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Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Learning Something New

It struck me today, as I designed another workshop, that a large part of the learning happening in my classes is from participants simply watching each other and trying to repeat what they've seen. This may be blindingly obvious to most people, but I really hadn't thought about it before.

Improv appeals to me so greatly as a teaching method because it is whole-body, whole-mind stuff that frees people to react emotionally - the ultimate magic pill of learning. That most fulfilling part of the method can be overwhelming in large doses and it is important to intersperse those experiences with the more passive activity of watching and listening. Seeing someone else deal with the same set of rules (such creating a scene from an audience suggestion) gives valuable information about what works and what doesn't!

In my opinion this participatory style of learning is the wave of the future. Simple lecture-style learning is becoming less and less relevant to how people actually participate in their world. We want to ask questions, divert the lecturer from their intended topic to follow a particularly juicy idea, just as we do when surfing the web. This is easy to do with improv - one just improvises the class!

It is difficult for me to justify investing time rote-learning any information because I know that all I have to do is feed my question into google any time I need an answer. The skill set I would most desire as a kid today would be learning to boil down the most relevant information from the many thousands of google hits. And if that's so, then what is the point of the traditional essay, apart from providing proof that you know how to use google? - a complete paradigm shift.

What a exciting time to be working in education!

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Monday, November 28, 2005


Improv Nightmares

Following Braidwood's comment on the last post, I thought I'd make an attempt to explain why improv gives me nightmares!

The main attraction to improv for gifted people is usually the initial brain-candy aspect of it. Some favourite improv games reward the ability to memorize large amounts of irrelevant data and think fast. It's nice to find something where a quick brain is an asset, gaining admiring glances from your fellow players and laughs from an audience. But soon, I found that the only way to improve was to actually let go of thinking completely. To create improv, and any art, I needed to find a way to relinquish control.

This is because in order to perform great improv one needs to let down all defences and be totally in the moment. It has a meditative, trance-like quality to it; many improvisors finish a show with no memory of what just happened. It is even more powerful than meditation, because it includes movement and narrative, bringing in the wisdom of the body and the most primitive emotional parts of the brain.

When I am developing scenes on the spot, creating instant stories with one or more people, I am very vulnerable. We are tuning in to our collective unconcious, the very essence of our humanity, and working out our stories using the shadow part of our personalities. Naturally this brings up stuff that we would rather keep hidden, as we work out our personal dramas on each other through the characters and scenes we create. It's a turbo-charged version of our individual dreams, with the added twist of having other characters and viewpoints made real within the scene. I think that's why improv is so fascinating to watch, and also why vivid dreams are a common after-effect for the players.

Keith Johnstone was very aware of all this when I worked with him. He concentrated on reducing fear in his students as well as building performance skills. Keith emphasized continually that we were safe and showed us how to create that safety in a workshop group. His personal grace was an anchor we could all cling to as we unlocked our minds. Keith is an amazing teacher, of improv, but also of the process of teaching. Take his classes whenever you can, even if you have no interest at all in improv!

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Sunday, November 27, 2005


Dangerous Animals

Thanks to soh for sparking today's post. She asked why I would have a rottweiler for a pet.

Rottweilers are an intelligent, sensitive breed of dog who need daily exercise and stimulation, respond well to positive reinforcement, and require constant enforcement of clear boundaries. Even after living together for six years, my dog still tests those limits every once in a while. I always behave in a high-status way with her (making her move so that I can sit in a certain spot, for instance.) My dog is very fond of her routine; the security it gives her allows her to tolerate stressful situations and make good choices - like coming straight to me for help.

My dog chose me, by sticking to me like glue every time I went to visit her home, so that the owner (who had "inherited" her from a previous tenant) eventually asked me to take her in. I have taught her commands that we practice regularly such as "mine" and "drop it" just in case we ever need them, which we never have. On the contrary, she is a big chicken - she's afraid of the vacuum cleaner! A huge sponge for affection from friends or total strangers, the power of her love for me has got me through some really tough times. I dread the day she won't be there.

There is so much fear of the breed that is increased by media reports of dog attacks. We exploit them for our own nefarious purposes and demonize them when they react the only way they know how. It is much easier to blame the dog rather than look at ourselves and our failure to provide the training and leadership these dogs need so badly. A dog like this is a lot of work but incredibly rewarding to know. Can anyone else see the parallel with the needs of gifted people?

People who are treated inconsistently, with praise and affection one minute, rejection or abuse the next, grow mistrustful and twisted in a very deep way. The more intelligent and sensitive the person, the deeper the damage goes and the hearder it is to heal; the less sympathy and empathy they will develop. People who are not allowed to be themselves will eventually rebel against those who have oppressed them - and the ethical code they will use as they rebel will often be the same one they have experienced from their oppressors. That's a rational argument for loving and accepting all beings.

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Friday, November 25, 2005


Perfectionism rises again!

So strange to be back in a school again, as I'm no longer a student and I'm not really a teacher. I'm facilitating this workshop in a precarious half-light, being neither one thing or another, trying to balance all the relationships it involves. Exquisite sensitivity to social nuances, and the reality of the school environment, makes this a lot to deal with. Not being anchored in a traditional role makes it harder to fend off unwelcome emotions. I've been doing a lot of crying and shaking over the past few nights; I have to process the day before I can move on.

I often fall prey to nightmares after doing improv; it seems to unlock a part of myself that my brain usually works hard to keep under hidden. Other improvisors have told me this is common, and I believe it is actually one of improv's greatest treasures. Yet I feel less and less in the world and more at the mercy of my imagination after improv class. Having a fiercely protective boyfriend and equally staunch rottweiler at my side helps enormously, especially when they are both so good at making me laugh!

They often point out to me, in their own idiosyncratic ways, how my desire to do a perfect job gets in the way of enjoying the process. Despite all my gains in self-knowledge, I usually need to hear that I need not get things 100% "right" to be a success. I am the person, now is the time, and giving everything I've got is enough.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005


What's stopping you?

Not going to things always makes me feel guilty. The trouble is, everything sounds so fun and exciting that I always want to go when the idea first comes up. "Dinner on Thursday? Sure!" I chirp merrily, momentarily forgetting that I have already committed to doing a 6-hour workshop for 13-year-old gifted kids that day. That amount of personal interaction, working on so many levels, is completely exhausting, and I will need to do a lot of nothing to get my head back together afterwards. So I jam out at the last minute and beat myself up for it.

I need to spend a vast amount of time simply taking care of myself. This is really frustrating and I rebel against it mightily every day. I want to get more stuff done, but in order to take care of me, I have to cut back. This balance isn't easy to maintain and honouring it often stops me dead. Even now, I'm thinking about ditching my morning meditation so that I can write a proposal. But I know that if I do make the proposal a higher priority, I will pay for it later.

I suppose this is what it is like when you work in service of a larger vision, when you see the needs all around you and just want to get on with meeting them. It's so different to all my other jobs, where I could easily let go at the end of a work day. The only way I can see to transcend my physical time limitations is to work in a team, and that just takes more time away from the work. Besides, who on earth would I get to work with me on this esoteric quest?! I'm reading The Fabric of the Cosmos to try and find another way....

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Monday, November 21, 2005


Doing Nothing is still a Choice

Apologies for the lack of posts last week! I'm thrilled to say that I was busy, not sick!

On Friday I attended a conference on acceleration of gifted students by Miraca Gross. It was fascinating to see, when Miraca polled the crowd, how few gifted students ever get the chance to leave their age peers when their intellectual and emotional development is much closer to that of older children. Only about a third of the local educators present knew of an accelerated child at their school - ever. This meant all types of acceleration, from a radical, multi-grade skip to sending a kid to take math lessons in the next grade every day.

Why should children be placed based on their chronological age alone? If schools are set up to help children learn, shouldn't kids be allowed to learn at their own pace? Although Miraca was preaching to the converted, it was evident that these dedicated teachers had a lot of work to do convincing administrators, other teachers, and even parents when trying to provide an adequate education under the current system. Miraca quite correctly pointed out that every child has a right to develop their brain through education, and to hold someone back is not a neutral choice. It is actually damaging to that child's brain and self concept, and it is an infringement of that child's rights. Unfortunately, as I saw, simple ignorance, misunderstanding, administrative convenience, or even fear, can stop a gifted child in their tracks. For more on this, see this article by Miraca, and A Nation Deceived, where you can find lots of research to back up any attempt to appropriately accelerate a gifted child. If you are a gifted adult, have the box of tissues standing by!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005



I just realized that several of my carefully planned activities that give me emotional and spiritual support were missing last week. For various reasons, I was unable to attend my storytelling class, speak to my coach, or kvetch with my Success Team. The impact on my emotional health was really amazing; I went into a nosedive and got all wound up about trivial things, lost touch with my vision for this business, and bickered at my long-suffering boyfriend. I even became physically ill at one point.

Why would I share this on my blog again (see this post)? Because I want to spread the word that gifted people can be susceptible to minor breakdowns whenever the weather changes - hormonal, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, or literal weather, that is. It is very inconvenient when you are trying to fit into a regular school or work mould because the ability to deal with challenging situations is greatly reduced. I have burnt my bridges during one of these phases and it wasn't easy to build them again.

So how to deal with it? In my case, lots of chocolate, staying out of people's way, counting to ten before opening my mouth, and getting the necessary support a different way (meeting a very wise friend for lunch, going to the VAG to spend time with Emily Carr). It's going to be different for everyone, but the great thing is remembering that this is normal for me, and taking awesome care of myself is the best remedy. Yes, it's not what I want, given all the work I have to do, but in the long run it really is more efficient.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Harry Potter and The Gifted Kid

While creating a workshop for gifted middle school students, I hit on the idea of piggybacking on the popularity of Harry Potter and using those character relationships to talk about social skills. It's a difficult subject to address with gifted kids because they are often intensely loyal; talking about real people in their lives as non-gifted can feel like a betrayal. Reframing it as "Harry and the Dursleys" allows more play and creativity around negotiating sticky situations.

Some gifted kids have more intellectual and emotional sensitivities than all of the adults around them. They may be able to do amazing things that their families view with awe and fear, refusing them the chance to refine their raw talents into something manageable. In the story, Harry Potter finds a community of people who understand him and are willing to do anything to protect him and train his talent. But for most kids there is no opportunity to go away to a school where their gifts are unconditionally celebrated and nurtured.

The workshop will give gifted kids living "normal" lives some tools and validate their perspectives and experiences. They are at the same age as our hero, Harry, was when he first figured out what was going on!

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Monday, November 14, 2005



Thanks to Frida for her comment which sparked today's post.

In the gifted forums I've participated in, the topic of Renzulli's Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness usually comes up at some point when talking about identification of gifted kids. This model really gets me steamed up! I have heard some people say it got their kids into gifted programs when they are not globally gifted, but obviously gifted from their performance on an IQ test or another assessment method. I've heard others say that the model has been misapplied to get kids into programs that were not really suitable for them. But what if a kid is gifted but not showing any task commitment because of social or emotional problems? Or a kid isn't showing creativity because of a lifetime's experience of being squashed whenever they think outside the box?

I greatly dislike the implication that the system needs to provide services because of the potential productivity of these individuals. I also dislike the focus on "gifted behaviours" and the implication that people are only gifted when they are behaving in a certain high-powered, socially accepted manner. This is not an ethical position in my opinion.

Gifted people come out of the box with a different experience of the world and a big contribution to make. How or even whether they choose to use their gifts to serve a society which is largely hostile to them from day one is really their own business. There are many gifted mothers raising children, unappreciated and unacknowledged for their awesome contribution. People are still gifted if they choose to take a non-challenging job and live a quiet, unremarkable life. They still need support and help to deal with their intellect and special sensitivities even if they choose to do nothing creative with them. It's when they don't get it that they turn away and begin to harm themselves and their communities.

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Friday, November 11, 2005


Opting In to Society

Thanks so much for all of your comments and thoughts about my question, "How can we give all gifted people acceptance and meaningful work in modern western society?" Many good points raised, and good practical strategies on fitting in while still giving your best.

My own answer to the question is simple yet has many layers, like an onion; tell the old tales. Give them freely to all our children and the adults who haven't heard them. These stories contain ancient wisdom that operates on many levels, entertaining us, providing the community with common reference points, then hiberating in our psyches until the self is ready to hear the deeper messages. They are like innoculations against losing that self. Most importantly, they provide internal fuel to sustain a person as they step out on their hero's journey, a model and a guide to help them find and use the treasure inside. Then their work and their role will be meaningful, no matter what it is.

The question really arose from reading the myths and stories that so often contain wise characters that are a bit strange and on the fringes of society, like wizards or fairy godmothers. The coach in me relates to these witchy types, because they challenge characters to connect with their own power. These tales from traditional societies usually emphasize the interdependence of all life and the importance of self within the context of a family and a community. A great gift to give anyone this holiday season!

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Thursday, November 10, 2005


To Be Continued...

Having tried and failed to write a coherent post today, I have decided to concede to whatever bug has turned my brain to marsmallows and my stomach to jelly. Going for reinforcements, hope to see you tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005



I'm a bit late posting today because I'm having a very interesting discussion over on The Language Guy . It's about evolution and intelligent design, my favourite debate, and a time-sink for anyone interested. You have been warned!

In discussing the design for a workshop I'm giving in the spring, I got to thinking about the importance of socialization of the gifted. It's interesting in that unlike people who obviously come from another reality, because they have an accent or look different or are just new in town, the gifted live among everyone else largely incognito. So asking for special treatment really doesn't make sense to a lot of people.

In societies difference is either punished or celebrated, but it is rarely ignored. Some tribal societies might train their gifted to be spiritual leaders, for example, which along with a defined role and responsibility gave enormous licence for a gifted person to be deviant (not using this word perjoratively!) Other groups might ostracize them or even kill them as dangerous "witches".

How can we give all gifted people acceptance and meaningful work in modern western society? I have my own theory, but I want to know what you think!

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005


What makes you a confident person?

I was asked this question today at a look-see at Womyns' Ware. The answer I came up with in the moment was self-knowledge. Then I went home and thought about it a bit more.

My confidence comes from knowing that no matter what happens I will be all right. Even if my careful plans and fondest dreams don't materialize, I will always find my way. There is an incredible freedom in knowing that. It allows me to take risks and be grateful for the consequences, come what may. But I only know this because I have already tried and failed so many times.

If life is a huge room, most people camp in the middle with all the others and go to the far corners maybe once or twice. Gifted people will find out where the walls are, play with the climate control system, and try to bust out of the room as soon as they figure out it is a prison. When a person leaves the comfortable and familiar, it's scary for everyone involved. Having a coach nodding, smiling, handing them tools for their escape and waiting for them on the other side helps; but having the drive and courage to leave the middle of the room comes from the heart. True confidence is forged by passing through the white heat of fear.

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Monday, November 07, 2005


Word Verification

I have decided to add word verification to comments. I hope this does not discourage people from sharing their thoughts with me! I appreciate all your input so much and would hate the spammers to take that away from all of us - so please let me know how you feel about it during this trial period. Thank you.


Finding the Way

What an incredible weekend of meeting people with the power to speak to my soul. I went to the Vancouver Storytelling Festival. I had planned to stay all day Saturday, but I found I had to go home at lunch time after hearing from Mike Burns in his workshop, "Storytelling as a Healing Art".

Mike enthralled us for two hours by telling stories and showing us through word and deed how much people need stories to awaken to the deepest mysteries of life. Stories are a way to tell people they are not alone, that other people have felt what they are experiencing. I cannot think of another population who needs to hear this more than the gifted adult community, who may not have been properly initiated into the mystery of their brains in their teens. I felt almost called to action!

This workshop inspired me to find a way to end the story of "The Magic Hill", an A.A.Milne tale that I have been retelling in Storytelling class. I was always dissatisfied by the ending. A princess is cursed (gifted?!), and in Milne's ending this is dealt with by removing the princess to a place where she can't do any damage - and the story ends before we hear what happens when she grows up.

In my version she will go on a hero's journey. She will find the resources she needs to master her own power so that she can exercise it without leaving the safety of her community. Story models as well as heals.

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Friday, November 04, 2005


Gifted Imagination

How precisely can you visualize events, real or imaginary? Last night at my Storytelling course taught by the talented Helen Mintz (no link because, can you believe it, she doesn't have a website!) we were discussing the ways we remember stories.

Remembering is a necessary skill when telling any good story, improvised or not. It's important to notice what has already happened in the story and lead it to some kind of satisfying conclusion. In Playback theatre, it's essential to the teller and the entire performing group that all the plot points are shown. When I'm improvising I often "go blind", by tuning out visual information. This gets in the way of group creativity and is something I work on improving.

Discussion with the class might have revealed the reason for my troubles! Surprise surprise, I remember differently to the other participants, by watching the movie in my head and describing or playing what I see on my imaginary screen. It's very vivid and rich, lots of detail, even smells and sounds come through. So it makes sense that I would not pay as much attention to perceptual data in my physical surroundings.

Being too firmly rooted in the real world never felt natural, but is much easier since I started improvising and meditating. I simply can't do either unless I am in the moment. My guess is that this vivid imagination developed in childhood, when my need for stories was like my need for air. Is this a blessing or a curse? Like all things gifted, it depends. Now that I have an awareness of why I go blind on stage, I can start investigating methods of preventing it. My wild imagination must still be useful for something or I would have grown out of it. I just wish I knew what!

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Thursday, November 03, 2005



Last night I watched a great movie called Schultze Gets the Blues. To me this film showed very clearly how comfortable we can get in life until all of a sudden, something changes. When Schultze gets laid off from the mine, his routine is shattered; this creates space for new ideas to come in. The story is beautifully told with very few words. It's slow, requiring time to unfold. And it shows how intentions are supported in unexpected ways.

As an intense, driven, ambitious gifted adult, one of my most difficult lessons has been learning to let go and allow things to happen in their own way. Accepting help along the way, and creating space for things to show up, is part of this surrender. I am used to applying my energy and will to get where I want to go. This independence was a way to protect myself as a child with little control of my circumstances. As an adult, I am able to reach out to people and receive assistance as well as give it.

Starting a business is the most challenging and creative experience of my life so far. When I get into the flow of it, it's nothing but joy, and I'm constantly surprised and delighted at the positive energy that I receive. Peace out.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Emotional Maturity

Thanks to soh for catalyzing today's post! (see comment on yesterday's post)

There's really two issues here; my emotional sensitivity, and society's reaction to that. The reason that my sensitivity is a problem during conflict is that the emotions from all participants stream into my conciousness and flood me, making it hard to access higher-order thinking. So I avoid asserting myself through conflict, knowing that this is my least effective method of communicating.

This is compounded by the factors that soh describes - it is assumed that a person showing emotion is immature or lacks the confidence needed to successfully navigate the challenge. This is not the image most of us want to project, whether we're at work or in a personal situation - and the distress of knowing that gives the sensitive person yet another emotion to handle!

Emotional control is often seen as a sign of maturity, but I disagree. I have realized that I must embrace the whole me, not just the parts that I like and other people are comfortable with. My emotional life has always been vibrant. Childhood conditioning taught me to squash that down, and I learnt very well. It is an important part of my journey to authentically express my emotions and let go of the results of that action.

Often the response is surprising. Several people have thanked me for crying in workshops because they felt it gave them permission to express themselves too. Other people became impatient and walk out. Some reminded me that my situation is so much better than that of many other people around the world, in an effort to stop me crying. Still others began crying too and couldn't really explain why.

What if we could reframe emotions for the world, and start to value and affirm those who are sensitive? What does it mean when we can't be with emotions? What if bursting into tears was taken as a sign of high intellect and advanced development, or attainment of spiritual integration?

I think that the discomfort people experience with emotion is from societal restrictions on the passionate side of our natures - the side that is both dangerous and healing, like belladonna. It's unpredictable and needs an experienced handler, but letting strong emotion into our discourses informs us in unexpected ways and leads to more creative solutions. Thanks again, soh, for helping me clarify my thoughts about this issue.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Gifted and Yellow

I admit it, I'm a big coward. I hate conflict with a passion, I get overwhelmed easily despite all my efforts to remain calm. I've been working on this for years and I'm starting to understand that it is part of who I am as a gifted adult.

I am so sensitive that when emotional "stuff" is flying around I catch all of it and my instinct is to deal with the emotion first. I know I don't think best when I'm getting multiple emotional pings, so I try to ameliorate the atmosphere before I get into rational argument. This generally makes people think I am avoiding the discussion altogether, which makes them even more emotional. If I don't throw out a few ill-thought statements to keep the whole thing going, I'll probably just walk away in tears.

As you can imagine this gets complicated very quickly, and makes it difficult to have a cogent argument about anything. If I'm going to engage, I generally pick a time and place when I know I will be less likely to lose it (familiar, comfortable surroundings, not hungry, not tired) and start stating my case. I also let people know that I am quite likely to start crying during the exchange; if I don't they can think I'm trying to get one over on them by turning on the waterworks. But actually, it's just a way for me to release some of the stress that inevitably comes up. Not great for my image as a top businesswoman, but at least it keeps me in the same room.

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