Seek the Light: Farewell from the Editor

In my faith tradition, tonight is the fourth night of Chanukkah. Each night, I have lit the menorah, blessed the light, and sang hymns for the miracle that the light burned for eight days in the Temple, leading to the Jewish people reclaiming their land and faith as their own. It’s also the fourth day after Christmas, when the Star of the East would still be shining; and the second day of Kwanzaa, celebrating Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination. Yule was a few days ago, so our days are again growing longer, and the sun is returning.

In each of these traditions, I see a common theme: each of us strives to live according to our values, that they may give light to our path. We may not know the path fully, nor what miracles lie in wait — but still we go on. As poet Antonio Machado wrote, “We make the path by walking.” Even when the miracles seem non-existent, or our values are defined more by their absence in society than their presence, we can still seek them and work for them.

As artists, that is our sacred call.

We can write, sing, and speak our way into envisioning a better world. We can work to bring the light into the world through the light of inspiration and the fires of our work.

We can also water the earth with our tears as darkness descends, and fall silent. The choice is ours.

This year, I have had the opportunity to serve as the editor for this blog. Through this, I have become more connected to TLA practice, the community, and my own work as a storyteller, teacher, songwriter, and musician. I have delighted in shining a light on some truly amazing practitioners and their work.

I have also had to navigate my own darknesses, including a long creative dry spell for the first half of the year, and the challenges of a divorce. Like so many others, I have felt overwhelmed by all of the “busyness,” burdened by the demands of working life — especially those days when it does not nourish the soul — and heartbroken as the world has fallen apart and headlines were the stuff of nightmares.

But the late (and too soon gone) Leonard Cohen said, “We are all a little broken. That’s how the Light gets in.”

I may not have done enough for this blog. I leave that for our readers and authors to decide. As for me, I know that I will always feel that the sacred work of transforming the world is left undone. I offer what I can — my words — and I keep going.

As this year draws to a close, I will be transitioning away from being the blog editor, and into other roles with the network. Here is the official call for a new editor. If you are reading this and are interested, please contact me (via email or the contact page). I will be working with our new editor to make sure everything runs smoothly — including posting submissions sent in the last few weeks. In this festive season of light, the phrase “pass the torch” seems even more apt.

The light of our art, our work, our values, and the miracles we hold dear must not go out. If these are indeed dark times, then our light will seem all the brighter. In the coming year, I know I will be more actively working on my artistic endeavors. If I can, I will share some of that here, as a fellow practitioner. Each of us must do our work. When we cannot, I urge us all to support the work of others.

I will continue to support all of you as best I can, even from afar. I am blessed to have shared this space with you. Keep seeking the light.

~Caleb Winebrenner
2016 Blog Curator-Editor

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#strongertogether, by Amanda Fay Lacson

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts. This one was originally posted on Amanda Faye Lacson’s blog, here.

#strongertogether
My heart is broken in a million pieces and the tears keep coming. I’m grateful to my friends, who will and have empathized with me. 
 
Since my heart’s already broken…
 
a piece for my LGBTQ friends, for their rights to openly love each other;
 
a piece for my immigrant friends and families (including my own), whose contribution to the American fabric cannot be discounted;
 
a piece for my friends of all colors, that you feel safe in your own skin;
 
a piece for my friends of all religions, that you feel safe worshipping your higher power;
 
a piece for my friends who are parents, that your children learn the value of love and empathy;
 
a piece for my friends who are teachers, that your students learn the value of work and words;
 
a piece for all the women, and the men who support them, that we continue to honor and stand up for each other’s rights and safety.
 
My husband reminded me that we dig ourselves out of deep darkness and despair through creativity, not complacency. I suppose it’s already working, as I haven’t written something like this in years. So a final piece: for my friends who are artists and activists, that we may rise up through anger and love to light and strength.
 
We are still #strongertogether.
 
– Amanda Faye Lacson

I Cannot Stand By Silently, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts.

Additionally, as some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the third submission to our blog by monologist Janet Toone.


This last week we had an election, an upset many of us did not expect. During the campaign, the male candidate, who in his own words, repeatedly showed himself to be misogynist and a bigot. According to my perspective, by his own words, he also fit the profile of a sexual predator.

As a woman who grew up in a home where I was taught on a daily basis that females were worth less than cows; where women and children were battered and abused; where females were continuously sexually objectified and abused, I found myself in disbelief. Had American women really contributed to the election of a President who openly objectified females; who bragged about sexual assault, who engaged in brutal verbal abuse of females; and who had a long history of discrimination against individuals of color?

As I watched this candidate gather his “team of good old boys” including a democrat turned independent turned republican with his own share of scandals, another who was reprimanded as Speaker of the House for providing false information to the House ethics committee and using a tax exempt organization for political purposes. There was nothing in the history and personal lives of these men to reassure me that they have any desire to protect the rights of children, females, or minorities.

This election became a wake-up call. I cannot stand by silently and passively allow this lack of respect and lack of values to be perpetuated. I owe a commitment to stand and be counted as a woman who is not only openly intolerant of such behaviors, but who is also willing to fight for the rights of children, women and minorities to my grandchildren, my great granddaughter and their peers.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

In Death the Silence Can Still Be Heard, by Juanita Kirton

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts. This is a poem submitted by a TLA practitioner Juanita Kirton.


IN DEATH THE SILENCE CAN STILL BE HEARD

Bullets lodge themselves in brown bodies
uniformed uninvited guest invade doors
young boys with no prospects
patrol the projects
and the temporary rhetoric of speech stomping
silence the scattering of rodents

This one person, one vote, born from ashes and strife is still in labor
Two hundred years of pushing and breathing has not given birth to a new nation
Freedoms call needs a hearing aide
The blood that lies beneath the soil will turn to stone
There is no roadmap to a Democratic Republic, never done before
Someone said, “we are a grand design”, an experiment gone wrong
The “Pursuit of Happiness” has so many interpretations
the perspective is from your own
male, female, somewhere in-between,
black, brown, yellow, white or all encompassing, like a rainbow
Is happiness, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or none?
How do we pursue Peace?
war, reflective, reconciliation?
On the eve of November 8, 2016, the silent will be heard with the jerk of a handle
the stroke of a pen and the counting
In Retrospect does my vote have substance?
Democracy is sill stuck in the birth canal and she has only dilated 3-centermeters Seven more to go, If I’ve calculated correctly, four-hundred more years before this nation gives birth and then we can listen for the first breath, clean her up
watch her learn to crawl
In my silent dreams the earth has no boundaries
her natural resources shard by all
with no hunger, there is no want
with no want there is no war
and so the leaves continue to fall, winter will arrive
all the silent voices will be heard
I walked on Mt. Evans, rode across the desert, swam in the Pacific, traveled on the waves of the Atlantic
The Caribbean & Metearrean have their blues.
The salt in Utah is humbled by glacial Bay
All that divides us is made-up mindless stories
Your blood is my blood, your wish, and my dreams
your fears a lack of knowledge
Trust is a hard word to swallow


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

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

This is Not a Political Post, by Joanna Tebbs Young

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts. This one was originally posted on Joanna’s blog, here.


This morning I woke to find that the nightmare developing when I finally went to bed at 1 AM, the one where the map turned increasingly red, was real. I immediately broke down sobbing. I haven’t really stopped since. My children have never seen me like this; it scared them. I tried to gain control of the whirling weather-map of emotions surging through me, but they were too much.

So, I will try, now that I can see through my waterlogged eyeballs again, to break down these various emotions:

  • Sadness

For my country, for those who had so much hope that “Love Always Wins,” and for those who believed we were finally going to see a woman in the White House. That people have experienced rifts in their friend and family circles during this election.

  • Shock

That which I, and so many millions in this country and around the world, couldn’t even conceive happening, did.

  • Despair and Disillusionment

That half – half! – the population of this country voted for a man who has been shown over and over again to be a crappy — and dangerous — human being. That many of these voters (other than the ones who supposedly voted for him because they felt they had no other choice) don’t believe in love or compassion, don’t believe in equity, don’t believe in diversity, and instead believe, as a bumper stick I saw the other day declared, that what makes America great is God, Guns, and Guts. People who favor above all their whiteness, their sexually-aggressive maleness, and their so-called Christianity; those who prefer a leader who parrots their worst fears back to them and, like some orange fairy godmother, tells them their greatest dreams will come true.

“The charismatic or hypnotic leader who successfully rallies his followers… exhorting Americans to go out and battle the ‘heathen and immoral humanists, feminists, and communists [or socialists or liberals or Muslims]’ — whom they blame for all our world’s ills.”**

It is in despair (and utter bafflement) that I witnessed a man stand in front of the world spewing hatred, fear, and lies, and have his repulsive, illegal behavior excused away or completely ignored by even the smartest of his supporters. I despair that people I know, who I know are fundamentally good and not stupid, can vote for a person who could well take our country to war while denying people healthcare and equal rights — human rights.

  • Fear 

That violence will rise. That hate crimes will increase. That white supremacy will surge. That our Middle-Eastern and Hispanic friends and neighbors will be targeted, including the Syrian refugees who are arriving in my town soon. That families will be separated through deportation. That our gay friends, friends of color, our liberal friends will take verbal or even physical abuse.

“Elites of fascist and communist totalitarian state hierarchies … impose [their word/law/ideology] by force or the threat of force… Obedience and conformity are the supreme virtues. And in both, violence is not only permitted but ordered if it is in service of the officially approved ideology.”**

Fear that our children will see a rise in bullying and name-calling. That our sons will grow up continuing to believe females are inferior and objects for their enjoyment. That sexual assaults will continue to be dismissed as female over-reaction to a male’s right.

That the advances we’ve made in women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, healthcare, etc. will be over-turned. That we will be looking at a country (once again) governed by archaic patriarchal/religious laws. (Sound familiar, Sharia-law fearers??)

“The first policy priority in a male-dominated system has to be the preservation of male dominance. Hence, policies that would weaken male dominance — and most policies that offer any hope for the human future will [i.e. reproductive freedom and equality for women] — cannot be implemented.”**

Fear that this presidency will lead us to war. World and/or civil. That the gun culture will make our country a tinderbox.

That the “hoax” of climate change will endanger our planet to the point of extinction.

  • Anger and Frustration

At all the above. (Plus some at the DNC, the non-voters, the 3rd party voters, the uninformed voters, and those who wanted the country to go to shit to prove some point. And a lot at the electoral college which have gave us a president the majority did NOT vote for.)

  • Love

In times of group grief, love surges. I am so in love right now with the people of my “tribe” who are reaching out over social media to give virtual hugs and inspiration, who are meditating for personal and communal peace, who are taking this as an opportunity to speak out from a place of compassion. A friend on Facebook, after I had posted of my despair, wrote, simply, “I love you.” In those three words I felt the circle of connection tighten, my heart lurch. I began crying all over again but this time it wasn’t out of desperation, it was because of love.

  • Hope

I believe what has happened today is the death rattle of a mindset/heartset which is will no longer be tolerated. The fear-focused individual has a heart in which love cannot flourish. For a long time the worst of these fearful ones have been hidden away. But Trump has drawn them out and legitimatized their fears and hate. They are out in the open now.

While we have been living for a few decades in a world of advancing rights for minorities and human-beings in general, what the majority of us have been able to deny or file away as the point of view of a few disturbed, angry individuals, is staring us in the face. And we are not going to ignore it.

Women have bravely risen up to tell their sexual assault stories — by the millions. People are demanding their human right to healthcare and freedom to make their own choices regarding their body. Women are determined in their right to career options and advancement, and equal pay. The working class are asking to have a living wage and students to be able to be educated without drowning in debt. Activists are working on the behalf of the incarcerated. Bernie will continue to lead us in a fight for social reform and environmental restoration. I could go on and on.

The point is, inequities created in our society by old, tired patriarchal, religious, aggressive-capitalist ideals are no longer tolerated by the majority. As a friend, who just stopped by to give me a much-needed hug, put it, the boil has festered into a pustule. It will burst — and that’s when the healing begins.

Our world is changing. Indeed, writes Riane Eisler in Chalice and the Blade, during a historical period of greater gender equality, when “women obtain relatively more freedom and greater access to education… one of the most telltale signs that the pendulum is about to swing back is the revival of misogynist dogmas.”

Apparently it took a major, uncomfortable kick (and it might be a longer lasting and more painful kick than we would like under the inflammatory rhetoric of our new president) to jump start actions that will get that pendulum swinging the other way. But swinging it always is.

According to Eisler, Cultural Transformational Theory shows that, “following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption,” when there are unstable states, “a shift from one system to another can occur.”

“What may lay ahead is the final bloodbath of this dying system’s violent efforts to maintain its hold. But the death throes of androcracy [form of government in which the government rulers are male] could be the birth pangs of glylany [partnership society based on gender equality] and the opening of a door into a new future.”

And in that frightening yet hopeful assertion by Eisler, I will hold my hope — a tenuous silver lining — that today wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of a new one.

— —

*This isn’t intended as a political post. However, I will say this:

I love Bernie. I supported Bernie. I trust Bernie. Reluctant as I was to have to support someone else, I trusted he knew what he was doing despite any corruption which may have/probably forced him out of the race. And to see a woman as candidate, was, despite my love for Bernie and his message of change, inspiring and exciting.

I was elated that my children would see a woman break the last glass ceiling. And that woman would, I absolutely believe, have continued facilitating positive change for the equal and human rights of women, LGBTQs, people of color, immigrants, children, the sick, the poverty-stricken, the working-class, etc. etc. No, she isn’t Bernie but she is a mother, and an educated and experienced one at that… and, above all, NOT Trump.

I don’t intend this to start a political dialogue. I am too raw to engage right now. But, all other discussions are welcome!

**From Riane Eisler, Chalice and the Blade, which read today like all-too real-right-now prophecies.

Playwriting & Identity, by Latisha Jones

Editor’s Note: Latisha and I went to graduate school together. She is a tremendous educator, artist, and advocate. I’m thrilled to share some of her thoughts on theatre, playwriting, and identity — reminiscent of many conversation’s we’ve had. ~CMW


As a playwright, theater artist and educator, the written and the spoken word are intimately intertwined. I often write words intended to be performed aloud, and I speak my written words in order to clarify my thoughts. As a student of both creative and critical writing, I learned how the written word could free my voice and allow me to unravel and express the multilayered — and oft-contradictory — truths of my existence. It is utterly impossible for me to speak about my life as a writer without my social identities informing the narrative. I am a college-educated, 30-year-old black woman who grew up in a mixed class background with a single mother. I was raised in one of the richest counties in the United States, Howard County, MD, with a “private school level” public education system. I received my bachelor’s degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting from Drexel University and my master’s degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. I worked in public school education for about 5 years and have recently changed careers to Arts Administration. And my name is Latisha Jones.

Why the short biography? Because often times when artists who are minorities are asked to speak about their creative experience, they are asked to talk about their art separate from their social identities —  because it “makes people uncomfortable” — or they are asked to be the “representative” for their social identity and are seemly asked to speak for the likely millions of people who may have similar backgrounds. Both demands are nearly, if not completely impossible to fulfill, but many try anyway as a means of survival and learning to live as an artist. This is one of the many contradictions that can, at once, cause great anguish and yet prompt great art. For me, its life within these contradictions, either to explain them, use them or escape from them, which prompts me to create.

Art is often a method to temporarily make peace with the cognitive dissonance of everyday life. When used by the government and other hierarchical structures, the pacifying power of art can crush the critical discourse needed for a thriving, democratic society. In Ancient Greece, the theatre served three main purposes; to serve the gods, to tell the stories of the past and to release the “negative” impulses of the public that were seen as a threat to Greek social and political order. When used personally, the pacifying power of art allows us to find a place a calmness and focus in our chaotic lives. In the world of “Black Lives Matter”, constant stories police brutality, and Trump, the power of art is more necessary than ever to our well-being.

One of the ways I have tried to utilize the artistic power of the written word is by writing well-researched interactive plays for children. When I was a child, learning about African American history was a source of pride. I learned that there were writers, intellectuals, doctors and freedom fighters that looked like me. I was able to draw strength from stories of Harriet Tubman when I was feeling tired and weak; I drew strength from Shirley Chisholm when I needed to stand up for myself and from Sojourner Truth when I needed to speak. However, in working with the public school system, I’ve learned that some these stories which have the power to strengthen the resolve of children and help to prepare them for a society that is not always kind to their presence can sometimes be lost in the shuffle of standardized testing and academic benchmarks.

In order to help solve a problem within the elementary education and remind myself of the humanity of my heroes, I wrote plays that are meant to be performed by children and shown in a classroom environment. When I originally started writing my plays, I was still working in schools, so I had the opportunity to direct and teach children about their history while teaching them how to project and speak with eloquence. The end result was a community event which educated the parents and students that attended, informed the lives of the students who performed, and brought a community to celebrate some of the historical achievements of Black Americans.

The entire process of writing, teaching, directing and presenting these plays is transformative in the way that it gives me a small measure of solace in world where people need to be reminded that #blacklivesmatter, young black boys are tracked based on their reading scores in 4th grade and stories of police brutality are continually featured on the 24 hour news cycle. I cannot change my past or the way that people will perceive me based on external characteristics, but with my pen (or keyboard), I can create some measure of internal peace and clarity; and maybe be a positive influence for the people around me. That’s all any artist really wants, right?


12033156_10101513801406746_5933751511083360828_nLatisha Jones is the Program Manager and Outreach Coordinator  for the Children’s Chorus of Washington. She has her master’s degree in Educational Theater from New York University. She has worked as a theater teaching artist and teaching assistant for the past ten years. Her lifelong passion for the written word started from writing stories in the second grade and morphed into writing plays and movie scripts by time she was in college. She hopes to continue writing historical plays for children and inspire more dialogue.

Monologue to my Paternal Parent, by Janet Toone

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


As I previously mentioned, each TLA course I have taken has opened my eyes to the potential for healing with methods of expression I had not considered. I took the “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing” course taught by Angie Rivers. I really struggled with the technological requirements in that course. However, I was not long into it before the possibilities began to flood my mind. I found this combination of monologue and selfies to be particularly empowering.

(Yes this post relies only on the written description. I tried not to be too graphic with the descriptions but be aware the reading may be difficult for some.)

Complex Childhood Trauma, Decades Later

MONOLOGUE TO MY PATERNAL PARENT

I’m taking a course on selfies. Yeah, I can hear your response, “What the #%$#$#@$% are selfies? Don’t you have any real work to do?”

There has been a lot of talk about narcissism in this course. I haven’t mentioned that I knew a true narcissist up close and personal. That secret is out now.

I went out to the funny farm where I took some selfies out in front of the 12 by 12 foot brooder house. I was glad it is still standing, bare weather beaten pine boards on the outside and no interior walls. The outhouse is gone but some of those memories of living in that building with no electricity and no running water still seem like yesterday.

One selfie was of me holding the leather harness strap you shaved down so it would give a more thorough lashing. I remember when I got the first lashing which left welts from my neck down to my knees because I dawdled on the quarter mile walk in from the school bus. I couldn’t sit down at school the next day. Someone must have noticed my pain, because two teachers took me in an office and looked at my backside. But it didn’t make any difference. That was before CPS.

Biff wouldn’t let me borrow the gun you used to shoot at and threaten to kill us with so I could take a selfie. He still has all of his pain stuffed inside. He believes that ignoring it is the best way to handle it. So instead, I took a selfie in front of the bullet holes where you shot through the inside wall of the last two room shack we lived in. What’s it been, 58 years ago you shot those particular holes in the wall?

I took a selfie in front of the latest sawmill. It still looks like the one you threatened to saw us through lengthwise when we couldn’t roll those huge pine logs down onto the sawmill carriage, with those peavey hooks that were longer than I was tall. I was the oldest kid there — and I was 8 or 9 years old.

My selfies at the funny farm were just a drop in the bucket. The actions I observed you participate in still fill me with revulsion and disgust. But I also feel sorry for you. I won’t bore you with that journey for now, except to say that I realize you were not only narcissistic, you were also psychotic and anti-social.

Last year, I read letters you wrote home to your parents during you military training and I realized you were disturbed before you ever entered the military. Your commanders evidently realized it too, which is probably why you never saw combat duty in the war.

I have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend and understand; partly because it was necessary for my healing process, but also because I keep wanting to make some kind of sense out of it all. You walked some dark cognitive paths that I have not the time to describe here. But I theorize you may also have been filled with fear — or was it paranoia? I realize that even if you were here, you would not be able or willing to discuss it.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Being Broken, by Janet Toone

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


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

BEING BROKEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was ready to go.

I waited.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Three Little Kids on a Log, by Laurie Pollack

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Little Kids on a Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly DuMar shares about her workshop.


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

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

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

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

Writing Truth & Beauty from personally chosen helps you:

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

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

Are You Doing the Wonderful?

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

dad-alaina-bw-copy-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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