The Masks We Wear: A Story for These Pandemic Times, by Lyn Ford

Let’s begin with a story.

Once a man who could not see lost his walking stick and could not find his way to the home he shared with his mother.  He called for help, but no one seemed to hear, and he stumbled along a rugged path.

Then he heard someone call out to him, “Hello, you, perhaps I can help you.”  The man walked in the direction of that voice, and tripped over something, no, someone, another man, who dragged himself on the same rugged road, for he had no legs and sought a place of shelter.

The two of them rested a while, and talked.  Now acquainted, they realized they both faced great difficulties.  They also knew they could help one another.

The man who could not see carefully took upon his shoulders the man who could not walk.  He became legs for his new friend and this new friend became his eyes.  They soon found an easier trail.  Both men made the journey safely to the mother’s home.  She joyfully greeted them both as her sons.  

And all their lives were easier for this. ———-

This is an incredibly old fable, sometimes attributed to Aesop the storyteller, but its motif is found in stories in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Valuable old stories travel far.

Recently, I walked across an almost empty parking lot, and passed a few masked people.  Being who I am, I tried, at a safe distance, to make eye contact. Behind my own mask, I smiled and said, “Hi.”

No one spoke or looked directly at me.  Shoulders hunched, eyes to the ground, brows furrowed, strangers remained strangers.  I thought, are masks distancing us even more than we already must be, or is it the fearful, lonely frustration behind them?

Masks can help us stay physically healthy in these pandemic times, but they can’t protect us against our fears.  They may help preserve our physical wellbeing, but they won’t lift our spirits, or bring us joy. 

We must communicate hope and empathy, and let our hearts shine.  No matter how much masks obscure, they don’t hide our eyes, our body language, or our voices, tools that have always been important to sharing our stories.  Now, they’re even more important to sharing our humanity, showing others that we’re safe havens for one another, even when we must remain separated.

To be whole, to make the journey easier, to find shelter, the two men in my folktale adaptation needed one another.  Together, they found possibility and hope.  One couldn’t see, but heard the voice of his new brother.  One couldn’t walk, but recognized the strength of another.  Both were willing to ask for and receive help.  If either had ignored the other, where might each have ended his journey?  And what might have happened to that mother, who was alone?

Our present situation may not be a “happily ever after” narrative.  Real life isn’t.  But we can live this story together, and communicate.

We can be there for one another, even behind the masks we wear.

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

Masks, Capes and the Strength to Smile, by Lyn Ford

The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying. 

It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?

Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs. 

Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish. 

In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling. 

This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.

We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.

We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.

“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

An Open Letter to the TLA Community

Beloved TLA community,
From our work-from-home desks and tables, we are thinking of all of you in our transformative language arts family. You’re at the heart of everything we do, and we are so thankful for our connections with you, and for your ongoing support.

We recognize that the transformative language arts can provide both a place of refuge and calm in these stressful times, as well as a means for people to speak out about and fight against injustice, and we take the role of creating space for the TLA community very seriously.

Our rapidly-changing reality has required an incredible rethink about what it means to be together, while apart. How do we care—for our loved ones, our colleagues, and even our families—from a distance? How do we, at the TLA Network, best serve you, our community, during the difficult days that lie ahead?

We deeply believe in the power of words, and in particular, the power of your words, to make a difference, and to have an impact. Your voice matters, and the ways that you use your voice in this time – whatever form that might take – makes a difference as we work towards creating a world that works well for everyone – a world characterized by justice, equity, and fairness for all.

This unprecedented time of social distancing can be a solitary one, but it doesn’t need to be. Please reach out to us and we will do everything possible to respond with consideration and care.

We view the safety and wellbeing of our students, teachers and business partners as the highest priority as we respond to an evolving COVID-19 world. We are in the process of reviewing our in-person conference, classes, and trainings, and will keep in close contact with you as our plans evolve. Look for more information in the coming days about our fall gathering, the Power of Words, scheduled for October in Santa Fe, and featuring the United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as keynote.

The Transformative Language Arts Network is devoted to creating new and meaningful ways of being together, even while apart. Let’s continue to take care of each other during this turbulent time, and long after! We wish for you what we wish for our own families: that through this trying time we find ourselves stronger and closer, and that we remember to fight for what is right, while being gracious with ourselves and those around us.

Stay well, stay close and stay connected,

Liz Burke-Cravens
Council Chair
&
Hanne Weedon
Managing Director

Facilitators for a Better World: Meet Our Teachers & Guest Teachers

“The Art of Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation” with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg sets sail Jan. 15 – Feb 25. This online class also includes  video-conferencing (easily done through your phone or computer) with people well-versed in facilitating workshops, classes, meetings, coaching, and other sessions for change, community, and transformation. We are thrilled to interactive sessions with Callid Keefe-Perry, Beatric Briggs, and Marianela Medrano (plus one with Joy; Caryn will do such a session in the other class in this series next summer). Here’s some background on our gifted and experienced guest teachers and main teachers:

Callid Keefe-Perry is an Executive Director of ARC: Arts | Religion | Culture, a traveling minister in the Quaker tradition, and an advocate for the arts as a way of deepening spiritual practice. He has been a public school teacher, co-founder of a community theater, and Coordinator of the TLA Network. He thinks it is OK for people to laugh a lot, that power cedes nothing without demands, and that creativity is a vital quality of adaptive and effective leadership. Callid will share a bit about the field of theopoetics and talk about using different modalities for group facilitation and what is gained by doing so.

Beatrice Briggs helps leaders and organizations co-create conditions that make their meetings worthy of people’s time, talent, and energy. 
 As Director of the International Institute for Facilitation and Change, she has worked in over 30 countries with an change-oriented organizations such as UNICEF, World Wildlife Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Development Research. A native of the United States, has made Mexico her home since 1998 and is fluent in both English and Spanish.

Marianela Medrano is a Dominican writer, poet and a psychotherapist with a Ph.D in psychology whose practice include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, and Integral Psychotherapy. The author of numerous poetry books, Medrano’s poetry has been widely published and translated. She is a certified poetry therapist and serves as a mentor/supervisor for the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. Medrano’s Tedx Talk can be found here.

The Art of Facilitation Teachers

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, is the founder of Transformative Language Arts and the author of 23 books, including Miriam’s Well, a novel; Everyday Magic, memoir, and Following the Curve, poetry. Her previous work includes Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust and six poetry collections, including the award-winning Chasing Weather. Mirriam-Goldberg has facilitated community writing workshops widely since 1992 with diverse populations throughout the Midwest, the U.S., and in Mexico, including people living with serious illness, intergenerational communities, women living in public housing, teens and young adults, and humans at large in big-life transitions. She offers one-on-one coaching on writing and right livelihood. She co-leads Brave Voice writing and singing retreats with Kelley Hunt and the Your Right Livelihood training with Laura Packer. You can find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Linkedin. Her Patreon campaign to create transformative writing, workshops, and podcasts and offering patrons weekly inspirations is here.

Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections, Tongues of Men and Angels and Lifeguards as well as several nonfiction books. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been widely published. Joy holds an MA from New York University in Creative Writing and a master’s degree in counseling. Her extensive training and experience as a licensed professional counselor and in poetry/journal therapy gives her special expertise in facilitating expressive writing workshops. Joy was selected by poetry therapy pioneers to revise and update Arleen McCarty Hynes’ groundbreaking textbook, Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process. For over a decade, she’s taught at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the largest literary center in the West. Along with her other creative writing and poetry classes, Joy helps facilitate Lighthouses’s Denver Public Library, Arvada Library, and Edgewater Library’s Hard Times workshops, designed for those experiencing homelessness or poverty, as well as the Writing to Be Free program, an outreach for women transitioning out of incarceration. She has also taught at the University of Denver and in the TLA MA program at Goddard College. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

More on this dynamic class right here.

“Library of Dreams” and Gifts From Years of Facilitation with Joy Roulier Sawyer

Joy Roulier Sawyer, who will be teaching the online class “The Art of Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, has spent decades facilitating writing workshops. She has helped many communities and groups find their truest words and most vibrant visions through the power of their words, which she writes about in this brilliant essay, “Library of Dreams — Bibliotherapy and the Beautiful Barrio” published in E Magazine.  She writes in this essay about what she learned in her facilitation work:

I soon realized that a movement from self-expression into craft—into laboring to revise and polish abstracts into sensory specifics—is what eventually results in the most personal insight and transformation. This is exactly what so many writers and poets have known intuitively for years: that such literary crafting can be actually be life-changing.

Joy plans to bring what she’s learned from years of such facilitation into the online class she is developing with Caryn so that others called to lead such groups and work one-on-one with emerging writers and storytellers, change-makers and seekers, can find more of the tools they need.

Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections, Tongues of Men and Angels and Lifeguards as well as several nonfiction books. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been widely published. Joy holds an MA from New York University in Creative Writing and a master’s degree in counseling. Her extensive training and experience as a licensed professional counselor and in  poetry/journal therapy gives her special expertise in facilitating expressive writing workshops. Joy was selected by poetry therapy pioneers to revise and update Arleen McCarty Hynes’ groundbreaking textbook, Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process. For over a decade, she’s taught at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the largest literary center in the West. Along with her other creative writing and poetry classes, Joy helps facilitate Lighthouses’s Denver Public Library, Arvada Library, and Edgewater Library’s Hard Times workshops, designed for those experiencing homelessness or poverty, as well as the Writing to Be Free program, an outreach for women transitioning out of incarceration. She has also taught at the University of Denver and in the TLA MA program at Goddard College. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

“The Art of Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation” is the first of two new classes the TLA Network is offering with the second one, “The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating Community and Change” launching this summer. See more here.