From Page to Stage

by Diane Glass

Through Kelly DuMar’s online TLA Network class, “Your Memoir As Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance,” I learned the possibilities and power of taking my print work to an oral form, the monologue.

I discovered the value of imagining a live audience in performing a scene from my memoir, “This Need to Dance.” What would be the set-up for the monologue? How would I shape the dialogue with that audience in mind? The audience became real as I engaged in conversation with them. My language became conversational, expressive, and alive. Without the fallback print offers to explain myself in detail, I cut to the heart of the story.

When Kelly brought in a professional actress to perform each of our class members’ monologues, that actress blew new energy into our pieces with skillful pacing, intonation, and her distinctive voice. She expressed undetected (by me) humor in my piece. I was serious about the value of talking to my bladder in healing a painful experience. But she anticipated the smiles this practice would elicit and claimed their amusement in her interpretation.

This class strengthened my writing through incorporating conversational style and honing my message. By reading aloud, I experienced the rhythm of my work. Some of it plodded. Some of it danced. This practice showed me what needed to be invigorated.

This is the monologue I prepared for presentation at the end of class:

One Breast or Two?

Set-up:
A woman unaccustomed to talking about her personal life has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone a mastectomy. In a conversation with a friend at her house over coffee, she struggles to share the intimate details of her situation.

Monologue:
You’re asking the same kind of questions the women at the breast cancer support group asked, Kalinda. I just don’t feel comfortable talking about this.

Oh, they wanted to know the specifics of my surgery and treatment. The leader of the group started the meeting by saying she had one breast, had done chemotherapy and was soon to start radiation. Then each woman followed her lead, announcing whether she had one breast, two, or none. When it came time for me to say something, I froze. Is it anyone’s business how many breasts I have? I just said I had had surgery without adding any specifics.

I know you want to help, Kalinda. And you can. Support can mean a lot of different things. Your offer to bring food is appreciated. Take me to the doctor and check in on me by phone. But beyond that, I just don’t want to talk about my body.

Reconstruction? Again, that kind of thing is private. These women were even debating the merits of reconstruction with and without a nipple. I just cringed listening to that all of that.

Yet I admit, when I saw others in the group pour out their concerns and having people hug them and comfort them, I felt lonely. No one hugged me that night—and I didn’t hug anyone else.

How can I talk about my breasts without acknowledging all my body has already gone through? In one sense breast cancer is less of a big deal than everything else.

Yes, it is helpful to have someone to talk with, Kalinda, but your probing makes me uncomfortable. Let’s go to lunch.

It’s back to my body again! You just don’t quit, do you? You know, it’s the spina bifida. It’s too much to go into now. Problems with my bladder, all those accidents. This experience is disgusting to talk about and disgusting for others to listen to.

No, I haven’t talked about it. It’s just than when I imagine talking about it, I think, “Ugh.”

It sounds stupid but I feel like I betray my bladder by talking about my breasts and not it. I can hear it saying, “And what about me? What about all we’ve been through together? Doesn’t that matter? Don’t tell just part of the story!”

Yeah, yeah, I talk to my bladder and it talks back. That’s the way we’ve survived. I couldn’t talk about my bladder to anyone else so we just kept all of this to ourselves.

Can I talk to my breast? Kalinda, don’t encourage my weird habits. Besides the breast is already gone.

You want to know what the big deal was? (Long pause) Well, I had horribly embarrassing accidents as a child. My mom or dad, mostly my dad, catheterized me until I was 13. I couldn’t even decide for myself when to go. I felt completely abandoned as a child when I was dropped off at school without anyone to talk to in case I needed help.

You see, when someone asks me about my breasts, all of this fear, dread and loneliness come up. I am still that brave little girl who suffers in silence.

Of course I am scared. The tumor is big. The surgeon gave me a 50/50 chance of it recurring. And my bones. Chemo will weaken them and they are already weak because of the spina bifida. What does it mean to have both of these things to deal with?

I suppose I’m mad, too. It seems hardly fair that I narrowly escaped death as a child and now, here again, I am facing a life-threatening situation.

This helps, Kalinda. It really does. I am scared and I am angry.

Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” I am weary, weary of carrying this burden of secrecy and shame alone. That’s what I am feeling right now. My burden is heavy. I want to lay it down.

I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to do this alone, not any more. Kalinda, can you stay a while longer?

 

Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her second blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)

The Journey from “I” to “We”

by Diane Glass

Christopher Maier, in his essay “Creating Community Through Storytelling,” included in The Power of Words, states that “…storytelling builds community, or at least helps the process when the conditions are right over time.” “I’s” become a “we,” he said, when there is “sufficient shared assent to the virtual experience of the story.”

During the last year and a half, I have worked to create that sense of “we” among adults born with spina bifida in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, before treatment was widely available. Most babies born in this era died. A few lived and I am one of them. (Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the spine does not close and in some cases the spinal cord protrudes out the back. It often creates problems with mobility, continence of bladder and bowels, learning disabilities, sexuality, and other life issues.)

“True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.”

No one knew I had spina bifida until I began talking about it after my breast cancer diagnosis in 1999. Before cancer came along, I thought spina bifida complications would kill me. Cancer taught me that predicting how death would come is impossible and irrelevant. Isn’t the point, “How do I want to live?”

This insight made me long for a community of my own that had experienced spina bifida. That desire began my journey in 2016. I traveled Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska to locate adults with spina bifida and visit with them in their homes. Over time I completed thirteen such interviews and taped them. Judy Olson, another adult with spina bifida, accompanied me on several of the trips. At first hesitant to reveal facts about their lives, the people we interviewed quickly opened up.

“I thought I was the only one who survived,” a man in his mid-40s said.

“Wow, you’re old,” another man said when I told him my age (69). “I didn’t know you could live this long with spina bifida.”

“Can I take my picture with you?” a younger woman said, eager to show her family and friends that life beyond 30 years of age was a possibility.

Would Christopher Maier consider this interviewing a process for creating community “when the conditions are right,” I wondered.

When this work led to a presentation at the Spina Bifida Association of America National Conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, Judy and I shared the stories with a lively audience of caregivers, adults with spina bifida, healthcare professionals, and parents. Some of the adults we had interviewed came along to tell their stories in person.

The 57-year-old man who had never been away from home by himself made the life-changing decision to attend the conference.

“I’ve never seen so many people in wheelchairs,” he said. “I almost felt normal for the first time in my life.”

The 45-year-old man who had never met another adult with spina bifida started his own Facebook group for adults with spina bifida after returning home.

The severely disabled woman in her 50s found a caretaker to go with her. She ardently advocates for adequate Medicaid support for people with disabilities.

A man with spina bifida who had abused drugs most of his adult life and was now “clean” shared his story publicly for the first time.

The Spina Bifida Association of Iowa made this possible by funding the expenses of these individuals. With these stories Judy and I produced a video in conjunction with videographer Ryan Paul Buck. You can view it at www.sbaia.org.

During this time, Christopher Maier’s question continued to challenge me: Is this project setting the stage for community “when the conditions are right”? Are we a “we” yet?

Returning home, several of us decided to form an adult committee of the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa, meeting by phone since travel is difficult. We would like to organize a retreat for next summer, including teens as well as adults.

This interest in going beyond our immediate circle to serve others persuades me we have formed a community. True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.

My own life has become richer during this journey. I understand my own history in greater depth. I am deeply grateful to be alive as I approach my 70th birthday. I am less lonely now that I have become part of a “we.”

Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her first blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)

Poetry as Healer with Glenis Redmond

Witness this wonderful TEDtalk with poet, Glenis Redmond who recounts how poetry helped her discover her inner strength to heal.

Glenis Redmond is a nationally renowned poet with Greenville roots. She started the first poetry slam in Greenville in the 90s, bringing the first all-women’s team to the National Poetry Slam. She has individually placed in the top 3 at Nationals and was a two time Southern Fried Slam Champion. She walks in all the worlds of poetry: the page and the stage. 

Baggage: How I Wrote My Way Through Self Destruction

by Melissa Rose

Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.

baggage2

This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.

As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.

I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.

Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.

Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.

I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.

I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.

baggage3

After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me.  I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Through writing and performing my story,  I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.

Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.

 

 

TLA, Online Support Groups, and the Opioid Crisis

by Susan Hulsebos

The DEA and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, released a statement in a joint news conference this month stating that the opioid crisis is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Amy Goodman, in her June 7th, 2017 article reporting for the Global Independent News source: Democracy Now!, presents a shocking list of fatality rates from the conference:

“…opioid deaths have now surpassed the peak in death by car crash in 1972, AIDS deaths in 1995 and gun deaths in 1993. After 20 years of heavy combat in South Vietnam, U.S. military casualties represented only one-third of the death toll from 10 years of opioid overdoses.”

This list takes my breath away. Just as cancer took the breath of my son away almost two years ago after his 7 year battle with prescribed Oxy and then heroin addiction. You can’t escape hearing in the nightly news about the daily battle EMT’s and law enforcement have to save victims of opiate related overdose. The city of Everett Washington has just this week filed an unprecedented lawsuit charging a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, with the devastation of their city and citizens. As the mother of four adult child who first learned of her oldest son’s addiction with shock and disbelief – before this crisis hit the news – I experienced gut wrenching worry in isolation, confusion, denial and panic as I tried to wrap my mind around heroin? I knew it was deadly and I needed to find someone who could help me get a handle on my emotions, options and yes – who could get past the stigma against “junkies” that even I was carrying around inside my misinformed stereotypes. So I started an internet search for information and help.

What emerged among the horrifying data of low recovery rates with detailed images disclosing the damage addiction to heroin was already having on the brain of my child, was a Facebook page set up to support parents and family members dealing with heroin addiction. It was a closed group. When I was admitted, I found about 1,000 parents, siblings and spouses on the cutting edge of our current crisis pouring out their stories. And I found raw and aching language, post after post, both commiserating, comforting, offering knowledge, resources, support and sobbing over stories. And through the power of shared stories to unite us, these precious aching souls became my new community.

Caryn Miriam-Goldberg, in her introduction to The Power of Words, lays a wide foundation for understanding the practice of transformative language arts and the healing power it holds for social and personal transformation.

“TLA is the practice of connection and community…TLA practice works to resist community fragmentation…TLA is so much about letting and listening to people speak in their own voice, telling their own truths in a language authentic to them…”

I did not know at the time I began to contribute my story and respond to others that this online community would become my life-line. In the privacy of our homes, we regularly wrote how no one wanted to be here, but also how grateful we were for it. We followed each others stories as we dealt with trying to locate and help our addicted loved ones get into treatment. Writing here was unguarded, filled with unconditional acceptance, devoid of stigma unlike hurtful, naive input many of us were getting from our family and community. This group was diverse to it’s core. Even international members found us and were welcomed in with sadness because they had cause to join us, but with gladness that they found us. New comers were given encouragement to post and join their stories with ours. We needed our stories to be understood and to be met with love and acceptance. For me it began to heal some of the isolation and pain.

Then, after two years in this online group, and 3 ½ precious months getting to know my beautiful son again, he was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Large tumors lined his colon and were spreading through his lungs – the result of years of smoking, drinking and heavy opiate use.

I informed my online community that my son had passed and I stopped posting to the group for fear of discouraging others still hoping their loved one will beat the odds and recover. I looked for and found a new group, GRASP: Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. This national support group facilitates community in person and online. I continue to be helped along by the words I read and contribute. At last look, my former community was numbering over 5,000. My “new normal” is this new community of equally thousands of broken hearts huddled together and “listening” each other through the shock and numbness. Once again, the power of our truths unites us.


Editor’s note: This is Susan’s 5th and final blog post requirement for her TLA certification. We have enjoyed having her share her writing with us!

Sparks! Gathering Tonight!

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Join us tonight at Sparks! A Free Online Gathering for Poetry, Stories, and Songs for  a preview of POW 2017 workshops!

7:00-8:15pm (CDT)

Hosted by Kelly DuMar

Whether you’re already registered for POW in August, or you’re wondering if you should – this is your chance to learn more about some of the wonderful workshops we have in store for you. Workshop leaders will share what they’re presenting and how you will benefit from their unique Transformative Language Arts approach.

Bring a poem to share during a poetry open mic following the discussion and inspire others! Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience.

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly will interview workshop presenters on the call for 30 minutes about their POW workshops.
  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.
  • We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.
  • You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!

Click here to sign up!

About Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator whose chapbook “All These Cures,” won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Kelly’s poems have been published in many literary journals, and her award winning plays have been produced around the US and published by dramatic publishers. She produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights & Poets, held at Wellesley College, now in its 9th year. Kelly has a Master’s Degree in Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Her certification in psychodrama and training in Playback Theatre inspire her workshops with transformative energy. Kelly has presented professional workshops at Mass. Poetry Festival, The Boston Book Festival, Playback North America, The New England Theatre Conference, the Transformative Language Arts Conference, ASGPP, The National Association for Poetry Therapy, and The International Women’s Writing Guild. She is a Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama, a member of the Advisory Council of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and a Council Member of the Transformative Language Arts Network. Her website it kellydumar.com, and she publishes a bi-monthly essay about the writing life to her subscribers.

“The Skeleton Man” with Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac is one of the Keynote speakers at this year’s POW conference. Witness one of his enjoyable live performances here:

For over thirty years Joseph has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies, and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country.

Discount On Classes This Weekend!

Sign up for Cait Meissner’s class, “The Poetics of Witness: Writing Beyond The Self “ or Angie River’s class, “The Five Sense and The Four Elements: Connecting with The Body and Nature Through Poetry” this weekend and receive 20% off the enrollment price!

Both classes run from June 14-July 25th, can be accessed online at your own pace, and are guaranteed to inspire you on your TLA journey. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Read our recent interviews with Cait and Angie and learn more about them and their classes!