Journeys Through Life

From the Coaching Desk: Giving Feedback

The best thing a coach can do for a client, be it writing or life, is to give good feedback. That is our job. Early mentors paved the way for me, modeled effective, positive techniques that go to the heart of feedback that affects change for the individuals who seek our help.

In the early days of my writing career, Women Writing for (a) Change provided a safe place to cultivate my voice. I needed that to find my way, and yet, the positive feedback was only part of the equation. I knew from my formal education in pursuit of a counseling degree, that proper feedback isn’t always easy to hear, but necessary for growth

After twelve years as a professional mediator, many years as an academic tutor for student athletes, participating in, as well as facilitating, writing workshops, escorting pilgrims on spiritual journeys, I’ve come up with a set of parameters for working with coaching clients.

  1. What are my biases? We’d like to think we don’t have any, or that they don’t enter the coaching room. However, recognizing our biases helps to balance the feedback we give. It lessens the fear of over compensation, or of not being enough. Both aspects are common to the ego-checking that I do each time I work with a client.

  2. Distinguish between the client and the circumstance or story. Years ago, I ran a childcare service. My mentor taught one simple phrase that I have carried with me. When speaking to a child who has gotten themselves into a situation, I offer, “I love you but I don’t like that behavior.”

How does that translate into giving good feedback? Separating and conveying respect for the person’s right to choose what they will take of feedback frees both the client and the coach to offer and/or take what’s given.

  1. Subjectivity and compassion must co-exist in the same space. To judge a life, a project, from an opinionated view spells disaster. My job is to enter into a coaching situation with two things in mind.

  2. First, I am not the expert at anything more than active listening, talking through, and affirmation of writing and the stories that bring people to life coaching.

  3. Second, I meet people where they are. I’ve adopted a compassionate sense after years of divorce mediation. Pain and suffering abound and I am only responsible for holding the space and the hearts of individuals.

  4. Every issue has at least one solution, even if it’s to do nothing. I offer support to the person who seeks life passage with the knowledge that they are the drivers of their own narratives.

The same holds true in my work as a writing coach. The difference is that I can offer concrete craft standards for the writing client to follow. Life coaching isn’t so prescriptive.

Next time you need an ear to bend, consider coaching. My work is driven by the client’s needs and desires.

How to Name Characters and Other Rabbit Holes.

Last month, I wrote about Robert Olen Butler’s book, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction. I wanted to share some of the resources that he suggests for creating believable fiction. Knowing the proper names of things such as what people wore in a time period, or describing features of a house, even the proper names to ignite a color scheme beyond primary colors; there’s a book that will help you research. There’s also the Dictionary of American Slang, and I’ve already found a plethora of terms to use in my writing.

One of the books mentioned is: Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana. This particular book lists names from various eras in American life as well as the most popular names from the last several decades. It got me thinking about another resource that I find particularly enjoyable: walking a cemetery. There you can read headstones and find not only first names but last names too. My favorite is in Spring Grove Cemetery and is the Krapp family plot. No individual stones surround the monument to the Krapp family, but one can always use their imagination.

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Ina

I’m sort of like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Last week, we visited some friends who are in the midst of harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes. They nearly shoved a couple pounds in our pockets, pleading with us to please, please, take some off their hands. After a salad, a b.l.t. and a great deal of moving them from counter to table and back again, I made tomato soup with basil from pots in my yard. A few servings sit in the freezer for the first fall days when a cuppa soup and a grilled cheese will taste like life itself.

My bumper crop is chocolate mint. Now if you want to grow it, I recommend a pot rather than an open ground area. This stuff spreads faster than chickweed. I love to experiment with herbs like this and Ina Garten, in her original Barefoot Contessa cookbook, has a shortbread recipe that suits me well. Nearly a pound of butter, a bit of vanilla, flour, salt and (my secret) sugar processed with fresh-cut chocolate mint leaves. In fact, I smell them baking now. Once they cool, the glaze of chocolate pieces melted with confectioner’s sugar. I can’t tell you how good these little bites are, you just have to trust me.

I justify an afternoon snack of them with an espresso because I have heard that writing burns about 50 calories per hour. If I calculate this correctly, 2 hours of writing equals 1 cookie.

Walking the Streets of Cincinnati

During the pandemic, I had some issues as a result of years of power walking. I have solved those issues and am happy to report that I’m back to my game of 4 to 6 miles of daily walks. I’d forgotten what weekends are like in Cincinnati, lots going on and this past weekend, the first in August, was no different.

I started out from my office above Roebling Point Books and Coffee in Covington, Kentucky headed for Findlay Market in the Over the Rhine district of Cincinnati. The Roebling Bridge is Cincinnati’s piece of antique furniture that is being restored but still passable by foot. In the cool of a summer breeze, I watched paddlers in kayaks and canoes make their way riding the current to a stopping point west of the bridges that cross the harbor. The sun shone down and a dream of quiet, save for the music upriver at Sawyer Point, left me yearning for another time.

Meandering through town, I passed the Netherland Hilton Hotel, where women of all walks of life emerged with pink backpacks, chattering away, their lanyards swaying with name tags and tickets for events at the Pure Romance conference held at the convention center. I smiled to myself, pulled out my phone and texted my d