While attending Sarah Lawrence College, I worked for a summer in a Head Start program teaching third graders, all of whom were African American. One day while painting, one little boy said: “Black is beautiful.” A little girl cautioned: “Hush, you will hurt Joan’s feelings.” And then another boy proclaimed: “I know what Joan is – she’s colored underneath.” It was this same tiny genius, Todd Barnes, who at another juncture reprimanded me with a message that I would never forget: "All you have is WORDS, WORDS, WORDS!"
Speechwriting comes naturally to me –it is the theater that is politics, markets, the whole social enterprise. In my view, the best writers in this invisible art are “colored underneath” - they have a facility for multiple viewpoints and purposeful words.
Raised by my grandfather, a coal miner, I grew up with an enormous respect for physical labor, character, and courage. Ted Roosevelt IV, a former Navy SEAL and Managing Director at Lehman Brothers, considered that a winning combination of values. For 20 years plus, I was primarily his speechwriter, working in financial services but also on all the sundry interests that one might expect a Roosevelt to entertain. I was occasionally on loan to other executives, and allowed to have a consulting practice on the side. This was not anyone's normal banking position.
Over the past few years, clients approached me for executive and personal coaching, aside from speech delivery. All of my varied physical training and interests come into play here: dance therapy, tango, tai chi, horseback riding, acting – even my training in wilderness management! Interpreting, addressing, and refining the physical, vocal, and written expressions of my clients so that they can be more effective and happy is enormously satisfying.
I am also deeply involved with America’s ranch communities and most fit and whole on the back of a horse, pushing cattle across the high plains. After I was pilloried by a critic at a public reading - the much celebrated Elko Cowboy Poetry Festival - one of agriculture's great champions sought me out with the sole purpose of lightening my load: “Joan, you have to accept that you are a truth teller; that can rile people.” In that community, if you aren’t a good hand, the least you can do is tell the truth.