpen my skills in graffiti with Ramiro Davaro-Comas along with fellow visual practitioners, Sketchnoters, and folks who are game to try something new*. Plus, the IFVP Summit will give me the opportunity to see colleagues from around the world and to share one of the bikablo methods of storytelling. The end of summer/early fall holds a trip to Auckland, NZ, to deliver Discover the Joy of Zentangle + Intro to Design for Trauma-Informed Teaching at the International Teaching Artist Collaborative conference. 

I’d love to celebrate your ongoing learning and development—both personal and professional. What are you up to this summer? Or maybe summer is your time to recharge, and fall will be your time to dive back into PD. What’s your thinking? I’d love to know!

 

 

 

 

* Find out more here!

What’s your kryptonite?

Mine is writing my bio…

Do you ever find it challenging to describe how you came to be where you are at this moment in your career and what you do now concisely and clearly? (I wonder if my years as a consultant and desire to learn and apply my learning work against me.) Of course, every time I write a brief biography, I tailor it to the audience, so the iterations are legion. (Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole.)

At this moment 

I’ve just completed a chapter about my choice as a chaplain to create hand-drawn illustrations to enrich my work in a hospital setting. The visuals developed were used in several ways— to support patients’ understanding of their medical options and for my own processing of and learning from my daily experiences. This almost 2,800-word piece will be part of a book on Graphic Medicine, which is about healthcare professionals and professionals using comics in their work. As you can imagine, I must write a bio of 100 words. I find myself stymied.

As I review my bios from the past few years—created for conference proposals, websites, presentations, and applications— I appreciate their specificity and feel they are insufficient in this instance. I want people to understand the fullness of who I am, and while labels or titles help, they don’t always seem to create a coherent picture because of my range of work.  Either I feel I am only revealing a slice of myself (which might be most appropriate for the task) or believe that I’m offering a cornucopia that might just cause confusion.

Which challenges do you face in writing a brief biography for various projects, work, and opportunities? What advice do you have to offer?

The half-dozen bios at my fingertips don’t quite fit the bill! Honestly, all I want to do is draw a picture of myself surrounded by titles and descriptions of aspects of my work. Or maybe share one of my visual bios that includes my education, varied work history, and ongoing professional development. And yet, that was not what was asked of me. And while I need to draw an avatar, it doesn’t feel multifaceted enough. 

Generally, I follow this plan: These are my titles/positions, here’s my foundation/academic background, this is what I’ve done with it/my experience, and this is the impact of my work. 

Here are two of the four I have drafted for this particular situation based on research into author bios… the first of which is too long yet tells more about me.

DRAFT 1

Jill Greenbaum is a contemplative chaplain and advocate of conscious living and dying. She companions people as they creatively explore their mortality, values, legacy, wishes, and plans for their end-of-life care.

Jill helped open a domestic violence shelter, directed two anti-sexual violence programs, volunteered on a medical service trip in the Himalayas, and recently designed a trauma-informed program for teaching artists. She’s a lifelong New Yorker, world traveler, and artist. 

She holds a doctoral degree in education and was a teacher, principal, and administrator in special education settings in New York City. Her consultancy work focuses on training design and development, graphic facilitation, Appreciative Inquiry coaching, and visual thinking skills. Jill completed her chaplaincy training at the Upaya Zen Center. (124 words)

DRAFT 2

Jill Greenbaum is a contemplative chaplain and advocate of conscious living and dying. She helps people creatively explore their mortality, values, legacy, wishes, and plans for their end-of-life care. Her approach centers on nurturing people’s inner strengths, resilience, and ability to become the artists of their own lives. Jill completed her chaplaincy training at the Upaya Zen Center.

She holds a doctoral degree in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her consultancy work focuses on graphic facilitation, training design and development, Appreciative Inquiry coaching, and teaching visual thinking skills. She is a lifelong New Yorker and world traveler. (100 words)

I need to send off my bio by Thursday not only to meet a deadline but also to stop “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”/tinkering at the edges of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about them (even if you write to me after tomorrow). And if you have suggestions (especially around clarity and conciseness), I’m all ears. I am happy to return the favor should you want an extra pair of eyes on your bio. Thank you!

Great reads!

Summer reading… What did you love and learn in your explorations this summer—whether (physical) books, audiobooks, or maybe even podcasts?

While my list isn’t typical when I reflect on the phrase “summer reading” (which means “beach reads” or light fare to me),  I have loved and learned a lot. Here’s my list (beginning in late spring):

  • 10% Happier, Dan Harris
  • How to Say Good-bye, Wendy McNaughton
  • Kalyanamitra: A Model for Buddhist Spiritual Care, Rev. Dr. Monica Sanford 
  • Last Things: A Graphic Memoir About ALS, Marissa Moss 
  • Ronan and the Endless Sea of Stars, Rick Louis and Lara Antal
  • The World Could Be Otherwise, Norman Fischer
  • There is Never Anything but the Present, Alan Watts

I am in the midst of the workbook Living Fully and Dying Prepared by Francesca Lynn Arnoldy and cannot recommend it highly enough for everyone. She does in writing and through exercises what I endeavor to do in all my sessions on visual obituary creation and end-of-life planning—engaging in creative explorations of our lives and our wishes for care in our final days and weeks. This work brings a new appreciation of our present lives.

Are you looking ahead to September? I am planning new reading adventures, knowing that I have some books on my list for my studies and others that have piqued my interest. Next up for me is How to Tell a Story by The Moth, though I will listen to it in the car on my way to Maine in a few weeks. After listening to the book, I plan to call The Moth pitch line with an idea. Unbelievably, after attending the Creative Mornings program in which Catherine Burns was the speaker, I won The Moth: A Game of Storytelling! While it hasn’t arrived in the mail yet I can’t wait to open it and discover how to play. No doubt it will enhance my storytelling skills!

I’d love to hear what’s on your list—from the summer and the fall! I hope you will share!