Rewriting Myself, by Judith Hannan

Judith HannanWhen my younger daughter was born, she greeted me with her rigid body, as if the air had shocked her. This girl will not easy to raise, I thought. And, for a while, it was true. I was never a believer in old-souls, but Nadia appeared to have come to me with so many lessons already learned. I was never sure who was raising whom. What should my answer have been when, at age two, she said to me, “When I was your mommy, I used to give you your pacifiers”?

“You were a good mommy,” I answered, thinking this was an appropriate response.

Then, when she was eight years old, Nadia was diagnosed with a Ewing’s sarcoma. I had no doubts about what I needed to do now. I had to sit with Nadia in the hospital playing endless rounds of Spit and watching every episode of “S Club 7.” I had to administer medications and change bandages. I had to pulverize Nadia’s food and rub her tummy. One of Nadia’s doctors told me that he and his colleagues would do their best to cure my daughter. My job was to continue to raise her. I was reminded that Nadia would need more than my caregiving.

At first, my writing practice offered no illumination as to what kind of mother I needed to be for Nadia. I have a chapter in my latest book, The Write Prescription: Telling Your Story to Live With and Beyond Illness, in which I write, “Sometimes I just need to throw my words on a page. Splat! I…I…I…, No…No…No…, You…You…You…, How…How…How…, Can’t…Can’t…Can’t… No holding back, no reflection, no filter.” But howling at the page, however necessary, does not make room for reflection.

Over time, as I went back over my words, I began to get tired of myself. I had to get off my rant. The only way to do that was to stop making myself the center of all my thoughts. What became obvious as I wrote was that I had no lightness about me. Nadia—still a child who believed in fairies and dreamed of flying— began to shrink whenever I came near with my somber face. When I told her that her hair was going to fall out, she refused to engage with me and ran to join her brother and sister as soon as she could.

As I began to shape my rants into a book that would eventually become Motherhood Exaggerated, I could see that I was an unsympathetic character. I had to rewrite myself. I would think more like a child. I would laugh more. I would take my cues from Nadia rather than follow my old patterns.

I debuted my new character the day Nadia’s hair fell out. I was awake before her and saw hairs strewn over her pillow and on the sheet. As Nadia slept, I brushed my hand along the top of her head. The hair came off like dandelion fluff. If this weren’t happening to my daughter, I could think it was kind of cool. But maybe I could make it cool for Nadia. So when she opened her eyes, I told her the day had come. Her hair was falling out. “Here. Feel it,” I said. You’ll never have a chance to pull your hair out like this again.” And so the hair pulling began and even brought Nadia’s siblings running to participate. At dinner that night, Nadia presented me with a bowl of “angel hair pasta.”

As I wrote, my character acquired other attributes. Having been raised with a strict moral code, I soon found myself in cahoots with Nadia’s twin brother, sneaking him into the hospital even though he was too young to visit. I had to write compassion into my character so I could see the role I played in keeping my husband out of our children’s lives and to recognize the full scope of his contribution to the family.

What I saw most clearly as I told my story was that I had spent the first eight years of Nadia’s life shrinking from what she needed me to be. When she challenged me, since age four, with her questions about death, when she sobbed over the pain of others, when her first words, “I do”, became her mantra, I was too impressed by her depth, her empathy, and her independence. But Nadia didn’t need answers; she needed a place to bring her fears, a shelter when her own power overwhelmed her. By the end of writing Motherhood Exaggerated I finally understood what I should have said to Nadia when she said she gave me my pacifiers when she was my mother. “You were a good mommy but it’s my turn to be the mother now.”

(Note: Nadia is now twenty-four and healthy and exchanged her dreams of flight for dance.)

Judith Hannan is the author of Motherhood Exaggerated (CavanKerry Press, 2012), her memoir of discovery and transformation during her daughter’s cancer treatment and her transition into survival. Her essays have appeared in such publications as Woman’s DayOpera NewsThe Huffington PostThe Healing MuseZYZZYVATwins Magazine, and The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. She teaches writing about personal experience to homeless mothers and at-risk adolescents as well as to medical students, and is a judge of the annual essay contest sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism-in-Medicine. She served as Director of Development of the 92nd Street Y and then for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. She now serves on the board of the Museum, Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects, as well as on three boards affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York—the Adolescent Health Center (where she now serves as President of the Advisory Board), the Children’s Center Foundation, and Global Health. She lives in New York.

Gathering Courage with Thandiwe Shiphrah

IMG_0332-300x225Starting March 28 (for six weeks onward), Thandiwe Shiphrah will offer her class, “Gathering Courage: Still-doing, Big Journaling, and Other (Not So Scary) Ways to Begin Accommodating the Soul” as an online class through the TLA Network. She writes of the class, “Each session presents a nourishing opportunity to honor who you are and what you value, to acknowledge and share your unique talents, and to make a commitment to your creativity. This is a time for dreaming, writing, setting intentions, planning, shifting, rethinking (as in changing direction) or getting your nerve up in preparation for taking leaps or stepping out on faith. Ideal for artists, writers, activists, innovators and entrepreneurs in any field.” Listen to what else she has to say about this class, gathering courage, and living more in tune with the soul.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: You call this class, “Gathering Courage: Still-Doing, Big Journaling and Other (Not So Scary) Ways to Begin to Accommodate the Soul,” which is like a poem unto itself. What does gathering courage look like to you, how does it relate to living more soulfully, and how do you see the value and benefits of accommodating the soul”?

Thandiwe Shiphrah: Gathering courage is about cultivating and sustaining positive energy around one’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations and acting in small ways that bring joy and fulfillment. I think of it as getting your nerve up to do the big thing that scares you. Gathering courage emboldens you to live more soulfully because it helps you gain clarity about what you want to do and about how your talents and skills would be best utilized to accomplish goals and objectives. It is also about discovering what’s been holding you back and developing strategies for “ease dropping on your brain” so that you can correct ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that keep you from living life fully.

CMG: When did, to take a topic from your class, “the call to create” come to you, and how are you conversing with that calling these days? Did you grow up making art, and how has that evolved over time?

TS: When I was growing up, I made art all the time. I just didn’t call myself an artist. I wrote my first poem in elementary school and I performed in school plays all through middle school and high school. I also dabbled in portraiture by making charcoal and pastel drawings of my friends and family members. One early call to create came in the late 80s when I wrote and produced my first poem play. Later, I co-founded an ongoing performance group called The Word Up Poetry Ensemble. We performed in community-based settings (churches, community centers, schools) and our shows typically featured a combination of original works by the 7 group members – we were all budding poets and/or musicians – and works by famous African American writers such as James Weldon Johnson and Maya Angelou. I loved interpreting other people’s poetry and I loved performing as a group. These days I am delving deeper into poetry’s capacity to inspire creativity in other disciplines, an area I’ve been exploring for more than a decade. I recently collaborated with a group of women engineers and we are looking at ways that poem-making and storytelling can inspire creativity in engineering and encourage more women and girls to enter STEM fields. 

My artistic practice has evolved over the years to encompass writing for print as well WaddeyPattersonWCPoetas performance, creating visual art exhibits and installations, composing “audio collages” with my husband, musician/composer Daniel Arite,  and developing and implementing community arts programs in partnership with churches and non-profit arts organizations.  Last year, in my capacity as director of literary arts and community engagement at Nashville’s Global Education Center, I co-produced a city-wide conversation on the healing aspects of the arts that included local and internationally known writers and healing arts practitioners. It was a tremendous creative challenge and very rewarding (see here).

CMG: When I met you at the Power of Words conference many years ago, you were already a powerful and meaningful long-time multidisciplinary artist who wove together the arts, health and healing, and community. In a world where we’re supposed to choose one vocation and/or avocation to be or do, what led you to be and do many?

TS: I see myself as engaged in only one vocation: I am an artist. Because I grew up drawing, acting, and writing, I never felt like I had to choose one way to express myself artistically nor have I found a compelling reason to limit my art to one subject matter or field of study. I believe the arts can inform and enrich all aspects of our lives and my tendency to work across disciplines stems from this belief, as do my explorations into the restorative and community building aspects of art making. I enjoy finding creative ways to highlight how the arts — particularly poetry—can be used for personal development and social transformation. This leads me in a lot of different directions.

CMG: You talk about “deeper listening” as part of this class. How can people cultivate a greater capacity to hear themselves and the world?

TS: The practice that I call Still Doing is a combination of self-inquiry and reflection that involves listening and responding to specific music as a means of getting in touch with our feelings and deepest desires.  If you engage in Still Doing consistently, you will begin to feel more connected to yourself and to the world.  Meditating on qualities such as joy, grace, gratitude can also bring about a greater degree of self-awareness.

CMG: What can people expect to experience in “Gathering Courage”?

TS: People can expect to be simultaneously challenged and encouraged by the assignments and journal exercises. They will come to a greater appreciation for their life learnings and they will develop more confidence in their creative capacities. They will feel inspired to create opportunities to draw from their experiences and use their unique talents and skills. And they will have fun!

Thandiwe Shiphrah is a multidisciplinary artist, an independent curator of community arts programs, and a writer and producer of performance events. For the past 25 years, she has been passionately exploring the link between the arts, personal life enrichment, and healthy community development, with a focus on cross-cultural communication and social inclusion of marginalized groups. Her poetry and mixed-media art have appeared in numerous journals, anthologies, and magazines. For more information, watch this video of Thandiwe.

See more here.  Facebook page for this event is here.

Chrysalis: A Journal of TLA Welcomes Your Creations Now!

UntitledChrysalis: The Journal of Transformative Language Arts is seeking submissions for its third annual issue with a deadline of April 1, 2016. Examples of submissions include, but are not limited to, written pieces that fall into the categories:

Editor Amber Ellis in action with some of her family

Amber Ellis in action with some of her family

  • Creative piece (like poetry, a chapter or introduction of a longer book, or a play) and an accompanying process paper (a few pages about how the writing of this piece was transformative to the author or to the community at large);
  • A narrative account of TLA out in the world (like a review of an open mic you hosted, or a writing workshop you ran, or an account of working with a group of teens using slam poetry, or traveling around the world singing political and philosophical songs);
  • Or a theoretical essay expanding or zeroing in on

For the first time, we are thrilled to announce that we will be taking video clips and MP3 submissions (like spoken word videos, songs, storytelling on stage) that will fall into the creative piece category. These should be accompanied by a process paper as well.


Editors Sandy Henneberger and Lisa McIvor

Finally, we also seek a book review of a newly published (within the past 5 years) book having to do with the art of using language for transformative purposes (which could be a book about writing, public performance, workshop facilitation, a singer-songwriter memoir, etc).

Chrysalis is edited by Amber Ellis, Lisa McIvor, and Sandy Henneberger with help from Sarah Williams-Devereux and many other TLAers. If you’d like to volunteer to be a reader for the journal, please email Amber at


About Our Editors:
Amber Ellis is a graduate of Goddard’s IMA-TLA program, an avid reader, the managing editor of Chrysalis journal, facilitates writing workshops for seniors, teaches reading and writing to children, and is the mother of four raucous, book-loving children. She still writes mornings, sometimes only one sentence a day, but persists! Dreams of publishing the three books-in-progress keep her going, and she actively participates in the Writing Mothers’ Workshop, which she created as a part of her TLA practicum over four years ago. The workshop fulfills her vision of public outreach for mothers (therefore breaking down cultural barriers to community building and connection, eliminating isolating feelings) by hosting a series of Mothers’ Open Mic (M.O.M.) events in the North Shore of Boston, by mothers, for mothers. This type of open, public sharing of voice and celebrating mothers’ special role and place in American society is a highlight in her life. Otherwise, Amber might go crazy from child-rearing.


Lisa McIvor is a poet from Washington State and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in 2011. She went on to earn her MA in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard in 2014. Lisa has been a home health nurse for the past thirty years with Provail, formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy Association, and has facilitated a writer’s circle for individuals living with the challenges of cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury with Provail’s art program, Artistry Incorporated, for the past four years. The participants in this workshop have composed two books of poetry and have performed their work at an open mic with the use of assistive technology at Provail’s annual art show. Lisa continues writing her own poetry which has been published in literary journals including Hurricane Alice, Red Hawk Review, Bellowing Ark and The Madison Review. Her first chapbook of poems, How the Sky Became a Child, has been accepted by Tebot Bach for publication for publication later this year. She has also begun collaborating with her writing partner, Rob DiLillo, a teacher and writing coach, in the writing of a mystery novel that takes place in the San Juan Islands. This will be her second year in co-editing the TLA Network’s Chrysalis Journal. She lives in Seattle and shares a home with her father and her cat, Lily.

Sandy Henneberger is a poet and writer who also serves on the TLA Network Council.  A former teacher of college level writing and English classes, Sandy is a writer and Speech Therapist.   Several years ago, she attended healing and writing classes in a local hospital, and her life changed again.  She graduated from Goddard’s IMA-TLA program in 2014 and is an editor of Chrysalis Journal.   Currently she is working on publishing a chapbook of poems, and also working on a novel.
Deadline for submission to Chrysalis Journal is April 1, 2016 for publication September 2016

Saturated Selfies: Intentional & Intense Photography and Writing with Angie River

1916582_10208096803279557_8139095001714800862_nAngie River is teaching a new online class for the TLA Network, “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing,” April 13 – May 10. This four-week class that you can do from anywhere in the world on your own time (want to write at 2 a.m. in your pj’s? you can!) is a wonderful vehicle for exploring identity in image and words as well as a new view on selfies as its own emerging art form. As Angie writes, “In photography, the term ‘saturation’ is used to describe the intensity of colors. This course will investigate our intense, colorful, and amazing life through a combination of photography (specifically, selfies) and writing.”
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Over a year ago, you taught a very beloved classes on selfies, combining writing and photography, so we invited you to develop a new way to continue that dialogue between self, image and words. What led you to bring the concept of saturation into this exploration to help people better understand our lives and stories?
Angie River: When invited to do another selfie class, I began pondering photography terminology and the ways that various terms relate not to just images but also to writing and to life. The term ‘saturation’ came to mind, which in photography has to do with the definition between and intensity of colors. This term really struck me though, as our lives can be beautifully ‘saturated’ too, where we have soaked up so much into them that we are ready to overflow. My desire for this class is to use selfies and writing to explore just how much beauty we have in our lives, and in our selves.
CMG: We live in a culture, as you describe in your class description, where selfies are rampant but also seen as “silly at best and at worst narcissistic.” Why do you work with the selfie as the core of this class, and how can we use selfies to go beyond silly or narcissistic?

12631307_10208270067931065_6323963300978360194_nAR: I use the selfie because I feel it is a tool to help us better know and understand ourselves, as well as to present to the world a narrative that we have created. Many would agree that it is often easier to process emotions or thoughts or events once they are written down and ‘out of your head’ on the paper. I believe the same can be said for selfies; when we take photos of ourselves and our lives and then look at them, it helps us to see from a new perspective. Just as a poem or a blog post can be used to process something and share it with the world, a selfie can too. I think selfies are often viewed as silly or narcissistic because we’re taking pictures of ourselves, sharing them on the Internet often, and getting joy out of the ‘likes’ and comments we get! However, there is a lot to be said about the way that selfies help us to write our own stories and present ourselves the way we wish others to see us, which is especially powerful for marginalized populations.

CMG: You combine writing and photography in this class. What can that combination do to give us greater perspective, freedom, and vision?

AR: I believe it is powerful anytime we combine more than one art form! The reason I choose both of these forms of creativity though is that they interact so nicely together, one visual and one word-based. I personally enjoy using writing to reflect on visual works. This allows both ourselves as creators, and whatever audience may see the pieces, to have a visual piece (which may be abstract, or at first glance just look like any other ‘selfie’) further explained and explored in the writing. I think of the Japanese Haiga, which combines a haiku with a piece of visual art; the two are supposed to work together to communicate a message that is greater than if either the poem or the artwork was standing alone. It is my hope that the combination of selfies with writing will do the same in this class.

CMG: Tell us about your own evolution as a transformative language artist, and how you’ve explored many aspects of the self through writing, film, movement, dance, performance, and stories (and other arts).
AR: My own journey as a transformative language artist is ever changing and growing! selfI started out as a poet and working with incarcerated youth to write about their feelings. I am still very much a poet, thoroughly enjoying writing as a means to explore and process the world both external and internal. However, I’m also discovering so many more ways that I really love to experience creativity and transformative language arts. I am a performer, and have been using both burlesque and performance art (including video) as a means to challenge societal norms and ask questions of the audience. One of my favorite things to do in shows is a combination of performance and poetry, in which I have audience members answer a question or respond to a prompt in writing, and I then create a performance poem out of their answers. Now, in the past year or so, I’ve been also using the selfie as a form of transformative language arts. In addition to these TLAN classes, I’m also documenting my journey as a disabled person though the healthcare system using selfies and Instagram (you can look for my disability-related photos by searching for #sickfemmeglam). One of the things I love about transformative language arts is how versatile it is. I simply love all the new things I’m discovering!
CMG: I love hearing about all that you’re discovering too, and how you keep turning your treasures into treasures for us too. Thank you so much for offering this class as well as the other superb classes you offered on selfies and writing through chronic illness.
AR: I really look forward to this class! I appreciate the Transformative Language Arts Network allowing me this opportunity to explore selfies again, in a new way. I can’t wait to meet all those going on this newest journey with me, and to see and read about all your saturated lives!
Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist, as well as a lover of selfies! She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blog ( and zines. Angie fully believes in the power of art to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.  All photos in this interview are Angie’s selfies.