Monday, October 17, 2016

EMBODYING THE MESSAGE: Engineers play around with expanding vocal and physical range

"INCREASING YOUR ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING SKILLS USING IMPROVISATION," OCTOBER 15th, 2016 WORKSHOP. Ta dah! Here are some of the 28 participants at the conclusion of a 5-hour workshop on a Georgia Tech game day Saturday. An exciting odyssey of expression was traveled in this short intense gathering of graduate engineering students!
Whether you are a scientist or artist, lawyer or educator, performer or poet, administrator or physician, you can benefit from a more fully embodied engagement to your life. -Celeste Snowber

How might engineers begin to enjoy communicating their ideas to colleagues, professional audiences, and the world at large? The typical stereotype of the engineer is of a person far more engaged in the head, mining the mechanics of algorithms and linear thinking slumped over a computer than that of one who inhabits a "body," reveling in spatial creative thinking and wanting to physically interact with a curious public. End result? These engineers are not only miserable when they have to present their research, but they are also judged as POOR communicators.

What are the possibilities for these engineers to communicate more successfully and with passion once they are given some improvisational tools? What if engineers were to "open" to their own life stories, gestures, and "bodily" understandings? What might they create or co-create? How differently might they express themselves personally and professionally?
GREETED BY BUZZ, THE GT MASCOT. Our 5-hour workshop convened on a football game day in the Mechanical Engineering building. The campus was abuzz with football fans barbecuing under trees around academic buildings and in parking lots filled with recreation vehicles. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
What do I mean by "bodily" understandings? Celeste Snowber in her book, Embodied Inquiry, expresses the concept this way: "A return to celebration of our physicality awakens the juices of a creative life. Life in and of itself is an art form and living artfully and aesthetically is central to being responsive to a life. The body in all of its fullness is a gift that allows us to walk, run, flop and fall along the journey that is set before us." 

Let me restate this concept in my own words based on my experience of teaching international graduate students at Georgia Tech for two decades, being a visual artist, and certified leader in the improvisational system of InterPlay. The parameters of communicating effectively does not begin and end when it is time to present research results to colleagues, potential employers, or lay people. Effective communication is an outcome of a life fully engaged in physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is, what you are, you communicate.

If we want our engineers, biologists, physicists, etc., to inform us about their deeply complex ideas and outcomes, we educators must assist them in becoming more fully human. We can invite them to integrate their "head" with their "bodies" and "hearts." This integration can be achieved in playful incremental steps!

An example of what these incremental steps might look like can be seen in the Saturday, October 15th workshop I facilitated on the Georgia Tech campus for graduate students in Materials Science Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Convening from 9:30 to 2:30 with breakfast and lunch included, we did the following:

1. Warmed up by doing InterPlay physical exercises to Jami Sieber music
2. Played around with saying our names using vocal variation (speed, rhythm and pitch) and physical actions
2. Developed rapport by leading and following intervals
3. Told nonlinear stories in 30-second and 1-minute intervals, implementing physicality and emotions (enthusiasm)
4. Embodied some of the six skills of English rhythm and intonation (pausing, linking, stress, reduction, focus, and rising/falling intonation.
5. Walked out the rhythm of a poem (student led)
6. Practiced embodied intonation in the improvisational activity, "Yes, and..."
7. Integrated physicality, English rhythm and intonation, and emotions in a big body story explaining research to a lay person
8. Practiced summarizing ideas and increasing physicality
9. Played kazoos to experience the heft of breath of intonation using the GT Fight Song and have conversations  
DEVELOPING RAPPORT. Through a series of leading and following exercises, participants had the opportunity to connect with different participants while embodying creative choices of their own and that of their partner's. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EMBODYING THE RHYTHM OF THEIR SPEECH. Both native and nonnative speakers of English participated in this graduate science communication workshop. Everyone was asked to prepare a 150-200 word paragraph explaining their research to a lay person. Here they are applying the rhythm and intonation skills presented earlier in the workshop in a "solo" walk around the room. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
GAINING CONFIDENCE AND INCREASING EXPRESSIVENESS. In incremental steps, these researchers decreased their reliance on written text. They moved from reading their paragraph, to "just saying" it, to reducing it to 3 sentences, and finally to one sentence while networking and meeting each other. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
This improvisational workshop using the tools and principles of InterPlay succeeded in physically enaging these engineering graduate students from the United States, Iran, Peru, Colombia, Korea, China, Vietnam, and Brazil. Some noticed feeling awkward and challenged. Some experienced release from stress. Others enjoyed connecting with classmates they never have a chance to talk with on a day-to-day basis. Two students, one from Iran and another from Colombia, discovered they did similar research and sat down immediately after the workshop for a deeper discussion. Students from the United States had the opportunity to be with international students in a different way and to confront their own challenges of communicating in English. The feedback that brought me the greatest joy? One Korean student approached me before he left to express a relief at being invited to play! I had informed everyone that I was a "recovering serious person." He said he would like to be one too!
IMPRESSIVE BUILDINGS FOR ENGINEERS ON THE GEORGIA TECH CAMPUS. It was such a pleasure to be invited into this engineering complex on the GT campus to assist these scholars in building their communication skills and encourage them to engage more fully in their lives as a way to enhance their effectiveness and joy. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am happily grateful to Celeste Snowber, who I just discovered, and her most recent book, "Embodied Inquiry: Writing, Living, and Being through the Body." Part of the wider InterPlay community, Celeste is a dancer, writer, poet, and educator at Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada, where she is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. As usual, I am forever thankful to co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for the improvisational system of InterPlay and how they facilitate friendships and collaboration among national and international InterPlay communities. It is with deep gratitude I acknowledge Karen Tucker, director of the Georgia Tech Language Institute, for her dedication to expand her understanding of ways we might communicate and hence the LI's programming across the GT campus. Many thanks to Amanda Gable (MSE) and Jeffrey Donnell (ME) who facilitated this improv workshop for their graduate students. And thank you Tony Martin for being my driver and relieving me from the worry of driving on a GT football game day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is Possible in Play? Creative Communication Class at the Clarkston Global Academy

WHAT IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO CREATE? After warming up, saying our names, talking about what brings us love, ease, and grace, and playing following and leading, my class of resettled teenage refugees sat down to draw and write. (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Hallelujah for CREATIVITY! Hallelujah for PLAY! Hallelujah for COMMUNITY--one in which we can CREATE and PLAY.

Many of you dear readers know that on my artist's pilgrimage, I have taken InterPlay, an improvisational system that nurtures authenticity and which I am proudly certified in, to the Ellis Island of the South, Clarkston, Georgia (see this blog).

On Monday afternoons, I arrive to facilitate an hour-long class "Creative Communications," with resettled refugee teenagers from countries such as Nepal, Burma, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Using InterPlay as the foundation for this after school program in the Clarkston Global Academy, I engage these teens in movement, storytelling, voice, and shape and stillness.

As a 3-decade-long English as a Second Language instructor, a goal I integrate with play and creativity is verbal and physical expansion. Inviting the teens to experiment with volume, pitch, and speed as well as gestures, I encourage them to use English (or their own language) to offer what is unique to them. In this way, voicing their names become subtle or exaggerated dances. Talking about an ordinary day at school becomes an enthusiastically expressed story. The InterPlay forms offer adventures in being oneself and connecting with others.
CREATING WITH EASY FOCUS. What can a minute of ease offer to your creativity? Playing in community is a powerful way to access what is yours to claim. What is it your body, mind, heart, and spirit want to express?  (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Yesterday, I decided to add drawing and writing to our creative communications. "What is possible for you to create and communicate," I asked them, "when you are using easy focus?" Wheee... (Easy Focus is an InterPlay principle that gives us permission to release expectations or "hard focus" and enjoy the process of creating/being).

Students gathered around a long narrow table, selected a colored marker and were asked to draw a shape, then to repeat that shape again and again, changing direction and size. Music from Eric Chappelle, swirled around them. Two InterPlay volunteers, Carolyn Renee and Lynn Hesse, engaged in the activity too. As facilitator, I had the honor to witness.

The teens relaxed into their assignment and increased the speed with which they drew their shapes. As they filled their 8" x 11" page, I encouraged them to find another color and to use that as "spice." When everyone was slowing down, I asked them to turn their papers over and write three words or more that were coming into their minds. And then, if they wanted, to write a sentence.

The energy was just right. I observed a confidence in their actions, a certainty in what to write, what to create. Ta dah!  That is what is POSSIBLE IN PLAY in Creative Communication Class at the Clarkston Global Academy.

InterPlay activities comprised the concluding 15 minutes of class, supporting an embodied way of sharing the newly generated "visual and word art." 
SHARE YOUR IMAGE IN DANCE AND WORDS. In pairs, the teens were invited to communicate their drawing through movement, however they wanted to express their multiple shapes. Then to use words from the back of their drawings or any new words that came to them. (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
EXPRESSING IN THE LARGER COMMUNITY. How to share this newly created work with the larger community of the class? InterPlay has a form, "Walk Stop Run." With ease, the teens made their own choices of when and what to share with others. They chose to walk, stop, run, or show and speak about their work. The fun engagement was phenomenal! (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
One of the greatest gifts I received from this hour of creative communicating was when I heard one of the young women from Nepal read her sentence aloud: "I love myself, and I am enough!"

Many thanks go to Jes Gordon, whose Intuitive Painting class taught me some simple ways to engage people in drawing without judgment. As I explore ways to use music with lyrics, I am grateful to Soyinka Rahim for her album "BIBO LOVE." During this class, the teens happily took turns leading and following to "BIBO Funk" with such joy and fun moves. I am so appreciative to the CPACS facilitators and the Clarkston Global Academy educational program director, Justine Okello for supporting this Creative Communication Class. Recently being joined by volunteers from the InterPlay Atlanta community has filled me with such a feeling of bounty. As always, I want to acknowledge InterPlay co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for this community building improvisational system and all that they do to make it accessible to everyone.


That's Coffee with Hallelujah Truth! SOUL BLOG with me! What is possible in play for you? What is your truth that you want to share in the world?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Holding onto Dreams: Swimming with the Snakes

SWIMMING WITH THE SNAKES.  I dreamed I was swimming with two "good" snakes--companions. Then flying out of the water was this giant water moccasin with its mouth wide open. It was angry, and I was discombulated and yes, frightened. What does this dream mean? (c) art by Hallelujah Truth
Hallelujah for the darkness of night and sleep! Hallelujah for the visual quality of dreams! Hallelujah for our ability to rest, to dream, to swim with the snakes, and to mediate on their relevance! Hallelujah for our subconscious and conscious minds!

"Can water moccasins swim under water and bite you?"  was one of the questions that came up this past summer of 2016 in Albany, Georgia, at Jim Fowler's home and animal park. I was there with my Chiboogamoo in attendance with the Atlanta's Explorer's Club. A friend of Jim's was wrangling a rattlesnake he had found the day before and detained to show those of us who were visiting Jim's home for the afternoon and evening supper. The snake was released later, but it left a big impression on my psyche, for the snake has been one of my dream totems since 1988 when I was turning 30 years old.

"Anytime a snake shows up as a totem, you can expect death and rebirth to occur in some are of your life." Animal-Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small. 

When I was turning 30, my LIFE as I knew it was changing cataclysmically. Previously having earned my living as a writer, editor, and professional graduate student. Suddenly, I grew verbally silent. Then my thoughts started erupting in visual imagery--beginning with snakes! In my dreams, snakes the size of pine trees cluttered the pathways before me. Clearly, symbolic "death and rebirth" were taking place in my life! 

HOLDING ONTO THE DREAM. I like to explore what my dreams mean. They are a part of me and hold wisdom for my life. Dreams speak a universal language and our lives are enlarged by one another's dreamings. How does my snake dream expand your thoughts about your own life? (c) art by Hallelujah Truth
Instead of being grossed out, horrified, or intimidated by the appearance of the snake in my dream life, I embraced HER. Researching snake symbolism and significance in other cultures, I determined I was fortunate to have "Snake Medicine" in my life!

And, now, turning 58 years old (not far from 60), Snake Medicine is reasserting itself in my dreams. What am I to make of my "Swimming with the Snakes"? Yes, like most of us, I am always in the process of HEALING. And birthdays offer opportunities to review and assess where we are, what healing has taken place and what additional healing needs to occur.  

For now, thanks to SNAKE MEDICINE, I am going to play around with the following:

1. Releasing old perceptions no longer serving me
2. Opening my eyes to SEE anew
3. Continuing to practice trusting my feelings/intuitions
4. Looking more closely and directly into my own heart and that of others   
5. Being attentive to my excellent since of smell (Using aromatherapy to heal? Or discriminating if things "smell right" around me) 
TRANSFORMATION. Snake Medicine came to me in my dreams. I open myself to new keener sight. I release old perceptions. Thank you Dear Readers to be present with me here both by viewing my artwork and reading my meditations. (c)art by Hallelujah Truth
That's Coffee with Hallelujah! I invite you to SOUL BLOG with me and share your experience with dreams, understanding, and art making. What do you know about SNAKE MEDICINE?
Atlanta Explorer's Club, Albany, Georgia

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Big thanks to my Chiboogamoo whose sense of adventure takes us to places like Jim Fowler's home in Albany, Georgia, and other places where people talk about water moccasins dropping into boats and places dinosaurs have roamed. Thanks to Donna Mazzola, who I met at the InterPlay Leader's Gathering in Racine, Wisconsin, and who is leading an online class on playing with dreams. As a person who has working ongoingly with my dreams since I was in my early twenties, I appreciate having my community widen through friendship with those who study their dreams. As a visual artist (since my 30s), I have worked with my dreams in isolation other than when my blogging and art work bring me into discussion with others. Gratitude to Cynthia Winton-Henry who supports so many of us in finding ways to connect with one another.