As a child, I was convinced the big old white pine tree next to our home and the puffy clouds in the sky were telling each other the most amazing stories. I thought that if I could just figure out the right way to listen, I’d be able to hear them.
Almost every day I climbed that pine tree. I was so determined and so achingly curious. I can remember feeling as if I was trying to open my senses like a sunflower—all bright petals following sunlight—so I could catch cloud stories and tree tales. Arms wrapped around the sticky trunk, right ear pressed to smooth bark, left ear tilted to the sky, nose filled with resin and wet air, I became a tiny girl antennae on a wind-swayed tree.
This was my first experience of listening with my body.
Did I finally hear the tree and cloud stories? I did! Even better, I co-created countless tree and cloud and girl stories, helping me realize that I was somehow part of the green world surrounding me. This was in the years before other people’s disbelief eroded my trust in the stories my body heard through my senses.
Now, years later, after navigating the saw-toothed gift of recovering from sexual trauma, I’m again listening with my body. I regularly sense the conversations happening in the ecosystem where I live: trees and clouds, late summer grasses and streams, murders of crows and chimes of wrens, the boom of bullfrogs and creak of katydids deep in the night. And, if I’m willing to let my body transmute sound, rhythm, and gesture into words on a page, the act of writing what I notice restores me, refilling resilience depleted by the intensity of the times through which we are living.
Sometimes I simply notice deeply. Sometimes, if life is happening with unusual vigor or I’m feeling my resilience slipping, I may choose to notice with a specific kind of nourishment in mind.
For example, when the pandemic was grinding into its ninth month, I started a practice of noticing and writing about what I called “defiant joy.” I needed to remember that joy was still sparking in the world despite the pall of constant fear and worry.
Defiant Joy #1 today there is joy in noticing that the curled yellow sycamore leaves still rustle with the same dry
welcoming-winter song they’ve murmured every autumn for the past twenty-five seasons. that while all things change (some in a breath) some follow the slow arc of time set by mountains and spinning planets. life’s balance flows tidally. our lives are invitations to noticing truth. pain. beauty. wonder.
The key to making listening with your body a nourishing practice is understanding how deeply you notice now, and how effectively it supports you in staying resilient. Then you can consider if you would like to change established patterns or cultivate expanded noticing to deepen your well of resilience and engagement.
In my upcoming six-week course through the Transformative Language Arts Network, Listening with Our Bodies: Writing Toward Resilience, we will be exploring our own noticing patterns—the ways we notice and what we notice—through multi-sensory exercises and writing invitations. This class will benefit word artists of all kinds: facilitators, coaches, counselors, activists, educators, and explorers. It will serve anyone looking to connect more deeply with the source of their creativity and/or the source of their resilience. It will nourish people working to make change in their communities, who have been stretched thin by life, or who are at a crossroads in their personal growth explorations. I’d love to write with you!
Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two very old and very loved Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, and is fascinated by the potential of language to heal and transform people and communities. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics for small groups. She’s just beginning her foray into submitting poetry for publication and has already accumulated a healthy pile of rejections to her few joyfully celebrated acceptances. Learn more at tracienichols.com.
The power of words to wound is also a measure of the power of words to heal. – Pádraig Ó Tuama.
Irish poet, author, theologian, and activist Pádraig Ó Tuama has published six collections of work over the years. His most recent, Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World, was released this past October. Ó Tuama is also the host of a podcast, Poetry Unbound With On Being. The solo podcast explores the meanings, themes, and intricacies of poems written by his peers in beautiful fifteen-minute recordings that let his audience fall deep into the words of these brilliant artists.
In Poetry Unboand’s May 30th, 2022 episode, Ó Tuama discusses poet Andy Jackson’s, The Changing Room, a delicate and alluring eight-stanza prose poem that discusses the themes of self-consciousness. Ó Tuama eloquently unpacks the verses during the thirteen-minute listen. He explains, “It’s a poem that pays attention to an experience of one [body], but really that’s a sleight of hand… Jackson is looking at the attention that [his body] gets and is refocusing it, extending it wider, looking at the deeper question, what does it mean for any of us to be in a body?“
Ó Tuama’s work expands beyond the written page and into his community. From 2014 to 2019, Ó Tuama led the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation group. During his tenure, he wrote Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, a prayer book which draws on the organization’s spiritual practices. Ó Tuama formulated the collection based on decades of work addressing the personal and political conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and other global conflicts.
Under Ó Tuama’s leadership, the Corrymeela Community helped develop school and group curricula to discuss narrative practices, art and conflict, and interfaith dialogue, and his work advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights had impact throughout Ireland and beyond.
A beautiful example of Ó Tuama’s ability to see and understand a wide and wise variety of perspectives is in his 2020 poem, How To Belong Be Alone.
It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever,
so you might as well start packing now.
In the meantime,
practice being alive.
There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is to remember
to talk to yourself
between these parties.
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.
You need to control
your habit of forgetting
Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
Comfort knows its own intelligence.
It needs no reason.
There is a you
telling you another story of you.
Listen to her.
Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
upon your body.
to the community of madness
Ó Tuama articulates the sensation of anxiety so effortlessly, in a way that allows readers not only to identify this feeling but also experience what this character, whether us, Ó Tuama, or someone else, is feeling as well. The line, “Sometimes harm knows its own healing” encapsulates this fascinating idea of using our perceived weaknesses as new strengths – the idea of taking a part of ourselves that we avoid focusing on, and finding its strength, finding its power and durability, and ultimately, its vigor.
Pádraig Ó Tuama will be featured as one of three keynote speakers at the TLA Network’s upcoming Power of Words Conference, titled, Hope is a Discipline. The conference will be held online from October 13-16, 2022. Along with Camille T. Dungy and Katherine Adams, Ó Tuama will be speaking and presenting on the theme of hope being a discipline. We welcome you to join us!
Gabe Seplow is a Philadelphia native who is studying Contemporary Theatre at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He went to high school at AIM Academy in Conshohocken, PA, where he was a founding member of the Student Diversity Leadership group, traveling the country to different conferences to study and learn to make school a more diverse and equitable place. Gabe has written and directed plays performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival addressing social justice, diversity, and equity issues, with the goal of shining a light on gun violence, racial biases, and white privilege. He is currently an Intern for the TLA Network, doing research, assisting with social media, and helping with conference programming.
The transformative power of language and art… [in] every aspect of living and working in an evolved world
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.
Hollie Ziskind is a mindfulness teacher and creative consultant, founder/creator of pen and portal, and the KEY method. Using a mindful approach in 1:1 consulting and group teaching, she helps women experience transformation and healing through their creative practice. Certified through the Awareness Training Institute, Amherst Writers and Artists, and the Transformative Language Arts Network, she’s been featured in Choose901, Swimming with Elephants, Meniscus Journal and Chrysalis.
TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?
Hollie: The idea of learning from, and working with, other like-minded artists at the intersection of art and transformation called to me. I work with creative women in mid-life, and I believed this certification would enhance that, and my own creative work.
What TLAN courses did you find most useful? Why?
I really enjoyed Pathways to Wholeness with Marianela Medrano because of the mindfulness component, and also because of Marianela’s own groundedness, and attention to the subject matter. I work in a very similar area, and it felt nurturing to be led through this course. I took lots of notes and really enjoyed the sharing there too.
What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?
The big picture takeaway for me was the reiteration of the transformative power of language and art, not only in social justice, but in politics and climate change, and seemingly every aspect of living and working in an evolved world, and courses that actively engaged in that effort.
For more from Hollie, and to learn more about using mindfulness and inquiry as a path to healing and transformation, stop by https://www.penandportal.com or @penandportal
*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.
Recently we asked our staff, board and founder what they are currently reading, and why. We thought you might enjoy getting a glimpse of our latest literary delights, listed below.
Share with us what YOU have been reading, and we might just feature you and your favorite book(s) in an upcoming newsletter, or as part of a Network book club! We would love to hear from you!
Kimberly Lee – TLA Network board member: The Happy Writing Book by Elise Valmorbida. Contains 100 bite-sized, spirited essays on writing inspiration and craft, for both aspiring and established authors who want to infuse energy into their work—and their lives.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. A Nigerian teen, married off by family for her dowry, is determined to change her destiny and find her voice by achieving the education her late mother dreamed of.
Finding Me by Viola Davis. An honest, revealing memoir that chronicles the rise of the Oscar award-winning actress from a disadvantaged childhood to international acclaim, and the emotional demons she slayed on the way.
Jen Minotti– TLA Network board member: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson. Super important, beautiful, honest memoir by a Black, queer voice for the YA population. I loved this book before it was banned from libraries and schools in 15 states, but now I am making sure to read all of the books on these banned-book-lists as my personal form of protest.
All about Love: New Visions by bell hooks. After bell hooks’ passing earlier this past Winter, I revisited her work. Although written over 20 years ago, this book is as relevant today as it was two decades ago, maybe even more so. My yellow highlighter practically dried out from all of the use it got while reading this book! And I now use the word “love” as a verb, as bell hooks instructed us to do!
Renu Thomas, TLA Network board member: The Girl with the Suitcase, by Angela Hart Angela Hart has fostered many children over the years. This is a true story about the joys, doubts and challenges in raising Grace who has had a difficult upbringing before coming to Angela’s home. It offers a fresh look at parenting and the nature vs nurture debate. Inspiring.
Hanne Weedon, TLA managing director: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken. I’ve been reading this incredible book with my 14-year-old daughter over the course of the past year – a few pages every week, and we are slowly turning our time, focus, and attention to how we navigate the climate crisis as a family. Each section is engaging and accessible, addressing the 100 most substantive solutions to reversing global warming, all based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world.
For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health, by Al Vernacchio. This is a fantastic, illuminating, funny read by a thoughtful, youth-empowering sex educator who really knows his stuff. An incredible resource for anyone who is parenting/close to/working with teens, this book helps bridge the gap between what we thought we knew and what we actually need to know to help our young people navigate this complex and rapidly-shifting issue in their lives.
Palmares, by Gayl Jones. A 2022 Pulitzer finalist, this incredible epic novel is at once a love story, a fugitive slave’s odyssey, and an investigation into the meaning of freedom. Set in 17th-century colonial Brazil, the novel is that perfect combination of mythology, history, and magical realism – plus, Jones’ mastery of language and voice are a delight. This is the perfect read you will not want to put down.
Gabe Seplow, TLA Network intern: The Sentence is Death, by Anthony Horowitz. A fascinating murder mystery that has you on the edge of your seat, wanting more answers the further you get into the novel.
Kelly DuMar, TLA Network board member: The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence. Exquisite prose in this classic novel by a master about three generations of a British family who live in the east Midlands of England spanning 1840’s-1905, focusing on love, coming of age, marriage, family. Lawrence’s descriptions of nature are gorgeous and precise.
There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century, by Fiona Hill. Really smart and thoughtful memoir of a brilliant British woman who rose to a powerful government position in the US from her working class, disadvantaged roots in County Durham, England as the coal industry failed. She does a superb job of exploring the role of privilege in the US and British educational systems. She stood up to Trump by testifying against him at his first impeachment from her role of serving in the Trump administration. Courageous and honest and authentic––and funny.
Liz Burke, TLA Network board member: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. Ocean Vuong’s novel is one of the most beautiful I have ever read. It’s a coming of age story and an intimate letter to his mother written by a poet whose language stings as forcefully as it soars.
Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz. There have only been a handful of poets whose work, upon reading it, causes me to gasp in awe at the beauty. This is one of them. I feel Diaz’s work in my bones.
Jade Eby, Manager, TLA Network Classes: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. I’m a huge fan of family drama stories… especially where there are hidden secrets just waiting to be exposed. I love that the backdrop of this novel is Australian land and culture.
I Heard You Scream by Emerald O’Brien — My favorite summer reads are fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thrillers. And I Heard You Scream fits the bill! This is a binge-able read with satisfying twists and turns.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, TLA Network founder: Embroideriesby Marjane Satari I fell in love with this graphic novel about the inner lives of Iranian women, written and drawn by the author of the astonishing Persepolis, a historical and deeply personal memoir in what Satari calls comic-book style.
frank: sonnets by Diane Seuss Here is an astonishing collection of poetry that’s a combination of fierce memoir, experimental language, and pure poetry, and hey, it’s by a TLAer at heart, and she just won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry!
The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich I’m re-listening to this novel by the unparalleled Erdrich about a powerful legacy, haunting questions of identity and home, and brave forays into real love in many forms.
Beth Turner, TLA Network board member: The Diné Reader/An Anthology of Navajo Literature, edited by Esther G. Belin et al. Powerful testimony to keeping culture, faith, family, land connections alive via the written, spoken or danced word. This is a peaceful and powerful read, a rarity for me to experience both within so many different poems and essays. I found the works to be awakening and stirring – there is no shame or blame, but facts and truth.
Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think, by Dave Gray. This book is about the power of thresholds. Liminal space sits between you and me when we meet, when teams meet, when people groups gather – it is a rich land. I think this space as one filled with low-hanging, ripe fruit. Anyone can reach up and pick the idea, solution, opportunity, revelation, wisdom and share. I look to cultivate this sort of atmosphere in classes, retreats and within small groups. It is an activating read. I am pondering what action may be required/explored personally and communally.