Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Voices of the Day

I learned through Google Alert that I was Voice of the Day yesterday at Sojourners, an organization and magazine "Celebrating 40 Years of Faith in Action for Social Justice". They excerpted a portion of my poem, "The Body Politic of Peace," which has had a reach bigger than I ever could have imagined when I wrote the piece several years ago. It won a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; it has been used in sermons and yoga classes around the country; it was adapted into a choral arrangement for the Denver Women's Chorus. I am touched and honored that my heartfelt words have found their way into other hearts.

Last week, I experienced the power of individual voices firsthand. My dear friend Greg Walloch invited me to be his guest when he performed at the USA Network/The Moth Characters Unite Storytelling Event. Characters Unite is a campaign launched by the USA Network to combat prejudice and intolerance. They partnered with The Moth, an organization I have long loved, to create a storytelling tour dedicated to promoting understanding and acceptance.

The storytellers were incredible. Tim King, educator and founder of Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, spoke about how his life was changed when a troubled student asked him to be his father. Aimee Mullins, whose legs were amputated below the knee when she was five years old, shared how she turned what could easily be seen as a liability into a strength--she has won world records for running on prosthetic legs, and has become a muse to designers such as the late Alexander McQueen and filmmakers like Matthew Barney. Greg told a story about cake, gay Elvis impersonators and televangelists that is a MUST see/hear (you can see him below telling the story at another Moth event):

Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for writing "Milk", movingly spoke about the difference between his own coming out experience in a supportive community in California and his late brother being unable to come out safely or openly in Texas. I can't stop thinking about the story and how we need to make the whole country a safer place for people like his brother to live openly (and marry legally). His story obviously touched a nerve--Nathan Lane, who had been emceeing the event, broke out of his scripted (and hilarious) hosting duties to share his own coming out experience. I just read that USA Network star, Matt Bomer, who had introduced the evening of storytelling, came out publicly last weekend--this is speculation, of course, but I can't help but think that he was inspired to do so by Dustin Lance Black and the honesty of all the storytellers at Characters Unite. The evening ended with Academy Award hopeful Octavia Spencer talking about how her experience filming "The Help" inspired her to use her own voice to make a difference.

One of the beautiful things about storytelling is how it breaks down barriers and reminds us that we are all part of a greater human story. I felt so honored to bear witness to these stories (and then to sit with the storytellers while John Legend played piano a few feet away!)

Tomorrow, I am going to be teaching a writing workshop to at-risk teenage girls through the Write of Your Life program co-founded by one of my former students. I look forward to sharing with them the power of storytelling and helping them discover the power of their own voices. We all have more reach than we ever could have imagined.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Review of A Theory of Small Earthquakes

My review of Meredith Maran's novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes, appears in tomorrow's San Francisco Chronicle. I feel honored to have had a chance to review this beautiful, timely book.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

GATE Story Con: The Power of Story

Last Saturday, thanks to the generous invitation of my friend Nancy, I had the pleasure of attending GATE Story Con, an all day (and almost all night!) event exploring and celebrating the power of Story to create personal, social and global transformation. GATE is the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment, an organization dedicated to changing our cultural story by changing our media. The event featured poets and physicists, musicians and spiritual writers and movie producers and comedians, all of them committed to moving our human story forward by telling stories that are honest and illuminating and brave. I left feeling deeply inspired and energized, with a renewed dedication to using my voice as a storyteller to make a difference in the world.

The image above is Paul Horn playing the flute. I took his music and tai chi workshop as a work-study student at the Esalen Institute in the late 80s, and his music brought flashbacks of my young, idealistic self dancing on the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Big Sur. The screen above him is filled with images of people in the audience who were live-tweeting the event--my photo is right in the center (if you'd like, you can read my tweets with the hashtag #gatecommunity here). It was fun to see my older self, filled with a more realistic idealism now, virtually together with Paul Horn again, as part of a community of artists who want to connect our personal stories to a greater story, a story connected to the earth, a story connected to the stars, a story that reminds us we are all in this story together--let's try to make it a beautiful one.