Marian Blue (3rd Quarter, 2007)

3rd Quarter, 2007
Communications Scholarship Winner
Marian Blue

Marian Blue’s award-winning essays, fiction, interviews, and poetry appear in publications such as: AWP Chronicle, Snowy Egret, Eureka Literary Magazine, Lynx Eye, Tiller and the Pen (anthology/Eighth Moon Press), A Hundred White Daffodils (Graywolf Press), Drive: Women’s True Stories from the Open Road (Seal Press), and Passing the Three Gates, Interviews with Charles Johnson (Univ. of Washington Press).

A Portion of Marian’s Winning Essay:

Marian Blue
Marian Blue

Ludovico Ariosto said that “Man proposes, and God disposes.” Five hundred years later, the quote feels appropriate to my life; I believe that communications chose me.

I’ve moved in and out of careers and organizations, but the core has always involved communications. In 1972, a small town newspaper editor asked me to start writing a column for him. Until that point, I was a closet writer. My training was on the job, and I had to learn through some mistakes about ways to talk with people in the community and on the job. I loved the work and remained a working journalist – staff and freelance – for newspapers and magazines for twenty years. I’ve been grateful to have had the opportunity to interview people in diverse fields, from the former Peace Corps Director Richard Celeste to our current Poet Laureate, Donald Hall.

Over the years, the ethics of communication began to fascinate me. I learned the importance of following through on commitments, meeting deadlines, quoting people accurately, exercising empathy in interviews and in writing about people’s experiences. Those ethics also applied to my work with editors and publishers; in various editing jobs, I had to revise others’ work in ways that captured their voices and style.

Over the years, I began to realize that communication skills must be consciously honed in order to be effective. Over time, I completed my bachelor’s degree. Gradually, I began teaching, mostly community or university extension classes focused on writing. This teaching stepped up the emphasis on communication because I learned I had to present material in many different ways in order to help others understand how they could improve their writing skills. They also needed to understand techniques and improve their writing while feeling empowered to keep at the work. Teaching also placed me within an organizational structure that was more complex than I had experienced as a freelance writers. I had to meet the school’s requirements and schedules. I needed to learn how to write a syllabus, communicate my intentions and requirements clearly, and to interact with students on professional basis that still communicated understanding and respect. I took some graduate courses, including a class in teaching composition, which gave me insight into grading practices and ways of writing comments on students’ papers that provided encouragement and instruction. In that class I learned a lot about effective written responses. In these dual fields of teaching and writing, the one consistent element has been the need for clear, constant communication, and as my awareness of this has increased, I’ve worked to improve my skills – although not in a systematic way.

When I moved to Whidbey Island in the early 1990s, I began teaching more and writing less as a freelancer, although I’ve continued in the creative fields, publishing poetry, fiction and essays. I also became involved with several community organizations as a volunteer. I was a founding member of the Whidbey Island Writers Association (WIWA). Our team – all volunteers — built an idea for a writers’ conference into an organization that today brings about 300 participants to Whidbey Island every spring and will celebrate its tenth anniversary next March; the association also offers local classes and contests for adults and students as well as readings and scholarships for students to attend the conference. WIWA also developed a low-residency MFA in creative writing, for which I served on the design committee. This program will graduate its first students in August 2007.

As the Association grew, the team needed to adapt and change; controversy and conflict popped up a number of times. While I was serving on the Executive Board, we switched the organization from a founder-run organization to a board-run organization; through the turmoil, communication skills were essential to keeping WIWA functioning.

Increasingly, I began to understand how vital it is for volunteer organizations to have some training in good communication skills; I studied books on group communication and team work, and my skills in the field improved, and I was also able to make suggestions for policies regarding communication. I serve on both the fund raising and communication committees of WIWA at this time. I feel a need to update my skills in order to be more effective in these positions.

Meanwhile, I was also doing more editing, including projects such as the anthology, Sea of Voices, Isle of Story, for the Whidbey Island Writers Association. This plunged me into small group teamwork with a co-editor, writers and a publisher – here again, I was impressed by how vital it is to communicate with respect and empathy in order to edit, accept and reject creative work.

Another book I worked on as copyeditor was a community-based book through the Goosefoot Foundation, Community at the Crossroads. Other organizations had me working with teams, including the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation (WAIF), for whom I’ve edited a newsletter for over four years. This organization has grown tremendously during the past half dozen years and, in that time, has gone through five executive directors and a number of support staff – I’ve had to work with the various people who were being hired and fired, as well as other volunteers, to get a newsletter out on time. Again, I’ve been impressed by how great the need is for open and assertive communication among the leaders and workers, staff and volunteers. Much of the personnel turnover has been directly related to misunderstandings.

Other organizations with whom I work are my church, where I serve on the Board and as the Assistant to the Committee on Publication, and Beach Watchers, an environment/educational organization. In very different ways, each of these organizations needs to be conscious of how communication affects members and volunteers as well as how it can successfully include a broader base of community members in order to extend their outreach. This is very challenging for core members who sometimes want organizations to remain unchanged and fear different opinions.

Increasingly, I’ve come to realize that communication is the essential ingredient that can open up new ways of thinking by eliminating fear – if people express understanding and empathy for each other, they are much more willing to listen and try new things.

Copyright 2007, All rights reserved.

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