WRITE YOUR LIFE! Seminars
By Ibtisam Barakat
For a long time, only the privileged got the honor and the power to write, and that way they wrote the story of the world. Very few women and members of under-privileged groups contributed to writing history or even had a say in what went on record. Most libraries of the world up until the 1900s didn't have many books representing the voices of people who lived on the planet. Women didn't easily get their work published until recently.
But things have changed greatly in a short time. Now more than ever, more people can write, speak and share their stories, although the UNESCO figures about illiteracy remain astonishing, i.e. "one out of every three children in the world, in 2009, will never see the inside of a classroom!"
Write Your Life seminar, which I founded in 1999, is the fruit of my first hand experience with writing and my ongoing creative process. Literally, writing saved my life and my sanity and spared a huge space in my imagination only for me. I grew up under Israeli occupation in Palestine, and free space was scarce. So, I had to invent virtual spaces for myself, just like poets and artists of every kind have done for centuries -- way before the internet and computer. The mental screen has been always on, sometimes the screen savers were strange images passing by, of things that sacred us, or delighted us.. (What are your mental screen savers? :)
In that space of my own, on the page in a notebook, or on the imaginary page of silence, much could happen. I could have my own country, my own garden, my own dictionary of feelings and experiences and expressions. And from the relationship with writing, I understood that people have two worlds: the inner, and the outer. Negotiating a solid bridge between both is essential to well being and to contributing to life. It's essential to the creative experience too. And a person who does not have free access to go outside is appropriately called a prisoner. I think a person who does not have free access to go inside, is in some kind of exile -- from the self and the imagination.
The structure of the hands-on Write Your Life seminar focuses on using writing to examine the treasures of the self, voice, memory, hopes, hurts, and all that composes the emotional terrain, which is the ink of all great writings. A writer who does not merge feelings and thoughts and craft cannot effectively reach the reader, or reach the core of their own experiences.
I used the WYL structure during the yeas of writing my memoir, Tasting the Sky, A Palestinian Childhood. In the seminars I offer those tools for participants, and also to be inspired to come up with their own unique tools and structures that help their creative processes.. We do inspire one another, and we do use tools invented by others all the time. But ultimately, there is a great satisfaction for those who aim to create their own tools as well. The journey of discovery is on!
In this seminar, with young writers, starting with middle school and high school populations, and extending into older-adult populations, one is offered a large picture of the self and how writing can be used to pull out stories, small or big; moments or years; early passions that are waiting to flourish, or some emotional corpses that must be buried for one to move on. I combine my knowledge of writing, education, healing and studies of human development as the theoretical framework.
I use the tools of literature in the workshop to show you how literary tools, such as voice, dialogue, narrative, flashback etc., are actually life tools and can be used in life and in writing. And when you begin to write, you will discover the richness of culture, for not only cultures of the world are diverse, but each family has its own culture, and each mind composes a culture too. You will see that your story cannot be replaced by the story of someone else..
Be ready to reclaim the joy of writing, of forgetting yourself while you sail into your inner world, and catch stories that stir up the entire world if you let them out. Students in Middle and High schools love this workshop because many are eager to have validation of their voices and help in discovering themselves, preferences, paths. Teachers, who hardly get attention or have time to put attention on themselves, find a great island of inspiration in this seminar. Multicultural groups thrive on the space to share about culture by telling first person stories -- not to fulfill the curiosity of others, but to speak one's truth and be heard fully.
Anyone who wishes to write or wishes to reflect on one's life will benefit greatly from participating in this creative workshop. No prior publication or literary writing is required.
I distinguish between two kinds of writing, and on two levels: First, there is writing for exploration and learning, and there is writing for publication. They are very different. Also, there is writing on the page by words, and then there is writing on life, by actions. Some people write history without much writing on pages. And some write on pages and change history.
I have led Write Your Life seminars in schools, at universities, at conferences, at retreats, in the US and in other countries, at summer camps, at author residencies, for young people, for adults, for women, with ethnic groups, and in many settings.
My goals are simple: First, for one to continue to grow, one must teach what one learns and hands it out to others. Second, if we are to have a history that represents everyone, then the voices of everyone are needed -- even with bad spelling and broken language, all the voices are still needed and must be encouraged. Thirdly, I cannot think of a more effective or a better way to offer leadership in the world. Writing is a natural leadership tool. A writer invites others to experience our stories, benefit from our thinking, and engage the conversation to move the world and the issues that matter to us forward.
I know that politics is not my passion, but as a writer, I know for sure that I am a leader. Whether in writing or standing on stage, I speak and people speak right back to me in many ways. They tell me when and how I reach them. They tell me how reading my experiences has made their world larger and richer, and given voice to some of their stories and concerns. They tell me how my story became their story and they own their reading of it as much as I own my writing of it.
And you too can begin the journey of writing -- just begin writing and speaking up. If it's genuine, it will live. If it has a soul, it will grow and it will surprise you. It will always have a soul if you put a drop of your soul in it. And if you keep peeling off layers and it still does not feel genuine, perhaps because you had buried it so deeply. Keep digging for seeds you have put into the Earth of your life. Most surely, you will see some flowers come up sometime. And you will know that they are the seeds of your voice.
Please feel free to contact me regarding leading a Write Your Life seminar/workshop for your community, school, university, retreat, or conference or book club. The structure of the workshop varies from group to group and depending on the time frame. Mainly, though, there will be many creative prompts, occasional movement to engage the body with the mind, voice, dramatic role-play and presentation, humor, poetry, music, imagery, and reading aloud (only for those who choose to do so; this is never a requirement), and other related activities inspired by the energy of the group or the content that emerges during the workshop.
Thanks, and don't hold back. Write away! Open a new path.. Many people will walk after you and be grateful for your foot or finger prints! And some will be inspired and create their very own, and the magical story continues.
© Ibtisam Barakat 2010