Poetry and response: Staying vertical in the TLA world

Janet Toone, a participant in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Winter 2017 TLA class, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life,” wrote this poem during the second week of the course, which focused on The New Story of Your Life: Examining Myths & Messages about Who You Should Be.

Snow, ice, cold, threaten to shut me in, but I battle through.
Fear freezes my heart and mind, far more limiting than the weather
I shuffle, slipping and sliding on the invisible surface unsure
Exactly what the elusive enemies are binding and tearing at
My resolve. My myths I know well. The clouds begin to part.

Battles have been fought before. Often times I was very bloody,
And bowed before I thrived in spite of my perceived deficiencies.
Keeping my mind clear, my heart open, the target in my eye
My spirit willing, I move forward, seeking knowledge and skills ,
Winning those internal battles, I find purpose and build resilience.

Janet describes her approach this way:

“As I participated in Caryn’s class,  I came up against the chilling reality that selling myself was going to be the most difficult aspect of actually building and sustaining a TLA livelihood. I wrote this poem while I was battling that internal war of how and what it would take for me to feel like I could legitimately market my skills and my knowledge, while I was also fighting a battle to stay vertical in the snow and ice outside. I was working on pushing through my fear and setting my resolve to continue the work, to stay vertical in the TLA world, to not give up.”

Janet’s classmates reacted:

  • Your writing is very courageous.  And inspiring.
  • The alliteration you use in “Battles,” “bloody,” “bowed,” “Building,” and then “battles” again, really strengthens the flow of the second stanza.  Very cool. 
  • The second stanza, begun by speaking of battles and ending with the recognition that these are internal battles, is thought-provoking and evokes a feeling of warmth in contrast to the chill of the first stanza.
  • Powerful.  And amen!  For me, the way you took the descriptions of how winter weather shows up and connected those to the impacts of fear made the experience tangible. Real.

For Janet, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life” was a comfortable and supportive space in which to explore uncomfortable questions. Through the expressive art of her poetry, she was able to connect with others in the class experiencing the same challenges.

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Seek the Light: Farewell from the Editor

In my faith tradition, tonight is the fourth night of Chanukkah. Each night, I have lit the menorah, blessed the light, and sang hymns for the miracle that the light burned for eight days in the Temple, leading to the Jewish people reclaiming their land and faith as their own. It’s also the fourth day after Christmas, when the Star of the East would still be shining; and the second day of Kwanzaa, celebrating Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination. Yule was a few days ago, so our days are again growing longer, and the sun is returning.

In each of these traditions, I see a common theme: each of us strives to live according to our values, that they may give light to our path. We may not know the path fully, nor what miracles lie in wait — but still we go on. As poet Antonio Machado wrote, “We make the path by walking.” Even when the miracles seem non-existent, or our values are defined more by their absence in society than their presence, we can still seek them and work for them.

As artists, that is our sacred call.

We can write, sing, and speak our way into envisioning a better world. We can work to bring the light into the world through the light of inspiration and the fires of our work.

We can also water the earth with our tears as darkness descends, and fall silent. The choice is ours.

This year, I have had the opportunity to serve as the editor for this blog. Through this, I have become more connected to TLA practice, the community, and my own work as a storyteller, teacher, songwriter, and musician. I have delighted in shining a light on some truly amazing practitioners and their work.

I have also had to navigate my own darknesses, including a long creative dry spell for the first half of the year, and the challenges of a divorce. Like so many others, I have felt overwhelmed by all of the “busyness,” burdened by the demands of working life — especially those days when it does not nourish the soul — and heartbroken as the world has fallen apart and headlines were the stuff of nightmares.

But the late (and too soon gone) Leonard Cohen said, “We are all a little broken. That’s how the Light gets in.”

I may not have done enough for this blog. I leave that for our readers and authors to decide. As for me, I know that I will always feel that the sacred work of transforming the world is left undone. I offer what I can — my words — and I keep going.

As this year draws to a close, I will be transitioning away from being the blog editor, and into other roles with the network. Here is the official call for a new editor. If you are reading this and are interested, please contact me (via email or the contact page). I will be working with our new editor to make sure everything runs smoothly — including posting submissions sent in the last few weeks. In this festive season of light, the phrase “pass the torch” seems even more apt.

The light of our art, our work, our values, and the miracles we hold dear must not go out. If these are indeed dark times, then our light will seem all the brighter. In the coming year, I know I will be more actively working on my artistic endeavors. If I can, I will share some of that here, as a fellow practitioner. Each of us must do our work. When we cannot, I urge us all to support the work of others.

I will continue to support all of you as best I can, even from afar. I am blessed to have shared this space with you. Keep seeking the light.

~Caleb Winebrenner
2016 Blog Curator-Editor

Influencing Values Through TLA, by Doug Lipman

In our society, “influencing values” brings up images of someone lecturing children on abstract concepts (e.g., “honesty,” “perseverance,” etc.).

values-of-futureIt turns out, though, that we learn values from our own experience. In workshops I do with organizations, I often ask, “Choose a value that is important to your work. How did you learn the importance of that value?”

In response, people almost always have at least one story of something that happened to them. Having told it, they continue, “After that happened, I realized that…” Rough examples of their stories might be:

  • The time my family cooperated to get something done, taught me the value of cooperation;
  • The time I lied taught me the value of honesty;
  • The time someone else was disrespectful to me, I learned the value of treating people with respect.

Prompting Value Changes

As we’ve seen, values grow out of specific experiences. We don’t learn them by prescription, but by construction: we build our values over time. If you want someone to change their values, then, you probably shouldn’t begin by arguing with them about why their values are wrong. Instead, you need to make sure that they have experiences – first-hand or vicarious – in which they are practicing those values and then, as a consequence, experiencing success.

Having had those experiences, they can realize at some point, “Yes, when I acted that way, things went better than when I didn’t. And, yes, that was an example of this value.” Initially, they may not realize it consciously, but in time they will begin to regard acting in accordance with that value as good, right, or worth the cost.

Imagined Experiences

Storytelling gives people imagined experiences. When I listen to your story of how treating someone disrespectfully caused painful results, I imagine a version of your experience. I see and hear things similar to what you saw and heard. I feel emotions similar to those that you felt.

If I tell a story that is about living out a value (or failing to live that value) then people imagine my experience, thus replicating that experience in their minds.

Embedded Values

Of course, the idea of telling stories about values is not, by any means, a new idea. Anyone who has thought seriously about language arts has probably realized that stories, songs, poems and more can reinforce certain values.

But have you considered this idea: The very process of telling stories reinforces certain values! In fact, the very process of participating in many language arts can do the same.

In a society where we see political debates in which people call each other names and shout each other down (only listening long enough to form a rejoinder) the value of open, delighted listening seems foreign and impractical, like some ideal from the distant past or from an impossible future.

But storytelling, for example, already gives people the experience of open, delighted listening! In every culture, people learn unconsciously to listen to stories differently from how they listen to explanations or exhortations. You might readily interrupt someone, for example, who is telling you their opinion about a political race. But if they are telling a story about their own experience, the unconscious rules of conversation change: you are expected to wait for the story to be over. Further, you listen, not so much to comprehend, but to imagine and feel.

Eight Values Embedded in the Processvalues-of-the-future

As it turns out, even the process of preparing a story to tell (discovering, developing, shaping, and practicing stories) can give people practice in certain values, as well.

I’ve made a list of eight values that, I believe, are potentially embedded in the process of learning and telling stories:

Group A: The Primacy of Connection

  • Value #1: The Power of Listening
  • Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
  • Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
  • Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness

Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds

  • Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
  • Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
  • Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
  • Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

Further, I suspect that most, if not all, of these values can be reinforced by numerous arts.

Process Shapes Values

As we have seen, conventionally we tend to think that values are taught by talking about them. Many of us have come to the deeper realization that we learn values primarily from experience, including the imagined experiences provided by the arts. I invite you to explore yet another layer, as well: experiencing the processes involved in an art form can also reinforce values.

And, as it turns out, the values embedded in certain artforms are values that can guide the transformation of our society—to one that is more just, less wasteful of our abilities,  and more supportive of the flourishing of every human.

Learn More!

If you’d like to learn more about how the very processes of storytelling reinforce these values—and might like to participate in describing how the process of other arts can do the same—there are two upcoming opportunities:


In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom.

Callid Keefe-Perry Reflects on Service, Change, and New Vision

maxresdefaultFrom 2009 – 2013, Callid Keefe-Perry served as coordinator of the TLA Network, transitioning in 2013 to chair the TLA Network Council, our leadership group. In the last year, Callid has worked closely with the council on strategic planning and on training our new chair, Emilee Baum. Here he shares his thoughts about his journal through TLA Network land, and in a beautiful way to transition again, he may be leaving the council, but he’ll also be one of our keynoters at the 2015 Power of Words conference.

On Nov. 1, 2009 my wife Kristina and I began as Coordinators-in-Training under Scott Youmans. Having first been workshop facilitators and panelists in the 2007 Power of Words Conference we were excited to join in forwarding the work of an organization full of folks that seemed to be a welcoming community. We eagerly began to learn of the history of the organization and help where we could. On 2/17/10 we first served as the coordinator of the network on a Council Call. It would be the beginning of years of connection to a powerful and inspiring web of artists, seekers, and agents for change and healing.

In the years that followed things were not always easy. In 2010 I began with a healthy balance in the bank. By 10/23/13, our lowest financial point, we were deep in the red. However, even at that most trying of moments we still held out for some hope and tried to imagine a way forward. Today that same bank account is very healthy again, we have no outstanding debt, and for the first time ever in the history of the organization we have agreed to become the employer of an executive director. But finances are hardly the only ways that things have grown.

DSCN1882

Callid passing on the TLA Network coordinator to Deb Hensley in 2013 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia

When I came on we didn’t have the ability to update our own website, needing to go through a contractor for every change. Now we not only have an easily updateable site but an integrated membership system with more features possible than we had even considered before. Between then and now we added not only TLA certification, but also Chrysalis, and online classes, neither of which existed when I started. As of tonight we have over 160 active members, a number up from the 87 when I began and far from the 36 we had at our lowest point. Yes, things certainly have changed, and while I’ve been proud to see it happen I can hardly claim personal responsibility.

Outside of the odd late night Power of Words event I can rarely point to moments that something happened specifically because I came to some rescue. I did what I could when I could, but truly, if it were not for the unflagging support and energy of others next to nothing could have been accomplished. Since I began more than 30 people have served as members of the Leadership Council, and many times that more have helped out with things at the Power of Words and in One City One Prompt. I’ve been able to be part of more than 100 Council Conference Calls and graced by the readings of 200 opening and closing Council poems. I’ve been able to develop relationships that I cherish and hope to maintain for years to come.

Kristina Keefe-Perry, and past council member Suzanne Adams holding Kristina and Callid's then-baby (and first TLA baby!) Nahar.

Kristina Keefe-Perry, and past council member Suzanne Adams holding Kristina and Callid’s then-baby (and first TLA baby!) Nahar — all happening at the Power of Words conference at Goddard College in Vermont

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Emilee Baum

Ever since the Transformative Language Arts Network grew from Caryn Mirriam-Golderg’s inspired vision, its success has always been a result of those willing to give their time and energy to a project broad in scope and broader in heart. As I found my time increasingly limited I knew I could not see things through to their needs. Luckily, Emilee Baum has found her way to us and so it is with incredible gratitude and hope that I leave you all. In the past 6 years there were months that went by with only 3 or 4 people on Council calls. Now our numbers are greater and you all are about to have a chair with a vision and energy that will be put to great use in the next stage of maturation and focus. I’m grateful to leave this way and with the Network in such great health. Thanks to each of you for your contributions to that, and I look forward to seeing you in August.

Making the Leap into the Work You Love with Scott Youmans

Youmans_2012March_SmallScott Youmans knows his way around Right Livelihood, having left a lucrative career in the corporate world for the work of his heart, which turned out to be its own winding rock trip. He’s also a superb facilitator of helping others find not just their dream work, but how to make their present work richer with meaning and joy. Here’s an interview on his upcoming online class, “Making the Leap into the Work You Love,” which runs June 29 – August 9. Sign up before June 10 for the Summer Buzz sale and save 10%.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: What in your life led you to design and develop this class?

Scott Youmans: Over a decade ago, when I facilitated the first incarnation of Making the Leap into Work You Love, I was in the midst of transitioning out of the corporate world and into something … unknown. I was about to complete my Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts, and at the same time leaving my full-time job to start a web consulting business. The thoughts and emotions were swirling: fear and uncertainty, joy and curiosity. What would happen next? How would I make a living doing what I loved on this new path?

In the midst of all of this, the TLA Network had come into being, and we noticed that our members were interested in learning more about the practice of Right Livelihood, and in particular, many of us were asking, “how do I make a living doing what I love?” The Network began to consider how we might create space for practitioners to approach this question. Drawing from the whole of my life experiences, including experiential workshops and my own writing practice, certain threads––poems, exercises, videos––began to tie together to help guide me in exploring answers to this question. It was easy to see how these could serve others on the journey. After a little encouragement from the chair of the Network, I set about building this class to be part of an early Power of Words Conference. It has since become a recurring staple of the Network’s offerings.

CMG: What can people expect from this class?

acrobatic_shadows_croppedSY: At its heart, this class is a journey into one’s self. My hope is that it is a gift, a space for being and becoming, with a focus on career and right livelihood. Each week will have a primary focus and exercise, along with accompanying readings, videos, and activities. The participants will form a community around the course, offering feedback and support, and asking for support in return. The class will begin by examining each participant’s journey by looking at the choices and beliefs that brought us to this place and time. We’ll then begin crafting a vision, informed by our past, and rooted in our heart’s desires. The class will end with specific community-supported steps to advance our vision.

CMG: How does this focus on the leap into the work you love manifest in your own life, art and work over the years?

SY: That word, leap, has a certain ring to it in my mind. When I first left my job in the corporate world, I imagined myself leaping off of a spinning carousel. I had a belief that the carousel was built by someone else, that it was spinning too fast to see any other path, and that I had to stay on it for survival. Leaping off of the carousel meant leaving the security of a full time job with benefits, it meant leaving a career path that seemed inevitable.

Since leaping, both professionally and in offering this class, I think I’ve been able to hold onto the possibility of finding a way to be in the world that allows me to share my gifts in a healthy and fulfilling way. By holding on to this possibility, I haven’t really stopped leaping. I continue to find enjoyable ways of earning a living that meet my needs in that moment.

Not everyone has a job that they love. I know many people whose jobs merely facilitate their passions, whether it’s their family, a hobby, or a side business. In many cases, to fully leap into this other hobby or side business may not be healthy, but it may one day be sustainable. Often, these extracurricular professions provide the joy and satisfaction that can sustain someone through their workday worlds.

Primarily, this focus means that I keep the idea of “work I love” present in my heart. I use it both to seek the work that I love, and to make the work that I’m doing loveable, or worthy of love. How I show-up at work, the tone I set, the language I use, impacts both my job and the work environment of everyone around me. If I make my job one that I love, then perhaps those around me will be able to better love their jobs too.

One of the ways this focus has manifest in my life has been though my most recent job change and move. There was a time when I recognized that my current job wasn’t as healthy for me as I wanted it to be. For example, I worked alone at home and I missed having daily in-person connections with my co-workers. From this realization I began to imagine and to write about ways I could earn a living using all of my gifts. I created an elaborate plan––we’ll call it “Plan A”––to transition into Unitarian Universalist Ministry. It would take six years of part-time education along with internships and credentialing while I continued working. A year into this plan, I was laid off, disrupting everything and creating an immediate need for income. Now, I also had Plan B, which involved a degree and credentialing in the field of Marriage and Family Counseling, and Plan C, which was to work for a company where I could combine my technology skills and my spiritual path. The layoff forced me to look again for companies that matched Plan C, and this time, within a month I found a job with a company whose mission is to disseminate spiritual wisdom. No extra degree needed. No additional credentialing. From this experience, I learned to not overcomplicate things. Sometimes holding on to a vision means letting it go. You might just find that you get something better than you could have imagined.

Learn more about Scott’s upcoming class here, and consider registering by June 10 to save 10%.

Coming Home to Body, Earth, and Time: Writing From Where We Live with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

vistaI’m delighted to be offering an online class about writing from where we live, from our bodies to the cosmos, as part of the Transformative Language Arts Network. Since I usually interview teachers about their upcoming classes, here I am interviewing myself about the details and impetus behind “Coming Home to Body, Earth and Time: Writing from Where We Live,” which runs from June 29 – Aug. 9, all online, so you can engage with the class from anywhere at anytime. Register by June 10 to take advantage of the Summer Buzz sale, and save 10% on the class (and all other upcoming class this summer and early fall).

Caryn-the-Interviewer: So Caryn, and by the way, I love the way you spell your name, what led you to develop this class?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Thanks, Caryn, and yes, I like the spelling too. My mom found it in a novel she was reading when pregnant with me. As for the class, I’ve been grappling with what it means to live in a body and in a place forever, it seems, and some years back, it became very apparent to me how our bodies are our most local address. Where I live sparks a great deal of my writing and my understanding of how seasonal tilts around us speak to seasonal tilts within us. So I wanted to offer others gateways into exploring what inspiration, ideas, breakthroughs and meanings we can find by sinking our roots further into where we live, starting with the body, and rippling out to explore the home, watershed, ecoregion, earth and cosmos.

CtI: Interesting, and you know, my mom found the spelling of my name in a novel too when she was pregnant. So what can people expect in this class?August2505 026

CMG: Each week will include ample writing prompts and discussion about ways to engage with embodied writing that truly homes in on where we live and who we are, so it’s very much an exploration of how we name and claim ourselves, and what stories we tell ourselves and are told by our culture about, based on where we are, who we’re supposed to be.  A lot of the writing prompts are aimed toward greater liberation and awareness, which obviously go hand-in-hand. For example, in week three, we’ll look at watershed moments in our lives — moments that changed everything for us or at least one big thing — and from those moments, what greater possibilities opened out as well as what stories ended or very much changed. By honoring how our narratives have shaped our lives, including what stories we needed to hold tight to as scaffolding to get to the next place, we can cultivate greater freedom to change what no longer serves us.

Each week will also include a visiting writer via his/her writings, interviews, and a little essay I share about the writer, and these writers span genres, such as essayist David Abram, novelist Barbara Kingslover, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, and poet William Stafford. We’ll also have a short discussion on the craft of writing powerfully since we can best understand and evoke the places we are when our images are vivid, our rhythms strong, and our stories evocative.

CtI: You’re someone who writes in many genres. Would you say “writing from where you live” is evident in all your own writing?

13217411_10103624025251309_7965765541683291477_oCMG: Good question, Caryn, and of course, as with most things, the answer is “it depends.” I’m very focused on the physical place of where I live and travel because I find such sustenance from where I am at this very moment, particularly the living earth. Right now, I’m writing answers to your questions from my front porch, and I live in the country with an up-close view of Osage Orange and ceder trees filled with songbirds broadcasting their love and fight songs. Most of my poetry, if not all, finds grounding in images of place, but then again, just about all poetry uses images, and images always evoke the senses: what we can see, touch, taste, hear and smell. Plus, I see the poem as a house of its own that readers enter, find a good sofa to lie down on, and then spend a little time in, listening to the voices of this place. My two memoirs, The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir of Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, and Poem on the Range: A Poet Laureate’s Love Song to Kansas are both very place-focused, and Sky is also speaking from the place of the body in a time of great change. My novel, The Divorce Girl, and novel to be published next year, Miriam’s Well, are stories in which the protagonist is shaped and infused by her place — where she lives and travels, and how her internal landscape shifts as well.

Yet what draws me to this class isn’t just what I write but more so, what I live. As a longtime bioregionalist — someone who keep learning how to live from where I live — I see the body, the landscape, and the night sky as well as the shifting eco-community of what David Abram calls the “more-than-human” species among us as continually showing me the way through the crazy losses and wild joys of this beautiful life.

CtI: Thanks, Caryn, and it’s interesting that you’re writing from a porch with a view of those trees and birds because I’m on a porch with the same view. Maybe we should meet up sometime for tea.

Laura Packer on “The Telling Life: I Am the Wicked Queen, the Cursing Fairy”

11219390_10153734314100879_7028738415293992874_nMaking a living through the arts is a way to, among living your passion, bump right against whatever doubts and fears you have about what you’re doing, how you get to earn your livelihood (or not), and the whole shebang of living your calling. Thanks to Laura Packer for writing about something we don’t often talk about in her new blog post, “The Telling Life: I Am the Wicked Queen, the Cursing Fairy.” Laura writes,

I know I’m not the only storyteller artist human being to feel this way. The old stories tell me that, because there are so many characters who struggle with feeling left behind or worthless. But the old stories don’t offer me a roadmap of a way out of these feelings; they tell me only that acting on them is evil. I remind myself that I still have worth even if I feel petty things. I do my best to not stifle others as I was stifled. I work to remain generous with my time, my mentorship, my leadership, my talent. But some days it’s not easy and all I want is to have my mirror tell me that yes, I am still fair.

Read more here, and check out Laura’s life-giving blog to any of us in transformative language arts.

Look Who Came Up the Beanstalk by Doug Lipman

When I saw her in the 6th grade classroom, I was surprised.

It was the first day after spring vacation. After eight weeks “in residence,” I thought I knew every child in the school. But there she was, an unfamiliar face in the third row.

I said, “Hi! I’m Doug. I’m the storyteller. What’s your name?”

No answer.

The boy in the right front desk said, “She doesn’t speak; she’s French.”

Calling on my two semesters of college French, I said to the new girl, “Bonjour! Je m’appelle Doug.”

Framed in her shoulder-length, dark hair, her face lit up. She returned the greeting in French.

I would have added the French words for “I’m the storyteller,” but I didn’t know them. True, I’d had two semesters of French—but they were both first-semester French. I could only make a few simple statements in the present tense.

My stomach sank. I had a new student who didn’t understand a word of English—and six storytelling sessions to go. But I had been hired by this well-to-do suburban school to use storytelling as a tool to teach the subject of diversity. I wasn’t going to shirk from the added challenge of telling to a more-diverse class.

That day, I told my story largely to the French student. I exaggerated my tone of voice and used as much body language as I could. I looked at her after each line of the story to see if she understood. When she did, she rewarded me with a golden smile. When she didn’t understand, her face showed her puzzlement—and I tried again with added pantomime for her along with a new set of words for the rest of the class. When all else failed, I tried to use a French word as an additional clue for her.

Telling to the One Who Doesn’t Understand

By the third session, I appreciated what an extraordinary listener she was. Her face was a perfect mirror for my story. Now I looked at her as much as possible while I told, not just for her, but for my pleasure in a supremely alert, encouraging listener.

In this session, I got stuck making her understand a crucial part of the story. Mime failed me, as did my minuscule French vocabulary. Then I had an idea. “Would someone look that word up for me in the French dictionary?”

Silence. The teacher’s look seemed to tell me of too many demands on her, of helplessness at being saddled with this disadvantaged student so late in the year, and of resentment that I should expect her to have a special dictionary for an inconvenient, late-entering student who didn’t even speak English.

The boy in the right front desk said, “We don’t have one.” I stopped in shock, feeling the enthusiasm drain out of my body.

I had been proud of this school, which had chosen storytelling as its art form for the year and diversity as its theme. But now a breathing piece of diversity had flown across the ocean and landed in this classroom, and the school couldn’t be bothered to have a French dictionary!

The next time I showed up to tell stories, the boy in the right front desk held up a French dictionary. “Look,” he said. “I got it from the library. But it’s hard to find the words fast enough.”

I said, “Thank you. You are a good friend.”

That day, I had prepared “Jack and the Bean Tree,” an Appalachian variant of the familiar English classic “Bean Stalk” folktale.

The telling went well. All the children were with Jack and me as we explored the world in the clouds. At the end, they applauded.

Then the French girl raised her hand.

Five Words That Changed Us All

I was so surprised to see her hand go up that I didn’t say a word. She had never initiated communication with me.

I called on her. Slowly, she said several words in French, the longest phrase she had so far tried out on me. I repeated what I heard. She said it again, correcting my mispronunciation.

I hadn’t understood any of it the first time. But having spoken it, I caught the first word, “Jacques,” and wrote it on the blackboard. Trying to involve the rest of the class in my decoding process, I said aloud, Like the song, ‘Frere Jacque.

As I said it, I recognized the last word, too. “Magique?” I asked. She nodded. This sounded like French for “magic.” I wrote “Magique” on the board.

What were the words in the middle? I said to her, “Jacques, hmmm-mm, hmmm-mm-mm, magique.” She repeated the whole phrase. It sounded to me like “et le” (“and the”) followed by an unfamiliar word that started with a “Z” sound. I wrote “et le Z” between the other two words.

She shook her head bemusedly and gestured toward the board. With my nodded permission, she went to the board, erased the “Z” and wrote “s H-a-r-i-c-o-t.”

At that moment, I thanked the stars for my interest in the folk musics of North America. One kind of music I had been drawn to was the French Louisiana style called Zydeco. Long ago, I had read that “Zydeco” was a misspelling of the first two words of an early song in that style, “Les Haricots (“The Beans...”)

Trying to hold the interest of the rest of the class, I pronounced the entire phrase aloud, “Jacque et les Haricots Magiques.”

Stories Sew Us Together

Immediately after understanding what I had just said, I spoke the English equivalent. My voice caught as I said, “Jack and the Magic Beans.” I just stood there, facing the board.

There was silence in the room behind me. It was that special silence that only falls when an entire group grasps something, all in the same instant. It took my breath away.

All at once, we understood that “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a story with a secret life in other worlds. We understood that the Appalachian “Bean Tree” shares something with people who didn’t seem to have any stories, with people in some place called France, who ‘don’t speak.

These people, we realized together, also fear for simple heroes facing terrible giants. They somehow have magic beans in their imaginations, just like we have in ours.

We understood, deep in our bellies, how stories are stitches that hold humanity together.

I don’t know if my other lessons that year had any effect. I don’t know if the other classes in that school ever made a connection between my folktales and their lives.

But that one day, in that one class, I know that—without any intention on my part—multiculturalism actually climbed the thick-trunked vine of story and emerged, dazed and breathless, into the far-away castle of our classroom.

The blog editor asked Doug about his work. He said,
In 1970, I was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. I had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, I found myself telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, I have pursued the power of storytelling.
Over the decades, I have coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. I am the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of my own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach” (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).
A professional storyteller since 1976, I have performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars.  My ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers and an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills.

Let’s Talk TLA with Z. Hall – A Free Teleconference Interview, Q&A & Poetry Reading, moderated by Kelly DuMar

When I met Z. Hall at the Power of Words Conference in 2015 in Kansas City, she was new to TLAN, but sitting cheerfully at the volunteer desk greeting people. After our short conversation, I wanted to learn more about her advocacy for public dialogue through Salon~360, based in Kansas City. On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 8 – 9:15 pm (Eastern), 7-8:15 p.m. (Central), we’ll all have the chance to talk with Z during our free, bi-monthly teleconference, Let’s Talk TLA, which everyone is welcome to join.

Z. HallZ. is a Poet, Artist, Scholar and Executive Director of Salon~360, a monthly event that brings together artists, business people, scholars, activists, and community members in dialogue around issues faced by our society. Z. fosters the power of creating what she calls “360 degree public conversations,” believing that true understanding requires examining issues through integrated, public dialogue. Her interests include culture, art, race, identity, media, TV and radio, film, theater performance, rhetoric, and intersections of these.

During our teleconference, we’ll explore Z.’s thoughts on why open dialogue is important, what we can expect when it does not exist, and how society benefits when it does.

What is Salon 360?

Events are held at restaurants or venues, supporting locally owned businesses in the Kansas City region. Like the salons of France and like many in-home congregating spaces outside the Western world,” Z says, “Salon~360 is a hub of artistic, intellectual development, and cultural exchange, hosting local and international guests and participants.

For instance, in Salon~360’s inaugural 2015 season, themes explored included: forgiveness, anger, suicide, humane capacity, and grief. The first year closed with a benefit show based on its five themes. Salon~360’s second season opened with the theme ‘Art Activism’ in collaboration with InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park. On Tuesday, February 23, Salon~360 will present the theme ‘Economic Liberation’ in collaboration with The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.

Salon~360, Z. says, fosters community and growth. “It’s a much-needed space for working out ideas in the public sphere that lead to cross pollination among creatives on new and collaborative projects,” she says. Her passion is creating a venue where artists, business people, activists, academics, journalists, scientists, K-12 educators, and the community gather in dialogue. Z is committed to making a safe, comfortable space for engagement with a cross-section of individuals who may have been inaccessible outside of Salon~360. “It’s an important space for civic engagement, dialogue, growth, and creativity,” Z says.

To learn more about Z. Hall and Salon~360, before or after our teleconference on Feb. 17, you can check the Decade of Light calendar for upcoming Salon~360 events, or, to see highlights of past events go to: www.decadeoflight.org > Programs > Salon~360. You can also join the Salon~360 Facebook group to meet other creatives and engage. To be included in Salon~360’s monthly Evite list, send your name and email address to: info@decadeoflight.org

I hope you’ll call into our free Let’s Talk TLA teleconference with Z. to explore “Dynamic Dialogue,” followed by a Poetry Open Mic. Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience. You don’t need to be a member of TLAN – this meeting is free and open to the public, and you can join from your by phone by calling 1-857-232-0155, code #885077.

Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1

Kelly DuMar, Membership Chair, TLAN, Let’s Talk TLA Moderator

“Your Memoir as Monologue” and the Creative Life with Kelly DuMar

kelly_new_head-copy-225x300Kelly DuMar – who is teaching the online class “Your Memoir as Monologue” starting Jan. 4 —  is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who loves leading new and experienced writers through dynamic writing exercises and meaningful sharing that leave you feeling engaged, intrigued and surprised by the depth of your experience. Her award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn, Heuer, Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s also author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and a chapbook, All These Cures. Kelly has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over a decade, and she founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year.  She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild and the TLA Council, and she facilitates Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner. Here’s a brief interview she did with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): What inspired you to put together this class?

Kelly DuMar (KD): Ten years ago, I founded a play festival for women playwrights. Not just experienced playwrights, but also inviting women who might never have written anything for the stage before. Since then, Our Voices has grown from an evening of staged readings of Boston area women playwrights to a day-long workshop which has supported nearly a hundred women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. Every year, I wake up the day after producing Our Voices and think – it can’t get better than this one. Every year, as they’re saying goodnight, the playwrights tell me I must be super exhausted, but I’m not tired. I’m so filled with energy after this jam-packed twelve-hour day. I didn’t spend energy, I created it. Producing Our Voices lets me spend my day listening to women show and tell their unique stories as creatively as they can in a safe, supportive environment. I love how one participant last year describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:

“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness.  I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice.  Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”

CMG: How would this class potentially benefit students?

KD: We need to re-learn how to be playful as adults. In my training as a creative arts counselor, I discovered the healing power of imagination. I saw how the joy and power of dramatic play could help people heal, grow and change.  The dynamic skills I learned and practiced as a psychotherapist have helped me grow as a creative writer and I use them to help writers of all kinds. My workshops involve unique, playful, surprising ways to evoke storytelling. I believe workshop experiences should be safe places for self-expression where feedback is non-judgmental and encouraging.

Kelly at the Power of Words conference while Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, ronda Miller, Teri Grunthaner, and Seema Reza look on

Kelly at the Power of Words conference while Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, ronda Miller, Teri Grunthaner, and Seema Reza look on.

It’s empowering to believe we’re creative. I grew up thinking I wasn’t creative and wishing I was. It was only when I took risks to get out of my comfort zone that I opened the door to a creative life. So many people think they aren’t creative, but everyone is. Creative energy gets blocked for a lot of reasons. It can be unblocked pretty easily in a playful, fail-safe environment.

The healing power of writing is real and accessible. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.

We need support to grow as writers. A creative life is risky business, and every writer needs a support system to thrive. I wrote my first short play when I was forty years old without any guidance. I soon found a playwriting group in Boston, Playwrights’ Platform. I was afraid to open my mouth for the first few meetings, but Playwrights’ Platform soon hurled me into writing, critiquing, directing and producing plays and theatre festivals. Our small first steps can have a big impact.

Collaboration is rewarding, and writing for the stage requires it. Writing can be lonely. Writing for the stage gets us away from our desk, into a theatre, and into a collaborative relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage:

“One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage. So much more gratifying than slogging alone through a three hundred page novel.”

CMG: How has doing this practice helped you develop your art of words, and a better sense of how to live meaningfully?

KD: I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern.

CMG: What do you love most about this work?

KD: The invitation to enchantment. The theatre, darkened, the stage lit. Whether I’m in the audience or behind the scenes, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question explored, What if. . . is my invitation to change others and be change myself, through storytelling.

CMG: How did you find your way into your TLA passions?

Kelly at THEATRE EXPO 2015KD: As a psychodramatist and playback theatre artist, playwright and poet, I naturally gravitate to making connections with other writer/artists/helpers. Psychodrama is the most powerful method I’ve encountered of helping people use imagination to grow. I grew up writing and wanting to be a writer, but chose to pursue graduate school as a “helper” instead. Soon, my training in psychodrama gave me access to my imagination, and it was only then, I feel, that I really began writing what I call my truth and beauty.

Find out more about Your Memoir as Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance at http://tlanetwork.org. Special holiday discount if registered by 1/1/16.