THE SHORT VERSION
I've been a writer since I was 12. I'm the author of Practically Shameless, published February 2008 by my small press, Practically Shameless Press, now in its fifth printing and available for Kindle, Nook and iPad. I'm a certified Shadow Work Coach and a certified Shadow Work Group Facilitator. I live in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, and am not currently seeing clients.
A LITERARY HISTORY
In my teens and twenties, I wrote overly dramatic love stories about girls from the Midwest and their huge crushes on attractive but emotionally unavailable men. I wish I still had the stories, I'll bet they'd be hilarious. I also wrote poetry, which I still enjoy reading.
From 1970 to 1986, working in various jobs as a secretary and administrative assistant, my duties included writing of various kinds, though it wasn't reflected in my title.
As an Administrative Assistant to the Director of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1978, for example, I wrote letters for the director's signature, welcome notes and thank-you letters to the performers, and the occasional grant proposal.
My most thrilling, and occasionally terrifying duty, was writing a welcome note to a celebrity and delivering it to their dressing room along with a bottle of Chivas Regal. That's how I came to meet, and be terrified by, Jason Robards, whose piercing eyes reduced me to a quivering silence. Other guests were more amiable, among them, Christopher Walken and Cyril Cusack. In fact, my favorite memory of Annenberg is an evening spent talking with Mr. Cusack at the opening night cast party. He was warm and completely unpretentious and could talk on virtually any subject in that beautiful Irish accent. I only regret that I don't remember much of what we spoke about.
Back to school
In 1978, I returned to school to finish my bachelor's degree at Temple University. I'd become interested in writing historical essays and in 1977 published my first, "Thomas Paine, Privateersman," in a well-respected historical journal, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. My goal as I entered Temple was to learn a solid background in American history that would enable me to write biographies of Paine and other Revolutionary War figures.
After a year or so, however, it appeared that Temple's History Department didn't have the "deep bench" I was looking for, and I switched to philosophy. My major became quite the course in analytical writing, with as many as five lengthy papers to finish at one time.
I also did an internship at Sun & Moon Press, a literary press owned by Professor Douglas Messerli of Temple's English Department. Doug became a good friend and put a tremendous amount of trust in me, though I didn't have the emotional maturity to recognize and be grateful for it at the time. Although I knew nothing at all about language poetry, which was his passion and the focus of the Press's literary journal, Doug assigned me critiques of some of the poetry submissions.
A job as an editor
Doug later hired me as editor of collections to be published by the press, consisting of early journalist pieces written by novelist Djuna Barnes, who'd been the subject of Doug's doctoral thesis. For the first of these collections, Djuna Barnes Interviews, published in 1985, I wrote an Editor's Preface. For the second, New York, Prose Essays by Djuna Barnes, 1989, I researched and wrote historical sketches that placed each essay in its context. Both were translated into several languages and are now out of print, though it's still possible to find used copies at Amazon.com.
While at Temple, I also worked half-time at Temple's Law School. I was hired initially for the Dean's Office, to help acting dean Joe Marshall, whose wife, Kaki, had been my good friend at Annenberg. The Law School's Dean, I. Herman Stern, had recently died, and I was honored with the task of writing the program for his memorial service at Temple, though I had never met him.
It wasn't until 1986, however, that I began working full-time as a writer. During a brief stint as a secretary at Fortress Press in Philadelphia, I had computerized the Press' system for paying royalties and written up instructions on how to maintain the system upon my departure. I did so well at writing those instructions (40 pages in three days) that I decided on a career as a freelance technical writer. Technical writing is one of the few writing jobs that pays reasonably well. My first jobs were brochures for a small consulting firm called Steege-Thompson.
When my husband and I decided in 1986 to move to the Chicago area, Michelle Steege introduced me to a client who wanted a technical writer and didn't care if the work was submitted by long-distance. The client was Acme Markets, for whom I would spend the next year documenting their payroll/benefits system.
With that job complete, I looked for a part-time job nearby and interviewed at Direct Marketing Technology, Inc., in Schaumburg, Illinois, about 30 miles northwest of Chicago. Direct Tech, or DT, as the firm called itself, was a start-up in the direct mail processing industry. I worked half-time as a Technical Writer for about eight months until my husband was laid off and then became full-time. I remained there for 14 years, until May of 2002, eventually becoming Supervisor of Technical Writing with four writers reporting to me.
The Filmletter years
In many ways, technical writing suited me perfectly, and I enjoyed both the work and the people. My 14-mile commute each way to work, however, soon began to wear on me. I was writing screenplays as a hobby and struck on the idea of publishing a subscription newsletter about filmmaking in Chicago. In hopes that it would eventually support me financially and allow me to stop commuting, I began publishing The Chicago Filmletter in November of 1990.
For three years, I worked full-time and sent out newsletters at night. I got less and less sleep, ate more and more brownies to stay awake, and got more and more depressed as it became obvious that the newsletter would never support me. I was also seeing less and less of my husband and young daughter.
In 1993, I sold the Filmletter to two industry friends, Al Cohn and Rich Moskal. Rich sold his interest in the newsletter to Al and eventually became head of the Chicago Film Office (still was, last I heard). Al worked for a film processing firm and continued publishing until he and his wife were due to have a child, at which point he let it die a well-deserved death.
My husband had recently done a men's weekend and encouraged me to explore something similar. I was exhausted and burned out, however, and for a few years stuck to working during the day and not much else. Then in 1995, I discovered Shadow Work, and my life began to change. I began the training process (which generally takes three to five years) in 1997 and became certified for both groups and individual clients in 2001. I now do Shadow Work one-on-one with clients, in person and over the phone.
Shortly after entering the Shadow Work community, I asked if there was a book coming and was told yes, there was. A few years passed, and when nothing appeared, I decided to try my hand at it.
My idea was to write a short, simple treatise based on an audio tape, "Shadow Work Basics," that the founders had recorded several years earlier. While at a writer's retreat in the summer of 1999, I turned out about 60 pages. I put them away for a while, and on rereading them some time later, found they were as dry as dust. I tried again the following year, and the same thing happened. I was moving other people's words around on paper.
A new opportunity
It was in the summer of 2002 that I decided to advertise my coaching practice from a booth at the annual Custer Street Fair in Evanston. George Rounds, a life coach who lived nearby, dropped by. He knew of Shadow Work through the ManKind Project and asked if I would come talk about Shadow Work to the Chicago chapter of his organization, the International Coaching Federation.
I happily agreed, but when he told me I'd have only an hour in which to present Shadow Work, I had second thoughts. How on earth could I say something meaningful in a period of only an hour? I struck on the idea of telling a story about a person who puts something into shadow and how it affects her life.
To an audience of about 60 life coaches, I told the story of a six-year-old girl named Grace. She got a gold star at school, and when she brought it home to show to her family, she didn't get the approval she expected. Instead, they shamed her as a show-off, and she put her shining self into shadow. Without that part of herself, she couldn't live the life she wanted.
My audience was riveted. The room was large, with coffee and refreshments along the back wall. During my talk, which with a requested demonstration stretched to nearly two hours, not a single person got up for coffee, or more food, or to go to the bathroom, or to leave. It was my first experience using a wireless mike, and I was hooked. To my considerable surprise, I had felt completely at ease.
That experience was a revelation. I realized that the way to make the Shadow Work book my own was to flesh out the story of Grace and use it to illustrate the inner dynamics of shadow. And that's the direction I went for several years until my editor persuaded me to tell my own story instead.
That's what I've done in Practically Shameless: How Shadow Work Helped Me Find My Voice, My Path, and My Inner Gold, now in its fifth printing.
I issued an audio version of the book in March 2008. With my brother, Shadow Work founder Cliff Barry, who wrote the book's Foreword, I also issued a CD in the spring of 2008, Clean Talk, explaining Shadow Work's set of communication tools for group leaders. And in December of that year I produced a CD of my own, Home for the Holidays, Tips for a Practically Shameless Holiday Season.
In April 2015 I read an article by diversity expert Robin DiAngelo about "white fragility," and woke up to the realization that I was a "good white person" who was also a racist. The word racist has been defined in many ways; I like Jane Elliott's definition: knowing there's a difference in how people are treated based on race, and doing nothing to change it. Since then I've been learning, and leading a discussion group about race at my Quaker meeting, and writing primarily on race-related topics.
Thanks for reading.
Like amazing art? Here's the website of my husband, muralist Paul Barker.
This page last updated 8/5/17. Shadow Work is a registered trademark.