Transforming community through writing


Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Oct. 20, 2011.

Joanna Young has written all her life. Since the age of 12, she has kept a journal and has always considered herself an “aspiring writer.” A few years ago, however, she realized that she would never be a “real writer” until she started identifying herself as one. That same year, she was published for the first time.

Through those years of journaling, Young has experienced firsthand the healing, transformative benefits of writing, turning this experience into a personal mission to, as she says, “help others discover an authentic life through expressive writing.”

Choosing this path — that of teaching others to journal for personal insight and self-discovery — was not a conscious decision so much as it just happened. “I woke one morning knowing that this was what I was meant to do,” Young said.

In 2005, she designed a workshop called “Wisdom Within,” and soon discovered the Center for Journal Therapy, based in Denver, Colo., through which she became a certified instructor.

Currently, Young, who lives in Rutland with her husband and two young children, teaches workshops, gives trainings and talks, and coaches individuals and groups on the benefits of using expressive (free, stream-of-consciousness) writing as a tool for self-confidence, wellness, creativity and even business success.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Young is leading a workshop called “One City One Prompt.” The event — sponsored and hosted by the Rutland Free Library and underwritten by Goddard College, where Young is a graduate student — is a project of the Transformative Language Arts Network.

One City One Prompt is part of a series of hosted writing, performance and community-building events being held across the country this fall. According to the Transformative Language Arts Network website, the goal is to “cultivate greater civility, deeper dialogue and sense of purpose.”

The idea of transformative language arts was developed about a decade ago at Goddard College in Plainfield by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. The concept holds that word — spoken, written or sung — has the power to transform the world. The TLA Network, then, supports and promotes individuals and organizations that use word for personal and community transformation.

In its inaugural year, the One City One Prompt project has selected the overall theme of community. This theme will be explored in the more than 70 participating communities around the world.

“By having local communities gather and respond to a similar theme, we hope to inspire and connect participants to others across the country and world,” Young said. “Each experience is unique, but collectively threads ideas towards a shared understanding of our greater national community, allowing participants, through the power of writing, to begin to bridge partisan political views and engage in a civil discourse on community values.”

Rutland’s event, which Young will be facilitating, has a sub-theme of “transformation” — a timely topic, Young says, considering the area’s recent physical transformation at the hands of Tropical Storm Irene.

“When I first heard about One City, One Prompt … I immediately knew I had to bring it home to Rutland.” Young said, adding that since returning to the area, she has “longed to feel part of a thriving, vibrant and creative community.”

Indeed, other creatives living in the area will agree that finding such a community can be daunting at times. But Young is not discouraged.

“Compared to the city I knew growing up (here) in the 1980s, I see such potential in this town and I am excited to be a part of its growth and transformation,” she said. “I believe in this town, in this area, and in the fantastic recreational, cultural and economic projects that forward-thinkers are making happen for us all.”

Young cites the community response after Irene as an example of what she calls the “spirit of care and compassion of the people of this area.”

And she sees One City One Prompt as an extension of that: “To have a conversation about what it means to live here and to be part of this community, and what we need to do better to provide the quality of life we all yearn for.”

Young explains that the writing prompts function as conversation starters — a means to consider an issue one may not normally consider.

“Writing expressively, with no concern for grammar, style, ability or critique, frees thoughts and creativity,” said Young. “New ideas can then emerge, and it is from these new ideas that transformation can occur.”

Ultimately, Young hopes the project will serve as a catalyst for change, adding that the event will be a “venue for conversation and, above all, a new network for community-building and connection.”

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