(This is an expansion of a post that was shared with my Patreon patrons last month.)
I am learning how to do narrative therapy, how to be a narrative therapist, how to engage with my clients in ways that are narratively-informed. But what does that mean? What is narrative therapy? What does a narrative therapist do? What benefit does narrative therapy offer?
One of my favourite things about narrative therapy, and the piece that comes most easily to me, is the creation of documents to extend conversations from one individual or group out into a wider community – collecting, formatting, and sharing the insider knowledges that marginalized communities have developed and are using to resist injustice. I create courses, interview communities and generate resources and posts, host workshops, and I love when this facilitation work can be extended into a shareable resource or document.
Since documentation is my jam, I am going to create a series of blog posts that explore and share some of my favourite pieces of narrative practice. If you’re interested in these practices, and you’d like to set up a narrative session, or ask me further questions, comment or send me an email! My goal with this series of posts is to invite you into the process, offer you some tools that you can try out on your own, and maybe even entice you to get in touch and work with me.
In this first post in the series, I’m going to talk a bit about collective documentation and share an experience from the Advanced Narrative Skills teaching block that I attended recently.
(This story is shared with the permission of my collaborators, Julia and Tarn.)
Part of narrative practice is the creation of collective documents. These are documents that are meant to honour shared experience without erasing difference, and they are often used to make visible the skills, stories, and knowledges that people use to get through difficulties or resist injustices.
At the teaching block, we spent some time in groups of three, practicing this work. We each took turns being the interviewer, the interviewee, and the witness. The job of the interviewer was to listen to carefully, notice the phrases that were repeated or the themes that were emerging, and ask questions to elicit rich descriptions and preferred outcomes. (This idea of preferred outcomes or stories is one that I’ll come back to in a later post.) The job of interviewee was to respond to the questions. And the job of the witness was to take notes, which is often referred to as “rescuing the said from the saying of it” (this is a phrase of Michael White’s, explored in some depth in this article by David Newman).
This “rescuing” (which can be a problematic word to use, especially for white therapists working with people of colour, because there is a long and violent history of “rescue” being something done to marginalized folks, done by privileged folks) is used in many therapeutic documents, not just collective documents. (In a later post, I’ll write about some other types of therapeutic documents, and how I use them.)
Tarn, Julia, and I each asked, answered, and “rescued” on the following prompts (from the “Generating material for collective documents: What gets us though hard times” hand-out in the University of Melbourne and Dulwich Centre Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work):
- Describe something that gets you through hard times
- Share a story of a time when this special value, belief, skill, or knowledge has made a difference to you or others
- Speak to the history of this skill, value, or belief. How long have you done this? Who did you learn it from/with? Who has recognized this /acknowledged this? Who would be least surprised to know about this?
- Is this linked to particular groups, family, communities, or cultural history of which you are a part? Is this linked to collective traditions and/or cultural traditions?
Then we each had an opportunity to hear what the “rescuer” had recorded while they listened to us being interviewed, and to correct or change or add to the story that we heard back. This is a critical part of narrative therapy, and part of my practice – you are the expert in your own experience, and you have control over the story that you tell and that is told about you within the therapeutic setting. Your words, your meanings, your stories – those are yours.
One thing that I appreciate about narrative therapy is that there is an accountability back to the people we are working with, to ensure that their stories, words, and experiences are taken up and interpreted in ways that feeling honouring, respectful, and accurate. This is part of how we resist pathologizing or further oppressing the people that come to us for help in navigating their stories.
Once we’d had a chance to try out each of the three roles, we collaborated on creating a document. We went for a long walk together through the park near the Dulwich Centre, and talked about where we noticed echoes and resonances between our stories. Once we found the thread that we wanted to use to tie the stories together – in our case, it was an experience of flow between togetherness and aloneness – we wrote the document through a series of drafts, shared back and forth and added to by each of us.
This is the document we created:
Together and Alone: How We Get Through Some Hard Times
A window into some Hard Times.
In Calgary, Tiffany is making a strong Earl Grey, adding double-fold vanilla extract and vanilla sugar, frothing hot milk, and assembling it all in a blue-and-purple octopus mug. The skill of the London Fog.
In Kathmandu, Julia is making a cup of coffee and writing three pages in the quiet of the house before bringing her practice into group sessions, where she will rescue words, shape them into poetry and stories, and share them back. The skill of writing.
In the Blue Mountains where she grew up, Tarn is sitting on a rock, the river far below, gum trees and black and white cockatoos all around, and across the river the white stripes of gum in the deep green of the trees. The skill of going into places of space and nature.
These are very different skills.
They have very different histories.
Tarn grew up on 50 acres of bush land, and the birthmark on her forehead is the same shape as Tazmania, where her parents have hiked every year, for 45 years. Now she lives in the redness and dryness of central Australia, near Honeymoon Gap, surrounded by all that resilient life, trees that have adapted and grown prickly and dry. She’s loved the land since she was tiny, and has made choices to live where she can get out into that vastness. But even in the city, she finds the flowers on the ground and the mice scurrying through the bushes. This is a skill with deep roots.
Julia learned to love writing stories at the same time she learned to write. Her stories were a survival strategy during a difficult time, and she loved books and reading. She lost touch with her love of writing after a betrayal of trust by a teacher, and now that she has it back, she is learning how to use it for herself and for others. This is a skill that has been reclaimed.
Tiffany learned to make London Fogs when they were housebound with pain, when the kitchen was as far as they could get in a day. Now they can move again, walk again, get out to cafes again, but the London Fogs have stayed, and have become a cherished ritual shared with others. This is a newer skill.
Despite all this diversity in history and expression, there is resonance.
There is a flow here, between togetherness and aloneness and everything in between.
How we engage with the flow is unique to each of us – Tarn connecting to generations of people who have lived on and loved the land through time spent alone – togetherness in the alone time; Julia, who grew up with books as friends and teachers, writing alone before writing with others; Tiffany engaging a skill learned in the isolation of illness and now shared with friends who are struggling.
But, despite the fact that we each enter the flow in our own ways and with our own histories, we each bring both solitude and multitude into these skills that get us through hard times.
We wonder how others engage with aloneness and togetherness, and how people find other flows that include other ways of getting through hard times. We especially wonder where these diverse flows lead.
The next day, Julia shared this drawing with me, which I am planning to frame and hang in the office where I meet with clients.
Image description: A piece of art made for my by my classmate. Text reads ‘Making London Fox/Fog/Frog out of Lemons in an Mug ~ How Tiffany makes time and space for getting through hard times.’
The fox/fog/frog piece is an inside joke based on some pronunciation chaos, and the art itself has become another part of the collective document, and a gift that tethers me back to the idea of community, connection, and collaborative learning.
So, how does this have the potential to help my clients?
The idea that the skills, values, beliefs, or knowledges that get us through hard times have their own histories, their own roots into our communities, and their own rich stories is one that can be incredibly helpful when we are struggling. Often, we breeze past the skills, beliefs, values, and knowledges that get us through our days – small things, like a mug of tea, or larger things, like the ability to plan a trip or create art.
Narrative therapy offers practices to help us recognize, honour, and document these skills, beliefs, values, and knowledges.
This can be useful for groups, such as partners or family groups going through a hard time. It can also be useful for individuals. And the process of documentation can help translate those skills, beliefs, values, and knowledges into something tangible and material, that can be reviewed when needed, or shared.
If you’re going through a hard time, maybe this practice will help! You can answer the questions for yourself, or with someone in your family, friend group, or community. You can also create the document yourself. And if you’d like help with it, I would love to work together.
Good morning, friends and supporters and new acquaintances!
This is our monthly review/preview post. These posts are one way that I keep myself accountable to my patrons (and my own goals), and they also offer people who might want to participate in my ongoing collective projects an opportunity to see what’s going on.
March was a busy and rewarding month – I spent three weeks in Australia, attending the Advanced Narrative Practices teaching block for my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. It was an incredible experience. I really felt like I was at home with my colleagues – I felt like I fit in, and that what I had to contribute was welcome in the space. There are a bunch of collaborations simmering, and I feel like the choice to do this Masters program, even with the cost and stress, was the right one.
Now, the projects! I’m going to try a new format for this post, with the goal of prioritizing my collaborative projects and welcoming new contributors.
So, first, open calls for contributors and participants! These are the projects that are currently in process and open to participation. If you want to get involved, get in touch with me! You can email me, find me on Facebook, or be involved by supporting the Patreon. I do most of this work without any funding or financial gain, and my patrons make that possible.
Extroversion and Mental Health – This project has been percolating for a while, and the initial interviews have been really exciting. My goal for this project is a multi-media resource with validation and support for people who experience themselves as extroverts and struggle with doing self-care and managing challenges like depression, anxiety, or suicidality. The reason this project feels important is because so much mental health content seems to assume introversion, and so many cultural norms equate extroversion with resilience and strength. The multi-media piece is because the extroverts I’ve spoken with so far have consistently commented on video and audio being easier to engage with than pure text, so I’m branching out my resource generation skills and I’m going to learn how to do video! And audio! It’s going to be exciting. Do you want to get involved? I am interested in talking with folks who identify themselves as extroverted (sometimes or all the time), and particularly folks whose extroversion intersects with marginalized identities or neurodivergences – autistic extroverts, fat extroverts, depressed and anxious extroverts, BIPOC extroverts, and all those other folks whose bodies and selves are excluded, dismissed, or expected to be quiet. (This project will overlap with the Quiet Crew collaboration, which you can read about further on!) You can participate online via a skype or text interview, in person in either one-on-one or (if there’s interest) group interviews/conversations, remotely by sending me your thoughts on the topic freeform, or by answering a questionnaire (which isn’t designed yet, so if that’s your pick, just let me know and I’ll get that put together!) I will also be looking for folks who want to do audio or video interviews or segments.
Financial Self-Care Under Capitalism – This project is well underway now, and I’m in the process of arranging interviews, collecting questionnaire responses, and figuring out what this project might look like in its final form. What I am picturing right now is a multi-part project – a downloadable PDF resource (my specialty!) and an ongoing Tumblr project, Nopenomics, that you can read about further on. If you want to participate in this project, we can chat online or in-person, you can send me your thoughts freeform, or you can answer a questionnaire (which has been created, so it can be in your inbox today!). I am particularly interested in hearing from people who are struggling financially, and I am not going to be creating a “stop eating avocado toast” resource – this is meant to be an exploration of how we survive under the abuses of capitalism, and how we resist the harmful individualizing narratives around money that often ignore the structural issues and injustices that so many of us our dealing with. Issues of intergenerational poverty and financial disadvantage, which are so real for Black and Indigenous folks, and also issues of chronic underemployment and housing insecurity, which are so prevalent for many trans and queer folks, will all be acknowledged. This resource is meant to be an honouring of the ways in which we on the margins weave our thin threads into safety nets to keep ourselves and each other alive, and the ways in which we use our money in ways that may not make sense within neoliberal middle-class economics, but do help us keep our heads above water enough to get a gasp of air.
Self-Care for Queer Geeks – This is the resource that accompanies the March Possibilities event. Since I wasn’t at that event, and it was a small event (it was actually only Scott!), I’m collecting interviews and insight from a wider audience. If you identify as queer, and as a geek, I want to talk with you! I’m interested in how we navigate geek spaces – fandoms, video games, groups, etc. – and in how we find and support and create and engage with queer-inclusive content. How do we take care of ourselves, how do we take care of each other, and how do we subvert the heteronormative, trans antagonistic, and misogynist toxicity of many geek spaces. (I have also reached out to Avery Alder to ask if she’d be willing to do an interview for this resource, but she is a busy person so I don’t know if it will work out! If there are other creators you think I should reach out to, or that you can connect me with, let me know!) Opportunities to contribute are pretty standard – in person, online, freeform, or answering a questionnaire (which is in process now and will be ready to send out by Monday).
Feminism from the Margins – This is the project launched last month with my amazing friend Dulcinea Lapis. We’re looking for contributors who want to speak back to the cis white feminism that was so glaringly on display in many International Women’s Day events. This is a year-long project, and we’ll be posting each month, on the 8th, as a way to extend the IWD conversation both in scope (including more marginalized voices, such as trans women, women of colour, non-binary folks, sex workers, and others) and in duration (lasting a whole year rather than contained to one day). I put up the April contribution on the 8th – it’s an open letter to marginalized feminists by Michelle Dang, and it is fantastic. We are still looking for contributors, so if you’re interested, get in touch!
Getting Through the Bad Gender Feels – This is another project that is just starting to gain some momentum. I am interested in speaking with anyone who is trans, non-binary, two-spirit, or otherwise not cisgender (though I do also wonder about including some of the bad gender feels that can happen even to cis folks – am on the fence, and open to your thoughts). If you’d like to contribute or participate in this project, let me know! I’m still working on what format it will take, but I’m starting to collect ideas, interviews, and information.
And then, upcoming events! Here’s where you can find me, online and in-person.
April 8. Sunday morning is the Self-Care Salon! This month we’re talking about self-care for professionals on the margins, and my guest presenter will be Jonathan Griffith, a queer lawyer specializing in family law. We’ll be meeting at Loft 112, from 10:30-12:30, and this will be a special brunch event. (Keep an eye open for the May salon on May 6, it will be part-two in the 3-part series I’m presenting with Pedrom Nasiri, and next month we’ll be talking about polyamory for marginalized folks.)
April 17. Our monthly Possibilities meeting. This month, we’ll be talking about Self-Care and The Closet. We’ll be talking about dominant narratives about the closet, and all the ways in which the closet is complex – it can be oppressive but it can also be freeing, and there are many ways to approach the idea of closets and coming out. At the narrative therapy teaching block, I had the honour of meeting and learning from Sekneh Hammoud-Beckett, whose paper “Azima ila Hayati – an invitation in to my life : narrative conversations about sexual identity” introduces the idea of “inviting in” rather than “coming out,” which can be more culturally resonant for the Muslim youth that she works with. If anyone wants to read this paper ahead of the event, let me know! And as always, I’ll be generating a resource following this conversation and you are welcome to participate in that conversation whether you attend the event or not.
April 23. Trust and Attachment is the latest online course offering, and I am SUPER EXCITED about this course! You can read all about it at the link, but the deets are these: starts April 23, runs for 6 weeks, costs $150 (with sliding scale available and a discount for Patreon supporters). This course grew out of the Bridges and Boundaries course that ran earlier this year, but you do not need to have taken that course to take this one. Register by letting me know that you’re interested!
And now, here are the collaborations and projects that are either theoretical, in the planning stages right now, or coming up in the next month. Many of these ideas were hatched at the teaching block!
I’ll have three assignments due in the Masters program in April – two reflections on readings, and one project outline for my year-long practice innovation project. I have no idea what that project is going to be, but I have many ideas about what it might be. As always, I’ll post my papers for patrons to read.
I’m organizing a sustainability for narrative practitioners group on Slack.
I am coordinating a Dictionary of Delicious Failures collective document. This will involve a bunch of folks (and I’ll be organizing an event in Calgary in May, so keep your peepers peeled for that). Julia, one of my classmates, will be coordinating a similar event in Nepal, and Trina, another narrative practioner, will be coordinating an event in Denmark. Other folks might also join us, but those are the three that are planned.
The Quiet Crew is a group working on bringing together stories of quiet resistance and activism, and challenging the perception of quietness with social anxiety. I met up with one of their members while I was in Adelaide, and we are excited about potential collaborations (particularly when it comes to this project and the extroversion project being two sides of a similar coin – assumptions made about identity based on behaviour).
The Nopenomics Tumblr. This doesn’t exist yet, but it will. A Tumblr open to submissions about all the ways in which we resist, challenge, subvert, fail, and struggle under capitalism. I’m hoping to have a Tumblr + a quarterly zine!
Another classmate would like me to send her 20-ish words that are particularly relevant to the LGBTQIA2S+ communities and she’s going to work with her communities in Mumbai to translate them into three Indian languages. This is part of a project exploring culturally specific experiences of queerness, and it grew out of a conversation she and I had after I collaborated with four of my classmates (all amazing people) to host a presentation and conversation on Judith Butler and gender. You can see the influence of these conversations in the upcoming Possibilities event, and I’m excited to expand my practice to include more awareness of these culturally-specific experiences.
Julia, a classmate and new friend, and I are going to keep in touch regarding mistakes and harm in narrative practice, since we’re both interested in learning how to avoid them (and we’ve both experienced fucking up, haha). Julia, for the record, is just lovely. I am so glad to have met her. She’s also the person who drew the picture of my London Fog octopus, which I shared with patrons in March!
Rosie, another classmate and new friend, and I are … I don’t even know, there are at least ten different potential collaborations. We’re going to keep in touch. They’re going to contribute to the Bad Gender Feels project, for sure, and we’re also considering some kind of trans-continental gender project, bringing their group into conversation with Possibilities and the queer community in Calgary. (Get it? TRANS-continental? Oh my god, I’m hilarious.)
Cheryl White is working on a project about finances, and we’re going to talk about whether her project and my financial self-care under capitalism project might have some collaborative potential. (Cheryl White is one of the core thinkers within narrative therapy, and is the director of the Dulwich Centre and just all around an incredible badass. I really hope this collaboration happens!
Gipsy (the daughter one of the faculty) and I are going to talk about a potential collaboration between the crip crew in Calgary and her Invisible Disability Warriors here in Adelaide. This was a result of me mentioning that I have a few clients dealing with chronic pain or long-term illness, and wanting to find a way to support them better, and Rosie getting super excited and connecting me with Gipsy. We’ve been in touch, and the first stage of this collaboration will be her sending me the video and booklet that her group of ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia folks have created, and then myself and some other folks in Calgary will create an “outsider witness response” document. This is a narrative practice that I learned in Adelaide at the teaching block, and I’m excited to try it out. The second stage of this collaboration might be the Calgary group creating our own booklet and video, and sending it back to Gipsy and her community.
Two of my classmates have trans clients that they’d like help supporting, so both of them will be getting some extra support from me on that – mostly I’m going to send them articles and books to read, but they also wondered if I’d be willing to chat with clients and I said yes. (So, my patrons are supporting me in helping create trans-inclusive therapy settings around the world! I would really love to get involved in more of this kind of work, so I’m hoping that these first two efforts go well.)
And last, but absolutely not least, I’m applying for a Student Engagement Grant from the University of Melbourne, and the project that I’m applying with is the Well, This Sucks project with my sister! (I bet you were wondering where that project would show up in this post. Or maybe you weren’t. But I saved it for last because I am so excited about this!!!!!) The grant application is due April 15, and I’ll be posting my drafts for patrons. 😀
Curious about that project? Check it out:
From the email I sent to David Denborough, when first floating the idea of applying for the grant –
Well, This Sucks. This is a project that I’m collaborating with my sister, Domini, to coordinate. It’s meant to be, in its final form, a collection of “pods” of information for various demographic groups with information on responding to sexual trauma. It was born out of our experience of responding to an assault, and then over the year that followed, tripping over all these gaps in available information and represented voices. We saw a lack of resources for the men who are partnered with people who have been through a sexual trauma, particularly straight cisgender men who are often excluded from most conversations about how to do the emotional work of support. We also saw a lack of resources for more conservative parents who don’t know how to respond or what to say, and end up either saying nothing or falling back on victim blaming narratives. And a lack of resources for supporters who are survivors themselves, navigating the complexity of that. (And that was just in our very immediate circle.)
Then we started looking a bit outside our circle, once we were through the very immediate experience, and realizing how many other voices are missing from so many conversations about this.
What we’re picturing is a web portal that guides people through a series of questions and lands them in a pod of information and resources that is generated collectively by people who share some of their identities or experiences (so, video content and stories from straight cisgender men to welcome other straight cisgender men into a supportive role, and stories and video from men who have experienced assault to create space for other men who are going through the same thing, each in their own pod of information, and so on). The reason we decided on pods was because Domini and I have very different communities – Domini is doing her feminism within more rural conservative communities where issues of queerness, gender, and justice require different language (much more “inviting in” than “coming out” in those spaces!), and I do mine within urban, political queer, trans, and feminist communities that have very different languages and cultural norms. We decided not to try and meet in an uncomfortable middle, but rather honour the diversity of these two very different spaces, and create content that shares a goal of supporting communities following an assault, but doesn’t demand that everyone use the same language or approach the issue in the same way. This was especially important because often the language and norms from my communities is framed as being “better” or “more progressive” than the language and norms from Domini’s communities, but in lived experience this is not always the case. Social justice groups may have all the “right” language, but sometimes they are deeply lacking in compassionate support. Our worry was that if we tried to use language that would feel inclusive of my communities, it would end up feeling alienating for Domini’s communities, and we would lose all the rich insight and experience of folks who can’t speak the Social Justice Warrior dialect and are more “rough around the edges”. (And we also just wouldn’t be able to help them.) So, multiple languages!
Anyway, what I thought for the grant was maybe creating one of the pods! I know that Domini would be keen on the one for straight cis men who are supporters, and that might have some interesting overlap with the masculinities project, too. (I’m partway through reading Michelle Dang’s paper on community responses to sexual assault and she and I will be talking about this project, too!)
I am most excited about this project because my sister is amazing, we’ve been in the planning process for almost a year now, and I think that when this project gets going it is going to be really great. But I’m also somewhat hesitant about it, because it’s huge and it will require a lot of skill, intentionality, and strong supportive partnerships willing to keep us on track and call us in when we fuck up. It’s like… 73% excitement, 21% apprehension, 6% terror.
Reading this again, I realize that I use a lot of exclamation points. Ha.
DD wrote back and said that he thought this project would be a good fit, so we’re going ahead with the application, and we’ll be generating the content for the pod focused on cis straight men who are supporters/partners of assault survivors. So there will be a call for contributors going out once this is underway!
And that’s that! These posts go up early for patrons (and sometimes never make it onto the blog – sorry, February/March!). There’s a lot happening, even more than is listed here, and I’m excited about it!
Image description: A cup of tea on a purple background, with flowers scattered around it.
Trust and Attachment: A six-week online course exploring how we engage with each other.
Starts April 23. email@example.com to register. tiffanysostar.com.
$150, sliding scale available, discount for Patreon members.
“Delectable tea or deadly poison?”* the question we ask in every encounter.
* Uncle Iroh, Avatar: The Last Airbender 2.2
An exciting thing happened in the Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care course. Part-way through, as the participants engaged with the content and the course flexed to meet the needs that were brought forward, I realized that there was a whole other course that needed to happen. (Well, first I thought it was going to be a one-week extension. Then three weeks. Then, finally, I realized that it needed to be a whole course!)
What we found as we worked through the complexities of building bridges and setting boundaries in order to care for ourselves within our relationships, was that Trust and Attachment were there at every turn.
How do you decide whether to reach out, to build a bridge? Trust. Attachment.
How do you find the ability to set a boundary in a relationship that you want to maintain, and how do you know which boundaries to set? Trust! Attachment!
You need trust – in yourself, in your relationships, in the people you’re engaging with. And you need to feel connected – to have some sense of safe attachment.
Some of the questions that came up in Bridges and Boundaries were about navigating relationships after a foundation-rocking betrayal – when we feel like our ability to trust anyone at all has been eroded or fractured. Some were about how to navigate relationships when we are constantly anxious about being abandoned, when we are looking for rejection and finding it everywhere, when we don’t feel safe in our attachments. Some were about rebuilding trust in specific relationships. And others were about how to build trust internally – how to trust our own selves.
These are all questions I have grappled with in my own life, too.
So this, Trust and Attachment, is the course that grew out of those rich and meaningful questions in Bridges and Boundaries.
It is an extension of the ideas in that first social self-care course, but it’s been designed so that you can take this course whether you took the first course or not. That’s partly because these ideas are so huge that I could run ten courses on social self-care without running into repetitiveness, but it’s also because in between designing Bridges and Boundaries and designing this course, I completed the Advanced Narrative Practices teaching block in my Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. That means I have new skills and new perspectives to bring into this course, and I’m so excited about it!
So, what can you expect?
Well, first of all, there’s going to be some Avatar trivia. Both The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. (The movie doesn’t exist, don’t worry.) But you don’t need to be a big anime fan, and it won’t rely on you knowing the show. I just love the way that the two Avatar series both engage with topics of trust and attachment in fun but nuanced and complex ways. Plus, Uncle Iroh will help us get through. 😉
The course is six-weeks long. You do not need to have taken any of my previous courses. The cost is $150, with sliding scale available and a discount for Patreon supporters. The way sliding scale works in my business is that you do not have to explain or justify your need for it – our society does too much poverty-shaming already. I trust you to know your needs and to know your resources. You’re the expert in your own life, and if you feel that this course is something that would help you, I want to offer that!
Throughout the course, we will be intentionally challenging the idea of “trust issues” and “attachment issues” as problems that exist within us as “broken” or “damaged” people, and we’ll be talking about how these individualizing narratives can contribute to our sense of isolation, powerlessness, and hopelessness. And, importantly, we’ll talk about alternatives.
In Week One, we’ll work on identifying the problem and our responses to it. This will be different for everyone, and the course content will offer writing, art, and conversation prompts to get you thinking about the topics.
In Week Two, we’ll work on deepening our narratives about how we respond to situations that challenge us when it comes to trust or attachment. We’ll identify our specific skills, and trace their histories.
In Week Three, we’re going to tackle trust directly. What are the dominant discourses about trust? What stories do we tell in our media, our cultural expectations, our ideas about ideal relationships, ideal people, ideal behaviours? We’ll talk about our experience of trust, trustworthiness, being trusting, and losing, breaking, or damaging trust.
In Week Four, attachment gets a turn. What are the dominant discourses about attachment? We’ll talk about attachment theory, attachment styles, and our own personal, familial, and cultural narratives of attachment.
In Week Five, we’ll use a specific narrative practice called the Team of Life to identify the people in our lives that support our efforts to develop and sustain safe and fulfilling relationships. (And, as a special in-course bonus offer, if any course participants are interested in a re-membering conversation – a narrative practice that can help us process grief and loss and honour the contributions that people have made to our lives – I’ll be offering one-on-one sessions for that.)
In Week Six, we’ll use another narrative practice and work on “Migrations of Identity” – mapping pathways from the problem we identified in week one, to our preferred ways of being.
Does this sound exciting?
Do you want to explore trust and attachment in ways that are more nuanced and less blaming?
If so, send me a message and register!
The course starts April 23.
At the beginning of January, I posted about upcoming projects. At the beginning of February, I posted this on my Patreon! If you’d like to see what I’m up to in a more timely manner, I definitely recommend the Patreon. One of the benefits is you’ll see posts theoretically a week early, but actually more like a week and a half, since I am forever struggling with herding those to-doodles. This version of the post is updated to add details that have developed in the last 12 days. Phew! What a moving target life is.
One reason I’m going to keep up with the review/preview posts through 2018 is because I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself, not attain those unrealistic goals, and then feel like a failure. I would like to start documenting my goals and my work, so that I can bring my goal-setting more into alignment with my actual available time, energy, and financial resources.
This will be particularly important in this upcoming year because my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program starts this month. (Yes!) Update: Today! It starts today! Once I hit publish on this post, I’ll be hopping over to the UofMelbourne site to get started on my readings!
I work with people to help them develop sustainable self-care strategies and to help them make progress on the goals that are important to them. I want to help myself in that way, too. And the first thing I tell almost every client is – start noticing. If a client came to me with my life and asked for help, I would say – Notice what you’re asking of yourself, notice what you’re accomplishing, notice how it feels, notice what choices you’re making to support and care for yourself. See it, name it, make space for it.
So that’s what I’m doing in these monthly posts, and I’m hoping to keep that up throughout this year.
So here’s what I accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) in January, and what’s on tap for February.
– The Caring for Neurodivergent Kids book club has soft-launched. The Facebook group has been created, and the first book has been chosen. We’ll be reading No You Don’t by Sparrow Rose Jones, the author of Unstrange Mind. There is still space available in the book club, so if you’re in Calgary and interested, let me know! Our first meeting will be happening at the end of February. If you’re not in Calgary, or not able to attend, I’ll still be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on the blog. Update: mid-March for the first meeting, so that we have time to read the book, which hasn’t arrived yet.
– The Extroversion and Self-Care/Mental Health resource is progressing slowly. We ran into a few hiccups with scheduling because January was full of migraines and illness for myself and the people I was trying to coordinate with. It’s progressing, though! And there is definitely still opportunity to get involved, if you’re interested. Update: I had an absolutely fantastic interview with someone for this project, and have a refined vision of what kinds of issues to include in the resource. Namely, the expectation placed on extroverts to be perpetually resilient and constantly available.
– The collaboration with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, has a name. Well, This Sucks will be a resource to help support that self-care and recovery process for folks following sexual assault – both the survivors and the people supporting them. I’m not 100% ready to reveal the major changes to the plan but trust me when I say… it grew exponentially. It started as a plan for a downloadable resource, similar to other resources I create on specific topics, and over the course of this month, during discussions between Domini and I, and one really fantastic interview with a community member, it grew. And it grew in ways that made my therapist say “wow, that sounds really exciting!” Domini and I are heading out of town for a day of planning, budgeting (yes, it has become a plan that requires a budget), and preliminary-outlining. I’ll have more to share after we get back! Update: Ye gods, is there a lot to share. This will be a whole post.
– The Bad Gender Feels resource is also slowly progressing. Very slowly, but that’s okay.
– The January Possibilities event was great, and the Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers resource was posted earlier this week. In February, we’ll be talking about Self-Care in Queer Relationships. I think the upcoming discussion and resulting resource will be important, and I’m really excited about it.
– The February Self-Care Salon will feature Rein Sastok presenting on self-care for teachers and other child-centric professionals, with the conversation also extending to parents, stepparents, and other carers. To be honest, I have been struggling with the Self-Care Salons – attendance is low, and I have yet to cover the costs of renting the space and paying the guest speakers. Update: This was cancelled. We are still going to generate a resource, to be completed in May, with companion modules for professionals and parents/stepparents/non-parent carers.
– Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care has launched, and I am really happy with how it’s going! I also had the realization, as I finalized the Week Two content earlier this week, that once I’ve run each of the four core courses this year, I will have 200+ pages of work, which could form the backbone of a book on self-care. That’s not something I’m committing to, it’s just sort of floating around in my head as a thing that could happen.
– Speaking of books… the 100 Love Letters book is… still going to be happening. I did make some progress on it this month – I won that package of coaching sessions for writers back in December and I had the first coaching call on January 18. I’ll be slowly (emphasis on slowly, and on low pressure) moving ahead with this project.
– I haven’t made a ton of progress on pulling my work off of Facebook and onto the blog more consistently. For some reason, that extra step just feels overwhelming. I am considering figuring out some kind of content management system that will let me cross-post to multiple platforms at once. But I’m not 100% sure when I’m going to do that so… we’ll see. But I do know that many of my favourite people have fled the mess that is the books of face, and I want to stay connected. It’s simmering in the back of my head. I’ll figure something out, but I’m not sure what or when.
– I started working on the disenfranchised grief project(s). There is a set of grief-related projects that are coming up. One is a resource on sibling loss, and I’m collaborating with a new friend, who has lost a sibling, on that project. We’ve started pulling notes and resources together. Another is on the loss of someone who is addicted or street-involved, because that grief is so complicated by our victim-blaming culture. And the third is a project on anticipatory grief. This is all in the preliminary stages, but I’m including it here because it’s been floating to the front of my mind pretty regularly this month and I’ve spent time and energy on it.
– I’ve kept up with the Tender Year posts, and am posting those on my personal facebook page (almost) every day! I’m really proud of this project, and of the fact the three of us collaborating on the project have stuck with it for 120+ days so far. I don’t know what will come of this work, but I am excited about it either way.
And in terms of new goals and projects for February.
– That Master program thing. I’ll be doing a lot of reading in February, but I won’t have my first written assignment due until early March. Would patrons be interested in hearing about what I’m reading and learning? I will definitely have to slow down on the output of my other writing (look, aiming for sustainability!) and this would be one way to keep up my end of the Patreon deal. (I will still be producing the Possibilities resource and the Patreon reward posts each month, and I’ll still be working on the other resources, just a bit more slowly.)
– I’m going to take one day off every week this month. That’s not an “output” goal but I think it is important to take note of. I had hoped to do that in January and it just fell apart after the … honestly, I only managed it one week in the whole month. So, I’m putting it here as part of the accountability part of this project. Update: Lol. BUT! I am trying. This week, for sure. For sure!
– I have two outstanding Patreon reward posts for January, and one Patreon supporter whose birthday is in February who has asked me to do something super terrifying rather than write them a reward post. So, I’ll be catching up on those two posts and also considering the absolutely mortifying idea of setting up some kind of crowdfunding for the financial gap I’m looking at over the course of this year. I will, even if I don’t set up any crowdfunding, definitely be writing about the process. I think that money shame is a topic I’ll be tackling in February. (And by “tackling” I mean “sidling up to slantwise and with much trepidation.”)
– I’ll be hosting another Smutty Story Circle facilitated writing group for the Calgary Centre for Sex Positive Culture on March 2. (I know that’s not February, but I’ll be doing all the prep in February.)
– I’ll be meeting with a professional grant writer this month to talk about finding some funding for the (suddenly enormous) collaboration with my sister, and possibly for some of my other work. Update: Wednesday! Wish me luck.
And, of course, continuing to post about self-care, including Stick Figure Sunday and Woodland Wednesday, on the Facebook page.
If you want to be involved in any of the collaborative projects, let me know! And if you have any feedback on the projects, or other projects that you’d like to see added to the slow-moving list, let me know that, too!
I really could not be putting as much energy, time, and effort into creating the self-care resources without the support of my Patreon patrons. When I get discouraged, and feel like my work isn’t making a difference because the world is just so sharp these days, the fact that people consider my work worth supporting keeps me going.
Two more updates: First, I lost one of my paying jobs. This is a big deal, because I was already facing some challenges on that front. I’m applying for more editing work, and renewing my focus on finding ways to get the word out about the coaching business. And second, I am launching an exciting new tarot project. It’ll be separate from this work, so if you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll connect you with that!
Image description: A grey-haired person (me!) holds up a card that says “You’re a Tea-rrific Friend!” and a box that is labeled “Letters to Myself” – these are items from the self-care kits described in this post.
I spent a bit of time today putting together the self-care kits for the Bridge-building Giveaway and the Boundary-setting Giveaway. I’m happy with how they’ve come together, and I think the winners will be getting something worthwhile.
But I found it interesting how much easier it was to put the bridge-building kit together and how few people entered that giveaway, in comparison to how difficult it was to put the boundary-setter kit together and how many people have entered (you can still enter until 9 am Sunday! Just poke through the pictures on my Facebook page to find the giveaway).
There is a lot of external support for bridge-building – card sections, books about friendship and the value of social support, gift books about friendship, a TON of books about romance, heaps of books about family connections. If you want to build bridges, it seems like there’s an almost infinite amount of support.
And although there are folks working on boundaries, and there are books about boundaries, there is just not the same range of material available. And most of the stuff that I would recommend is not easily packed up into a gift box.
I sincerely believe that the bridge side of social self-care is critically important – the willingness to be vulnerable, to ask for support and connection, to reach out after an absence, to recognize our own needs and honour them by seeking connection, to learn what meaningful connection means *for us* and work towards it.
I think this is just as important as the boundary side of social self-care – knowing our limits, recognizing and communicating where we end and others begin, allowing ourselves to step into the risky space of saying “no”, setting limits that allow the kind of expansiveness, spaciousness, and generosity that can only happen when we feel that we have agency and choice.
But I think that it is much easier to talk about building bridges than it is to talk about setting boundaries. I think that we sort of gloss over and ignore the sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that we feel – it doesn’t feel as important to build bridges because, really, there ARE all those books out there, and anyway, what is the point of a bridge when our boundaries are being trampled every single day?
But as I put the kits together, and as I worked on the course content for Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care, which is starting on Monday, I felt sad about this.
I know that in my own life, both bridges AND boundaries are important. I spend so much time not knowing how to connect meaningfully to my communities while operating under the pressures of capitalism, the stress and pain of chronic illness, the fog of depression and anxiety. I do need boundaries, but I need bridges, too. And although there is a wealth of material available, so much of it feels trite, superficial, and steeped in ableism, heteronormativity, and the casual assumption that we are all part of the (vanishingly rare) middle class.
Bridge-building is a skill. Maintaining (and finding!) friendships and other meaningful connections takes effort, and has to happen in combination with boundary work, so that our bridges are safe and life-enhancing. It’s a skill that many of us struggle to learn, because as often as we walk past the card section, how often do we actually feel confident in reaching out to our communities, in being vulnerable, in establishing intimacy that is consensual and brave?
It’s harder to talk about boundaries much of the time, because boundaries are tangled up with feelings of shame, obligation, attachment, fear, and vulnerability. Some of us struggle more with boundaries than bridges. Some of us struggle more with bridges than boundaries. But I think they’re both so important for our social wellbeing, and I think that often when we struggle with one, we’re also struggling with the other.
Hopefully, the course will offer support for both!
(Among the boundary supports I would recommend, which are not easily packed up but thankfully ARE easily shared –
I’ve spent the last couple days mapping out my immediate upcoming projects. It’s pretty exciting, and there are many things coming up that you can be part of!
Check these projects, collaborations, and events out, and get in touch with me if there’s anything that piques your interest.
- I’m launching a book club for parents, stepparents, and caregivers of autistic kids. We’ll be reading books by autistic authors, and recentering the conversation about what autistic kids need away from neurotypical experts, to autistic experts. I feel like this is a critical counter to the standard approach, and it’s important to me because both of my stepkids are autistic. I want to do the best that I can for them, and that means listening to autistic adults. You can get involved by sending me a message and letting me know you want in. Unlike most of my work, this one will be in person. We’ll be meeting once a month-ish at my home, so space is limited. However, I’ll be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on this blog.
- I’m collaborating on the creation of a resource for extroverts, addressing self-care and mental health, since so much of the available self-care and mental health writing assumes introversion, or assumes that being outgoing and social is incompatible with depression or suicidality. You can get involved by sending me a message. Our first in-person round table discussion is coming up on Saturday, and there will be a second in-person round table discussion later on. You can participate online (in text or skype interviews), in person (in one-on-one interviews or round table discussions), or some combination of these. I am particularly interested in talking with folks whose experience of extroversion has been impacted by cultural norms that don’t leave space for extroversion. (For example, autistic folks are assumed to be inherently introverted, and so are many Asian folks, while Black and Indigenous women are interpreted as “angry” or irrational if they’re extroverted, and women in general often find it difficult to be accepted as extroverts without being shamed for being “gossipy,” “loud,” or other unacceptable things.)
- I’m collaborating with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, to create a resource for survivors and supporters following sexual assault, to help build and sustain networks of support following a crisis. You can get involved by sending me a message. We’re meeting with people one on one to chat, and also talking with folks online. This is going to turn into a zine (or similar), with stories, resources, and action plans for survivors and supporters following sexual assault. We noticed a pretty big gap in the available resources, and a lot of “lean on your community” without a lot of insight into what that looks like, how to ask for what you need, how to keep boundaries between yourself and your supporters. And for supporters, a lot of “believe them, be there for them” without a lot of information about how to do self-care during the crisis so you don’t end up burning out (or worse, turning around and leaning back on the person who has just been through a trauma), how to maintain boundaries with the person you’re supporting, how to reach out for your own support in safe and respectful ways. We’re going to attempt to fill that gap a bit. I’m also interested in talking with professionals who would like to contribute. (This one is coming up quickly, so get in touch asap if you want to be involved.)
- I’m working on a resource to help folks navigate those “Bad Gender Feels” days. This project is in the germination stage, but I am starting to meet with folks to talk about what would be helpful and what they’d like to see included in a resource like this. This resource will also include information for parents and other supporters of trans and gender non-conforming kids who want to help them get through those dysphoric days.
- Possibilities Calgary events are running on the third Tuesday of each month at Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village, and are always free to attend. Every month has a theme, and our in-person discussion becomes the framework for a shareable, downloadable, free resource booklet. You can participate at the conversations, or by sending your ideas or suggestions once the monthly topic is announced. (January is Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers.)
- The Self-Care Salons are running every month on the first or second Sunday at Loft 112 in the East Village. The cost is $50, sliding scale is available. Every month includes an in-depth conversation and a resource book. 10% of the profit from the Self-Care Salon goes to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge. (In January, Vincci Tsui, RD will be facilitating a discussion about food, health, and bodies that is size-inclusive, anti-diet, fatphobia-challenging – Self-Care Salon: Bodies, Food, and Health.)
- Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care will be launching Jan 22. It’s a 6-week online course focusing on building tools for social self-care. The cost is $150, sliding scale is available, and it’s going to be awesome. You can sign up by sending me a message.
- You can also get involved by supporting my Patreon. And at the $10/month level, I’ll write you a post on the self-care topic of your choice. My Patreon supporters are the reason I’m able to put so much time and effort into developing resources that are comprehensive, inclusive, and available for free.
- And, lastly, my self-care and narrative coaching (for individuals and relationships) is on sale until the end of January. You can check out my services on my Facebook page (I’m in the process of updating this website to be up to date), or you can just send me an email! A single session ($150) is 10% off, a package of 3 ($400) is 15% off, and a package of 10 ($1200) is 20% off.
There are other projects coming up that aren’t collaborations or events, too. Blog posts and other plans for creating new work, mapping out my content focus for the year. 2017 focused on wholeness and integration, and 2018 will focus on hope. I’m in the process of figuring out what that means, and how to bring that focus into my various pieces of work.
I’m also working on pulling some of my work off of Facebook and making it accessible elsewhere. I’ll be shifting my Tender Year posts into a new blog (and cross-posting with Facebook), and once that’s up and running, I’ll share the link here. I’ll also be posting more of my self-care content onto my Tiffany Sostar blog so that people can read it without being on Facebook.
And, perhaps most exciting for me, two major projects are lurching up to speed:
- the book I’ve been talking about and writing about and thinking about for ages is happening and I’ve started to pull the content together for it, so watch for updates on the 100 Love Letters book coming throughout this year, and,
- I’m 83% certain I’ll be doing the Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community Work this year at the Dulwich Centre (I’ve been accepted into the program, and now I just need to sort out funding – yikes!)
And one major project is just starting to simmer more assertively:
- I’m putting together my speaker event wish list, and starting to think about restarting the UnConference Series and bringing people in for events (Avery Alder is at the top of my wish list, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring her in for a weekend workshop on transformative gaming sometime this year).
2018 is going to be about continuing to do what I love, learning how to do it more sustainably and effectively, and working with my communities to develop strategies and resources for resilience and hope. It’s going to be good.