Smoke on the Water: a poem by Lisa Paige

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

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

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

And now, humbly, my poem.

Smoke on the Water

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

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

“See me?” she said,
susserating.

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

So is this day gray? 
Or light?

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

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

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Spotlight on the Keynote: Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States in 1999 when he was nine—traveling unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the US to be reunited with his parents. Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), his first poetry collection, explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. This collection won the 2018 North California Book Award, the 2018 Firecracker Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Años Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts contest. 

In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Works Blog, Zamora states, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.” 

After selecting Javier as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.”

Zamora holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program and earned an MFA from New York University. His poems have been featured in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New York Times, and many others. Zamora has received many honors, including a 2015 NEA fellowship, the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2017 Narrative Prize. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted the Undocupoets, of which he’s a founding member, the Writer for Writers Award for working to promote undocumented or previously undocumented writers. Most recently he was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, where he was working on his memoir and second collection of poems. He lives in Harlem, NY.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, spoken word artist Lyla June, and poet Caits MeissnerJavier Zamora will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

Spotlight on the Board: Empowerment Coach Jade Eby

Writing coach, community builder and author Jade Eby is a TLAN Board member, and the chair of the 2021 Power of Words Conference Committee. We were excited to sit down with Jade to talk about her work as a creative empowerment advocate, her creative community, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.

You call yourself a creative empowerment advocate, can you tell us a little more about what that means?

Yes! Ever since I was a little girl, creativity has been an instrumental part of my life. I’ve used creativity as part of my trauma recovery journey, and I’ve used creativity to help hundreds of other individuals find their voices and tell their stories.

I strongly believe that when a person can get in touch with their creative side and then lean into it — they are able to fully step into an empowered state of being. I feel like that’s my life’s purpose, actually. To help others realize the inherent power and creativity they already have inside of them. I empower individuals to become empowered.

This is the main reason I created my digital community.

Can you talk about your community a little more? What role does it play? Who is it for?

I like to say that my Creative Empowerment Community is really a sanctuary for creatives. It’s a small but mighty community that encourages, supports, and empowers creatives to create. But what’s really amazing about it is that we get to come together as our authentic and whole selves. Members come from many walks of life, but we share a common passion of being creative.

There are many wonderful online communities out there to learn how to be creative, but I haven’t found many communities that embrace the actual living as a creative. The trials and tribulations that come with that. There’s more to living a creative life than just creating and that’s really where the benefit of this community comes in.

We come together as a family and work through the highs and lows of this creative life we’re living, as a community. It’s really beautiful! And it fits in with my work at TLA network so well.

Mock-up description of Jade Eby’s Creative Empowerment Community .

How does supporting the TLA Network connect to the work you are doing?

What drew me to the TLA Network to begin with was that same sense of community and connection that I felt was missing from my life. When I understood the mission and goal of the TLA Network, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization on a deeper level because the work is so important. Connecting creativity to our social justice activism and making change is one of the most beautiful ways to use the gifts we’ve been given.

When I was asked to chair the conference for the 2021 Power of Words Conference, I was elated because it puts everything I stand for to work!

How amazing to be able to help spearhead a conference where we lift up diverse voices and stories. How amazing to be able to show other creatives that we can build a safe and supportive community that will honor what everyone has to say. Being part of this conference is another form of empowerment to me, and as you know, I’m all about empowerment!

Jade Eby has dedicated her career to empowering others to find their voice. As a creative empowerment advocate, Jade specializes in expressive writing + journaling, writing fiction, and creative writing as a healing modality. She is certified in trauma recovery coaching, group facilitation, and workshops for journaling. She earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. You can find more information about her and her programs at www.jadeeby.com

Meet the teacher: Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Who is Yvette Angelique? Yes, you have niceties in the bio, but who I am is a more profound question.

I am first an artist. I always have been since a little girl playing the organ, then guitar, songwriting, letter writing, poetry, and essay. As I grew professionally in and out of my artwork, I became a strong facilitator of groups and a trainer. This path led me toward all sorts of incredible corporate and community work.

… I always wanted … to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

But what I always wanted was to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching. I’ve achieved that sweet spot and wish to share my path with others who are thinking about who they are as an artist, how they engage in uplifting their communities, and how they pass on their skill and talent so that others can grow and thrive. 

What is your passion? I have a few! One of my passions is to disrupt the starving artist narrative. As a TLA practitioner, I work on my art, activism, and educate/coach others in a one-on-one capacity, as a facilitator of teams, and as a teaching artist with womxn and girls.

There is enough work in the world for all of us.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

I am clear what I run as a business is a social arts practice where my time creating new art and engaging with others on social justice issues is healing, creative, and transformational. There is enough work in the world for all of us. 

What are your most recent projects? For many of us, this year has been a source of disruption and anxiety-making time. And when space and time wrinkles in this way, it pushes us (and me) into expanding creativity to see what else is possible. Right before the pandemic began to peak in March, I had completed an EP digital chapbook, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues. It was a fantastic creative project where I blended old and new poems and invested in professional recording time to deliver the product. I was invited by the University of North Florida’s Creative Writing Program to be a guest artist for 2020 on their Eat Poems platform www.eatwords.net. The EP is available for listening on the Eat Poems site and can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

Last fall, I enjoyed an art residency with Joy Harjo, our U.S. Poet Laureate, as an associate artist. I learned SO much in the small community of poets and the broader community of musicians, theater, dance, and visual artists. The time was freeing and intense. I came back home mid-November and started to work on the digital EP.

Another goodie I started last year and picked up again this year is facilitating girls in the juvenile justice system to write and tell their stories. After writing their stories, they perform them as monologues or like “Ted Talks.” They perform their stories for an audience of leaders in the community who touch their lives: law enforcement, state’s attorney, detention center personnel, social workers, advocates, etc. Through their storytelling, they have been able to make an impact by expanding the mindset of the realities of their experiences and influencing changes in policies and practices. Last year, several state attorney office rules changed to reduce harm due to the girls’ work. 

What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

What excites you about teaching this class? I am excited to work with folx who are artists, facilitators, community organizers, and cultural workers interested in using their art to engage in community healing and transformation. What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living. I refer to this work as a social arts practice. Use the time spent in this class to take a more in-depth look at what you offer and ways to strengthen your practice earning potential. Unpacking your skills, focusing on who you serve, understanding needs and what you offer—these are the key components to developing your social arts practice into a viable business. 

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams’ latest class for the TLA Network, “Leverage Your Expertise as a Social Arts Practice, for Community Engagement, & Radical Livelihood,” begins November 4.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams, MA-TLA, is the Principal and Chief Storytelling Officer at Narratives for Change. Yvette Angelique is a poet, teaching artist, and proven culture change strategist. Yvette’s recent artistic work includes: a digital poetry chapbook book, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues; a poetry chapbook, Shut Eyes See; and storytelling performances–See the Girl Monologues, and Europa: Zora Neale Hurston, Carlos Santana, and Me. Her poems appear in journals and anthologies, and her essays and book chapters contribute to the discourse on transformative language arts for personal and social change. Yvette teaches creative writing and storytelling to heal, create literary art, for consciousness-raising and advocacy. She is on the editorial board for the international publication Practising Social Change. She is Chair of the Board of Directors for Alternate Roots, a longtime organization for Southern artists and cultural workers.

MAKE ART, by Carol Pranschke

“Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong… and when things get tough… make good art.” ~Neil Gaiman, author, during his Commencement Speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

What is simpler than “Make Good Art?”

Make Art.

Let go of judgment. Stop creating under the cloud of perfection. Lose the long coat of the imposter.

As a community of TLA’ers, we make art.

Let’s do it, and then make more.

Has the current pandemic transformed your spare time? After you watch 13th, talk to your plants, walk the ferret, and search the cupboard for chocolate morsels, you’re wondering what to do next. Make your art. 

You may find yourself sharing unexpectedly. Recently on Facebook, a group of people with diverse spiritual beliefs (some Christian, some not), who believe in the power of praying the rosary, was having a “Black Lives Matter. No, All Lives Matter,” exchange. (Disclosure: I am a member of this group, and am not a Christian). I hesitated to jump in, not having made a public statement about the phrase Black Lives Matter before, and then I responded: 

Black Lives Matter. It is not that black lives matter more than anyone else’s, it is that we need to affirm that their lives matter so the killing will stop. So that black men and women can walk outside without fearing for their lives, so that their mamas (and papas) do not have to grieve for dead children, and do not have to fear every time their child steps outside. Black Lives Matter. As a white person, I am affirmed by my culture that my life matters, and I now affirm the lives of people of color. 

I’m glad I jumped in. I want to do better. Here’s my rewrite, where I’m striving for something more visionary: 

Black Lives Matter. It is time to affirm that Black Lives Matter so that the killings stop. It is time to affirm that people of color deserve to live long and healthy lives, with dignity, safely, and with opportunity to participate fully in solving the complex challenges of our time. As a white woman, I have much to learn from people of color – for starters, how to live with resilience and joy in times of great grief. I affirm that George Floyd’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter. 

As writer and activist Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “The most revolutionary thing … proclaim loudly what is happening.” You may consider this blog post to be a small step in making art, but I am calling it a proclamation.  

I leave you with words from my friend and leadership advisor, Mark Bernstein, who listened to me wonder if I was ready to go public with writing, and said, “Make your damn art.”

Thanks Mark, I will. 

@2020 Carol Pranschke with gratitude to Diane Glass and Laurie Fickle.

A long-time creative since she was little, Carol Pranschke’s first true love was story. Stories saved her life (along with meditation, long talks with sisters, and blowing big bubbles). She sees a storyteller in you, and would like to dialogue about transformative language. See more at Carol’s website,or contact her at carolpranschke@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The TLA Network supports and encourages our members to share ideas and perspectives via our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TLA Network.

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.

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.

How Pictures Heal: Write Three Sentences to Enliven Your Spirit Now, By Kelly DuMar

In the midst of our shifting daily realities, I believe this one experience remains a constant: we all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. If we have access to a cell phone or a camera, we are snapping images that inspire, comfort, stimulate mystify and delight us. We are snapping images to capture moments of emotional nourishment.

Look at your own photo stream now. Scroll through the last few pictures you took. Now pick one out that’s grabbing your attention. Give it a title.

Here’s one of mine from my daily walk I’ll title: “Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed.”

Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed, by Kelly DuMar

During these times when our daily habits and familiar counted on experiences shift us into periods of disruption, unknown outcomes, and deprivations, we need, more than ever, to give ourselves permission to renew our spirit and generate calm and comfort. Our personal photos, whether recent or past, hold secret satisfactions that we can immediately summon through writing and reflection. We can take a few moments, somewhere in our day, to focus on something that captures our curiosity, is deeply comforting, or profoundly mysterious.

So, find your photo, and title it.

Now, I invite you to write a three-sentence story about your photo. Only three sentences––you can find the time for this, can’t you? So, I want you to think about what is meaningful to you about this photo; you sense it, because the photo is calling on your emotions and senses. Let’s tease the meaning out a bit by playfully and imaginatively filling in these sentence prompts:

  1. This photo seizes my attention because. . . 
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around in it, I would. . . 
  3. As I return from my experience in this photo, I carry with me. .

Okay, as an example, I offer you a first draft of my own:

Found Feather in Bed of Seaweed

  1. This photo seizes my attention because of how the wings of sky meet the underworld plant life of sea.
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around. . . I string the wet seaweed in my hair and borrow the bird feather and flap my arm/wings and fly freely over the Sound and have my bird’s view––how large and deep and hidden but full of life the ocean is.
  3. As I return from my experience in the photo, I carry with me the ability to believe in the vitality of so much that is around me that I cannot see.

I hope you will find a recent or past personal photo––with or without people––any personal image that is grabbing your attention. You don’t have to know why. I want you to let yours emerge in all the wonderfully unique ways your photo will emerge in your sentences.

Consider sending me your photo and three-sentence story. I hope you will consider writing from many more of your photos with me in my upcoming course for the Transformative Language Arts Network. We will generate new drafts of your writing in any genre you choose, you will develop, revise and craft your writing, and you will learn many skills and approaches for working professionally in facilitating expressive writing from photos.


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com