America – from 30 Years Studying Communication and Democracy

Join me for this free 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the increasing weaponization of our public discourse – and about steps we can each take today to rebuild democracy in America.

I’m Dr. Jennifer Mercieca, author of Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump and professor in the Department of Communication & Journalism at Texas A&M University. I write about American political discourse, especially as it relates to democracy.

I hope you can join me for my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about America – from 30 Years Studying Communication and Democracy. During this 90-minute session, I’ll explain why “democratic deliberation” in our public sphere is essential to a functioning democracy and why our First Amendment had to be first on our Bill of Rights. Our rights to a free press and to petition, assemble, and speak freely are each necessary for a properly functioning public sphere—and government. Of course, our public sphere has never functioned perfectly, but the kind of communication that currently dominates our public sphere is the opposite of democratic deliberation. In fact, it’s neither democratic nor deliberation—it’s using communication as a weapon.

Specifically, I’ll talk about these five things I’ve learned about the increasing weaponization of communication in our democracy:

1. Why using communication as a weapon is the new normal in our public sphere.

2. Why and how weaponized communication threatens our democracy (and why that’s the point!).

3. We have two different propaganda models, neither of which helps the cause of democracy.

4. We can strengthen our democracy by using persuasion instead of propaganda.

5. Possible solutions, including ten things we can all do to rebuild our democracy and why they work.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: In 1939, just nine months after 20,000 people attended a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, philosopher John Dewey—80 years old and too frail to deliver the speech himself—gave a stark warning from that same stage. The task before Americans was clear: they had to choose between autocracy and democracy. If they wanted democracy to survive, Americans had to start thinking of it as more than just a political system. Americans could only defeat Nazism if they recognized that democracy is also “a way of life,” a specific way of associating, thinking, and communicating.

Today the threat is not Nazism specifically, it is autocracy in all of its many forms. As I hope to make clear during our time together: Dewey’s warning still applies. 

Please join me.

– Jennifer Mercieca

America – from Five American Musicians

Join me for this free, 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about our country’s complexities, possibilities, and limitations from some of our greatest creative artists.

I’m Alan Light, music journalist and author, and I invite you to join me for my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned About America – from Five American Musicians.

As we’ll explore during this free, 90-minute session, my career has given me the opportunity to work with and think about many of the giants of American music, and to learn from them about music as a way to think about American culture, offering both great potential and constant reality checks about our history and our future.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been working as a writer, editor, and broadcaster concentrating on popular music of various genres. I have been a Senior Writer at Rolling Stone, the editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin magazines, and a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. I’ve written numerous books, worked on several documentary films (winning an Emmy Award along the way), and spent many years hosting a music-talk show on SiriusXM. In college, I was an American Studies major, and themes and thoughts about the relationships between our country and its music are never far from my mind.

I’m very happy to say that I’ll be joined in conversation during this session by my friend, Resolute Square’s Megan Matson. Together, we’ll look closely at five artists I have written about and spent time with over the years, and at the lessons they offer about power, commerce, and creativity.

Please join me and Megan as we discuss how:

  • Nina Simone showed us that any part of American music is always more complicated than it seems;
  • Johnny Cash demonstrated the creative power of an open mind, a generous heart, and genuine empathy;
  • Prince revealed the potential and the conflicts between genius, commerce, and technology;
  • Public Enemy illustrated the possibilities and the limitations of activism in American music; and
  • Taylor Swift proves that consensus is still in our grasp, through authenticity and strategy.

I hope that you can be part of this Five Things I’ve Learned about America class. I hope, too, that you’ll explore others in this complimentary series.

In the face of the challenges America faces today, I believe that the ideals these musicians represent—their ambitions and achievements—offer both the opportunity to better understand each other and some models for continuing to move forward, as listeners and as citizens.

Please join me!

– Alan Light

America – and the Enduring Example of Our Democracy

Join me for this free, 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about American democracy’s essential and lasting role as the inspiration and beacon of hope for all – and about all we must do to continue to protect it today.

Hi I’m Trygve Olson, Senior Adviser to the Lincoln Project and the President of Viking strategies. I invite you to join me for my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve learned about America – and the Enduring Example of Our Democracy.

As I’ll explain during this free, 90-minute session, I believe that with each passing day the values that have shaped America are being perilously challenged and tested – by both political extremism and by the increasing darkness of autocracy and dictatorship.

My perspective has been hard-won: I have spent my professional life working at senior levels on elections in over thirty countries. My career has taken me from the front lines of American political campaigns to the championing democratic resilience against autocrats worldwide. I’m eager to share with you all I’ve learned about this crucial time in our nation’s history.

I’m very happy to say that I’ll be joined in conversation during this session by Resolute Square’s Megan Matson. Together, we’ll look closely at both the values and ideals that have long served as the foundation of global stability and American influence, and at the contemporary challenges we now must be sure to confront directly. Please join me and Megan as we:

  • Look at the true genius of our founding fathers and forebears and our generations challenge and calling.
  • Examine the values and ideals that make America great and keep it the world’s indispensable nation.
  • Investigate rules for confronting autocracy. Autocrats, and their enablers the practical solutions I’ve gained from my experience worldwide to challenge oppressors and their cohorts wherever they may reside.
  • Review the disturbing trend and surge of political extremism and radicalization we’re seeing around the world and a sobering reality America’s not immune from this trend.
  • Look at why America remains the shining city on the hill for countless oppressed individuals.

I hope that you can be part of this Five Things I’ve Learned about America class. I hope, too, that you’ll explore others in this complimentary series.

Despite the challenges we face in our democracy today, my optimism is steadfast. Together, we can ensure that America and our democracy remain an inspiration and beacon of hope for all.

– Trygve Olson

America – and Our Common Ground

I’m Beto O’Rourke. I lead Powered by People, the Texas-based organization that works to expand democracy and produce Democratic victories through voter registration and direct voter engagement. I founded Powered by People in December 2019. Since that time, the organization has helped to register over 250,000 unregistered Texans to vote.

I’m also a fourth-generation Texan. I was born and raised in El Paso, where I have served as a small business owner, a city council representative, and a member of Congress. My experience across Texas has given me the great chance to visit often with individuals and communities across the state, to understand the personal and political issues that are most important to them, and to see how closely their concerns mirror those of Americans everywhere across our country.

Now more than ever, I listen during these conversations for the common ground that can bring Americans back together. Time and again, I learn important lessons in the process about our history, about community, and about the important role we each have to play in the ongoing project of shaping and protecting our American democracy.

It’s the most important of these many lessons that I hope to share with you in my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about America – and Our Common Ground. During this live 90-minute session, I’ll share what I’ve found to be the most essential themes that have emerged from my conversations Americans everywhere.

Most important among, them the understanding that:

  • We are always becoming a democracy. In fact, the American system of government is not a fixed relic handed carefully down, but a live question in our hands each day. I’ve learned that democracy is constantly in creation (or in destruction) by the people who participate in it. We can’t know the ultimate timeline or outcome of a given action, but invariably the choice to act itself is a choice for democracy.
  • Our shared history is our shared power. I’ve learned that history holds twin gifts: From any corner of America you can unearth the stories of courage and persistence from our predecessors, stories that show us how to be ordinary individuals who triumph. From history we also gain the advantage of recognition: once you learn the ways people in power have tried to hold on to it, you’re not confused when the same tricks of oppression show up in new forms.
  • Language is a powerful force. I’ve learned that the ability of words to connect, to stir hope and to drive good action has given me some of my greatest joy. Listening to the stories of the people I have met over thousands of gatherings and doorsteps has given me a deeper life education than any library or university. But there is a world of horrific division in language, too: pretending that words have no danger when we have seen hate and threats turn to death is a blindness.
  • ACTION is the antidote to despair, and the key to victory. I’ve found that there is only so much news about America that I can take in before I need to act, or look away. Watching in stillness is the express train to despair. Instead, the moment I get moving, with actions large or small, I am back in company with those who have worked toward the ideal of this country before us. I am back in company with the multitudes of Americans spurred by the same values to work and speak, serve and donate, lead and follow for the ongoing right to freedom and democracy.
  • No victory is ever final, and the fight is never over. I’ve also learned that – whether it is the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby decision, or the overturning of Roe v Wade in their 2022 Dobbs decision – history makes clear that no victory is ever final. That means that the fight is never over. We must commit ourselves to the work of winning and sustaining victories for as long as we live in our great democracy. The consequence of failing to accept this lesson is potentially to lose the very democracy that makes our victories possible.

As I’ll explain when we’re together, for all these reasons, now is a crucial time in this history of our country. There’s much we all can do today – and every day – to make a difference with the power to impact our own lives and the lives of people across America.

I hope you can join me and Resolute Square’s Megan Matson for this free, live session. I hope, too, that you’ll come with questions and ideas and experiences you can share.

I very much look forward to meeting you,

– Beto O’Rourke

Writing, From the Margins of America

Join me in this two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about writing that breaks down walls and encourages empathy toward others – and about how you can claim and share your personal expertise in your own writing.

My name is Stephanie Land, and I want to invite you to my two-hour class for readers and writers, Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing, From the Margins of America.

I’m the author of two memoirs—Maid and Class, but I got my start as a freelance writer. My first paid essay went extremely viral in the summer of 2015, and I learned that not only did I see the world through a different filter, there weren’t a lot of other people writing through that lens.

I also noticed a lack of empathy toward people who live in what we call the margins of society, especially people of color who live in poverty. Through writing about my experiences, I’ve learned some not so great things about what people think, and how that way of thinking can be challenged and even changed.

My filter was parenting under the poverty line. The reason there weren’t a lot of essays written from that point of view is that creative space is often unaffordable for people who are struggling to work enough to pay their basic living expenses.

I found myself in a niche. I became known as a person who writes about poverty. People started coming to me for essays about it. The writer’s dream, right?

But there was a side to this that affected me deeply in sometimes terrifying ways. I’m not just talking about the comment sections on essays and articles I published, though those were terrible, too. I mean feeling like my personal safety, my children’s safety, was threatened.

Writing about being a single mom on food stamps seemed to invite people to judge me and make assumptions about my life and my ability to mother my children. People said I shouldn’t be able to mother my children or continue living. Over the years, I’ve had my appearance torn apart, been told countless times that I’m taking advantage of systems like food stamps to feed my children because I had a tattoo on my arm, and had nearly every decision I’ve made in my life ripped apart and judged.

I’ve been writing through this filter of parenting under the poverty line for almost a decade, and I’ve learned some things about our society, and what people are really trying to say when they judge me for making what they think are bad decisions.

But I also know that, as a country, we are in dire need of empathy. First person narratives have the power to break down walls and allow people to see how other people live. I do still hold a lot of hope for us as a society if we can learn to see the world through another person’s filter.

For all these reasons, I hope you’ll join me for this two-hour session. It’s intended for any stage of the writing process, and for readers who want to more about how this process works.

I’ll tell you what I believe can help you most as you set out to claim your expertise, and as you shape and pitch your writing to others. I’ll share suggestions for how to keep writing, even through moments that might feel vulnerable or scary. And, I’ll share all I’ve learned about how to protect yourself online and off when the less than positive feedback starts to pour in.

I’m looking forward to our time together. I hope to see you there! 

-Stephanie Land

Shaping the Personal Essay

Join me for this live, two-hour class and discover Five Things I’ve Learned about the opportunities that personal writing offers writers and readers – and about the strategies and approaches you can use right away to tell the stories you need to tell about your own life.

I came to writing essays late, after publishing two novels, two books of stories, and eight collections of poetry. My guiding principle as a writer is simple, drawn from the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini:  “You have to live spherically—in many directions Never lose your childish enthusiasm, and things will come your way.” Whether you’re exploring a move from fiction or poetry to this form, as I did, or have been working on your own essays, this class should give you some inspiration and fresh ideas.

I’d like to invite you to my two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Shaping the Personal Essay because I’ve fallen enthusiastically in love with all the ways essays can grow from the tiniest seed.

My first essay collection, Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life, was published by Penguin, and I’m currently finishing a second, Anywhere But Me. I want to share some of my own journey with you and give you some practical tips that can help you shape and develop your life experiences into compelling works that move and engage a reader.

We’ll look at various writers’ opening moves in order to explore ways to get your reader’s attention right away—and several possibilities after that, beyond “what happened next.” An engrossing narrative is always important, but there are lots of ways to tell your story that can help you organize your material so that it comes alive for a reader. 

You don’t need to have some dramatic story to tell—just a piece of the human condition (which, come to think of it, is pretty dramatic; no one gets out of this alive). If you’re short on ideas, we’ll do a fun, brief writing exercise that will give you a lot of seeds for new work. I’ll also talk a bit about the opportunities and challenges of this kind of personal writing, and try to answer a few of your questions.

When we’re done, I hope that you’ll be ready to jump off to ideas for your own work, armed with new strategies and approaches to pattern your own essays.

Please join me. I’d love to see you there.

– Kim Addonizio

The Nature of Memory and Memoir

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the fluid, subjective nature of memory – and about the ways writers can genuinely share and illuminate themselves in their writing.

Dear Fellow Writers,

My name is Andre Dubus 3, and I hope you will join me for my upcoming two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Nature of Memory and Memoir.

All my adult life I’ve written both creative non-fiction and fiction. As the author of a memoir and five novels, two short story collections, and a collection of personal essays, if I’ve learned anything over the course of my writing life, I’ve learned this: the writing is larger than the writer, and my time at the desk tends to go far better not when I set out to say something, but when I set out to discover what needs to be said, dramatized, and illuminated.

In his long poem, “Tell Life”, the poet Fady Joudah writes: “Memory shrinks…without forgetting.” This has certainly been my own experience with the highly fluid and subjective nature of human memory; no matter our respective ages, we seem to be made of our earlier selves the way an onion is a sphere of tightly adhered layers. The sixty-four year old me is writing you this while his forty year old self and his thirteen year old self and his twenty-six year old self also look on.

The task of the memoirist then, it seems to me, is to uncover these layers one honestly and evocatively chosen word at a time. William Faulkner was asked late in his life what the young writer most needed in order to make art with words as he had done. He answered that it was not talent, as he once thought, but curiosity. “Insight, to wonder, to mull and to muse why man does what he does, and if you have that then talent makes no difference, whether you’ve got it or not.” He was referring to the writing of fiction, of course. But the same holds true for the writing of memoir; if you are not authentically curious about that younger you calling you to uncover all the layers of lived life to get to her, then you will not be writing as deeply and truly and as well about your own past as you can.

Come to this workshop, and I’ll do my best to help you do just that.

We’ll talk about some excellent memoirs, do a creative writing exercise or two, and have a closing conversation where all questions and comments and the expression of lingering doubts are encouraged and welcome.

Thank you. I look forward to working with you.

– Andre

The Art of Re-Reading (and Re-Re-Reading)

Join me and Yvette Benavides in this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things We’ve Learned about the joys of returning to our favorite stories and short-story writers. We’ll look again at the works of three great masters, and at the ways that re-experiencing a familiar story shapes both the art we encounter and the art we create.

I’m back with my third (what?), yes, third class for My Five Things…I’m a little shocked the good people at My Five Things are having back in the first place. I’m a happy three timer. I do come fairly cheap. Maybe they are having some financial trouble? Anyway. What’s that line of Paul Simon’s on “Graceland”? Who am I to blow against the wind?

Therefore, to honor this unprecedented occasion: I want this third class to be something special, something different. I did one on how to write by not writing, and another on paragraphs. Paragraphs? (I guess you had to have been there.) This time I’ve decided to cut to the chase and do a Five Things on my absolute first love: RE-READING and RE-RE READING.

You know how as a kid you wanted to hear the same book over and over and over and your parents were like no, no, please not Are You My Mother?. (Maybe you are this parent or have been this parent in the first place.) What do you think was going on there? It wasn’t because you as a kid wanted to know what happened in the story, right? You knew what happened. Doesn’t it have something to do with the pure ecstasy of knowing a story already? And doesn’t knowing a story already, in some strange way, allow you to re-experience additional times in entirely new ways?

Nowadays when I think of re-reading, I think of stories. I think of certain stories dear to my own heart, stories I’ve read countless times and still I can’t get to the bottom of their power.

And because re-reading stories is so close to my heart and soul, I’ve asked a fellow lover of stories, Yvette Benavides, to join me. Yvette and I co-host a podcast for Texas Public Radio called The Lonely Voice. On this show, we geek out about some of the greatest stories we know and broadcast out to story lovers in Texas and beyond. 

Now: Yvette and I have teamed up with Five Things I’ve Learned to bring you an on-line class on re-reading featuring three of our very favorite writers and three of our very favorite stories. We’ll be re-reading the short story masters: Alice Munro (“The Children Stay”), Edna O’Brien (“The Doll”), and Gina Berriault (“The Infinite Passion of Expectation”) with an eye toward what five or six or seventeen things we’ve gleaned from the process of re-examining stories that have become as familiar to us as our own memories. These stories teach us a hell of a lot about: writing, reading, and sweet Jesus life itself. We’ll reach back to the very beginning and examine how this time-honored and beautifully child-like impulse to re-experience a story can and does impact our own art.

Please join us for a closer look at three marvelous writers and three utterly unforgettable stories…

– Peter Orner

America – and the Forces Driving Democracy to Autocracy

Join me for this free 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the coordinated forces working to end American democracy as we know it – and what we must do today to fight back.

I’m Stuart Stevens. For almost three decades, I was a republican political consultant making ads for republican candidates. I worked in five presidential elections and helped elect governors or senators in over half the country.

In 2019. I left my consulting firm, no longer able to work for Republicans. I joined the Lincoln Project and wrote a book called It Was All A Lie, How The Republican Party Became Donald Trump

When Trump was elected, I had many friends who were saying that Donald Trump had hijacked the Party, that he was an aberration. I would have liked to believe that but it was impossible. When a hijacker takes over a plane, he’s not popular with the passengers and Trump was and is the most popular figure in the Republican party.

What is important to understand is that Donald Trump didn’t change the Republican Party, he revealed it. As painful as it is for some of us to admit, the Republican party is no longer a traditional American political party, it is an autocratic movement.

I wrote a book called The Conspiracy To End America: Five Ways My Old Party Is Driving Democracy to Autocracy.

When a democracy – when our democracy – slides into autocracy, five critical elements work together. These elements are all active today in American politics. All are growing in power and influence as their cumulative influence metastasizes more dangerously every day:

  • Propagandists: Organizations like Fox News but also a growing media ecosphere that looks to autocrats like Hungary’s Viktor Orban of Hungary as their role models.
  • Support of a Major Party: Republican men and women – including many people I have known to be sane and decent – who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost to the 2020 race, and who now endorse Trump’s 2024 presidential run.
  • Financers: American oligarchs like Peter Theil, who has openly voiced his opposition to democracy, together with a vast online base of zealous small donors that together provide almost unlimited funding to the cause.
  • Legal Theories to Legitimize Actions: Legislation efforts like those introduced by Republicans in almost every U.S. state aimed at methodically altering the legal framework of democracy.
  • Shock Troops: The insurrectionists who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021, as well as the still growing network of men and women who believe they have a moral obligation to remove the current resident of the White House.

My concerns are real, and, importantly, this is not theoretical for me: I know many of the people who continue to fuel the Republican drive to autocracy. I also know their world and how they function. As dangerous as they may seem, they are worse: If we don’t wake up to the crisis in our system, 2024 may well be our last free and fair election.

If you love America, and if you’re as determined as I am about rising to the challenges of the current moment, I hope you’ll join me for this live, 90-minute class. I’m pleased that I’ll be joined online by my friend and colleague Megan Matson, who understands and shares the urgency of this moment and the reasons for my alarm.

As I’ll explain, mine is testimony to a corrupt system that I helped construct. If we look away from that truth, we greatly increase the likelihood that the America we love will slip away, never to return.

Do please join me. Please help spread the word and invite others as well.

It’s not too late to save American democracy.

But it is too late to pretend that the danger is not great, and the time grows short.

– Stuart Stevens

What Aging Means to Oldsters

Join me in this live two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about getting older by inviting people to share their own personal experiences of aging.

I’m Sari Botton, the creator of Oldster, a magazine that explores what it means to pass through time in a human body, at every phase of life. 

I began publishing Oldster in late August, 2021, when I was approaching 56 (I’m 58 now), but I’ve been fascinated with what it means to get older from the time I was 10, when at my bowling birthday party, my uncle said, “Wow, you’ll never be one digit again.” It was the first time that my passage through a major milestone was noted so explicitly. It blew my little pre-teen mind. In the years that followed, I became obsessed with understanding which milestones we’re all supposed to meet when, because I always seemed to be either too early or too late, relative to my peers. 

As I got into my 50s, and started to feel the effects of aging, and experienced gendered ageism on the job front. It made me even more fixated on what aging means, in various ways, and curious about other people’s experiences of getting older. And it made me want to destigmatize and normalize the aging experience by demonstrating that it’s happening to everyone, of all genders and ages, all the time. So I launched Oldster Magazine, where I’m fostering an intergenerational conversation about aging. 

One of the most popular features of the magazine is The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire, which has now been filled out by hundreds of people of all ages. The Questionnaire is comprised of 14 questions designed to get a people’s real feelings about their current experience, questions that include:

  • Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think? 
  • Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
  • What do you like about being your age?
  • What is difficult about being your age?
  • What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
  • What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
  • How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?

Through respondents’ answers to the questionnaire, I’ve learned important things about aging today—which seems different from how our grandparents and other prior generations experienced it.

In our time together, I’ll offer my thoughts about what I’ve learned, and I’ll also give you a chance to think about and share your thoughts to some of the questions from The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire. I’ll invite as many of you as we have time for to read some of your responses aloud.  

We’ll talk together first about five of the most important Things I’ve Learned about what aging means today:

  1. For most people, there is a discrepancy between their chronological age, and the age at which they perceive themselves. More often than not, that second age is younger than their chronological age. Although, in a few cases, people talked about having old souls, and feeling as if they are older than they are. For some people, the age they are in their mind is associated with a time when they experienced a major trauma. For others, it’s associated with when they were living their best life. And for some, it’s just a matter of having a different association with the number assigned to them now, because they recall prior generations being more “adult” at their age.
  1. As they move into middle age, and even more so as they move into life’s “third act,” most people stop caring as much about what other people think of them. They come to know themselves better, and find life is too short to waste time being false, or letting other people’s approval motivate their choices. They begin to shed “false selves” they might have created as a way to keep others happy with them, and they find this sort of molting to be very freeing.
  1. In many cases, people’s lives improve as they get older and into retirement, which surprises many of them, because that runs counter to the culture’s narrative about aging. On my 58th birthday this year, when I mentioned in an Oldster post that I was freaking out about turning 60 two years from now, several readers commented that their lives took surprising, happy turns after 60—new loves, new careers, new hobbies, new perspectives, new life experiences they never anticipated. It’s made me open up to the possibility that things could get better, not worse, going forward. Which, honestly, is how things have been going for me already. I’m the most content with my life and my work that I’ve ever been, something 38-year-old me definitely did not see coming 20 years ago! 
  1. The “invisibility” that supposedly comes with aging isn’t experienced by everyone. Some people say they are still attracting the attention they want—from friends, strangers, and potential new romantic partners. Among those who are experiencing “invisibility,” a fair number welcome it. They’re happy to stop worrying about keeping up certain aspects of their appearance. It’s a relief for them to retreat from the spotlight.
  1. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I hear from much older contributors—especially post-menopausal women—that they found love later in life, and not only are they still into sex, they’re having a lot of it, and discovering new things. On the flip side, many respondents welcome the decline in their sex drive. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in one of her responses to the Oldster Questionnaire, “I love that I can’t be as flattered anymore by sexual attention from anyone, because I’m not that interested…”

Then, I’ll give you a chance to share what you know.

Learning from others is a great way to develop and provoke your own thoughts about what matters most to you, particularly as you contemplate what I very much hope will your own best and most rewarding years.

I hope you’ll join me for what I think will be a remarkable chance to learn together.

I look forward to meeting you then!

– Sari Botton

Living and Writing After Loss

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about reconciling the anxiety and loss that accompanies grief – and about the writing process that can bring hope, transformation, and healing when we lose someone we love.

Hi. I’m Claire Bidwell Smith.

I am a licensed therapist, a grief expert, and the author of three books about grief and healing: The Rules of Inheritance; After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go?; and Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.

For more than twenty years, I have worked in support of all kinds of people experiencing all kinds of grief. In doing so, I have discovered the great degree to which writing can be a powerful tool to help people process their own responses to loss. Giving private voice to experiences and emotions often also serves as a gateway from which people can better understand and reconcile what it means to lose a person they love.

I have worked in hospice and in private practice, and – like the people I want to help – I am also someone who has experienced my own deep, personal loss. It is the unavoidable, fundamental things I’ve come to understand from these encounters and experiences that I wish to share with you in my live, two-hour class class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Living and Writing After Loss.

I’ve learned that most of the time, when we lose someone we love, it feels like grief is just happening to us. We feel out of control, and overwhelmed. Most importantly, I’ve learned that there are all forms of loss, that loss is something that inevitably happens to all of us, and that how we choose to acknowledge loss and grieve is a choice available to us all.

Time and again, I have also found that writing about loss can be a cathartic and beautiful way to reflect upon your journey of grief. In this class I’ll share with you the experience-tested writing exercises that I’ve found most helpful. I’ll get you started with techniques for tapping into memory, negotiating with trauma, eliciting emotion, and even for navigating shared experiences of grief. I’ll share with you how I’ve been able to write my way own into moments that felt elusive, my approaches for writing about people in my life, and also my sense of the most practical writing tools I’ve used to create a meaningful writing life for myself. 

If you’re someone processing your own grief and loss, I think this time together will be very beneficial. You will have the chance to connect with others who are grieving, explore your loss in new ways, and better understand how to lean into grief as a way of healing.

My hope is that when this class concludes, you will be better able to integrate the complex layers of loss and grief into your life in a way that feels hopeful and meaningful.

– Claire Bidwell Smith

Writing With Vulnerability

Join me in this live two-hour class, and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about what happens when writers share the most difficult parts of their story in service of truths that would otherwise go untold.

My name is Grant Faulkner, and I hope you’ll join me for my live two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing with Vulnerability.

I’ve been writing since … before I even knew how to write the letters of the alphabet. I’ve now published many stories, essays, and several books, and I’ve taught creative writing for years, and one of the things I constantly think about is how art is fundamentally an act of exposure—a type of confession. An artist opens the closets, dares to go into dark basements, and rummages through their souls.

I believe that writing with vulnerability is more important than any craft tool because being vulnerable is how we connect with others, so writers who risk vulnerability tend to write stories that are the most compelling.

Telling such a story, however, is among the most challenging things a writer can do. The only way to achieve such vulnerability is through an openness of spirit that can feel dangerous—or even be dangerous. A good story occurs when an author travels, or even plummets, into the depths of vulnerability and genuinely opens his or her soul in search of truths that otherwise go untold. My favorite stories are the ones where I feel as if I’m in an intimate conversation with the author.

We tend to hold back, though—out of fear, because of a creativity scar, or because when we become vulnerable, we risk shame. We get stage fright. We write to hide not to reveal. Because that’s safer. A stoic show of invulnerability can feel stronger than the “weakness”of openness.

To be vulnerable is not weakness, though. Quite the opposite. To tell your story in your way, to confront difficult truths and risk putting your story out there, takes courage. Such courage is challenging, of course. It requires overcoming the fear of shame—the feeling that we’re flawed, unworthy— and shame can be a noisy beast.

I didn’t share my stories for so many years because of such fears of shame. But I had to ask myself, why did I become a writer in the first place? I made a list. And here’s what I discovered was on it: I wanted to put words to the shadowy corners of people’s souls, to understand the desperate lunges people take to give life meaning. I wanted to explore the enigmatic paradoxes of being, how desire can conflict with belief, how yearning can lead to danger.

Life is so mysterious, nuanced, ineffable—equally disturbing as it is beautiful—so I decided it was my duty as a writer to be brave enough to risk ridicule in order to bring my truths to light. Why write a sanitized version of life? I decided that what is most important to me must be spoken, no matter if I’m belittled for it, because only in such acts do we connect and understand each other.

The urge to be a writer is a generous act at its core, after all: we want to share our story with others, to give them a world that will open doors to insights and flights of the imagination.

I hope this class will help you embrace your vulnerability and tell your truth the way you want to tell it. We’re going to explore what it means to be vulnerable on the page, and then we’ll also do some exercises designed to help you probe your story, hone your truth, overcome the judgments of others, and develop a mindset to tell your story your way. Your truth should be emboldening, not embarrassing, so the goal is to leave the class ready to take risks and put your voice into the world.

Please join me!

– Grant Faulkner

Finding the Perfect Story

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the ways that writers and readers can look at the world – and at stories – in new and inspiring ways.

Hello! I’m Susan Orlean. I’m a journalist and author, and a practitioner of what is often called “creative nonfiction”—that is, I write about real life but with voice and narrative intention and – I hope – having the immersive and emotional effect on the reader that we often associate with fiction.

I’ve written nine books, including The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and On Animals. I’ve also been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992, where I’ve written about umbrella inventors, backyard chickens, baby beauty pageants, African kings, and show dogs, among other subjects.

I’d like to invite you to my class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Finding the Perfect Story.

Occasionally, I’m given an assignment, but most of the time, I come up with my own ideas for stories and books. Finding those ideas and figuring out whether they’ll work is one of the most important parts of my job. In addition, I need to be good at persuading editors to take a chance on unusual topics. I happen to think finding good story ideas is one of the most valuable abilities you can develop if you hope to succeed as a writer. Your story ideas are your ammunition, your ingredients, your toolkit. It’s great to be an elegant wordsmith or a dogged reporter, but what will ultimately set you apart and let you determine your path as a writer will be your ability to come up with fresh, interesting story ideas that work. This ability is something you can cultivate and improve upon throughout your career, and you’ll rely on it constantly.

In this class, we’ll talk about principles of what constitutes a story idea, and how to have original ways of considering both new and familiar topics. We’ll discuss practical ways to recharge when you feel like you’ve run out of ideas. I’ll share with you how I’ve landed on some of the unexpected subjects I’ve written about and how you can start thinking differently about what constitutes a good idea.

The class will help writers of all kinds equip themselves with what I think is one of the most important tools they can possess. For readers, it will be a glimpse behind the curtain to see how writers land on subjects. For everyone, whether they write or not, this class will be a chance to learn how to flex your curiosity muscles and look at the world a little differently than you did before.

I very much hope you’ll join me.

– Susan Orlean

How Creative Women Thrive

Calling all writers and authors, artists and creatives, collaborators and thrivers! Join me for my new, two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about How Creative Women Thrive!

I know a thing or few about how creative women thrive from years of supporting women writers and artists as they say yes to their creative dreams. It’s a truism that men and women are wired differently. Women thrive in particular situations and in ways that don’t always align with dominant culture, or in ways that are prescribed or mandated.

As a writer/author, coach, and publisher of women’s work, I intimately know women’s stories, women’s longings, and women’s ambitions. I know how valuable it is to honor not only our stories, but our truths, our wisdom, our creative dreams. This session is set for early in the year by design — to support you by sharing all you might need to hear, need to know, or need to voice for what you need to thrive creatively in 2024.

What will we make happen together? There are few moments in our lives when we take stock of the big picture, where we stop and give ourselves kudos for jobs well done, or where we articulate our Big Goals. Women often get stuck between wanting to be seen and feeling like they should stay small; between knowing they have unlimited potential and being told to wait their turn; between burning with ambitions and desires and feeling that it’s somehow unseemly to feel that burn. In these two hours, we’ll turn over some rocks to look at our assumptions, our conditioning, our self-limiting habits that we need to explode over and over and over again.

I have spent a lifetime championing women’s voices and dreams. During our time together, you will be in a supportive circle that wants for you what you want for yourself. You will be invited to dream into your vision for 2024 by considering the five things I know to be true about how women thrive creatively. And undoubtedly you will have your own things to add to this list, which I welcome!

This course is not just for writers. It’s for anyone who dreams of stepping into their full potential. Our time together will support you to name what drives you, what moves you, where you want to step into your power and how you can do that in ways both small and big.  

Join me. Join us. Cast your ambitions for 2024 into this space and manifest it into being.

Name it to claim it! And thank you!

– Brooke Warner

How Art Happens – In Six Great Works

Join me for this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about all that happens each time we encounter a work of art – and why great art never stands apart, or alone.

An art lover’s first job is to know great art when she sees it.

But how does she know?

And how exactly does art work, anyway?

Art works when we compare. In fact, we must compare to be able to understand all we encounter in a work of art – issues of quality, formal approaches, ideas of materials, surface, narrative, and space.

For art to work, we must see more than just one thing.

That’s why, in my new, two-hour class, Five Things I’ve Learned about How Art Happens – In Six Great Works, I want to look closely with you at six landmark works – each one an immediately identifiable classic, each one great precisely because of its achievement in comparison to what came before it, and because of what suddenly became possible thereafter.

I’ll explain when we’re together: Great art doesn’t ever stand apart, or alone. Nor does art come to life already-born into the artistic movement or historical period within which we later try to understand it. In fact, art neither exists by itself nor as part of some neat historic stream. For the artist and the viewer, art is something that happens – something that is happening every time we see. And everything happening in a work of art is happening simultaneously, all the time. When we experience art now, art is also happening across time.

Join me as we look deeply – and learn how to compare – some of my favorite sculptures and paintings:

– Michelangelo: “David” 1501 and Bernini’s later sculpture of “David” 1623. We’ll begin by exploring the ideal of the Middle Renaissance and the height of Classicism, Michelangelo’s “David” – for us today the all-familiar symbol of potential strength and standing, youthful beauty. We’ll compare this earlier work to a later figure of David by Bernini. Bernini’s figure does not show David just standing but throwing the rock for which he became famous. This David is moving, and the movement Bernini captures sets the ideal of the Baroque period, announces the demise of Classism, and begins the rise of art that depicts fully human and intense psychology and physicality.

Velazquez; Portrait of Pope Innocent X; 1650 and Francis Bacon; Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X; 1953. We’ll look at the spellbinding 17th century portrait of Pope Innocent X, often cited as the fullest exemplar of the ideal of High Baroque painting. We’ll compare Valazquez’s historic, unflinching portrait of this shrewd, aging man with the Francis Bacon’s distorted 20th Century variant of this work. Bacon’s is one of more than 45 similar “Screaming Popes” created almost exactly three centuries later, and an image that many today feel to be one of the main centerpieces of twentieth-century art.

Gerhart Richter’s Betty, 1977; and Henry Taylor’s Before Gerhard Richter there was Cassi, 2017. We’ll look at two very recent portraits. The first, Gerhart Richter’s portrait of his daughter Betty, a painting of a photograph of his daughter, whose face is not even visible to the viewer. We’ll compare that to Henry Taylor’s very recent “cover” of Richter’s painting, Before Gerhard Richter there was Cassi. A point-blank shot at the era of Great White Males, this replica of Richter’s picture replaces Richter’s blond, white daughter with a Black girl with an Afro, Taylor’s fellow artist Cassi Namoda.

Of course, though we’ll be talking about six works of art, but we’ll also be talking about much more. Above all, I hope that you’ll join me to help share all it means to see and experience art anew, and to celebrate the great trick and great joy of discovering all that’s actually happening when we take the time to look. And to compare!

Please join me.

-Jerry Saltz

Writing, Failing, and Trying Again

Join me in this live, two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about failure’s essential role in success – and about the necessity of reframing our creative setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth.

I’m Steve Almond. I’m a writer, and a teacher.

This spring, I’ll publish a new book, Truth is the Arrow, Mercy is the Bow. It began as a craft book based on my 30 years of teaching writing and storytelling. But the more I wrote, the more I felt myself shying away from Wise-Teacher mode. Why? Because, as a writer, I almost never feel wise. I feel adrift, addled, and generally doubt-choked. Some of the book is about craft, because I think it’s vital for writers to be able to put language to their most common struggles—with stuff like plot and narration and character development and chronology.

But most of the book is really written from the perspective of a writer trying, sometimes quite ineptly, to make a career from the practice of writing. That means going beyond the technical aspects of craft to the sources of inspiration that drive creativity, and, even more important, to the various emotional and psychological forces that inhibit our aspirations. I’m talking about the inner demons that haunt our creative process: writer’s block, competitive envy, anxiety about exposure, and yes, fear of failure.

I hope you’ll join me for my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing, Failing, and Trying Again because it’s these demons—which hardly ever get talked about in writing classes—that I really want to explore with you. 

Above all, I want most to share the two most important things I’ve learned after three decades at the keyboard. First, that every single person on earth is a storyteller; we are all trying to understand the story of our lives. And second, that the essential tools of this, or any, creative pursuit are patience and forgiveness and courage.

As I’ll explain during this two-hour class, I found this all out for myself the hard way, and only a little at a time.

In 2022, at the tender age of 55, I published a book called All the Secrets of the World. It was my first published novel. But it was actually the fifth novel I’d written. The other four were never published, though I worked on them for years and years. The truth is, I’ve spent most of my career defining myself as a failed novelist. I don’t recommend this kind of thinking to fellow writers (or to artists of any kind), but my sense is that most of us succumb to this self-doubt on some level. Rather than esteeming our own efforts, and triumphs, we fixate on our failures.

This happens, in large part, because we’re told to hide our failures — directly and indirectly, a million times a day. It turns out, that’s the wrong approach.

In our time together, I’ll discuss what I’ve come to learn is the right approach, which is to accept failure as a necessary step on the way to success, and to reframe our creative failures as opportunities for learning and growth. I’ll share the process by which I came to understand that it was, in fact, the writing of my earlier books that ultimately allowed me to work through all the bad decisions that doomed my unpublished novels. My hope is to help writers, and other creative artists, reckon with their demons rather than blaming themselves. The goal isn’t just to tighten up that meandering plot, or push deeper into a character’s inner life, but to renew your essential faith in the imaginative endeavor.

That’s a goal that transcends writing. It applies to everything you do in life. 

If you’ve ever failed at a creative endeavor and hidden that failure (and the feeling that comes from failure) this is the class for you.

I hope you’ll join me.

-Steve Almond

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