This time last year I was in the center of grief… mourning the loss of physical connection from people I had come to love. I was sent to Sibert, Haiti, with The ArtReach Foundation as faculty with my colleague, Stacy Cohen. We were asked to deliver a workshop for teachers and community leaders in this small town outside of Port-au-Prince.
When we arrived, I was struck by the magnitude of poverty that was waiting to greet us as soon as we deplaned. Even with the reported millions of dollars that were raised after the earthquake, none of it seemed to have reached the people – many of whom were still living in tents and shacks or on the street. I felt angry and somehow complicit in this oppressive, shameful deceit that has left Haiti with the less than honorific title of being “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere”.
And though the people of Haiti are generous, incredibly warm, with easy laughter and resilient beyond measure; I do not want to leave the impression that many analysts have made in recent years that poor people seem to be much happier than their rich counterparts. I bet a million happy dollars if money got to the people and their basic needs were met, the people of Haiti would be ecstatic!
In a focus group of about 10 or so participants during the week-long workshop, one of the participants stated with certitude that if Americans had to endure what the Haitians have had to endure, we would all be dead by now.
And there was no arguing with that.
And yes, they were still able to dance and sing and tell stories and pray and laugh.
But though my intent was to come and bestow the gifts of expressive therapy, they were the true gift bearers. What they gave me was so much greater than my offering of drama therapy because they already know it as their birthright. Their birthright. What they gave me was the gift of deep awareness and recognition which stopped me cold in my tracks and left me voiceless for some time. It really made me re-evaluate what I am doing and why and ask myself some hard questions like is it working and how do I know? Is it what is being called for right now, and if not, then what is? Can I do it better? Give more? Be more? and will what I do actually change social/psychological/political landscapes?
I will save you some of the suspense. Yes, what I do works, and I know because I regularly bear witness to personal transformation. As a matter of fact, during this trip, one of the participants pulled me to the side and with resolve, squared me up, looked me in my eyes and said, “Thank you for helping people who look like you”. And overflowing with deep gratitude I sobbed. It was all too much to hold.
But the other questions have been simmering together and emerged in a sort of cosmic q&a that has evolved into an action oriented practice. This q&a is swirled together with movement, social justice, dance, race and privilege, story, systemic change and contemplative arts.
Together we will journey through this wild territory and uncover some truths. I invite your curiosity and inquiry as we navigate this terrain together.
Get ready for a wild ride!
It has been two months and I have returned from a sabbatical of sorts, culminating with my presentation at the annual conference of the North American Association for Drama Therapy. Sitting in the airport in Montreal, waiting for my flight to board, I have a few moments to reflect on the field, the work and the community.
Because I am the sole registered drama therapist practicing in the state of Georgia, I find it very difficult not to feel marginalized. As an expressive arts therapist we are already outliers in many respects and because drama therapists take up even less space statistically, it feels at times that we are teetering on the edges of the sidewalk that stretches endlessley into space; ever expanding and making room for the visionaries, the willful ones who dare to step into those spaces where imagination is king.
Yes, I am waxing poetic about this profession that I hold so dear, and the professionals who hold space in the liminal, who burst through the portal and make daily invitations to play.
And now, as my mind turns over with images of elastic sculpts, colorful scarves, improvisational structures and laughter; as I recall the uncomfortable conversations, the 5.5 hour board meeting, nearly loosing my shoe as I crossed the stage as the incoming Government Affairs Chair, I am filled with deep, resonant emotion that I am admittedly struggling to contain.
Yet no moment was nearly as meaningful as the moment I witnessed three people of color accept awards at the awards banquet and two of the three were black. No moment was sweeter than the moment they privately thanked me for paving the way for them to do the work. And no moment was more poignant than the moment I shared tears with another black drama therapy student who is unapologetically challenging the status quo.
I feel so honored to be a part of a community of intelligent, creative thinkers, feelers,doers. I feel honored to call myself a drama therapist.
I Am A Drama Therapist.
I work in a field dominated by women, so the issue for me is not necessarily that the men in my field are getting the jobs that I am not (though it is arguable that since men are such a commodity in the mental health field that I am indeed competing with them -at least in theory. Or even worse, since I am the only drama therapist in the state of Georgia I am technically at the bottom rung of the counseling chain and in effect, competing with everybody!
But as I begin to prepare myself for the PhD program I will start next Summer and I consider what happens after I finish; I imagine that I will be positioning myself to take on more leadership roles in my field, and I am keenly aware that I will be competing against more men for the top level positions and that they have the advantage. They have the advantage not because there is such a scarcity of them in mental health, but they have a cultural advantage.
I was invited to attend a luncheon over the weekend at the Alif Institute. It was a luncheon and discussion with Arab-American women about their definition of success. They mentioned Sheryl Sandberg whom I heard about in response to an article that was published in the New York Times entitled “Women Can’t Have it All”. Sheryl was vehemently opposed to the idea and the dialogue that ensued between the two writers (both women) was really quite interesting.
A couple of years ago, Sheryl gave a TED talk on Women and leadership. I encourage you to take a look. It is definitely food for thought.
Listening to NPR today I heard something rather disturbing. In reporting headlines from the recent IRS investigation, they seemed to scoff at some of the organization’s “less traditional” expenditures. They highlighted in particular the IRS hiring an artist to facilitate a leadership/team building workshop. To be fair, I gather that the report had more to do with extravagant spending than a treatise on the validity of using the arts to improve leadership skills. And since the issue with the IRS in the news recently had to do with unfair targeting of conservative organizations applying for 501c4 status, it makes me wonder if this is what NPR considers to be fair and balanced reporting?
I felt my blood boil instantly, and immediately began to think about the incredible work we did for the managerial conference several weeks ago at The National Institutes of Health. It was very well received by managers who were self described “serious scientists”. After participating in our workshop, some reported being able to think more creatively about problem solving and had a visceral experience of what collaboration means and what it feels like to do the opposite of collaborate. One participant said that he had been working with some of the other participants for over a year now and had never even seen them crack a smile and was now watching them laugh. That is significant especially when you consider retention rates and employee satisfaction.
I think I must have been equally disappointed because this came from NPR, the more liberal of the news agents. They threw the arts under the bus today. The arts have been statistically proven to help improve problem solving, self expression, team building and feelings of overall well-being. If that is not a recipe for productivity I don’t know what is.
I am surrounded on all sides by change. My entire environment is morphing before my eyes. We are told that the safest thing to do when surrounded by what is perceived as chaos is to get in the middle of it – in the eye of the storm where all is calm. You get to observe the calamity from a sort of objective ether space. I’ve always wondered if that “center of the storm” theory was a myth. Because I am sort of in the center of change right now and it feels very scary and unpredictable. Sort of the opposite of calm.
But if it is indeed a myth, and I choose to accept the sheer enchantment and usefulness of myth, then I can also choose to see this change with eyes of wonderment. I can slap on those rose colored glasses and see it all as some sort of absurd entertainment. Or better yet, as a cleansing. Using the calamity that exists in nature as a metaphor; tornadoes, wild fires and the like, they cleanse the earth and prepare the way for the fresh and new.
And so, I invite stillness of being right now. This year has brought quite a bit of movement. Dozens of workshops, lots of travel, Career days, teaching, my work at Willowbrooke and ArtReach as well as my shifting role into the Chair of the Government Affairs Committee for the North American Association of Drama Therapy. Whew! It exhausts me just to write it all.
Yes, stillness is the order of the day. I welcome in the change that the rest of this year is sure to bring.
I recently did a string of Career Days for Douglas County. It was an honor to be asked, and I was surprised to see that it was nothing like Career Day is on T.V where you talk about your job for 5 minutes alongside a fireman and a stockbroker; and then the kids ask you really funny questions and you leave. No, no, no. It was a full half day for each. I brought puppets and we did role plays and they asked thought provoking questions and there was a program complete with Chick fil A sandwiches, donuts and an orchestra.
Out of all of the schools, I have to say my favorite was New Manchester Elementary School. They were fun, and willing to play, and genuinely curious about how drama therapy works. They had genuine issues to discuss, and problems that needed to be solved. We had a great time together and one class actually sent me several letters in the mail. I was so impressed with their writing that I asked the teacher if it would be okay to share some of their writing on my blog. She said, “absolutely!”. They are so intelligent and thoughtful, and moving. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I have changed their names in order to protect their confidentiality.
Dear Ms. Dillard,
Thank you for teaching us. I really appreciate you for telling us about your Career and you showed me how you help people because you helped Gregory. He was first sad and then when he was the narrator he was happy. Thank you for picking me for the Sheep too. I was kind of like Gregory the Sheep was very sad because he didn’t have any friends. Then some other animals came and ask if they wanted to be friends, then the sheep was happy. So thank you for having to leave work to teach us about that.
Dear Ms. Dillard,
Thank you for coming last Friday. I really enjoyed you coming to our school. Thank you for giving me advice on how to tell my parents how I feel. Sometimes I get scared when they fight and just wanted to thank you.
Dear Ms. Dillard,
Thank you for coming. I feel much better about myself. By the way this is Karen. I learned that I will never be alone in problems. I liked when the people did the puppet show. My favorite part was when they all came together and had fun.
- The Myth of Resilliance June 11, 2016
- Drama Therapy at Kennesaw State University November 9, 2014
- Listen to “Arts and culture contribute more to U.S. economy than tourism” on Stitcher December 8, 2013
- I Am A Drama Therapist September 29, 2013
- Women and Men Competing in the Workforce July 1, 2013