Deep-Sea Dive with Words

By Diane Glass

Spiritual directors use the power of words and images to help others develop self-awareness, a relationship with what they consider sacred, and meaning and purpose in life. Rather than “direct,” spiritual directors listen, reflect, question, and affirm, calling upon the Holy to be present in the conversation.

I describe it as deep-sea diving with words. In listening to people describe their life experience, I note words that shimmer with possibility and hint to greater depth. They serve as portals to the interior life of the person.

Let me give you examples.

*A “directee” used the word “pioneer” in one of our sessions.
“Hmmm,” I said. “What does ‘pioneer’ mean to you?”
And as the conversation continued, “How are you a pioneer?”
And, “What does this say about how you experience the sacred in your life?”

*Another directee came seeking to restore a relationship with her mother, who objected to her daughter’s lack of belief in God. Turned off by what she experienced as an abusive childhood in a fundamentalist church, the directee said she takes refuge in her garden. Our conversation took off from there.

“Describe what you mean by garden,” I said.
“What is a refuge like for you?” I asked.
“How does it soothe you?” I continued.
“How does your love of the soil connect you with others?”
“How is gardening a sacred experience?”

Her mother is an avid gardener. Equipped with some new words to use, the daughter approached her mother to talk about the gifts of the soil and the virtues of caring for it. They bonded over the earth as a sacred trust given to them and all of us.

*A third directee reported she did not like the word “God.” The God of her childhood was a judgmental, stern and punitive father. She could not imagine praying to
such an entity.

So the deep-sea diving began.
“What comes up for you when you hear the word ‘God’”?
“What words do you use to describe something that is loving, comforting and safe?”
“What experiences have you had that made you feel that way and that connected you with others?”
“What words do you use to identify what is sacred to you?”

We read poetry and Scripture that offers alternative imagery for God. Women may be attracted to God as a nurturing feminine entity, but the possibilities are unlimited. My own search for God led to envisioning the Sacred as a dance partner. Together, we create and improvise steps to a joyful and meaningful life.

So what are the jewels, the gems of the sea, we seek in using words as portals to a deeper reality?

We seek the true self apart from cultural and family expectations of who we are and how we should act.

We seek assurance that a divine spark exists within each of us, placed there by a caring creative force.

We seek deep self-understanding of our values and guiding principles, important in making life choices.

We seek a sense of belonging, that we are part of something bigger and precious.

We seek the confidence that we have what we need to be happy.

Spiritual direction is a transformational language tool for emerging from the depths of reflection and discernment with a sense of purpose and direction.

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


dianeDiane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives by deep listening and companionship. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our significant life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon).

TLA, Who Knew?

By Eila Algood

In 2010, I read about a weekly gathering of writers in the next town of Waimea on the big island of Hawai’i. I did not consider myself a writer, but decided I could go observe. I walked into the stark white room and was greeted with aloha by the eight people sitting in a circle. As I sat and listened, I felt surprisingly comfortable. I went back to the group two weeks later with a recent poem I’d written. As a Hawaiian man gave me positive, detailed feedback, I felt a deep sense of value. I became a regular to the group. A few months later they invited me to be part of their annual public reading.

I was excited to have the opportunity to share a poem. Three years of Toastmasters prepared me feel confident speaking in public. I went the extra yard and memorized my piece. When I spoke, I visually connected with the audience. Unfortunately, there was no one acting as emcee or keeping the readings on time and the scheduled two hour event became three hours long. At the next writer’s group meeting, I offered to organize a future public reading event to keep us on time. They were thrilled for the help and passed the baton to me. I decided it would run best if I was emcee and included a printed program with the writer’s names and title of the pieces they would be reading. My first crack at it was a success and I’ve been asked to lead the public readings ever since.

Two years into the writer’s group, I was asked to co-lead weekly meetings. I felt honored and enjoyed the opportunity to keep the group moving forward. I learned a lot about giving feedback, which was a key component of the group. I observed that telling someone who shared a four-page piece of his or her novel, “that was really good”, is quite useless. It is most valuable to be specific as to what works or does not work and what might make the piece more interesting or compelling. With that in mind I provide the best feedback I can and as a facilitator of the group, I ask questions to help other members define their thoughts. Ultimately, all feedback is opinion and up to the writer to use it however they want.

The group in Waimea is a forty-minute drive from my home, over a scenic, but long mountain road. In 2014 I began two writer’s groups in my small community of North Kohala on the northernmost tip of the big island of Hawai’i, which are currently active.

I’ve been thinking about going for a Master’s degree ever since I received a Bachelor of Science degree in business in 2006. The Transformative Language Arts degree offered at Goddard called to me. Rather than dive into an advance degree program, I began taking online classes at the TLA Network towards certification. I feel a kinship with the people of the TLA community. Being involved with TLA connects the dots for me of what I do as a leader of writer’s groups, a facilitator of readings by writers, as emcee of writer’s book launch events and as radio deejay. On my community radio show, Women’s Voices, I give airtime to sung and spoken words by female artists from my small community and around the world. The radio station can be streamed live on knkr.org thereby connecting Kohala to other communities around the world through women’s voices and vice versa.

TLA has confirmed the value of me as writer, the varied events I mentioned and my role within them as a way to connect community members, locally and globally.

Editor’s note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.


eilaA native New Yorker, who’s now living her dream of a sustainable life in Hawai’i with wife, Holly, Eila Algood has been expressing herself through writing since childhood.  Her published works include,  “On The Road To Bliss, A Poetic Journey”, “Rhapsody in Bohemia”, pieces in Frida Magazine and Think Pink Anthology.

Making Music

by Barbara Burt

“Can You Turn a Poem into a Song?” is the title of an article I just ran across. “How hard could it be for a poet and fiction writer to turn a poem into a love song?” asks the article’s author, Desiree Cooper. She concludes that it’s “Pretty hard.”

Some of us in the TLA Network might beg to differ. The fact is, even if you don’t read notes, play scales, know chords or fingerings, you have the capacity to make music. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

We are all born with music in us; whenever we sing or play music, we unleash that expressive engine. A number of ways to make music are represented in workshops offered at this month’s TLA Power of Words Conference. Here’s a sampling:

Songwriting: The Inspiration and Acrobatics of Language — Martin Swinger shares insights and processes that lead to the creation of his quirky, one-of-a-kind songs which gain national recognition and awards for their originality. Part concert, part discussion, part hands-on exploration of language, inspiration, songwriters ‘filters’ and the prosody which makes songs SING! No songwriting experience necessary.

Soul Song for Centering: An Experiment in Creating Sacred Song — Using your name as a foundation for exploration, you will be guided to create your own personal Soul Song to sing or chant whenever you want to connect with and feel the beauty of your Soul. You will create your own meaning and intention for your Soul Song and will be gently guided to find your inner melody. Whether you’re shy or comfortable using your voice to sing, we will create a safe environment for you to find your Soul Song for Centering. No singing or musical experience needed. Bring notebook, ear buds or plugs (if you have them), and an open mind and heart. Led by Tonia Pinheiro.

Sound Puzzles, Rounds, and the Meaning of Life According to the Woodthrush — This interactive presentation showcases the culmination of one woman’s modest experiment in responding to birdsong as a unique portal to re-inhabiting her own singing voice.  Interspersed with narratives from her story, “I Shall Go Singing,” spoken against a recorded backdrop of original vocal sketches, Deb Hensley’s presentation offers listeners live performances of original songs, rounds, and sound puzzles inspired by birdsong. Audience members will be invited to learn a few of these lyrical, whimsical, and sometimes quirky “why” rounds. Deb’s story offers insight into how deep attention to sound and song in the natural world promotes access to one’s own ancestral, spontaneous, innate, and amazing natural voice, as well as a deeper understanding of ecological literacy, place, and identity.

Note that none of these workshops requires previous experience with songwriting or musical training. Yet, by the end of the workshop, some wonderful and unique musical compositions are sure to have been created. I plan to record some examples of this music-making as I attend the conference; watch for videos on upcoming blog posts.

Submit Your Work To The TLA Blog!

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is currently seeking submissions!

Writing for the Transformative Language Arts (TLA) blog is open to anyone. While the majority of submissions will be from members of the Transformative Language Arts Network (TLAN), this is not required.

If you are currently pursuing a certification from the TLA Network, submitting to the blog will help fulfill your requirements and connect you to the larger community of TLA practitioners!

-Share how you have used the spoken, written or sung word in your life

-Share your experience in one of the TLA Network’s online classes

-Share a piece of written, spoken or sung word and its impact on you

-Share your process of incorporating TLA into your own life

 

We can’t wait to read about how TLA is present in your life and work!

Please click here for the full details about submissions!

Quick, Change Modes!

by Barbara Burt

As we went around the table, each workshop participant talking about her past week, Chris was squirming. When it was her turn, she giggled and said she’d had a funny experience. She’d been stuck about what to write and hadn’t managed to get very far. Then, as she drove along a familiar road the day before, a story began to form in her mind. Not wanting to lose inspiration, she pulled over, took out her smart phone, and recorded the story. To her surprise, it came out whole, in one delightful swoop. However, she said, she hadn’t had time to transcribe it yet.

This was disappointing news. We all loved hearing Chris’s stories. “Do you have the phone with you?” I asked. She nodded. “Would you consider playing the recording for us?” Chris looked surprised, then dug deep into her book bag. Phone in hand, she pressed the buttons until her familiar Maine accent filled the room.

The story was hilarious. We laughed all the way through, as Chris’s voice on the phone recounted one mishap after another. When it was over, it seemed like some sort of miracle. Where did that come from? How did she do it? Chris, a clay artist and newly hatched writer who didn’t yet feel confident about the words she wrote on a page, had discovered a better way to capture her storyteller’s voice.

On another day in another workshop, I frightened the group by giving them a two-stage prompt. The second instruction was to rewrite as poetry what they had just written in prose. “Poetry!” Dave exclaimed. “I can never understand poetry, let alone write it.” I let them know that any form of verse was fine but they needed to use line breaks and brevity to convey the meaning. Each person read their two versions out loud: prose, then poetry.

Dave’s original prose piece had been about an emotional experience. It was full of detail and quite affecting. Then he read the poetry version. When he ended, we all sat in silence, stunned. “The poetry was more powerful,” he said with surprise, looking around the table.

When I work with people who don’t consider themselves writers, I often find that they are intimidated by preconceptions of what “writing” is. Yet, their stories are fresh and original when they feel confident enough to use their own voice. By trying lots of different modes of storytelling—including music, drawing, and movement—in the safety of a supportive workshop, they can escape those preconceptions, and get to the heart of the story they want to tell in the way they need to tell it.

 

Workshops At The Power Of Words Conference

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The Power of Words Conference (POW) will soon be underway and we are so excited to see the amazing keynote speaker presentations and workshops that will be occurring during the event.

From songwriting to storytelling, to body movement and awareness, this year’s POW Conference offers many opportunities to share in the community building possibilities of Transformative Language Arts facilitated by some of the most inspiring practitioners in the field.

Here is a list of the workshops. Click  here for a full description

Friday, August 18th-Pre-Conference Keynotes and Workshops:

  • Limbs & Language — Mahogany Browne
  • Creative Empathy that Builds Bridges Across Difference — True Story Theater
  • We All Belong to Stories — Joseph Bruchac
  • Soulful Singing — Kelley Hunt
  • Can We Talk? Strategies for Building Young Children’s Language — SusanBennett-Armistead
  • Keynote Presentation: True Story Theater — Stories of Stigma and Social Healing
  • Keynote Presentation: Mahogany Browne — By Any Means Necessary: When the Narrative Interrogates a Righteous Rage

Saturday, August 19th

  •  Love is All There Is: Mantra Singing for All — Barb Asen
  • My Story In A Soundbite: Notes from A Digital Evolutionary — Brenda Magnetti
  • Wabi-Sabi Storytelling: The Perfect Imperfection of Spoken-Word Art — Lyn Ford
  • What’s Your Blue Moon Legacy?: Honoring the Uniqueness of Your Voice and the Bigger Message in Your Work — Tina Games
  • Mother’s Voice: Nurturing Self through Expressive Writing — Joanna Tebbs Young
  • Keynote Presentation: Dr. Susan Bennett-Armistead — Read it gain! Read it again! How Read Aloud Builds Brains and Changes the World!
  • How to Write the Story That Brings You Audiences and Jobs — Doug Lipman
  • Women’s Writing Circle (WWC): Using Expressive Writing in Sacred Circle — Jennifer Minotti
  • Psychodrama, Writing, & Imagination: Playful Tools for Healing, Growth, & Change — Kelly DuMar
  • Songwriting: The Inspiration and Acrobatics of Language — Martin Swinger
  • Soul Song for Centering: An Experiment in Creating Sacred Song — Tonia Maria Pinheiro
  • Drinking from the Well of Laughter: Laughter Exercises — Lyn Ford
  • Sound Puzzles, Rounds and the Meaning of Life According to the Woodthrush — Deb Hensley
  • What a Composer Hears and Sees: Sharpening Your Musical Sight — Wytold
  • Contact Improvisation Movement: ​A Nonverbal Language of Communication — Christopher Eillinger
  • Making Friends with a Poem — Cynthia Anderson
  • Keynote Presentation: Joseph Bruchac — Trickster’s Truth and Lies

Sunday, August 20th

  • Gratitude as Wisdom and Healing — Karen Edwards
  • Qualitative Research in the Arts for Publication, Research, and Funding — Emilee Baum Trucks
  • Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash to Re-vision Our Lives — Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
  • Narrative Healing: Transcending the Illness Narrative — Reggie Marra
  • Connect to the Earth & Dance your Heart, Body, and Soul AWAKE! — Katey Branch

Read about the Community Building Opportunities At The Conference 

Register for POW!

Spread The Word!

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From Page to Stage

by Diane Glass

Through Kelly DuMar’s online TLA Network class, “Your Memoir As Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance,” I learned the possibilities and power of taking my print work to an oral form, the monologue.

I discovered the value of imagining a live audience in performing a scene from my memoir, “This Need to Dance.” What would be the set-up for the monologue? How would I shape the dialogue with that audience in mind? The audience became real as I engaged in conversation with them. My language became conversational, expressive, and alive. Without the fallback print offers to explain myself in detail, I cut to the heart of the story.

When Kelly brought in a professional actress to perform each of our class members’ monologues, that actress blew new energy into our pieces with skillful pacing, intonation, and her distinctive voice. She expressed undetected (by me) humor in my piece. I was serious about the value of talking to my bladder in healing a painful experience. But she anticipated the smiles this practice would elicit and claimed their amusement in her interpretation.

This class strengthened my writing through incorporating conversational style and honing my message. By reading aloud, I experienced the rhythm of my work. Some of it plodded. Some of it danced. This practice showed me what needed to be invigorated.

This is the monologue I prepared for presentation at the end of class:

One Breast or Two?

Set-up:
A woman unaccustomed to talking about her personal life has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone a mastectomy. In a conversation with a friend at her house over coffee, she struggles to share the intimate details of her situation.

Monologue:
You’re asking the same kind of questions the women at the breast cancer support group asked, Kalinda. I just don’t feel comfortable talking about this.

Oh, they wanted to know the specifics of my surgery and treatment. The leader of the group started the meeting by saying she had one breast, had done chemotherapy and was soon to start radiation. Then each woman followed her lead, announcing whether she had one breast, two, or none. When it came time for me to say something, I froze. Is it anyone’s business how many breasts I have? I just said I had had surgery without adding any specifics.

I know you want to help, Kalinda. And you can. Support can mean a lot of different things. Your offer to bring food is appreciated. Take me to the doctor and check in on me by phone. But beyond that, I just don’t want to talk about my body.

Reconstruction? Again, that kind of thing is private. These women were even debating the merits of reconstruction with and without a nipple. I just cringed listening to that all of that.

Yet I admit, when I saw others in the group pour out their concerns and having people hug them and comfort them, I felt lonely. No one hugged me that night—and I didn’t hug anyone else.

How can I talk about my breasts without acknowledging all my body has already gone through? In one sense breast cancer is less of a big deal than everything else.

Yes, it is helpful to have someone to talk with, Kalinda, but your probing makes me uncomfortable. Let’s go to lunch.

It’s back to my body again! You just don’t quit, do you? You know, it’s the spina bifida. It’s too much to go into now. Problems with my bladder, all those accidents. This experience is disgusting to talk about and disgusting for others to listen to.

No, I haven’t talked about it. It’s just than when I imagine talking about it, I think, “Ugh.”

It sounds stupid but I feel like I betray my bladder by talking about my breasts and not it. I can hear it saying, “And what about me? What about all we’ve been through together? Doesn’t that matter? Don’t tell just part of the story!”

Yeah, yeah, I talk to my bladder and it talks back. That’s the way we’ve survived. I couldn’t talk about my bladder to anyone else so we just kept all of this to ourselves.

Can I talk to my breast? Kalinda, don’t encourage my weird habits. Besides the breast is already gone.

You want to know what the big deal was? (Long pause) Well, I had horribly embarrassing accidents as a child. My mom or dad, mostly my dad, catheterized me until I was 13. I couldn’t even decide for myself when to go. I felt completely abandoned as a child when I was dropped off at school without anyone to talk to in case I needed help.

You see, when someone asks me about my breasts, all of this fear, dread and loneliness come up. I am still that brave little girl who suffers in silence.

Of course I am scared. The tumor is big. The surgeon gave me a 50/50 chance of it recurring. And my bones. Chemo will weaken them and they are already weak because of the spina bifida. What does it mean to have both of these things to deal with?

I suppose I’m mad, too. It seems hardly fair that I narrowly escaped death as a child and now, here again, I am facing a life-threatening situation.

This helps, Kalinda. It really does. I am scared and I am angry.

Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” I am weary, weary of carrying this burden of secrecy and shame alone. That’s what I am feeling right now. My burden is heavy. I want to lay it down.

I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to do this alone, not any more. Kalinda, can you stay a while longer?

 

Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her second blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)

The Journey from “I” to “We”

by Diane Glass

Christopher Maier, in his essay “Creating Community Through Storytelling,” included in The Power of Words, states that “…storytelling builds community, or at least helps the process when the conditions are right over time.” “I’s” become a “we,” he said, when there is “sufficient shared assent to the virtual experience of the story.”

During the last year and a half, I have worked to create that sense of “we” among adults born with spina bifida in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, before treatment was widely available. Most babies born in this era died. A few lived and I am one of them. (Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the spine does not close and in some cases the spinal cord protrudes out the back. It often creates problems with mobility, continence of bladder and bowels, learning disabilities, sexuality, and other life issues.)

“True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.”

No one knew I had spina bifida until I began talking about it after my breast cancer diagnosis in 1999. Before cancer came along, I thought spina bifida complications would kill me. Cancer taught me that predicting how death would come is impossible and irrelevant. Isn’t the point, “How do I want to live?”

This insight made me long for a community of my own that had experienced spina bifida. That desire began my journey in 2016. I traveled Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska to locate adults with spina bifida and visit with them in their homes. Over time I completed thirteen such interviews and taped them. Judy Olson, another adult with spina bifida, accompanied me on several of the trips. At first hesitant to reveal facts about their lives, the people we interviewed quickly opened up.

“I thought I was the only one who survived,” a man in his mid-40s said.

“Wow, you’re old,” another man said when I told him my age (69). “I didn’t know you could live this long with spina bifida.”

“Can I take my picture with you?” a younger woman said, eager to show her family and friends that life beyond 30 years of age was a possibility.

Would Christopher Maier consider this interviewing a process for creating community “when the conditions are right,” I wondered.

When this work led to a presentation at the Spina Bifida Association of America National Conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, Judy and I shared the stories with a lively audience of caregivers, adults with spina bifida, healthcare professionals, and parents. Some of the adults we had interviewed came along to tell their stories in person.

The 57-year-old man who had never been away from home by himself made the life-changing decision to attend the conference.

“I’ve never seen so many people in wheelchairs,” he said. “I almost felt normal for the first time in my life.”

The 45-year-old man who had never met another adult with spina bifida started his own Facebook group for adults with spina bifida after returning home.

The severely disabled woman in her 50s found a caretaker to go with her. She ardently advocates for adequate Medicaid support for people with disabilities.

A man with spina bifida who had abused drugs most of his adult life and was now “clean” shared his story publicly for the first time.

The Spina Bifida Association of Iowa made this possible by funding the expenses of these individuals. With these stories Judy and I produced a video in conjunction with videographer Ryan Paul Buck. You can view it at www.sbaia.org.

During this time, Christopher Maier’s question continued to challenge me: Is this project setting the stage for community “when the conditions are right”? Are we a “we” yet?

Returning home, several of us decided to form an adult committee of the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa, meeting by phone since travel is difficult. We would like to organize a retreat for next summer, including teens as well as adults.

This interest in going beyond our immediate circle to serve others persuades me we have formed a community. True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.

My own life has become richer during this journey. I understand my own history in greater depth. I am deeply grateful to be alive as I approach my 70th birthday. I am less lonely now that I have become part of a “we.”

Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her first blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)

Poetry as Healer with Glenis Redmond

Witness this wonderful TEDtalk with poet, Glenis Redmond who recounts how poetry helped her discover her inner strength to heal.

Glenis Redmond is a nationally renowned poet with Greenville roots. She started the first poetry slam in Greenville in the 90s, bringing the first all-women’s team to the National Poetry Slam. She has individually placed in the top 3 at Nationals and was a two time Southern Fried Slam Champion. She walks in all the worlds of poetry: the page and the stage.