Grace Taylor is a spoken word poet, teaching artist and youth development worker. She believes in the empowerment of words, in particular through creative manifestations and providing spaces for people to tell their own stories. Grace’s poetry ciphers strongly around dialogues about identity, with her believing that the exploration of a sense of belonging is underestimated in many facets of society. Grace is co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective and the Rising Voices Youth Poetry Movement.
by Stefanie M Smith
It’s over a year since I first discovered the Transformative Language Arts Network. I’d been looking for a class I could take online fore self-development, and having always had a love of language; it was only natural that I decided to look at some language classes. Little did I know what an amazing transformative tool I had discovered.
Now as the current class I am taking comes to a close, I have decided to take some time to reflect on just how far I have come.
I previously saw myself as a failure; I was 46, disabled – in pain both mentally and physically, and I was mourning my nursing career. I felt totally overlooked by society as a whole and that my voice was no longer relevant or important.
I realise now that some of my insecurities and lack of self-belief were due to the abuse I had been a victim of whilst I was growing up, combined with my mother’s lack of belief about the abuse when I tried to tell her about it. I had had no real validation throughout much of my childhood, however this realisation only truly came to me during my second TLA class – Wound Dwelling: Writing the Survivor Bodies with Jennifer Patterson. The class description had called out to me so strongly that I just had to take it, and I am so glad that I did.
One of the writing prompts from the first week asked us to do a free write based on a piece by Leslie Jamison – beginning from: “here is a [person] who is almost entirely wound…” It was an uncomfortable prompt for me but I decided it was something I needed to tackle head on, and this is an extract from what I wrote.
If I describe myself as Wound – what does that look like – what do I look like as Wound? If I close my eyes and think about how deeply I am wounded I can see a deep deep pressure sore – there at my base – on first look it seems small and neat but then on closer examination I can see that it goes Waaayyyy deep – right around and behind my spine – I could pack it with fibres to try and draw out the stinking pus and allow the edges of the wound begin to close in – but what I choose to do time after time – even though I know it won’t help me heal – is to patch it over & cover it with a sticking plaster – let the surface heal – and try to ignore the deep set rotting that carries on underneath – it looks pretty like that – in the same way that I choose to use a smile to hide my pain- but time and again without warning the rot – the pain – rises to the surface and breaks back through – a slimy ooze trickles through the flesh and releases my secret again. The stench a nose wrinkling smell that drags me back down to the depths.
This is not the story I want my wound to tell – I want to heal it properly from the inside out – not just allow the surface to heal – then break – then heal again in a never ending cycle.
My Wound – its’ story should follow a more linear path – the edges growing granulation – slowly steadily safely – letting new tissue – healed flesh working its’ way up – replacing the stinking pus – growing the pain and hurt out – yes there will be a scar – but scar tissue has its’ own strength – and once this Wound is closed properly – with honesty and revelations – it will not be broken down again – of this I am sure……….
It felt like I had gained a powerful new insight into my inner turmoil with just this one small piece of writing. I was amazed both at myself and at the process and it led me to challenge myself more over the duration of the class, each week coming to a new understanding of myself and my healing journey. This was just the first step of many along the path to a newly healed soul.
Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s first blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.
Stefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.
By Melissa Rose
It is easier to dismiss others when we know them on the surface. We are all more than that surface image however. In fact, we are the same. Our stories unique, but somehow exactly alike, and if you take the time to listen, you discover the connection between us all.
Storytelling is a unique characteristic of human beings. We learn easiest through stories. We connect with other humans through stories. Stories tells us who we are and who we want to be. They inspire and reflect. They show us the people we could be. The people we once were. The lessons we learned and learn again. Most importantly, they connect us.
StoryCorps is an organization dedicated to building connections through stories. Founded in 2003, what began as simple pop up “story booth” in Grand Central Station now has growth into a national movement, prompting permanent story booths located across the country, and a mobile booth which takes the storytelling on the road. Places where anyone can share a story with the world, and anyone else can listen to it.
StoryCorps’ mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
The more we share our stories, the more we discover that we are more alike than different. That no matter our background and culture and history, we all experience the pain of loss. The power of love. The strength of our own resilience in the face of impossible odds. We discover that we are, in fact, one human family.
Sonya Renee Taylor is an Internationally acclaimed performance poet, actress, educator and activist who’s been seen on HBO, CNN, BET, MTV, and the Oxygen Network. She has performed on stages from New Zealand to Scotland to New York, and is currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She is the creator of The Body Is Not An Apology Movement
by Karen Silsby
I highly recommend this class (TFSATFE) with Angie Rivers, our instructor! While moving through the weekly assignments, I had a profound opening up of my inner awareness. This came about as we explored The Four Elements with our five senses open, using poetry as a vehicle to absorb the meaning behind the assignments. Our readings and expeditions out into nature helped my classmates and I define what the different Elements of Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth meant to us as human beings and as a part of nature. As well, she created a supportive community amongst the class participants to aid our processes of self-exploration.
For me, one of the biggest take-aways from this class was keeping up the practice of what Angie calls, “small noticings” of nature, relating to these things from our five senses. What I noticed over the six weeks of classwork was that I came to a deeper sense of mindfulness and compassion. Whenever I practice this exercise now, some weeks after finishing the class, I land in the same place of quiet, mindful understanding and peace.
Let me go back and explain a bit more about the class as a means of self-exploration.
An easy example, one that we tried yet anyone can do, incorporated a Wabi Sabi approach when exploring the Earth Element. That meant we were to look at what we perceived as the “uglier” parts of the Earth, and see the “singular beauty” in small things. So I went outside and weeded, raking through the dirt and mud, observed the earthworms grinding through the leaves, all the while hearing the sounds of jays shreaking about my head. I could taste the bitter leftover coffee in my saliva; and smelled the verdant long grass as I raked its twisted, gnarly heads. In the 90-degree heat, the sweat rolled warm, down my chest in incessant drops. My awareness was heightened to see the world in a more vivid and heartfelt way, even through the difficulties and challenges of weeding my garden in the heat!
Further, this sense of wonder and engagement was broadened by our use of poetry. Angie had us try out a variety of poetic forms, like Haiku and Renga. I found that the poetry weaved into my weekly writings and “noticings” in a rather interesting way. My inner writer became looser and more watchful of deeper truths. I noticed the shift from being in a reporting mode to one of, something that I can only describe as, more spiritually connected to myself and the world and others around me. As each week progressed, I felt more at peace writing poetry that was grounded in my sensory experiences.
At the end of class, we were charged with deciding how we wanted to continue our journey with the Five Senses and the Four Elements. I chose to go out into nature once a week to continue my small noticings and be more quiet and mindful. Some weeks, I write down these noticings in detail and formulate a poem. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of one backyard sensory noticing that allowed me to touch on my up and down health after cancer and a resultant, changed life path. This led to a free form poem, as follows:
Sometimes I think I’ve had enough ickiness
And am ready to go,
Tired of the fight to stay on top of things.
Yet, that is a transitory point of view.
Life is precious
And all experiences are a
Part of the memory box
Which becomes so full by age 67.
Believing in myself to anchor me,
Believing in something more vibrant than me
That roots me,
Believing that life is a journey of many lessons,
Brings me to that ever-present light from a singular star, pointing the way.
I breathe in the verdancy of hope.
I shine the light of sun upon my living skin.
I touch the earth’s heart with my toes.
I listen to the song of the bells chiming free.
I taste the inner peace of life within me.
And my senses are one with The Elements.
Editor’s note: This is Karen’s first blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.
On Sunday night, PBS will begin airing a ten-part, 18-hour series called The Vietnam War. I’m looking forward to watching it, and I’m dreading watching it.
For those of us old enough to have lived through that time, memories of the war are still painfully raw. As a country, we still argue about its lessons. In fact, there is so much controversy, we haven’t done a very good job of telling its history to younger generations.
Perhaps this television series will help correct that. No doubt, creating the documentary was a daunting task. How do you provide a window into so many conflicting perspectives? How do you bring to life so many different experiences?
PBS and the filmmakers wisely decided to open up the dialogue. They are soliciting and publishing personal narratives about the Vietnam experience from anyone with a story to tell (go to http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/vietnam-stories/ to join in). The stories have one thing in common: their diversity, in both the tellers and their experiences. There are stories of soldiers, of children who lost their fathers, of protestors, of conscientious objectors, stories of sorrow, of triumph, of loss, of courage, and more.
I’m sure the 18-hours of documentary will be instructive and often riveting. But these personal stories on the website bring an added dimension and deeper understanding of the effect the war had on us as a people. Together—the artfully crafted film by professionals and the informal heartfelt outpourings of self-appointed witnesses—paint a complicated and more complete portrait of a cataclysmic event.
TLA Blog (TLA) What inspired you to teach this class?
Sparks is a bi-monthly free tele-conference for all things TLA! Moderated by Kelly DuMar & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, this tele-conference is a great opportunity for anyone to learn more about TLA practitioners and their work in the TLA community.
When and Where:
Wednesday, September 6th
7:00 PM – 8:15 PM (CDT)
Online via Zoom video conference
(Kelly will arrive on the video conference at 6:45 p.m. CENTRAL so you can connect early & work out any glitches! You will receive links and numbers in your email after RSVPing.)
This month’s featured guest is Gregg Levoy.
Gregg is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion (Penguin), and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life (Random House)—rated among the “Top 20 Career Publications” by the Workforce Information Group. He is also the former “behavioral specialist” at USA Today and a regular blogger for Psychology Today.
As a speaker, he has presented at the Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Protection Agency, Microsoft, National Conference on Positive Aging, American Counseling Association, National Career Development Association, and many others, and been a frequent guest of the media, including ABC-TV, CNN, NPR and PBS.
A former adjunct professor of journalism at the University of New Mexico, and former columnist and reporter for USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer, he has written for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Omni, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, and many others.
Format of the Gathering
- Kelly and Caryn will interview Gregg for 30 minutes
- We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask Gregg questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.
- We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.
- You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!
with Kelly DuMar
Kelly DuMar is teaching the six-week online class “Your Memoir as Monologue” starting September 6, 2017. She’s a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year.
What inspired you to teach this class?
I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern.
Don’t you love the invitation to enchantment? The theatre, darkened, the stage lit.
Whether I’m in the audience or the playwright, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question, What if. . . is an invitation to be enlightened, and changed through storytelling.
I love helping writers tell powerful stories on the stage – particularly those whose voices
and stories have been unheard, silenced, trivialized or marginalized. Eleven years ago, I founded a play festival, Our Voices, for new and experienced women playwrights to have a uniquely supportive place to develop their stories for the stage. Our Voices is an all day play lab that has supported nearly 150 women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. I love how one participant last year describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:
“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness. I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice. Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”
How is writing for the page different from writing for the stage?
Collaboration with other artists is illuminating, joyful, and challenging – and writing for the stage requires it. Sitting day to day at one’s desk can be lonely. But writing for the stage invites us into a theatre – a rehearsal, into a relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage:
“One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage.”
Writing monologues for the stage makes the healing power of writing visible, visceral and accessible – not just for the playwright, but the audience as well. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing monologues for the stage is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.
What are some of your favorite dramatic monologues?
My favorite is definitely Emily Webb’s “Goodbye,” monologue in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town. What moves me in a dramatic monologue is when a character goes on a compelling emotional journey and takes me with her – she begins in one place and ends in another – she’s more awakened, and so am I. Watch these Youtube videos of two different performances of the Emily Webb role – the first is from a movie:
Here’s the same monologue in a recording of a stage performance:
What can students in this class expect?
We need spaces where we can give ourselves permission to un-silence our deepest truths and most authentic self. In Memoir as Monologue, I facilitate a safe, supportive, healing environment for writers to tap into their deep feelings and beliefs and find the courage and skill to share them for personal growth and craft them for performance. Participants can expect to express ordinary and extraordinary life experiences, and feelings and construct powerful, dramatic stories with universal appeal.
Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., C.P., is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year, and she teaches playwriting at the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly’s award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn,Heuer, Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and two poetry and prose chapbooks, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild and the TLAN Council, and she moderates SPARKS: a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner and leads an open mic. You can learn more at kellydumar.com
Praise for Kelly’s Monologue & Playwriting Workshops
“Memoir as Monologue taught me the power of my own story. Kelly’s guidance on creating effective drama, her concrete feedback on improving my work, the nurturing environment she created for participants and the excellent resources she brought to the table opened a whole new world for me. This was one of the most effective online classes I’ve taken.”
“Kelly provided excellent resources, offered valuable, timely feedback, sought our feedback as the course progressed and created a nurturing atmosphere. The opportunity to both write and hone monologues and then hear our work performed by a professional actress exceeded my expectations of the class. I learned the freedom monologues offer in contrast to writing.”
“[I learned] better ways to approach monologue than the ways I’d been trying; liked that I cracked open a tough nut of a story in a new way, identifying the core problem Narrator needed to solve (which was different from the problem she was trying to solve).”
“Thank you so much for guiding us all into a most wondrous experience . . . and your attentive intelligence in keeping us on track and focused as each shared and bared depths.”
“Your class was awesome, inspiring and so very insightful. What gifts you bring and give. Thank you!”
“Your memoir-to-monologue class has inspired a whole new project. Thank you. And thanks to my classmates. I learned so much from each of you.”
“Thank you for creating such a collaborative atmosphere of mutual support.”
by Barbara Burt
During the Power of Words Conference early in August, Caryn Merriam-Goldberg offered a generative workshop called, “Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash to Re-Vision Our Lives.” As she explained, “Midrash is the Hebrew tradition of re-interpreting and re-visioning our guiding myths and messages to foster greater meaning, freedom, and authenticity.” After examining different examples of midrash, she invited us to consider it in our writing. For some reason, the folktale of Snow White popped into my head. This and Sleeping Beauty and all the other tales of damsels in distress have long bothered me; these girls sleep until awakened by a handsome prince’s kiss—how passive and unimaginative those heroines are! Yet, through the power of Disney and myriad children’s books, they are role models buried deep in many young women’s consciousness.
I believe that midrash specifically refers to retelling or commentary on the Torah; Snow White is no sacred text but it does carry cultural weight. I decided to try a retelling of Snow White in a poem. Other workshop participants created awe-inspiring poems and stories—all in a scant half hour, once again illustrating the creative power of silently writing together.
Here is the result of my effort, with a bit of editing since the workshop.
Snow White Remembers
I was not beautiful.
That is an embellishment added by the Grimms,
who couldn’t imagine a commonplace heroine.
And my stepmother didn’t really hate me.
She read rebellion behind my solemn stare,
resentful questions in the crick of my eyebrow.
Because she recognized a vestige of the same in her
She had to murder it in me.
But I do not know if she poisoned that apple pie on purpose.
She was a terrible cook.
I’d known those seven woodsmen since childhood.
Caught in a thunderstorm, I came upon their clearing
and sheltered in their cabin.
It was strewn with books left by an unnamed professor long ago.
He’d tried solitude on a summer sabbatical,
only to flee, books in his wake.
As I grew, I escaped to the those bookshelves
when I could,
drinking in word of other lands, other lives.
The loggers paid no mind to my visits.
They were busy in the woods most days.
And I was neat, straightening and dusting
the rows of books.
I left bouquets of wildflowers and pine boughs on the table.
On the day the illness came upon me,
I ran to the cabin after the compulsory midday meal at home.
(Apple pie to finish.)
I was sixteen and sick of arguing,
and the cabin had an extra bunk where I could stay.
I chose a stack of books from the shelves
and buried myself under blankets.
In a day or two I could keep food down again.
She doesn’t want to be found, said the loggers,
turning away searchers at their door.
A year went by
as I read through the pile
until few titles remained.
I was restless;
my attempts to help with cabin upkeep
Chipmunk chatter was no longer delightful.
Almost a housewife, I was no longer just playing house.
The loggers were kind
but their table talk described saws and stands of trees
and they were snoring by dusk.
So when they spoke of a young man new in town,
He is kind to us, they said.
He fingers tunes on his fiddle.
He carries a well thumbed journal
with poems and colored sketches of birds.
Shall we invite him here? they asked.
Perhaps, I said,
But I was fire inside.
That day I entwined flowers in my braids,
chose my eyelet blouse,
and rehearsed clever conversation.
I spied him walking up the path,
deep in thought,
and was pleased by his brown curls and open expression.
Just as he knocked, I opened the door,
and I kissed him.