Call For New TLA Blog Editors!

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Are you passionate about Transformative Language Arts? Are you seeking ways to serve the TLA Network, become more involved, or network with other practitioners?

The TLA Blog is currently seeking 1-2 editor-curators. These people should be invested in learning more about TLA practice and the TLA Network. Excellent editing and proofreading skills, as well as prompt, professional, and mindful communication with our community of artists and practitioners, is required. Experience with WordPress and social media preferred.

Your service will be approximately 3 hours each week, editing and promoting posts, seeking contributions, and participating in TLA Network discussions and calls (how this time is divided between editor-curators is up to you).

Duties would include:

  • Updates to the blog weekly, maybe more
  • Working closely with authors and interviewees to present their best work
  • Serving on the TLA Network Council in discussions on the promotion and growth of the Network and TLA work at large
  • Remember, you are both a practitioner and a curator, so other ways to serve your practice and the network are also valuable!

Posts would include:

  • TLA in Current Events
  • Posts from Practitioners of TLA, including conference presenters and online course teachers
  • Social media promotions of TLA Network events
  • Your own reflections on your practice of TLA
  • Contributions from those seeking certification

If you are interested, please email director@tlanetwork.org  with your information and any questions.

 

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The Art of Affirmation – Words and Pictures

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by Stefanie M Smith

One of the things that led me to looking at how powerful words can be in regard to someone’s mental health was discovering affirmation cards around 15 years ago. I was visiting a friend and needed to use her bathroom; tucked into the side of her mirror was an affirmation card, and there was another propped up on the windowsill. They were beautifully decorated and each had a positive phrase inscribed on it. I asked her about them and she explained that they were from a card deck produced by the late Louise L Hay. At the time, although I thought they were lovely I couldn’t really see how they could possibly be effective, but I was intrigued enough to want to learn more.

Now, a few years down the line, I am a great believer in the way that using positive affirmations can help to change a person’s outlook on things; but this is with the proviso that the person has a true connection with and a belief the words affirmation itself.
Like most people I’ve seen the many different products available that portray affirmations as the be all and end all to change your life. I may also be guilty of buying a pack of cards and then putting them somewhere to come back to later, only to rediscover them months down the line, still unopened and obviously having had no impact on my life other than perhaps my bank balance.

I have found the best way to actually get the benefit of positive affirmations into your life is to actively engage with them, and this, for me is where creativity comes into play. I love Art Journaling and creating Mixed Media artworks that incorporate positive thoughts and firmly believe that the process of creating them actually builds a greater resonance with the message they hold. The beauty with creating in this way is that you don’t have to share what you have created with anyone else, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Yes, there are many beautiful, and daunting examples all around the internet but please don’t let that put you off.

The process of creating art with a personal meaning in some way combines both sides of our brains, the left, more logical side and the right, more intuitive and creative side; I believe that this helps the positivity lodge more firmly within our thought patterns, therefore keeping the message closer to the surface.

A good way to get around any nerves or self-criticism about your creativity is to try something like collage or perhaps found poetry. You may want to buy a cheap pack of playing cards, paint one side a plain colour and then use cut out pictures and words from magazines to create a message that resonates with you; or you could find an old book in a second hall shop, pick a page at random and circle some words that stand out to you, draw connecting lines between those words and then black out or doodle across the rest of the page and you may surprise yourself with the meaning that comes through.

For those who really don’t wish to get involved with glue, paint and scissors; and I do realise that it isn’t for everyone; I would urge you to at least fully engage with the affirmations you use. Don’t leave a card in the same place for weeks on end until you no longer see it, set yourself a daily, weekly or fortnightly time when you pick a fresh affirmation, take some deep breaths and read it out loud several times, then place it somewhere where you can repeat this daily, pick it up, breathe and read it again; read it out with confidence and belief, and finally remember to love yourself.

(Editor’s Note: This is Stefanie’s fifth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Arts 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.

WATCH: Sparks replay-Empowering Human-Trafficking Survivors

If you missed this last Sparks meeting, watch the replay featuring an interview with special guest, Jennifer Jean, discussion, and open mic!

Jennifer Jean is a poet, educator, activist, and consummate “literary citizen.” Her debut poetry collection is The Fool (Big Table); her poetry chapbooks include: The Archivist, and In the War. Jennifer’s newest manuscript, titled Object, was a finalist for the 2016 Green Mountains Review Book Prize. Other honors include: a 2018 Disquiet FLAD Fellowship; a 2017 Her Story Is residency, where she worked with Iraqi women artists in Dubai; a 2016 Good Bones Prize; and, a 2013 Ambassador for Peace Award for her activism in the arts.  As well, her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in: Poetry Magazine, Waxwing Journal, Rattle Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, Mud City Journal, Solstice, Pangyrus, and more. She is Poetry Editor of The Mom Egg Review, Managing Editor of Talking Writing Magazine, and Co-director of Morning Garden Artists Retreats. Jennifer teaches Free2Write poetry workshops to trauma survivors, and she teaches writing at Boston-area universities.

Jennifer Jean’s website for more information is: http://www.fishwifetales.com

Reframing Negative Experiences Through Role Play

by Stefanie M Smith

When looking at the transformative uses of language we usually focus on the potential for positive changes rather than the negative for obvious reasons. Recently however, I was in a situation when I was unable to avoid watching the negative aspects of language at work.

What was unfolding before me was narcissistic behaviour at play; one party in a relationship using negative language and actions to systematically demolish the other’s self-belief. It was obviously distressing to observe not only because I care deeply about the person being treated this way, but also because it was very triggering for myself as a survivor of psychological abuse.

I was observing the way in which negative speech flows over a person completely, looking for any little chinks or weaknesses, in the way water flows over stone looking for the weakest point to flow through. In a way it is like watching a mosaic being disassembled as tiny fragments that once made up the whole are broken away. At one point I was physically shaking which surprised me as I felt I had dealt with most of my shadow demons.

So how do I relate this to TLA practice? And how can I use language skills to improve my sense of well-being?

It felt almost as if I was watching my own mistreatment from above, and this distance allowed me to examine it more closely. I realised that the reason I had been unable to completely overturn the effects of my own psychological abuse was because they had bedded deeply within me, and whilst I felt that all the work had been done, in effect there was still a small nugget of damage lying within me; much like the Pea in the Princess’s bed and despite all the layers of work I’d done; much as the many mattresses the Princess slept upon; I was still suffering the discomfort.

Once I understood this, I decided the best way forward was to role play some of my past situations, and as I did so subtly change my responses. It’s really like the way that you only think of the smart retort just after the person you wanted to rebuff has walked away, only by role playing and rewinding the situation you can rewrite the experience that is left in your brain. Rather than just thinking ‘what if I’d said/done this’ by role playing you are actually saying/doing that in a way that your brain accepts as a new reality and makes you more able to react positively in similar situations in the future. It is a very similar process to cognitive reframing.

So that is exactly what I did. I first reviewed my past experiences and picked out the ones that still gave me a pang of regret or a bit of a jolt when I thought of them. I then found myself some quiet space and replayed them in my head, watching them unfold like a movie, when the triggering section appeared I watched it in my head, then rewound it to insert a more appropriate and assertive response. For example, when my ex would choose to belittle me just before guests were due to arrive, my usual response was just to hang my head and accept what he was saying rather than to challenge him and disagree; this was because I thought I could just ignore his words and in doing so not cause an atmosphere when our friends were there. In reality though the words had got inside me and begun to chip away at my self confidence. In my replay, rather than just back away from the situation, I chose instead to stand up for myself, look him in the eye and challenge his opinion of me.

It felt so empowering to take this stance as I went through each incidence of damage that had been done and systematically drawing it out and repairing each piece in turn, it was like finally becoming a Master Mason of my own self!

I would really recommend that you take the time to review some of your past interactions that may have left a negative impact on your self belief, and role-play them out to a more positive finale.

(Editor’s Note: This is Stefanie’s fourth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Arts 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.

Building Strong Foundations: TLAN Graduates Share Their Experiences

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, One City One Prompt facilitation, and publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, eighteen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world.

The next TLA Foundations class, Changing the World with Words, a requisite for certification, begins next week on Wednesday, June 27. There is still time to register (and can be counted towards certification retroactively within one year of taking it). Register here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-2758556.

An interview with instructor, Joanna Tebbs Young, about the course can be found here: https://tlablog.org/2018/05/31/changing-the-world-with-words-with-joanna-tebbs-young/

For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

May2015

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

mharris

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Susan Shepler (graduated May 2017)

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

The kind of work I do involves language and art, and it is also associated with transformation and healing.  “Transformative Language Arts” perfectly describes my area of interest and my offering.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

The courses that I find most useful are ones designed to produce specific outcomes, such as outlining and creating courses and offerings, including the technology associated with such courses.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m always interested in the “how-to” part of course offerings.  Anything that helps structure and demystify the path forward.

4. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

It’s a helpful certification for me because, in itself, it offers an explanation of the [TLA] path.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

eila2

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie River taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

dianeg

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

3.  What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

4. Is there are particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc., that stands out for you?

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

& They Call Us Crazy: Outsider Writing to Cross the Borders of Human Imagination-An Interview with Caits Meissner

Caits Meissner will be teaching the upcoming class, “& They Call Us Crazy: Outsider Writing to Cross the Borders of Human Imagination” 

In this creativity-generating workshop we’ll follow in the footsteps of genius eccentrics, outsiders and outlaws who’ve stepped beyond their perceived limitations, risking ridicule (and worse) to access their unique creative offerings — ultimately proving that what is outside the norm — and the academy — is often the most deliciously innovative and juicy.

caits2Here is a short interview with Caits about the class!

TLA Blog(TLA): Why might this class be important at this time in the world?

Caits Meissner(CM): Imagination is our most valuable asset in confronting systems of oppression, environmental crisis, and forwarding the evolution of our human community. In addition to systemic illness on a large scale, much of our inability to expand creative energy is due to the very small and time-consuming tasks of living. We are bogged down by the minutia of survival. Taking space to unlock the imagination can feel luxurious, but I believe it is also critical. How can we ever imagine a different way forward if we cannot unhook from what is long enough to allow the “crazy” thoughts to flourish, the innovative thoughts that stretch us beyond the confounding circumstances of being a person in 2018, beyond the conventions that keep us restricted and bound? Thinking “crazy” has been the bedrock of change in our society. Another word for it— usually when it has worked and we’re speaking in hindsight— is vision.

Will this course open channels in a participant’s brain that touches on the major issues of our time, providing viable solutions? Probably not (but who knows!) But I do think this practice of playful curiosity can unlock possibility within ourselves, and that is a worthy step. As creative people, we may be feeling both a deep desire and tremendous pressure to address the inequalities, inequities and human rights violations our era has surfaced in bold form. But we also know that the most affecting work often begins organically, when we stumble over a creative trip wire that switches on a new process of ideation. The mythology that creativity relies on lived freedom is incorrect— of time, of space, or mindset. Plenty of artwork has proven this theory null, created in the most repressive environments. Where there are humans, there is creative impulse, and I believe it may be more descriptively accurate to say the act of creation is a striving towards freedom. In a funny way, guided constraints can increase that feeling of freedom by providing a safe container in which to experiment.

I think of this course as a container where we might stumble upon what we’ve been trying to, or hoping to address through our work. It is also a space where the act of failing spectacularly is encouraged, without judging our work or expecting every engagement to produce project-worthy material. My friend Lynne said to me once — imagine how many seeds a tree releases. Thousands! Only a few become new trees. That’s the creative process as nature teaches us. In our ambition-driven society, it is easy to forget that, and to despair in the fear of not making work that outlives the moment of spontaneous expression. But aren’t we nature, too? Why should our creative birthing be any different from other forms of life in this vast kingdom we live in?

And honestly, who couldn’t use a rigorous creative engagement that takes us away from the droning news, the overwhelm of being confronted with our current human form? Who couldn’t use an infusion of a little joy and play and space and discovery?

​ Who couldn’t use a little self support in the form of grand creativity?​


TLA: How did you discover, learn about and experience the topic that you’ll be teaching?

CM: I grew up under the influence of parents who both worked with youth and adults with emotional, developmental and intellectual differences and disabilities— parents who view all people through the lens of capacity, contribution and supreme dignity. Through their work, I forged my own connections with artists with differing abilities, and​discovered creative processes that didn’t rely on a school degree to nudge something beautiful and affecting into existence. Often the artists were not concerned with what I thought of the work they created, nor did they obsess over the art career that might blossom “one lucky day​”​ if they just kept at it. That felt like a form of freedom. Raw spontaneity produced fresh, alive pieces that were unlike any other artist’s hand. It was incredibly informative to witness at a time when my hunger for recognition and career advancement was beginning to growl.​

Similarly, I’ve found many affecting and inspiring writers and writing birthed in prisons and needle exchanges. In these settings I found that expression often grew from a need to shake up the narrative created around worth, to write value back into selfhood, and to remind the world that in our quickness to discard an entire person, we lose out on their potential contributions— and certainly siphon off a part of our own humanity. The work often feels urgent, probing, and doesn’t wait for a stamp of approval from the gate keepers. In fact, it lights a match and burns down the gates. That’s the kind of artist I aspire to be.

Of course, children exhibit this freedom of expression with ease and joy before its pummeled out by adulthood’s demands and judgements. I am interested in the creative impulse that cannot be suppressed or snuffed out, the spark that is possible in all and any of us. That striving towards freedom. I became interested in artists who were not trained traditionally, but touched a deep chord in viewers. And of course, many of the artists we’ll be engaging with were trained, but managed to stretch beyond convention to drum up astonishing and gloriously strange creativity. This mix of study culls from my own collected curiosities about the creative process, and the artists who have inspired me. My background includes an undergrad degree in Communication Design from Pratt Institute and an MFA from City College of New York. Though I come from a trained process, my most profound learning moments have arrived in the community settings I’ve collaborated within. The prompts in this course draw on over 15 years of teaching and facilitating multimedia art and creative writing workshops in a wide variety of community and professional settings.

TLA: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

CM: Honestly, anyone looking to get messy and find something new! No one is under nor overqualified in this space. The idea is to fill up the notebook with the many seeds of creation, and to beckon the unexpected through the challenge of a strange new prompt, or by saying yes to an unfamiliar form. As I’m wrapping up two major projects, I will be engaging the course exercises myself, excited to see what arrives from giving it all a good shot. Truth be told, I find myself resistant to my own prompts! I understand that pushing past that resistance will be key in squeezing the most juice from the experience. Just writing this, I’m getting jittery with nerves about the potential discoveries revealed.

TLA: What can students in this class expect?

CM: To experiment and play. This is not a workshop, nor a space to bring work for critique. It is a wide open, generative space centered on the act of new creation. Every session will offer 5 artists to study with links to engage their work, and an article to read in connection. I recommend daily journaling on the prompts I offer that bounce off each artist’s works, but this will be a private process left to the participant to engage (or not.) A packet of poems for deeper reading launches from the thematic container we are loosely creating within. Then, 4-5 creative prompts are listed each week— writing, as well as other creative art-making. Depending on how the participant is moved to action, it might serve to give each a try as quick exercises, or to hone in on 1-2 to work on more intensively. The results of these experiments will be posted weekly. Participants will be expected to engage with the work of peers, but with a strict avoidance of critique. We’ll work from a framework of noticing, wondering and encouraging forward.

TLA: Why is it important to take risks in ones life?

CM: It is the only way we evolve, grow, move forward, shake out of complacency, create anything worth a damn. Though I will say this course is low stakes in the risk department. You have nothing to lose by participating, and everything to gain.

TLA: Where do you find the most inspiration?

CM: From other entities that create— other artists, children, the intricacies of the natural world. The quickest route to inspiration is to read a book that moves me. Sitting in silence brings forth conversations with friends that surface the need to translate what’s spoken to paper. Being relentlessly curious is the state I hope to become more present to. It’s the most fantastic and forgiving way to commune with the great mystery of life.

Register For Caits’s Class Here!

About the Facilitator: Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016), and The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (Well&Often, 2012), co-written with poet Tishon Woolcock. The recipient of multiple artist residencies and fellowships, including the BOAAT Writers Retreat and The Pan-African Literary Forum, Caits is widely published in literary journals including The Literary Review, Narrative, Adroit, Drunken Boat and The Offing. She has taught, consulted and co-created extensively for over 15 years across a wide spectrum of communities, with a special focus on imprisoned people, women and youth. Caits holds a BFA in Communication Design from Pratt Institute, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York. She currently serves as the Prison and Justice Writing Program Manager at PEN America.

Sparks! Free Webinar June 10th

Empowering Human-Trafficking Survivors: Facilitating Free2Write Poetry Workshops with Jennifer Jean

Sunday, June 10,2018

7 P.M. CENTRAL, 8 P.M.  EASTERN

Moderated by Kelly DuMar

We’re thrilled to welcome special guest, Jennifer Jean, to be our next SPARKS! feature on June 10. Jennifer is a poet, educator and activist who has been teaching poetry workshops to human trafficking and trauma survivors in order to empower them to tell their own stories in their own way. Kelly DuMar will interview Jennifer about her transformative language arts work with survivors, as well as ask Jennifer to read some of her own poems. This is an opportunity for TLA practitioners to learn and share best practices for working with survivors in writing groups and be introduced to Jennifer’s model for facilitating free2write workshops for survivors. Please bring a poem, story, or song to share in our open mic following the interview.

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

About Special Guest Jennifer Jean

Jennifer Jean is a poet, educator, activist, and consummate “literary citizen.” Her debut poetry collection is The Fool (Big Table); her poetry chapbooks include: The Archivist, and In the War. Jennifer’s newest manuscript, titled Object, was a finalist for the 2016 Green Mountains Review Book Prize. Other honors include: a 2018 Disquiet FLAD Fellowship; a 2017 Her Story Is residency, where she worked with Iraqi women artists in Dubai; a 2016 Good Bones Prize; and, a 2013 Ambassador for Peace Award for her activism in the arts. As well, her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in: Poetry Magazine, Waxwing Journal, Rattle Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, Mud City Journal, Solstice, Pangyrus, and more. She is Poetry Editor of The Mom Egg Review, Managing Editor of Talking Writing Magazine, and Co-director of Morning Garden Artists Retreats. Jennifer teaches Free2Write poetry workshops to trauma survivors, and she teaches writing at Boston-area universities

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 Jennifer Jean for 30 minutes about her work with sex trafficking survivors and her poetry.
  • 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 minutes to the open mic
  • 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 and 7:45 P.M. EASTERN so you can connect early & work out any glitches! You will receive links and numbers in your email after RSVPing.

About 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). 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 12th 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. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and a Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama. You can follow Kelly’s daily nature blog, “#NewThisDay Writing From My Photo Stream,” and join her mailing list at kellydumar.com

Changing the World with Words with Joanna Tebbs Young

Joanna will be teaching the upcoming TLA Foundations Class, Changing The World With Words starting June 27th. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and
finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

joannatebbsyoung Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com.

Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

Who Am I – Unravelling Myself with Words

by Stefanie M Smith

Since I discovered the TLA Network and taken some classes I have begun to use journaling and creative writing more consistently, and one of the biggest issues that it is helping me to unpick is the jumbled knot within my mind shaped in part by the perennial question – Who Am I?

Like most people there have been many names, roles and titles that can, and have, been applied to me over the years, and like most people (I suspect) I have gotten tied up in knots over the presumptions and expectations titles can place on us or that they help us to place on ourselves. These expectations can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing.

In my professional life I have been many things: legal secretary, bank clerk, PA, project co-ordinator, nurse, hypnotherapist, reiki therapist, whilst in my personal life the various roles I experienced are sadly not all as positive and sometimes the edges between them blur a little too.

In my early life I was a great adventurer travelling with my father behind the Iron Curtain into the then Communist Czechoslovakia, and later to the Netherlands. Sadly my role of adventurer was to end when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, passing away when I was 10; the remainder of my childhood became unrecognisable as I became the daughter of an alcoholic mother and the victim of incestuous sexual abuse. I left home as soon as I could and rushed headlong away from this into becoming girlfriend, wife, mother, victim of psychological abuse which inevitably led to new roles: divorcee and depressive single mother.

Being the mother of two small children who needed me, I did what people do; I picked myself up and started again, trying to pretend this blip never happened, ignoring the push to look inwards and heal. I managed to keep my life on a very basic level: work, pay bills, feed the kids, repeat. I found a new partner and a new career, retraining as a nurse, and everything seemed to muddle along nicely.
Then I got ill.

Yet again I found myself grieving the loss of a career. One I truly loved and was heavily invested in. It was part of me I was part of it. I was a nurse but then suddenly I wasn’t. It was really difficult to separate the two and I found depression striking me down again, but this time my mental health issues came on top of my physical difficulties, lengthening my recovery considerably. Yet again I realise, in hindsight, that I had allowed the role of nurse to merge into my identity, if it was part of me rather than just something I did, how could I leave it behind?

So there I was aged 40 and living with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition comprising elements of pain, fatigue and depression. At first I allowed myself to sink to new depths of despair, wondering what to do with my life, what had brought me to this point. I was initially ready to blame any external sources I could find. Then I realised I wanted out of those depths; despite several attempts at rising from the ashes with the help of my friends and partner, talking therapies and anti-depressants, I always had seemed to stumble back down at some point, never quite escaping the roles that seemed to taunt me; Victim, Failure.

I needed to find a new route, one I could walk by myself.

There are many theories behind the causes of Fibromyalgia but some recent studies seem to highlight a link to childhood trauma, which in my case could explain a lot. I hadn’t realised that by blocking out the traumatic events of my later childhood I had built a barrier in my mind that also blocked out earlier, presumably happier memories. I had cancelled out a large portion of my life; giving me very shaky foundations to build upon. It was what I had needed to do to survive at that time, but now I recognised that I needed to go back into my past root out and explore those traumas, finally laying them to rest in order that I could begin to move forwards.

When I first went in search of those memories all I found was a tangled mess of abuse, neglect and trauma. Slowly though, with the support of my partner and by working through some TLAN classes I managed to begin to unravel some of the snarled up threads, gaining glimpses of new memories, insights into my story, and the more I explore, the more I see. I had rediscovered my love of writing and I realised it was providing me with a coping mechanism, and helping me to finally reject the roles of Victim and Failure. I had unintentionally discovered the growing field looking at the therapeutic benefits of writing.

And now: I journal; when I get upset, I unravel my emotions in words; I recall some small snippet – I jot it down; I read my words back, I write poetry; if I get stuck, I journal about being stuck ……. and so it goes on, each word written, either on its own or in conjunction with many, uncovers another piece of my mystery. So for me journaling has most definitely been the way forward in discovering Who I Am.

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