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.

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& 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.

Right Livelihood: In Search of Runes-Part 5

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is the final post of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

What if nobody shows up?

My quest for finding Right Livelihood is currently split into two directions – one part of me wants to become a Rune Master and Teacher, and another part is a propagator and designer of miniature potted succulent gardens. Tomorrow night I’m having a “Trunk Show” highlighting my plants, and I’m also selling a wide array of my artistic wares – painted rocks and wooden bowls, photo greeting cards and essential oil infusion stones. I’m hoping to recoup some of the investment I have made in soil, plants, pots and fertilizer and the many, many hours that have been consumed by my labor of love of gardening.

Between my living room and the back deck, I’ve counted 88 different potted combinations of wee desert plants, some ready to flower, some covered with sharp needles that I have trimmed with scissors. Some are short and fat and others look like trees from an ancient African forest. I’ve sent out notification on Facebook and created an event on my own FB page, the “Weekend Workshop Club”. Several hundred people have seen the invitation, the photos, the note that if they buy a wee garden, they will also receive a vial of concentrated liquid fertilizer and instructions on how to keep their new babies happy. No confirmed “I’m coming/not coming” responses yet, a couple of maybes and several verbal probablys, but I’m not worried.

I’ve gone to great efforts to make this a delightful evening. I’m providing “light refreshments”, “nibbles”, a box of red and a box of white, iced tea, and homemade ginger cookies. I’m ready, prepared and bubbling with enthusiasm. The yellow brick road leading me towards Right Livelihood will be open to the public tomorrow night.

My daughter stops by to see how I’m doing, and after checking out the scene, she asks, “but what happens if nobody comes?” The question hits me like a brick. I had never even remotely imagined that this was a possibility. What if the future held a complete surprise? What if nobody shows up and I don’t sell a single plant? What if, on Saturday morning, I still have 88 pots of succulents?

I felt the full brunt of the force as it knocked my equilibrium off of center. The Power of Words was the bull in the china closet and I found myself stammering and trying to convince my daughter (and myself) that I love what I’m doing, people are busy and don’t always RSVP, and all of that time and money was an investment in my self – my creativity, my artistic spirit, my sense of beauty and design. And even though I was now a bit of a cowering, defensive wreck, I knew, deep down inside, that these beautiful, healthy, colorful, multi-faceted plants were an extension of who I am. It didn’t really matter if nobody came. I would survive and so would my dreams.

Three people came, two plants and a beautifully painted rock went to new homes, and the next day five other folks called to say they were planning to come but couldn’t make it. So, I considered the night a success and chalked the low attendance up to “life happens whether you show up or not”. I fulfilled my goal of curating the show and felt great because I did something that expanded the “me” that loves dirt and plants and spending time outside in the fresh air. I’ll have plenty of chances in the future to carry on and fill up that cookie jar with cash and checks. This was just another chapter in the story of my life.

So, back to the Right Livelihood and my experiences of the past two years as I have made my way through the Transformative Language Arts Certificate. I’ve met and chatted with many wonderful people, added tools to my toolbox, filled multiple pages in my journal, written poetry, explored my options and looked at the possibilities that will unravel from the giant ball of yarn that is still rolling ahead of me. There is motion and potential and I can see that I’m making progress. I’m getting closer to my goal of becoming.

I wanted to leave this blog with some words of wisdom, some evidence to the lights that have been fired up because of the many classes I participated in during the past two years. I dug out all of my folders and notebooks and print-outs and there was one workshop facilitator, Doug Lipman, who seemed to stand out above the rest. I ended up enjoying two of his classes during the time I was working on my certificate. When I first met Doug at the Power of Words Conference in Saco, Maine on August 13, 2016 he was teaching a workshop called “The Values of the Future, Through Story Telling”. It was during this time that I realized that my time spent working with runes not only contained the roots of my hope that I could transform my “hobby” into a Right Livelihood, but in actuality, working with runes was a form of storytelling. This realization changed my approach to how I described my “work”. It wasn’t all about clarity, focus, memories and self-awareness, it was about finding the unique fabric that dressed one’s life, gathering up the squares and sewing them together so they could become the crazy quilt representing the multi-facets of who we are. It was all about the story.

Doug’s workshop explained how to embed values into the process of storytelling. There were eight values that fell into two groups: Group A was the Primacy of Connection, and Group B was Respect for Our Amazing Minds. I just loved boiling down all of my Runic hopes and dreams and was able to see that these two factors were like my own security blanket. I was the one who needed connection and affirmation – this was exactly what I was looking for. I felt warmed to the core.

So I venture forth, one step at a time, one plant at a time, one rune stone at a time. I am confident with knowing that no matter what does or doesn’t happen, what evolves or simply sits still, all I have to do is show up.

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

Upcoming Class: Values of the Future Through Transformative Language Arts with Doug Lipman

Doug Lipman will be facilitating the upcoming online class, Values of the Future Through Transformative Language Arts beginning May 16th!

Doug is an incredible storyteller and facilitator and we are so excited to have him teach this class! Watch one of his terrific performances here:

About the class:

Our current economic, political, and social systems are serving fewer and fewer people, not to mention destroying the environment.

I don’t know what a future society will look like, but if it is to meet our human needs better than our current society does, I believe it needs to be formed with certain values in mind.

Fortunately, these values can be taught, not just through stories, songs, dances, and poems about the values, but also through the very processes of telling or creating stories, singing or creating songs, and so on. In other words, our artistic processes themselves can give people experiences that open them to values that are necessary for an improved society.

In this 6-week course, I’ll briefly lay out a theory of how values can be influenced, as well as the eight values I’ve chosen as “values of a future society.” I’ll introduce the values one at a time and give examples of processes from storytelling that support each value. Then I’ll help you identify and/or create processes that can give others experiences of each value, from your particular type of transformational language work.

Key to this course is inspiring each other to notice the transformative power of the creative processes. Together, we’ll engage in building an enlarging web of activities that can help people align themselves with currents that, I believe, will help move us toward a more just, supportive, and enlightened society.

Who should take this class:

Storytellers, fiction writers, narrative poets, songwriters, improvisational singers, dramatists, etc. – all who use language to help people imagine or convey their experience – especially those interested in teaching their art or discipline with an eye toward promoting generative values.

The course will be most helpful to those with enough experience in their work to have already developed some processes for doing and/or teaching their art/discipline. I define transformative language arts broadly. If you think your work might belong here, it likely does!

Register for this class!

About Doug Lipman:

In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom.

Right Livelihood: In Search of Runes-Part 4

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 4 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

Why me?

My family of origin was a quiet one. An average dinner meal looked like this: My father sat at one end of the table with my mother at the other end. My sister, Susan (one year older than me) and I sat on one side and brother Jon (5 years younger) was across from us. The meal was usually tasteless and dull, meatloaf, instant white rice and mushy vegetables from a can (remember the mix of lima beans, corn, green beans and little pieces of red pimento that nobody ever ate?). There was no lively chatter, no “how was your day?” recap, and if anyone did speak during the meal (…finish your milk, stop kicking your sister, what’s for dessert?…), my father would get mad (blow up) and some sort of chaos ensued.

It took many years of investigating the lives of my family, my parents and my grandparents before I became fully aware of why silence was preferable to bringing up any subject that could even be remotely construed as painful. Between some of the most horrific events that could befall a human being (the death of my father’s mother in childbirth, a suicide, the family secret of incest, untreated PTSD from fighting the Japs in the South Pacific, mental illness treated with electro-shock therapy, Parkinson’s Disease and kidney failure, it seemed like there just wasn’t any uplifting conversation that could bring joy to the dinner table. So, we just ate, drank and politely asked whether we could be excused.

I eventually learned to talk on my own and through the aid of teachers, friends, associates at work and an occasional therapist. I was an avid reader and writer of journals. By the time I was “grown up”, I found education held the key to finding out about words and how best to use them. One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from my parents was “how not to be”. Thankfully, I was blessed with a great sense of humor, a limitless imagination and the courage to try just about anything.

During the summer of 2016, I was living in California, part way through my Transformative Language Arts certificate program. In order to complete my studies, I needed to attend one conference and saw that the yearly Power of Words event was being held at Ferry Beach Park in Saco, Maine. My parents lived in Saco for 20 years (moving there after I left home in 1969), and they were both buried in the big cemetery at the center of town. I hadn’t visited their graves in a long time, so this seemed to be one good incentive to make a cross-country trip and attend the conference!

By this time I had already become invested in studying runes and was hoping to find a way to transform my “hobby” into a “profession”, so the workshops I attended had a lot to do with paving the driveway toward my future goal of finding “Right Livelihood”. I learned about “Laughter, Breath and Joy: Communal Communication”, “Your Livelihood is a Road Trip, Your Life Is the Terrain”, and, “The Values of the Future Through Storytelling”, facilitated by Doug Lipman. It was during Doug’s workshop that I found a great metaphoric vision for one of the key parts of my runic education – the Rubber Duckie Race – and how it could be used as a tool for storytelling.

The Rubber Duckie Race is used as a fundraising event where people pay money and are given temporary custody of a cute little yellow rubber duck. The race is held in a flowing river where all of the ducks are held captive behind a floating barrier. There are hundreds of identical ducks, with their unique number painted on their bottoms, crowded together, bumping each other gently, some facing forward and some backwards, waiting for the starting gun to fire. The future is filled with dangers: rapids, rocks, shallows, widow-maker tree limbs, sandbars, traffic jams, and swirling eddies, and when the barrier goes up, it’s the luck of the draw and the survival of the fastest as a stampede of floating little yellow bodies surges forward from the starting gate.

The spectators on the shoreline can participate in the race in several ways: they can hoot and holler, they can jump in the water and create waves to help break up a log-jam, and they can even blow on a duck in the hope of changing its speed or direction. But, and the rules are firm on this matter, they can never pick up or ever touch a duck.

And it was those rules that helped me with looking at my Rune Mastery in a different way. Doug said that physically touching, or externally directing someone’s values (their space) was against the rules. I was glad to see a definitive rule, and saw how I needed to avoid a direct, hands-on approach. I could see how making waves could eventually influence one’s direction, perhaps imperceptibly at first. By simply being a participant, by listening to someone else’s story, I am “blowing on” their values and experiences, subtly reinforcing certain values and increasing the likelihood that those values will move in a particular direction. Over time I could change the course of a whole fleet of ducks.

After the conference was over and my mind had absorbed a richness of knowledge, after I stopped by and paid a visit to my parents, and once I had a chance to pull together all of the new information that would carry me on to my next incarnation, I was glad that the runes had chosen me, and felt my calling stronger than ever.

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.