From Page to Stage

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?

Set-up:
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.

Monologue:
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.)

The Journey from “I” to “We”

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.)

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.

My Inner Critic Is Not Having a Good Week

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. 

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)

“Topless in America” and Other Words to Speak to Healing From Cancer

Breast Cancer AwarenessDuring Breast Cancer Awareness month, several pieces have been circulating that speak to the power of words when it comes to deeply engaging with what it means to find a cure and/or healing.

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.

Monologue to my Paternal Parent, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the second piece by monologist Janet Toone.


As I previously mentioned, each TLA course I have taken has opened my eyes to the potential for healing with methods of expression I had not considered. I took the “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing” course taught by Angie Rivers. I really struggled with the technological requirements in that course. However, I was not long into it before the possibilities began to flood my mind. I found this combination of monologue and selfies to be particularly empowering.

(Yes this post relies only on the written description. I tried not to be too graphic with the descriptions but be aware the reading may be difficult for some.)

Complex Childhood Trauma, Decades Later

MONOLOGUE TO MY PATERNAL PARENT

I’m taking a course on selfies. Yeah, I can hear your response, “What the #%$#$#@$% are selfies? Don’t you have any real work to do?”

There has been a lot of talk about narcissism in this course. I haven’t mentioned that I knew a true narcissist up close and personal. That secret is out now.

I went out to the funny farm where I took some selfies out in front of the 12 by 12 foot brooder house. I was glad it is still standing, bare weather beaten pine boards on the outside and no interior walls. The outhouse is gone but some of those memories of living in that building with no electricity and no running water still seem like yesterday.

One selfie was of me holding the leather harness strap you shaved down so it would give a more thorough lashing. I remember when I got the first lashing which left welts from my neck down to my knees because I dawdled on the quarter mile walk in from the school bus. I couldn’t sit down at school the next day. Someone must have noticed my pain, because two teachers took me in an office and looked at my backside. But it didn’t make any difference. That was before CPS.

Biff wouldn’t let me borrow the gun you used to shoot at and threaten to kill us with so I could take a selfie. He still has all of his pain stuffed inside. He believes that ignoring it is the best way to handle it. So instead, I took a selfie in front of the bullet holes where you shot through the inside wall of the last two room shack we lived in. What’s it been, 58 years ago you shot those particular holes in the wall?

I took a selfie in front of the latest sawmill. It still looks like the one you threatened to saw us through lengthwise when we couldn’t roll those huge pine logs down onto the sawmill carriage, with those peavey hooks that were longer than I was tall. I was the oldest kid there — and I was 8 or 9 years old.

My selfies at the funny farm were just a drop in the bucket. The actions I observed you participate in still fill me with revulsion and disgust. But I also feel sorry for you. I won’t bore you with that journey for now, except to say that I realize you were not only narcissistic, you were also psychotic and anti-social.

Last year, I read letters you wrote home to your parents during you military training and I realized you were disturbed before you ever entered the military. Your commanders evidently realized it too, which is probably why you never saw combat duty in the war.

I have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend and understand; partly because it was necessary for my healing process, but also because I keep wanting to make some kind of sense out of it all. You walked some dark cognitive paths that I have not the time to describe here. But I theorize you may also have been filled with fear — or was it paranoia? I realize that even if you were here, you would not be able or willing to discuss it.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Being Broken, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the first piece by monologist Janet Toone.


I have written pieces for a number of workshops. Since my background includes a childhood of chronic complex trauma, some of my pieces focus on my C-PTSD recovery. In each course, I learned far more than I had anticipated I would learn about the healing process and different avenues for both viewing and facilitating that healing process. This is a monologue I wrote for Kelly DuMar’s “Your Memoir as Monologue” course.

BEING BROKEN

(Mature woman reminiscing about being broken. She is talking to a friend.)

I know about feeling broken. I suppose this is one of the big beginnings of my brokenness.

I was five years old. We lived in a tiny tarpaper shack with no running water, no electricity and no inside walls. When you were inside you could see the cracks between the outside rough knotted pine boards nailed to the two by four frame.

My father’s name was Bob. Since I have been an adult I have never been able to call him Dad or father. Bob stood with his hands on his hips, the bare incandescent light bulb glaring against the rafters. The rough wood floor was littered with clothes and paper beneath the bare table.

I glanced out the open door where I could see the dirt and rocks. I wanted to run, but I knew I dare not run.

On my back, I could feel the heat of the wood range where we cooked. I held my breath as he loomed over me and sneered, “We don’t want you anymore, so we are going to send you to an orphanage.”

His green eyes held some combination of glaring contempt and the look of a predator studying its prey. That look on his round face always chilled me to the bone.

My first thought was, “What’s an orphanage?” I knew better than to ask him.

About a week later, my aunt came to visit. I asked her, “What is an orphanage?”

I remember how I savored her reply. “An orphanage is where children who don’t have a family to love them are taken to be cared for until someone who will love them adopts them.”

I was ready to go.

I waited.

I waited through seasons, like a kid waits for Christmas.

One particular early summer day, we were in the second shack. Bob was screaming, and swearing at my brothers, “You stupid #$*&@#$#@#$*& I should beat you until you can’t stand up.”

I stood watching Bob’s volatile reaction and I thought, “Okay, enough of this. We’re out of here.”

Aloud, I asked. “When are we going to the orphanage?”

His response burned into my body and my soul, “You are so stupid and so bad, no one would want you, so we are going to keep you here and have you work for us.”

My heart sank in disappointment. The orphanage wasn’t going to be my great escape.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Balancing Work and Play: Sustainable Creativity, Self-Care, and Meaningful Work

creative businessCreating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work, and the Business of Creativity” with Laura Packer begins September 14. This six-week online class — do it from wherever you are at any time of the day or night — gives participants practical and soulful ways to learn how, according to Laura, “There are many joyful, sustainable and meaningful ways that we can craft our work and our lives. We can choose our path….Using creative tools, writing exercises, brainstorming and dreaming aloud, this class will help you think about your work in practical terms, will help you develop the language to talk with non-artists about what you do and why they should care, will help you build or expand your support network, will help you plan for sustainable self-care and will help you develop the resources to succeed.” Learn more here about the class, and read what Laura has to say about becoming a self-sustaining writer and storyteller below.

The first time I decided to try to make a life as a self-sustaining writer and storyteller, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought my talent and passion for the art were enough, that the world would recognize my extraordinary nature and flock to me. I was, of course, wrong. No amount of talent and passion will propel a creative person to the forefront of their field. Overnight success usually results from many years of hard work and dedication.pencil-599116_1280

The second time I tried I thought I would apply all of my hard earned lessons about business, dedication, and marketing. I would be organized and focused. I would be a good businessperson. I was. I was so focused on the business part that I forgot about the art and, while work began to come in I’d left myself no time or energy to dedicate to it. I’d forgotten to give myself permission to play in the midst of the administrative tasks of running a business, and play is part of what feeds our creativity and passion. Without the play and self-care the work was no fun and I saw no point in working that hard for something I didn’t love.

By the third time I decided to try to make a go as an independent creative person, I’d done some serious thinking about what I’d learned. The first time I forgot that I needed more than just passion. The second time I forgot that the passion was integral. How could I balance the need for creative nourishment with the demands of running a business?

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s come down to a few basic principles.

  • Self-care is essential.
  • Planning is as essential and can be as creative as anything else I do.
  • I deserve a living wage. I don’t have to be a starving artist.
  • Even the administrative tasks I dislike can be broken down into manageable chunks.
  • It is far more profitable to operate from a mindset of abundance in all things than to assume scarcity. There is enough.
  • I don’t need to work in isolation. Community is sustaining.
  • At the same time, I deserve the time and space to do my work.

I am delighted to share what I’ve learned with the TLAN community. While we all will make many mistakes in this life and through the course of our work, there’s no reason for you to make the same mistakes I did. Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity offers you a chance to develop sustainable practices for meaningful work, creativity, reducing isolation and functional income.

Through a variety of creative exercises (including writing, simple arts and other explorations) we will look at the intersections between our creative lives and the practical habits we need to make those lives sustainable. In a safe, collaborative and supportive environment we will develop toolkits that will keep us whole as we move deeper in the artistic life.


Laura Packer is a performing storyteller, writer, coach and communications consultant with for- and non-profit laura packerbusinesses. She has been a self-supporting practitioner for almost a decade. She has told stories for adults and families in venues as varied as festivals, universities, hospices, retreats, on the streets, fringe festivals and more. Her writing has been published in a variety of print and online publications and she was a featured speaker at the 2012 Ciudad de las Ideas festival in Puebla, Mexico. Laura has worked with organizations ranging from NASA to 4-person non-profits. She helps organizations and the people involved understand the strengths and weaknesses of stories they tell internally and externally; develop appropriate brand stories; works with employees to create a more empowering workplace and helps craft a variety of media to tell those stories to wide audiences. Laura also coaches storytellers, writers, executives, , teenagers, marketers and others in their own stories and for public speaking. She loves applying artistic and creative tools to the practical and prosaic, and thinks solving problems in new ways can actually be a lot of fun.