Graphic Facilitation

Course: Graphic Facilitation

Institution: Individual

Instructor: Diana Arsenian

Location: San Francisco

I don’t know about you but 2010 has hit me hard. I just sold my company and my 20 year high school reunion is this June. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on my journey and think about what’s next. I didn’t know where to start so I consulted a friend, Rebecca, who in previous times of transition has been a fantastic sounding board. It’s no wonder as she runs her own Career Coaching service: Next Step Partners. 

Rebecca suggested I meet with Diana Arsenian. Diana does what she calls graphic facilitation or put another way, artistic visualization. She draws or “visualizes” your words for you. The idea is for you to have a mirror of what you’re saying, projecting. This is part of the theory that everything you need or want is within you. You know the answers to your questions or problems, the goal is to help you clear away the clutter of thoughts, agendas, etc. and lure your answers out.

So, because I’m willing to try any sort of personal development class, I emailed Diana. After a few exchanged emails we scheduled a call. On the call Diana told me our session would be 2 hours and that after I’d have a series of posters I could take home for future reference. She also asked me a number of questions to understand where I was in my life. I told her, I’m in transition. She then gave me some homework. She wanted me to think about all the major turning points in my life. So the night before I was supposed to meet her I stayed up late and listed all the moments I could think of in my past, concentrating on the positive ones.

The next morning, I grabbed a hot tea and met her at her office off of Market Street. She has a cozy one room office with a big picture window that let in lots of light on even a foggy day. On the wall was a large strip of white butcher paper with my name written in graffiti-like block letters in the upper left hand corner and the rest of the paper was blank.

I had a seat at a desk facing the wall with the poster and Diana began by telling me a bit about her life and then the process. She said we would start by talking about my past, then go to another sheet and talk about who I am and then end with a third sheet where I would talk about my future. I would leave with three posters of my past, present and future.

She got me talking by asking about those turning points. Unsure about where to start, I started chronologically. Soon a number of colored markers appeared and every so often Diana would write something on the paper, draw a flourish, or highlight something in yellow. Before I knew it, a rhythm had developed and we were at the far edge of the paper – it now filled with words, color and meaning.

After we hit the end of the paper, Diana asked me to look at the paper and notice what jumped out at me. I was surprised to see a few recurring themes. But I was really moved to see that I have been able to make whatever I want happen my entire life. Even as a kid. My decisions were good ones – the best ones I could make with what I had at the time. And I was shocked to realize I have been, all along, a whole person. As someone who is constantly working on herself, this was a big one. I realized that I don’t need to change to be acceptable; I just need to trust my own inner voice. To wit, I learned I am a very powerful person.

The realization hit me hard between the eyes and then it started to slip away. I felt flustered and grasped to hold onto the feeling. We went on to do two more posters and I began to see how my present and future have been so informed by my past, “my story.” It was overwhelming. Eventually I stumbled out of her office and into the streets of San Francisco and felt blinded by the sun that had broken through.

A week later my poster and digitized versions of them came in the mail. I eagerly opened up the shipping tube and pulled out the first poster. I was excited to see all the colors and wondered what I’d see when I looked at it again. I put up the first poster, the “my story” poster, in the den. The next night, I wandered into the den to watch television and started looking at the poster from the corner of my eye. Then a funny thing happened, I started to feel really angry. I wanted nothing in that moment more than to rip down that poster. I wanted to rip it down and shred it into pieces.

At first, I didn’t quite understand my reaction. I just spent real money to go through this experience and get this piece of work, why do I want to crumple it up? The fact that the poster is the only original actually stopped me from doing it. I left it hanging while I tried to figure it all out. At the end of the week, still no closer to understanding my reaction, I took the poster down and put it back into the shipping tube and into my closet.

It’s taken me a few months now, but I finally understand what my body already knew (my body always seems to know before my mind does). I’m ready. I’m ready to let the past go and create a new story for myself. Now the question is, what will that look like?