Favor Ellis, Sterling’s Dean of Community, explores how one finds home and a sense of belonging. After working with unhoused youth, traversing varied geographical and emotional terrain, and moving many times, Favor found a place to call home at Sterling.  She now shapes Sterling’s community to be one centered on care, where all are welcome to bring their whole selves, evolving identities, and hard truths and brave aspirations.  While modeling truth-telling and vulnerability, favor draws upon her studies in embodiment and somatics, her experience as a birthworker, and poetics (her own words and the words of others, to call forth emergent change and rebirthing processes).

[04:33]-Defining home; after working with homeless; moving many times; found community at Sterling

[06:25]-Defining place and space; bringing the physical and emotional into practice

 [11:40]-Embodiment studies and somatic tools to build community at Sterling 

[16:45]-Rebirth; creating a better world; birth doula; mirroring, supporting, belonging

[22:12]-Reading of Favor’s poem “trucker’s atlas”, maps for exploring alongside the monsters, learning from and inspired by the Nap Ministry’s Audre Lorde  

Transcript

favor ellis transcript

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Welcome to Emergency to Emergence. A podcast produced by Sterling college. I'm Nakasi Fortune and I'm Dakota La Croix. This podcast intends to engage in spirited, heart-centered dialog about intersecting, eco-social emergencies, featuring the voices and perspectives of people purposefully engaging in ecological thinking and action, while fostering active, community engaged responses that offer hope.

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We are delighted to be talking to favor ellis. Her spirited life path as a counselor, doula, writer and a massage therapist fosters a deep appreciation for the sacredness of space and place. She has spent her life building relationships to and with the natural world, one another and community. Favors is currently the Dean of community at Sterling.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to, you know, come be a part of this conversation.

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Yeah, Thank you so much favor for being here.

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Favor, tell us a little bit about yourself, an introduction of who you are and what you do if you will?

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Being a Dean of community means that I work really closely with students to address their physical, emotional, and mental health needs.

And, I work really closely with all members of the college to build the kind of community that we want to have.

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In describing yourself as a child, you, you wrote yourself. Quote, I was the girl with pig, tail braids, scraped knees, and dirty hands, always reading a book, always asking the world for answers. You seem to be somebody who really has fostered listening.

So from several decades of that girl, with pigtails and that childhood, what answers has the world offered you? And where do you find that?

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Well, part of what I was doing when I was a little girl with pigtail braids was trying to find out, where I belonged and trying to build connection with the world.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Maine and, my nearest neighbor was two miles away and it was really hard to see friends and we lived off grid, so we didn't have TV. So I was left to myself to, like I said, read a lot of books and tell myself lots of stories, but one thing that I did learn to do, like you said, Dakota is listen.

I learned to sit next to a tree and listen to the movements of the tree and the movements of the world around me, and to watch the animals and make up stories about them. And, eventually I started getting the sense that there were stories that the world wanted me to know. And I started writing those stories down.

I learned to listen to what was not being told with words, but rather what was being told to me, and I translated through my body or through my emotions. And, now, I know that that's empathy. After I graduated from my undergraduate program, I started working with homeless, young people who had experienced a lot of trauma.

And, through that work, I learned to listen to, again. Um listen to the things that aren't being said and to try to identify what was needed of me in each moment. And I took it upon myself to start to identify what those needs are and how I can support people in accessing what they need to get the needs met.

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And you speak of home and homelessness and nature. That's really interesting to me. Can you speak of the different ways in which home can be felt and experienced?

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I had a realization this summer that I have moved well at, at the summer, I had moved 47 times in my life and

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Wow.

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I am, I'm only 47 years old.

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Oh, wow.

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But since I made that realization, I have moved two more times. So, I am 47 years old and I've moved 49 times. And, some of that was with my mother when I was very young, but mostly it was, um moving on my own. And I spent a lot of time in my mid-twenties thinking about home and what that means and thinking about family and what that means. And I, um, grew up in a really non traditional way.

Um, with a very small family, just my mother and my sister and me, and, um always envied other people who had families or who had a stable home. My home was very loving, but we moved a lot. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about what that, what that means. Like how, how do I, as the human that I am with the life I've been given, how do I find connection and how do I find and build family and community?

And, um when I was first hired at Sterling, I was hired as the Dean of community, which felt like such a big title. Like I didn't even know what community was really. And, um have never actually felt like I belonged to a community until I came to Sterling. It's, It's hard for me to, um really articulate my experience of home or community because I it's constantly changing.

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Favor. I hear you speaking in many ways of, uh, wisdom and discomfort in some respects of a welcoming of this discomfort in these different places and emotions and has a skill holder of that space. How do place in space differ for you?

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Place is the opportunity to explore the elements, to explore how deep our roots can grow, how, how wide they can spread. It's a place where we can interact with the wind and with the water and, be nourished. That's what places to me and understanding history and understanding the many different languages that, makeup a place. Space for me is about vulnerability. It's about truth-telling, it's about asking really hard questions, feeling the feelings that need to be felt.

It's about grief, and I, I prioritize finding a way to exist in place and space at the same time. To lay roots and nourish roots while also feeling grief, while also feeling joy, um, finding ways to nourish myself thoroughly through the, all of the elements through all of my, my physical body and also through all of my emotional body.

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Favorite, what does it take to make a space breathe or Reverent?

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There's been an interesting shift from calling something, a safe space. And, and now we're calling things more brave spaces, or as you said, reverent spaces. And I think again, That's about vulnerability, that's about risk-taking. Whenever I enter a or, or form a new group of people, we talk about our agreements that we'll have with each other in order to feel like we can feel, be brave, and often that is about, you know, the basics, treating each other with respect one person talking at a time, but it's also about the willingness to take risks. The willingness to be vulnerable, to allow another person or another group of people to hold us in ways that, might feel uncomfortable, but also acknowledging that those experiences are critical to our growth.

I think that if we don't allow ourselves to take risks and ask questions and learn and make mistakes, then we're not, we're not growing, and we're not creating the world that we need, and that we want. So when I'm creating a space and I want it to be a brave space, I model vulnerability, I model truth-telling and honesty, and I ask questions in a way that, help people feel supported in, in their learning and in their exploration, and that to me is how people can thrive in a brave space.

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Favor. What are some of the questions that you're asking of yourself, others in the community at this time?

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Right now, this community is having, a series of conversations around accountability, around community accountability, around personal accountability, professional accountability.

It's important to me that every person in our community feels like they can get support if they need it, that there are resources if they need it. And, um, that they can trust that they will be held with deep respect and love. One thing that I've been thinking a lot during this pandemic is that we ask each other, how are you doing? Are you okay? And often don't stop to hear the real response. And that's, that's true always isn't it? Like, how are you doing? And then we just walk away, but now, especially, I think it's important for all of us to be able to say how we are doing really, and for some of us we're doing really well. Some of us thrive in isolation or you know I've often said, like I have to preparing my whole life for this. I grew up in the middle of the woods by myself, this is great. But. It's not always great, you know, we're hardwired to need connection and we're not able to access that in the way that we're used to. And so it's really important that we provide opportunities to access connection and to access relationship.

So ask how you're doing or how are you feeling or what have you been thinking about lately or what have you been feeling lately and sitting there in our presence, in our full-selves and listening to the response. Doesn't mean we need to, necessarily interact with the person's response, but it does mean that we hold it and witness it and I, for one, feel like the witnessing that we're doing for each other could change the way that we have relationships moving forward outside of this pandemic.

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So Favor, your formal training is in eco-psychology, eco-feminism, transformative language arts and embodiments studies. How do these studies inform your approach to building community?

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All of those things are about storytelling and, holding space for story. I also want to add that I, um, after receiving that education, I became a massage therapist and part of my motivation for becoming a massage therapist is because all of that work, the eco- psychology, the transformative language arts and the embodiment studies.

It felt really heady to me and it was about words and it was about language and it was about, um, it was about emotion, but it wasn't about the body. And I felt that that was really missing in my life. So I learned massage therapy and therapeutic body work so that I could better access what my body was trying to tell me and then better interact with what other people's bodies needed to say. We all have so many stories and especially those of us who have experienced trauma, we hold our trauma in our bodies and in really distinct and individual ways, and so it's been important for me to take the, the stories of the trauma of the earth and the stories of the trauma of, women and children.

And, um, Under-resourced and marginalized people and, translate that into stories of, um, the body and stories of how we, move in the world and I'm bringing that to my work at Sterling quite often, um, bringing different, somatic tools to the work with students, just so that we all can take a few steps every day, getting to know our bodies more, getting to know our reactions, more, understanding how, something like having a gut feeling is really important and something that we should listen to and how do we interact with that in our relationships while we're building communities that are brave and, um, sacred.

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Could you tell us a little bit more about that relationship to our bodies and to this earth?

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I woke up this morning and, and checked the news as I often do, and saw that Iceland, a place that I feel deeply connected with is experiencing multiple earthquakes a day for the

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wow.

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Past week and, they're expecting an eruption any, any day now. And that's what it feels like. Um, earthquakes to me, feel like a disruption, a response to too much pressure too a lack of acknowledgement of the strain that we're putting on the earth, that the earth is putting on itself. The response to, um, woundings throughout the planet and then I, um continue to look at the news and saw that there was quakes in New Zealand, off the coast of New Zealand today and also I think off the Pacific Northwest. So, right now there is lots of different places on the planet. There is this disruption, this like splitting open. It feels like, you know, visually it looks like a wounding, doesn't it? And, um, it's, to me seems like the earth holding so much. Not by choice, um, like holding so much and then splitting wide open and releasing and it does feel like a release. My pursuit of somatic knowledge and, embodiment studies is relevant because I have read so many stories and heard so many stories and also experienced so many stories, but they're not always easily translatable for me. So I, I create other stories which are metaphor to be able to explain to my body what is happening.

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Folks are looking at what's happening as that sort of rebirth, that you know, open wound and, you know, for some, they are excited about what is to come. How do you respond to the people who are, who are nervous about what is happening and you know, who can't see things as a rebirth because of all of the pain that, and all of the trauma that is that they are presently experiencing?

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It does feel like a rebirth or a potential rebirth doesn't it? Who knows what's going to happen next? And that's the terrifying thing for some people. Not knowing what's going to happen next could feel unsafe. It could feel like the security that we've built our lives on could be taken away and that, that mirrors larger conversations we're having, especially in the U.S. right now around reparations and, white supremacy and this general fear that if, if we give everybody equal rights, then that means that we lose something as white people, and I challenged that by saying, It is a rebirth. It means that we get to create a world that makes better sense for all of us and that we can resource in a way that supports all of us thriving.

I'm a birth doula, and one thing that I've learned is that, um it's really important to be present with all of the changes, a body that's giving birth. It's needs change moment to moment and the, and the way it moves, changes, moment to moment, and what I've learned is to like mirror what the birthing body is doing and what the birthing body is, is asking for.

And so I translate that my doula work and my community building work and my counseling and relationship building work, um, it's all connected. I, I want to listen to and see and witness what another person is needing and asking for and find ways to mirror that in my own longing and in my own response to the world. So that, number one, a person doesn't feel so alone so that they feel more supported so that they feel like they belong. And I feel like we could be doing that with the earth right now. Also there's this wounding, there's this opening, there's this birthing that's happening. And how can we allow that to be true and allow that to be something that we can also experience.

We don't need to be literally giving birth to a human, but we could be giving birth to an idea or a project or, um, allowing a wound to open, especially an old wound, that had scabbed and scarred over that was untended. If we allow it to open again with the supports and resources that we need, then it can actually heal, and I wonder if that's, what, if that's one response that we can have to the earth being rewounded and, and experiencing a new kind of birth. If we can mirror that for ourselves?

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As a bodyworker and licensed massage therapists, you've also focused a fair amount of your work on supporting transgender, gender fluid and gender queer folks, you know, helping them find home and ease into their bodies and in the world. What can both the experiences of gender expansiveness and the mainstream reactions to it teach us about the possibilities for humans on this earth?

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Kasi, I love that question. It's so important isn't it to find ways to elevate and love all beings for all of their expressions of identity. With the exception of, um actually causing harm to, to others. I feel like all of our choices, all of our behaviors, all of our, um, needs can be celebrated. When I did a training on how to better support gender expansive clients on the table. I trained massage therapists and body workers who had been in the field for decades. And, some of them had no real awareness that they had actually worked on transgender or gender expansive clients before and creating the space for them to understand how to.

How to hold their own space for lots of different ways of experiencing the world and lots of different ways of experiencing a body was transformative. You know it's not enough to just ask how are you, having this new awareness of the ways we interact with and celebrate, and also, um, mourn our bodies. Helps us have deeper conversations, inspires more vulnerability across the board and, instills a sense of trust. That is like desperately needed right now, these kinds of conversations about identity and about safety and about belonging are the conversations that we need to be having.

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Favor, you have a poem called Trucker's Atlas, and I'd like to read just a brief portion of it if I could and follow up with a question. I've taught myself how to on sing on these roads and I've memorized poems, long wordless tributes to the women I've loved. I've especially like the poems I've written for the women I've only seen once. 50 miles, fast passed, she never knew I was here. I should've been more forward-thinking, known how much it would be needed. Everyone needs a map. Favor, what does that map look like for you going forward and for communities going forward.

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Dakota, I've never heard anybody else read that poem out loud. It gave me chills.

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It's a beautiful poem.

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Thank you. You know, those maps, um, that people used to have that, that showed the sea monster and the, you know, the X where the treasure was and like the mermaids, those maps? I feel like that's the map I need right now. I, I need a map that creates a wide open space to explore. That shows me where some of the land masses are.

In case I need to pause in case I need to rest. But also shows me like, there are so many things that I don't know about. So many things that I can discover, and like, I, I want to learn how to interact with the sea monster. I mean, who doesn't want that? I want to, um, see that the world is ever changing.

That there's magic. That, there's more than one way to get to a place. And maybe getting to a place is only a secondary motivation, maybe, being able to sail the sea next to that same monster. That's really the thing that I want to be doing. I've stopped so intensely wanting a place to call home because I have learned that, I am my home. I create my home. I have a, a family full of critters who adore me and, um, we can do this exploration together.

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How does one find that map? Whether it be, you know, a big fancy map or just a nice little mermaid under the sea type one?

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I am building that map for myself, through relationships, through, the very intentional seeking out of resources and voices that, um, are different from mine. So, in order to build that map, I need to keep my eyes open and my ears open and also be very intentional about keeping my heart open to new ways of thinking. And you know, every new person I read or, you know, watch on the tick tock. They offer me a, uh, a new vision of what that mermaid might look like or what that sea monster might look like and it's a way to populate my world and my map in the ways that are important to me. I've taken a lot of pleasure and, um, inspiration from the group called the nap ministry, which is, uh, you know, them?

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I do.

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A group of black women who are teaching black women, especially, but, um, I'm also reading their lessons about like, take a nap. It's okay. Take a nap, and, um, you know, Audre Lorde talked about how, caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it's an act of political warfare and I feel like that's a lesson that's really powerful for me right now. Take care of myself, take a nap, you know, hydrate, do all those things so that I can be strong enough to care for the people around me. So I can look that sea monster in the face.

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You you've spoken the word community a lot. What does it mean for you to be in community?

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I'm still trying to figure that out. I, I'm not sure that I'm ever really going to know what that means, but what I think it means for me today is finding a sense of belonging with people or with non-human people.

A sense of belonging that inspires, that holds space for who I really am and, and allows like allows me and also celebrates, me in risk-taking and growing and living a bigger life, and when I say bigger life, I don't mean taking up a lot of space. I mean, a life that lets my heart open up really big and I feel like Sterling is a place that allows us to have big open hearts and let, let our hearts open up and grow. And that's where I find value in community and in relationship. And I feel like a strong community, a community that is built on fierce love is one that holds space for mistakes and growth and deep relationship building.

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Are there any invitations or practices of this radical self compassion and self care that we might be able to offer ourselves?

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The choices that I make are around making my life bigger and around, creating opportunities for other people to make their lives bigger and supporting the knowledge that we can take these risks, and we, we have inside us already what we need to be able to survive. And, and the question is, do we have what's what's needed to be able to thrive? And I feel like, that's what we're developing in ourselves. When we talk about loving relationships and vulnerability and, and healing from trauma, that's how we're learning, how to resource ourselves in order to thrive.

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You've inspired me to at least today, try to live a big life. So I truly appreciate that. And I thank you for taking time on your day. To join us and share, you know, this was them. And I hope that your words are received by others in the same way that you know, it's been received by me. So, thanks again Favor.

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And thank you favor. I cannot nothing more to what Nakasi sentiments added to this conversation, so thank you so much for your time and your wisdom.

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Thank you Nakasi, thanks Dakota.

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If you enjoyed this conversation, do come back for the commendation. We'll spend a few more minutes with our most recent guests identifying specific works that inspired them, so you can route further draw new sources of nourishment and connect to the emergence of vital possibilities.

And before we come to a close, Sterling acknowledges that the Land on which we gather, places now known as Vermont and Kentucky are the traditional and unceded territories of several indigenous peoples. The Abenaki in the north and the Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Osage people to the south. We also learn in, and from a range of landscapes that belong to other indigenous peoples and more than human kin. As we seek deeper reciprocal relationships with nature, we respect and honor the place-based and cultural wisdom of indigenous ancestors and contemporaries. Words of acknowledgement and intention are just a first step. We must match them with acts of respect and repair.

Thanks so much for listening, you can subscribe to Emergency to emergence wherever you listen to podcasts.

And a very special thanks to Sterling alum Fern Maddie, for her musical creations.

For more information on how Sterling is advancing ecological thinking and action, visit www.sterlingcollege.edu

If listening has prompted something new to emerge in you, we invite you to share your thoughts as a written message or voice recording, which you can send to [email protected]

Until next time, this is the Emergency to Emergence.


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