An Interview with Caits Meissner on Poetry, Prayer, and Social Change

Caits Meissner sat down with us to talk about her upcoming online class, “Poems as Prayers: Writing Toward a Just World.” The class begins Oct. 23. More here.

What do you see as the relationship of poetry to prayer, and prayer to social change?

There is a course to be made about religious tradition in social justice movements, but this isn’t it. I use prayer here in the loosest sense of the word, drawing on the simple idea that when we launch our wishes and hopes into the universe with earnest intention, they amplify. The object of devotion may be a higher power, but also may be nature, the universe, the commitment to reducing harm, a deeper sense of self love or humanity itself. 

The way I’m thinking about prayer in this course, as intentional wishing and visioning that extends beyond the self, is a different energy than protest, and railing against what is—a necessary strategy, but not the only one. 

I’m thinking of prayer as an impassioned call to forces beyond the human realm to support our collective betterment, to protect who is vulnerable, to uplift who is ignored, to create harmony and equity and peace and justice and environmental responsibility. To call in the gods or ancestors or universal light energy or natural intelligence to give us the strength and tools to help dream and build a better world. 

What motivated you to put together such a visionary class?

My own desperation for something different drove me forward. I have always been drawn to resistance art, and while I find that incredibly important, in this terrifying era we’ve entered, I also craved something more—hopeful may the wrong word—perhaps more fitting is visionary. The concept of emergence in social change began to stir me up. 

It was Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy that really got my gears turning about a course that tied together inspiration from a wide array of sources to propel us into the possibilities for healing our society. Brown looks at biomimicry, speculative fiction, posts tarot cards on her social media—she is ideating new social justice practices from an amazing mix of movement work, divination, nature and art. 

I am certain that hidden in the natural intelligence of our bodies is a creative force more profound than what is easily accessible in the rigid and fast pace of modern society. I think it takes playing outside our go-to inspirations to draw up what has previously been untapped. I wanted to push myself, and others, to dream forward and innovate in our poetry practices, the way Brown is asking of those engaging justice work.

What can people expect to experience, learn, and write in this class?

There will not be much, if any soap-boxing or pontificating from me, as the facilitator. I am no expert, I am a fellow seeker. Rather than reading my thoughts and ideas on a subject, I see my role as cultivating process and possibility through curating readings. 

I want to encourage participants to listen to what their bodies reveal, and then act on their gut impulses, what pulls them towards creation in what I offer. I would also like to gently push participants past nerves or fear to try something new. Therefore, we’ll engage a large range of material in order to unlock new pathways in the brain. I encourage participants to arrive expecting to play, and to challenge themselves to write towards creating an image of a just world, rather than (always) against it.

Participants should come ready to journal in response to questions, write for 15 minutes based on sometimes strange or even silly-seeming prompts, to read about a 20 page packet each week of poems and essays, to write another poem (I suggest writing a draft in 15 minutes, but it’s up to the writer) and to post the work they’d like feedback on in the forum—1 or 2 short pieces weekly. 

How has prayer and social change spoken through your writing, and can you share an example?

I often use poetry as a space to work out questions and ideas about the world—as writers tend to. And though I write from a variety of perspectives, the lens I employ that most closely resembles prayer, for me, is gratitude. I’ve written tender praise poems for women in prison, and girls in jail (this one is a poem-comic). I am also at work on a series of more personal comic-based “pep talks” that explore what is good in daily life, not always connected to an anchored social justice issue, but for example, how I’ve pulled myself out of depression, or how to connect to a partner romantically when totally broke! 

I also have a silly personal example that illustrates the kind of, wait, huh, what just happened? Did I write that into existence? As a young poet in my early twenties I was depressed. On the train home after seeing my favorite poet at the time, Pulitzer Prize-winning Yusef Komunyakaa, I wrote a poem asking him where his gift of writing derives from, and calling out for the experience of pain in order to write like him. Of course, Yusef’s life story is incomparably more intense than my own has ever touched close to, but still. A few months later and I experienced a romantic break up that kicked the light out of me—that really awful, gutting kind of ending. And then I got a letter. I was going across the world to a writing conference, on a full scholarship, completely free. To study under Yusef Komunyakaa for two weeks.

Magic? Prayer? I don’t know. I am sparked by the ideas presented in quantum physics, and what are thoughts but energy? Maybe there is something here to be harnessed intentionally in our writing towards a better world. 

Anything else participants should know?

Yes! When you take a class with me, you invest materials that can be used to make poems for years. I am not exaggerating. Each week’s packet comes with approximately 10-15 optional prompts that can be revisited again and again (you’ll only write 1-2 poem drafts each week during the course). Erika Jeffers, who took this class with me live at Poets House over the summer wrote me a wonderful email about how she used the curriculum again to produce more work. With permission, I’ll share what she told me:

“On the last day of class, I think I mentioned to you that I was planning on taking a week off from New York and staying at a cozy house in CT to write and revisit the ‘Poetry as Prayer ‘ class syllabus and I did just last week! In the mornings, I tackled one week and in the afternoons, I worked through another week and I had the entire 6-week workshop experience all over again, but condensed in a week. The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I’m not just saying that, I wasn’t writing for a year before the class. I wouldn’t say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn’t really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what’s going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! Now that I’m back, I’m working on finishing up my chapbook!… Thank you soooo much! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus.”

  I’d say, like most experiences,  you get out of it what you put into it.

More on “Poems as Prayers: Writing Toward a Just World” here.

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Why You Should Take a Class with Caits Messner

Starting Oct. 23, Caits Messner, an amazing teacher and mentor, is teaching the online class, Poems as Prayers: Writing Toward a Just World.  Caits calls herself “a DIY-spirited, poly-creative writer, artist, and cultural worker.” In this six-week class, she describes, “We’ll cast hope into the universe through ritual, spellmaking, disruption, and interactive poem-experiments— guided by a motley crew of visionary writers and thinkers. Where we are used to lamenting and pushing against the conditions of what are, participants will be encouraged, when possible, to work from an emergent lens, feeling towards what could be instead.”

Caits’ classes are legendary, and the TLA Network is so excited to have her onboard as one of our regular teachers. Here’s what others say about her classes, why they matter, and perhaps even why you might want to jump into this upcoming class:

“In this age of fury and despair over our collective well-being and fate, Caits class provides poets with the tools of hope. She conjures this hope with a variety of exercises, diverse selections of contemporary poems, workable prompts, and a few pointers toward a spiritual and ecological practice. I have never taken a poetry workshop in which I was so productive. I’d call her class inspirational.” — Susan Chute

“Caits gives and gives and gives to this workshop. Our class created & practiced magic through interpersonal care and consideration for the minute. Plus it was really fun.” — Parisa Yekalamlari “

The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I’m not just saying that, I wasn’t writing for a year before the class. I wouldn’t say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn’t really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what’s going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus.” — Erika Jeffers

“Thank you again for such a magical and transformative workshop. Your method of teaching and approach to generation is so beautiful and effective in a way I haven’t experienced it before, and I’m so thankful for it, and you!” — Jonina Diele

More information on the class is here.

Enough! — By Usha Akella: A Highlight from the Power of Words Conference

At the Power of Words conference, keynote presenter Usha Akella gave such a stunning and stirring talk on how she started Matwaala, the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the U.S., that the packed room of those of us listening jumped to our feet to give her  long standing ovation. We then asked her to share a poem of her own, and this is what she read, leading us to jump to our feet in applause again. Here is a link to the beautiful and inspiring Matwaala site.

Enough

People let us say it.

 

Bring back our caged children to a field of sunflowers,

open our land to people as we would our palms

to catch a raindrop,

bring back Aylan in blue shorts

washed up as a fish, snuggled in sand,

let us not say again: he did not make it,

let children not have to tell their stories.

 

Let us bring back Gulsoma, seven years old,

oil her back scarred like a cluster of sardines,

let us hear her laughter before it was married,

let Malala not be shot in the head, let Karla

not have to say 43, 200 raped.

 

And bring back Asifa Bano’s rosy cheeks and chirping,

let her bring back goats bare-footed,

and roast warm chestnuts on a humble fire,

let her eight-year old legs not be parted brutally for

things other than what children do,

and bring back all the murdered girl infants

still as stone swaddled in earth.

 

And the police/traffickers/abductors/

mothers/fathers/sisters/brothers

who kill/sell/abuse/rape/shoot their own,

let us hang them as rotting fruit from trees.

 

And people, we who know too much with our tentacles of knowing

like octopuses with many eyes,

how much of knowing do we need,

before we say it?

Usha Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted and produced one musical drama. She earned an MSt. In Creative Writing at Cambridge University, UK. She read with a group of eminent South Asian Diaspora poets at the House of Lords in June 2016. Her work has been included in the Harper Collins Anthology of Indian English Poets. Her most recent book, The Waiting, is published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s highest literary authority. She was selected as a Cultural Ambassador for the City of Austin for 2015 & 2019. She has been published in numerous Literary journals, and has been invited to prestigious international poetry festivals in Slovakia, Nicaragua, Macedonia, Colombia, Slovenia, India etc. She is the founder of ‘Matwaala,’ the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the US.

Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate

After serving as the Kansas Poet Laureate for four years, writer and TLA founder Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg decided to draw on all the new friendships she made with other state poets laureate to develop a new self-paced class: “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times With Poets Laureate.”

The result is a wondrous self-paced class that allows you to write on your own time at your own pace in concert with a rich diversity of writing prompts (developed by poets laureate around the country just for us!) and powerful stories on how poetry is instrumental to community. The class also includes inspiring essays and videos on the craft and passion of writing powerful poetry about our lives and times, and written discussions on the history and possibilities of poetry that speaks to social transformation.

Each the 12 units in the class highlights both state and national poet laureate past or present, and a historic poet dedicated to changing the world, including a writing prompt and writing craft or writing life discussion from that poet, some of the poets laureate’s poems with writing prompts, a discussion of a poet from the past or present who crafts poetry for social transformation, and exciting links to interviews, essays, and videos. All in all, you’ll get to know the work, writing, and lives of 37 American poets.

Poets!

Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, Marilyn L. Taylor, Emily Dickinson, Dick Allen, William Stafford, Sue Brennan Walker, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Trowbridge, Robert Penn Warren, Muriel Rukeyser, Mark Strand, Grace Paley, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Adrienne Rich, Joyce Brinkman, Juan Felipe, Herrera, Denise Low, Wendell Berry, Rita Dove, David Romtvedt, Sharon Olds, Luci Tapahonso, Kimberly Blaeser, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joy Harjo, Marjory Wentworth, Audre Lorde, Elizabeth Woody, Natasha Trethewey, Li-Young Lee, JoAnn Balingit, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Naomi Shahib Nye, Tracy K. Smith, and Richard Blanco. (Photo: from left, Audre Lorde, Meridel Le Sueur, and Adrienne Rich.)

This is a perfect class for those with any amount of experience writing poetry, from those who are interested in learning more and might be a bit nervous about it, to writers with years of experience who want to generate new work and brush up on elements of craft and be exposed to new contemporary writers, and how writing can be a positive force for change.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, has created this class through study, experience, and in conversations with over a dozen state poets laureate (many of whom shared their best handouts and writing prompts). Caryn is the author of two dozen books, including the recent Miriam’s Well, a novel; Following the Curve, poetry; and Everyday Magic, a collection of beloved blog posts and personal essays. Founder of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College , Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely, particularly for people living with serious illness and their caregivers. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-leads Brave Voice writing and singing retreats. www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.com

Not too Late for the Power of Words Conference and Your Right Livelihood Training

Friends and lovers of words! Please join us for two life-changing events: the 16th Annual Power of Words conference Sept. 26-29, and right beforehand, Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love. If you’re in the Scottsdale, Arizona area or game for a road trip, there’s still room, and we’d love to meet you for these soulful events, all happening at the replenishing Franciscan Renewal Center.

The Power of Words Conference

Come to the Power of Words Conference to explore how we can use our words — written, spoken, or sung — to make community, deepen healing, witness one another, wake ourselves up, and foster empowerment and transformation. The conference features workshops, performances, talking circles, celebration and more, featuring writers, storytellers, performers, musicians, community leaders, activists, educators, and health professionals. The conference, founded in 2003, features workshops in four tracks: narrative medicine, social change, right livelihood (and making a living through the arts), ecological literacy, and engaged spirituality.

The 2019 conference keynoters include author and speaker, Gregg Levoy; storyteller and author, Noa Baum; and and poet and playwright, Usha Akella.  Over 20 other presenters will be sharing a variety of performances and workshops including:

  • Lisa Chu’s “Bad Asian Daughter” on transforming shame through embodied storytelling,
  • Loren Niemi’s “Walking Fields and Streets to Find Poems and Stories,”
  • John Genette and Doug Bland’s “Sacred Earth, Common Ground,”
  • Lyn Ford’s “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins: Other Ways of Seeing ‘Red,'”
  • Valerie David’s “Fight Back Any Adversity in Life: Overcoming a Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis, the Pink Hulk Will Help You Find Your Inner Superhero” and
  • Rachel Gabriel’s “Writing Memoir for Empathy and Inquiry.”

As conference attendee Robin Russell wrote to us:

“The TLA Conference is an adventure of diving into a deep pool of unexpected discoveries. Some are delightful and awe-inspiring, some frightening and strange, but the immersion in diversity and the authenticity of the presenter’s (and participant’s) stories and presence is palpable and real. A necessary reminder of what we are so starved for in the current climate of media and political rhetoric. If change is going to be sustainable and humane, we need more people trained and working with the qualities of these warriors. The conference is a way to either dip a toe in or dive in head first.”

More at www.TLANetwork.org/conference

Your Right Livelihood

Consider Your Right Livelihood — a training with TLA founder and writer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and storyteller and consultant Laura Packer. Your work in writing, storytelling, theater, and related healing and social change arts can bring you greater fulfillment and enable you to help others find and amplify the voices and visions so needed to address the challenges facing our communities, culture, and planet. Whether you’re just starting out, making a mid-career transition or revisioning your life’s work after retirement, this training guides you toward what constellation of vocation works best for you and your community now and when the path meanders.

This 100-hour training begins with a 2-day intensive September 25-27th at The Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (where the Power of Words Conference will be held immediately following), and continues through mid-December with online study and community support, weekly video conferences with entrepreneurs and leaders in the field, weekly group check-ins and discussions, individual consultations with Laura and Caryn, and a toolkit of resources for planning, marketing, further training, and next steps.

Franciscan Renewal Center

The spectacular yet secluded 25-acre Franciscan Renewal Center offers a tranquil oasis in the heart of greater Phoenix for quiet reflection, prayer, learning, healing or joyful worship. Nestled in the lush desert valley at the base of majestic Camelback Mountain, The Casa is just a quick 20-minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The campus features a newly remodeled 60-ft swimming pool and spa, gift and book shop, labyrinth, healing garden, desert walkways, buffet-style dining, and private bathrooms in every lodging room. Owned by the Franciscan Friars of the Saint Barbara Province, The Casa has been renewing lives through spiritual growth, healing and transformation, and service to others for over 60 years.

Find more on all of it here.

Three Videos on the Power of Words To Rock Your World

The 16th Annual Power of Words conference Sept. 26-29 brings together three keynotes — Gregg LevoyNoa Baum, and Usha Akella — who know firsthand how our stories and callings can help us weave together our work and communities for positive change. Taking place at the breathtaking Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ., the conference brings together storytellers, writers, performers, health professionals, change-makers, and community leaders to explore and celebrate the potential of our words for liberation and healing. Here are three videos to show you more about what Gregg Levoy, Noa Baum, and Usha Akella have to say. 

Gregg Levoy speaks on “Callings: Finding and Living an Authentic Life,” telling amazing stories to illustrate what it means to follow and live the work and life of your soul here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrrDYIRPWZY&t=6s

Gregg Levoy is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life. More on Gregg here:  www.gregglevoy.com

Noa Baum talks on “Beyond Labels: Bridging Differences Through Storytelling” in her Tedx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vsg7VTUjYLI

Noa Baum is an award-winning storyteller and author who presents internationally. More at http://noabaum.com

Usher Akella speaks on “Why Poetry Matters” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPPgUV61hSY

Usha Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted and produced one musical drama. 

You can learn more about the conference here

We still have a limited amount of scholarships and work-study positions still available. More here.

If you’re not able to attend the whole conference, please come for Noa Baum’s performance, open to the public. More here.

Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

The TLA Network offers two self-paced classes: “Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change” with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens, and “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Here is an engaging interview with Liz Burke-Cravens on her life-changing class, open for you to jump into right now. The class is set up for you to engage with at your own pace and on your own time.

What inspired you to teach this class?

My own experiences with autobiographical writing have been inspiring my own writing and my teaching for quite some time. When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher – whom I absolutely adored – required students to write an autobiography. As I put the narrative together, writing the words in my vulnerable young voice, I felt something inside of me shift. Although I did not have the language to describe what had changed, I simply knew that I saw myself differently than I had before. There was something about the act of putting my feelings and thoughts into words, writing them down on paper, and telling the story of my own life experiences that has fascinated me ever since.As an undergraduate at UMass Amherst, I wrote my first autoethnography – although I did not call it that at the time; I called it a political autobiography. This autoethnography was a collection of poems I titled, “My Body Speaks” in which I gave voice to the stories and emotions living within my body as an act of reclamation and empowerment.

Writing that poetic autoethnography forever changed how I perceived myself and how I walked through the world.

How is writing life stories – drawing from practices of autoethnography specifically – a transformative experience? What makes the this medium different from other forms of expression?

These experiences inspired my doctoral research which explored autoethnography as a personally and socially transformative mode of inquiry and expression of life stories. I was also particularly interested in learning about the unique value of autoethnography as a platform for underrepresented voices.

The findings of my study corroborated my own transformative experience writing autoethnography. My findings also expanded my understanding of it as well. Through writing an autoethnography, participants in my study experienced:

  • Personal growth, which reflected their experiences of personal development that included increased self-awareness, self-acceptance, confidence building, different worldview, and educational process;
  • An emotional process, which reflected their experiences of a variety of emotional realities and processes including painful or difficult emotions, joyful or fun emotions, feelings of liberation, therapeutic or healing experiences, and feelings of vulnerability;
  • Social connectedness, which reflected their responses related to experiences of the self in relation to others that included social responsibility, increased sense of belonging or connection, and
  • Transpersonal experiences which reflected their descriptions of qualities beyond their control and contributed to his or her sense of wholeness and spiritual growth.

Overall, autoethnography facilitated personal growth, greater self-awareness, greater awareness of contexts and systems in which one participates, and provided a meaningful creative experience.

Who/What are some of your favorite life-story writers?

This is always a tough question. The first writers that come to mind are Joan Nestle whose work A Restricted Country was a life changer for me as a young activist. Carolyn Kay Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman: The Story of Two Lives was also pivotal for me, and anything and everything written by Dorothy Allison – Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and Bastard Out of Carolina, in particular, have been my favorites.

As far as poets who write about their lives, I think of Marie Howe, Toi Derricotte, Sharon Olds, Ada Limon, and Claudia Rankine come to mind.

What should students in this class expect?

Although this is a self-paced class, my intention was to be your guide, helping you navigate the content and the writing students will do. They will have the opportunity to do quite a bit of self-reflective writing, investigating the stories of their life experiences from a variety of different vantage points, exploring memories, learning from others on their journey, and describing places that are or have been meaningful to them.

I will also guide you through a 10-step process for creating powerful and evocative life stories for the purpose of personal and social transformation. They will learn about what that means in general as well as what it means for them in particular. They will also have the option to engage in a number of creative prompts intended to help generate more writing and to keep their creative self inspired.

Each unit consists of a brief podcast lecture by me, a few articles and book chapters for you to read, related video and audio content, writing project development instructions, and creative prompts.

Is there anything else about this class you would like to share?

One really important point I want to share is that there is no one “right” way to do autoethnography. In fact, we encounter this type of life-story writing all the time; we just don’t call it autoethnography. But drawing on certain aspects of more formal autoethnographic processes and considerations can greatly enrich our life stories, making them powerful narratives for change.

My hope is that folks will approach this course, the resources, lectures, and writing and creative prompts with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Have fun with this and enjoy!

For more information and to sign up for class, visit https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-3173329 .

Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens is a poet, interdisciplinary educator, and writing coach. She is the founder of A Brave Space, a learning community that seeks to create positive social change and personal transformation through writing. Her work has appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2The Irish HeraldSoulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. Liz enjoys traveling, cycling, photography, and all things foodie. She has a deep love for language and a passion for teaching. Originally from Portland, Maine, she now lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits. You can learn more about her work, courses, and inspirations at http://www.abravespace.org.

 

TLA Foundations Certification Graduates Tell Their Stories

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, publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, over two dozen 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. 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.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

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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 Ebba 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)

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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.

Storytelling and the Human Connection for Equality and Community with Lyn Ford

In December of 2017, Mandy Markoff and Michelle Montgomery were called to action by an incident of racism and the responses denouncing racism in their community: Upper Arlington, Ohio resident and middle-school teacher Darrion House, walking his two dogs on a Sunday morning, was told by a passing jogger, “I don’t trust black people with those dogs.” When asked “What?”, the jogger replied, “I don’t trust you with those dogs,” and continued jogging.
This incident didn’t make news in the year of the Charlottesville horrors, but it caused a ripple effect in its community. Many Upper Arlington residents and organizations banded together to nurture a change in mindsets, develop safe and open dialogues on topics important to respecting diversity and creating true empathy, and inform young students through adults on what “community” should be. Upper Arlington is predominantly high-income and 94% white, but it does not accept the stereotype of “privileged.” Its schools, library system and some government officials supported Markoff and Montgomery’s efforts, and the unity-for-equality hopes promoted and proclaimed through the initial sales of signs, shirts and stickers drawing attention to a cause.
The EQUAL forum page was created on Facebook, and now boasts more than 1400 members, including U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers. Members meet monthly under the mission statement “Promote a positive environment for our community.”
The group has helped coordinate multicultural programs in some schools. It works to raise awareness of issues besides racism, such as treatment of those with disabilities and the outcomes of inequities of socioeconomic status.
TLAN member and council member Lyn Ford feels honored to present “The Power of Human Connection,” a program of storytelling and discussion, on Saturday, October 26, at the Upper Arlington Public Library in partnership with Equal UA. In this program, Lyn will share authentic stories about her experience as an Affrilachian American and how the power of story bridges differences and strengthen connections. Lyn explains how stories as well as sharing personal experiences with racism,  can help repair and sustain communities:
There is a folktale about two critters who are intolerant of one another’s differences. Miz Rabbit and Mr. Monkey  end up telling stories to one another, and become kinder neighbors. The last line of the story states that when we’ve truly listened to one another’s stories, we are no longer enemies. We can become friends. That may seem simplistic, but there is truth in the tale, and hope. That’s why I share my personal experiences with racism, intolerance and abuse, as well as my family’s folktales. I offer truths to which others can relate, as a building block for communication and community.
For more on her program, see the library description, and learn more about the Equal forum here.

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

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

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

The Your Right Livelihood Training with Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers you ways to listen to what questions, longings, resentments or joys keep occur to you about your work, look toward the signs and wonders that guide you, and engage with your big hunches, questions, and leanings at this moment to find your way forward.

The training begins with a soulful retreat Sept. 25-27 (leading up to the Power of Words conference) at the Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ. It continues on with a 10-week online class, weekly video-conferences with guest teachers including Harriet Lerner and Gregg Levoy, one-on-one coaching with Laura and Caryn, and extensive resources and supports for making your dreams come true. Read testimonials from last year’s group here. 

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

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

Have questions? Book a  free 20-minutes discovery call with Laura or Caryn or learn more about Your Right Livelihood here. 

Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission.