Note to Self: A guest post by TLAF Certificate Graduate Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a graduate of the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is the final of five reflection posts she submitted as part of the certificate requirements.

Note to self: You got this!

In the course Changing the World with Words [to be offered again in 2023], Joanna Tebbs Young asked us to think about how we would apply the lessons we learn in the TLAN program to our individual lives and our work in the future. That prompt provided me an opportunity to consider the next chapter in my life.

As an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, I have spent almost three decades in the classroom working with English language learners. I have taught teenagers in middle and high school, and I currently work with adults at a community college. I have also had the privilege of teaching in other countries – summer programs in Slovakia and China and two years in Russia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have become very comfortable in the role of “ESOL teacher.” The classroom has provided a safe space to learn and to grow. It is a place to find one’s voice, and not just for my students. Being an ESOL teacher has helped me find my voice too.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized this, but I slowly started noticing that the advice I was giving to my students was actually advice that I needed to hear as well. The quotation from Richard Bach that I had heard years ago was finally beginning to make sense:

“We teach best what we most need to learn.”

For example, I often tell my students, “It’s OK to make mistakes.  It’s NORMAL to make mistakes. That’s how you learn.”

Note to self: How often has perfectionism or doubt held you back?

Or another of my favorites, “If you don’t know something, ask a question. Don’t be afraid to ask because someone else probably has that same question.”

Note to self: It’s OK to ask for help. Thinking you have to do everything by yourself might just be a trauma response.

The list goes on.

“Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know what the other person’s background is. Maybe that other person has spent more time studying English than you have, or maybe that person speaks English very well but has terrible grades in writing. Just focus on yourself and the progress that you have made.”

Note to self: Remember Anne Lamott’s wise words, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”

“Trust yourself. Your first instinct may not be correct 100% of the time, but it’s usually pretty good.”

Note to self: Stop doubting yourself. Do not allow your inner critic to have the final say.

“Baby steps. You are not going to master the English language in one semester or one year. It takes time.”

Note to self: It’s OK to be a beginner and to start learning something new, but be patient with yourself. You won’t become an accomplished writer or artist or fill-in-the-blank overnight. Keep trying!

“You have to practice in the real world. It’s great to participate in class, but you also have to step outside of your comfort zone at some point.”

Note to self: People won’t always understand you, even if you speak the same language, and it is not your job to change their minds. Get out there and go for what you want!

By offering this advice to my students, I have tried to make my classroom a safe container, a place of belonging and acceptance, because that is something that I lacked in my early years. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, but finally as an ESOL teacher, I felt like I belonged. Now, as I think about moving on to the next chapter in my life after being “the ESOL teacher” for so long, I worry that I will lose that sense of belonging. Will I be able to find my new niche?  Will I lose my voice and my confidence?

Note to self: If you are still in doubt, reread this essay. You’ve got this.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

Photo: Pixabay

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Changing Myself with Words: A guest post by TLAF Certificate Graduate Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a graduate of the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she submitted as part of the certificate requirements.

As an adult, I know I can rewrite my story.

Changing the World with Words is one of the required courses [to be offered again in 2023] in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations certification program. In my opinion, it brings to mind the famous quotation erroneously attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Apparently, this is actually a paraphrase of a longer idea that Gandhi expressed:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

In this vein, I wonder if a better name for the TLAN course would be “Changing Myself with Words.” It seems a slightly easier place to begin before I actually tackle the reformation of the entire world.

In an interview I heard last year, the Irish poet Padraig O’Tuama discussed the healing effects of writing poetry to a younger version of himself who had undergone a severe trauma. He stated:

There’s something so redeeming for me all these years later to be able to speak that poem back to that frightened 18-year-old…somehow eventually to have recovered the capacity to be able to say something back. It doesn’t undo it, but it’s enough. I can somehow feel like I’m able to have a conversation between the me then and the me now. That is enough, and I can examine it.

Like O’Tuama, I have the ability to use my words to examine my past. Through my words, I have the power to write my own narrative and develop a new story for myself. For me, that change in perspective began after attending the first day of Changing the World with Words. When we met on Zoom, we were given five sentence stems to use as we introduced ourselves to our new classmates. One of the prompts seemed innocent enough:

When I was a kid, I wanted to be…

From my perspective, the other participants must have spent a few enjoyable minutes reminiscing about their favorite childhood memories and games – playing dress up, playing with imaginary friends, playing outside with the neighborhood kids – because the answers they shared were exciting and diverse. One wanted to be a dentist, another a potter. There was a teacher, a welder, and an actress. Most people listed multiple future professions and abilities – so many choices that revealed great imagination and inspiration.

My response was, “When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be.”

I was embarrassed when I read that sentence aloud. I was the only one in the group without a dream or an imagination. What did I do as a child? I read. I watched TV. I drew pictures and floorplans. In middle school, I took sewing lessons in Home Ec. But most of all, I kept to myself. I had learned at a young age that to reveal any personal information was to open myself to ridicule. Today, as I look at the list of the activities I enjoyed as a young person, I realize that I could have fantasized about being a writer, an actress, an artist, an architect, or a fashion designer, but I don’t recall ever having those thoughts. It’s hard to imagine a future when you’re busy simply surviving each day.

Now, as an adult, I know that I can rewrite my story. I can acknowledge what that little girl wanted to be. She wanted to be held in a warm embrace. She wanted to be encouraged. She wanted to be seen and heard. She wanted to feel valued and accepted. She wanted to know that someone supported her.

She wanted to hear the words “I love you.”

I can’t change the past, but I can use my words to reassure that little girl. I can offer that innocent child-that-I-was compassion and tenderness. I can use my words to work through issues and to achieve clarity, and in turn, the woman that I am now can dream of changing the world one day.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

Photo: Pixabay

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Healing, One Letter at a Time: A guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

I have always loved children’s literature – the illustrations, the simplicity of the language, the uplifting stories. So imagine my surprise when I was triggered by a picture book as I was browsing in a bookstore in my hometown of Houston, Texas in the fall of 2018. I was still carrying that anger when I sat down at a restaurant a short time later. As I waited for my food, I wrote the following on Facebook:

I went to Barnes and Noble this afternoon, and I saw a new children’s picture book called H is for Harvey. It contains sentences such as “H is for hurricane blah, blah, blah” and “H is for hope blah, blah, blah.” The very last sentence is “H is for happy.” Apparently, the home of the author of this book didn’t flood and has her happy, normal life back. How nice! So I’m going to write my own Hurricane Harvey book. It’s called P is for Post-Traumatic Stress. I was playing with that idea as I went across the street to have linner (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) at La Madeleine. When the cashier gave me the “P” spoon, I knew it was a sign! I’ll be posting the story in the comments below…

While not appropriate for a children’s book, what followed was an outpouring of my grief, anger, and confusion.

  • P is for panic, what you feel when you know for certain that your house is going to flood.
  • P is for patience, something that you lose.
  • P is for privacy, something else that you lose.
  • P is for pain, something that you feel a lot of.
  • P is for psychiatric, the kind of help you need now.
  • P is for puppy, like the one who lives in #187 and was able to enter #190 and pee on the floor because we no longer have any walls dividing us.
  • P is for paper plates, what you have to use because all of your dishes are packed away.
  • P is for pessimism because it’s been over a year and your house still hasn’t been repaired.
  • P is for property value, something that has gone down about 35%.
  • P is for plummet, what happens to your energy level.
  • P is for pregnant because one of my former students had a baby since Harvey. He and his wife actually produced a living, breathing human being faster than my house could be repaired.
  • P is for pray, the only thing I can do at this point.

Now I am writing the sequel to this story. It is mid-August of 2022, and the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey is approaching. I’ve been thinking about how to commemorate this event that turned my life upside down on August 29, 2017, and I realize that now I can find comfort in the letter “C.” The book I would write today is called C is for Complex PTSD.

While there are similarities, Complex PTSD differs from PTSD. A simple definition is that Complex PTSD refers to an accumulation of traumatic events that usually occurs in childhood whereas PTSD is the result of a single event. What I didn’t understand at the time is that I was reliving the emotional trauma of my childhood through the events that surrounded Hurricane Harvey.

With this knowledge, I am writing a new story:

  • C is for clarity, what I have gained since learning about Complex PTSD.
  • C is for cathartic, the releasing of grief through the infinite number of tears I have cried.
  • C is for compassion, what I need to give to my inner child.
  • C is for curiosity, the ability to stay open and continue learning.
  • C is for consistently, the way I need to show up for myself day after day.
  • C is for my creative practice, one of the ways that I heal.
  • C is for change, what I am doing with my life and my outlook.
  • C is for connection, the healing relationships I forge with people, nature, and myself.
  • C is for care, specifically self-care, actively taking steps that contribute to my well-being.
  • C is for calm, what happens after the storm passes.
  • C is for the courage to heal myself.
  • C is for the commitment to live my best life.

C is also for closure which I will commence by returning to the letter “P.” This particular “P” was a gift from a friend who added it to my Facebook post back in 2018:

P is for permission, permission to own my feelings and permission to express myself.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

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It felt nurturing: An interview with TLAF Certificate graduate, Hollie Ziskind

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.

The Messenger, a guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

Credit: Sharon Bippus

To be seen is something that I have struggled with since childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I was the middle child sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother, my mother’s obvious favorite. I was the second girl when I don’t think my mother even wanted the first one. I felt unloved and neglected. Feeling so shy and awkward, it felt safer to remain hidden and keep my distance.

Fast forward to the present, and I continue to work on this issue. To be sure, I have made progress, and my creativity has played a large role in my healing. My art, whether it is photography or mixed media or collage, is where I can safely express my emotions. It’s where I can relax and play. It’s how I can give back to that little girl inside me that never felt safe or wanted.

Nowadays, I find my creative outlet expanding into writing which is a new way of being seen. While taking Kelly DuMar’s “How Pictures Heal” course with TLAN, I had the opportunity to examine layers of myself, which allowed me to both see myself more clearly and to be seen by others. It was in this course that a photograph of a cardinal taken at a nearby nature sanctuary helped me uncover a revealing message about myself.

Read more: The Messenger, a guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

For the first assignment in the course, Kelly directed us to select one of our own photographs to use as a writing prompt. I had no idea which of my personal photos to choose, and I spent hours scrolling through the pictures on my phone. A few of them whispered to me, but none of them really jumped out. Then – serendipitously – I was checking one of my social media accounts and saw that a woman, whom I don’t know personally, had tagged me in a photo. She is an artist and a friend of friends, and I follow her on social media. Intrigued, I looked at her comment to me. She had taken one of the photos that I had recently posted on Instagram and used it as a model for her watercolor painting. A thrill of excitement went through me, and my mouth hung open in surprise. Someone who works as an artist had been inspired by my photograph! I was so excited, so flattered, so joyful! 

This was the picture. This was the picture that I needed to explore in Kelly’s class – a bright red cardinal staring straight at me, seeds protruding from his beak making it look like he has buck teeth. He saw me and tried to make me laugh with his fake teeth. Then Sue (the artist!) saw my work, and by doing so, I felt as if she saw me. She saw the beauty that I try to capture and share with the world.

Some people say that birds are messengers, and I believe that is true. This is what my cardinal told me:

People notice me and see my beauty right away.  There’s no hiding it.

I can fly.  I can soar.  I am free.

Nature is my home.  The trees shelter me.  The wind guides me.  The rain cleanses me.

I am nourished here in this sanctuary.  I am bold and determined.  I can look you right in the eye, and I can make you laugh.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

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A deep personal paradigm shift: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Loretta Mijares

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

The TLA certificate program helped me trust that I have the resources and capacities to bring my vision into reality.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Loretta Mijares

Loretta Mijares earned her PhD in Literature from NYU and have been teaching college English for over 20 years. She has studied with Linda Trichter Metcalf (Writing the Mind Alive) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), and is certified in Transformative Language Arts Foundations with the TLA Network as well as in Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leadership. Equally as important to her work in embodied writing facilitation is her many years of practice as a Zen meditator and conscious mover, especially Moving with Life (www.zuzaengler.com), Soul Motion®, and Gestalt Awareness Practice. Loretta’s passion is in bringing these practices of embodiment to writing in the context of supportive community, to deepen our capacities for presence and open new portals of creativity and insight.

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Loretta: I had started to facilitate small free women’s writing circles and wanted to do more of this, with the hope of creating a livelihood from writing facilitation. I was looking for a foundation of knowledge about facilitation and to learn what other folks were doing with transformative language arts.

What TLAN courses did you find most useful? Why?

Instead of “useful,” I want to say “inspiring” or “encouraging,” since one of the main takeaways for me in my TLAN courses was the affirmation that the kind of writing I had been imagining doing in my workshops was actually a thing. What I mean by this is writing that invited both creativity and personal discovery in the moment—writing in response to photographs or fairy tales (How Pictures Heal, Fantastic Folktales), or that reimagined a hopeful future emerging from our broken world (Future Casting). Having in-the-moment experiences of insight while writing for these courses excited me to continue pursuing my own visions for my TLA work.

What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I had a deep personal paradigm shift in Caits Meissner’s Future Casting class, wherein I grappled with my own eco-anxiety and skepticism about the power of poetry (and art more generally) to effect any change in the crises facing our world. The reminder of the long tradition of writers and artists who see it as their responsibility to help us envision blueprints for the futures we want to live in made me realize that even in the face of despair and skepticism, I want to choose adrienne maree brown’s path of the fractal (“How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale”).

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

I am now offering monthly 3-hour workshops combining expressive writing with movement. The TLA Foundations & Art of Facilitation courses helped me think through all the details of space, timing, facilitator’s role, prompts, etc. The certificate program as a whole helped keep me focused on my goals and find the courage to launch. I have so much more that I want to do with MovingWriting (the modality I’m creating), and the TLA certificate program helped me trust that I have the resources and capacities to bring my vision into reality.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One of the most encouraging aspects of the certificate program was the community building that happened, particularly during the pandemic, when so many of us were feeling so isolated. But even absent the pandemic, it was so supportive to share stories, doubts, concerns, and successes with others at different phases of their own TLA practices and goals. Everyone had such yearning to bring more creativity into their lives and the lives of others, and that shared yearning strengthened my own commitment.

Loretta can be found at: movingwriting.com/ and facebook.com/MovingWriting

*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.

I found a community: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Tracie Nichols

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

Walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Tracie Nichols

Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two venerable Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, 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. 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.

Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Tracie Nichols: One ordinary Tuesday in January 2020 a writer friend mentioned an organization with great writing classes called the Transformative Language Arts Network. Being a perpetually curious lover of words, I found the website and started excavating. As I explored, I realized that the Transformative Language Arts bring together two foundational foci of my life: my master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change, and my deep love of writing—especially its power to cultivate understanding and catalyze change. Within days I registered for “Changing the World With Words” and within the first few weeks recognized that I’d found a community of practice where I fit. 

The timing of this recognition collided with my 58th birthday and the milestone of having been in practice as a life and business coach for nearly a decade. Through the preceding winter, I’d had a sense that a pivot was coming in both my life and work. The TLA Foundations certificate process offered me a way to continue exploring both the intersections between Transformative Learning and Transformative Language Arts and the possibilities for making language the focus of this next piece of my body of work. It also connected me with an extraordinary community of artists and facilitators who continue to influence and inspire me. 

What TLAN courses did you find most useful and why?

I have found every TLAN course helpful in its own way. Among the courses specific to earning the certificate, I found “Changing the World With Words” the most useful because it grounded me so well into the concepts and the community. I felt oriented and able to navigate ensuing courses with ease. I loved “The Art of Facilitation” and only found it marginally less useful because, by the time I took the course, I had nearly 20 years of experience with facilitating formal and informal group learning experiences. The course that changed me, that radically shifted my perception of myself and my capacities as a word artist and change maker, was “& They Call Us Crazy” [with Caits Meissner]. I almost didn’t enroll because it felt like such a giant step outside my comfort zone. That stretch was what taught me the most, of course. 

What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned – viscerally, not just theoretically – that people in all kinds of struggle can use language arts to plant their staff, push outward, and redraw the terrain that is their birthright. They can take up the space that was denied them by terror, trauma, social and cultural oppression, becoming creative forces for change in their own lives and communities.

Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Two experiences stand out:

During “& They Call Us Crazy” I learned that I had wrapped my poetic self in a very tiny, tidy package, afraid if I tested my edges, I’d lose the voice I’d spent a decade excavating. I spent the next five weeks repeatedly testing and disproving that assumption, surprising myself with the intensity and candor of my own writing. This was an incredibly affirming experience. 

During the pre-conference panel discussion at the 2021 Power of Words Conference, Joy Harjo invited us to “move with honor and integrity” and a bit later in the conversation said something like, the power doesn’t belong to us—it was given to us to take care of and share. She reminded me that walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one. My ears are still metaphorically ringing from that wake-up call. 

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

The certificate process helped me define myself as an artist and as a facilitator by encouraging me to reclaim myself as a poet and as a midwife of words, both mine and other people’s. It reminded me that writing is an exquisitely powerful wayfinding tool in anyone’s hands. 

I have pivoted my business and now offer classes and writing circles centered on personal transformation and cultivating resilience. Though I welcome anyone, an interesting mix of women counselors, coaches, wellness practitioners and artists seem to gravitate to my offerings these days. 

Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Absolutely, yes. For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.   

Learn more at tracienichols.com, or connect with her on Instagram at @tracietnichols (https://www.instagram.com/tracietnichols/).

*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.

Something shifted within me: An interview with Renu Thomas, recent graduate of the TLA Foundations Certificate

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

I feel challenged to use my voice for social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Renu Thomas

Renu Sarah Thomas in a BAAT registered Art Psychotherapist, educator and workshop facilitator. She was born in India, raised in England, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Renu has lived in India but for most of her adult life she has lived in Dubai (UAE).

Renu has a Masters in Textiles and Clothing from Coimbatore, India and a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Edinburgh, Scotland. She has extensive experience working with adults and children of varied ethnicities and having witnessed their stories, has a growing interest in the field of displacement and trauma.

As a self-taught artist, Renu finds ceramics and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable. However, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. She passionately encourages others to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves and live on purpose. 

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Renu Thomas: I would say that it was the sense of achievement and satisfaction I felt on the first course that made me curious about possible certificate with TLA. I felt the certificate would give me credibility in using language as an expressive art form along with art-making in my coaching/facilitation work.

What courses did you find most useful? Why?

In terms of personal transformation, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Writing” [with Kelly DuMar] was the most useful course. I found that I was able to engage better than I thought possible. The facilitator’s weekly feedback very detailed, constructive, and encouraging.

I also felt a very strong connection with the others in the group. I read their work and was intrigued by the fact that although we were so different in terms of life experience and cultural background, we had such similar stories.

The Foundations [“Changing the World with Words” with Joanna Tebbs Young] courses were extremely useful in improving my skills and confidence as a coach/facilitator, in workshop design, and in giving me direction as to next steps to improve my reach.

TLAN: What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

Validation.

More often than not I was the only one in the group who wasn’t a writer or had a degree in English. However, the sense of acceptance and belonging was unprecedented and that played a huge role in my wanting to sign up for more courses and complete the certificate.

TLAN: Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

The showcase at the end of the “Your Memoir as Monologue” [with Kelly DuMar] was a very pleasant surprise. I have shied away from sharing my written work because it never felt good enough. The experience of seeing my photo on the flier along side other playwrights and writers and having my monologue performed by an actor and witnessed by people other than those in the group — it shifted something within me.

The Power of Words conference was a unique experience and I am so grateful that it was possible online. I appreciated the vulnerability of first-time presenters of workshops as well as the variety of offerings. It showed me how we can combine our skills, knowledge, and passions in our workshop design.

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

I have used ideas and suggestions from the TLA courses in my workshop design and in my facilitation.

My father has Parkinson’s Disease, so I am hoping to create more awareness of the disease and the abilities of the individuals who are living with it. I also want to have conversations around geriatric bullying which I find to be prevalent in India. In all I do, I also hope to include advocacy for creative/expressive art psychotherapy for mental wellness and health.

I feel challenged to use my voice or social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple. The two certificate foundation courses [now rolled into one] were instrumental in this. I feel grateful.

Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Of course! In fact, I already have.

Renu can found at www.artspeaks.org

*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.

Smoke on the Water: a poem by Lisa Paige

Editor’s note: Lisa Paige recently completed the TLA Foundations class as part of TLAN’s certificate program. In the class, students are given weekly prompts to which they may respond in any form they feel called to. The following is Lisa’s reflection on both this aspect of the class and the poem it inspired. The poem itself was in response to the July 2021 Oregon wildfires.

Participating in a TLAN course has opened my eyes to the unpredictable responses to prompts; not so much from others, because I expect that, but from myself! Who knew that after a reading for a class on facilitating writing workshops I would write a poem? It flowed like a waterfall when I had believed I was in a drought.

Experiencing the very thing we hope our workshop participants will has been the best inspiration to continue the work I’ve just begun engaging in with TLAN.

And now, humbly, my poem.

Smoke on the Water

The sky turned gray tonight. 
Oregon’s smoke reached New England, 
lapping at me like a needy puppy or
maybe more a teething bitch.

She stole the sunset, 
swirling in secretive 
ghostly spirals 
atop the pond. 

“See me?” she said,
susserating.

Once, the sky looked gray to me even on the sunniest of days. 
Now, my bright light shines even in the darkest night.
Once, I had little energy for the troubles of others -- 
never mind strangers living on a distant coast. 
Now, with every leaf that ignites in Oregon, 
I lose a part of my soul.

So is this day gray? 
Or light?

Through the clouds of Mother Earth, 
I reach for hope. 
If my life could be saved, 
so too can our home.

Lisa Paige’s essays and features have been published widely; she also ghostwrites, edits, teaches writing for wellness workshops, coaches teen writers, and is at work on a YA novel manuscript. www.insightlearning.co

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My Journey With The Transformative Language Arts, by Wendy Thompson

Writing poems, journaling, storytelling, monologues, singing along with Janis Ian – I have been a TLA “practitioner” since I was a teen. The written, spoken, and sung word brought me through many a dark night into transformative light. 

Officially, my journey with Transformative Language Arts began in 2006. I was teaching creative writing at a public arts school in Vancouver, WA; students often submitted highly emotive, personal narratives to which I did not feel equipped to respond. I needed professional development. 

Although I personally understood the therapeutic value of journaling and poetry, I had not heard of poetry/biblio-therapy. My introduction to the field was “Writing as a Healing Ministry” with Sharon Bry. She told me about the TLA program at Goddard. I applied, was accepted and met Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Although I only attended one semester at Goddard, I was clear that this was the professional development I was looking for. 

I continued to study independently with Alma Rolfs in Seattle, WA and Kay Adams at The Center for Journal Therapy in Denver, CO. I attended several TLA Network Power of Words conferences, Miriam-Goldberg’s Brave Voice songwriting workshop in Kansas, and the National Association for Poetry Therapy Conference in Portland, OR. In 2015, I experienced a period of unemployment that afforded me the time to pursue the TLAN Certification program, which I completed in 2017.

I am certain that the pandemic is already affecting deep systemic change in public education – beyond reform to transformation.

Wendy Thompson, elementary school teacher & TLA Practitioner

My first foray into TLA facilitation was with a group of 5th graders, 40% of whom were directly affected by an immigration ICE raid in Portland, OR. The six sessions resulted in an anthology of student poetry From Here, There & Everywhere: Poems of Origin & Hope (available at lulu.com). This project motivated me to integrate my TLA theory and practice into standard Language Arts curriculum. I designed a unit titled Civil Writes, through which students had an opportunity to explore social justice issues through poetry and prose as well as respond with their own writing.

I have been an arts educator in multiple settings and content areas for over 30 years. This past year has been the most challenging ever. With the social and emotional health of students my first priority, I am relying on TLA experiences, methods, and processes (like Hynes & Hynes Berry 4-step method of recognition, examination, juxtaposition, and application) to guide me. I am certain that the pandemic is already affecting deep systemic change in public education – beyond reform to transformation.

Grateful for all I have gained in my journey with Transformative Language Arts, I am glad for the opportunity to give back in service to the TLAN Board. I am curious to see what we all will co-create, where this seachange will carry us!

TLA Network board member Wendy Thompson holds an MFA from the University of Utah in Modern Dance. She is an Movement & Integrated Arts Specialist at Lake Shore Elementary, in Vancouver, WA. Currently, Wendy serves as Co-chair of the TLAN Education Team, and is a Certified TLA Facilitator. She has been a member of TLAN since 2015