You may recognize Adam Driver from the newest Star Wars movies, but before his time fighting in galactic space battles, he was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. Adam describes perfectly how he learned how to find the words to express his complex feelings throughout his transition from soldier to civilian as he tells the story of how and why he became a Marine and how he formed his nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces.
by Diane Glass
In the last five years, I have presented to Des Moines University medical students on the topic of doctor/patient communication. They have enrolled in an elective course called “Death and Dying” to learn how to communicate with individuals facing serious, sometimes life-threatening illness.
Although still in school, they are not unlike the doctors I have encountered over the years. In interviewing patients, doctors choose to stick to the script, asking questions about symptoms, offering possible diagnoses, and recommending tests and treatment options. Computerized medical forms encourage this approach; insurance companies need the information doctors collect to authorize payment.
What doctors often don’t often ask are the simplest of questions: “What is this like for you?” “How is this affecting your life?” “What do YOU think would make a difference?”
When I suggest these questions to students, they express reservations. “There’s not time for this kind of conversation.” “I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.” “Patients just expect answers from me.” Their reluctance underscores a basic misconception about the purpose of this communication. It is not simply to produce a medical outcome (a test, a diagnosis, a prescription), but also to create the kind of relationship between doctor and patient that will lead to quality care over time.
This relationship provides care and comfort to patients with terminal diagnoses. At this stage, patients seek not only treatment that will ease suffering, but also the opportunity to talk about life joys, disappointments, and desires. A caring relationship in which patients feel free to share their feelings and experiences also serves individuals with complex chronic illness and pain. In these situations, doctors find simple solutions illusory. Patients face needed lifestyle changes. The illness impacts all areas of patients’ lives. When I hear a doctor say to me, “There’s nothing more I can do,” I know that he or she underestimates the power of caring and commitment. There is always more that can be done.
So to the medical students I talk with, I offer this kind of advice in response to their reservations about open-ended conversations with patients:
Reservation: There’s not time for this kind of conversation.
Response: Take charge of your schedule. Without your initiative, you will be scheduled every 20 minutes (or so) for a new patient. You can change that. Reserve multiple blocks of time, especially in meeting with new patients. Arrange regular appointments with patients with more complex issues; don’t wait for them to request appointments. Yes, fill out the forms, but make that a secondary and separate part of the conversation.
Reservation: I won’t know what to say if they start talking about their lives; I’m not a therapist.
Response: Your job is to listen with care, not to provide answers. You are not expected to be a therapist or psychologist. Listen for underlying themes that may explain your patients’ symptoms. Often stories provide metaphors for what the body is experiencing. Notice gestures and postures. Be comfortable with silence. Your patient may be about ready to share something important when you speak too quickly. Say, “Tell me more” and repeat key phrases and words so your patient will know you are listening.
Objection: Patients expect answers from me.
Response: It’s true: many patients place the bulk of the responsibility on the doctor for their own health. Communicate (and believe) that you and your patient are partners with shared responsibilities. Build that partnership by involving the patient in every aspect of identifying problems and working out treatment plans. Focus your resources on those patients who are interested in this approach.
Patients tend to keep their stories under wraps, fearing their doctors will consider them irrelevant or distracting. Yet in open-ended conversation, they may discover factors affecting their health they had not thought about.
Most aspiring doctors get into their fields because they want to help people. Listening with respect, compassion and sensitivity equals medical knowledge as a tool for doing that.
Editor’s note: This is Diane’s fifth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.
Diane Glass teaches classes in storytelling as a tool for spiritual growth. She offers workshops in the spiritual dimensions of chronic illness and pain and in the body as home to the soul. Her memoir, “This Need to Dance” (Amazon), relates her own experience growing up with spina bifida, being diagnosed with breast cancer, and finding meaning in her pursuit of health
By Diane Glass
Spiritual directors use the power of words and images to help others develop self-awareness, a relationship with what they consider sacred, and meaning and purpose in life. Rather than “direct,” spiritual directors listen, reflect, question, and affirm, calling upon the Holy to be present in the conversation.
I describe it as deep-sea diving with words. In listening to people describe their life experience, I note words that shimmer with possibility and hint to greater depth. They serve as portals to the interior life of the person.
Let me give you examples.
*A “directee” used the word “pioneer” in one of our sessions.
“Hmmm,” I said. “What does ‘pioneer’ mean to you?”
And as the conversation continued, “How are you a pioneer?”
And, “What does this say about how you experience the sacred in your life?”
*Another directee came seeking to restore a relationship with her mother, who objected to her daughter’s lack of belief in God. Turned off by what she experienced as an abusive childhood in a fundamentalist church, the directee said she takes refuge in her garden. Our conversation took off from there.
“Describe what you mean by garden,” I said.
“What is a refuge like for you?” I asked.
“How does it soothe you?” I continued.
“How does your love of the soil connect you with others?”
“How is gardening a sacred experience?”
Her mother is an avid gardener. Equipped with some new words to use, the daughter approached her mother to talk about the gifts of the soil and the virtues of caring for it. They bonded over the earth as a sacred trust given to them and all of us.
*A third directee reported she did not like the word “God.” The God of her childhood was a judgmental, stern and punitive father. She could not imagine praying to
such an entity.
So the deep-sea diving began.
“What comes up for you when you hear the word ‘God’”?
“What words do you use to describe something that is loving, comforting and safe?”
“What experiences have you had that made you feel that way and that connected you with others?”
“What words do you use to identify what is sacred to you?”
We read poetry and Scripture that offers alternative imagery for God. Women may be attracted to God as a nurturing feminine entity, but the possibilities are unlimited. My own search for God led to envisioning the Sacred as a dance partner. Together, we create and improvise steps to a joyful and meaningful life.
So what are the jewels, the gems of the sea, we seek in using words as portals to a deeper reality?
We seek the true self apart from cultural and family expectations of who we are and how we should act.
We seek assurance that a divine spark exists within each of us, placed there by a caring creative force.
We seek deep self-understanding of our values and guiding principles, important in making life choices.
We seek a sense of belonging, that we are part of something bigger and precious.
We seek the confidence that we have what we need to be happy.
Spiritual direction is a transformational language tool for emerging from the depths of reflection and discernment with a sense of purpose and direction.
Editor’s note: This is Diane’s third blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.
Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives by deep listening and companionship. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our significant life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon).
by Diane Glass
Through Kelly DuMar’s online TLA Network class, “Your Memoir As Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance,” I learned the possibilities and power of taking my print work to an oral form, the monologue.
I discovered the value of imagining a live audience in performing a scene from my memoir, “This Need to Dance.” What would be the set-up for the monologue? How would I shape the dialogue with that audience in mind? The audience became real as I engaged in conversation with them. My language became conversational, expressive, and alive. Without the fallback print offers to explain myself in detail, I cut to the heart of the story.
When Kelly brought in a professional actress to perform each of our class members’ monologues, that actress blew new energy into our pieces with skillful pacing, intonation, and her distinctive voice. She expressed undetected (by me) humor in my piece. I was serious about the value of talking to my bladder in healing a painful experience. But she anticipated the smiles this practice would elicit and claimed their amusement in her interpretation.
This class strengthened my writing through incorporating conversational style and honing my message. By reading aloud, I experienced the rhythm of my work. Some of it plodded. Some of it danced. This practice showed me what needed to be invigorated.
This is the monologue I prepared for presentation at the end of class:
One Breast or Two?
A woman unaccustomed to talking about her personal life has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone a mastectomy. In a conversation with a friend at her house over coffee, she struggles to share the intimate details of her situation.
You’re asking the same kind of questions the women at the breast cancer support group asked, Kalinda. I just don’t feel comfortable talking about this.
Oh, they wanted to know the specifics of my surgery and treatment. The leader of the group started the meeting by saying she had one breast, had done chemotherapy and was soon to start radiation. Then each woman followed her lead, announcing whether she had one breast, two, or none. When it came time for me to say something, I froze. Is it anyone’s business how many breasts I have? I just said I had had surgery without adding any specifics.
I know you want to help, Kalinda. And you can. Support can mean a lot of different things. Your offer to bring food is appreciated. Take me to the doctor and check in on me by phone. But beyond that, I just don’t want to talk about my body.
Reconstruction? Again, that kind of thing is private. These women were even debating the merits of reconstruction with and without a nipple. I just cringed listening to that all of that.
Yet I admit, when I saw others in the group pour out their concerns and having people hug them and comfort them, I felt lonely. No one hugged me that night—and I didn’t hug anyone else.
How can I talk about my breasts without acknowledging all my body has already gone through? In one sense breast cancer is less of a big deal than everything else.
Yes, it is helpful to have someone to talk with, Kalinda, but your probing makes me uncomfortable. Let’s go to lunch.
It’s back to my body again! You just don’t quit, do you? You know, it’s the spina bifida. It’s too much to go into now. Problems with my bladder, all those accidents. This experience is disgusting to talk about and disgusting for others to listen to.
No, I haven’t talked about it. It’s just than when I imagine talking about it, I think, “Ugh.”
It sounds stupid but I feel like I betray my bladder by talking about my breasts and not it. I can hear it saying, “And what about me? What about all we’ve been through together? Doesn’t that matter? Don’t tell just part of the story!”
Yeah, yeah, I talk to my bladder and it talks back. That’s the way we’ve survived. I couldn’t talk about my bladder to anyone else so we just kept all of this to ourselves.
Can I talk to my breast? Kalinda, don’t encourage my weird habits. Besides the breast is already gone.
You want to know what the big deal was? (Long pause) Well, I had horribly embarrassing accidents as a child. My mom or dad, mostly my dad, catheterized me until I was 13. I couldn’t even decide for myself when to go. I felt completely abandoned as a child when I was dropped off at school without anyone to talk to in case I needed help.
You see, when someone asks me about my breasts, all of this fear, dread and loneliness come up. I am still that brave little girl who suffers in silence.
Of course I am scared. The tumor is big. The surgeon gave me a 50/50 chance of it recurring. And my bones. Chemo will weaken them and they are already weak because of the spina bifida. What does it mean to have both of these things to deal with?
I suppose I’m mad, too. It seems hardly fair that I narrowly escaped death as a child and now, here again, I am facing a life-threatening situation.
This helps, Kalinda. It really does. I am scared and I am angry.
Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” I am weary, weary of carrying this burden of secrecy and shame alone. That’s what I am feeling right now. My burden is heavy. I want to lay it down.
I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to do this alone, not any more. Kalinda, can you stay a while longer?
Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her second blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)
by Diane Glass
Christopher Maier, in his essay “Creating Community Through Storytelling,” included in The Power of Words, states that “…storytelling builds community, or at least helps the process when the conditions are right over time.” “I’s” become a “we,” he said, when there is “sufficient shared assent to the virtual experience of the story.”
During the last year and a half, I have worked to create that sense of “we” among adults born with spina bifida in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, before treatment was widely available. Most babies born in this era died. A few lived and I am one of them. (Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the spine does not close and in some cases the spinal cord protrudes out the back. It often creates problems with mobility, continence of bladder and bowels, learning disabilities, sexuality, and other life issues.)
“True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.”
No one knew I had spina bifida until I began talking about it after my breast cancer diagnosis in 1999. Before cancer came along, I thought spina bifida complications would kill me. Cancer taught me that predicting how death would come is impossible and irrelevant. Isn’t the point, “How do I want to live?”
This insight made me long for a community of my own that had experienced spina bifida. That desire began my journey in 2016. I traveled Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska to locate adults with spina bifida and visit with them in their homes. Over time I completed thirteen such interviews and taped them. Judy Olson, another adult with spina bifida, accompanied me on several of the trips. At first hesitant to reveal facts about their lives, the people we interviewed quickly opened up.
“I thought I was the only one who survived,” a man in his mid-40s said.
“Wow, you’re old,” another man said when I told him my age (69). “I didn’t know you could live this long with spina bifida.”
“Can I take my picture with you?” a younger woman said, eager to show her family and friends that life beyond 30 years of age was a possibility.
Would Christopher Maier consider this interviewing a process for creating community “when the conditions are right,” I wondered.
When this work led to a presentation at the Spina Bifida Association of America National Conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, Judy and I shared the stories with a lively audience of caregivers, adults with spina bifida, healthcare professionals, and parents. Some of the adults we had interviewed came along to tell their stories in person.
The 57-year-old man who had never been away from home by himself made the life-changing decision to attend the conference.
“I’ve never seen so many people in wheelchairs,” he said. “I almost felt normal for the first time in my life.”
The 45-year-old man who had never met another adult with spina bifida started his own Facebook group for adults with spina bifida after returning home.
The severely disabled woman in her 50s found a caretaker to go with her. She ardently advocates for adequate Medicaid support for people with disabilities.
A man with spina bifida who had abused drugs most of his adult life and was now “clean” shared his story publicly for the first time.
The Spina Bifida Association of Iowa made this possible by funding the expenses of these individuals. With these stories Judy and I produced a video in conjunction with videographer Ryan Paul Buck. You can view it at www.sbaia.org.
During this time, Christopher Maier’s question continued to challenge me: Is this project setting the stage for community “when the conditions are right”? Are we a “we” yet?
Returning home, several of us decided to form an adult committee of the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa, meeting by phone since travel is difficult. We would like to organize a retreat for next summer, including teens as well as adults.
This interest in going beyond our immediate circle to serve others persuades me we have formed a community. True communities not only share stories within their circles, they also reach out to include others. They fight not only to maintain what they have, but also to create a vision of hope for others.
My own life has become richer during this journey. I understand my own history in greater depth. I am deeply grateful to be alive as I approach my 70th birthday. I am less lonely now that I have become part of a “we.”
Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her first blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)
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.
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.
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.
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 about 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.
by Janet Toone
Responses to traumatic experiences produce one of three nervous system responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing. The third response, freezing, is the one response that provides survival for many children living with trauma.
One effect of freezing in response to trauma is that the developmental stage of that child becomes what is described in Internal Family Systems as an “exiled part.” For that child to be who they really are could endanger their welfare and even their life. I spent a lot of time frozen and I did not write while in a frozen state.
Keeping exiled parts silent is the job of what Internal Family Systems, developed by Richard Schwartz, calls “firefighters.” The purpose of firefighters is to reduce the feeling of shame, pain, and guilt, and most often involves impulsive behaviors including overeating, addiction, promiscuity, and workaholism. As I began the work of identifying, accepting, and nurturing my exiled parts, my personal firefighters, overeating and workaholism, went into overdrive. My internal civil wars between my firefighters and my exiled parts have at times been epic.
As I continued working on this extensive recovery process, I struggled for a long time to find safe ways for the multiple exiled stages of my childhood development to find expression and be free to emerge and exist in peace so I could begin the process of integrating. I am not sure when I realized that writing in their voices was one way to provide resilience to some of my exiled parts. One of those safe ways of letting my seven- to-nine-year-old self emerge is to write mediocre poetry with lots of rhyme on subjects significant to her experiences.
Courses on writing and writing about trauma have helped me explore this process. I am thankful for those who have read and provided feedback during this journey. My empty chair has been filled by a variety of individuals providing guidance and encouragement and has had significant symbolic meaning in this process.
My inner critic has fits regarding writing this poetry but she and I have come to an agreement that this stage of my childhood has this freedom. While my inner critic has been effectively subdued about the writing of the poetry, she is very uncomfortable with it being shared or heaven forbid published in any public form. My inner critic is not having a good week :).
“Butter, I need butter” hollered the ogre.
Midge went to the fridge and with relief
Found a small wedge of butter for him.
“This wedge of butter has a bad edge,” He squawked
Midge muttered, “I want to ask that judge
Why don’t you lock him far, far away?”
But Midge’s mother held her grudge and would
Not budge. Midge was not to utter a word.
“Oh fudge, this mess is a drudge,” muttered midge
This is another sad, bad, mad day.
Midge stepped outside the sqalid dark hovel
As a hawk hovered floating overhead
Then a butterfly fluttered by Midge’s head.
Nature would hold Midge together today.
Some stuff, if it happens often enough
Or is excessively, viciously rough and gruff
Changes the wiring in the brain and luffs one by the scruff.
Gettin in a huff will only cuff the brain like it’s been muffled.
Even if one sniffs around searchin for change stuff
It all feels like a bluff, like you’re still sittin on your duff,
Cuz there ain’t no pause button, no do overs, no backspace key
And you can wish, but wishin don’t even make pigs fly in fantasy pink skies.
* * *
Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.
It 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:
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;
Crafting first drafts (exploring forms, including character portraits, essays, poems, Monologues, letters, dialogues and creative list-making) and applying tools for revision).
- 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
Kelly 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
This perfect aim you take
points toward some mysterious,
You will never marry,
You will love animals and women,
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 –
It’s the thrill of your life
when you get to the top,
This perfect aim you take,
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
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)
Poet Nikky Finney’s astonishing poem, “Topless in America” tells the story of Paulette Leapheart, who walked topless (after a double mastectomy following her Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis) with her daughter from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington, D.C. summit. Listen to Finney read her potent poem and you can also see the poem transcribed here.
“Don’t Think Pink” published in Psychology Today by writer Harriet Lerner (author of The Dance of Anger) succinctly raises questions about how breast cancer prevention is portrayed in teddy bears and pink ribbons here. The TLA Network’s own Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s “Take Down the Bras and Really Work for a Cancer Cure” published in The Huffington Post looks at how the reality of saving lives gets muted into the illusion of saving breasts here.
In poetry and prose, out loud and on the page, these pieces — as well as many others (please share them in comments below) — aim us toward finding greater depth and healing.