Building Strong Foundations: TLAN Graduates Share Their Experiences

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, One City One Prompt facilitation, and publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, eighteen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world.

The next TLA Foundations class, Changing the World with Words, a requisite for certification, begins next week on Wednesday, June 27. There is still time to register (and can be counted towards certification retroactively within one year of taking it). Register here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-2758556.

An interview with instructor, Joanna Tebbs Young, about the course can be found here: https://tlablog.org/2018/05/31/changing-the-world-with-words-with-joanna-tebbs-young/

For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

May2015

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

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

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

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

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

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

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

mharris

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

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

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

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

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

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

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Susan Shepler (graduated May 2017)

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

The kind of work I do involves language and art, and it is also associated with transformation and healing.  “Transformative Language Arts” perfectly describes my area of interest and my offering.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

The courses that I find most useful are ones designed to produce specific outcomes, such as outlining and creating courses and offerings, including the technology associated with such courses.

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

I’m always interested in the “how-to” part of course offerings.  Anything that helps structure and demystify the path forward.

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

It’s a helpful certification for me because, in itself, it offers an explanation of the [TLA] path.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

eila2

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

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

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

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

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

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

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie River taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

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

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

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

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

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

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

dianeg

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

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

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

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

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

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

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

Advertisements

Changing the World with Words with Joanna Tebbs Young

Joanna will be teaching the upcoming TLA Foundations Class, Changing The World With Words starting June 27th. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and
finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

joannatebbsyoung Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com.

Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

Right Livelihood – In Search of Runes: Part 2

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

What shall I be when I grow up?

I am 66 years old and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. One of the main reasons I decided to jump into the Transformative Language Arts program was because the Power of Words has always held great importance to me. I have stacks and stacks of journals safely stored in a couple of boxes in my sister-in-law’s attic in Vermont. When I decided to sell most of my worldly belongings and move to California several years ago, my journals were in the small “must keep” pile. I am hoping to re-visit them some day and write a memoir about the forty-plus years that I lived in the Mad River Valley, a small community of 2500 rugged souls, revisiting the homes I built, renovated, owned or rented, my jobs and the people who became my friends and work-mates, the close relationships I experienced with people (many of them long gone), and the wonderful (and frequently challenging) times spent raising my two daughters, primarily as a single parent.

I believe that if there is ever a “who has had the most jobs” contest, I would be high on the list. I’ve worked for architects, cross country ski centers, caterers, solar power fabricators, Habitat for Humanity and the National Wildlife Federation. I’ve been a house painter, office manager of a small construction company (24 years!), a census taker, bread baker, sign maker, greenhouse laborer and a short-order cook at a ski area. I was the head employee for a kids’ kayak camp, the executive director of a non-profit recreational trails association and the Naturalist Program’s Winter Snowshoe Outings director. I started three different businesses: Valley Community Camp (summer camp), Renewal School (classes in personal growth) and Out Back Tracks (snowshoe/animal tracking outings). I am currently in the process of starting one more new enterprise, called Sticks and Stones. This is the one that will be taking my TLA knowledge and practice and transforming it into my next, newest profession as I become Rune Master, a Teacher of Runes. My study of Runes is a perfect tool for discovering Right Livelihood, and will prove to be a creative means of making a living as well as creating a life and assisting others in their similar quests.

For those of you who do not know about runes, I invite you to google the word and you will come up with a wealth of information. The study of runes has been a continuing project of mine for over twenty years, and their key component is the Power of Words. As I worked my way through the different workshops in the past two years, the final class was actually the first one that most people start with – the Foundations Course – focusing on TLA: in Service, as a Catalyst, as a Right Livelihood, and as a way to put teachings into Action. I found myself appreciating the focus of this class more as a summary and collecting vessel than as a beginning. Each topic of this class provided me with great relevancy as I revisited notes from my other three classes and the one conference as the meat of my education and the Foundations class seemed to be the frosting that provided the skills to put my Plans and Visions into action.

All of my Foundations classes included lively discussions, written and via group chats. I found that one of the most important pieces of these discussions was the establishment of “Ground Rules”. Since my new profession does not include a guide book, I appreciated the rules and will keep them in mind when working with new clients and new groups. When I meet someone for the first time, I will be able to witness them and listen carefully with my full attention. I can assure them that whatever happens during our interaction, they can trust that I will maintain confidentiality and allow them the freedom to experiment with options and interpretations when possible. I have integrated these important words of wisdom into my introduction: “I am not a therapist and sometimes the nature of personal work can open wounds. Please let me know if you would like to contact a professional to turn to if needed.”

One of my personal introductory papers states: “At a time when the written language was used by only a few, runes represented a way to share information verbally and visually. Used as a tool for clarification and illumination, one’s personal story will be brought to light while navigating the path of the runes.” Everyone is different and no two stories are ever the same.

The study and practice of runes combines two main components: Story Telling and Listening. Human relationships depend on the connections that create society and knowing how to interpret the symbols on runic stones is one tool that provides a key that can open the door to self-discovery.

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.    A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

Right Livelihood – In Search of Runes: Part 1

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

I began my voyage towards a “Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certification” two years and two months ago. I needed a new start, a new direction and a new focus, so I signed up for classes that provided me with the tools to Gather Courage, the keys to the Values of the Future, and the skills to figure out how to Change the World with Words. Today, as I look toward my next evolution and see where I am as a result of my history with TLA, I do so with a sense of sadness, liberally sprinkled with pride, as the finality of an ending begets the excitement of a new beginning. The past two years have brought about a huge change in my life, a change that continues to amaze and astound me. I have been given the opportunity to re-create myself once again.

When I first put together my TLA Network Profile I listed my profession as “Granny-nanny” and this was my short Bio:

“I just made the decision to quit my job, sell my house and all of my belongings, retire and move from Vermont to the Bay area in California to be near my new and first grandson, Dylan, and his family (they live on a 41′ sailboat!). I LOVE California, but miss Vermont and my friends and expect to return to the Mad River Valley some day.”

My profile picture showed me on the sidewalk in front of the sweet, affordable ($1000.00/month), 740 square foot, one bedroom, one bath cream-colored stucco apartment that was my first home in 42 years not situated in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Located two blocks from my beloved Dylan, I was able to walk to the marina in 8 minutes. I’m standing in front of my new-to-me bright red Prius named Ruby Begonia with my new-to-me electric yellow 16’ long Eddyline Nighthawk sea kayak proudly perched on top. Life was good. I was living the dream (California, right?) with a car that could zip me around town getting 50 miles per gallon and my fantasy boat that could provide unlimited adventures around the San Francisco Bay.

Two years later, Dylan is now the toddler with a “never take no for an answer” attitude (remember the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons?), the Prius is history (kept having battery problems) and I traded it in for a dependable slate blue-grey Corolla, the sea kayak is gone (found a shorter, fatter, more kid-friendly model at REI) and the one-bedroom is now a two-bedroom ($1800.00/month) on the other side of town (long story…). I rarely get to San Francisco because the traffic is horrific, and I sold the building lot in Vermont that I hoped to put a tiny home on some day, but, I’m still standing, thank you, Elton John:

“Don’t you know that I’m still standing better than I ever did
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
And I’m still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”

To be continued!

 

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

A Tool as Powerful as Drugs or Surgery in Addressing Illness

by Diane Glass

In the last five years, I have presented to Des Moines University medical students on the topic of doctor/patient communication. They have enrolled in an elective course called “Death and Dying” to learn how to communicate with individuals facing serious, sometimes life-threatening illness.

Although still in school, they are not unlike the doctors I have encountered over the years. In interviewing patients, doctors choose to stick to the script, asking questions about symptoms, offering possible diagnoses, and recommending tests and treatment options. Computerized medical forms encourage this approach; insurance companies need the information doctors collect to authorize payment.

What doctors often don’t often ask are the simplest of questions: “What is this like for you?” “How is this affecting your life?” “What do YOU think would make a difference?”

When I suggest these questions to students, they express reservations. “There’s not time for this kind of conversation.” “I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.” “Patients just expect answers from me.” Their reluctance underscores a basic misconception about the purpose of this communication. It is not simply to produce a medical outcome (a test, a diagnosis, a prescription), but also to create the kind of relationship between doctor and patient that will lead to quality care over time.

This relationship provides care and comfort to patients with terminal diagnoses. At this stage, patients seek not only treatment that will ease suffering, but also the opportunity to talk about life joys, disappointments, and desires. A caring relationship in which patients feel free to share their feelings and experiences also serves individuals with complex chronic illness and pain. In these situations, doctors find simple solutions illusory. Patients face needed lifestyle changes. The illness impacts all areas of patients’ lives. When I hear a doctor say to me, “There’s nothing more I can do,” I know that he or she underestimates the power of caring and commitment. There is always more that can be done.

So to the medical students I talk with, I offer this kind of advice in response to their reservations about open-ended conversations with patients:

Reservation: There’s not time for this kind of conversation.

Response: Take charge of your schedule. Without your initiative, you will be scheduled every 20 minutes (or so) for a new patient. You can change that. Reserve multiple blocks of time, especially in meeting with new patients. Arrange regular appointments with patients with more complex issues; don’t wait for them to request appointments. Yes, fill out the forms, but make that a secondary and separate part of the conversation.

Reservation: I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.

Response: Your job is to listen with care, not to provide answers. You are not expected to be a therapist or psychologist. Listen for underlying themes that may explain your patients’ symptoms. Often stories provide metaphors for what the body is experiencing. Notice gestures and postures. Be comfortable with silence. Your patient may be about ready to share something important when you speak too quickly. Say, “Tell me more” and repeat key phrases and words so your patient will know you are listening.

Objection: Patients expect answers from me.

Response: It’s true: many patients place the bulk of the responsibility on the doctor for their own health. Communicate (and believe) that you and your patient are partners with shared responsibilities. Build that partnership by involving the patient in every aspect of identifying problems and working out treatment plans. Focus your resources on those patients who are interested in this approach.
Patients tend to keep their stories under wraps, fearing their doctors will consider them irrelevant or distracting. Yet in open-ended conversation, they may discover factors affecting their health they had not thought about.

Most aspiring doctors get into their fields because they want to help people. Listening with respect, compassion and sensitivity equals medical knowledge as a tool for doing that.


Editor’s note: This is Diane’s fifth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

dianeDiane Glass teaches classes in storytelling as a tool for spiritual growth. She offers workshops in the spiritual dimensions of chronic illness and pain and in the body as home to the soul. Her memoir, “This Need to Dance” (Amazon), relates her own experience growing up with spina bifida, being diagnosed with breast cancer, and finding meaning in her pursuit of health

My Opened Awareness after Taking the TLA Class: The Five Senses and the Four Elements

by Karen Silsby

I highly recommend this class (TFSATFE) with Angie Rivers, our instructor! While moving through the weekly assignments, I had a profound opening up of my inner awareness. This came about as we explored The Four Elements with our five senses open, using poetry as a vehicle to absorb the meaning behind the assignments. Our readings and expeditions out into nature helped my classmates and I define what the different Elements of Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth meant to us as human beings and as a part of nature. As well, she created a supportive community amongst the class participants to aid our processes of self-exploration.

For me, one of the biggest take-aways from this class was keeping up the practice of what Angie calls, “small noticings” of nature, relating to these things from our five senses. What I noticed over the six weeks of classwork was that I came to a deeper sense of mindfulness and compassion. Whenever I practice this exercise now, some weeks after finishing the class, I land in the same place of quiet, mindful understanding and peace.

Let me go back and explain a bit more about the class as a means of self-exploration.

An easy example, one that we tried yet anyone can do, incorporated a Wabi Sabi approach when exploring the Earth Element. That meant we were to look at what we perceived as the “uglier” parts of the Earth, and see the “singular beauty” in small things. So I went outside and weeded, raking through the dirt and mud, observed the earthworms grinding through the leaves, all the while hearing the sounds of jays shreaking about my head. I could taste the bitter leftover coffee in my saliva; and smelled the verdant long grass as I raked its twisted, gnarly heads. In the 90-degree heat, the sweat rolled warm, down my chest in incessant drops. My awareness was heightened to see the world in a more vivid and heartfelt way, even through the difficulties and challenges of weeding my garden in the heat!

Further, this sense of wonder and engagement was broadened by our use of poetry. Angie had us try out a variety of poetic forms, like Haiku and Renga. I found that the poetry weaved into my weekly writings and “noticings” in a rather interesting way. My inner writer became looser and more watchful of deeper truths. I noticed the shift from being in a reporting mode to one of, something that I can only describe as, more spiritually connected to myself and the world and others around me. As each week progressed, I felt more at peace writing poetry that was grounded in my sensory experiences.

At the end of class, we were charged with deciding how we wanted to continue our journey with the Five Senses and the Four Elements. I chose to go out into nature once a week to continue my small noticings and be more quiet and mindful. Some weeks, I write down these noticings in detail and formulate a poem. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of one backyard sensory noticing that allowed me to touch on my up and down health after cancer and a resultant, changed life path. This led to a free form poem, as follows:

Sometimes I think I’ve had enough ickiness
And am ready to go,
Tired of the fight to stay on top of things.

Yet, that is a transitory point of view.
Life is precious
And all experiences are a
Part of the memory box
Which becomes so full by age 67.

Believing in myself to anchor me,
Believing in something more vibrant than me
That roots me,
Believing that life is a journey of many lessons,
Brings me to that ever-present light from a singular star, pointing the way.

I breathe in the verdancy of hope.
I shine the light of sun upon my living skin.
I touch the earth’s heart with my toes.
I listen to the song of the bells chiming free.
I taste the inner peace of life within me.
And my senses are one with The Elements.


Editor’s note: This is Karen’s first blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

karen

Karen Silsby is a Life Fulfillment Coach and journaling instructor in the San Diego area. She has a long history of
using writing as a means of self-exploration and life strategizing. Karen is presently in the TLA certification’s program, enjoying the opportunity to expand her horizons with the written word as a means of diving deeper into the inner wisdom source that guides us all.

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.)

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!