Tuesday, September 27, 2011

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Barbara Ann Yoder

Barbara Yoder, photo by Michelle Wing
A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico proved to be a powerful and inspiring gathering of 90 women. I am excited to be part of an interview team with the primary goal of sharing, as best we can-- via interview--highlights from the retreat, writer to writer. I rubbed shoulders with Barbara Yoder at the retreat when we volunteered to sell books before one of the evening readings. I am so pleased to introduce you to her here.

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

I’m writing a creative guide to overcoming self-censorship. The book interweaves memoir, myths, tales, and dreams with writing prompts and exercises designed to help women explore their inner lives and develop a gentle, supportive approach to writing.

How did you find your way to the subject of self-censorship and, in particular, the issue of self-censorship in women’s writing?

In the process of writing my first book another lifetime ago, I came face to face with my insecurities, compulsions, fears, perfectionism, impatience, self-tyranny, and many other bugaboos that made it difficult for me to write. After a whirlwind publicity tour for The Recovery Resource Book—replete with TV, radio, and print interviews—I went into therapy. I felt estranged from my creative center. I yearned for connection.

During my therapy years, I broke through my rigidity and fears, learned to build myself up rather than tear myself down, wrote journals and essays and stories, got an MFA in creative writing, and taught creative writing to adults in my community. I worked particularly closely with beginning women writers, and in them I saw some of the same self-censoring beliefs with which I had grappled. These issues appeared in my male students as well, but they were especially pronounced in the women. I wanted to know why.

Over the years I have come to believe that it is the cultural pressures women face, the stereotypes we see every day in the media and the misogynistic attitudes that have been passed down to us through the generations, that make us doubt ourselves and guard our voices carefully.

What myths and tales are you are working with and how did you choose them?

The book explores four major stories: “The Marriage of Psyche and Eros,” “Bluebeard,” the creation myth of the Garden of Eden, and the myth of Demeter and Persephone. In addition to retelling the stories, I interpret them in terms of personal, creative, and psychological growth, and I invite readers to write about the stories in those terms.

I didn’t choose the stories as much as they chose me. In my quest to break through self-censorship I embarked on a serpentine journey into my mythic depths. In addition to being in therapy, I read myths, tales, and scholarly and popular work about women’s psychology and spirituality. While I was in graduate school, I began retelling tales, and years after I finished school and therapy, I resumed telling and interpreting tales and making fiction out of them.

When I put the four stories together, I found that they formed a mythic foundation women could use to cultivate their inner Eros, transform the tyrant within, and embrace an affirming, sacred, empowered femininity. Together they offered deep and creative ways to overcome self-censorship.

Can you give us some examples of how you link the exercises to the tales?

Exercises—including meditations, visualizations, and writing prompts—relate closely to story characters and themes. The major and minor characters—Psyche, Eros, Aphrodite, Pan, Bluebeard, Mrs. Bluebeard, Eve, Persephone, Demeter, Hades, Rhea—are fun to work with. As we consider their behavior and explore the movement of the stories from creative, literary, feminist, and psychological perspectives, we come to know ourselves better and to discover our own stories.

Each tale also raises intriguing questions and offers many levels of meaning that will bring up memories, fantasies, images, dreams, and other material readers can explore in their journals and in their creative writing. With Psyche and Eros, there are exercises examining passion, jealousy, and the journey to the underworld. With Bluebeard we deconstruct the ways in which the archetypal abuser operates in our inner lives and our writing. With Eve we explore blame and guilt. With Demeter and Persephone, we look at our connection to the mother. My goal is to help women go deeply and gently into their material, write past their fears, and tell their tales with authenticity and passion.

How has the 2011 AROHO retreat changed you?

Before I came to the retreat, I felt isolated, unsure of my direction, ambivalent about my book, and worried about being such a late bloomer.

During the retreat, I made connections with women I admire and respect—women I’ve come to love—friendships that will last a lifetime. All week the women asked me what I was working on. They really cared, and that made all the difference.

As I talked with them, listened to their stories and presentations, shared challenges and insights, soaked up their wisdom, I felt that I had arrived. I was at home. I had a community—the kind of community I’d long been craving. I got clear on my direction. I knew that it was not too late for me; in fact, I was exactly on time, ready, willing, and energized to move into the next phase of my life as a writer.

Tell us about a woman writer who inspired you.

All of the women at the retreat inspired me!

Marilynne Robinson said, “All you need to do to be original is to consult deeply in yourself,” and I did.

Marsha Pincus helped me to break through my resistance and gather the courage to send my manuscript to readers.

Pat Fowler showed me the challenge of climbing Chimney Rock and led me to the top.

Sandra Hunter held my hand and made me laugh; I can see her chimneying up the canyon walls, a powerful image of accomplishment.

Bhanu Kapil showed me how to make a clay goddess, and the red earth pulsed in my hand.

Ruth Thompson led one of the best yoga classes I’ve ever attended, with a visualization that helped me sink my roots into the earth.

Kumkum Malik gave a meditation that was so powerful it has stayed with me. Today I can hear her calming voice inside me and it’s my voice, too: “I can do it.”

Barbara Ann Yoder is a freelance writer, editor, writing teacher, and coach who has a room of her own at home. Her fiction has appeared in Natural Bridge, and The Worcester Review, and she is the author of The Recovery Resource Book. She formerly served as executive director of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project and was a senior editor at National Writing Project.

1 comment:

Lisa R said...

I loved reading your interview with Barbara. It brought back so many wonderful moments from the AROHO retreat and helped me get to know Barbara better. I can't wait for more interviews!