Three Strategies for Planning a Satisfying Writer’s Road Trip by Susan Hulsebos

Pack the car for adventure, gas up, and head out to find it–that pleasurable transformation of mind and spirit, arrived at in the middle of nowhere, on a satisfying road trip. Road trips fall into two general categories: A) the pounding down the miles to a single destination travel or B) the inner calling to transformative adventure travel (which is how my writer girlfriend and I pitched the idea to our husbands last fall). Travel around the world concept flat design

In our minds, this trip would be akin to an aboriginal walkabout except that we would, for the most part, remain fully clothed, bring coolers stuffed with pre-packaged salads, gin and tonic, wine, and chicken salad cups, and have reservations in strangers’ homes via Airbnb for four nights. So, although more of an American roll-about, the religiosity of wandering as a rite of passage and transformation remained intact.

We also chose to devote some time to collaborative writing and to photograph old cars and off- road oddities.

Our journey was successful in every way because we chose to plan a few key elements. Our top three strategies were:

  • Plan to hit three states in five days, stopping wherever and whenever anything piqued our interest or when one of us had to pee. (We both have a love for off-road oddities of all sorts and drink lots of coffee.)
  • This is not a “working” trip, nor will we craft assignments for each other to complete, nor keep a schedule or daily agenda. We met to brainstorm a list of supplies to have on hand for spontaneous art-making or photo shoots. We had a few half-formed scenarios in mind. I had made some art stickers to “install” along our trail. The fact that my buddy insisted on bringing duct tape, rope and a ladder was a bit scary.
  • Pick a general writing game to have on hand for long stretches of open road, or when cranky. In the way that all great parties have great hosts, we chose Basho, 17th century Haiku master and author of the party-poem form, Renga, to be our writing coach. We both love collaboration and concrete nouns. There are many forms of Renga, a linked verse poem, which was passed between guests at drinking parties and plays according to general rules such as who writes how many lines and some prescribed references to season and moon. Since our trip was scheduled for October, we chose a traditional Autumn Kasen Renga. Our template can be found in the following link, along with other seasonal forms:

I find casual collaborative writing with friends, using forms such as Renga, a very pleasurable way to practice Transformative Language Arts. It is far less strenuous than full on therapeutic personal journal writing, which I also practice daily. Renga is very well suited for small groups in person or online. However, having practiced Renga both online and in person, I highly suggest the party or social gathering format. When everyone is linking verses while in each other’s company, mutual experiences and shared environment add a special cohesiveness to the images. The final piece then stands as the lived expression of the occasion in much the same way abstract impressionist painters created works that imaged their lived experience while painting the canvas.

What follows are excerpts from different sections of linked verses written collaboratively on our last road trip. Again, these verses were not written with publication in mind; however, that could happen in the future. The verses hold impressions, associations, daydreams, and humor channeled on the open road in the voices of two writing friends and the road itself, who began to speak somewhere on day three:

a cello slides the black notes of Metallica
through the legs of market patrons buying produce

“Are you from Arizona?
I lived there 12 years and left”
the summer moon sticks to everything

that winter before my mom died
she made my dad fill the Christmas tree with angels

lying on the thin layer of snow
we flapped our arms and legs until the black dirt showed
“Look” you said “snow demons”

Driving away in my Chevy
I’m not even sure that I said good bye

Arriving in Bisbee, lightening cracks the sky over the
metal municipal bus, tiki theme, our nights’ rental
we paid 88 bucks for this?

One final thought, plans are underway to write the Kansen Renga form, the spring form, perhaps on a backpacking road trip. This just might evolve as a quarterly, seasonal writing journey. Why not plan a collaborative writing trip of your own making?

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices with Ruth Farmer


Ruth Farmer will be teaching an online class for the TLA Network called Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices starting April 19th. Here’s a short interview with Ruth about her class:

Q: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

RF: Teachers, consultants, coaches, community organizers, managers, and more. People who see themselves as passionate about helping others will not only get a lot out of the course, but will contribute as well. I hope a group of like-hearted people convene in this course, to expand upon the ways that we approach transformation and social change. I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.

Q: What is unique about this class?

RF: I start with what is working. As someone who has been a community organizer, teacher, director, workshop facilitator, conference coordinator, … I have immersed myself into anticipating what can go wrong, what is not working, and how something (or someone) can change. In the past several years, I have begun to take a different view when I lead workshops or teach courses: I try to help folks see their strengths, what is working, what is right. Doing this has helped me to become a better teacher, since I know what it is I want to see more of. By starting with strengths, what is going well, and focusing on what we want more of, we (and the people with whom we work) can gain confidence and insight that will help us to approach problems with greater creativity.

Q: What is your favorite part about Transformational Language Arts?

RF: If you mean the field, then its breadth: songs, prose, plays, conversations, etc. can all fall within this category. And the philosophical center of TLA helps to make these creative expressions more meaningful.

“I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.”

Q: What can students in this class expect?

RF: Students can expect to engage in dialogue with each other, apply their learning to their work in the world, and encounter a variety of source materials. Our discussions will emerge primarily from the anthology Transformative Language Arts in Action. We will also gain perspectives on strengths-based approaches through watching videos, reading short articles, and engaging with each other on the discussion forum about our insights. We will try, as we are able, to apply some of what we have learned to our current or proposed work.

Q: Why might this class be important at this time in the world?

RF: There are so many reasons to examine what is wrong with the world today. Focusing on this can be exhausting. More importantly, it keeps us stuck in the problems. This course asks participants to shift their gaze. That doesn’t mean to turn away, but to view things from different perspectives so that the problem (issue, however you want to describe it) is seen with fresh eyes.

Recently, I have seen people move from anger to frustration to hopelessness back to anger and even to despair. It’s difficult to hold that narrow range of perspective without at some point sinking into apathy. Let’s try looking at the shifts in people’s thinking – and that is definitely happening. I don’t know about you, but I have talked with so many people who were oblivious before and who are now realizing that they/we have the power and the energy to do something about issues and problems. They know this because they are focusing on what they can offer, rather than what is wrong.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

RF: I am looking forward to facilitating dynamic dialogues among people who have lots of ideas and energy.

A Ciguapa Speaks: On How I Came To Value Wholeness, with Marianela Medrano

Editor’s Note: We love to showcase work of people in the TLA Network and broader community. This is the TEDx talk given by one of our members and presenters, Marianela Medrano.

Dr. Marianela Medrano was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and has lived in Connecticut since 1990. A poet and a writer of nonfiction and fiction, she holds a PhD in psychology. Medrano is Vice President of Grace Works International, a charitable foundation involved in outreach in the developing world. Her literary work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines in Latin America, Europe and the United States. Medrano is also a regular blogger for the American Counseling Association (ACA).

A Counting by Susan Hulsebos

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

      As a visual artist, too overwhelmed with loss and grief to continue working, I took up a writing practice to process the death of my son. I discovered the TLAN network while searching for an online class where I might receive weekly input, writing prompts, and connection to a caring and healing community while not leaving my house. Fortunately for me, the first class I found was Angie Rivers’s “The Five Senses and the Four Elements: Connecting with the Body and Nature through Poetry.” The class was perfect. It had just the right amount of lesson material, the prompts helped me explore small, controlled writing forms and led me to sensory experience in nature.

      For a mother in shock whose mind was numb, whose heart and days felt broken but also as someone who still had way too much energy to stay in bed, I needed healing in small yet controlled chunks. The following poem was written in that first class, in the double Etheree form (where each set of 10 lines has a syllable count that moves from 1 – 10 ) while I was trying to accept the fact that my son had just died in my home – the house he had just helped me move in to weeks before.

A Counting

One of two things I need to tell you, for
the first time, is that ten days ago
seven steps into the front yard
I stood still outside the one
window I had on you
while you lay dying
in my guest room
all alone.
from death
by overdose
you met cancer
as pennance for crimes
against yourself and us.
Secondly, I thought there was
still time, ten days ago. Not that
four sighs at two a.m. plus one cough
would end the count of your years at thirty.

      Reading this piece one year later, the fresh pain of loss is so present in those lines. I am grateful to have this poem as a marker, a touch-stone for myself of that time because now I count those first weeks as very precious. It was a time when his presence still lingered in those rooms. I can recall it now from a gentler but still grieving place, and it helps me stay connected to all of it.

      This is the power of Transformative Language Arts: to find a practice in the verbal arts to fully connect and voice the deeper movements in whatever experience we are living through. At present, daily journaling practice has brought me back into a flowing space where depression has lifted long enough that I am painting again. One new painting was recently juried into a show in my community. I doubted this would ever happen again. Before my discovery of transformative writing all hope was gone that I would ever feel like painting again. It felt too happy and nothing was happy. Also, painters can struggle with feelings of loss, grief or fear if the canvas isn’t developing like you hoped it would. Painting is risky and sometimes it just dies right in front of you no matter how much you try to resuscitate it. I had no resilience to resume this task so soon.

      But I had a deep urge to express what I was feeling and not just give in to numbing activities such as excessive drinking or cramming my life with activity. Both of which might give relief but would not heal the gaping hole in my heart. Healing from his death – especially with the emotional entanglements of his long addiction – is requiring intentional remembering of his life. The practice of writing down my feelings and memories, the hopes and disappointments, and recently moving into writing down how my life is moving on, is healing.

      “When we neglect the artist in ourselves, there is a kind of mourning that goes on under the surface of our busy lives.” I love this line from Pat Schneider in her book, Writing Alone and with Others. So, artists and creative people flooded with grief can be encouraged through TLA to not neglect the artist in themselves while grieving. Neglecting our voice, our expression, feels like being silenced which only fuels depression. A careful shift to another expressive form such as poetry, journaling or nature writing really can transform grief into manageable healing chunks. It might even evolve into a regular practice to help us navigate the longer seasons of grief when we must now come back to our work as a new person, living our “new normal.” I am writing daily, it is helping me stay connected to myself, my life and my memories. I am still alive. I am still doing my work and it’s richer now because it’s painfully deeper.

Courageous Decisions, by Eila Algood

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, and can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog.

      The fluorescent lights were bright, stark and as cold as the chilled winter air outside.  Hot air blew relentlessly making the room overheated while turning my skin to leather. Endless announcements played like off key music to my ears.  The smell of antiseptic and medicine wafted over me, reminding me of the many sad moments I had spent at my mother’s hospital bed.  Only this was not my mother, nor was it I who was lying in the bed, waiting for yet another invasive medical procedure.  My heart ached as I rose from my chair to play a CD of native flute music that would bring relaxation if not peace to this sterile environment.  I clicked off the light and crawled up beside the woman lying in the bed.  Putting my arm under her neck and touching my head to hers, I whispered “Listen to the music and imagine we are by Oak Creek in Sedona after hiking up Cathedral Rock.  Close your eyes, hear the music, feel the warm desert air on your face and trust my love flowing  into your heart.”  

      We breathed together, imagining the beautiful scene while waiting for whatever was to come next.  We were living in that moment and I was focused on loving her.  It mattered not what the nurse or doctor might think when they stepped in and saw us; two grown women cuddled up in their hospital bed.  This was the first person I’d ever fallen in love with and according to the doctors, she was dying.  Kidney cancer, they said and the prognosis was horrible.  I had moved beyond the obvious questions of why her, why now when I had just moved out of my marriage to be with her.  How cruel it seemed to give me these amazing new sensations and emotions at age 37 with her, only to take her away from me.  But as I lie in the hospital bed with my lips to her head the only thoughts were of hope.  Hope for a miracle.  Feelings of love emanated from every molecule of my being to hers.  Peace was present.  Doubt and fear were not allowed into this sacred space.  

      As we grew closer, loving one another more deeply, her physical body was deteriorating.  Cancer was taking her away from me.  I was strong, healthy and determined not to let it win.  Was it courage or craziness that happened next?  On a cold winter’s day in upstate New York, we boarded a plane for Phoenix.  We left the familiar: the family, friends and home to fly to hope and promise.  Hope for a miracle so cancer would not take her.  Promise of a life together filled with love, laughter and dreams.  I pushed her in the wheelchair from the plane to the taxi wishing we were here to hike in Sedona rather than this.  Arriving at the alternative health clinic, we were greeted with smiles filled with hope.  Perhaps the miracle would occur.

       There was vitamin therapy, cranial sacral treatments, dietary guidelines and wellness counseling.  One moment at a time we sat together, talking, hoping, and loving one another.  Her sons came to see her.  Such sadness in their eyes it was difficult for me to be with them.  I had my own emotions which made my ability to empathize with them very challenging.   Her estranged sister came to see her, to ease her conscience, I suppose.  Every moment of every day I loved her, wanting my love for her to be more powerful than the cancer.  My love was supposed to make the cancer disappear.  That was my plan.  That  was my hope.  That is not what happened.  The cancer grew from her kidney into her lungs until she could no longer breath.  The life force dissipated and her soul left the body.  I had held her hand so many times before, experiencing tremendous loving energy with her but now, I held her lifeless hand, gazing at her fingers as I stroked them, noticing there was no energy emanating from her anymore.  I wept.

      It was not courageous for me as a married woman to fall in love with another woman;  no that was an involuntary act.  The courage arrived with the cancer diagnosis.  The decisions I made to stand beside her, loving her up until she gasped her last breath, those decisions required courage. Transformative Language Arts helped create a container for me to express our experience with the intent of giving voice to same-gender love in a context many could understand through the sharing of raw emotion. Soon after Britt died, I was asked to speak at her memorial service. I gathered my courage and scripted my words carefully, sharing a truth of my experience of her that would be uplifting to all who loved her.

eila A native New Yorker, who’s now living her dream of a sustainable life in Hawai’i with wife, Holly, Eila’s been expressing herself through writing since childhood.  Published works include, “On The Road To Bliss”, “Rhapsody in Bohemia”, pieces in Frida Magazine and Think Pink Anthology as well as monthly articles in Kohala Mountain News.


Sparks! Join in for conversation and poetry

Sparks! Poetry, Stories, & Songs is your chance to go deeper into the world of Transformative Language Arts practice, as well as contribute your own poetry to the TLA community via open mic.

Formally known as Let’s Talk TLA, Sparks! Poetry, Stories, & Songs is a free bi-monthly teleconference moderated by Kelly DuMar, TLAN Membership Chair. At each session, Kelly interviews notable Transformative Language Artists on their work, followed by a poetry open mic. The online gathering open to everyone.

The next session of Sparks! is April 25th from 7:00 – 8:15 PM (CDT) with special guests from the True Story Theater. The June Sparks! session is scheduled for June 15th from 7:00-8:15 PM (CDT) and will feature guest presenters from the upcoming August TLA Conference, The Power of Words.

You can register for Sparks! online gatherings here. (You can also find recordings of previous gatherings.) They take place via Zoom, are free, and open to all. Bring a poem and join in!


Diving And Emerging: An Interview With Regi Carpenter


Regi Carpenter is soon to teach an online class for the TLA Network called “Diving And Emerging, Finding Your Voice And Identify Through Personal Stories”  starting April 19th. The class will focus on inspiration, imagination, story development, and craft. We will also focus on spoken word performance considerations and deepen our understanding of the power stories play in personal and universal transformation. Here’s a short interview with Regi about the class:

TLA Blog (TLA)What inspired you to teach this class?

Regi Carpenter (RC): I am inspired to teach this class again for TLAN for a few different reasons. The last time I taught this I witnessed real transformation in my students. It was a real treat to see them discover and give voice to their lives as story and share them with one another. We created a community of storytellers. That was exciting and rewarding.

TLA: How did you discover, learn about and experience the topic that
you’ll be teaching?
RC: I fell in love with storytelling over twenty years ago when I sat slack-jawed and drooling through a performance by David Novak. I fell in love with stories which seemed like old friends, wise counselors and bawdy girlfriends. The walk from student to teacher is a long one. “To learn is to teach” was very real for me. I learned how to tell by learning how to teach. How did I learn? I listened, studied, tried, failed and tried again. I have taught for Lincoln Center arts-in-education programs,schools, adult retreats, online programs and colleges. I currently teach storytelling at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. Mostly, I learned by being quiet and listening to the stories living inside of me trying to spoken and born into the world.

TLA: What can students in this class expect?

RC: Students can expect about 3 hours of work a week. We will read, write, reflect and share our stories with one another in writing and aloud in a conference call. You can also expect to have some fun, to laugh and be surprised!

TLA: What is one of your favorite stories?

RC: One of my favorite stories today is a little known one called “Lallah Pambo.” It’s a gypsy story about a little girl who is of little use to anyone. She goes out one night to find rain and bring rain back to her land to ease a drought and famine ravaging her country.She travels “without a map and no direction.” She finds Rain who teaches her her value. She returns to her land with Rain, who makes the land flourish. She travels the world telling stories because “storytellers are true nobility.”

TLA: Why is it important to share our stories with others?

RC: It’s important to tell our stories because every single person is longing for a life of meaning and to know that we matter. When we share our stories we matter. Our stories matter. That’s why this is so important.

TLA: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

RC: I want to encourage you to take this class because your story matters to me. I want to meet and know you and there is nothing we can talk about that will turn me away from you or your experience.

Regi Carpenter is an internationally known spoken word artist, author and educator. She has been performing her stories of small town life in northern New York for over twenty years. A featured teller at many festivals throughout the United States she conducts workshops and classes fro people of all ages who want to learn to write and tell stories from their own lives. Her book, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood will be published by Familius Publishing in Sept. 2016. Regi also teaches storytelling at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.

Poetry and response: Staying vertical in the TLA world

Janet Toone, a participant in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Winter 2017 TLA class, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life,” wrote this poem during the second week of the course, which focused on The New Story of Your Life: Examining Myths & Messages about Who You Should Be.

Snow, ice, cold, threaten to shut me in, but I battle through.
Fear freezes my heart and mind, far more limiting than the weather
I shuffle, slipping and sliding on the invisible surface unsure
Exactly what the elusive enemies are binding and tearing at
My resolve. My myths I know well. The clouds begin to part.

Battles have been fought before. Often times I was very bloody,
And bowed before I thrived in spite of my perceived deficiencies.
Keeping my mind clear, my heart open, the target in my eye
My spirit willing, I move forward, seeking knowledge and skills ,
Winning those internal battles, I find purpose and build resilience.

Janet describes her approach this way:

“As I participated in Caryn’s class,  I came up against the chilling reality that selling myself was going to be the most difficult aspect of actually building and sustaining a TLA livelihood. I wrote this poem while I was battling that internal war of how and what it would take for me to feel like I could legitimately market my skills and my knowledge, while I was also fighting a battle to stay vertical in the snow and ice outside. I was working on pushing through my fear and setting my resolve to continue the work, to stay vertical in the TLA world, to not give up.”

Janet’s classmates reacted:

  • Your writing is very courageous.  And inspiring.
  • The alliteration you use in “Battles,” “bloody,” “bowed,” “Building,” and then “battles” again, really strengthens the flow of the second stanza.  Very cool. 
  • The second stanza, begun by speaking of battles and ending with the recognition that these are internal battles, is thought-provoking and evokes a feeling of warmth in contrast to the chill of the first stanza.
  • Powerful.  And amen!  For me, the way you took the descriptions of how winter weather shows up and connected those to the impacts of fear made the experience tangible. Real.

For Janet, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life” was a comfortable and supportive space in which to explore uncomfortable questions. Through the expressive art of her poetry, she was able to connect with others in the class experiencing the same challenges.