Monday, November 28, 2011

Forbidden Voices Staged Reading


On October 15th Christina and I presented a staged reading of an excerpt of our performance piece, Forbidden Voices.  It was for the “Breaking Down Doors” event – a benefit for Jasmine Asian Women’s Giving Circle.  The performance also included Genki Spark a fantastic Asian women’s taiko drumming troupe.  

From our perspective the performance went well.  The audience was receptive and kind and we were “on.”  After the performance there was an open discussion about the play and the issues addressed.  It was a wonderful opportunity for us to focus on the performance piece and begin to get the word out about the work we are doing.  

We invite anyone who was present to comment on our performance and their experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Here We Go! The Debut of "Forbidden Voices"

We are thrilled to announce the debut of an excerpt of our play "Forbidden Voices:" a part of the "Breaking Silences Project: Asian American Women Speak out on Mental Illness."  It is a heartbreaking, funny and tender performance piece about the loss of young adulthood and the cultural stigma of depression and suicide.  

Our performance (which is a staged reading) is part of a fundraiser, "Breaking Down Doors" for the Jasmine Giving Circle. The fundraiser is Saturday, October 15, 2:00 to 4:00 at the Harvard-Epworth Church, 1555 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, MA. 


Please join us for a thought provoking and energetic afternoon as we share the program with Genki Spark, an all women Taiko Drumming group. Food will be served.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where to Start?


Recently, I sat down to try to write my piece for the Breaking Silences Project.  I have a lot of ideas but I was not sure where to start.  So, I started by just doing a freewrite for ten minutes on things I may want to write about.   (In a freewrite you write without stopping for a period of time, without paying attention to the formalities or grammar.  It is a stream of consciousness brainstorm of ideas and thoughts.)  Through the freewrite I realized that although I had an “idea”  of a topic for my writing, I really didn’t know on what I wanted to focus.

Then I remembered my own words as a writing teacher – start with the specific and concrete.  Use your senses and describe fully an incident or event, because through it is through the specifics that we understand and relate to another’s experience.  When I say I was depressed as an adolescent what does that really mean?    

Describing how I used to sit in the dark, at my mother’s large desk and watch the snow fall when I was twelve years old, thinking that I could walk out into the wintery night and freeze to death, describes my suicidal feelings better than saying I was suicidal at twelve.  

Tip #1: Use freewriting as a tool to generate ideas.
Tip #2: Start with the concrete and specific
Tip #3:  Show not tell.  Give details not generalities.  Let the reader make sense of what you are saying.  Describe your unhappiness – don’t just say you were unhappy.  Use your senses.  What did you hear, smell, hear, see, and feel? 
Tip #4:  Don’t worry about essay structure or grammar in the first draft.  You can revise and edit later.
Tip #5:  Use your language.  Tell your story in your words.  Don’t worry about sounding intelligent or educated or polished.  You have your own voice – try not to censor it.

Remember too that if you want writing support for this project, you can always contact Christina or me and we will be glad to talk with you, respond to drafts, or meet (if possible geographically). 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

So How WAS the Workshop? Or A Debriefing of the First BSP Writing Workshop

The Breaking Silences Project held its first writing workshop on Saturday October 30th 2010.   The purpose of the workshops is to provide a safe space to talk and begin writing about issues of mental health and our personal experiences.   Given that intent, we started with talking about confidentiality and the importance of creating a safe space to share our thoughts and writing.  (This is critical because we are talking about a taboo subject and there is still significant sigma for those of us who experience mental illness).   
After talking about confidentiality, we did initial introductions.   We then proceeded to do a reflection on the word “depression.”  In this exercise, we wrote our associations, definitions, images and stories related to the word.  We then shared our writing (although participants were not obligated to share, just invited).  In my experience doing this exercise in a variety of contexts, it is always interesting the different ways that people approach their reflections.  This workshop was no different and each woman wrote about “depression” in her own way.  For example, one woman wrote images, another wrote a story, and another wrote a list of associations.  There is no one “right” way to do the exercise and all the different takes on the word provide a richness of experience and expression.
We discussed the themes that emerged from the exercise and then we were guided by Christina in a visualization about adolescence.  After we went back to the experience of being fifteen, we wrote about what came up for us and how depression affected our adolescence.  We had a chance to discuss our writing and the issues that surfaced.  We then talked about expanding our writing and the support we might need to do that. 
From my and Christina’s perspective, the workshop was a success.  I felt that we had rich discussions about the issues and had the chance to start the writing process.
As a writing instructor, tutor, and coach, I am more than willing to assist people in their writing process individually as well as in the workshops.  We will be having other “beginning” workshops (meaning they are meant to kick start people in the writing process and get their ideas flowing).  We also plan, in the beginning of 2011, to organize drop-in writing support workshops for women who are at different stages of the writing process. 
Our next writing workshop is December 9th, 6 to 7:30 at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, 8 Ash Street, Boston, MA. Registration is required as ID is needed at entrance. Please e-mail us at breakingsilencesproject@gmail.com
For announcements of upcoming workshops you can check in with this blog from time to time, or write us at breakingsilencesproject@gmail.com to get on our e-mail list.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Brings Us to the Breaking Silences Project: Introductions


What Brings Pata to The Breaking Silences Project
In 1973, I used to sit at my mother’s large wooden desk and look out at the snowy landscape and wonder what it would be like to walk into it and freeze to death.  I was twelve years old.  And, I was depressed.  I have been struggling with depression much of my life.  When I was sixteen, I attempted suicide and was hospitalized.   I am forty-nine now and depression is still part of my landscape.  So, I come to this project with my own history of mental illness and personal experiences to share.  I also have a bone to pick.
Although I have been in the “mental health system” for over thirty years, I have often felt an outsider.  I wonder what it would have been like to have a therapist ask the question: so how do you think your cultural heritage affects your mental health?  Or what stressors are exacerbated by cultural factors?  I did not even think about how culture affected my mental health until I started studying diversity issues in college. 
When I heard about the NAMI statistic, my first reaction was, “oh, I didn’t know that!”  My second reaction was, “oh, that makes sense to me.”  The sense it made was on a personal level – I was that 16 year old Asian American girl on the brink.     However, it made me curious too.  What are the other stories of Asian American girls and women who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses?  What would it be like for a young woman to hear the voices of others who have suffered and survived?   I know that if there had been a book of women’s voices, I would have felt less alone. 
So, The Breaking Silences Project emerged from the intersection of a number of energies.  For many years, I had contemplated working on an edited book of stories of Asian American Women and our experiences with mental illness and the mental health system.  Obviously, this interest sprung from my own experiences, as well as my awareness that stories like mine were not part of the “literature” on mental health.  However, I did not act on this interest until I met Christina Chan.
Introduced by a mutual friend, Chien-Chi Huang, we started our collaboration by working on a workshop on body image and diversity for the National Organization of Women’s 2010 conference.   We are both interested in issues of body image and the role it plays on women’s lives.  In talking about the pressures of the dominate culture’s beauty ideals on Asian American women we ventured into talk about issues of self-esteem and mental health.  When I mentioned by interest in working on an edited book, Christina shared that she has wanted to do a theatre piece on the same important subject.  Thus, a new collaboration was born. 
The passion I feel about this very personal issue, spurs me to use my skills as a writer, educator, scholar, and mental health activist to do something to break the silence.  

Pata’s Bio
Pata Suyemoto an independent feminist scholar, writer, educator, and mental health activist.  She has a PhD. in education from the University of Pennsylvania and did her research on multicultural education and issues of race and racism.  She has spoken and written about her struggles with depression.  She is a volunteer for Families for Depression Awareness and in March 2009 she was profiled in an article in Psychology Today about managing one’s depression.  When not doing scholarly work, Pata is an artist, Reiki healer, avid cyclist, and bicycle riding instructor. 

What Brings Christina to The Breaking Silences Project
I first heard about the high rate of suicide and depression among Asian American girls and women at a meeting for Asian Professional women. Dr. Josephine Kim was the invited speaker and her presentation was titled “Matters of the Heart and Mind: The State of Asian American Women”.

My initial reaction was shock. Asian American girls are killing themselves and getting depressed in record numbers.  I thought, “How can that be?”

As a Chinese American woman, I want to do something about this. My work in theatre is about giving voice to the Asian American experience, in particular to Asian American women. This is a community I most identify with.

The idea for a book was planted several years prior to hearing Dr. Kim speak, when I was contacted by a literary agent. He wanted to know if I was interested in writing a book about the experiences of Asian American women. At the time I had no idea what I would want to write about. Plus, I did not consider myself a writer, even though I am a playwright.  In my mind, writing performance pieces is different from writing to an audience of readers.

But I knew I had to do a theatre piece on the statistic. Then I was introduced to Pata Suyemoto by a mutual friend. We collaborated on co-creating and co-leading a workshop for the NOW convention. The workshop was on Asian American women’s struggle with body image. We had a great time working together. Pata is a writer and poet. She had been thinking about creating an edited book. So here we are envisioning a book and play.

I bring to the project some skills: organizational, interviewing, teaching and acting. But my biggest asset is my intention.  I have a strong desire to help Asian American girls and women to find a way to heal. I had never heard of these statistics before and I’m sure many other people don’t know either. What are the stories behind the statistics? As an actor that’s what I do: tell stories. Stories unite people. Let’s not be quiet, demur about the suicide and depression rate. Let’s shout it out and break the silence.

 

Christina’s Bio:

Christina R. Chan is an actor, playwright, teaching artist, public speaking coach and community activist. She is a member of SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild). Christina received her acting training at Trinity Rep. Conservatory in Rhode Island and The Royal National Theatre in London

Christina has created award winning solo and two person performance pieces on the Asian American experience. Her passion is in getting Asian American women’s stories heard.
When she is not doing theatre, Christina’s other passions are her family, bicycling, cooking, shopping at farmers markets and volunteering as a trustee at her son’s school, Cambridge Friends’ School. 


According to a National Alliance of the Mentally Ill fact sheet:

  Asian American women ages 15-24 have a higher rate of suicide than Caucasians, African Americans and Latinos in that age group.
• The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls reported that Asian American adolescent girls had the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial/ethnic and gender groups.
(See first entry for more information and details about the project.)
                                                                                     

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing Workshop Announcement

The Breaking Silences Project Writing Workshop
We are offering a Writing Workshop for Asian American Women who have dealt with mental health issues and want to share their experiences.  (See: What is The Breaking Silences Project blog entry for more detail.)
Writing Workshop Saturday October, 30th  2010
1 – 3 PM
Somerville, MA
Contact Pata for more information:  kotoridesigns@gmail.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What is The Breaking Silences Project?

Breaking Silences Project: Speaking the Unspeakable

A Call for Stories of Asian American Women and Girls and Mental Health

According to a National Alliance of the Mentally Ill fact sheet:

  Asian American women ages 15-24 have a higher rate of suicide than Caucasians, African Americans and Latinos in that age group.

• The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls reported that Asian American adolescent girls had the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial/ethnic and gender groups.

Yet we rarely hear about these girls and young women.  We don’t know their stories.  The silence around these issues is deafening.

We propose to break this silence by collecting stories of Asian American women and girls and their relationship with mental health issues and the mental health system for eventual publication and incorporation into a dynamic theatre piece on this subject.

If you are an Asian American woman who as an adolescent:
-          Suffered with depression or anxiety
-          Considered suicide
-          Had “emotional issues”
-          Was diagnosed with a mental illness

And you want to break the silence and tell your story.  We encourage you to contact us.

If you do not consider yourself a writer already, you can become one by joining us in a writing workshop to work on writing our stories about these important issues.  

If you are a writer, we encourage you to write and submit your story to us.

To contact us, you can e-mail Pata at  kotoridesigns@gmail.com

Pata Suyemoto, PhD. is an educator, writer and independent scholar who has suffered with depression since she was twelve years old.  She attempted suicide at seventeen and was hospitalized.  She has spoken publically about her depression for radio and print and was profiled in Psychology Today in 2009.   

Christina Chan, is an actor, playwright and teaching artist who uses theatre to wrestle with her own “emotional issues”. She co-wrote and co-performed an award winning show called “Bobby Pins Up Your Nose: Asian American Women Speak Out on Body Image” www.bobbypins.org The title refers to when she was eight years old she put bobby pins on her nose to shape it into a Caucasian nose.