Being Broken, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the first piece by monologist Janet Toone.


I have written pieces for a number of workshops. Since my background includes a childhood of chronic complex trauma, some of my pieces focus on my C-PTSD recovery. In each course, I learned far more than I had anticipated I would learn about the healing process and different avenues for both viewing and facilitating that healing process. This is a monologue I wrote for Kelly DuMar’s “Your Memoir as Monologue” course.

BEING BROKEN

(Mature woman reminiscing about being broken. She is talking to a friend.)

I know about feeling broken. I suppose this is one of the big beginnings of my brokenness.

I was five years old. We lived in a tiny tarpaper shack with no running water, no electricity and no inside walls. When you were inside you could see the cracks between the outside rough knotted pine boards nailed to the two by four frame.

My father’s name was Bob. Since I have been an adult I have never been able to call him Dad or father. Bob stood with his hands on his hips, the bare incandescent light bulb glaring against the rafters. The rough wood floor was littered with clothes and paper beneath the bare table.

I glanced out the open door where I could see the dirt and rocks. I wanted to run, but I knew I dare not run.

On my back, I could feel the heat of the wood range where we cooked. I held my breath as he loomed over me and sneered, “We don’t want you anymore, so we are going to send you to an orphanage.”

His green eyes held some combination of glaring contempt and the look of a predator studying its prey. That look on his round face always chilled me to the bone.

My first thought was, “What’s an orphanage?” I knew better than to ask him.

About a week later, my aunt came to visit. I asked her, “What is an orphanage?”

I remember how I savored her reply. “An orphanage is where children who don’t have a family to love them are taken to be cared for until someone who will love them adopts them.”

I was ready to go.

I waited.

I waited through seasons, like a kid waits for Christmas.

One particular early summer day, we were in the second shack. Bob was screaming, and swearing at my brothers, “You stupid #$*&@#$#@#$*& I should beat you until you can’t stand up.”

I stood watching Bob’s volatile reaction and I thought, “Okay, enough of this. We’re out of here.”

Aloud, I asked. “When are we going to the orphanage?”

His response burned into my body and my soul, “You are so stupid and so bad, no one would want you, so we are going to keep you here and have you work for us.”

My heart sank in disappointment. The orphanage wasn’t going to be my great escape.

Three Little Kids on a Log, by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the fifth post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification. You can find her earlier posts here.


signed up for an all-day write-a-thon. I had wanted to attend one of these for a long time, but something else always came up. I had never attended one, but had heard some good things about it.

I read from the description we would be writing “to prompts.” I expected a series of exercises where we would be given a prompt, write to it, and do some sharing; then on to the next prompt, throughout the day. Safe. Routine. Predictable.

Instead, it was very different. We sat down, were given a page of around 30 prompts and were told to just write.

I found this challenging, especially for my concentration. I am usually a quick thinker AND quick writer. But after around an hour, I found it challenging to stay focused. I wanted to get up and turn on my phone. I wanted to go outside. I wanted to read/ relax/ filter/ withdraw. It was intense. I felt uneasy. Just being there with my writing.

For the first few hours, I played around. The writing I did was fun, but it didn’t really resonate with me. Then, nearing the end, something finally “clicked”. It was as if all the previous writing was the warm up, preparing me for this as it wanted to come out. It just poured out.

The prompt was: “Three little boys are sitting on a log in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky”.

The poem reflects a lot from my spiritual path/and background. I was brought up Unitarian. My ancestral heritage is Judaism. I attend Quaker meetings, and belong to a feminist women’s Goddess tradition called Mystai of the Moon. All of these religious paths have one thing in common: the belief that there is no intermediary between the seeker/worshiper and Source. No authority who can tell one what to think. Personally, I don’t believe that any of us can really know ALL or even a lot of what/who/God/Goddess/Spirit/Creator really, so each human being (and who knows? Even every squirrel?) has, not Truth, but a small part of the truth.

And the story that emerged in my day of writing reminds me a lot of the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Three Little Kids on a Log

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears a booming, majestic voice saying:
“I am the source of truth! I am absolutely right! You are powerless. You must submit to me and obey me in everything!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a gentle soft voice saying:
“I am the Goddess! I am the nurturer, the Mother. I bring you love and compassion!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears a calm, measured voice saying:
“The only truth is within.”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears only silence.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears many many voices all talking at the same time. He doesn’t understand what they are saying.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She sees and feels, the bugs crawling on the log. She scratches her arm.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He looks down at the log and decides to move it. It is too heavy to move.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He doesn’t see much up there. He looks down at the log. It seems like a pretty ordinary log. Nothing much. He wishes he could chop up the log and make a more comfortable bench with it. He thinks he could make some money selling benches that are made from logs. He finds an ax and starts to chop down some trees.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a hateful voice screaming:
“The other voices are all demons! The little girls who listen to them are heretics! They must all be destroyed! They must all be killed!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. All three of them look up at the sky.
They see different things so they start to argue about what they saw. They start throwing stones at each other. One little kid falls down and doesn’t get up again.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He sees only clouds. Dark storm clouds. He runs and hides from the clouds. Digs himself a hole in the ground.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She feels that she should cleanse herself. Purify herself. She jumps in the stream and bathes. She doesn’t feel any cleaner.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He stands up, sits down, closes his eyes. And sits. And breathes.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a voice saying “Go and find food. “ She sees some berries and she offers some to the other little kids. They all enjoy eating together.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. None of them look at the sky.
They look into each other’s eyes. They all hold hands and they start to dance.

Writing Truth & Beauty: Using Photography for Inspiration, with Kelly DuMar

Editor’s Note:  Presenters at the Power of Words Conference wanted to share about their work. This week, we feature a couple of those that did not get posted before the conference.

Kelly DuMar shares about her workshop.


Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Personal Photos For Creative Inspiration and Healing

aunt-marionWe all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. Photo albums and unsorted pictures may fill our attics and basements or cover our walls in frames. We store them on our computers and cell phones and share them instantly on social media. Each of us is generating and storing an amazing archive of inspiration. Have you mined the creative writing potential of your photo stream?

My workshop at The Power of Words Conference helps you explore your pictures in poetry and prose. What do you take pictures of? What do you want to preserve? What moves and mystifies you? Who are the people, places, things & experiences that bring meaning, healing and transformation into your life? This is how we will write together.

My Writing Truth & Beauty process guides you to explore the unspoken world of your images. By asking yourself questions, you’ll generate remarkable raw material that reveals insight and emotion you can shape into beautiful, original writing. You’ll start by sharing a photo with other participants, exploring why you chose it, then reflect on probing questions to generate your raw material. You’ll craft a first draft you can share if you choose. Then we’ll explore ideas and suggestions for expansion.

Writing Truth & Beauty from personally chosen helps you:

  • Find creative inspiration in unexpected places
  • A truth you didn’t know you knew
  • A new idea about an old belief
  • A transformative personal revelation, insight or awareness that allows you to live more meaningfully
  • Something you have been unable to see/express/articulate that leads you to a new way of knowing yourself or others and changes your response to the community/world

Here’s a personal photo I spontaneously snapped in an unexpected place – my father’s Alzheimer’s unit. This photo haunted me for days and weeks until I finally sat down and unpacked the story of its beautiful mystery. Here it is, paired with the writing it inspired, bearing a truth a didn’t know I knew, a new awareness, a revelation and a new way of understanding my father’s legacy of love.

Are You Doing the Wonderful?

It’s a sunny summer morning and Memory Care is pleasantly chaotic, chatty with Sunday visitors looking for the one they belong to. My sister and her first granddaughter are visiting my father when I arrive. His first – his only – great granddaughter is looking up into his eyes from her seat on his lap. He no longer has words to call her by name. And her exact relationship to him is a sweet kind of mystery. But his smile shows he is certain this girl on his lap is wonderful.

dad-alaina-bw-copy-2

We all need the blessing of someone special who believes wholeheartedly in our wonderfulness long before we have reason to believe in it ourselves. Someone who expects us to do wonderful things with the gifts we’ve been given. For some it’s a parent, best friend or a spouse, a teacher or mentor, even a child. It may come from someone we’ve never met in person. Maybe it comes from a spiritual source, like the voice of God in Rumi’s poem, Prayer is an egg, translated by Coleman Barks –

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy

your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes?
What did you make with

your five senses while they were dimming and playing out?”

We need to hear the voice so we can internalize this voice – make it our own, to believe we are wonderful, we can be wonderful, we have wonderful work to do in the world before we leave it. So many things get in the way of wonderful. Self-doubt is a paralyzing. We need to keep this voice of belief in our wonderfulness somewhere deep inside yet readily accessible.

My father no longer has the words to say what a picture shows. He wants his great grand daughter to know her wonderfulness been seen – and recognized. He wants her to imagine his voice, picture his smile in a moment she’s lacking confidence or grace or energy. He has held her and looked into her eyes so he trusts. He trusts her to risk doing her wonderful work in the world.

If you couldn’t make it to the workshop in person, you can download my free pdf guide, Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Photos for Creative Inspiration by subscribing to my monthly newsletter at http://www.kellydumar.com


Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1Kelly DuMar is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops for creative writers across the US. Her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014 and her plays are published by dramatic publishers. Her newest chapbook, Tree of the Apple, poems and prose inspired by her father’s Alzheimer’s, is forthcoming by Two of Cups Press. Kelly passionately supports women writers to develop new work in her roles as a board & faculty member of The International Women’s Writing Guild, as well as founder & producer of the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights held at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year. She is a TLAN Council Member who produces the Let’s Talk TLA bi-monthly video conference. Her website is kellydumar.com, and you can follow her on Twitter & Instragram @Kellydumar

“A Dream” One Woman Show, by Juanita Kirton

Editor’s Note:  Presenters at the Power of Words Conference wanted to share about their work. This week, we feature a couple of those that did not get posted before the conference.

Juanita Kirton shares about her show.


The monologue that I created started out as a poem in the voice of a slave women who dreams of what it would be like to be free. Her dreams take her on a magnificent journey, from the fields of cotton/tobacco to Nova Scotia. She experience true love and loss. Through her dreams she is able to mentally escape the horrors of slavery.

I wanted to expand my poem and create space between the various places/times. I sing with the Riverside Church Inspirational Choir, in NYC and it became apparent that I could use music to separate my stanzas. I did some research and added spirituals between the different places & scenes for the character. The piece transformed itself from just words on paper to words & music. The songs gave the character some time to reflect on her journey.
In October, 2013 a member of WWW (Women Who Write) put out a call for 10min stage readings. I ask if a long poem could be considered. She told me to come and audition. It was accepted and I performed a stage reading at Watchung Arts Center in NJ. The house was packed, I was very nervous, but it went well, with a great response. As with all writing, edits are always occurring. I added some authentic African history to this piece and gave the female character a real name to honor my spouse’s mother. Now, “A Dream” arrived at Power of Words Conference. I am excited to have part of this experience, thank you for the opportunity to share my work.

screenshot-2016-09-11-at-15-48-20Juanita Kirton holds a BA in Psychology, an MEd in Special Education, a PhD Educational Administration and a PhD in Developmental Disabilities. In 2015 she obtained a MFA from Goddard College in the Creative Writing/Poetry track. Juanita sings with Riverside Church Inspirational Choir, is a member of Rutgers University South African Initiative Brain Trust Committee, the Pocono Mountain Arts Council, the Pocono Mountain African American Network, volunteers with several local organizations.

Juanita facilitates the Blairstown Writers group in New Jersey, which is affiliated with Women Who Write in NJ and participates in the Women Reading Aloud workshop series. She directs the QuillEssence Writing Collective that coordinates an annual women’s writing retreat at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Bangor, PA, and is currently a poetry editor for the Goddard College Clock House Literary Journal.

Meet International Storyteller for Peace Kiran Singh Sirah

kiranKiran Singh Sirah is now the president of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN, a long way and many stories from where his life began as part of a Ugandan Asian refugee family that landed in England after Idi Amin expelled all Ugandan Asians under the threat of execution. In his excellent Tedx Talk Nashville on “Storytelling: A Powerful Peace,” Sirah says,

I was born in England. My mother was born in Kenya. My father was born in India. My brother was born in Uganda. My own family is a mini United Nations, and we’re all storytellers, keeping the old traditions alive, and finding new ones. Stories are always crossing borders. I spent the first part of my career in Scotland, and now I’m here in the U.S.—with my own stories, and the stories I’ve inherited from my family. And there are so many ways to do that, through personal stories, folk tales, pieces of history, and other forms that we haven’t even thought of yet.

He goes on to talk about the power of storytelling to bring us to peace and community across and within borders. Listen to the whole talk here.

Currently in his role with the International Storytelling Center, Sirah organizes events, raises funds, and plans programs to help people around the world “make a difference by discovering, capturing, and sharing their stories.” Learn more about ISC here.

Siran also shares this a free downloadable toolkit with TLAers on  “Telling Stories That Matter: A Toolkit for Exploring Your Potential as a Storyteller.” 

Balancing Work and Play: Sustainable Creativity, Self-Care, and Meaningful Work

creative businessCreating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work, and the Business of Creativity” with Laura Packer begins September 14. This six-week online class — do it from wherever you are at any time of the day or night — gives participants practical and soulful ways to learn how, according to Laura, “There are many joyful, sustainable and meaningful ways that we can craft our work and our lives. We can choose our path….Using creative tools, writing exercises, brainstorming and dreaming aloud, this class will help you think about your work in practical terms, will help you develop the language to talk with non-artists about what you do and why they should care, will help you build or expand your support network, will help you plan for sustainable self-care and will help you develop the resources to succeed.” Learn more here about the class, and read what Laura has to say about becoming a self-sustaining writer and storyteller below.

The first time I decided to try to make a life as a self-sustaining writer and storyteller, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought my talent and passion for the art were enough, that the world would recognize my extraordinary nature and flock to me. I was, of course, wrong. No amount of talent and passion will propel a creative person to the forefront of their field. Overnight success usually results from many years of hard work and dedication.pencil-599116_1280

The second time I tried I thought I would apply all of my hard earned lessons about business, dedication, and marketing. I would be organized and focused. I would be a good businessperson. I was. I was so focused on the business part that I forgot about the art and, while work began to come in I’d left myself no time or energy to dedicate to it. I’d forgotten to give myself permission to play in the midst of the administrative tasks of running a business, and play is part of what feeds our creativity and passion. Without the play and self-care the work was no fun and I saw no point in working that hard for something I didn’t love.

By the third time I decided to try to make a go as an independent creative person, I’d done some serious thinking about what I’d learned. The first time I forgot that I needed more than just passion. The second time I forgot that the passion was integral. How could I balance the need for creative nourishment with the demands of running a business?

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s come down to a few basic principles.

  • Self-care is essential.
  • Planning is as essential and can be as creative as anything else I do.
  • I deserve a living wage. I don’t have to be a starving artist.
  • Even the administrative tasks I dislike can be broken down into manageable chunks.
  • It is far more profitable to operate from a mindset of abundance in all things than to assume scarcity. There is enough.
  • I don’t need to work in isolation. Community is sustaining.
  • At the same time, I deserve the time and space to do my work.

I am delighted to share what I’ve learned with the TLAN community. While we all will make many mistakes in this life and through the course of our work, there’s no reason for you to make the same mistakes I did. Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity offers you a chance to develop sustainable practices for meaningful work, creativity, reducing isolation and functional income.

Through a variety of creative exercises (including writing, simple arts and other explorations) we will look at the intersections between our creative lives and the practical habits we need to make those lives sustainable. In a safe, collaborative and supportive environment we will develop toolkits that will keep us whole as we move deeper in the artistic life.


Laura Packer is a performing storyteller, writer, coach and communications consultant with for- and non-profit laura packerbusinesses. She has been a self-supporting practitioner for almost a decade. She has told stories for adults and families in venues as varied as festivals, universities, hospices, retreats, on the streets, fringe festivals and more. Her writing has been published in a variety of print and online publications and she was a featured speaker at the 2012 Ciudad de las Ideas festival in Puebla, Mexico. Laura has worked with organizations ranging from NASA to 4-person non-profits. She helps organizations and the people involved understand the strengths and weaknesses of stories they tell internally and externally; develop appropriate brand stories; works with employees to create a more empowering workplace and helps craft a variety of media to tell those stories to wide audiences. Laura also coaches storytellers, writers, executives, , teenagers, marketers and others in their own stories and for public speaking. She loves applying artistic and creative tools to the practical and prosaic, and thinks solving problems in new ways can actually be a lot of fun.

Eviction Notice, by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the fourth post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification. You can find her earlier posts here.


Until 2013, I had never written or read a performance piece. I had read poetry frequently at the peace vigils of Brandywine Peace Community, a local Philadelphia area antiwar group. In fact, Bob Smith — the leader of the group — looked on me as sort of his “go to” poet. Once, at a Hiroshima event, he asked me to read “your Sadako poem”. (For Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who died of leukemia from the after effects of the Bomb). It happened that at the time he asked I didn’t HAVE a Sadako poem. But by the time of the rally, I DID.

But I had never done a performance piece. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy brushed my area lightly but did not greatly affect it. Still, it was a wake up call for me to start thinking about the environment more. I started to use cloth grocery bags, and hang my clothes up to dry instead of using the dryer and a few other small changes. I also started to imagine how Mother Earth would feel if she were to talk to her children (that’s us). What would a mother say? When I wrote this poem, it was as if I were invoking Mother Earth: as if she were dictating the poem to me!  A very intense experience.

When I was asked to read a poem at a peace event after that, I decided to perform “Eviction Notice,” and included props such as the Pepsi bottle and other trash.

I enjoyed doing this. It was more like acting, and more fun than just reading a poem.

Since then, my poetry has been more intuitive: more from the heart as I try to listen to what my spirit wants to say.

At the time I wrote this, I had Mother Earth telling the kids that unless they cleaned up their act, they were out of there. But I changed it in this revised version to say their time was up. I guess I feel a little more uneasy now about climate change. But I still hope we can wake up and listen to her words before it is too late!

 

Eviction Notice
by Laurie Pollack (as Mother Earth)

 

Kids,
Are you listening?
I don’t think you are!
Because you never clean your rooms:
I was walking in my forest yesterday and do you know
What I found? This Pepsi can!
And here’s what I found in my ocean the other day:
A filthy, yucky plastic bag!
Not only that.
You left the heat on full blast the other day
And when I got home the icebergs were all melted.
You crowd the whole house
with your STUFF. Your Junk.
And my other kids have nowhere to go.
My sea turtles! My birds! My bears! My wolves!
The water is all dirty. It stinks.
And you don’t clean it up.
You live here rent free.
Eating my food.
Drinking my water.
Breathing my air.
Not doing your chores.
Not getting a job.

I have had it with you kids!
You are old enough to know better.
Grow up!
I am MAD.
And don’t assume you can get away with it.
I’m not Mama. I’m not Mommy anymore.
I’m MOTHER EARTH.
And when I get mad I can throw
A tsunami, an earthquake, or a hurricane.
And I will.

I have warned you before.
But you didn’t listen.
So now it’s time and
You have to get out of my planet
And find another place to live
Because remember that I brought you into the world
And I can take you out of it!
No more apple pie, kids!

Signed,
MOTHER

“Wordless” by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the third post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification. You can find her earlier posts here.


Terrorist attacks in the US and abroad. The shooting at the Pulse nightclub. Shootings of Black men by police. Shooting of police officers.

Angry words by Donald Trump. Condemnations of immigrants.

The words and acts go.on and on.

As I get older I get more and more drawn to quiet and solitude and silence… I feel more and more, a desire to go BEYOND words. Beyond their limits.

And I wonder:

Why can’t we shut up and just quietly look into each other’s’ eyes, and see the Light there?

I felt drawn to write this poem about the events going on and also felt moved to invoke the elements of nature: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. The power of words. But also the limit of it. What happens, where do we go when we are wordless? Maybe inside ourselves but maybe to each other?

I was also inspired by the title of the TLA Conference: Power of Words.

We all matter. Infinitely. Each human life is sacred.

 

Wordless

by Laurie Pollack

 

Words
I always thought
Always believed
Words have power

Campfire warmth
Sun melting snow
Sparks blowing high
Glowing coals
Flickering  candle
Forest fire
Nuclear blast
Words are Fire

Stream running over rocks
Ocean wave breaking
April rain misting down
Arctic glacier
Blizzard
Flood
Tsunami
Words are Water

Garden Seeds planted
Trees shedding leaves
Deep dark cave
Sandy beach
Geode crystal
Desert cliff
Landslide
Quake
Volcano
Words are Earth

Baby’s first breath
Evening breeze
Clouds in the sky
Hurricane
Tornado
Words are Air

No. It can’t be true. Words lose their power.

Please say this didn’t happen
Please say he isn’t gone
Please say she isn’t dead
No you can’t bring him back with words
No you can’t bring her back with promises
With statements about how sorry you are.
All I have is silence anymore
And still I want to look
Into your eyes
And see the Light in them.
Can we walk on in silence and carry
Their memories on the
Air, Fire, Earth and Water?
Human life is Spirit

Amy Oestreicher on Telling Her Story on Stage

Editor’s Note: Amy has written for us before, and her story is a powerful one. With the Power of Words Conference coming in two weeks, we asked her to share more. We will also post her TEDx talk within the next week.
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Bringing Gutless & Grateful to the Transformative Language Arts Network Conference last year was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to be presenting again this year! In my workshop,  I’m sharing my near death experience and unique personal story with humor, hunger and heart, and helping others realize their potential as storytellers who can heal through their own word and powerful personal stories.

I’ve presented this workshop on college campus, at conferences, theatres, hospitals, and many other audiences from Hawaii to Pennsylvania, to survivors of sexual assault to business entrepreneurs, medical professionals to law students.  Everyone has a story to tell – some of us just don’t know it yet! Once we discover this, it’s incredibly empowering, and my greatest joy is watching people realize this for themselves.

From the time I could remember, I have always possessed an intense passion for the world of words and music. All my life, I had dreamed of pursuing a career in theatre.  However, at 18, I was rushed to the ER, and to summarize very briefly, my stomach exploded, I was in a coma for six months, and I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for over three years.  After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with whatever I had left.  However, to persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength.  I relied on my creativity to get through.  My therapy was purely based in the world of theatre, art, writing, dance, music, and whatever else I felt was an area that I could express myself appropriately.  The arts were a way for me to express whatever felt too painful and overwhelming to put into words.  They also helped me process what I was feeling.  But most importantly, they served to be the greatest reward acting as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world while utilizing my passion.  Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings you.

I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world.  But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.  Until I could put into words what had happened to me, I couldn’t fully heal.  Telling my story is the magic push I needed to move forward, and that is what inspired me to bring my workshop to TLAN for the second year in a row: to help others bring out the story burgeoning inside of them.

As actors, writers, creators, humans, we tell stories constantly.  I first told mine over four years ago.  Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York theatre-goers.   Fresh out of my 27th surgery, I performed words from journal entries I wrote years ago as a way to pass the time between the endless series of medical interventions.  Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process.  Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything – and usually tells us this at times we need it most.

I’m truly touched by how my story has affected so many people and it only serves to spur on my creativity more and more.  Even on the more difficult days, knowing I can have an impact is just one extra nudge to get me going in the morning.

It’s really the ability to give back, and to have my work serve as a lens, a mirror, a window that others can look through, or look into, and see themselves or whatever they need to see at that moment.  To feel whatever they need to feel.  That’s how I connect with my world – that is my aliveness.  As a member of this human race, it’s how I can contribute.  Isn’t all we ever want: to make a mark on the world?  

Gutless & Grateful,” the honest one-woman musical story of my life.  It’s my story, shared through a medium I’m passionate about. I was finally able to heal and move on once I was able to share, and now I’m so excited to help others share the story within them in whatever medium that they feel most comfortable in.

Why share at all?   It takes “guts” to talk — and sing — about my sexual abuse, my anger, my guilt, how I lost hope in things ever getting better. But I share to show that things do get better with patience, trust and resilience. I share to give courage and a sense of belonging to people who are struggling with all kinds of mental health or physical challenges, but also to help build a campus that gives everyone the kind of awareness and generosity of spirit that makes that world a better place. If we all share our “detours,” we see that our detours are not detours at all. Every road leads somewhere — we just need to hang in long enough to catch the flowers along the way. The more we share our stories, the more we realize we’re not alone.

Through the transformative power of words, we can all share our stories.  I can’t wait to hear yours!

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Amy Oestreicher B&W 2006Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. 

She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide,  and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.  Learn more: amyoes.com.