Masks, Capes and the Strength to Smile, by Lyn Ford

The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying. 

It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?

Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs. 

Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish. 

In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling. 

This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.

We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.

We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.

“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

A Conversation on Right Livelihood and Transformative Language Arts, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

carynlaura

The Transformative Language Arts Network’s “Your Right Livelihood Training” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer offers writers, storytellers, performers, coaches, facilitations, and others in the arts a pathway to make a living in concert with their callings and communities. Unlike cookie-cutter career programs, this visionary training guides you toward what constellation of vocation works best for you now, and when the path meanders, whether you’re leaping into a new career or form of service or developing your new work while keeping your current job. This 100-hour training includes an in-person retreat Oct. 28-30 at the ElDorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe (right before the Power of Words conference), an in-depth online class; video-conferencing with luminaries including Heather Forest, Gregg Levoy, and others, and more. https://www.tlanetwork.org/Right-Livelihood-Training. You can also attend one of our Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching Sessions April 22, June 14, or Aug. 11.

What does Right Livelihood mean in the context of TLA? How does it relate to finding and staying in conversation with our life’s work while keeping the cupboards and gas tank full as well as caring for our health, art, soul, and community?

Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, between them, have decades of experience. Laura has been supporting herself as a storyteller, writer, consultant and coach for more than ten years. While her income isn’t as consistent as it was when she had a day job, Laura finds her work to be fulfilling and meaningful, which more than balances the occasional financial unpredictability. These days she travels around the world teaching, performing, coaching, giving talks, and helping people and organizations discover and find meaning in their own stories. Her writing ranges from ghost-writing for CEOs to lyrical essays about storytelling and life to the occasional piece of fiction or poetry. Laura is nourished and transformed by her work every day; she sometimes says her work is synonymous for living, because story is everywhere.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has been balancing freelance workshops, consulting, presentations, and collaborative projects with her own writing and teaching at academic institutions since 1986. She makes her living now from teaching in Goddard College’s Graduate Institute and coordinating the TLA concentration and driving her 2004 peanut-butter-cup-colored Honda CRV all over Kansas and nearby states to lead workshops, give readings and talks, and collaborate on projects. Threaded through all, she writes poetry, fiction, memoir, blog posts, and songs. Her work also encompasses long walks with her husband and dog, being present for and with loved ones, making things (from quilts to soups), and watching great movies.

Here is Caryn & Laura’s conversation, which starts and continues each time they visit in person but was caught here through a google doc over several months.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: When I was growing up, I had no idea how a poet would make a living, and although people pushed me toward journalism and advertising, it didn’t stick. I was made to make things, especially out of words.

Now I make a living in ways that didn’t even exist when I was a teenage poet: I teach in a low-residency master’s program at Goddard College, traveling from Kansas to Vermont twice each year to work with students intensively in designing and implementing their individualized studies and facilitate community writing workshops for many populations, particularly for people living with serious illness. I love what happens when mortality is at the table, and we speak, listen and write from our souls. I give talks, workshops and readings through the Kansas Humanities Council and University of Kansas Osher Institute, and mostly on my own, conversing deeply with audiences on everything from poetry and wild weather to oral histories of people who survived the Holocaust. My work is a kaleidoscope of gigs and teaching, mentoring and consulting, driving across the plains in the bright light of early spring and occasionally flying over the green wonder of the mountains surrounding Lake Champlain to land again in Vermont.

What is your work, Laura, and how did you find your way to it?

Laura Packer: While I was pursuing my degree in Folklore and Mythology I had a lot of people tell me to practice saying, “Would you like fries with that?” I ignored them and persevered. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the degree, I just knew that I loved stories and that my work lay in that direction.

I met the man who would become my mentor when I was 19. He was telling stories and, as I listened, I knew that this was my path. It took me awhile to realize I would have to build the path myself. I worked part time for many years while I pursued my craft, but now I support myself doing a wide range of things that all fall under the umbrella of storytelling. I perform around the world to a wide range of audiences. I’ve told stories in pre-school, at festivals, universities, homes and so on. I teach, running workshops and coaching people ranging from storytellers to CEOs to parents to marketers to non-profit professionals and more. I work with organizations, both for- and non-profit, helping them understand and refine the stories they tell. I give keynotes and lead workshops at conferences. And I write, blogging about storytelling and taking on freelance assignments from a wide variety of clients.

It’s never boring. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of. I am always learning, hearing new stories and remembering that the work I do matters. Everything I do, as diverse as it is, touches upon story and the ways that our stories matter. I know that the work I do supports me both financially and spiritually. I also know that the work I do helps others. It is the right path and one it’s been fascinating to create.

Caryn, I’m wondering about the work you do with TLA and what that has to do with right livelihood. For that matter, could you explain what right livelihood means to you?

CMG: When I first heard about the term “right livelihood”—at Goddard College during a session on making a living true to ourselves—it chimed in me as something I had been seeking for myself and my community for a long time. After being thrown out of journalism school (the extremes we will go to so we can land in the right place!), I earned my BA in labor history, drawing on my concern since I was a teen about how our work lives infuse the whole of our lives. What we “do” colors not just our workaday life but how perceive ourselves, our communities, our world, and our potential to change. If your work entails saying, “Would you like fries with that?” on regular basis, it’s likely that being a fast-food worker shapes your identity, sense of self and what’s possible for you, and even your belief about what kind of work you’re entailed to do in your life.

Right livelihood is a Buddhist term, part of Buddha’s eightfold path (which also includes right speech, another TLA concept in my mind), and it connotes work that does no harm. Stretched out, the term points toward work (both vocation and avocation, for pay and just because it feels like our work) that serves, including conversing with our own callings as well as our community’s calling.

I didn’t realize when I was studying labor history, and later working as a labor organizer and reporter—all the time writing and reading and breathing poetry—that all would converge into my own right livelihood. As a transformative language artist, I draw on the power of our words aloud and on the page, solo and choral, to herd us toward greater health, vibrancy, liberation, and connection with the living world. My work—both at Goddard as a faculty member and coordinator of TLA, and as a working artist facilitating brave spaces for others to find more of their own voices and visions—is how I practice my right livelihood. All of this aligns me with the continual conversation with a calling, but it’s also work that, at best, helps others articulate more of their own truest work in the world. In the Brave Voice writing and singing retreats I co-lead with singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt, we fly on the assumption that opening your voice in one way cannot help but strengthen your voice in your whole life, and I’ve witnessed many people making courageous leaps into who they already were and what they now need to do.

Laura, is that how it is for you too as a performer, teacher, mentor, and writer as well as someone I would call a fellow transformative language artist?

LP: Caryn, you hit the nail right on the head. Right livelihood means work that enlivens and enriches us thoroughly, from fiscal health to spiritual health and beyond. It’s work that nourishes our spirits as well as our bodies and allows us to function as contributing members of a larger community, which is what artists are.

When I remember the value of my work in that larger picture, as someone who brings something powerful to a community as well as enriching my own life, it’s easier for me to be able to charge appropriately, advocate for myself and remember that what I do, as well as all other artists, matters.

CMG: Absolutely! I think part of this work, to really put the “right” into “right livelihood,” entails making paths for and sometimes with other artists. Little makes me as happy as seeing someone I helped mentor come out with a first book or start giving writing workshops in their communities.

Laura, you’ve talked with me before about the importance of charging what we’re worth as a way to honor those who come after us. The whole issue of what to charge, and how to ask for what our work is worth, is challenging and variable for me. I’ll do some things for hardly anything or for free, and other things for a livable stipend, yet negotiations can encompass lots of gray areas. I find our system of working this out to be awkward: an organization will often not say what it can afford until I suggest an amount. I often present what I charge as a range from the lowest I’m willing to accept to the highest I believe I should be paid, and if it’s something I really feel is mine to do, I try to convey that I’m open to negotiation.

Of course, all these issues speak to our cultural tendency to soil our money relationship with shame, privilege, hurt, defensiveness and other difficult guests to host. I’ve had a lot of help along the way to ask for what my work is worth, even and especially as a poet. Once a representation of an organization I was working with told me, a few hours before my gig there, that they didn’t have enough in the budget to pay me what we agreed on, so would I take a cut in pay? The musician I was collaborating with wasn’t asked to take a cut, so we talked this over, and together told the organization, “no,” but it was eye-opening for me, re-affirming my bias against myself that poets don’t get paid or paid much. Having someone stand tall with me helped me to challenge my self- and poet-destructive thinking, and hopefully, as time goes on, may have some effect for others too.

How do you navigate all this?

LP: Oh, this is a hard one! I feel like I don’t navigate it well much of the time, but I do the best I can, which is all any of us can do. Money is such a taboo subject, I try to understand my own prejudices and fears as well as talk about it, so it becomes less taboo. I use several tools to help me think and talk about money.

First, I talk with my colleagues about what they charge. If we remove some of the secrecy, we can all charge a living wage AND put a dent in the cultural idea that transformative language art should be cheap and that those who hire us should pay us less than they would their caterer, organizer, musician or others. It’s related to your experience with being asked to take a pay cut when your musician friend was not; if we charge a reasonable amount and know that we aren’t pricing ourselves out of range of our colleagues but in alliance with them, it can be easier to ask for. Additionally, by talking about it with my colleagues we get to remind ourselves that we are charging for far more than the 30 or 60 minute event, but for all of the time and experience that lies behind it.

Second, I do what you do. I often give the representative a range of cost and then remind them that this is how I make their living. I also tell them that I am open to negotiation (if I am).

Third, if I give work away for free or at a greatly reduced cost, I always give an invoice that reflects what I would have wanted to be paid. This helps lay groundwork that what I, and other TLA artists do, is valuable and worth paying for.

Fourth and last, I remember what a wise friend said to me, when I asked him money questions. He told me, “You can always negotiate down, you can’t negotiate up. Think about what you want and then ask for double.” I don’t do it quite this way (asking for double feels too bold for me) but I do ask for what I want and a little more. I can lower my rate, shorten the event, barter for other services but once I’ve set a price I can’t really come back and ask for more unless they ask for more service first.

When I remember to financially value my own work I am not only telling myself that what I do is worthwhile, I am also telling the rest of the world that art matters.

CMG: That’s very wise advice, and I love the idea of the invoice for what this is worth. There’s something magical about saying on paper “this is what my work is worth” when it comes to inviting in more lucrative work to balance out what we feel drawn to give away.

I’ve been thinking of what I do for free lately because in the last few months. I have one project that I’m grappling with because it’s sort of a “closure” project with a group of people, a way to share some social capital after working with this group for many years in the past. In the long run, I know this project is what I should be doing, but it’s sometimes difficult to balance the volunteer work with the paid work and still have time (not!) to write.

I’ve also been editing a book for a wonderful poet in his dying days, and that’s a sweetheart labor of love through and through. It’s an immersion in grace to be able to do this for someone I love and whose poetry is so important to share with others who can find a lot of sustenance in what he has to say about death, dying and life.

Often though, it’s hard for me to know the impact of my work and if I’m making the best decisions about where to put my time. My husband, also a writer and grassroots organizer, and I often joke as we’re falling asleep that we won’t know the impact of our work until after we’re dead, and I think that’s true. We don’t know, and this makes think of a stanza in one of my favorite Rumi poems:

If you are here unfaithfully with us,

you’re causing terrible damage.

If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,

you’re helping people you don’t know

and have never seen.

So maybe all we can do is to try to be faithful in being here with our people, which also means being faithful to ourselves, and through our work and being, open our hearts (whether we use phrase like “God’s love” or not in describing this) to dropping our pebble in the pond and hoping for the best for what ripples we make and receive.

How have you learned and how are you learning how to do your best Right Livelihood?

LP: Most of what I’ve learned about right livelihood has come from trying things, seeing what works, and talking honestly with my colleagues. We build community by have frank conversations about value, issues and solutions, about how to support each other, not undercut each other and still get work.

I love your idea of being faithful to ourselves and our work. When we are open hearted in our approach we are at once more vulnerable and more reachable. I think vulnerability is too often seen as a weakness in the working world. When we are vulnerable we let others know they can be vulnerable too. I have found I am no more likely to be hurt or not get work when I am honest.

If I model that for everyone with whom I interact then they may be a bit more vulnerable too. We can connect more effectively. We help others without even knowing it.

CMG: I also think of those I owe homage to for what they taught me and are teaching me about Right Livelihood. One of my close friends, Kris Hermanson, is a wiz at organizational development and consulting, and I’ve learned a great deal from her about how to write and share strong proposals, grants, pitches to those who might want to bring me on-board. Plus, we both work at home or in coffee houses, so we check in with each other often, helping each other talk through questions and dilemmas, quandaries and decisions, such as how to deal with people along the way. Mostly, though, it’s how to navigate projects with people who have great intentions, but limited budgets and experience, and how can we make this a learning experience in the best way that really serves the community.

Another mentor is also a close friend, Kelley Hunt, who has been a touring musician for decades. We’ve had infinite conversations on the nuts and bolts of freelance work, including deeply pondering whether to say yes or no, what to charge, how to take care of ourselves during big push times when there’s too many gigs at once, and we have our own business together, Brave Voice, which lands us in the center of thousands of spinning details and bits of magic when there’s a retreat or performance afoot.

I’m also very lucky to have a great partner in life, my husband, Ken, who I can puzzle through various predicaments with, and who has great sense in seeing ways through the bramble to lift up everyone involved. He’s a Midwesterner to my east coast Jewish background, so he’s less apt to escalate and more seasoned in taking a breath and finding the wide-sky perspective on how to proceed.

One of my big tripping points is forgiving myself when I overschedule and overcommit. I tend to first go to the, “Oh, you did it again! What is wrong with you?” Place. My people help me let go of the shame and accept that making mistakes is part of this work. I also find conversations with you, Laura, to be immensely helpful in the “what is enough?” and “what is too much?” as well as about the whole Right Livelihood quest.

Who are your guides and mentors, Laura?

LP: Thank you Caryn! Likewise, I find talking with you to be immensely helpful. Your honesty and willingness to talk about difficult topics with vulnerability help remind me that I am not alone. Your insight is invaluable.

I have a number of what I call accountability buddies who help me set and keep goals. They also help me forgive myself when I overreach and remind me to take time for self-care. Two of those buddies in particular, Mark Binder and Cameryn Moore, help me with getting things done on time and prioritizing. Mark also helps me think through some of the financial issues of our work. My friends Elsa Zuniga and Trish Berrong help me think strategically and remind me that I can’t do everything. And friends like Priscilla Howe and Christie Keegan help me work through various artistic projects.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of the lone writer, scribbling away in her garret. It’s part of the cultural story about artists and it’s compounded by the American story of the lone hero. Neither of those stories really work for me. We need help, no one can do everything alone. We need people we can rely on to keep us on track, to remind us that what we do matters and to help us be kind to ourselves in meaningful ways. Most of the time people are honored when you ask for help. It’s worth the risk. I know I couldn’t do what I do alone. For all that the actual acts of creation take place alone and all of the sustaining work is made easier by having allies.

CMG: You teach a class for the TLA Network on “Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity.” Could you say more about what “a sustainable story” means to you?

LP: We understand our lives through story. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, how we got that way, our roles in the world and the work we do. It can be easy to tell ourselves stories that are destructive or impossible to achieve. Stories like, “I will never be good enough for my parents,” or “I will succeed at my work only when I win award x or am published in the New Yorker,” or “I am a struggling artist.”

If we can identify the stories we are telling them we understand more about why we do what we do. If we tell ourselves empowering stories that can be sustained long term then it’s more likely we will have a positive impact in the world and be able to measure our success in realistic ways. For example, contrast the story I am a writer who struggles to be published because no one understands me with the story I am a writer who continues to seek out receptive audiences. Those two stories may be about similar experiences but one offers more hope than the other.

A sustainable story is one that has room for varied definitions of success and empowers us to continue to do what we love. It nourishes us because it is a story of value, worth and flexibility. There is room to be driven and room to take a break. A sustainable story is one we can engage in long-term, not just until the first roadblock.

It’s not a story of the lone hero who never errs, but of the human being who is supported, who can accept help and who succeeds in achievable steps. It’s about understanding that pulling the sword from the stone (finding purpose) is only the first step and that there are many detours along the way. Some of those detours may become the main story instead. By understanding the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and including allies and self-care, we are more able to keep going when things are tough. We are less likely to brand ourselves failures, but to give ourselves permission to fall down, get up and try again.

How do you keep going when you stumble? What tools do you use? What stories do you rely on?

CMG: I stumble often although it’s not always visible to people outside of my own mind because I am good at sucking it up and putting myself out there, even when I feel like shit, which is what the stumbling is often about. For better or worse, and especially since surviving cancer in 2002, I tend to get sick often. Because I love my work so much and have a hard time self-regulating or even knowing what not to do so that I have enough space and time for optimum health, I’ve become a reluctant student of self-care.

My old story was more along the lines of “You can never try hard enough,” and obviously, that’s a dangerous story when it comes to allowing the spaciousness needed for self-care and even self-love, let alone living a creative life. Yet, I’ve always had a conflicting story that’s the underground well for my poetry and other writing, and it has to do with loving the life force as it unfolds in the sky, land and moments of real love between humans and the more-than-human world. This story requires stopping, listening and watching, opening my senses and heart and letting myself be more vulnerable and permeable.

“This is enough” echoes me through a lot now, even when I have a pile of work on my computer screen. I tend to focus in on the next paragraph, next conversation and next email more than driving myself crazy with the whole of everything at once. I also try to remind myself that this moment—like right now when I’m writing, the brown dog is stretched out on the blue couch, a blue jay is hopping on the railing of the deck out the window, and I’m sipping tea—is as rich with the potential for loving life as any moment.

This is central to self-care, which feels like a part-time job that goes full-time as we age. When you’re working in the ways we are, it can be especially challenging because we often face feast-and-famine times (and income). I struggle to find and keep the best self-care for myself, which tend to include not eating so much sugar and doing a lot more yoga, swimming, walking, dancing and other ways of moving this body. But self-care can also manifest as going to a movie in the middle of the day, taking a bath (or, on a bad day, several), planting more hosta plants in a shady spot although the last ones I planted died, sitting in the corner with a magazine and cup of tea, making a luscious stir-fry, staring into the eyes of my dog, talking with my husband and friends, surfing Netflix, and taking one deep breath while watching the leaves unfurl on Cottonwood Mel, the big tree in my backyard that I named in memory of my father.

How do you see self-care, and how does it evolve, change, surprise you, and unfold in your life?

LP: It changes every day and is probably my biggest struggle. I often feel guilty about taking time for self-care, feeling instead as if I’m being lazy or avoiding the work. I also struggle to get back on track when I’ve been derailed by circumstances beyond my control. I frequently need to remind myself that when I’m depleted, my work will suffer. If my work suffers, then I am less able to help others. So taking time for myself is really a way to help others. Sometimes that’s the only way I can stop for a little while, by reminding myself that it’s not just for me.

Self-care for me can be reading a novel I’ve read before, one that isn’t particularly challenging. It can be going for a walk or moving my body in some other way. I recently hired a personal trainer to help me take better care of my body. I’m reminding myself that my mind and body are inextricably linked, so this is an investment in my work.

I get listened to. That’s a big source of self-care for me. I find a friend who I know won’t judge me and just whine for a little bit. Airing the self-pity helps me see how petty and insubstantial it is.

I take baths, I spend time with trees and rivers and (when I’m near it) the ocean. Sometimes I go to movies. I cook delicious, nourishing food.

I also try to set reasonable goals as a form of self-care. By breaking the big goals down into smaller parts I am giving myself tasks I can succeed at and I find success breeds success. That feels like self-care to me because I get to feel good about what I’m doing.

Self-care is constantly evolving. Paying attention to what is helpful at any given time takes work but is worth it. When I am well cared for it becomes easier to care for others through my actions and my work.

Lastly, when we care for ourselves it is easier to care for others. When we love ourselves, we love the world more easily. And really, that’s what we do as TLA artists. We love the world into seeing itself more clearly.

CMG: I love what you say about how when we’re well-cared for, we can better take care of others: an ethic of care, and really, of love for ourselves, our work, our people and place that fosters sustainability in how we and others live. I’ve been thinking lately about the term “social sustainability,” which also speaks to me of what we’ve been exploring in the bioregional movement for decades: how can we make and hold space to sustain our community and support each person’s unfolding conversation with what work and life calls to us?

Related to this for me has always been making things and ritual, which seem often like the same thing to me. There’s a kind of ceremony involved in surrendering my will to writing, designing a quilt, and especially working with groups to listen for and support the group’s collective heart and intelligence. I’ve been involved in many rituals that also bring in the arts, such as the water circle we do at the end of Kansas Area Watershed Council gatherings in which each person can step into the center, tell a story, say a poem, make a gesture, sing a song, and pour water from their home or travels.

TLA involves bringing together people to make greater meaning and unearth greater vitality in how we live. It helps us find—through our words, images, rhythms—our work in this life. Mary Oliver said in one of her poems, “My work is loving the world,” and I feel the same. What I actually do for a living and beyond is just a form of that ritual: practicing how to love the world.

More about Your Right Livelihood here.

An Open Letter to the TLA Community

Beloved TLA community,
From our work-from-home desks and tables, we are thinking of all of you in our transformative language arts family. You’re at the heart of everything we do, and we are so thankful for our connections with you, and for your ongoing support.

We recognize that the transformative language arts can provide both a place of refuge and calm in these stressful times, as well as a means for people to speak out about and fight against injustice, and we take the role of creating space for the TLA community very seriously.

Our rapidly-changing reality has required an incredible rethink about what it means to be together, while apart. How do we care—for our loved ones, our colleagues, and even our families—from a distance? How do we, at the TLA Network, best serve you, our community, during the difficult days that lie ahead?

We deeply believe in the power of words, and in particular, the power of your words, to make a difference, and to have an impact. Your voice matters, and the ways that you use your voice in this time – whatever form that might take – makes a difference as we work towards creating a world that works well for everyone – a world characterized by justice, equity, and fairness for all.

This unprecedented time of social distancing can be a solitary one, but it doesn’t need to be. Please reach out to us and we will do everything possible to respond with consideration and care.

We view the safety and wellbeing of our students, teachers and business partners as the highest priority as we respond to an evolving COVID-19 world. We are in the process of reviewing our in-person conference, classes, and trainings, and will keep in close contact with you as our plans evolve. Look for more information in the coming days about our fall gathering, the Power of Words, scheduled for October in Santa Fe, and featuring the United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as keynote.

The Transformative Language Arts Network is devoted to creating new and meaningful ways of being together, even while apart. Let’s continue to take care of each other during this turbulent time, and long after! We wish for you what we wish for our own families: that through this trying time we find ourselves stronger and closer, and that we remember to fight for what is right, while being gracious with ourselves and those around us.

Stay well, stay close and stay connected,

Liz Burke-Cravens
Council Chair
&
Hanne Weedon
Managing Director

Six Ways to Find the Work You Love

Here’s an essay by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg with input from Laura Packer. This essay also speaks to Caryn and Laura’s approach to Your Right Livelihood: A Training to Do the Work, Art and Service You Love, which is a new certification with the TLA Network. Learn more here, and feel free to each out to Caryn and Laura (via Caryn at CarynMirriamGoldberg@gmail.com) to set up a free 15-minute discovery call about the training and your dreams and goals). You can also attend one of our Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching Sessions April 22, June 14, or Aug. 11.

We all have our callings: the work we’re alive to do, yet for most of us, the path is not just a wavy line to follow but a tangle that runs through mosquito-filled forests, swampy grasslands, and even along the sea bottom at times before being tossing us back onto the shore.

By conversing with our callings, we can drop a kind of anchor, connecting us to the main story we’re meant to live, and from that story finding our own Right Livelihood. Traditionally Right Livelihood, part of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, means work that does no harm, but a more contemporary definition is the work that follows our callings, helps us grow, and serves the world in some way, however small.

Growing up as a mediocre student and expert daydreamer in New Jersey, I had no idea that my love of art and music, then writing, would lead me toward calling myself a Transformative Language Artist, a person who uses writing, storytelling, and performance for personal and community transformation. As a teenage poet, when my dad told me I had two choices for a career – advertising or journalism – I followed the conventional wisdom of the day: I chose journalism. It didn’t stick, but it got me to the Midwest where my passion for the stories I was covering led me to grassroots organizing until I returned to school for graduate work in poetry. Paying my bills by gigging as a teaching assistant, I happened upon a twin calling: teaching.

I now make my living in a kaleidoscope of ways: leading writing workshops for people with serious illness, collaborating with a singer on a poetry music performance about courage, teaching classes on poetry to change our lives, coaching people on writing and right livelihood. While what I do isn’t something I can explain in one word — and it does entail a lot of travel, video-conferencing, and mostly listening carefully to what people are saying and writing – I continually find meaning, connection, and joy on the wild road trip of living my calling.

In putting together the Right Livelihood Professional Training (https://www.tlanetwork.org/Right-Livelihood-Training) with storyteller Laura Packer, based on what we wish we knew when we started out as working artists, Laura and I have discovered some uncommon steps most of us take in just starting out, making a mid-career shift, or launching a third act after retirement:

  1. Converse with Your Calling: Callings, according to writer Gregg Levoy, aren’t so much lightning bolts as they are continual conversations, sometimes with a voice whispering in code and sometimes with a loud booming billboard. You can catch more of what’s coming your way by keeping a callings journal: write for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis with what work calls to you, how you might do it, how others seem to do it, what would be required for you to launch yourself, and whatever else comes to you as questions or answers. You can even write a dialogue between yourself and your calling, imagining meeting your calling for coffee at a local cafe.
  2. Look for Signs and Wonders: Finding ways to cover your bills while doing the work of your heart is sometimes akin to looking for water in a big field with only a dowsing stick. It can take a lot of meandering, but along the way, you can be on the watch for signs and wonders: hints that this new direction is the right one for you. When I was developing the emerging field of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) (http://tlanetwork.org), just when I began to doubt myself about whether any of this made sense, someone would email or call to say how TLA named exactly what what they were doing for years. Listen to what little hints you find: snippets of conversation you might overhear, repeated lessons the universe keeps giving you, or something you keep dreaming about each night. It can be helpful to write down their signs and wonders in your callings journal because the more attention you pay to them, the more they show up.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” goes the old joke. “Practice, practice, practice,” is the answer, and the same is true for changing your job, either from the inside out or by shifting to new work. You can practice by learning all you can about what the new work may entail. For example, if you plan to launch a small consulting business, shadow someone else who does similar work, then practice by offering free sessions to people in exchange for their honest feedback on how to improve. Even when you’re doing your beloved work in the right balance for your life – whether as a paid job, volunteer work, or art – you’re always learning from the work itself how to do it better.
  4. Surround Yourself With Support: Laura and I know first-hand how essential it is to have a strong support system as you transition toward your dream work. Laura, who also does storytelling coaching, has a fellow coach she checks in with regularly, and I talk with several friends regularly who are crafting livelihoods from arts or activism. It can be invaluable to meet up with a group of people doing parallel work. If you’re developing writing workshops for your community, get together a group of people who offer art, music, and other kinds of workshops to share strategies and support.
  5. Leap When the Time is Right: “Timing is everything” goes the old adage. For most of us, leaping from a less-than-fulfilling day job without tried-and-true plans, connections, and experience doing the work we love may be far more exciting, exhausting, and fearful than you anticipated, not to mention less successful. Take your time to transition into your work. Study the field and learn the ins and outs from others doing this kind of work, develop a strong business and marketing plan, and surround yourself with people and resources that support your new work. Also, consider taking baby steps into the new work. Laura points out that moonlighting and volunteering are noble ways to test the waters and get some experience under your belt. Many people find themselves gradually transitioning, then taking a timely leap, often surprising themselves in the process. Of course, there are also times the universe forces us to jump when a job or contract ends, and at such moments, we have a little extra push when it comes to taking such a leap.
  6. Take Care of Yourself: Even once you’ve leapt (or are in mid-leap), it’s a good idea to keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Remember to take time off for your well-being, hanging out with friends or family, and making time for hobbies and other passions. Do whatever is self-care for you, from taking ten deep breaths in the morning before you start answering emails to showing up at a restorative yoga class regularly to slipping out of a stuck moment to see a movie or take a walk instead. Taking good care of yourself is essential to cultivating the perspective you’ll need for living your calling and doing the work you love, and it will inevitably make that adventure all-the-more sustainable.

More about Your Right Livelihood here.

Activating Youth Voices

Cultivate Youth Arts Magazine Seeking Submissions

activating youth voices in the fight for equality, justice and change

SUBMISSION SEASON: Closes April 15, 2020

  • Poetry
  • Photography
  • Sketch
  • Short Story
  • Mixed-media
  • Spoken Word
  • Sculpture
  • Painting
  • Prose

Open to the Public-at-Large – Writers/Artists must be ages 18 years or younger

In June 2020 look for the inaugural issue of Cultivate, the youth arts magazine to be published each spring, by HopeWorks of Howard County, Maryland. Cultivate is a program of HopeWorks’ Youth Leadership Project, a service-learning program dedicated to empowering teens to challenge systems of oppression and prevent relationship violence in their community.

The Youth Leadership Project creates a space for students to grow in understanding themselves and the world. Facilitating self-care and social justice projects, youth leaders engage in frank discussions, raise their social consciousness and participate in creative projects and activism. Youth Leaders are excited to serve on the magazine’s editorial committee and to participate in the production process.

Themes for your submitted work (both visual and literary) should focus on reflections about growing up, relationships, family and friends, activism, change, social justice, empowerment, transformation, hope, self-care, or healing. The magazine will be available on-line and by mail.

“We protest because we love ourselves, and our people… Love is at the root of our resistance.” – Colin Kaepernick

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: April 15, 2020

Early submission is encouraged. Acceptance notifications will emailed by June 2020.  Click here to view the Submission Guidelines. Acceptance notifications will be emailed by June 2020. 

Cultivate youth arts magazine is a publication of HopeWorks made possible by the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County Government.

ABOUT HopeWorks

HopeWorks is Howard County Maryland’s local sexual and intimate partner violence center.  We provide direct support to survivors of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and human trafficking.  We also, work in community to change the culture that allows these forms of violence to continue. 

Sexual and intimate partner violence is based in power differences, not only at an individual level but also structurally in systems of power –known as oppression.  Therefore, our mission, at HopeWorks, at its core, is grounded in anti-oppression work.  

We use a social justice lens; enabling us to address and decrease the root causes of gendered violence (sexual and intimate partner violence) as well as the systems that fuel genocide, racism, transphobia, poverty, xenophobia, ableism, and more.  We support and partner with others doing anti-oppression work, efforts to achieve healthier relationships and a society free from all forms of violence.

HopeWorks envisions a world of interconnected people and communities actively working toward a society where all people are safe and valued and where everyone can reach their full potential.

Questions? Please contact HopeWorks’ Deputy Director, Vanita Leatherwood at (410) 997 -0304.

Finding Your Life’s Work: Not By Lightning, But Conversing With Our Callings

Most of us experience lightning strikes – moments when there’s a flash, and what we’re supposed to be becomes illuminated like the night sky – at some points in our lives, but we can’t depend on where, when, and even if that will happen.

What we can do is treat our discussion with our callings – for our work as well as for other parts of our lives – as a lifelong conversation, sometimes over tea in a lovely castle filled with antiques, and sometimes while driving our car through fog late at night, knowing that we will only be able to see where we’re going by going.

The Your Right Livelihood Training with Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers you ways to listen to what questions, longings, resentments or joys keep occur to you about your work, look toward the signs and wonders that guide you, and engage with your big hunches, questions, and leanings at this moment to find your way forward. You can also find out more and get a taste of how we work with people at the Life & Livelihood Group Coaching sessions April 22, June 14, or Aug. 11 — more here.

The training begins with a soulful retreat Oct. 28-30 (leading up to the Power of Words conference) at the ElDorado Hotel & Spa in beautiful Santa Fe. It continues on with a 10-week online class, weekly video-conferences with guest teachers including Gregg Levoy and Heather Forest, one-on-one coaching with Laura and Caryn, and extensive resources and supports for making your dreams come true. Read testimonials from last year’s group here. 

Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go,” and likewise, we learn where we’re being led as well as what we have to say to that calling by dialogue throughout our lives.

What’s right for one stage in our life will likely change over time, so by listening and speaking – asking questions, testing out ideas, thinking and feeling our way toward clarity – we will be able to continually use this conversation as a flashlight leading us forward.

Have questions?  Learn more about Your Right Livelihood here, and if you’d like to book a discovery call with us, please email Laura or Caryn.

Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission.

Catalyst: Inspiration, Contemplation, & Observation

From: Judith Goedeke

This poem was inspired by specific terrorist attacks, and applies equally to the ongoing, everyday, barrage of violence swirling around us.  It was inspired by the magical comfort a mother provided her child.  It was inspired by the work we are all here to do, which requires a steady hand, clear vision and a peaceful heart.  How shall we center ourselves in this turbulent new year? 

The Poem: he shouts from the dark room

. . . his mama scoops him up, rocks him

says “everything is okay, don’t worry

nothing bad can happen where Qu’ran is”

she nods toward a pile of books

a splash of yellow Curious Georges

and the thick, white one

“where Allah is, no harm can come”

she sings to him softly in Farsi

the sounds flow like sunshine

onto olive and orange trees

his eyelids flutter

©Judith Goedeke 2019

Dedicated to the memory of the 51 Muslims murdered in their mosques on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Questions, Prompts & Ideas:

I invite you to wander through the words, paying attention to places that entice or thrill or repel or otherwise jump out.  The shift may show up in your body, mind, emotions or spirit.  Linger there in tender exploration; surround your path with loving kindness.  Poems are my questions and my statements of possibility that I share in hopes you will explore your own.  Feel free to agree or take issue.  Change the words if that suits you.  And please invite yourself fully into the poem by changing any pronouns that don’t fit.

***

Are you a member of a group held in contempt by some folks? Are you a member of multiple groups held in contempt by some folks? Are you at risk simply existing in proximity of hateful people? How does this affect your body? Mind? Emotions? Spirit? Goals? Dreams? Education? Employment? Housing? Health care? Transportation? Food availability? Air and Water quality? Finances? Spirituality? World view? What are the everyday and long term affects of this on your precious life? What cumulative entrenchment, if any, do you experience?

If you are not part of a group held in contempt by some folks, what is the effect on your precious life, of living in an environment where others are vulnerable through no fault of their own? Where do you stumble?  How do you find and maintain a centered way forward?

At times, we are all the child in the poem, crying out for comfort.  Explore your moments of neediness and surround them in tender love.  Search for the bedrock cause; don’t stop until you find it.  What wholesome, truthful solutions arise?

Consider contemplation, meditation, self-care, prayer, the varied and infinite ways to cultivate a wide-open love that is both deeply personal, and is universal.  Consider taking effective actions in hopes of relieving the suffering of others.  Are you called toward inward cultivation or outreach?  Is one more important than the other?  Is it okay to do the thing you are naturally inclined toward, but not the other?  Or do you have a responsibility to do both?

My New Year’s wish is that we hold ourselves steady, rock ourselves, sing to ourselves, plant ourselves even for a moment in a place of peace.  Then may we respect all beings, bring true equality to life, and champion justice for all.

The enormous healing power of words compels Judith to write. She strives to clarify, challenge, redirect, own up to and celebrate life. And do damage control. 

Poetry’s unique spaciousness invites us to land in surprising places, come face to face with ourselves anew, and discover fresh perspectives. It connects us more deeply to ourselves, and erodes isolation. 

“Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”   Pete Seeger

About Judith Goedeke:

Judith Goedeke

An award-winning poet and retired acupuncturist, Judith’s work appears in anthologies, literary journals and River of Silver Sky, a book of poems. She facilitates Poem as Portal Workshops that foster loving self-awareness, intentional living and compassion.

Art as Resistance

“Prakriti” by Sangeeta Kaul

Dragonfly Arts Magazine Seeking Submissions

Dragonfly arts magazine

SUBMISSION SEASON: Closes March 31, 2020

  • Poetry
  • Photography
  • Sketch
  • Short Story
  • Mixed-media
  • Spoken Word
  • Sculpture
  • Painting
  • Prose

Open to the Public-at-Large – Writers/Artists do not have to be survivors.

At HopeWorks, we use the arts in three important ways to accomplish our mission: to support survivors in their healing; as a vehicle to increase awareness; and to imagine creative solutions to bring about social change.  

Dragonfly arts magazine, published each spring, is one of our most popular arts-based projects.

Themes for your submitted work (both visual and literary) should focus on reflections about relationships, activism, oppression, love, advocacy, hope, transformative justice, trauma, racial and gender equity, intersectionality, self-care, or healing.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: March 31, 2020

Early submission is encouraged. Acceptance notifications will emailed by June 2020.  Click here to view the Submission Guidelines.

Dragonfly arts magazine is a publication of HopeWorks made possible by the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from the Howard County Government. 

ABOUT HopeWorks

HopeWorks is Howard County Maryland’s local sexual and intimate partner violence center.  We provide direct support to survivors of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and human trafficking.  We also, work in community to change the culture that allows these forms of violence to continue. 

Sexual and intimate partner violence is based in power differences, not only at an individual level but also structurally in systems of power –known as oppression.  Therefore, our mission, at HopeWorks, at its core, is grounded in anti-oppression work.  

We use a social justice lens; enabling us to address and decrease the root causes of gendered violence (sexual and intimate partner violence) as well as the systems that fuel genocide, racism, transphobia, poverty, xenophobia, ableism, and more.  We support and partner with others doing anti-oppression work, efforts to achieve healthier relationships and a society free from all forms of violence.

HopeWorks envisions a world of interconnected people and communities actively working toward a society where all people are safe and valued and where everyone can reach their full potential.

Questions? Please contact HopeWorks’ Deputy Director, Vanita Leatherwood at (410) 997 -0304.

Final days to register for the Power of Words early bird rate ($45 off the regular fee)

Join us for the 17th annual Power of Words Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 30 – November 1, 2020. 

Get $45 off the regular conference fee – the super early bird rate is available through Friday, January 31!

Featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as conference keynoter, the conference will take place at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, in the heart of Santa Fe.