Baggage: How I Wrote My Way Through Self Destruction

by Melissa Rose

Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.

baggage2

This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.

As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.

I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.

Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.

Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.

I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.

I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.

baggage3

After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me.  I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Through writing and performing my story,  I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.

Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.

 

 

I’m Changing My Story

by Susan Hulsebos

A recent writing class using narrative therapy prompts has revealed to me, once again, how much control the stories we hold in our lives have over our sense of identity and problems. Narrative therapy seeks to unhook us from problems resulting from stories we hold, and support us as we create new stories and an alternative story line we want to live out. I have definitely discovered some stories stored in my heart as a child which have given me problems as an adult. While the meta story for me has always been a felt sense of rejection, it wasn’t until I responded to a recent prompt by writing it out in detail, that I gained a true release in my spirit and new perspective on my story. The prompt asked me to write about a female caregiver from my childhood including things I wouldn’t ordinarily say. Right away my maternal grandmother popped into my head and I began to write. I never thought much aGrandmother Photobout her before. We weren’t close. And I always thought it was me.

What’s amazing about therapeutic writing—getting the whole story out—is how adult perspective on a childhood problem is often all that’s needed. Ahhhh! I sigh as light bulbs start going off as I write, Of course you felt that way. She never had a personal conversation with you or really liked it when you came to visit. She was still in mourning for her husband’s early death and besides—“children are to be seen and not heard” was your family’s child-rearing motto. Grandma was elegant and flawless, I had skinned knees and sticky hands. I was a cute little kid, she was an aging glamour queen.

All of the deeper insights and releases I have experienced while writing to therapeutic story prompts I could not arrive at any other way. There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice. As I began to explore my childhood hurts from Grandma, I ended up writing about the time, as a teenager, I walked into her room and caught her naked. She was standing with one thin leg propped on the bed and clipping her silk hose onto her satin garter belt. This grandmother, a woman I knew as cool, unavailable and uninterested in me, who never bonded with me as a child, laughed and excused my awkward mumbles. She didn’t care at all that her little boobs were hanging down like silk hankies. This was the first time I felt like a lady in her presence, and I bonded with her. I think I asked to borrow her nail polish and left.

There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice.

At this point in the writing, the rest of the stories that came up allowed me to integrate our truths as family and as women. She was born in the early 1900’s. Her life derailed when her husband died at 45 and it never got back on track. She was a glamorous widow maintaining her beauty parlor coif and long painted nails, matching shoes and handbags until the end. What I know to be true is that she lived a very adult life in a very ordered house. As we got older, she played cards with us and we went to lunch, but her inability to grow close with me was not because I wasn’t interesting, smart, or stylish enough. It was because she didn’t have a taste for intimacy with kids.

This truth is the healthy break in my hurting childhood narrative that has healed my relationship her. It wasn’t just me—NO little kid got to sit on her lap or play with her. She didn’t play with toys; she played cards, smoked, and cracked snarky jokes. This type of truth-telling is a big part of regular therapeutic writing. By sorting out our stored impressions and truth-checking them we can stop creating problems for ourselves through buried, harmful narratives.

The goal of narrative therapy, typically led by a professional counselor, is to help the client re-author their story with truths to support a new life experience freed from the problematic stories of the past. I have found this to be a rich treasure of the process. I have re-authored characters in my past who I have come to see as being authentically different and unable to give me kind of love I needed when I was with them. So I’m changing my story.

My new story involves surrounding myself with people and communities where vulnerability, authenticity and supporting each others unique calling is primary. We talk about everything in intimate, sometimes hilarious conversations. And arriving at my new story line is reason enough for me to write regularly and with hope, every day.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.

The Telling Room: Proving the Power of Words

TellingRoom

Tonight, a story about Maine on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” began by claiming that Maine is the oldest and whitest state in the nation. But what may be true for the state as a whole is not true for its biggest city, Portland, home to recent immigrants and refugees from impoverished and war-torn places around the world. The children among them come with amazing stories.

Since 2005, as many as 3,500 students a year have had the opportunity to use poetry and prose to build their writing and storytelling skills at a special place called The Telling Room. Founded by three writers who believed that the power of story could change a community for the better, The Telling Room today reaches students and teachers in more than 30 Maine towns. Their paid staff of eleven, Teaching Artist in Residence, nine interns, and more than 200 volunteers provide individualized support to the young writers, some of whom are English language learners.

“The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.”

Both a physical place and a wide-ranging program, The Telling Room has been recognized with grants and awards, including a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award as one of the top twelve youth arts and humanities programs in the nation.

Every year since the beginning, The Telling Room has published an anthology of writings from that year’s group of students. Titles such as “Swimming to Safety,” “A Day in Three Worlds,” and “The Faithful Doves of My Father” illustrate the variety of experiences and perspectives found in these poems, plays, essays, and stories. As shown in the image above, this year’s anthology is entitled A Season for Building Houses.

Greetings from Maine, site of the 2017 Power of Words Conference

As one your new editors of the TLA Network blog, I am looking forward to reading your submissions and engaging in the conversation about the importance of Transformative Language Arts to each of us, as well as the importance of our TLA practice to the community around us. I am fairly new to the field, although I have been telling stories through writing for my entire life. As the title of this post says, I write from Maine, which means I’ll be excited to attend the Power of Words Conference in Maine this summer, where I hope I’ll meet many of you in person.

The conference, officially called the 14th Power of Words Conference: Transformation, Liberation, and Celebration Through the Spoken, Written, and Sung Word, takes place from August 18 – 20th at Ferry Beach in Saco. As a Mainer, let me assure you that this is prime summertime on our beautiful southern coast. I can’t imagine a better place to feed the imagination and create a sense of community. Here’s a photo from the Ferry Beach website:

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Picture yourself in one of the chairs on the porch surrounded by fellow conference attendees. You’re all sharing stories, ideas, and reactions to the great workshops/lectures/performances you just attended, while the porch flags flutter in the sea breeze. (Learn more about the Ferry Beach Retreat and Conference Center here.)

Keynoters at the conference include Joseph Bruchac, True Story Theater, Mahogany L. Brown, Susan Bennett-Armistead, and Kelley Hunt. The list of workshops is varied and extensive. To find out more about the conference, visit the conference webpage: https://tlan.wildapricot.org/conference.

Speaking of the conference, if you are planning to attend, you can save $20 by registering before April 25th.  After that date, the registration fee becomes $230 for TLA members and $250 for non-members.

I have to say, just thinking about a wonderful seaside conference in August is an effective spirit-raiser in gray late February. And, this year, it seems more important than ever.

–Barb Burt

How Pictures Heal – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-51-37-amIt was nearing dawn, outside the little cabin in New Hampshire, when my Aunt Marion died, at fifty-five. All night I sat beside her, moistening her parched lips with ice cubes. When necessary, I changed her colostomy bag. Occasionally, I dozed off, but not for long. This was the third night of our vigil – my other aunt, her sister Virginia – slept in the bed beside us. My Aunt Marion had colon cancer and had come home – to her own bed, her cabin, her favorite lake, to spend her final days.

I was a twenty-two year old college student on summer break. Stepping up to care for my Aunt Marion as she died changed my life. Her death sparked an awakening for me of my own mortality and vitality. So, when, years later, I found this picture of my independent, powerful, adventuresome aunt – captured in this archetypal pose of the archer, like the goddess Diana, stretching her bow, aiming her arrow, I asked my mother if I could keep it. This photo had arrested my attention in such a mysterious, powerful way. I knew I needed to unpack all the deeper meaning and wisdom, truth and beauty it held. As I wrote my first photo inspired poem, “Monadnock,” the process of unpacking the emotional experience of the photo helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss. The poem, and the photo, helped me internalize this relationship and experience as a way of summoning inner wisdom, courage, strength and healing.

Since then, I have been leading writing and expressive arts workshops on writing from photos, integrating my training and experience as a psychotherapist, psychodramatist, poet, and playwright into my method.

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives.

In my 6-week online class, How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, starting March 1st, these treasured personal archives will be the source of inspiration for writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. This method of writing from personal and treasured photos can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally, by:

Entering the three-dimensional world of photographs to stimulate meaning, surprise, delight and possibility;screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-02-am

Embracing the imaginative wonder of exploring role reversal and altered point of view in photos;

Writing the truth and beauty of relationship histories, exploring significant rites of passage and recognizing gifts that keep on giving;

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-16-amExploring nature, landscape and favorite places photos to stimulate curiosity, spirituality, comfort, relief and aesthetic satisfaction and transcendence;

Crafting first drafts (exploring forms, including character portraits, essays, poems, Monologues, letters, dialogues and creative list-making) and applying tools for revision).

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-27-amWho Should Take This Class?

  • TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
  • Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
  • Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
  • Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
  • Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos may also be quite interested

We’ll create a safe and supportive environment, offering respectful support that inspires the development of every writer’s voice. I look forward to working with you!

How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, a 6-week online class with Kelly DuMar starting March 1st

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Southern Writers Conference, and Playback North America & more. Her poems are published in many literary magazines and her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and former psychotherapist. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she moderates, Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and she’s a member of Playback North America. Her new poetry chapbook, Tree of the Apple, about her father’s Alzheimer’s, is published by Two of Cups Press. You can follow her on Instagram @kellydumar and learn more about Kelly at kellydumar.com

Monadnockaunt-marion

This perfect aim you take
points toward some mysterious,
unconventional life.
You will never marry,
wear dresses,
make excuses.
You will love animals and women,
raise dogs,
teach other people’s children.

Baked dry as a bone,
you will bring Poncho and Bear,
back from the desert,
to bathe in Laurel Lake,
reeking of sage,
telling Indian stories.

You will teach us to hike
– to sing as we climb –
M-o-u-n-t-m-o-n-a-d-n-o-c-k!
It’s the thrill of your life
when you get to the top,
they say!

This perfect aim you take,
toward us.

Some day, when I am almost grown,
you’ll be too sick
to climb from your bed
for one last swim
I should help you take –
your bloated belly
rising like Monadnock
between us.

Death rattling your breath,
you will die at dawn
in my arms,
before you go, taking perfect aim
toward some mysterious peak
I will someday climb.

Copyright 2008 Kelly DuMar, All Rights Reserved (published in Emerge Literary Journal, and All These Cures)

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.

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%.

Saturated Selfies: Intentional & Intense Photography and Writing with Angie River

1916582_10208096803279557_8139095001714800862_nAngie River is teaching a new online class for the TLA Network, “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing,” April 13 – May 10. This four-week class that you can do from anywhere in the world on your own time (want to write at 2 a.m. in your pj’s? you can!) is a wonderful vehicle for exploring identity in image and words as well as a new view on selfies as its own emerging art form. As Angie writes, “In photography, the term ‘saturation’ is used to describe the intensity of colors. This course will investigate our intense, colorful, and amazing life through a combination of photography (specifically, selfies) and writing.”
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Over a year ago, you taught a very beloved classes on selfies, combining writing and photography, so we invited you to develop a new way to continue that dialogue between self, image and words. What led you to bring the concept of saturation into this exploration to help people better understand our lives and stories?
 1796496_10207655113717594_91051899620670155_n
Angie River: When invited to do another selfie class, I began pondering photography terminology and the ways that various terms relate not to just images but also to writing and to life. The term ‘saturation’ came to mind, which in photography has to do with the definition between and intensity of colors. This term really struck me though, as our lives can be beautifully ‘saturated’ too, where we have soaked up so much into them that we are ready to overflow. My desire for this class is to use selfies and writing to explore just how much beauty we have in our lives, and in our selves.
CMG: We live in a culture, as you describe in your class description, where selfies are rampant but also seen as “silly at best and at worst narcissistic.” Why do you work with the selfie as the core of this class, and how can we use selfies to go beyond silly or narcissistic?

12631307_10208270067931065_6323963300978360194_nAR: I use the selfie because I feel it is a tool to help us better know and understand ourselves, as well as to present to the world a narrative that we have created. Many would agree that it is often easier to process emotions or thoughts or events once they are written down and ‘out of your head’ on the paper. I believe the same can be said for selfies; when we take photos of ourselves and our lives and then look at them, it helps us to see from a new perspective. Just as a poem or a blog post can be used to process something and share it with the world, a selfie can too. I think selfies are often viewed as silly or narcissistic because we’re taking pictures of ourselves, sharing them on the Internet often, and getting joy out of the ‘likes’ and comments we get! However, there is a lot to be said about the way that selfies help us to write our own stories and present ourselves the way we wish others to see us, which is especially powerful for marginalized populations.

CMG: You combine writing and photography in this class. What can that combination do to give us greater perspective, freedom, and vision?

AR: I believe it is powerful anytime we combine more than one art form! The reason I choose both of these forms of creativity though is that they interact so nicely together, one visual and one word-based. I personally enjoy using writing to reflect on visual works. This allows both ourselves as creators, and whatever audience may see the pieces, to have a visual piece (which may be abstract, or at first glance just look like any other ‘selfie’) further explained and explored in the writing. I think of the Japanese Haiga, which combines a haiku with a piece of visual art; the two are supposed to work together to communicate a message that is greater than if either the poem or the artwork was standing alone. It is my hope that the combination of selfies with writing will do the same in this class.

CMG: Tell us about your own evolution as a transformative language artist, and how you’ve explored many aspects of the self through writing, film, movement, dance, performance, and stories (and other arts).
AR: My own journey as a transformative language artist is ever changing and growing! selfI started out as a poet and working with incarcerated youth to write about their feelings. I am still very much a poet, thoroughly enjoying writing as a means to explore and process the world both external and internal. However, I’m also discovering so many more ways that I really love to experience creativity and transformative language arts. I am a performer, and have been using both burlesque and performance art (including video) as a means to challenge societal norms and ask questions of the audience. One of my favorite things to do in shows is a combination of performance and poetry, in which I have audience members answer a question or respond to a prompt in writing, and I then create a performance poem out of their answers. Now, in the past year or so, I’ve been also using the selfie as a form of transformative language arts. In addition to these TLAN classes, I’m also documenting my journey as a disabled person though the healthcare system using selfies and Instagram (you can look for my disability-related photos by searching for #sickfemmeglam). One of the things I love about transformative language arts is how versatile it is. I simply love all the new things I’m discovering!
CMG: I love hearing about all that you’re discovering too, and how you keep turning your treasures into treasures for us too. Thank you so much for offering this class as well as the other superb classes you offered on selfies and writing through chronic illness.
AR: I really look forward to this class! I appreciate the Transformative Language Arts Network allowing me this opportunity to explore selfies again, in a new way. I can’t wait to meet all those going on this newest journey with me, and to see and read about all your saturated lives!
Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist, as well as a lover of selfies! She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blog (https://nittygrittynakedness.wordpress.com/) and zines. Angie fully believes in the power of art to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.  All photos in this interview are Angie’s selfies.