ReSPARK – Bringing Light to the Darkness of Depression with Rob Peck

Rob Peck, noted humorist and author, reveals some not-so-funny facts about challenges that dim people’s outlook on life. In his intimate talk, Rob encourages us to break the silence

Rob Peck is an author, humorist and recovering perfectionist! His book It’s A Juggle Out There, helps people have less stress and better life balance. Rob has degrees from Penn and Ringling Brothers Clown College, graduating the former, Phi Beta Kappa and the latter MAGNA CUM LOONEY! He has appeared on CBS, NBC, and at Harvard and the Smithsonian.

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Submit to Chrysalis

 

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There are still a couple more weeks to submit your transformational stories, poems and experiences with TLA to Chrysalis: A Journal of Transformative Language Arts.

Chrysalis was founded in 2014 as the official journal of the Transformative Language Arts (TLA) Network, thanks to the efforts of founding editor Amber Ellis and other volunteers. The editorial collective now consists of Iris Madelyn, Roy Ringel, Melissa Rose, and Barbara Burt.

Here is your opportunity to build and expand that community by breaking the silences within with the beauty of your words, and by honoring each person around you with the power of your words so that together (whether as reader or writer or both) we become the change we all seek in the world.

We invite you to submit material that challenges, inspires, educates, and guides us to grow the community of Transformative Language Artists:

  • Creative writing, audio and video products (poems, short stories, essays, etc.) accompanied by a short reflective paper regarding the process of writing the piece and its relevance to the transformation of the author and/or the author’s community.
  • Narrative accounts of TLA projects in action in communities, or experiences practicing TLA alone and with others.
  • Critical writing related to the power of words, including qualitative and/or quantitative studies, and other related investigations of TLA scholarship.

Submit your work here

Read past issues of Chrysalis here

Submissions are open until February 1st, 2018

We look forward to reading your work!

Sparks Gathering TONIGHT

sparks january

Folktales, Funding, Erotica, & Social Change: Transformative Classes for your New Year!

Moderated by Kelly DuMar, with special guests Lyn Ford, Jen Cross, Anya Achtenberg, and Diane Silver

Sparks is a free bi-monthly teleconference moderated by Kelly DuMar, interviewing notable Transformative Language Artists on their work, followed by a poetry open mic.

Join us this month to learn about four exceptional TLA online classes with a presentation and discussion about:

Poetry Open Mic

And there’s more to share — Bring an original poem! This unique discussion and networking opportunity will be followed by a Poetry Open Mic. Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience.

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly will interview the special guest for 30 minutes
  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask 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!

Joining the Call on Zoom

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.

About co-host, Kelly DuMar

Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright, and workshop facilitator from the Boston area. She’s author of two poetry chapbooks, All These Cures (Lit House Press), and Tree of the Apple (Two of Cups Press). Kelly is author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget – The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Her poems, prose, and photos are published in many literary journals including Bellevue Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Poydras, Tiferet, and more. Her award winning plays are produced around the US and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year, and leads a variety of workshops for writers across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Mass. Poetry Festival, the New England Theatre Conference, Playback Theatre North America Conference, and Winter Wheat.  She’s on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild and produces the IWWG Summer Conference Play Lab and the Annual Boston Regional Writing From Your Life Retreat. Closer to home, she facilitates a weekly writing workshop for women, the Farm Pond Writer’s Collective, now in its third year.

My Journey From Marine to Actor with Adam Driver

You may recognize Adam Driver from the newest Star Wars movies, but before his time fighting in galactic space battles, he was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. Adam describes perfectly how he learned how to find the words to express his complex feelings throughout his transition from soldier to civilian as he tells the story of how and why he became a Marine and how he formed his nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces.

learn more about Arts in the Armed Forces

Remembering Dick Allen, 1939-2017

We share this in memory and honor of Dick Allen, who is also a good friend of the TLA Network. He keynoted at our 2013 conference, and he’s one of the featured poets who contributed to the class, Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Time with Poets Laureate. [This is an excerpt from Caryn Merriam-Goldberg’s blog.]

What impressed me first was his sestina, a very challenging kind of poem he wrote after hanging with a bunch of us fellow state poets laureate at a lingering dinner at a Concord, New Hampshire Holiday Inn restaurant. A dozen of us gathered from Louisiana to Texas for the Poets & Politics conference to first travel around the small state, giving readings with local poets, then present together for conference-goers.

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The only problem was, that aside from the conference organizers, there were only a handful of conference-goers. We filled the open space with getting to know each other, and those three evenings spent lingering for hours over dinner were some of the most delightful of my life. We talked poetry of course, but also about our kids, how we got to or stayed in the states where we lived, and what we regretted and embraced in how we juggled writing with the other aspects of our lives. But mostly, we laughed, and somehow caught the wave of making air quotes with our fingers for every noun in a sentence one long night over chicken parmesan and garlic knots.

Dick was quirky, approachable, and full of stories, wit, and a kind of peaceful presence only matched by his passion for all things poetry.  The next evening he shared the sestina he had just written, and we raised our glasses to him after he read it to us, all of us blown away that he could turn such a spectacular poem out in such short order. What makes sestinas hard to write is that 1) they’re long — 39 lines, and 2) you have to repeat in a very complex pattern the ending word to a line in each stanza. It’s a little like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle without a picture of what it should look like while juggling six words (repeated at the  end of lines in various formations). It probably takes most people, even very experienced poets, weeks to write a sestina, and blessings of the gods to write a great one. Yet he wrote “If You Visit Our Country,” which he also read on Prairie Home Companion, and is also published in my poet laureate memoir, a book Dick kindly blurbed, Poem on the Range.  

I was so impressed by Dick that I invited him to be a keynote speaker at the Transformative Language Art Network’s Power of Words conference in 2013 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. We had a tight budget and could only offer him an amount that probably just covered travel for his and his wife, poet and fiction writer L. N. Allen, but he kindly accepted our offer, then showed up to give one of the most powerful talks on poetry and life I’ve ever heard, plus a wonderful workshop. But what I remember most was taking a walk with Dick to look at the oldest beech tree  in Pennsylvania, which towered over the very tall and tree-like Allen. We stood in wonder at the base of this grandmother tree, placing our hands on it, and looking up. The size and presence of this being was so awesome that we stopped talking and just smiled at each other, then after a while, walked back, talking about what a gift this moment was.

Not only did he and his wife give so much goodness to the conference, but he wrote Callid, the then-coordinator of the TLA Network, and myself the best notes of our lives, which has the same kind of wild and enthusiastic sentences that threads together in some of his shining poems, thanking us, among other things, “….for the quiet path to the small pond with the fountain and the willow I took Saturday afternoon, for what may be the best brownies of my life, in addition to fabulous breakfasts; for the huge writing expertise of those in my workshop, for the terrific audience response to my poems, for the flashlights we didn’t need when the lights went on, for the ever present care and devotion to the written art, for storytelling and transformations,  for the chocolate bar and the parking space and places to meditate everywhere, thank you!”

Dick knew a lot about gratitude, and attending to the moment. A long-time student, and through his own way of being in the world and his poetry, teacher of Zen Buddhism, he showed up fully at conferences and in email exchanges also.  I just looked over a bevy of emails in which we joked about New England versus Kansas, and Dick sent along photos of wide-perspective Kansas highways leading to a steady point, surrounded by flatlands, which he said he especially loved, while I joked back, “Our state is so big that we can fit two New Englands in it and still have room for New Jersey.” When I sent him photos of our town’s gorgeous maples turning deep red and orange, he responded, “Don’t you realize there are no maple trees in Kansas? You’re living in a hallucination and need to drink some dark sunflower coffee.” We went on to write about our grown children, and in his case, the miracle of the grandchild he didn’t expect and now adores. His love for Kansas and New England was as real as his support for a younger poet — surely I’m one of many he reached out in various ways.

He knew how to bring just the right touch and tone to the most difficult curves of our time also, just like he did in the poem he wrote in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting, “Solace.” You can hear him reading this tender and powerful poem here.

He’s also one of the featured state poets in the self-paced online class “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” I put together for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and we were just emailing about at the end of November when I asked him to share a bunch of poems, writing reflections, writing prompts, and many  links to his work. Not only did he give (again) freely, but he wrote me of the class, “That’s a great thing to do and an honor to be asked.”

The real deal is that Dick was a truly great poet — one of the foremost poets of our time — with an immensely generous and loving heart and a brave and clear mind. In one of our stretches of correspondence, he shared what he called “Gerund Phase Sonnets” — each 14 lines long like a sonnet, but loosely rhymed, all describing a process, some parables too. He wrote of these sonnets, “The form is a vessel, perhaps comparable to Emily Dickinson’s use of simple quatrains, freeing the poet to concentrate on theme and subject and/or to be led by the easy rhymes and American speech patterns of lines of varying length into unexpected places.”

I’m grateful for getting to know him, and sad he’s suddenly gone, having died Tuesday after a heart attack on Christmas. What he’s left behind are many poems I’ll return to with fresh eyes, remembering what he showed me and reflecting on what his poems illustrate about how to simply be while overflowing with compassion, humor, intelligence, and vitality.

 

 

 

Form and Function

By Stefanie M Smith

As I’m moving forward in my healing journey, I am increasingly grateful for the transformative and explorative nature of words.
One area that I have needed to do a lot of personal work on is the difficult relationship with my mother, we had various ups and downs up until her death in January 2008, thankfully we had made our peace in the months leading up to her passing.
In December 2007 I needed to arrange for her to be admitted to the Medical Admissions ward at the hospital where I worked, and due to the staffing levels I actually ended up completing the admission paperwork myself. As you can probably imagine, this was an incredibly stressful time, and not something I was able to process fully until much later; the following is a piece I wrote which helped with that tremendously:

“Just words written on pieces of paper:
Name: Mum
It was a Thursday night, I think two days before Christmas, and I had just left the hospital after a late afternoon shift; my mobile started to ring and because of the state of play I pulled over to take the call. It was my step-dad; my mum had taken a turn for the worse, she was really struggling with her breathing. Instead of finishing my route home, I diverted to their house and went in. She was propped up on the settee, which was a makeshift bed, barely conscious and her breathing was very raspy indeed.
Address:
Immediately I switched mode. I took out my phone and rang the hospital, asking to speak to the bed manager; then as soon as connected, ‘June,’ I asked, ‘have we still got any beds?’
‘Two,’ she replied, ‘Why?’
‘It’s mum,’ I said simply, everyone knew she was terminal, ‘she needs to come in for a few days.’
Date of Birth:
With June agreeing to hold a bed for a short while, I set the wheels in motion. It was difficult as we all knew mum didn’t want to die in hospital the way my father had all those years ago, but she needed to be made comfortable if nothing else. I telephoned out of hours and managed to negotiate an admission for mum, then popped home to change while they waited for the ambulance to collect her.
Marital Status:Married
My step-dad gave us three bells when it arrived so I could set off and meet them at the ward. My ward. Medical Emergency Admissions. The ward I had left perhaps two hours ago. Not expecting to be back so soon. We sat either side of the bed, my step-dad and I, watching the nurses, my colleagues, go about their business. It was so busy, I was glad I’d thought to call June to save a bed.
Nationality:
After sitting there twitchily for forty-five minutes or so, with no-one having any time to come and complete the paperwork, I popped up to one of my colleagues, ‘Mary,’ I said quietly, ‘I know it’s not protocol, but you are run off your feet, and mum really needs to be seen. Would it help if I completed the admissions forms?’
‘By all means,’ she agreed, ‘just don’t sign them. I’ll do that.’
So here we were nearly midnight now. Sitting by my mother’s bedside, completing the paperwork as part of her admission. Form and function. Keeping my brain in check and focussed, not wanting to reveal any weakness, the slightest wobble would I know open the floodgates and that must not happen.
Registered GP:
Religion – I started to write ‘None’.’Methodist,’ said my step-dad. Really? Since when? I thought. But I wrote it none the less. I was sure that since her diagnosis, less than two months ago, they must have had a lot of discussions around these kind of subjects.
Next of Kin:
The clock keeps ticking. The on-call consultant comes and goes. My step-dad can hardly talk, so I do my best. My mother is moved from admissions to a side-room, put on a drip and made comfortable. Once settled, I give her a kiss, and hug my step-dad.
Medical condition: Hmm, yes the biggie – Cancer. Cancer that had taken my father when I was ten; cancer that will now take my mother. But, it’s alright. Now at this moment, I’m not the daughter, I’m the nurse. It’s nothing personal, it’s just words. Words on paper. Words I know off by heart, I can write them standing on my head.
‘I really need to go home and get some sleep,’ I say emptily, ‘I’m back on in the morning. I’ll pop in and see her before I start, and let you know how she is.’ I know that being in a side-room, they will let him stay as long as he needs. Mum was going nowhere that night, but I knew neither was he.
And then I leave, and I can sit in the car and cry.”

Writing in this way allowed me to take a step away from the situation itself, to write without all of the intrinsic emotions it would have stirred up. Whilst emotions can often be useful in processing difficult situations, they can also get in the way, and I am gradually learning through my writing practice when I need to create a little distance to allow the real healing to come out.


Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s second blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

stefanieStefanie 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.

A Tool as Powerful as Drugs or Surgery in Addressing Illness

by Diane Glass

In the last five years, I have presented to Des Moines University medical students on the topic of doctor/patient communication. They have enrolled in an elective course called “Death and Dying” to learn how to communicate with individuals facing serious, sometimes life-threatening illness.

Although still in school, they are not unlike the doctors I have encountered over the years. In interviewing patients, doctors choose to stick to the script, asking questions about symptoms, offering possible diagnoses, and recommending tests and treatment options. Computerized medical forms encourage this approach; insurance companies need the information doctors collect to authorize payment.

What doctors often don’t often ask are the simplest of questions: “What is this like for you?” “How is this affecting your life?” “What do YOU think would make a difference?”

When I suggest these questions to students, they express reservations. “There’s not time for this kind of conversation.” “I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.” “Patients just expect answers from me.” Their reluctance underscores a basic misconception about the purpose of this communication. It is not simply to produce a medical outcome (a test, a diagnosis, a prescription), but also to create the kind of relationship between doctor and patient that will lead to quality care over time.

This relationship provides care and comfort to patients with terminal diagnoses. At this stage, patients seek not only treatment that will ease suffering, but also the opportunity to talk about life joys, disappointments, and desires. A caring relationship in which patients feel free to share their feelings and experiences also serves individuals with complex chronic illness and pain. In these situations, doctors find simple solutions illusory. Patients face needed lifestyle changes. The illness impacts all areas of patients’ lives. When I hear a doctor say to me, “There’s nothing more I can do,” I know that he or she underestimates the power of caring and commitment. There is always more that can be done.

So to the medical students I talk with, I offer this kind of advice in response to their reservations about open-ended conversations with patients:

Reservation: There’s not time for this kind of conversation.

Response: Take charge of your schedule. Without your initiative, you will be scheduled every 20 minutes (or so) for a new patient. You can change that. Reserve multiple blocks of time, especially in meeting with new patients. Arrange regular appointments with patients with more complex issues; don’t wait for them to request appointments. Yes, fill out the forms, but make that a secondary and separate part of the conversation.

Reservation: I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.

Response: Your job is to listen with care, not to provide answers. You are not expected to be a therapist or psychologist. Listen for underlying themes that may explain your patients’ symptoms. Often stories provide metaphors for what the body is experiencing. Notice gestures and postures. Be comfortable with silence. Your patient may be about ready to share something important when you speak too quickly. Say, “Tell me more” and repeat key phrases and words so your patient will know you are listening.

Objection: Patients expect answers from me.

Response: It’s true: many patients place the bulk of the responsibility on the doctor for their own health. Communicate (and believe) that you and your patient are partners with shared responsibilities. Build that partnership by involving the patient in every aspect of identifying problems and working out treatment plans. Focus your resources on those patients who are interested in this approach.
Patients tend to keep their stories under wraps, fearing their doctors will consider them irrelevant or distracting. Yet in open-ended conversation, they may discover factors affecting their health they had not thought about.

Most aspiring doctors get into their fields because they want to help people. Listening with respect, compassion and sensitivity equals medical knowledge as a tool for doing that.


Editor’s note: This is Diane’s fifth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

dianeDiane Glass teaches classes in storytelling as a tool for spiritual growth. She offers workshops in the spiritual dimensions of chronic illness and pain and in the body as home to the soul. Her memoir, “This Need to Dance” (Amazon), relates her own experience growing up with spina bifida, being diagnosed with breast cancer, and finding meaning in her pursuit of health

Suheir Hammad: Poems of war, peace, women, power

Suheir Hammad is the author of Breaking Poems, recipient of a 2009 American Book Award and the Arab American Book award for Poetry 2009. Her other books are ZaatarDivaBorn Palestinian, Born Black; and Drops of This Story. Her work has been widely anthologized and also adapted for theater.

Her produced plays include Blood Trinity and breaking letter(s), and she wrote the libretto for the multimedia performance Re-Orientalism. An original writer and performer in the Tony-winning Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Suheir appears in the 2008 Cannes Film Festival Official Selection Salt of This Sea. She is the Artist in Residency at the NYU’s APA Institute for 2010.

Discovering TLA

by Melissa Rose

When I was studying Art Therapy as an undergrad, I knew I wanted to use creativity to help and connect others, and while I loved the visual mediums of painting, sculpting, collage and drawing, my own personal passion was for writing and performing, which was not included in my college coursework. It was then that I discovered TLA Network and from the moment I learned about the organization, I knew that it was the closest description to my own desire to build stronger communities and people through the spoken word.

Since becoming involved with the organization, I have experienced several of the online classes which have enriched my own personal and professional development, as well as connected with other individuals who also share the vision of transforming others through the written, spoken and sung word.

The Network has focuses on three areas for particular advancement and development:

  • Growth of the Field and Profession of TLA: In coming together to amplify TLA, we can both grow the field of study that is TLA and the profession of making a living from TLA. Such growth also helps those who have been doing TLA without a way to name their work in a larger context.
  • Connection and Networking: Through providing opportunities for individuals and groups to meet, share resources, teach and learn from each other, and help enhance one another’s work, we bridge many fields and traditions, groups and institutions. Such a network allows all involved to make informed decisions about the direction of their TLA work, and provides opportunities for alliances, joint projects, education, and inspiration.
  • Right Livelihood through TLA: Right Livelihood, a Buddhist term connoting the work we do in the world to serve our communities and make the most of our gifts, when applied to TLA encompasses the art of facilitation, ethics, engaging diversity, the business of TLA, and self-care.

I believe in the power of words and that through telling our stories and expressing ourselves and experiences, we not only deepen our own self awareness, but form stronger bonds with others in the communities we serve. Through sharing our words and experiences as TLA practitioners, we grow our strengths as members of a larger collective to learn from.

Take a class

Sign Up for Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching 

Sign Up for Right Livelihood Professional Training 

 

 

 

Creating Our Stories

Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
-Yehuda Berg

by Melissa Rose

Words hold power. They are the tools we use to construct our universe. We all have stories. We all tell stories every day. Stories are how we gather information about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. In my work as a spoken word artist and mentor I have discovered that the stories we tell about ourselves, are perhaps the most profound. We learn our stories, or we grow our own. Through life and its challenges, we discover that the stories we create about ourselves influence how others see us and how we want to be seen. The labels we claim or reject. The experiences we choose to share or hide.

We are the gatekeepers of the stories in our lives, and how we express those stories creates us as heros or villians. Forges us as survivors, or achievers or failures. Draws light to the spaces we most want seen, and shadows the secrets places we would rather turn away from.

I have many stories about myself. Here’s one:

I am a writer. A mother. A friend. I am a caring individual who uses my natural gifts to help others in the world. I am a natural optimist who overcomes obstacles and owns up to my mistakes. I am fiercely forgiving. I am a natural leader, who is innovative and always thinks outside of the box. I love to laugh. I love to love. I am skilled in many areas of creative expression. I am strong.

Here is another story about who I am:

I have been sexually assaulted multiple times. I grew up in an abusive, dysfunctional environment. I am a suicide attempt survivor. I have a mental illness which has affected my quality of life. Sometimes I don’t leave the house for days because I am afraid of interacting with anybody. I have hurt the people who are closest to me. I have been called “toxic”. I have disappointed friends and family. I feel lonely all the time.

Which of these stories is more “true”? Which of these stories do I want to tell? Which of these stories define who I am? Can they exist together?

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories we tell about ourselves. The drops we use to sum up an ocean. I have always wondered what prompts us to leave out pieces of our stories. Which things we don’t want to think about or share. Where do those parts of our story go? Do we want to find them?

Spoken word and oral tradition predate writing, and stories passed down from generation to generation sink into our bones. The memories we share aloud to our children and grandchildren become the new stories they will tell to their own offspring. Our stories begin with the spoken word. With the power to create the lives we want by exorcising our true voice. The little whisper that desperately wants to scream. To shout. To proclaim. To announce “I am here! I am still here”

Spoken word poetry is not where I first learned how to use my voice, but it was the first place I discovered its true power. I’ve never felt more like myself than when I am on a stage performing poetry. For a few minutes, I get to say exactly what I mean. I get to share the parts of myself I would rather hide. The pieces of me that I am still polishing. The parts I want to call “ugly”. The space I want to run away  from. Writers, performers or audiences members who are attracted to this form of expression come to these events for a number of reasons, but ultimately, it is to share in the storytelling we crave as people. To know that we are indeed not alone. That despite all of the surface interactions we encounter on a daily basis, for a few moments in time, we have the chance to be fully honest about our lives and ourselves.

There is a world inside of you that needs to be shared with others.  Which part of you feels like it’s screaming inside of you, raw and ready to take the stage?

This is your beginning.

What story do you want to tell?

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Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.