Project aims for improved writing, health through words
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor
|Author Lois-Ann Yamanaka and friend Melvin E. Spencer III are behind Na'au, an all-purpose center for word use.
Advertiser library photo 2001
Na'au, a Place for Learning & Healing
Opens Feb. 15, 23 S. Vineyard Blvd., Suite 304; open house, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 17
Information and appointments for required admissions interview available now: (808) 548-NAAU (6228). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web site is under construction: yamanakanaau.com
For her, and for her partner in a new center they are opening for writing and healing, "writing is a house." That metaphor covers a lot of territory, but one meaning for Yamanaka is that writing can be a safe place in which to dwell as we come to a better understanding of our lives.
Safe in this case doesn't mean without any risk; in writing to learn, she said, courage is a primary tool, the courage to be honest and to humbly accept instruction.
Yamanaka and her longtime pal Melvin E. Spencer III, a teacher and counselor, have founded Na'au, a sort of all-purpose center for the word, where reading, writing, speaking and performing will be taught and employed in ways that range from standard forms of instruction (language arts courses for young students) to self-expression (writers' workshops and tutoring) to self-exploration (spirit-filled discussions aimed at healing internal unrest).
Among the options to be offered at the center, which opens Feb. 15 in Nu'uanu Square, 23 S. Vineyard (behind Safeway Pali):
- Fiction and essay/expository writing classes, with opportunities for submitting work to publications and writing competitions.
- Writing groups with ongoing feedback, critique and mentoring.
- Reading skills tutoring with testing for gifted and challenged children, home-schooled children and second-language learners.
- Writing workshops for teachers and writing retreats for poets and fiction writers.
- Scriptotherapy ("writing for healing") sessions and "intuitive guidance" therapy.
Cost is about $50 an hour for Yamanaka and Spencer working together with individuals or groups.
Na'au literally means "intestines" or "guts" in Hawaiian but metaphorically it is analogous to the way "heart" is often used in English: as the center of the emotions, the place from which untutored wisdom and truth often come, a place informed by love. Yama-naka said she and Spencer, who met at the University of Hawai'i School of Education, had the idea years ago of a place where writing and healing would converge. She went into teaching and fiction-writing. He taught for eight years at Radford High School, returned to the UH School of Education in 1991 and now works there in recruitment, admissions and counseling.
In recent years, Yamanaka, whose "Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers" and subsequent novels have garnered national attention, has been using a technique called scriptotherapy in working with men and women in local prisons and shelters, and with young people who have suffered abuse.
The idea is to write your way to psychological and emotional health, with poetry as a tool for getting at the truth. "Scriptotherapy allows access to metaphor. If you ask somebody on the conscious level how they're doing, they'll always say 'I'm fine,' even if they're not fine at all," she said. "But when you allow someone to write, it's amazing.
"All of us intuitively have the power of metaphor. They're going to start writing about the dark tunnel or the long road, which opens up the avenue for us to begin talking about, 'What does this mean, why are you seeing a tunnel?' "
Not that every writing session becomes an encounter group. Writers are allowed to decide whether they will show others what they've written. "Some poems we hide under the mattress. Some poems we need to burn. Some poems we need to share with others," Yamanaka said. "The idea is that I am the owner of my words, my feelings, and at some point, when there's safety and trust, I can hold my poems in my mouth."
Yamanaka makes use of poetry in teaching writing even for those who have no intention of writing poems for publication. "Poetry is attention to line, to breath, to every word, every letter, every mark of punctuation, to cadence and rhythm. It has a voice but it's more than that to me it is line-by-line attention to language. We're not teaching poetry as a separate genre. Writing is a whole art form and the foundation of the art form is poetry, even if what you want to write is essays or novels."
Yamanaka and Spencer are committed to the concept of "true apprenticeship." Yamanaka has seen too many young writers who think that after one published story they're ready for Simon & Schuster. Her goal is to help those who are patient enough to put in the time before they make that move.
Yamanaka will teach the technical skills of writing, offer critical (but respectful) feedback, and talk about the path to becoming a professional writer. She will also continue tutoring children.
Spencer, who continues at the University of Hawai'i, will serve as Na'au's administrator and will work as her partner outside of his office hours, particularly in English as a Second Language classes (he speaks fluent Japanese and has extensive experience with helping people make the transition into a new culture) and in the intuitive guidance sessions.
"It's difficult to explain intuitive guidance without sounding all like a psychic or something all 'X Files,' " Spencer said, "but it's not that it's just what I call kukakuka 'talk story,' " by which he means a guided discussion to help individuals work through barriers and "unrests."
This, in turn, would lead to scriptotherapy writing work.
"A lot of us want to write but we don't have the courage. We don't know how to commit, to jump into that fire," Yamanaka said. "This is more than writer's groups, this is when you're really ready to tell that story and willing to walk down intuitive avenues to get to that story."