How Pictures Heal: Write Three Sentences to Enliven Your Spirit Now, By Kelly DuMar

In the midst of our shifting daily realities, I believe this one experience remains a constant: we all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. If we have access to a cell phone or a camera, we are snapping images that inspire, comfort, stimulate mystify and delight us. We are snapping images to capture moments of emotional nourishment.

Look at your own photo stream now. Scroll through the last few pictures you took. Now pick one out that’s grabbing your attention. Give it a title.

Here’s one of mine from my daily walk I’ll title: “Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed.”

Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed, by Kelly DuMar

During these times when our daily habits and familiar counted on experiences shift us into periods of disruption, unknown outcomes, and deprivations, we need, more than ever, to give ourselves permission to renew our spirit and generate calm and comfort. Our personal photos, whether recent or past, hold secret satisfactions that we can immediately summon through writing and reflection. We can take a few moments, somewhere in our day, to focus on something that captures our curiosity, is deeply comforting, or profoundly mysterious.

So, find your photo, and title it.

Now, I invite you to write a three-sentence story about your photo. Only three sentences––you can find the time for this, can’t you? So, I want you to think about what is meaningful to you about this photo; you sense it, because the photo is calling on your emotions and senses. Let’s tease the meaning out a bit by playfully and imaginatively filling in these sentence prompts:

  1. This photo seizes my attention because. . . 
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around in it, I would. . . 
  3. As I return from my experience in this photo, I carry with me. .

Okay, as an example, I offer you a first draft of my own:

Found Feather in Bed of Seaweed

  1. This photo seizes my attention because of how the wings of sky meet the underworld plant life of sea.
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around. . . I string the wet seaweed in my hair and borrow the bird feather and flap my arm/wings and fly freely over the Sound and have my bird’s view––how large and deep and hidden but full of life the ocean is.
  3. As I return from my experience in the photo, I carry with me the ability to believe in the vitality of so much that is around me that I cannot see.

I hope you will find a recent or past personal photo––with or without people––any personal image that is grabbing your attention. You don’t have to know why. I want you to let yours emerge in all the wonderfully unique ways your photo will emerge in your sentences.

Consider sending me your photo and three-sentence story. I hope you will consider writing from many more of your photos with me in my upcoming course for the Transformative Language Arts Network. We will generate new drafts of your writing in any genre you choose, you will develop, revise and craft your writing, and you will learn many skills and approaches for working professionally in facilitating expressive writing from photos.


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com

Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

The TLA Network offers two self-paced classes: “Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change” with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens, and “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Here is an engaging interview with Liz Burke-Cravens on her life-changing class, open for you to jump into right now. The class is set up for you to engage with at your own pace and on your own time.

What inspired you to teach this class?

My own experiences with autobiographical writing have been inspiring my own writing and my teaching for quite some time. When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher – whom I absolutely adored – required students to write an autobiography. As I put the narrative together, writing the words in my vulnerable young voice, I felt something inside of me shift. Although I did not have the language to describe what had changed, I simply knew that I saw myself differently than I had before. There was something about the act of putting my feelings and thoughts into words, writing them down on paper, and telling the story of my own life experiences that has fascinated me ever since.As an undergraduate at UMass Amherst, I wrote my first autoethnography – although I did not call it that at the time; I called it a political autobiography. This autoethnography was a collection of poems I titled, “My Body Speaks” in which I gave voice to the stories and emotions living within my body as an act of reclamation and empowerment.

Writing that poetic autoethnography forever changed how I perceived myself and how I walked through the world.

How is writing life stories – drawing from practices of autoethnography specifically – a transformative experience? What makes the this medium different from other forms of expression?

These experiences inspired my doctoral research which explored autoethnography as a personally and socially transformative mode of inquiry and expression of life stories. I was also particularly interested in learning about the unique value of autoethnography as a platform for underrepresented voices.

The findings of my study corroborated my own transformative experience writing autoethnography. My findings also expanded my understanding of it as well. Through writing an autoethnography, participants in my study experienced:

  • Personal growth, which reflected their experiences of personal development that included increased self-awareness, self-acceptance, confidence building, different worldview, and educational process;
  • An emotional process, which reflected their experiences of a variety of emotional realities and processes including painful or difficult emotions, joyful or fun emotions, feelings of liberation, therapeutic or healing experiences, and feelings of vulnerability;
  • Social connectedness, which reflected their responses related to experiences of the self in relation to others that included social responsibility, increased sense of belonging or connection, and
  • Transpersonal experiences which reflected their descriptions of qualities beyond their control and contributed to his or her sense of wholeness and spiritual growth.

Overall, autoethnography facilitated personal growth, greater self-awareness, greater awareness of contexts and systems in which one participates, and provided a meaningful creative experience.

Who/What are some of your favorite life-story writers?

This is always a tough question. The first writers that come to mind are Joan Nestle whose work A Restricted Country was a life changer for me as a young activist. Carolyn Kay Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman: The Story of Two Lives was also pivotal for me, and anything and everything written by Dorothy Allison – Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and Bastard Out of Carolina, in particular, have been my favorites.

As far as poets who write about their lives, I think of Marie Howe, Toi Derricotte, Sharon Olds, Ada Limon, and Claudia Rankine come to mind.

What should students in this class expect?

Although this is a self-paced class, my intention was to be your guide, helping you navigate the content and the writing students will do. They will have the opportunity to do quite a bit of self-reflective writing, investigating the stories of their life experiences from a variety of different vantage points, exploring memories, learning from others on their journey, and describing places that are or have been meaningful to them.

I will also guide you through a 10-step process for creating powerful and evocative life stories for the purpose of personal and social transformation. They will learn about what that means in general as well as what it means for them in particular. They will also have the option to engage in a number of creative prompts intended to help generate more writing and to keep their creative self inspired.

Each unit consists of a brief podcast lecture by me, a few articles and book chapters for you to read, related video and audio content, writing project development instructions, and creative prompts.

Is there anything else about this class you would like to share?

One really important point I want to share is that there is no one “right” way to do autoethnography. In fact, we encounter this type of life-story writing all the time; we just don’t call it autoethnography. But drawing on certain aspects of more formal autoethnographic processes and considerations can greatly enrich our life stories, making them powerful narratives for change.

My hope is that folks will approach this course, the resources, lectures, and writing and creative prompts with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Have fun with this and enjoy!

For more information and to sign up for class, visit https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-3173329 .

Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens is a poet, interdisciplinary educator, and writing coach. She is the founder of A Brave Space, a learning community that seeks to create positive social change and personal transformation through writing. Her work has appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2The Irish HeraldSoulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. Liz enjoys traveling, cycling, photography, and all things foodie. She has a deep love for language and a passion for teaching. Originally from Portland, Maine, she now lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits. You can learn more about her work, courses, and inspirations at http://www.abravespace.org.