I learned a lesson in spontaneity some twenty years ago that I try to bring with me to each workshop I do.
At the time, I was heavily engaged in writing poetry. I explored socializing at poetry readings to meet other people who liked to write. In my notebooks and on the word processer I was obsessively rewriting. I believed I was creating some good stuff, but alas I had no one to read and affirm me.
I found a South Jersey poetry group called the Mad Poets. I took my most recent and best poem to an open reading hoping to shed the sense of invisibility that one has when no one will glance at your work.
The poem I read was a carefully constructed villanelle about being a social worker. I had spent hours and hours getting some phat one-line images. I still think I had some good ones. Lines like “Rooting through boarding home shanties, stench swept:” “Costly mansions adorn our cross-town schlep;” or, “Now my flesh freezes, colors mannequin clam.” In each line of that poem, I felt I was able to convey a complex story with a lot of movement and with colorful words. To see poem click this here!
When I took the microphone, I apologized in advance because there was one curse word in the poem that got repeated throughout. A proud suburban woman in the audience complained and asked me to read without the curse word.
It so happened there was a word of the day, spam, and all the known writers were trying to use it for points. Thus, when I came to the repeated curse, I substituted the word: “Because housing subsidy is a godspam scam!”
It was the first time I ever got a major acknowledgement for reading a poem.
Usually, with poetry, I am terrified to read in front of an audience. I have learned there is dyslexia behind that phenomenon.
But at the coffee house that day, people were laughing and complimenting me. I was truly excited.
However, when I checked in with my peers nobody appreciated my phat one-liners. They just hooted and hollered and said that godspam scam was really funny
So, as usual, I walked away from the reading really distressed. I remained an isolated poet. I never sent my poetry away for publishing. My drunken roommate became a Pultzer Prize winning poet. Now I am just another isolated, award-winning writer who wants to change the way the public greets psychosis.
This power of spontaneity is a lesson I try to take with me into each of my workshops. Spontaneity has a way of grabbing the participants attention and engaging them. If one wants to get one’s work seen, spontaneous moments can be necessary. Maybe later, people notice the phat one-liners much as I do when I reflect on music.
In my most recent workshop which I gave to Fairmont Hospital Outpatient Psychiatric Unit in San Leandro, California, I had prepared extensively for an hour-long presentation. I was trying to shave off a lot of content out of a six-hour presentation and complete an overview in a short amount of time. However, as often happens in life, everything that could go wrong did.
My co-presenter brought his slide presentation on a Mac device that wasn’t compatible with my laptop. As a result, instead of clearing my mind and approaching the event with even nerves, I was frenetically playing around with technology before the presentation.
Then, participants started shuffling in a half hour late.
Then we futzed with the technology for ten minutes.
By the time my co-presenter was finished (barely using his slides after all that) I had at tops a half hour.
I have done my best to create slides that outline information and depend on my own muse to fill in the blanks with spontaneous examples. So, I simply targeted the first part of my presentation and went with the flow. Though I didn’t get to all the material I tried to flash forward and capture the most important points.
The result was that we got some very interesting questions. I fumbled around with a good opportunity to debate some of the most important issues that come up in when professionals fear retriggering participants by letting them tell their stories. The result is I am working on an important piece to professionals about strategies that can be utilized in group settings to avoid re-traumatization.
I was recently coached to be so structured and organized with time management in my presentations so as to complete what I say I am going to do. This was really helpful feedback to receive! And yet I am still glad to say that I am still able to adjust to circumstances and grab people attention with spontaneity.
Leading group therapy for twenty-five years has trained me to be very attentive to the energy in the room and respond accordingly. Additionally, my spontaneous effort to get people to read my poetry twenty years ago has also helped.
In my next training which is at Alameda County’s BEST NOW peer provider training, I plan to restructure my presentation based on the request of the instructor. But I know I can do this and maintain that sense of spontaneity that is so important to reshaping the way the public approaches people who are in emergency.
I now offer a shorter hour-and-a-half overview of my training delivered with flexible spontaneity in addition to a six-hour training. If you are interested in a training where you work, I will even come voluntarily.