Why Write to this Moment? By Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

The story we make of this moment becomes the life we lead.
~Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. 

“I’ve run out of words! We need new words. The strongest words.”

My friend and I were texting back and forth about the latest NPR news alert to light up our phones. It would have been a much better conversation in person, far more satisfying to laugh together instead of trying to find the emoji that most accurately expresses our level of gobsmack, of anger, of despair. 

But that’s where so many of us are right now: stuck at home and stuck for words to express the inexpressible. 

So, I write. 

I write to make sense of it all, to search for a semblance of meaning in the midst of the madness.

And I read. 

I read the words of others to find solace in similar experiences, in our shared humanity, and in the connection established through empathy. To share our words beyond ourselves is to cultivate compassion and create community.

Two years ago at TLAN’s Power of Words conference, Storyteller, Activist, and Founder & CEO of #MeWe International, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, gave a presentation called “Storytelling as a Tool for Healing and Community-Building.” He told the crowded room why he believes in the power of storytelling: “The stories we tell ourselves shape us and how we interact with the world and others.” Healing cannot happen in isolation, he said. We need each other—we need to hear each other’s stories. 

And thus the raison d’etre of “Writing to this Moment: Taking Uncertainty to the Page,” a journey from notebook to narrative, from the personal to the public. 

Over the four weeks of this class we will record experiences and express feelings with prompts as a “trail-head,” then learn some basic creative nonfiction methods to turn our writing into a crafted personal narrative, which may be shared with others in the class—maybe beyond!

Because we need new words. We need your words. In this moment. Because as Toni Morrison reminded us in 2015:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is author of the award-winning biography of Vermont historian, Lilian Baker Carlisle, and has both a memoir and personal essay collection in the works. She holds a BA in History, an MA in Transformative Language Arts, and is currently an MFA-Creative Nonfiction student at Goddard College. A writing coach since 2009, Joanna is also a facilitator for Vermont Humanities Council and teaches online for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Historical articles written during her time as columnist and feature writer for the Rutland Reader can be found at Rutland When…  Joanna lives in Rutland, Vermont with her husband and two teenagers.

October Notes

Dear TLA Community:

We are pleased to announce a series of fall offerings geared towards bringing our community together. The series, TLA in Action: Connection, Collaboration & Communityis designed to showcase some of the important work TLA Network members are doing across a variety of fronts, while offering affordable options that are welcoming and inclusive of all. The series will culminate in a special evening of poets, storytellers, and other TLA artists sharing their work in early December. We hope you will join us in celebrating our community’s many strengths and talents!  

Art matters, and art matters especially in this time. Art helps us be part of the world, process what is happening, understand, grieve, and bring people together towards collective action. As ever, we strongly believe that cultivating a powerful voice in this complicated, challenging time, and using that voice for the greater good, deeply matters. 

Find your voice, make meaningful art, and work for the greater good. 

To the Power of Words,  
Hanne Weedon
Managing Director, TLA Network

Making Art That Nourishes by Robbyn Layne McGill

Robbyn Layne McGill is a teacher and workshop facilitator based in Amsterdam. Robbyn’s upcoming 6-week online TLA Network class, Kissing the Muse: A Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventurestarts October 18.

Art feeds and enriches our souls in the same way food nourishes our bodies. Reading books, watching films, looking at paintings, and listening to music or poetry can elevate everyday reality to something sublime. But, because we are more than consumers, we also crave opportunities to contribute something of ourselves to the conversation. 

Unfortunately, we don’t find many opportunities to express ourselves without judgment, criticism, or comparison these days. Our society seems to have created a hierarchy around what constitutes a “worthy” contribution. So, only those who have gained the proper validation— through publication, professionalism, or fame—have “permission” to create. 

The rest of us are cut off from something we really need and therefore crave—the direct experience of our vital life force through uninhibited self-expression. To see and know ourselves through our own creativity, to play, like children, with materials, only for the joy of discovering who we are, what we like, what we don’t like—this truly feeds us. 

Original artwork, Robbyn Layne McGill

Images speak to us on a soul level. They bypass our rational, critical mind and allow us to feel whatever they evoke in us, intuitively. Unfortunately, that’s also how advertising works. So, it’s incredibly powerful to work with images—even if we identify more as writers who create literary images than visual artists.  We are all visually literate, and through collage, we can create our own language and meaning. 

When we learn to reappropriate the media and propaganda used to “sell” us who we are, we can turn it on its head. By cutting up glossy magazines and collaging commercially printed detritus, we change it into something else, not an externally directed expectation of who we should compare ourselves to or aspire to be, but our own reflection instead. 

Making collages, or “muse mirrors,” as I call them, is the core of my “kissing the muse” creative practice and course. “Who am I? “What do I really want, need, and value?” It’s so surprising how the answers bubble up easily through this practice.

Original artwork, Robbyn Layne McGill

Collage is accessible to everyone. You don’t need to know how to paint or draw to work visually. Different disciplines can inform each other, so my course also includes other expressive art modalities, like music, poetry, writing, and movement. It also brings in everyday modes of creative expression, like food and relationships, to stretch your definition of “creative practice.”

So, kissing the muse is an interdisciplinary, tangible, spiritual practice that puts us back in our bodies. When we’re making art simply to know ourselves, we’re connected to the moment, through our hands, mind, body, and spirit—cutting and pasting, touching and feeling, manipulating materials to make sense of our world, inner and outer. It’s so natural and human. We become collaborators with the ultimate reality: infinite, ceaselessly dynamic, swirling, potential. Through expressive art-making, we create intimacy and connection with ourselves, heal our hurt parts, and bring our inner light out to shine. And by doing this, we add our innate value as unique human beings to the world, which feeds us all.  

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn has an MFA in New Practices, an MA in Transpersonal Psychology, and a BA in Journalism—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting.  www.kissingthemuse.com.

Facilitators for a Better World: Meet the Teachers

Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg sets sail October 28 – December 15 (with a week off for Thanksgiving).

This six-week online class also includes video-conferencing with people well-versed in facilitating workshops, classes, meetings, coaching, and
other sessions for change, community, and transformation. The class will include interactive sessions with guest teachers Seema Reza and Callid Keefe-Perry. More about all four of the teachers below.

Seema Reza is the author of A Constellation of Half-Lives and When the World Breaks Open. She is CEO of Community Building Art Works, a non-profit organization that brings workshops led by professional artists to service members, veterans, and clinicians, and which is featured in the 2018 HBO documentary, We Are Not Done Yet.

Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The LA Review, and The Feminist Wire, among others. Case studies from her work with military populations have appeared in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Diseases in Combat Veterans.

Callid Keefe-Perry is a Co-Executive Director of ARC, 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 believes 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.

During the class, 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.

The class is being taught by two wonderful TLA teachers, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer. Both are featured below.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., and 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, is the founder of the Transformative Language Arts Network 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.

Caryn has facilitated community writing workshops widely since 1992 with diverse populations throughout the United States and in Mexico, and has taught to a wide variety of audiences, 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.

Caryn 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. Follow her on social media: @caryn.mirriamgoldberg, and check out her Patreon campaign to create transformative writing, workshops, and podcasts, and offering patrons weekly inspirations.

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.

Don’t miss Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, on sale now, and running October 28 – December 15.

Kissing the Muse, by Robbyn Layne McGill

Original artwork by Robbyn Layne McGill

Calling all creatives and sensitive souls attempting to navigate in this strange, new, unpredictable world. Could you use a guiding map to help you engage more consciously and courageously through all this change? The world can seem darker, depressing, and beyond our control when we forget we’re creatively powerful individuals. You can learn new ways to create from your most authentic place and more confidently express your heart’s true purpose and passion. When we remember we are the world’s contributors and collaborators, we can move towards remaking it, better, more inclusive, saner, and more hope-filled— even if it is just our little corner of it. A drop in the ocean, sure…but imagine the ripple effects one drop can make.

Kissing the Muse is a transformative practice that can help you experience your full creative potential and power. In my TLA Network course, we’ll embark on a 6-week Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventure together designed to deepen your connection with your inner muse—your ultimate, infinite creative power. You will meet and “kiss” six different muse archetypes, each representing a particular aspect of the mythic journey (the same pattern found in stories, movies, and fairy tales around the world). This cyclical pattern also serves as a map for navigating your personal life, your artistic process, or the narrative arc of a memoir, novel, or story.

This course also offers three opportunities for live interaction—two group ZOOM sessions, on October 17 and November 21, and a personal, 1/2-hour, one-to-one coaching session with the instructor the week of November 4-11.

Original artwork by Robbyn Layne McGill

Ultimately, the purpose of this course is to help you engage in a creative practice that provides emotional clarity, conscious connection, hope, and encouragement.

So grab a gluestick and pucker up. Let’s go on a messy, magical, art-making adventure to change the world for the better.

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn has an MFA in New Practices, an MA in Transpersonal Psychology, and a BA in Journalism—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting.  www.kissingthemuse.com.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE COUNCIL: Lesley Dobis, TLA Network Treasurer

Lesley Dobis serves as a member of TLA Network’s governing body and has played an important role in helping us make strategic financial decisions that are in alignment with our organization’s mission and values.

In her spare time, Lesley runs a financial consulting business, writes a blog about parenting, and periodically posts storytelling videos to her website. When she’s not writing, she shares her ever-expanding garden in northern New York State with her husband, many cats, and lots of chickens.

With the predictable good-natured humor and that innate ability to always land on one’s feet that seems to be the hallmark of a farmer’s grandchild, in the face of the pandemic and the resulting shuttering of her massage business, Lesley plans to open a street-side farm stand this fall to sell her abundant produce and to help feed her neighbors.

Lesley writes, “I’ve identified as a writer since I was 11 years old, however, I was always reluctant to put my own work out in public.  I worked as a technical writer 30 years ago, spent the last 20 years as a massage therapist, and now run a financial planning business.  I was introduced to TLAN in 2019, and that experience helped shift my writing to become my top priority. Currently, I write on topics as diverse as parenting and personal finances. I also dabble with storytelling. Since I have such eclectic interests, I’ve never felt truly at home in any group. That all changed with TLAN. The people I’ve met are creative, passionate, kind, and strong. They seem able to delicately juggle inner exploration and walking the talk. I’m honored to be among other TLANers and look forward to the future we create together!”

August notes

Dear TLA Community:

We hope you and your loved ones are doing well during these long, hot, summer days.

As might be true for you, we have been deeply inspired recently by the power of words in these most troubling times. U.S. Congressman and longtime civil rights activist John Lewis wrote an important essay to our nation recently, published widely on the day of the Congressman’s funeral last week. Congressman Lewis’ words are a testament to the power of a deeply compelling call to action embedded in meaningful context – the very essence of the power of words. If you have not yet seen it, you can read the full text of the Congressman’s transformational message here.

We know many of you in the TLA Network are finding ways to use your voices to help raise awareness, offer perspective and understanding, and help guide our communities toward healing and hope. What are the words that have inspired you recently, that remind you to be your biggest, boldest, most courageous self, that keep you focused on your vision and your work in these challenging times?

We continue to be dedicated to growing the transformative language arts – empowering each of us to find and use our biggest voices to effect the change we wish to see in the world. As John Lewis so eloquently wrote, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

To the Power of Words,  

Hanne Weedon, TLA Network Managing Director

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.

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn’s 6 week TLA Network class, Kissing the Muse: a Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventure, begins October 14, 2020. Robbyn holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in New Practices (painting and cinema) from San Francisco State University (2006), and Master of Arts degree in Transpersonal Psychology from John F. Kennedy University (2013), and a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas (1993)—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting. www.kissingthemuse.com.

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

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn’s 6 week TLA Network class, Kissing the Muse: a Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventure, begins October 14, 2020. Robbyn holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in New Practices (painting and cinema) from San Francisco State University (2006), and Master of Arts degree in Transpersonal Psychology from John F. Kennedy University (2013), and a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas (1993)—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting. www.kissingthemuse.com.

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