We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Forbes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, can you tell us about an impactful book you’ve read and why you liked it or what impact it had on you?
Books are my source of inspiration. I love reading other people’s ideas and gaining energy from their passions. I have a lot of books that have inspired and impacted me but one that stands out that I think any person could benefit from is called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The purpose of this book is for artistic creative recovery. There is a religious element to this book – I am not religious but I am spiritual so I think as a reader you can interpret the religious parts however it fits into your life. But, basically, Julia says that everyone has a creative side to them but at some point in our lives we are shamed out of being creative. Many people get pushed to a place where they just think they are not artistic or creative people. Julia challenges this and says that it’s still there but it needs to be recovered and uncovered for it to shine through. There are various tools and techniques that she suggests people engage in in order to recover their innate creativity. One is morning pages where every morning before doing anything else, you get up and complete three pages of free writing. The thinking is that sometimes our creativity is covered up because we just have so many stressors and mental noise that we carry around that just weighs us down mentally and emotionally. By doing morning pages, over time, it will lighten that mental and emotional load so that there is more space for free and creative thinking. I can tell you that doing morning pages has been one of the most impactful things I have done. It’s amazing how it works. It made me feel so light and carefree and I did notice that I was having more creative thoughts and inspired by possibilities. Another technique is going on “artist dates” with yourself. Basically, it’s spending time with yourself, your inner artist, and just quieting the world around you to be able to give space to your inner child (which is the creative part of us). Our inner child/inner artist has a ton of wisdom and creativity but we often don’t give that part of us much attention. I also found artist dates to be extremely helpful. I had forgotten how wise my inner child is – my inner child is a much cooler, more creative person than my adult version! I know it’s one in the same but artist dates made me feel more integrated and whole as a creative person. This book is written with a religious tone and is very overtly geared toward artists and musicians but I do believe this book can be impactful for any person in any industry.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I chose “other” as my area of work because I do so many different things that it’s hard to pick just one area. I am a professor, a researcher, a supervisor, a counselor, a play therapist, and a creative. I pursued a PhD for many reasons but one is that it would allow me to work in many of the ways I wanted to that didn’t leave me feeling stuck or stagnet. So, I get to teach master’s students about becoming mental health counselors. I get to supervise students and early career professionals with their clients and caseloads. I get to research intensive mothering practices and also research using the power of play in learning in higher education. I get to be a counselor – right now I am working toward earning my Registered Play Therapist credential. So, my current clients are kids and I am using play therapy, which is mental health counseling for children 3-11. This approach harnesses the power of play in a therapeutic way to help kids resolve their stressors and traumas. Faculty life is very independent in many ways so I get to have space to create new things and new ideas. A lot of this happens within my own classrooms and in counseling sessions but also more publically through a faculty group I co-founded called Professors at Play. To make a long story short, I became a bit disillusioned by higher education. While it was never overtly expressed, I started to get the sense that there was a “right” or “normal” way to be a faculty member. I got the sense that higher education was pretty formal, structured, and serious. While those things aren’t inherently bad, that way of being and working does not align with who I am at my core. I started to question why we (faculty) do what we do and why sometimes what we do stays the same for centuries! For example, I started to question why lecture is such a norm of education. I personally never learned much from lectures and found them incredibly boring yet I entered academia and found myself lecturing at students probably because it was the norm that I just hadn’t questioned. I decided that I wouldn’t last long in higher education if I continued to blindly follow the path that millions of other faculty had carved before me. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is just about one of my least favorite explanations. I had to find my own path. So ,I started infusing fun and play into teaching, kind of secretively at first. David Thomas and I, the other co-founder of Professors at Play, kept talking and dreaming about what higher education could be but we felt as though there weren’t many other people on board with a playful approach. We created a listserv to keep the conversation going about play in higher education with the few playful faculty we had met but after I published a few pieces on my playful approach to teaching, we now have over 700 Professors at Play members from all over the world! We were wrong – there are people interested in this approach but it’s kind of like no one really talks about it out loud. Professors at Play has quickly become this powerful entity that brings faculty together, inspires people (including myself!), and encourages the magic of play in teaching. We started our listserv in the summer of 2020, so the group is fairly new but in a short time we have held workshops, had endless listserv discussions, and ran two one-day virtual “Playposiums” with over 20 some presenters. Our motivation for deepening our work with Professors at Play comes from our passion about play in learning but also because of our community’s hunger for this approach. Currently, we are putting together what we call the Playbook which will be a compilation of over 50 playful techniques and ideas that various faculty from all over the world have submitted. A lot of times, faculty believe in using play in teaching but don’t know what to do or how to start and this book can help provide some ideas and direction. The sky is the limit with Professors at Play. That’s kind of the nature of play – tinkering, creating, innovating, trying new things, etc. It’s been a lot of work, it’s been draining, and I’ve had my fair share of critiques. It’s easy to look at someone else’s work from the outside and think that their progress came easily – that they never experienced failure or self-doubt. If you could see my soul, you’d see my passion but you’d also see self-doubt and periodic questioning if this work even matters to anyone. This runs deep because ever since I was in elementary school, learning and succeeding by traditional educational standards never came very easy to me. I struggled through school. It was extremely hard for me to learn – I was even tested twice for learning disabilities. Ultimately the tests couldn’t find anything conclusive. So I just continued to struggle. It wasn’t until high school that I was finally diagnosed with ADD and was prescribed ritalin when my learning became a bit easier. But by that point I had some very negative correlations with education so getting graduate degrees was something I never thought I would do. It happened because I found counseling – a career I was passionate about and because a few mentors at the time helped me believe I had what it took to continue my education. Being a grad student and now faculty member has been pretty uncomfortable at times because in academia, you never feel like the smartest person in the room. Because of my past with education, I have adopted a narrative that tells me my opinions aren’t as important as other peoples. So being a faculty member and branching out from the status quo of higher education (at least in my mind) to represent Professors at Play and be vocal about the issues I see in higher education and how play can be an antidote, is terrifying for me. I always do better when I work on my passions quietly but I believe in play in higher education so much, I’ve been more vocal about my ideas. I saw something the other day that really resonates with me – it said something like “if you are going against the norm in some way, you have to ignore the noise of other people’s opinions. You have to ignore the naysayers who say what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing.” That is the most helpful lesson I have learned along the way because I don’t know many people who don’t have some level of self-doubt or some tinge of imposture syndrome so to me, the thing that keeps me going is listening to my inner creative fueled by my interests and passions and to the best of my ability stay away from other people’s opinions – at least the opinions of people who don’t even know me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am an outdoor type of person. I feel most grounded when I am in nature and when I am getting exercise and vitamin D. So, I would say Denver and Colorado has endless opportunities to get out on the trails, lakes, slopes, etc. Personally, I’d like to rent a van for the week and drive around to different spots each day and sleep on the side of the street at night. The hike to Hanging Lake is such a gorgeous trek and the emerald green/blue lake at the top is beyond words. The hot springs would be another stop, close to Hanging Lake. Natural bodies of water are just so cleansing! Red Rocks in Morrison are a breathtaking view with fun little hikes. We could stay at night to watch a concert in the unique concert venue housed between the red rock formations. My family visits Estes Park frequently so that would have to be a stop. The Rocky Mountain National Park has endless hikes and beautiful lakes. My family’s favorite is visiting Lily Lake at sunset – the pictures you can take at that time of day are professional quality even if you have no idea what you are doing. My partner would be amiss if I didn’t mention the Colorado Rockies. If you are a baseball fan, catching a game at Coors field is a must. Even if you are not a baseball fan, Coors field is about the baseball but it’s also about the experience. Coors has a rooftop deck that you can grab a drink and watch the game (or chit chat, whatever). After the game you can walk around downtown Denver and visit the endless unique restaurants and bars. Another great option is the Great Sand Dunes National Park by the San Luis Valley. The Dunes are quite impressive. Endless sand for a good calf workout or sand surfing. During summer months, there is a huge river that runs through the base of the dunes – my kids loved to raft down the river (it’s only about 6 inches deep so fun but not scary). Then if you stop at the dunes, you gotta go check out the Colorado Gators Reptile Park in Mosca, CO. There’s a ton of reptiles and gators (if you couldn’t guess) but you get to hold a baby gator and last I checked the gator that was in the movie Happy Gilmore lives there now! I could go on and on about Colorado but those are a few of my favorite spots.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I definitely would not be where I am today without several key people in my life. Of course my family (parents, partner, kids) for providing me opportunities, support, and nurturing throughout my life. They set a strong foundation for what I have become. A handful of soccer coaches I have had from competitive youth days to college athletics to semi-professional competition. They taught me to have determination and a strong work ethic. They are a big reason for my fire, fight, and relentless nature. I’ve had several faculty and supervisors in my grad school days who have supported me and helped me believe in myself as an academic and as a counselor (Heather Helm, Linda Black, Fred Hanna). As a faculty member, it’s easy to feel isolated and siloed as everyone tends to their busy schedules but a few colleagues have validated my work and ideas and inspired me to keep following my passions that exist outside of the status quo (David Thomas, Travis Heath, Andrea Laser, Dennis DeBay, Rebecca Kantor, Pam Laird, Brad Hinson, Remi Kalir, Michael Zinser). Of course my friends and doctoral cohort members – they kept me having fun and avoid burnout!
Other: Faculty bio page at CU Denver: https://education.ucdenver.edu/about-us/faculty-directory/Forbes-Lisa-UCD6000093464