A remarkable TED talk that challenges conventional wisdom about stress. In a few short minutes, the description says, “Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.”
Her research revealed a fascinating detail about what we have long considered to be one of the demons of stress — cortisol. While cortisol may be responsible for a lot of unhealthy outcomes (hypertension chief among them), what scientists have recently discovered is that cortisol is also responsible for a hugely beneficial outcome. It appears that, through a cascade of biological processes, cortisol triggers a powerful impulse – an almost instinctive, persistent drive – to reach out to others.
It makes sense. When we are under stress, or when we’re grieving some sort of loss, many of us do feel compelled to reach out to others for support. We usually seek the company of those we love and trust most. And if we reach out and turn up empty-handed, we try again, and again, until we find a connection somewhere, anywhere, that can provide us some relief. And it is in those moments, in those repeatedly successful or failed efforts to connect, that we realize who we want to keep in our lives, and who we should let go, painful as it may be.
But that’s only part of the story. Because while some of us can and do reach out in times of need, others of us have learned – or perhaps have been conditioned – to avoid reaching out, I suspect out of fear or shame. And I’d venture that many of those people become writers.
When I was teaching public relations at St. Edward’s University, one of my first classroom assignments was this: I asked my students to forget about spelling or grammar or punctuation and write a stream of conscious reply to the following question: “What’s bothering you?”
I got the idea for this assignment after reading about a psychology professor at The University of Texas who spent years studying grief and its outcomes. He asked students who had suffered a loss or experienced some trauma to keep a daily journal, and in it they were to write down their thoughts and feelings over a period of months. Their outcomes were compared to a control group of students under the same circumstances who did not keep a journal. And what the UT professor discovered is that the students who wrote through their grief felt better sooner – and in fact were happier and healthier in the long-term. Years after participating in the study, students who wrote through their grief continued to report being happier and more successful, and they had fewer illnesses and doctor visits than the non-journaling control group.
The exercise with my students seemed beneficial as well. (I should note that “What’s bothering you” wasn’t a one-time assignment; it was the first part of a semester-long writing project based on the premise of that question.) For me, it turned out to be an incredibly useful teaching tool.
I learned more about my students from that one piece of writing than I could possibly have learned about them over the course of an entire semester. I read awful, gripping, staggering stories that shocked me, that made me cry sometimes, or made me want to take up the almighty sword of justice and go to battle on behalf of my students. I did none of those things. I didn’t act on their words, their confidences…I let them be.
The assignment also seemed to have an impact on my students. One of them wrote me a letter about a year after he took my class, and he said that he enjoyed that assignment so much that he kept on writing about what was bothering him even after the semester ended. Journaling through stress, or grief, or hardships had become a part of his daily life, and it improved his quality of life.
As most of you know, I am a writer. I’ve always written, all my life. I grew up in a household where children were seen and not heard. I had no voice. When I tried to use it, I was often ignored, invalidated, or shamed for speaking up or crying out.
By the grace of God and my Uncle Charlie, I learned to express myself on paper. Writing became a powerful, creative and cathartic exercise that sustained me through childhood and many tough adult years until I finally learned how to speak up and reach out. The latter still doesn’t come easy, though, to this day. And so. When I reach out and come back empty-handed, when I feel alone and unheard, I turn to the written word. And it helps. It always helps.
These days, words that would once have been safely tucked away in spiral notebooks are now often posted in public forums, where there are as many critics as there are sympathetic readers. Posts can’t be too Debbie Downer or too Patty Perfect or people are gonna complain. That’s when you have to decide who you’re writing for – and why.
I’ve been through a lot over the past year, and my posts in social media and here have reflected it. And I’d be shocked if reader reactions didn’t span the full range – from sympathy to laugher to disgust. I do know that many of you have read my posts and subsequently worried about me. But you shouldn’t. Because writing makes me feel better. It’s the wordsmith’s pressure relief system. When you haven’t seen or heard from me; when there are no words to read….that’s when you should check in, and I bet that’s true for a lot of other people, too.
What I’m hoping you’ll take away from this – aside from the fact that you should watch this TED talk, is that stress is apparently good because it drives us out of our comfort zones and compels us to find one another.
And when we really need someone and can’t find them — for whatever reason, well, there’s still a place for our words, still a place where we can connect, somehow, with someone, somewhere, and share what’s in our hearts or stuck in our heads. It’s not the writing that fills a page, but rather the empty spaces that we should be paying attention to, if you ask me.
We’re picky about the artists we represent.
And we’re choosy about our music.
We give our talent the Royal Treatment
(because they’ve earned it).
There may be more to life than music,
but we can’t imagine a life without it.
(And we certainly wouldn’t want you
to wander around out there unaccompanied.)
Your brand has a story.
— We memorize it.
Your business needs storytellers.
— We train them.
You have compelling themes.
— We identify them.
You have ideas.
— We wrap powerful words around them.
You have characters.
— We develop them.
Charlene “Charlie” Fern has spent 26 years in communications — as a journalist in Texas in California; and as a press attaché and media advisor for elected officials and business executives in Texas, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, as an adjunct professor of public relations, and as the founder and principal of a strategic communications consultancy, which is now in its 13th year.
Ms. Fern has worked as speechwriter in the Texas Governor’s Office, the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and the White House. She served as director of executive communications for Merck & Co., Inc (then the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical company). She has also taught public relations at the university level.
In 2003 Ms. Fern launched Charlie Fern Ink, LLC, a privately owned strategic communications consultancy. Her clients include musicians and celebrities, professional athletes, executives, diplomats, opinion leaders, global and government leaders, elected officials, corporate boards and CEOs, non-profit founders and leaders, and other writers, public speakers and public relations professionals. She provides strategic communications counsel in a broad range of industries including music and entertainment, health and medicine, government, education, high-tech startups, small businesses, national franchises, Fortune-500 to Fortune 10 companies, government agencies, trade associations, advocacy groups and non-profit organizations.
She has volunteered as a board member or advisor for causes including the Austin Children’s Shelter; Friends of Texas Public Schools (she co-founded and served as a board member for this statewide non-profit through 2008); A Happy Healthy Child; They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO); Mobile Loaves and Fishes; the Wright House Wellness Center and the Texas Book Festival. She has served as Chairwoman of the Texas Book Festival’s Children’s Entertainment Committee in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Ms. Fern has served as an adjunct professor of public relations at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and she continues to lecture at colleges, universities, conferences and forums on subjects including leadership, the art of storytelling as a global business tool, writing and communications in life and management, effective leadership, public relations, strategic engagement and deployment of personal and professional communications, social media, event planning, and corporate, politics and government communications.
Charlie Fern Ink, LLC, is a strategic communications consultancy that provides services including public relations and publicity, tour and media management, strategic message development and deployment, media relations and media training, executive coaching, speech writing and public speaking coaching, event planning, social media strategy; cross-platform branding, and professional writing and editing with areas of expertise that include international relations, business, and diplomacy; government, education, non-profit/advocacy, music and entertainment, healthcare, biotech, technology, social media, entrepreneurial/startup and general professional communications. She presently lives and works from her home studio in Austin, Texas.
“This is like a big Hollywood party,” exclaimed NBC’s Chris Matthews after the entertainment at the Kuwaiti embassy dinner Tuesday celebrating Marvin Hamlisch’s birthday. Truth be told, it was actually more like a night on Broadway. What’s not to love: Hostess Rima Al-Sabah’s dinner … and Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah’s witty speech, incorporating titles of the honoree’s songs (“Nobody Does It Better,” “Ordinary People,” “Sunset, Lollipops and Rainbows”) introduced the show.
— The Washington Times, May 18, 2007
“Charlie Fern has the ability to take complex information and quickly turn it into meaningful material for the general reader. Her greatest talent is in her ability to create memorable language and with her assistance over the years she has opened many doors for me to be of greater service to this community.
“As a non-profit executive director her assistance has allowed me to effectively communicate with the media, government leaders on every level, grantors and big money donors. As a result there are hundreds of people in Austin living an enhanced quality of life. Whether it is an abused child, an individual living with HIV/AIDS or the hungry, Charlie Fern knows just how to craft the argument to get the attention of your audience. I could not recommend her more highly.”
– Susan Wills, MS, LPC Executive Director, the Wright House Wellness Center.
“Charlie Fern has a lot to offer a professional communicator. Her expertise in platform building and speech preparation helped our team provide a top-notch product to our CEO in a timely manner.”
– Linda Rutherford, Vice President, Public Relations and Community Affairs Southwest Airlines
“Outstanding. Top Notch. Best ever. These are some of the responses we received … on this year’s Zhone Tech…They also mirror the reaction from our staff, partners and organizers. What distinguishes my commentary from the others is my full awareness of the substantial role that you played in the terrific success that we enjoyed. I am grateful for not only your expertise and your exceptional gift for prose, but also for your patience and dedication in working under demanding and often unreasonable conditions. Throughout the ordeal you demonstrated nothing less than composure and professionalism. It has been my pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with you on this outstanding engagement.”
– David Markowitz, VP Marketing, Zhone Technology
“Charlie Fern is an alliance partner of Excel Meetings and Events and provides speech writing and coaching to our corporate clients. She has an impeccable background and brings exceptional professionalism to her work. As an alliance partner, she is an invaluable asset to our business.”
– Jon Wollenhaupt, Vice President, Excel Meetings and Events
“I have been honored by the friendship of my colleagues in the White House speechwriting department: Michael Gerson, Pete Wehner, Matthew Scully…Charlene Fern… — altogether the finest presidential speechwriting team since Alexander Hamilton and James Madison collaborated on Washington’s Farewell Address.”
– David Frum, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush
A remarkable TED talk that challenges conventional wisdom about stress. In a few short minutes, the description says, “Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.” Her research revealed a fascinating detail about what we have long considered
So. I developed a talent for editing when I managed the newsroom of a small chain of newspapers in San Diego in the early 90s. My ability to spot a mistake in type grew at roughly the same pace as my list of pet peeves. It seemed as if most of our reporters –
There it is, in black and white. Recently Jim Mitchem reminded me about an important date coming up on the calendar — a day he himself designated to celebrate the the idea of love by simply saying “I love you.” This celebration began back in 2009 as more of an experiment. In Jim’s words: I was
Now here’s another take on a song that some might consider to be a standard from the past… Just look how it not only claimed a place in pop culture back then, but also survived through a generation only to emerge years later, solid and true, in an entirely different arrangement for an entirely different
From the Indiegogo Campaign page: Jerome Schoolar, Producer and Co-Creator of the Emmy Award winning PBS show “The Biscuit Brothers” is calling on fans to support the building of a new Fine Arts Farm in South Austin that will be designed to provide music and arts education to the entire community. The proposed facility will
The Children’s Entertainment Tent is the only tent located on the Texas State Capitol grounds. You’ll find it on the western-most side of the grounds, near the intersection of 12th and Colorado streets.
Todd Simpson … a story you simply will not believe. Todd overcame incredible odds to even survive childhood, then faced challenging disabilities that he battles to this day. You wouldn’t know it to see him, though. At the still somewhat tender age of 18, he was inspired by a music video (Hendrix, no less) and decided
by me. Wind picks up Trees bow and curtsey ebb and flow ebb and flow Depending on the hour, soon, Sirens will wail as they always do After rain slicks streets And irreverent drivers pay no mind. Ride it out ride it out Go on about your business. Rain sprinkles on skin Cool toddy Candle
Ms. Fern has worked extensively in both the public and private sectors, with celebrities, musicians, government leaders, heads of state, corporate executives and board members. Her strategic communication consultancy includes speechwriting and coaching, public relations and marketing, media training, public speaking and teaching.
She delivers motivational speeches and informative lectures nationwide to groups of all sizes. Topics include leadership, strategic communication, public relations (including case studies), and her experiences as a speechwriter in the Texas Governor’s Office and at the White House (where she worked on 9-11).
Clients and Industries:
Ms. Fern works with clients on-site, on the road or virtually. She and her team handle each project and every client with the utmost care, professionalism and discretion. Our experience includes work in areas that include:
Colleges and Universities
Diplomatic Corps – Ambassadors and Heads of State
Education – Early Childhood to University Instruction
Embassies – worldwide
Entrepreneurs – CEOs and Boards
Foundations – Local to International
Fortune-500 to Fortune-5 Companies
Franchises – executives and Franchisees
Government – Federal
Government – State
Music and musicians – artists, songwriters and labels
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Oil and Gas
Professional athletes (NFL, olympic stars, etc)
Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising
Real Estate and Realtors
Central Texas HQ:
12400 State Highway 71 West, Suite 350-395 Austin, TX 78738
Phone: 1-800-349-9048 or 512-410-0383
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What do we do around here? The ABCs and 123s of this strategic communications consultancy include nearly every service you can imagine across the wide world of professional communication and human interaction. Our services include, but are not limited to:
Contact Charlie for more details.
As a journalist, Ms. Fern wrote and edited in all styles – hard news, lifestyles, sports, columns and editorials. More than 20 years later, she continues to write for all media and consults a national list of clients in the art and skill of writing and public communications, including public relations and strategic messaging. When she is not a featured writer, or featured as a writer in the news, she lectures at the university level and delivers seminars and motivational speeches to organizations and groups nationwide.
You will have heard Ms. Fern’s speeches on national television, national and international radio. You will have read her work in prominent newspapers and magazines worldwide. And on this Web site, you will find examples of her own writing on a myriad of personal and professional topics — from leadership and public speaking to storytelling and strategic communications. You’ll also find blogs, essays, and speeches, quotes, and writing tips by Charlie and her staff, here and elsewhere on this site. We hope you’ll find this information both useful (if you’re considering our services) and entertaining (if you’re just browsing for fun and inspiration). And if you want to stay put on this page, you’ll find a few samples below.
Personal Blog Posts:
Excerpt from memoirs: