Babbling: The Best Icebreaker Ever

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

The Best Icebreaker Ever

Recently, my mom forwarded me the following email:

Could I get instructions for the ice breaker Gretchen used at the retreat? It was the best I’ve ever experienced, and I’d like to use it at work.  She was so great!

Awwwww. Nice of this man (I’ll call him Matt) to compliment me and my workshop facilitation. But even nicer that he recognized the power of the InterPlay form of “babbling”.

He’d experienced this unique “icebreaker” during a church retreat (for the ultra cool Covenant Baptist in Houston, Texas), where I’d been invited to teach some sessions on embodied worship.

How to Lead Folks in a Babbling Sequence

Here are the instructions I emailed back to Matt:

  1. Put people in partners
  2. Have them decide who will go first.
  3. Tell them you’re going to give them a topic and they will talk about it for 30 seconds. Tell them you will ding a bell when it is time to switch.
  4. Announce the first topic. Simple ones are best. (For example, have folks describe their car. Or a friend. Maybe their favorite view from a window).
  5. After they have both spoken about the topic, have them thank their partner and find a new one.
  6. Repeat the process two more times.
  7. With the final partner, give them an extra minute to reflect on what it was like for them to talk in these quick bursts about different topics.

If you want to see an example of babbling, watch the video at the top of this post. It’s surprisingly simple!

Babbling Creates Instant Community

I’ll never forget when Phil Porter, one of the cofounders of InterPlay, revealed a discovery of his: community is created when each person in the group hears a personal story from 3 different members of the group.

This advice was a revelation to me, one I have tested out hundreds of times since. And it’s true. So often we think we need fun, unique games to serve as icebreakers. But really, people just want to feel connected to each other. And connection happens through personal stories.

Plus, as I mentioned in the video (above), we can reveal a great deal of information about ourselves in 30 seconds. Just the other day in an InterPlay class, my partner described the view from a window. From this seemingly innocuous topic, I learned:

she used to live in Minnesota, she lives in the second floor apartment, she really likes cats, she knows a lot about trees, she lives with a male significant other, she and her partner enjoy being silly together.

Wow! That’s a lot of stuff crammed into 30 seconds.We’re bound to find something we have in common there. (I like to be silly and I have lived in Minnesota!). The more we find in common with the people in our groups, the more connected we’ll be.

The Mundane Details Contain the Juiciest Nuggets

Another piece of InterPlay wisdom: Profound truths are embedded in mundane, daily details.

So often group facilitators try to get their students to “go deep” by having them share big deal reflections with the rest of the group. What are you most afraid of? What brings you the most joy?

In InterPlay we ease into the deep stuff. Why force people to share their intimate details so overtly? Instead, just have them, for example: describe their kitchen! A gay man might quickly have to choose whether he’ll reveal that his male partner does all the cooking. Or I’ll reveal that I’m still single at the age of 36, living with roommates. And we sometimes share meals.

These seemingly mundane details contain the nuggets of some of our deepest human experiences: loss, love, pain, surrender, courage. All that comes out?! But all I did was ask them to describe their kitchen!

What Should We Babble About?

Babbling is so quick and easy. Anyone can talk for 30 seconds. I’ll end by leaving you with a list of possible topics you can have folks babble about. Enjoy all the stories!

  • Describe the view out a window
  • Describe your desk at work
  • Describe the place you feel most relaxed
  • Describe one of your friends and what you like about them
  • Describe your car
  • Talk about things you did for fun as a child
  • Talk about things you do for fun now
  • Describe in excrutiating detail how you got here today
  • Describe what you ate for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) today
  • Describe two objects in your living room and how they got there
  • Describe the contents of your refridgerator
  • Etc, etc. Add your own ideas by commenting! (The comment link is, strangely, up at the top of the post).

What’s an Academic Coach?!

From Academic Coaching

There’s an area of my professional life about which I’ve been strangely silent on this blog: my life as an academic coach for teens.

I’m not sure why I’ve been so tightlipped about this amazing work; maybe I’m afraid others will find my musings boring. I mean —  time management, organization, and learning strategies? For teens? Biiig whooop! Who cares?

But the truth is this: I care. Very deeply. So do the parents. The teens care, too (for the most part; they want to be successful. They really do.). The work we do is amazingly transformative, for the teens but also for me. It’s time I start telling our stories.

Academic Coach Versus Tutor: What’s the Difference?

But first things first. Most people have no clue what academic coaching is. “So you’re like, uhhhh, a tutor?” they ask.

And the truth is — not really. A tutor helps teenagers understand subject-specific content. Want help memorizing and practicing the quadratic equation? Talk to a tutor.

An academic coach, on the other hand, helps kids troubleshoot their learning process so that they can eventually learn the content on their own. The goal is self-sufficiency. Need to figure out why you didn’t get the quadratic formula when the teacher taught it in class (and how you might get it next time)?  Talk to me.

Here’s another example: Want someone who knows a ton about US History and can help you answer the essay question? Talk to a tutor. Need help organizing your thinking and writing process so you can research and write the essay by yourself? Talk to me.

Maddy Learns a Writing Formula

This summer I had several clients who sought me out for extra help. Uhhh, well that’s only partially true. Their parents sought me out. Luckily, I’m gentle, fun, and full of good ideas. So by the end, the kids admitted it wasn’t that horrible. And they even learned a thing or two that they could actually use.

As one parent reflected:

The information you have provided is packaged in a much more user friendly way that Maddy can put to much better use.”

The information I packaged so well was, simply, this:

1. What are some basic writing formulas that help essays write themselves? (Maddy complained of working really hard on all her essays, but usually getting disappointingly low grades).

2. Given how much she detests doing homework  and her busy sports schedule (but also, given her goal to get B’s her sophomore year), how can she plan her afternoons so there is enough time for both sports and homework?

Maddy left my office much more confident about her approach to writing as well as to time management. She was psyched about the strategies that would help her work smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to find out whether this school year feels different than last!

Conrad Learns How to Advocate For Himself

Another client I saw this summer was a young man. Headed off to college after four years attending the “resource” class in high school (that’s the fancy term for “special ed”). This young man and his parents were concerned that he’d flounder during the rigor of college.

When I met Conrad, I was surprised that he barely understood his own learning disability. We spent most of our time reading through his Neuropsychological Evaluation, translating all the scary psycho-babble into teen friendly language, and role playing how he might explain it all to his professors? After four short sessions, Conrad’s mother raved:

Honestly, you taught my son more in regard to his learning style than he learned in years in his high school’s Resource program or with private tutors!!! I wish I had used you earlier.

Again, it will be fun for me to follow up with Conrad and find out whether freshman year felt more manageable. He certainly left my office in higher spirits than he entered!

It’s All in the Organization

It turns out that a lot of my job revolves around helping kids be more organized — organizing their time, their stuff, and their thinking.  Many teenagers just need a gentle but straight talking adult to help them troubleshoot their processes.

I feel so blessed to spend my days helping teens become self sufficient learners. I can’t wait to use this blog to tell more of their stories.

Hand to Hand Contact


How often do you giggle these days?

I’m guaranteed a good giggle whenever I stand palm-to-palm with another person in an InterPlay context. There’s something about a partnered hand dance that gets me every time!! Just watch the video, above, and you’ll see what I mean.

The hand dance is one of the most basic InterPlay forms. It builds on the idea of the one hand dance, which I blogged about recently. However, unlike a one-hand dance (which you do by yourself), a hand-to-hand dance is done with another person. As a result, it can be unpredictable. I never know exactly what the other person will do, or how I will  respond.  Talk about being in the moment!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my life hyper focused on myself (“Am I being a good person?”) or on other people (“How are they responding? Do they like me?”). During a hand dance, these two perspectives soften a bit. Instead, I’m focused on our hands, on the adventure that is unfolding  between the two of us.  And so often, what unfolds is hilarious! And surprising! It makes me laugh out loud! Laughter is such a precious resource; I treasure when it erupts.

I also treasure the opportunity to have safe, affectionate touch with other human bodies. Physical contact is, after all, a minimum requirement for health and happiness. Too often in American culture our needs for physical contact get met only in the context of sexuality. Those of us without a regular romantic partners often get little physical affection, other than an occasional hug or hand shake.  Before InterPlay this used to be true for me, too. But now I have a weekly space where I  am guaranteed  some fun, playful physical connection with others.  It rocks!

Plus, there is something about hand to hand contact that is, quite simply, profound. Amidst my giggles, there are moments of awe, connection, affection, hope. For this reason, I try to build a hand dance into every InterPlay class I teach.  I hope you’ll come play sometime on Mondays in San Francisco or Tuesdays in Oakland. I look forward to the mini adventure that will ensue when our hands meet palm to palm.

MuseCubes in the Blogosphere

The Making of the MuseCubesMuseCubes are popping up everywhere! I’m especially grateful to a group of creative women bloggers who have spread the word this month.

As Jenn, Jamie, Leah and Cynthia share their impressions of the MuseCubes,  I’m learning oodles about the power of whimsy to embolden people’s lives.

Thank you, ladies, for your kind words, generous spirit, and astute observations. Read on:

MuseCubes Stir Up Creativity Thinking

One way to stir creative thinking is to bring together concepts or ideas and see what happens when they hang out. Gretchen Wegner has done that in a delicious and beautiful way with MuseCubes. … Whenever you need to shake things up a bit, just toss and play. Every roll gets your body involved and shifts your energy. Here’s what happened when I rolled Sigh & Dance: (Watch the short video of Jamie’s Sigh Dance here).

~ Jamie Ridler, Creative Self Development Coach

MuseCubes Cure Writer’s Block

Often when I have writer’s block, it’s because I’m stuck in my head. I have all that inner critic stuff going on, and it’s really not helpful. … My friend and blogger Gretchen Wegner created a tool called the MuseCubes. You roll them, do what they say, and that really helps get you into your body and into the flow. (Watch the entire interview on Blogher).

~ Jennifer Lee, Artizen Coaching

MuseCubes Ease You From Constriction to Spaciousness

The way we are in our bodies moves us from constriction to openness and spaciousness.  If I want to have an open mind, it is helpful to start from a place of movement.  It’s the fastest way to do it. … This is one of the reasons I love Gretchen’s MuseCubes. I find that I have to roll the dice three times to get myself over the hump of being self conscious about it. That self consciousness is a constricted, narrow, self evaluating (and other evaluating) way of being. (Listen to the whole interview with Leah Piken Kolidas here).

~ Cynthia Winton Henry, co-founder of InterPlay

Body Data, Body Knowledge, Body Wisdom

Photo: Katherine Kunz
Photo: Katherine Kunz

Listening to my body isn’t hard at all.  But acting on what I’ve heard is.

For example, most mornings my body hurts.  Especially my neck and back. When I’m getting more exercise, they hurt less. When I’m not exercising, they hurt a lot more.

Take this very moment.  It’s 6:55am.  I just got out of the shower. As I was brushing my teeth, the phrase that begins this post sauntered through my mind, swinging her pretty li’l hips.  Ha! I thought.  That’s a perfect line for a blog post about InterPlay philosophy.  I want to go write it right now!!

But then My Body spoke back: Um, Gretchen, don’t you think it would be a good idea to stretch first.  I mean, we’re in pain right now.  And you know how it goes: the minute you open the laptop, you get sucked in for hours.  Pay attention to me first, and then write all you want!

Me: Good point. In fact, what you’re pointing out is a perfect illustration of InterPlay’s distinction between body data, body knowledge, and body wisdom. That’s brilliant!  I want to go write about it right now!!

My Body: Gretchen, dahling. Please pay attention. You notice that our neck hurts pretty badly right now and that our spine is longing to stretch. That’s body data: the little bits and pieces of your experience.

Me: Right! And body knowledge is about collecting those little bits of data over time. Looking for patterns in my experience.

My Body: Yuh huh. And I’ve noticed that pain in the morning is a pattern that doesn’t go away without exercise.  I also notice that it’s a pattern of yours to let excitement for starting the day get in the way of taking care of me. And then I’m in pain for the rest of the day.

***Pause, to let this information sink in. Gretchen is nodding her head, aware that her body is telling nothing but the truth.***

My Body (probing, using her best teacher voice): And…what is body wisdom all about, according to InterPlay?

Gretchen: Body wisdom is about taking action, using the information we’ve gathered about our patterns to make our lives more wonderful.

Body (quietly, almost to herself): And wouldn’t life be more wonderful if we stretched first!

Gretchen: (acquiescing) Yes, yes it would. (but then jolted by another creative urge) But my GOD, this thinking process you just led me through is so wonderful.  It’s a perfect illustration of how important the Body Data-Knowledge-Wisdom thinking process is, and how hard it is as well!  I need to write it down right now or I’ll forget. And I promise ~ I PROMISE ~ I won’t spend more than fifteen minutes on it. … And then we’ll stretch. Pinky swear.

You Got Skills? MuseCubes Photographers Needed.

Nature MuseCubes
MuseCubes Non-Natural Environments

I’ll cut to the chase — MuseCubes need help! Of the photographic variety.

I’ve done a fairly good job with my point-and-shoot Canon, taking pictures of the MuseCubes in outdoor settings (click on the photos above to see an album of my pics).

But now that I’m about to publish a how-to booklet and a new website, I need photographs of MuseCubes in a more practical context (at the computer, for example). I’ve tried, but I just can’t get the light right. See what I mean?:

MuseCubes on Computer Keyboard I MuseCubes on Keyboard III MuseCubes on Keyboard II

Might you (or someone you know) be willing to:

  • Take some photographs of the MuseCubes? ~and/or~
  • Teach me about indoor lighting and help me take my own pics?

In return I will:

  • Send you a couple sets of MuseCubes to use & then keep,
  • Give you credit on my website and on promo material where I use your pics
  • Refer you like crazy and write a kick butt testimonial, if you want one.

One of the reasons I need help is that I’m not just looking for a standard product shot against a while or colored background. The photographs I imagine are artful, kinda funky, and tell a story about where and how people use the MuseCubes:

On a laptop keyboard. Next to writing pad/pen. Amidst paintbrushes & art supplies.
Falling out of a purse, briefcase, backpack, or diaper bag. On a conference table.

If you’re interested in helping, please email me at themusemonkey [at] gmail [dot] com. For more info about the MuseCubes, check out

And finally — a huge thank you! MuseCubes are, through and through, a community-supported creation.  On my birthday last year, over 20 folks stopped by to cut and glue. Artists across the country have submitted gorgeous art for new MuseCube products (that I’ll launch this holiday season).  Folks have offered legal and financial advice.

The support has been both humbling and inspiring, and I intend the circle-of-giving to extend much further — eventually, by starting a MuseCubes foundation to support innovation in public education (in fact, in January I donated 2008 profits to support West County Community High School).

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ecstatic Following


This blog post is a quickkie. I’m technically on retreat, but I couldn’t resist the wireless access in one corner of the dining hall.

You see, I’m infinitely grateful the Wreck This Journal women. And today is the final day of our summer experience. What a wild, zany, luscious, creative, insightful, unconventional group to play with for the summer.

Not the least of which is the power of ecstatic following!

Lately I’ve been thinking that our culture places too much emphasis on leadership. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m infinitely grateful for Jamie Ridler’s leadership.  Without her vision and initiative, we wouldn’t be here.

But Jamie’s leadership needed a flock of willing followers. Not just willing. Ecstatic!! And we rose to the occasion. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check out what all the other women have been doing with their journals this summer.

Plus, check out my piece on Ecstatic Following on the Virtual Friday Morning InterPlay Blog.  I’m proud that InterPlay co-founder Cynthia Winton-Henry trusted me with a guest post. And I’m curious whether the idea of “ecstatic following” resonates with the other Wreckers.

Off to the retreat now. Big squishy, messy hugs to all my readers, but especially the Wreck This Journal gals!

A Goodbye Ritual

Toy Firetruck

My nephew is 16 months old — a delightful talking, giggling, impish kiddo.

Recently he instructed me to put him in the “take-a-walk” backpack, and insisted on bringing his big ol’ fire truck with us. Worried the truck would just get thrown on my toes, I pried it out of his hands to the sound of a mournful squeal.

Just them his mom called from the kitchen, “Say ‘bye-bye’ to the truck!” I know a good trick when I hear it.

“Bye bye,” I waved to the truck as I placed it on the couch. “Bye bye, fire truck.”

Immediately the whimpering stopped. “Buh bye,” he called out, suddenly delighted. “Buh bye fuh guck.”

Wow! How easily Sebastian  was able to let go of his desire to bring the firetruck. All it took was taking a moment to say “Goodbye.”  To sever the ties. To choose to be without.

For the rest of the walk — in between pointing out “Gucks!” (trucks) and “Gahs” (cars) — I reflected on how choosing to say goodbye gives people a sense of control.

The next time I find myself clinging to something that is gone — or going — I want to remember the fire truck. I could whimper and fight the loss. Or find a way to say “Buh bye Fuh guck.”

I’ll be pondering this one for a while…

Wreck This Journal, Week Eight

So, it’s official. I’m done with Wreck This Journal. For now, at least.

And I won’t be around next Friday for the FINAL POST (I’ll be cavorting with 40 InterPlayers at a retreat on the beaches of North Carolina, poor me).

So, in honor of our time together, here are some final pics of wreckage:

Office Supply page of Wreck This Journal

The paperclips make this page delightfully heavy. I love the “clicking” sound when the pages fall together.

Doodle on the envelope page of Wreck This Journal

Doodle, doodle, I love how relaxed-yet-focused I feel when I doodle.

Waterlogged drawing that I did with the pen in my mouth -- from Wreck This Journal

My roommate Kelly warned me against posting the video of me creating this page. Evidently, the marker in my mouth was (ahem!) a tad suggestive.

Fun with Tearing in my Wreck This Journal

The 3-D spirals were so fun & boingy. Too bad that closing the book squished them.

Blackberry thorns stuck in my Wreck This Journal

Blackberry thorns stuck to the page.

Remnants of Scrubbing the Page in my Wreck This Journal

Scrub, scrub, scrubadub dub.

A page someone else did for me in my Wreck This Journal

Listening to me tell a story, my friend Beandrea captured words in my journal. I wonder what my story was about?

Circles in Wreck This Journal

Circles. Enough said.

Burned Page with coffee grounds from Wreck This Journal

What a walk down memory lane. This burning and grounds-flinging occurred at the very beginning of the Wreck This Journal experience.

Footprint and Wine Stain in my Wreck This Journal

The footprint was made with dirt from Lake Chabot Campground and the wine drips were in celebration of Katherine’s 33rd birthday. What fun memories!

Stain Log That's All Washed Out in my Wreck This Journal

Dunking the book in water got rid of all my beautiful flower stains. This had been my favorite page. Sigh. Letting go…

Where the Poem Used to Be in my Wreck This Journal

Did you know that water dissolves glue? All the words to my poem fell out after I dunked the book in water. It would have been a lesson in letting go, except that I captured the poem on video.

Cover to my Wreck This Journal

Ahhhh, what an experience. I’m so grateful for the community of creative wreckers with whom I’ve spent the summer! I’ve learned so much about perfectionism, destruction, creativity, support, courage, and abandon. Can’t wait to hear what Jamie’s going to have us read for our next book club.

One-Hand Dance


This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

What’s a One-Hand Dance?

A one-hand dance is exactly that — a dance in which only the hand moves (well, I guess the arm moves, too; it’s attached to the hand, after all).

Experience it for yourself by watching the video (above).  I’m giving the instructions while Dorothy does a hand dance. Follow along if you like.

OK. So you dance with your hand, Gretchen.  Big deal. What’s the point!?

A one-hand dance is strangely satisfying. Totally relaxing. Plus, I’m frequently surprised by all the different ways I can move my hand. If there’s that much expression in one hand — just imagine how much there is in a whole body!

Here are some other good reasons:

Stress Relief

A hand dance is great for stress relief, too. When I’m feeling too overloaded, taking 30 seconds to shake, punch, and zoom my hand above my computer can work wonders. (In InterPlay we call this exformation).


One-hand dances are lovely for remembering people we care about. For example, lately I’ve been waking up with specific people on my mind. Right there in bed, I’ll do a one-hand dance on behalf of the person I was thinking about.  Usually it lasts under a minute, and I always feel more connected to that person after wards.


But I’ve saved the BEST reason for LAST. The one-hand dance is a remarkable tool for discernment. I know, that sounds wierd. How do you discern something by dancing!? Here’s what the facilitation manual says on the subject:

Have each person think of a question they have for/about themselves. Then have them take the question directly out of their “focusers” and let it float out in the space. … Do a one-hand dance, then afterwards notice with a partner about anything that came up.

I’m constantly astounded by the ideas that “show up” when I move. When I was writing my thesis, I often used movement to “discern” what the next steps in my research should be. You can read more about that here.

But why does it work!? Why does movement sometimes free up our ability to think innovatively about something? Maybe because the brain stops thinking so hard. It’s often in this “letting go” place that inspiration strikes. More about this in a fabulous New Yorker article on eureka moments.

It might also because the movement of the hand distracts us from our inner chatter. Since we’re focusing on the movement of our arms, we’re less likely to spend time listening to all our judgments, worries, fantasies, etc etc etc. Freed up from our habitual thinking, were more likely to notice new ideas that pop into our minds.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, related to the neuroscience of how movement changes our thought processes.   The body-mind connection is fascinating!

Now What?!

So, I’m curious: did you try doing a hand-dance along with the video? If so, what was it like for you?

Please don’t think you had to have a “aha!” moment in order to comment. All experiences are totally legit.

(If you want to comment, the link is actually up under the heading to the blog post; sorry it’s so hard to find!)

*P.S. I hemmed and hawed about whether to use the word “prayer” in this post. It’s such a loaded term in our culture, and I think some people are turned off by it. Here I refer to prayer as a way of sending good thoughts in the direction of people I care about. It does not have to be specifically religious or spiritual, although it can be.

Wreck This Journal, Week Seven

Art Card for My Art Mobile "There is Enough" Art Card for Art Mobile "Collaborations" Art Card for the Art Mobile #3

Dear Fellow Wreckers,

I think I’m done wrecking.

My journal has been sitting on top of my bedside table, and I haven’t cracked it open once this week.

So — am I being lazy and blocked? Or intuitive and complete? Or just resting?

Time will tell.  In the meantime, here are some News Flashes about my life:

  • I got health insurance, finally!
  • My new iPhone is rocking my world.
  • Every night I’m Praying in Color by making an “art card” and hanging it on the mobile over my bed.  I love what I’m creating…and I love reflecting on the people and values that are most important to me.
  • The new MuseCubes design is back from the printers, and I’m mod podging like crazy!! The new design is soooo much easier to manufacture!!
  • Really enjoying all the art submissions for MuseCubes that are rolling in: textiles, abstract art, kids art, photographs! I’m also looking for quilting pics, too.  Anybody got quilts?
  • In ten minutes I’m off to pick my folks up at the airport.  Looking forward to tours of their old haunts (dad was a student at Berkeley in ’69) and stories galore.
  • I came up with a compelling one-liner about my academic coaching.  : “I help teenagers organize their backpacks and their thinking, so that they can make peace with themselves, their teachers, and their parents.”  Looking forward to blogging about this more soon…

We’ll see if I wreck anything next week. For the time being, I’m loving having a community of Radical Wreckers in my orbit.

Squeezes to one and all!

Danger! InterPlay Now in San Francisco

Gretchen Wegner and Randy Newsanger
Gretchen Wegner and Randy Newsanger

Next month my new InterPlay class with Randy debuts in San Francisco. Heed this warning:

InterPlay is designed to unlock the wisdom of the body.

But unlocking the wisdom of the body is DANGEROUS!

Why? Because if you uncover what you really know, if you trust it, and then if you act on it: it will CHANGE your life.

Of course, life transformation doesn’t happen all at once. Thank goodness. Change sneaks up over time. That’s why we call the processes “sneaky deep.”

What we really do in InterPlay is have a lot of fun together. We tell stories, move our bodies, free our voices, play with physical contact, and share stillness.

And somehow all that fun, connection, and reflection turns into — gasp! drum roll please!! — personal transformation. At whatever level is perfect for you. For example, I found more boldness and freedom to be myself.  Others discovered:

  • More comfort in public speaking and self expression.
  • A recovered sense of play in daily life.
  • Greater ability to embrace spontaneity
  • More ease connecting with others
  • Permission to relax & reflect
  • Practical tools to deal with overwhelm and stress

InterPlay is hard to describe, but easy to do. It’s not for everybody. But it might just be for you. Try it and see! For more information about the new San Francisco class starting Monday, August 10th, go to

To read others’ perspectives on how this subversive practice changes lives, here are a few additional resources:

P.S. Big thanks to Dorothy for the tweet that inspired this blog entry.

P.P.S. The delightful-and-dangerous Randy Newswanger is my partner-in-crime. Come to InterPlay in SanFrancisco and you’ll get to play with the two of us.

Dance on Behalf Of


There are many things that cannot be held by one individual alone
if we are to have health.  When others play with our prayers,
concerns, questions, hopes or dreams, …  surprises and relief can come.

~Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry

The Bachlorette Party

Last week at my Wing It! rehearsal, we improvised a bachlorette party for a fellow performer. There was raucous laughter as we offered bad relationship advice and danced a mock strip tease.

But when Phil (our artistic director) suggested a “Dance On Behalf Of,” I was touched beyond words.  A soft piece of music was put on, and six dancers twirled and glided in support of the bride-to-be’s deepest wishes for her new marriage.

What’s a Dance on Behalf Of?

A “Dance on Behalf Of” is a nonverbal way of paying attention to, or sending energy towards, a person, place, or situation that we are carrying in our hearts. The mover(s) can dance on behalf of the person who is witnessing (as we did with the bride-to-be).  It is also possible to move on behalf of a person, place, or situation that is not present.

Having An Easy Focus

Sometimes at the Tuesday night InterPlay class, we’ll have participants tell stories about someone who is on their minds. I often  talk about my nephew Sebastian, who lives achingly far away from me. Or a client who is really struggling at school.

Then we’ll put on a piece of music and invite folks to simply remember that person while they move. Often I get so caught up in my dance that I forget all about the person I’m dancing on behalf of. And that’s OK, too. Easy focus is the name of the game!

Try It Yourself

Do you have someone or something on your heart right now? Try your own mini Dance On Behalf Of.

  • If you like, put on a piece of music that moves you (‘tho music is not necessary).
  • Take a moment to remember that person or situation.
  • Then, let your focus soften so you’re not thinking too hard.
  • Allow your body to move. This might look as simply as swaying back and forth or walking mindfully. Perhaps it’s more energetic, with full out dancing. Move in whatever way feels enjoyable for you.
  • When you’re finished –after 30 seconds or 3 minutes — take one more moment to remember the person or situation.
  • Notice whatever sensations you’re experiencing in your body.
  • Then, shake it all out!

Although there is much that I am grateful for about the InterPlay practice, the “Dance On Behalf Of” form is one of its sweetest gifts to the world. I hope you enjoy it, too.

(The picture, by the way, was taken by Katherine Kunz on a trip we took to India last year. We had just finished participating in a workshop with Cynthia Winton-Henry, and these women are saying thank you to us with their own Dance On Behalf Of.)

Wreck This Journal, Week Six

My wrecked journal with new cover watching over me in the branches of a tree.

Prince Charming Must Die

I’m on the phone, telling my friend Sarah about a new guy I’ve met.  I’m worried I’ll ruin it all with my fantasies of the perfect man.

“Destroy him,” she suggests. “Wreck your fantasies about the perfect man. Total destruction!” I laugh, imagining myself ripping Prince Charming’s photo viciously to shreds.

Over breakfast the next day, my roommate Katherine and I are discussing her imminent trip to Germany…which is also a romantic reconnaisance mission. I tell her about the Prince Charming Shredder, and we have another good laugh.

Fast forward to today. I wake up to discover Katherine has posted this lovely story on her blog, about using her Wreck This Journal to literally obliterate her image of the ideal man. In Katherine’s own words, “It was satisfying to physically create, then destroy, an image that can block what is truly present for me.

Ahhhh, so wise. I’m really getting how useful it is to embody destruction in such a physical way! Thank you, Katherine, for a well-timed reminder.

Fellow Wreckers — Do You Have Art to Submit?

Many world religions have death and resurrection stories. This week I resurrected my journal from the water-logged ashes of destruction by creating a new cover (see picture above).  Look closely, and you’ll see the sneak preview of the brand new MuseCubes logo. I’ll be unveiling it for real sometimes this summer.

Speaking of MuseCubes, I’m redesigning and looking for art!  Here’s my call for art submissions. It’d be so much fun to have fellow wreckers’ art on the cubes.

Clearing Up Misconceptions

By the way: I’m not actually wrecking my real journal. I’m wrecking a pretty book that I bought at Barnes and Noble called “Wreck This Journal.” It’s designed to be wrecked. Jamie Ridler decided to have her blogger’s book group “read” this book over the summer. Have no fear, we’re not destroying our real journals. That would be devastating to the archivist in me.

Call for Art Submissions

IMG_0002 yellow swirley art creatures

A year ago, MuseCubes started as a wacky and artful tool to help folks get more into their bodies. This summer & fall I’m launching the new-and-improved Cubes as well as three new products.

And I need some help. More specifically, I need art!

The Background

When I first created the MuseCubes, I cut sections of art images out of magazines and glued them onto wooden blocks.

Much as I loved recycling old magazines, there was concern that I wasn’t giving the artists credit for their oh-so-important contribution. And that didn’t feel right.

The Request

So, in preparation for the launch of the newest line of MuseCubes, I’m looking for artists who are enthusiastic about sharing a digital copy of their artwork for the MuseCube cause.  Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • A digital image in a .jpg or .png format, resolution: 300 dpi , image size: between 3 x 5 in – 8.5 x 11 in
  • Lots of detail, texture and/or color
  • Original can be any medium — paint, sculpture, photograph, architecture, fabric, etc. The more diverse, the better.
  • I’ll review the first round of submissions by August 3rd (but feel free to send more after that date)
  • Email submissions to themusemonkey [at] gmail [dot] com

Please note: the cubes are very small (1″ x 1″). If I use your piece, I will crop it such that a different section will appear on each of the 6 sides of the cubes. That’s why I’m asking for pieces with a fair amount of detail, color, and texture. You can view pictures of the actual cubes on the website. Here’s an example of what the newer template looks like:

musecube template

In Return

I’m so grateful for your generosity in sharing a piece of your creative spirit with me. If I decide to use your artwork on the newest MuseCubes, here’s what I’m thrilled to provide in return:

  • A link to your website featured on, and
  • Two complimentary sets of the MuseCubes

A final note: a percentage of all profits of MuseCubes goes to support public education. My ultimate vision is to start a foundation that helps kids, families, and communities create bold and innovative solutions to helping kids create the education of their dreams. Your artwork contributes to this cause.

Please comment if you have any questions (the link is up under the heading of the post). Email works too. Again, that’s themusemonkey [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Art of Noticing


This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

Ack! Get Me Out of My Head!

Before a recent InterPlay class, I was chatting with a participant.  He revealed that over the last few weeks, he’d had a hard time getting into the warm-up.  “I’ve been so in my head,” he said, “judging myself and my experience. Incapable of relaxing.”

His experience was so unpleasant that he would have walked out, only he didn’t have his car with him. Out of desperation, he discovered something quite profound:

I told myself to really let my body feel what we were doing, to see if I can drop down from my spinning mind into my still body.  It turns out that I really enjoyed the class after that.

How cool! He exercised his power to turn his own experience around — simply by inviting his body to notice what it was feeling.

I asked whether there was anything I, as leader,  could have done to help him to drop into his body sooner.  He thought for a moment, then added:

No, I don’t think so.  Or, even if there was, I like that I discovered it myself.  It felt satisfying to notice what was happening — all by myself! — and to make a choice that changed my experience for the better.

Sigh. I have to admit slight disappointment. My ego wants to be the Provider of Rich Experiences for others. But here my student showed me that he can take care of himself! His power to notice, and act on what he notices, is his biggest ally.

We Do Stuff…and Then Notice

This story is a lovely example of the InterPlay concept of “noticing.” My facilitator’s manual says that the simplest way to explain an InterPlay class is this:  “We do stuff and then notice.”

So, after we do an improvisational exercise — storytelling, for example — the teacher will probably ask,”What did you notice about that?”

I used to be really annoyed by this question. It’s so general!  You see, I’ve been trained in several conversation methods, most of which are highly structured, guiding the participant’s reflection intentionally through specific questions.  InterPlay’s broad “What did you notice” seemed loosey goosey to me at first.

But now I really get why it’s often useful to stay general. It allows people to tap into their own experience and say whatever is helpful for them.  Participants can enter the reflection at whatever place is comfortable to them.

Notice Your Own Experience

Whatever you notice is exactly right. Well, that’s not exactly true.  In InterPlay we do encourage participants to notice their own information — not anybody else’s.  This is actually quite challenging.

It’s so easy to watch someone leaping around the room ecstatically and say, “You were having a great time out there!” Even if I actually have no idea what that person was feeling while dancing.

Instead, staying connected to my own experience, “I noticed you did a lot of leaping, and I imagined that you were really enjoying yourself.” Or, “Watching you leap made me want to leap too.”

In the story  my student told me, he was so proud of himself because he was able to NOTICE some information about his experience: judging thoughts, the inability to relax, feeling really “top heavy.”

Once he NOTICED this information, he had the freedom to make a choice about it.

And that choice ended up changing his experience for the better.

Yay for noticing!

What do you notice?

The Hoopla: Playful Ritual at Its Best

The Hoopla Hoop that was decorated at our housewarming party a year ago.

My roommate Katherine just left on a potentially life-altering trip to Germany. Since we’re both play-and-ritual junkies, this morning we had fun acknowledging her big transition in style.


First, I made a delicious french toast breakfast.

German Prayer DieThen for a blessing, we rolled a large wooden die with German meal prayers on each side. (Little known fact: this was the original inspiration for the MuseCubes). Because Katherine had bought the die on a previous trip to Germany, this blessing was especially meaningful today.

IMG_1746Instead of an “Amen,” we shared a MuseCube moment which consisted of jumping and giggling in the middle of the kitchen.  It turns out MuseCubes are a highly flexible tool for creative living (not just for stuckness). Thus inspired, we ate our breakfast while discussing theology, romance, and travel tips.


A hoopla is a playful ritual designed to celebrate and affirm the hoops that we jump through in our lives. Click here to see Cynthia Winton Henry describe the first hoopla.

Last year at our housewarming party, we invited fellow revelers to decorate our hoola hoop (pictured above).  Whenever there is an occasion worthy of marking, my housemates and I improvise a hoopla.

Today in honor of Katherine’s big trip, I held the hoop at the threshold of our front door. She left the house by leaping through the hoop head first. We hugged, and she drove off!


The Hoopla is brilliant partially because it’s so ridiculous. I mean, it’s a hoola hoop, for goodness sakes!  It’s playful, unpretentious, and ultimately profound. In our household, most of our hooplas take less than 2 minutes.  Each is unique. They often occur in the kitchen (where we share stories about our day while we cook).

Gosh, I love living with women who co-create such depth, richness, and proFUNdity. Thank you, Kelly and Katherine. On this, the one year anniversary of our housewarming, I’m so grateful to be living with you! (By the way, Kelly did not get to participate in this particular hoopla because she was off to Napa Valley for wine tasting, lucky gal. But she was definitely here in spirit).

Wreck This Journal, Week Five


Presenting…A Tale of Two Roommates!

I’m sooooo digging being a part of Jamie Ridler’s inspiration-infused The Next Chapter discussion group. Every Friday when we share our latest wreckage with each other, I’m always revved up to try new things with the book Wreck This Journal.

Last Friday was no exception. After watching several of my fellow wreckers submerge their books in water (swimming with your book!? really, Jenn!?), I decided it was time to bravely waterlog my own.

My roommate Katherine got home from work thoroughly exhausted. As you can see from the video, she was in no shape to go to the beach (my first request), but she was willing to try the front yard.

After true confessions around the water bucket, the wreckage began…

~tomato (and journal) watering!
~book throwing!
~page sponging!

What I didn’t include in the video, though, was my bravest moment: soaking the journal in a water-filled bucket! It took 3 days of sun bathing to get the book dry again. And she’s not nearly as pretty as she was last week:

Wreck This Journal WreckThisJournal2

Sigh — most of my braids tore off! Aren’t I doing a good job of letting go? Choosing non-attachment is harder than I thought it would be. But I’m trying…

The entire wrecking experience took about 20 minutes, but wow! Both Katherine and I felt so incredibly rejuvenated after wards. Perhaps this is because of the sheer playfulness of the activity. And the extreme focus. Oh — and a playmate doesn’t hurt, huh?

So, last week several people had trouble uploading my video. I promised them I’d reprint the poem that I made by repositioning the words in the acknowledgments page. Enjoy…

>>>>>>Ooh no! I just opened the journal to retrieve the poem and — ack! — all the words clattered out of it. Apparently, glue does not hold up well after being soaked in water. What was that I said about non-attachment!!!??? I’ll try and recreate it anyway.<<<<<<<

From the beginning

Gratitude rips me wide open.

My full and daring life

A constant inspiration

People from all over the world help brainstorm ideas

And believe in my artistic/creative vision.






The Inspiring Science of Fitness & the Brain

I think I’m in love with Dr. John J. Ratey. What’s not to love about this declaration:

What I aim to do here is to deliver in plain English the inspiring science connecting exercise and the brain and to demonstrate how it plays out in the lives of people.” p. 7, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Amen!! Now that I’ve just outted myself as an ecstatic nerd, let me explain.

Lately I’ve been on a crusade to get more people “using the brains in their whole body.” This is a deeply personal crusade, as well as a professional one.

PE Classes That Teach Kids to Think!?

As an educator, I got especially excited about Ratey’s case study of a revolutionary approach to PE classes. Imagine–  heart rate monitors replacing dodge ball:

The essence of physical education in Naperville 203 is teaching fitness instead of sports.  The underlying philosophy is that if physical education class can be used to instruct kids how to monitor and maintain their own health and fitness, then the lessons they learn will serve them for life. And probably a longer and happier life at that. Spark, p. 12

Ratey presents study after study that proves that fitness is essential to maximizing not only people’s health & happiness — but also their smarts. Turns out we think especially clearly and effectively after we engage in:

  • 30 minutes of aerobic activity, and
  • complex physical tasks.

This kind of fitness literally builds new neuropathways in our brains, as well as strengthens old ones. As the coaches in Naperville 203 are fond of saying, “in [the PE] department, we create the brain cells. It’s up to the other teachers to fill them” (Spark, p. 19).

MuseCubes Help Us Remember to Move

I’ve known through experience that movement effects my thinking. In fact, the more I move, the more I experience freedom, passion, balance, and productivity.

What’s amazing to me, though, is how often I forget to move! Yesterday I spent over 6 hours on the computer. I woke up this morning in physical pain, emotionally drained, and without an ounce of alertness.

As a heady intellectual, I’m constantly looking for ways to be more embodied. That’s where MuseCubes come in.

Now, a MuseCubes break takes 30 seconds, not the recommended 30 minutes.  However, I notice this: the more I remember to roll the MuseCubes, the more I choose to move in other aspects of my life, too.

For example, on days that I wiggle and howl with the MuseCubes, I’m more likely to take a 10 minute dance break, and then ALSO go on a longer walk. Movement inspires more movement, which eventually builds up to fitness! Ahhh, I love incrementality.

Ratey himself says that “the most important thing is to do something” (Spark, p. 250). And if that something ultimately adds up to six hours a week of exercise on behalf of your brain — well, that sure is smart!

OK, speaking of moving, I’m gonna finish this blog post and walk to the library to return Ratey’s book. What are you going to do to exercise today?

Oakland Tweetup Makes History

The first ever Oakland tweetup in twitter history happened this week!!!

A tweetup is an event where people who twitter gather to meet each other in person.  Hosted by the serene and scrumptious Numi Tea, we introduced, shared, laughed, colored — and even danced and yelled, thanks to MuseCubes. Don’t we look like we’re having a great time?! (Thanks for documenting, Naomi).

Naomi @nthmost
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Christian @cstiehl
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Laurel @AngelLaurel
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Kira @Kiramau
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Ren @RenDodge
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Dorothy @DorothyFun
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Jen @jenrudolf
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Chris @wildheartqueen
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Julie @juliedaley
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Gretchen @gwegner
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