Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 5

Welcome back!

In this 20-minute episode we’ll explore metaphor and simile – using comparison to explore one thing in terms of another. Toward that end, we’ll take a look at poems by Billy Collins and Jack Gilbert.

Grave & Goofy Poems – Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 5: Comparision 4.22.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 4

Welcome back!

In this just-over-sixteen-minute video we’ll play with word choice – diction, exploring the difference between the right word and the almost right word and how it impacts our poetry and writing in general.

As the video title slide points out, a bell may toll or jingle (or peal, tinkle, ring, or chime, among other possibilities).


Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times Episode 4 – Diction 4.15.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 3

Welcome back!

In this 13+-minute video, we’ll work with responding to or talking back to a poem – using someone else’s poem as a starting point, we’ll begin writing based on some aspect of the poem that resonates with us. In this episode we’ll use poems by Roque Dalton, translated by Jack Hirschman, Naomi Shihab Nye, and yours truly.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.


Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times Episode 3 – Responding to What Resonates 4.8.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2

Welcome back!

In this 12-minute video, we’ll work with imagery – using sensory, concrete language that appeals to the senses.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.


Grave and Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2 / Imagery 4.1.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems – Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times

This is the first in a series of brief writing prompts designed to help you get your feelings and thoughts onto the page.

No previous writing experience required.

Continue reading below the video for more information.

Grave and Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 1 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

  • Appropriate (fun and easy) for parents who are home now with their kids.
  • Each episode will present one way to begin writing – a writing “prompt” and anyone who actually does the prompt, i.e. writes for a couple of minutes (as opposed to just listening to it and not writing) will leave the session with at least one poem beginning, which you can then work and play with.
  • Prompts can be easily adapted for younger children, young adults, adults, seniors (anyone – really).
  • Some episodes will include, in addition to the prompt, a brief overview of / introduction to a poetic / literary device / tool – like image, metaphor, simile, voice, conflict, theme, line, diction, punctuation, texture, completion…
  • This is intended as an introduction especially for:
    • anyone who has never written a poem before, or who thinks he or she cannot
    • folks who have not written poetry or prose as a way to understand themselves and their world before
    • parents who are at home with their kids
    • teachers who have little or no experience teaching poetry writing
    • anyone else who’s willing to explore the power of poetry / the written word to heal
  • Each episode will provide a resource or two for further exploration.

Fully Human at Work – a 21st-Century Imperative

Early in 2019 my friend and colleague, Kent Frazier, and I began informal conversations about “mental illness” and “mental health” and how these two characterizations were showing or had shown up in our lives, in the lives of our families, friends and colleagues, and in workplaces we’d known or had heard or read about. While depression and anxiety were primary, they were not the only foci of our attention. As we talked and read and listened we bumped into a few sobering statistics. The following are representative:

Kent and I met in 2011 amid changes we were each seeking – traveling in what seemed to be “opposite” directions in our careers. I had spent some 35 years as a Catholic High School teacher and basketball coach, college administrator and teaching poet, and was looking for a way to ‘make up for’ the money I had not made. Kent had spent some 20 years (we have a decade-plus age difference) in Human Resources in the corporate world, rising up to the Vice Presidential level in two different companies, and was looking for a deeper sense of meaning in his work, despite the money he had made. We arrived at a shared perspective, to which abundant research6 already pointed, that meaningful work and earning income commensurate with the contribution to and impact on others’ growth and wellbeing were important aspects of creating a fully expressed and fulfilling livelihood.

As we worked with the language of mental illness and mental health at work, we began to consider the possibility that depression and anxiety were actually legitimate, understandable responses to “sick” places of work, and we recognized this as an echo of Krishnamurti’s assertion that “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”  

We began speaking about “Mental Fitness as an Evolutionary Imperative” with some of our friends and colleagues, and our language most recently landed on “Being Fully Human at Work – a 21st-Century Imperative,” which cuts to the heart of the matter. We need to be able to show up fully at work, and we need to do work that honors our full humanness – whatever that might mean for each of us.

Fully Human at Work invites us to look at “the work” that needs to be done at this time in history, in our own lives, and in the ways we support and care for others. What if “our work” became more about connecting with our truest selves and building bridges to connect with and support our common humanity in communities; to uplift this common humanity and the systems that support it, rather than primarily serving the financial interests of shareholders and our own financial gain? What if our meaningful work and commensurate compensation emerged through a “what am I giving” rather than a “what am I getting” mindset? What might such a shift allow or invite?

We believe that each of us has what Frederick Buechner has referred to as a deep gladness, what Bill Plotkin calls soul work, what Howard Thurman called that which makes you come alive, and what Harley Swift Deer calls our sacred dance; and that we are called to manifest this gladness, this aliveness, this soul work or sacred dance as a gift to our people – to the world. Our charge is to recognize our gift and find a way to engage it while we also take care of ourselves and our families through what Plotkin calls survival work7 – and this is rarely an easy undertaking.

We may have to engage our soul work with no thoughts of compensation while we engage our survival work; we may find a way to bring our sacred dance into how we do our survival dance; we may be called to find an employer who will welcome our deep gladness in the workplace; we may begin, a little at a time, to find ways to get paid for doing that which brings us alive; and if we’re among the gifted, fortunate, hard-working few, we may find a way to merge our soul work with our survival work.

We invite you to explore these possibilities with us. What is your deep gladness? What brings you alive? How will you bring it to your people?

Please consider joining us for our 12-hour, 6-session online course, Fully Human at Work: A 21st-Century Imperative. Tuesdays, January 14 – March 31, 2020. Register here. More details and registration information at Registration is limited to 18 participants.


1Harvard Business Review online, December 2019

2CNBC online, October 2019

3World Health Organization online, December 2019, accessed December 2019

5The Atlantic online, February 2015

6See Edward Deci’s and Richard Ryan’s work on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Daniel Pink’s Drive, and Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, among many others.

7Survival work (or survival dance) is not a pejorative term. From Plotkin: “Our survival dance, a foundational component of self-reliance, is what we do for a living – our way of supporting ourselves physically and economically…. Everybody has a survival dance. Finding or creating one is our first task when we leave our parents’ or guardians’ home.”

Additional References:

Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC [revised and reprinted with the subtitle: A Seeker’s ABC].

Howard Thurman. [I have been unable to find an accurate citation for the origin of this quote]: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Bill Plotkin. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. [Harley Swift Deer is quoted in Plotkin].

Guidelines for “Adult” Conversation #16 – Stepping Back: Bringing a Bigger Picture into View

Welcome back. Here are the subtitles of the fifteen essays in this conversation series with links to each individual piece. As the writing unfolded and the content found its way into a workshop at the Unitarian Society of New Haven in early May, the following sub-headers (bolded) began to make sense. They are currently useful (to me), and they may continue to evolve. Stay tuned for more about upcoming workshops.

#1Introduction and Overview

Knowing Yourself, Your Biases and Your View – Working with What and How You See

#2 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation – Culture’s Hidden Influence

#3 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation, Part 2 – Beyond Culture

#4 – Suspending Preconceptions, Judgments and Assumptions

Honoring Facts and Identifying Opinions – Really? Will That Hold Up in Court or in the Laboratory?

#5 – Avoiding Labels, Insults and Generalizations

#6 – Honoring the Difference Between Opinion and Fact

#7 – Engaging Specific, Factual and Preferably Personal Examples to Support Opinions

Learning Intentionally – How Do You Want to Be, and What Do You Hope for, in this Conversation?

#8 – Curiosity, Knowing and Not Knowing on the Path of Learning

#9 – Learning, Understanding and Clarifying (Rather Than Teaching, Persuading or Disproving)

Acknowledging the Forest and Staying on the Path – Wow, You’re Human Too!

#10 – Finding Similarities as Well as Differences

#11 – Staying With the Agreed-Upon Topic

Emotion, Empathy and Ripple Effects – Feeling, Honoring and Regulating Emotions  

#12 – Recognizing, Understanding and Regulating Emotions

#13 – Understanding, Feeling and Embodying Another’s Story as if It Were Your Own

#14 – Who Wins and Who Loses if You Get Your Way – or I Get Mine?

Truth – Understanding “Truth” and “Truthfulness”

#15 – The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

While some of these subtitles/topics are more complex, and require more work than others, each provides a foundational element for conversation that does more good than harm. Some are more or less “mechanical” skills that can be learned, but even those will be interpreted, understood and manifested differently based on the participant’s worldview (essays 2 and 3), and the extent to which the participant is aware of this worldview (i.e. does the person have a worldview or does a worldview have the person?). The worldview will also impact the intentional choices that are available to (that can be seen by) the participant.

Generally, someone who primarily identifies with a fundamentalist, absolutist, black-and-white view of the world is more likely to intend to teach or persuade, as opposed to learn and understand, than is someone who primarily identifies with a scientific, rational, evidence-based, okay-with-the-gray view of the world, and is more open to curiosity, following the evidence, understanding and clarifying. In the most extreme cases of these two views, the individuals effectively speak different languages – as much a barrier to resolving a dispute as, and perhaps more than, any of the content about which they disagree.

Each of us needs to ask how important consciously civil and intentionally mutually beneficial and respectful conversation is to us. Each of the subtitles above requires a deeper dive in order to be understood and embodied. Any one of them can enhance the quality of conversation. If you choose to begin, perhaps begin with something that feels easier; or begin with the one you know you need to develop; or take them in the order listed.

Just begin. Practice. The world needs you.




Guidelines for “Adult” Conversation, #15 – The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth*

Welcome back. Previous essays in this series are available at

While the importance of a commitment to truth is implicit in our exploration of opinion and fact in essay six (and, I hope, throughout this series of essays), truth deserves a more explicit starring role. Most of us have heard or read somewhere along the line that prior to testifying in court, we promise, swear or affirm that we will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Those words are generally familiar and in many ways carry meaning that is obvious (which won’t stop me from unpacking them):

  • Tell the truth: answer the question that was asked and don’t lie
  • Tell the whole truth: don’t leave anything out regarding your answer to the question that was asked
  • Tell nothing but the truth: don’t add or intermingle anything that’s not true in order to help your cause

While this essay does not address what happens under oath in a court of law, these three tenets are worth keeping in mind as we navigate the fate of truth in our day-to-day conversations – whether we are disagreeing, agreeing or casually passing the time. Also worth keeping in mind is the distinction between “the truth” and “truthfulness” – a distinction that informs this essay, and that I believe is accurate and useful. As we’ll use these terms here:

  • the truth refers to what is empirically provable1 and can be agreed upon by honest, competent observers who have no interest or investment in this truth being one way or another;
  • truthfulness refers to an individual’s honesty – choosing in any given moment to be honest –

“tell the truth” as he or she understands it; it is possible to be truthful and not tell what is empirically true.

If we revisit essay six’s auto collision at the four-way stop sign, the truth is that two cars made contact and sustained damage. Assuming for a moment that the drivers are honest and do not want to wrongfully vilify each other, each of them might be truthful in explaining what they think caused the accident (beyond agreeing that the cars collided and sustained damage), and each may be completely accurate, completely off the mark or somewhat accurate and somewhat off the mark amid their truthfulness.2

That’s a simple example and enough to make the point. In our disagreements and agreements with others, underlying our commitment to differentiating fact and opinion must be a corresponding understanding of and commitment to the truth and our truthfulness. Clarity of language is essential for such a commitment as is a willingness to do the work that clarification requires.

The complexities that characterize the content of much contemporary disagreement, the over-abundance of easily accessible information and much intentional misinformation that internet sources invite and allow, and selectively edited and sound-bitten televised news offerings render “the truth” at best difficult to identify, and at worst an unwelcome and troublesome nuisance. The ramifications of this complex over-abundance is especially evident among individuals who seem more committed to incessantly reasserting their biases in order to “win” the social media tit-for-tat or televised eye-rolling and shouting match of the day than to working toward an agreed-upon “truth” and negotiating in good faith with others who differ regarding how to interpret and act on this truth when it comes to local, national or international policy, whether to buy or lease, or which movie to see, diet to try or get-rich-quick scheme to purchase.

We return to intention. Why are you, am I, in this conversation at all, and what, if anything, does the truth, or our respective ‘truthfulnesses’ have to do with it? If nothing, then why bother? If something, why not everything? If everything, how might each of us behave if we were genuinely concerned with and committed to the truth and to being increasingly able to see each other’s truthfulness even as we disagree?

Don’t look to apparent leaders as exemplars for this behavior. Very few of them are up for the challenge, and while some may be, your best bet is to look within. Be the conversationalist you aspire to be. Take the risk of showing up with the intentions of understanding and learning, with nothing to prove, nothing to defend and nothing to lose.

In the next essay we’ll take a brief look back at the preceding 15 and explore a few exercises that can be helpful on the path.


*What we’re attempting to point to in this essay (and in this series) are useful, practical considerations for authentic conversation. We’re not delving into differentiating the mystical/spiritual realms of what is manifest-relative truth or Unmanifest-Absolute Truth; there is a time and place for these (even if time and place only exist on the manifest-relative plane) and this is neither.  

1What is “empirically provable” – i.e. true, shifts over time and with development. Cultures have (ever-evolving) maps of “reality” that represent what they believe is true. If something fits the current map, it’s “true,”; if it doesn’t, it’s not. E.g. prior to the mid/late 19th century bloodletting was an accepted “truth” in treating human ailments; over millennia it was true that first the earth (religion’s view), then the sun (early science’s view) was the center of the universe; the current (more advanced science) truth tells us that the universe is ever-expanding.

2Distraction, confusion, mechanical failure, etc. may come into play here, and even if each driver is honest, when faced with the possibility of insurance premiums going up, moving violations, having to explain to parents or spouses what happened, the temptation not to tell the whole truth or to in some way embellish it (telling something beyond the truth) might be tempting – putting them at odds with both “truthfulness” and the “truth.” That the two cars collided is the truth, as far as it goes. If our goal were to get to the truth of the cause(s) of this fictional collision we’d pursue this further. It’s not, so we won’t.

Guidelines for “Adult” Conversation #14 – “What’s the Impact of (Not) Getting My Way: What Will Be Won and Lost and by Whom?”

Welcome back. Previous essays in this series are available at

One of the “easiest” scenarios within which to explore these questions is in athletic competition. “Easiest” is in quotation marks because while participation in sport does not typically carry with it the life-and-death ramifications of illness, injury, violent crime and war, it is neither necessarily easy, nor without its larger ramifications.1 Simply put, when I win – when I get my way, my opponents lose, or at best, finish second. At their healthiest, competitors accept and expect this, and – especially for those who learn from their wins and losses, begin to develop those physical, emotional, mental and spiritual “muscles” that allow them to “win with class” and “lose with dignity”.

Whether we’re exploring a child’s earliest experiences with competition and final scores, or an elite athlete’s efforts to compete on a national or international stage, perspectives on winning and losing and the respective muscles these outcomes can build, play an important role in the development of balance, resilience, compassion and empathy.

Beyond athletics, these muscles will come in handy as we attempt to “win” and get our way at work, in intimate relationship, as parents, as children, in the classroom, in court, on the playground, in the legislature, in the operating room, with the therapist, in the voting booth, on the street, in combat, on our death bed, and anywhere else we believe something important is at stake.

Consider these selected historical wins and losses:

  • 1600 – Giordano Bruno is burned at the stake at the order of Pope Clement VIII for arguing that the universe is spatially infinite (asking if it’s bounded, what’s on the other side) and that God is both transcendent and immanent.
  • 1776 – British immigrants in North America declare their independence from British rule.
  • 1863 – the Emancipation Proclamation declares all slaves in the United States free.
  • 1865 – the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan is founded in Pulaski, Tennessee.
  • 1870 – the 15th Amendment removes race, color and previous-condition-of-servitude restrictions from the right to vote (for men).
  • 1920 – the 19th Amendment removes gender restrictions so women can vote.
  • 1924-1929 – Edwin Hubble, and later the telescope that bears his name, confirm Bruno’s first point (above).
  • 1945 – first atomic bomb detonated in New Mexico

For each of these (and for countless historical and current, public and personal events of your choosing) consider who won and who lost in the short term, who won and lost in the long term, and what the winners and losers actually won and lost in each case. Your worldview, which we explored in essays two and three, will influence how you respond to each of these – as my worldview influenced which examples to enlist (and the decision to write this series on conversation at all).

One of the most powerful change agents that produces winners and losers is technology – in the largest meaning of that word. Who were and are the winners and losers with the emergence of intentional fire, the wheel, the firearm, pharmaceuticals, electricity, the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the assembly line, human flight, the computer and robotics, among many others? Again, check in with the worldview behind your responses as you explore this question.

So now, “what do these selected explorations of history and technology have to do with who wins and loses when I get my way in conversation?” you might ask. Concretely and specifically, not very much; conceptually and generally, everything. In essay number eight, we explored our human tendency to ascribe meaning or make interpretations before we truly know what something means – what might be an accurate interpretation of an event. We spoke about getting comfortable with not knowing on the path of learning.

With every stance we take, every stand we make, every debate we engage – whether about which movie to watch, where to buy the groceries, going back to school, dealing with a bully, helping our kid navigate a first heartbreak, whom to support in the election, having the surgery, going to war, etc., etc., etc. – we are choosing to support a position that will lead to winners and losers, often in very minor and often in major ways. At our best it makes sense to know, or at least investigate, who these winners and losers may be and what and how much they stand to win and lose, so we have a sense of the not-so-obvious, prospective impact of what we argue for and against.


1For a more in-depth exploration of the ramifications of sport, see The Quality of Effort: Integrity in Sport and Life for Student-Athletes, Parents and Coaches. 2nd edition, 2013. The focus of this essay is on personal wins and losses and does not address those professional and intercollegiate competitions in which billions of media, advertising, sponsorship, corporate and organizational dollars are in play and at stake.