I’m so excited to be featuring Alison Gresik as this week’s Warrior Women Interview! Smart, funny, and a whole lot of kindness, I knew of Alison only through mutual friends until her post on walking depression jolted me from denial and inspired me to reach out and wave hello. Currently travelling the world with her family, she has graciously shared her art, life, and work with us today! Thank you Alison!
Tell us about how you got started on this path.
About ten years ago, I was wickedly unhappy. I was trying and failing to write a novel while holding down two jobs and umpteen unpaid gigs and dealing with family stress. Recovering from that unhappiness, which some would call “depression,” was a crash course in what creative people need to be joyful and whole. The things I learned transformed my life — from over-stressed day-labourer and volunteer junkie to globe-trotting writer, entrepreneur, and mother — and cranked up my creative flow from a trickle to a torrent.
And I couldn’t help but share what I learned with friends and family who were suffering in a similar way. As soon as I discovered that there was such a thing as a writing coach, I wanted to be one. I wanted to earn my living by shepherding creative people out of the valley of shadows and into the light. The first step was getting coached myself, and from there I started training with the Creativity Coaching Association, and I haven’t let up since.
Who directly participates in your work?
The people who are drawn to my coaching practice have a few things in common. They’re generally literary writers and fine artists in mid-career, meaning that they’ve developed mastery in their discipline and achieved some professional success. They are very good at getting things done — methodical, ambitious, and dedicated. And they are in crisis because they feel trapped in a life that doesn’t allow them to create in a way that feeds their soul. Either they’ve put their personal art on hold to serve other agendas, or they are locked into an artistic career at a pace they can’t sustain.
I think there is an invisible throng of these strong-willed but miserable creatives. They look accomplished and together on the outside, but there is a hidden need for meaning and creative expression that’s going unmet, and it’s eating away at them. They often don’t even allow themselves to acknowledge that there’s something wrong, because they are so committed to fulfilling their responsibilities that they can’t imagine life being any different — that they deserve to be happy instead of burned-out.
What is the most beneficial aspect of your work on this journey?
Right now I’m focused on providing one-on-one coaching. I call this work Enter the Labyrinth, because for me that name captures the sacred walk of recovery that we take together as coach and client. The slow-release, intimate engagement is powerful in the way that it loosens the grip of old lies about perfectionism, people-pleasing, and unrelenting work. Through our time together, my clients remember why art matters to them and begin to fall in love with their artistic process. When they claim their right to create on their terms, they’re happier, more productive, and more successful.
Describe your current big project or dream and how you are bringing it to the world.
Almost a year ago, my family embarked on a life of slow travel that we call Operation Hejira (in honour of the Joni Mitchell album). I’m writing a memoir that tells the story of the first year of Operation Hejira against the backdrop of my recovery from depression. I’m still rather astonished at how far I’ve come, from the messy depths of despair to what feels like a charmed life, and I have an irresistible urge to describe how it happened.
This project was born in collaboration with a magnificent designer, Michelle Farinella, and in order to have creative control over the design and distribution, I will be self-publishing the book. I’ve been financing the production costs out of my own pocket, and soon I’ll be staging a Kickstarter fundraiser to bring it the next step of the way.
I’ve learned so much from reading about other people’s lives. (My most recent favourite is Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, which I devoured last week. I think you may have heard of it?) Now feels like the right time to add my voice to the chorus.
What keeps you doing this work with joy and gratitude?
Honestly, I’m a sucker for epiphany and transformation. To meet someone at a low point, where they’re questioning their future as an artist, and watch as they gain hope, take action, and emerge triumphant? I find that intoxicating. It’s like reading a novel that’s unfolding right in front of me. Coaching fulfills my desire to be of service, to pass on the wisdom and encouragement that I’ve received from so many quarters.
What is one thing you can suggest women do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness?
There’s this notion that there are analytical left-brained people and there are imaginative right-brained people. In reality, creative people draw on both sides of the brain to solve problems and express themselves creatively. So I encourage women to see and nurture both their rational and emotional aspects, learn to move back and forth between them and have them collaborate instead of duking it out. I’ve written about how I made peace between the two sides of my brain, which I have named Margaret and Mireille (you can probably guess which is which).
Please share some final words for our sisters in community.
Like many women, I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of other people and things. And when I was exhausted and sad and resentful, this plaintive cry would rise up from inside, “Who’s taking care of me?”
Let someone take care of you. Let someone listen without wanting any airtime for themselves. Let someone check in on you, and remind you of your strengths, and make sure you get what you need. You deserve that. Truly.