The Bravery of Storytelling

Several years ago, I was meeting with a client I hadn’t seen in a few years. We started with the usual Hi. How are You? I’m Fine. How are You? small talk protocol, but then she saw a reliquary hanging on the wall in my office.

The reliquary — traditionally a container for holy objects — was a mixed-media collage I had created. Within the shadowbox frame was a painting of an angel, decorated panels, pieces of a poem, and symbols: an alpha and omega, a feather, a heart. An artist herself, my client asked about the piece, and I told her the story of lost love and deep sadness that had inspired it.

When I was done, she took my hand and thanked me. Then she told me her story — the disappointment that had shaken everything she thought she knew, her attempts to heal, and how the process changed her.

So there we were, two almost-strangers, pushing through the ordinary to the extra-ordinary moments in our lives. There was no protocol for the rest of our meeting that day, instead we talked about our common experiences, the different paths, the shared emotions.

“If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive,” writes Margaret J. Wheatley in her book Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. “When we’re brave enough to risk a conversation, we have the chance to rediscover what it means to be human.”

Ultimately, isn’t that our charge as artists? As writers? To communicate the human experience — to bravely tell our own stories in an effort to share, to teach, to connect with others.

Make no mistake — it takes courage. It takes courage to be honest, to talk about love and loss, about success and disappointment. You have to be brave to talk about your passions and fears — both out loud and in your creative work. Writing, creating art, is not for the faint of heart. No. Writing, creating any kind of art that tells our story, takes big, brave hearts. It is from that place, from that wide open courageous place, that we create what is indeed, holy.


(Image: Divine Inspiration, mixed-media collage, by Jen Payne. Quotes from Wheatley, Margaret J., Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 2012.)

Gina Macdonald & Jen Payne: A Creative Collaboration

Branford entrepreneurs Gina Macdonald and Jen Payne speak on their individual passions for their work, and how their creative interests in writing, art and mindfulness led to a collaborative effort on Gina’s new book Mind Your Own Body: A Body Image Handbook.

Wednesday, February 6
7:00 p.m. at Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library
146 Thimble Island Road, Stony Creek, CT

Copies of the Mind Your Own Body will be available for purchase and signing after the presentation.


Gina Macdonald MA,LPC,CEDS has more than 25 years of experience working with the eating disorder population addressing body image issues. A Certified International Eating Disorder Specialist/Supervisor and Licensed Professional Counselor with an Expressive Art Therapy Graduate Degree, she regularly lectures on college and university campuses to both staff and students.

Jen Payne is the owner of Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993. She is the author of two books, Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness and Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, published by her publishing company Three Chairs Publishing.

BOOK REVIEW: How to Be a Good Creature

HOW TO BE A GOOD CREATURE
A Memoir in 13 Animals
Written by Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by Rebecca Green

Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet’s rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy’s life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets.

This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals—Sy’s friends—and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.


One of my favorite movies as a child was Dr. Doolittle. (The Rex Harrison classic, thank you.) Well, flash forward a few decades and meet naturalist Sy Montgomery and her menagerie of friends—the dog, the pig, the octopus, the spider. And more. From the stunning cover design to the sweet interior illustrations and through each charming story, you’ll get a new look at this world from the perspective of Montgomery and her chance encounters with the animals who have changed her life…and might just change yours. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: Witchmark

WITCHMARK
by C.L. Polk

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own. Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is. When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

 


If you’re a judge-a-book-by-its-covers kind of reader, well, then this book is sneaky and wicked. Wicked good, quite frankly because from the cover you think: “Oh, England and witches. Righto. Harry Pottery.” But no, no, no. WITCHMARK is somewhere else. Somewhere fantastical, populated by Invisibles and Mages and Storm-Singers. Oh my! But wait, there’s more! A murder mystery? Family intrigue? AND a love story? Yup! Yup! Yup! — Jen Payne

New Haven Bioregional Group POTLUCK & POETRY

SATURDAY, JANUARY 26 • 6:00 p.m.
First Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven
featuring Evidence of Flossing by Naturalist Jen Payne

On Saturday, January 26, the New Haven Bioregional Group will host author and naturalist Jen Payne for a poetry reading and book signing featuring her book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. The event, held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven (608 Whitney Avenue, New Haven), begins with a potluck supper at 6PM, followed by the reading at 7PM.

Come listen to a selection of poems that are, at their heart, love poems to the something greater within all of us. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Mary Oliver, they explore the human condition juxtaposed to the natural world and the possibility of divine connection.

Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind follows on the heels of Payne’s 2014 well-received book LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, and continues a dialogue about our innate connection with nature. Both books will be available at the event, which is free and open to the public.

Jen Payne enjoys writing about our relationships with each other, with our natural world, and with our innate creativity. Installations of her poetry were featured in exhibitions at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Kehler Liddell Gallery (New Haven), and her work has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health. Jen is a member of the Guilford Poets Guild and the Connecticut Poetry Society. You can find more of her work on her blog Random Acts of Writing, www.randomactsofwriting.net.

Connecting New Haveners to their life place, the New Haven Bioregional Group sponsors walks, films, canoe trips, potlucks, and other events to help us connect with our natural and built environment, and to build community and local resilience.

For more information about this event and others, please visit www.newhavenbioregionalgroup.org.