Lyla June Johnston is an Indigenous public speaker, artist, scholar and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages from Taos, New Mexico.
Her personal mission is to grow closer to Creator by learning how to love deeper and to support and empower indigenous youth. Her messages focus on Indigenous rights, supporting youth, traditional land stewardship practices and healing inter-generational and inter-cultural trauma.
Lyla June blends undergraduate studies in human ecology at Stanford University, graduate work in Native American Pedagogy at the University of New Mexico, and the indigenous worldview she grew up with to inform her perspectives and solutions. Her internationally acclaimed presentations are conveyed through the medium of poetry, music and/or speech. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in Indigenous Studies with a focus on Indigenous Food Systems Revitalization.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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 upcoming webinar for the TLA Network, “How Pictures Heal,” these treasured personal archives will be the bridge to writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. (Learn more about the class here.)
The first thing I invite participants to do is to choose a photo of yourself to write from. Any photo, from any time in your life. It’s best to trust your instincts, and choose a photo that arrests your attention and seems to be whispering – it has a deeper story to tell.
Here’s what happened for Grace, a recent participant in one of my workshops, when I invited her to step into the three-dimensional world of her photo – in her own words:
When I was asked to find a picture to write about, I went to the one that I felt more sorrow, the picture that I look at, and wished I could go back to and stop time. There were so many questions, I just saw three cute kids, kind of looking like triplets, the way we looked so much alike.
I chose it not knowing how much the writing would come to life, I went back to that five-year-old who was plucked from her tropical safety net in Costa Rica, to come to America, where the cold hit me from my nose to the bottom of my terracotta soles. I am answering the questions that kept me in that time-warp of sadness. Today, opening up my mind and remembering things I thought were lost in a bottomless pit, the phoenix is rising, and the void of my past and memories of light not darkness are helping me stop, smell, and feel the sunshine that disappeared the night the plane landed in Logan Airport.
Grace initially wrote what I call the “raw material,” from her photo, by answering question prompts I offer. Then, she continued developing the memory and her writing, and eventually composed a short personal memory piece, “Passport to Snow (1965).” Below are some excerpts from her photo-inspired memoir vignette (shared with permission of the author):
Grace – Always know, that if you keep both feet on the ground everything is going to be all right. ~ Tia Flori
In Costa Rica, where I was born, we run without shoes. We run around in the dirt, but we are always clean. Jabon. Soap. Smell of clean. A nice, shiny black soap with a scent I cannot get out of my system. Sweet, the smell of my grandmother.
I love to wiggle under my grandmother’s porch to eat the chalky dirt. I crave the gritty taste. Light brown to a red, like a spoonful of cinnamon. Me and my sister, Iris, are under the porch, eating dirt. The dirt is moist, like moss.
I am always in trouble…
At five, I feel my feet suddenly stepping into the unknown. I am being led by the hand, by my cousin Gloria, and my grandmother, to stand on a blank, white, piece of paper. What am I putting my feet on this paper for? The cobbler is drawing my feet with his pencil. First the paper was blank. Now I see the imprint of both my feet, left and right.
A few weeks pass, and a beautiful pair of ankle high shoes arrive. First, I smell the fresh paper they are wrapped in. Then I inhale the aroma of new leather. The white patent leather shines bright like the Costa Rican sun. The shoes are sturdy and strong: white with laces, with a terra cotta sole.
I have never had shoes as special as these made for me before. My mother and father are in a place called Sudbury in a state called Massachusetts, in the United States. They tell my grandmother, make sure the children get some shoes, because it’s winter here.
Who Should take this class? How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, with Kelly DuMar 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.
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!
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 bark, Tree 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
Kelly is a long-time member and workshop facilitator for the TLA Network, and she has presented workshops at the Power of Words Conference every year since 2015, when she also joined the organizations governing body, the TLA Network Council. Kelly created SPARKS, a quarterly online open-mic and featured presenter series for TLAN. In her upcoming TLAN class, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos,” Kelly demonstrates how we can use our imaginations to heal ourselves and inspire our readers and listeners with empathy, comfort, and hope. Kelly is a member of the TLA Network because, she says, together, we are a gathering of empathic and imaginative people who care about helping each other heal by “telling-out” the large and small wounds we call encounters. Essential practices matter, now more than ever.
Kelly believes wholeheartedly in the creative and spiritual renewal of a daily writing practice. In August, she celebrated four years of #NewThisDay, her daily photo-inspired creative writing blog. “Every day,” Kelly writes, “I walk in nature, which very often is along the Charles River in the suburbs of Boston where I live. I take pictures of nature just as I find it, in all seasons and cycles and weather. Something in the landscape, what I call my writing habitat, grabs my attention, and I snap a photo. At the end of every day, I put my photos in my blog, and appreciate once again the beauty, aesthetic delight, mystery, and imagination of the photo. Then I write, spontaneously, into the images, focusing only on the present moment. This is my daily practice of not suffering about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. I discipline myself to be here now, and to notice and fully experience the beauty of the present tense. Many of my poems eventually spring from the seeds of this daily writing.”
Kelly continues about the impact of expressive writing throughout her life. “As a thirteen-year-old, writing in my first diary about the death of my first love, I had no idea this impulse to tell-out my sorrow and troubles between the lines of blank white paper would seed a practice of a lifetime. As a psychotherapist, a psychodramatist, a playwright, a poet, writing workshop facilitator, and mother––all of the roles I have played in my life have been shaped by, and rooted in, expressive writing.”
Essential practices matter, now more than ever. – Kelly DuMar
About a decade ago, Kelly found a photo of her Aunt Marion who had died of cancer. “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 helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss.”
From this first photo-inspired poem, Kelly developed a method of writing from personal photos that can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally.
“Whether we are singing or telling our stories, or crafting our wounds into poems, we need to tell-out our own, and listen to each other’s stories. In our TLA network gatherings, we open our ears and eyes and hearts to each other. We find beauty in truth in community.”
We hope you and your loved ones are doing well during these long, hot, summer days.
As might be true for you, we have been deeply inspired recently by the power of words in these most troubling times. U.S. Congressman and longtime civil rights activist John Lewis wrote an important essay to our nation recently, published widely on the day of the Congressman’s funeral last week. Congressman Lewis’ words are a testament to the power of a deeply compelling call to action embedded in meaningful context – the very essence of the power of words. If you have not yet seen it, you can read the full text of the Congressman’s transformational message here.
We know many of you in the TLA Network are finding ways to use your voices to help raise awareness, offer perspective and understanding, and help guide our communities toward healing and hope. What are the words that have inspired you recently, that remind you to be your biggest, boldest, most courageous self, that keep you focused on your vision and your work in these challenging times?
We continue to be dedicated to growing the transformative language arts – empowering each of us to find and use our biggest voices to effect the change we wish to see in the world. As John Lewis so eloquently wrote, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
About a week after “safe-at-home” became the way we play the game of life, we were visited by a storm. This shushing, persistent deluge of white noise lasted through the night and late into the next morning.
I awakened to an unexpected, uninvited guest. Something told me to inspect the basement, where I was greeted by at least ten inches of sewer water. This guest had entered through the drain in the cellar floor, and vandalized the place.
Floating in that nastiness were craft and workshop supplies. Soaked handouts drifted from cardboard boxes, along with twenty years of preschool items, some of my husband’s old tools, things our grown children had left behind, and sundry other items, including the laundry I’d sorted into three baskets—mostly my clothes and all my white underwear.
I numbly summoned my husband. What he said when he met our guest should not be repeated.
Then the furnace and water heater passed out. Fortunately, they didn’t die. An already exhausted heating and furnace repair person returned our call, suggesting we try letting the circuit breakers dry. It was almost midnight. The water had subsided. We prepared to pay for more visitors: appraisers, hauling crews, plumbing aficionados, and the microbial cleaning squad.
Please note: I didn’t say anything about insurance people. “Backup” insurance is a separate entity from “flood” insurance. We had no backup insurance. We do now.
We also lost all the paper items we stored in what we call the “paper closet” under the basement stairs. We’d purchased our usual bulk supplies long before the run on toilet paper. Now our stockpile was gone.
That was a good thing. One young man, dragging items from our basement and tossing them in his truck, said, “It’s a good thing you had all that paper. It absorbed the water and saved your bottom steps.”
Who knew that toilet paper could swell to the size of Miss Muffet’s tuffet? We were grateful for that.
We’re grateful for a lot of things. The basement is clean. It is also dry, dehumidified and sanitized. The water heater and furnace circuit breakers dried out on their own (free!). The house creaks a bit more, as does our budget. But we’re warm, safe and happy. And I have new underwear.
Our unexpected guest helped us realize and appreciate what is important. Life is good. And I hope this guest doesn’t invite himself to our home again.
The Guest House by Rumi (as translated by Coleman Barks)
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, Some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, Who violently sweep your house Empty of its furniture, Still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent As a guide from beyond.
Once a man who could not see lost his walking stick and could not find his way to the home he shared with his mother. He called for help, but no one seemed to hear, and he stumbled along a rugged path.
Then he heard someone call out to him, “Hello, you, perhaps I can help you.” The man walked in the direction of that voice, and tripped over something, no, someone, another man, who dragged himself on the same rugged road, for he had no legs and sought a place of shelter.
The two of them rested a while, and talked. Now acquainted, they realized they both faced great difficulties. They also knew they could help one another.
The man who could not see carefully took upon his shoulders the man who could not walk. He became legs for his new friend and this new friend became his eyes. They soon found an easier trail. Both men made the journey safely to the mother’s home. She joyfully greeted them both as her sons.
And all their lives were easier for this. ———-
This is an incredibly old fable, sometimes attributed to Aesop the storyteller, but its motif is found in stories in Europe, Asia, and North America. Valuable old stories travel far.
Recently, I walked across an almost empty parking lot, and passed a few masked people. Being who I am, I tried, at a safe distance, to make eye contact. Behind my own mask, I smiled and said, “Hi.”
No one spoke or looked directly at me. Shoulders hunched, eyes to the ground, brows furrowed, strangers remained strangers. I thought, are masks distancing us even more than we already must be, or is it the fearful, lonely frustration behind them?
Masks can help us stay physically healthy in these pandemic times, but they can’t protect us against our fears. They may help preserve our physical wellbeing, but they won’t lift our spirits, or bring us joy.
We must communicate hope and empathy, and let our hearts shine. No matter how much masks obscure, they don’t hide our eyes, our body language, or our voices, tools that have always been important to sharing our stories. Now, they’re even more important to sharing our humanity, showing others that we’re safe havens for one another, even when we must remain separated.
To be whole, to make the journey easier, to find shelter, the two men in my folktale adaptation needed one another. Together, they found possibility and hope. One couldn’t see, but heard the voice of his new brother. One couldn’t walk, but recognized the strength of another. Both were willing to ask for and receive help. If either had ignored the other, where might each have ended his journey? And what might have happened to that mother, who was alone?
Our present situation may not be a “happily ever after” narrative. Real life isn’t. But we can live this story together, and communicate.
We can be there for one another, even behind the masks we wear.
Listen to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer talk about how we came to love what can happen when we discover and share our truth in workshops, meetings, and other sessions. For Joy, it started with leading workshops for students at Columbine High School in Colorado after the 1999 shooting, and Caryn found her facilitation legs leading large meetings for people of many backgrounds fighting against a highway that would have impacted the environment, history, and even native American burial mounds.
The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying.
It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?
Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs.
Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.
This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish.
In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling.
This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.
We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.
We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.
“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace
Beloved TLA community, From our work-from-home desks and tables, we are thinking of all of you in our transformative language arts family. You’re at the heart of everything we do, and we are so thankful for our connections with you, and for your ongoing support.
We recognize that the transformative language arts can provide both a place of refuge and calm in these stressful times, as well as a means for people to speak out about and fight against injustice, and we take the role of creating space for the TLA community very seriously.
Our rapidly-changing reality has required an incredible rethink about what it means to be together, while apart. How do we care—for our loved ones, our colleagues, and even our families—from a distance? How do we, at the TLA Network, best serve you, our community, during the difficult days that lie ahead?
We deeply believe in the power of words, and in particular, the power of your words, to make a difference, and to have an impact. Your voice matters, and the ways that you use your voice in this time – whatever form that might take – makes a difference as we work towards creating a world that works well for everyone – a world characterized by justice, equity, and fairness for all.
This unprecedented time of social distancing can be a solitary one, but it doesn’t need to be. Pleasereach out to us and we will do everything possible to respond with consideration and care.
We view the safety and wellbeing of our students, teachers and business partners as the highest priority as we respond to an evolving COVID-19 world. We are in the process of reviewing our in-person conference, classes, and trainings, and will keep in close contact with you as our plans evolve. Look for more information in the coming days about our fall gathering, the Power of Words, scheduled for October in Santa Fe, and featuring the United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as keynote.
The Transformative Language Arts Network is devoted to creating new and meaningful ways of being together, even while apart. Let’s continue to take care of each other during this turbulent time, and long after! We wish for you what we wish for our own families: that through this trying time we find ourselves stronger and closer, and that we remember to fight for what is right, while being gracious with ourselves and those around us.
Stay well, stay close and stay connected,
Liz Burke-Cravens Council Chair & Hanne Weedon Managing Director