Not Enough Spoons: Writing about Disability and Chronic Illness

by Angie River
photo-4-300x225Around February of 2014 my body began acting in ways it had never acted before, doing things I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. Doctors began the long process of diagnosis, poking and prodding, taking blood, having me fill out numerous forms and questionnaires, testing various medications on me in search of something that would improve or eliminate my symptoms. Over the course of many months I began racking up a series of diagnoses, but the words that the medical system assigned me, while being a bit validating, didn’t help me to deal with the things happening in my body and life.
 
I found that I was in grieving for my body, mourning the abilities I’d lost such as favorite hobbies like rollerskating and going out dancing, or basic things like being able to clean the house or grocery shop without exhaustion. However, at the same time that I was grieving, I was also celebrating my new-found connection with my body, my improvements in self-care, and the community I found with other disabled people.
 
I was at a loss for how to express my feelings and thoughts about my body and my disability in any traditional means, and turned to poetry, which is where I always turn when I need to voice things that are heavy with emotion and less concrete than the normal ways in which I communicate. In poetry, I found that I was able to process some of the sadness and confusion I was having, celebrate the ways I was learning to communicate with my body, and explain to others what I was going through.
 
It is because of the profound experience I personally had with writing about my disability that I decided I wanted to offer the class “Not Enough Spoons: Writing about Disability and Chronic Illness.” The spoon theory (more info here) is something that many disabled or sick folks mention, saying “I don’t have enough spoons to do that activity today,” or “I need to conserve my spoons because I know tomorrow is going to be hard.” Spoons are, for us, just another way of talking about the energy it takes for us to go through our daily lives while sick or disabled. What I found personally, is that writing about my illness helped me with my spoons in many ways! I helped me to be better in touch with myself and my body so I could regulate my spoons better, it helped me explain my spoons to others and why I may have to cancel plans or why I may be tired more often, and because of the emotional value of the writing, it helped me to even gain a spoon or two! I wanted to share this experience with others!
 
The class “Not Enough Spoons” is geared both to those who are disabled or have chronic illness themselves, but also to those who work with individuals with disability or illness. The class will have two “tracks” of writing exercises. I am thrilled to be offering this class and I hope that through it many others can experience the transformative experience of writing about their bodies!
 
Visiting Hours are Over
by Angie River

Last night I dreamt I went to visit you in a sterile hospital room,
white and steel.
You lay in bed and I watched you, touching twitching eyelids,
holding hands that trembled as you slept.

In my dream I looked at you with love, longing for you to wake and smile
at me, rise from the bed and walk into the world.
Instead I woke, breathing through pain,
feeling spasms ripple from unknown places and darkness
creep into the corners of my mind.

I woke up angry, blaming you for my inability to work, to fold clothes,
to bake cookies, to pick up my child.
I blamed you for sweat pants and dark-circled eyes, for numbers
that climb with each step on the scale. I blamed you for hours
curled on the couch, for late-night sobbing in the bathroom.
But really, you have been holding me through all of this,
just trying to keep me together.

My therapist said, “Angie, the body does not lie.
Your body is screaming.”

I wish I could read between the lines of whimpers and tremors,
hear you over the static of neurons firing,
interpret your flailing language.

You pull words from my grasp, replacing them with stutters,
empty holes where language once was.
You reach over and shake me, pull my eyes back into my head
begging me to see your secrets hidden there.
You ache and cry with crippling pain,
and still I cannot translate what you are saying.

Together we dream of dancing.
You remember extended limbs, thigh muscles tight, toes pointed,
arms circling ‘round yourself before flinging out to embrace the world.
I remember exhileration, warm sweat on skin,
looking in my spouse’s eyes and laughing.

Together we repeat the words,
“We will get through this.”

Together we repeat the words,
“We are strong.”

Together we dance in new ways,
limps jumping and head nodding to music only we hear.

You are not someone I can visit between the hours of nine and five,
bringing flowers and cookies.
I cannot come and go as I please, leaving your side to go home to my life.

This is my life.

I am within you and you hold me, and we both are here,
in light and dark.
You are here, trying to make me understand,
trying to be heard.
I am here trying to hold on to hope and possibility
trying to be heard.

You ask me to listen,
and I ask you to listen.
You say, “one day we will dance again,”
and I promise I will not be
just a visitor in my own body.


 

IMG_2158-300x225Angie River is an educator, activist, and performance artist. She also has chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, PTSD, and a handful of other things which impact the ways in which she moves through the world. Angie has discovered that writing helps her to process the things her body is doing and the emotions she experiences. She is currently in the process of writing a series of poems based on her medical bills, as well as taking a series of chronic illness self­-portraits. She will be presenting in June at The Body Love Conference in Tucson, Arizona on the power of telling our stories, as well as on disability and performance.

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Seema Reza Wins USO Award for “Bringing Down Walls With Words”

Seema Reza with Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger, and Peyton Manning at USO Awards

Seema Reza with Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger, and Peyton Manning at USO Awards

Seema Reza, a member of the TLA Network governing council and accomplished writer and facilitor, just won a major award from the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore. She was honored at the organization’s 33rd annual awards dinner on March 26 along with Oscar-nominated filmmaker, author and war correspondent Sebastian Junger, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, and starting NFL quarterback Peynton Manning.

According to the USO, Seema received the John Gioia award “for her work with wounded, ill and injured service members at military hospitals and USO Warrior and Family Centers

at Fort Belvoir and Bethesda. Reza conducts workshops to help service members recovering from visible and invisible wounds express themselves through art, writing, film and music.” During the ceremony, she read a poem about working with service members while accompanied by Grammy-nominated, progressive hip-hop musician Christylez Bacon.

As one of the transformative language artists featured in Transformative Language Arts in Action, co-edited by Ruth Farmer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Seema says:

I love most of all witnessing the relationship between participants as they help each other move forward. Writing can be an isolating endeavor. We sit with the page, immersed in our thoughts and experiences, uncertain if our voices are valuable or valid. When we share our work—either through public readings and exhibits or in a workshop setting—we begin to feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to the collective narrative of our time.

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Seema, her son, a member of the service, and Christylez Bacon

Seema is also an accomplished writer with a mixed-genre book coming out from Red Hen press, and she’s a member of the TLA Network.  Read more about Seema’s work here, and see her superb website for more of her writing.

See a short video of the award-winners here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulCA1d0ikJ8

Perspective and Truth

 

Acrylic on wood board.  Seema Reza 2014

Acrylic on wood board. Seema Reza 2014

by Seema Reza

In her essay, “When We Dead Awaken” Adrienne Rich writes, “Our struggles can have meaning and our privileges–however precarious under patriarchy–can be justified only if they can help to change the lives of women whose gifts–and whose very being–continue to be thwarted by silence.”

I’ve been reading Rich’s collection of essays, “Arts of the Possible” for the past week.  I believe it is important for me, as a TLA Facilitator, to not only read great writing but to read great writing about writing.  Some of it can be pretty dense and exhausting, but understanding and weighing various theories about art making and the role of art in society is integral to continue to renew and deepen my passion for my work.  It is how I keep alive the sense of purpose as I stand in room after room to encourage (sometimes unwilling) people to write, to give their experiences voice.  Rich acknowledges the privilege of having her voice heard–one that we sometimes take for granted.  Even if we work for it, hustle for it, sacrifice for the time to hone our craft–it is a privilege to sit with the page.  We have access to literacy and language, a computer and the Internet so that we can put our words out there, submit them to journals, publish them on our blogs.  As TLA facilitators, we try to pass this privilege on, because we know what being heard can do for an individual.  We like to see people grow.  But sometimes, even with the luck I’ve had in finding platforms for my words, I experience something that reminds me of the early thrill of voice–the terror and the courage and the validation, the deep exhale that leaves the body alongside a secret.

Yesterday a very personal essay of mine was published on Full Grown People.  I was so honored to have it published, but terrified also, to be so vulnerable on the Internet (the WORLD WIDE web, if you will).  But with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility to go to the places that are scariest for us and confront them.  Next week we’ll have a post about love and overcoming illness and hospitalization through story.  Check back.

 

***

SEEMA REZA is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, D.C., where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the  arts as a tool for narration, self-care, and socialization among a military population  struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Duende, Pithead Chapel, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. When the World Breaks Open, her first collection of essays, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press.  She is a TLA Network Council-Member-at-Large & Curator of the TLA Blog.

WRITING PRACTICE: HOW I LEARNED TO USE MY WORDS

By Joanna Tebbs Young

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WRITING PRACTICE: HOW I LEARNED TO USE MY WORDS

Writing is my life. Day in, day out, I am writing—four weekly columns, magazine articles, and my journal—or I am helping others get their own words down. And I am living this life today because I began practicing at twelve years old.

At twelve I started recording my life in a turquoise diary with a lock. At 22, I became addicted to writing stream-of-consciousness style thanks to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. At 32, I began passing onto others through workshops the incredible benefits of writing I had experienced. At 42, I am a published writer.

And it was in my journal that I set a path for this future. I envisioned a life filled with words and using words I laid a road in that direction.

I remember sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I was a Trust Account Assistant or scribbling in my journal at the coffee shop during my lunch break imagining the day I’d be sitting at my own desk, writing in front of a big sunny window. I didn’t know what I’d be writing; I just knew my fingers and my heart ached to churn out words, not crunch numbers.

In my twenties, I tapped out the beginnings of an historical fiction novel and a mind-numbing autobiography on a dinosaur of a word-processor whose sheer size overwhelmed my small antique desk. Meanwhile, each morning I was turning out pages upon pages of handwritten drivel.

Back then, if anyone asked, I would say I was a writer. To the inevitable next question of “Oh, what?,” I’d respond sheepishly, “Mostly just a journal right now.”

What I didn’t realize then, as I penned on its pages my fears, excitements, dreams, it wasn’t just a journal, it was a journey. A journey towards my future.

Or as Natalie Goldberg would say, I was practicing. Writing practice. I was learning to write—and, more importantly, to become myself. Having no audience but myself, I was learning to write and be from a place of intuition and inner truth.

Like meditation, prayer, yoga, running, etc., it was a practice of self-care that helped calm, heal, and energize, so that with greater confidence and understanding I might face the world knowing who I am and what I wanted for myself. By practicing to see and accept my own foibles and paradoxes, I was learning to interact with others with more empathy and emotional maturity. I was learning the need for safe and sacred space in which to write one’s own truth. I was learning how to help others write theirs.

Checking in with myself on an almost daily basis—How am I feeling? What do I want to be doing? What could that dream have meant?—I was also learning to be observant. Then, by honing the skill of observing the personal, the minutiae of my life, my experiences, my feelings, and weaving them into a more universal story, I was learning to become a better public writer.

Today, whether it’s to write an article, help a client get writing, navigate the hills and valleys of everyday life, or envision my next future dream, I always feel more capable when I have practiced and processed my life and emotions through the free-flowing, free-of-judgment words of my journal.

***

Here are a few of the specific roles my journal practices:

Best Friend. It is always there to lend an ear to my concerns and hopes regardless of whether I require its services at 6AM before the kids get up looking for breakfast and a lost sock, at 10:30PM when I need to process the day before I call it a night, or at 3AM after waking from a bad dream.

Therapist. More than even a best friend could, my journal helps me through difficult situations—helping me be more self-aware and accepting. I ask myself hard questions about how I’m feeling, why I might be reacting a certain way; the paradoxes, the biases, the conflicting emotions. I try to always be truthful with myself and accept the answers that flow onto the page. I dig deep and unpeel the onion that is the emotional body: the memories, the triggers, the yearnings.

Personal Secretary. Being self-employed and working from home I am constantly juggling my schedule and brain space. When the inside of my head resembles the starting line of a marathon, my journal helps me sort through it all, to see what needs to split from the pack and take the lead, and what needs to sit it out for a while.

Creative Partner. When I was writing my memoir and thesis during graduate school, many essays and vignettes began in my journal, where, without the pressure of “perfection,” the words (and memories) would start to flow. When I couldn’t quite see the connection between some concepts I would take them to my journal, write through my confusion, ask myself questions until it clicked. Or, when faced with a particularly difficult memory, I would write it out first, let the tears, anger, hurt flow into the safe pages of my journal before I wrote the more emotionally-controlled piece for school. These days I use the journal to generate ideas for new workshops or consider themes and threads for my articles and blog posts.

Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at wisdomwithinink.com.

A Lovely Way to Start the Day: Morning Flow

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by Kelly Hams-Pearson

Each day begins with a moment of mindfulness. Instead of clamoring out of bed, I pause for a moment in that fleeting nocturnal realm, that place where sleep is twilight and the corner of wakefulness has yet to be turned.  Here fresh wisdom and clarity are found around lingering issues that have tugged at my life spirit. Here I am provided the answers to questions that have festered.  This state of mindfulness at the brink of waking, while not easily attained, can be acquired with patience and practice.  Over the years I’ve trained my body, mind and sensibilities to wake naturally most mornings, well before the alarm, even before the brightening of the sky.  I linger in this sacred space for merely fifteen or twenty minutes, rarely more, but this has become the most important time of my day.

In this period of quiet contemplation, this time of pause I’m always gifted with a simple word or phrase to meditate and reflect upon.  Carrying it with me into the day as a token, a prayer, a mantra, it turns over and over in my mind, providing me with greater clarity and understanding.  This exercise has allowed me to find my true voice.  Through this discovery my writing, speaking and living practice has been formed.

Once up and out of bed, I shower and dress, eager to complete tasks that comprise morning ritual, tasks that allow me to walk upright, vertical on the solid ground of the day.  Moving from the comforting cocoon of bed, the sanctuary of bedroom I go in search of my writing space.  Currently, that is the perch at the end of my kitchen breakfast bar.   Through the years I have created writing space all over the house: an oak partner’s desk in my bedroom, a book lined loft on the second floor, a corner hallway desk crafted by my husband’s hand, even a writing room converted from the bedroom my daughter vacated. She never looked back as she departed for college, deployment to Afghanistan, marriage and ultimately West Texas residency.  Over the years, in bursts and spurts of what I thought to be inspiration or divine vision, I’ve created half a dozen writing enclaves in my house but it is that corner at the edge of the breakfast bar that is my “sweet spot.”  My point?  Seek and you will find the piece of creative real estate that is right for you.

I write every day, something; anything.  It doesn’t matter how little, how much, what genre or whether it is “good,” worthy of showing or even re-reading.  Words are always worth the invested time.

No matter how dark the previous night, morning is a time of renewal. Senses and sensibilities are keen. It is the perfect time to practice flow writing: writing from stream of consciousness, devoid of the preoccupations of studying, reflecting and perfecting words.  This is a writing process that allows initial thoughts to tumble uninhibited upon the page.  I have found what is most helpful during this process is to reflect back on the brilliant diamonds gifted to me during my morning meditation; that simple word or phrase that was placed upon my spirit at the cusp of the day. Often times to make a connection, to glean greater meaning from the meditative phrase I reach for a companion prompt by scanning the stack of poetry, philosophy and world theology books stacked high on my kitchen counter top, selecting a random passage for inspiration.

After five or ten minutes of reading, I put the book down.  Jotting the date and time across the top of my journal page I begin the write.  There is no need to time myself. Instead I write the length and width of an entire notebook paper sized, narrow-ruled page.  Through this practice I have discovered that even in the “flow” I am able, to develop natural closure with a symmetry that creates an “essay of the day”.  Reaching the end of the page I close the cover, letting the words, the musings incubate anywhere from a few months to as long as half a year.

My final step is to revisit a previous journal entry. Here I review, revise, and rework my thoughts from an earlier morning.  It is during this reflective process where the previous entries take shape as poetry, essay, fiction or in some cases, nothing more than cathartic rant. Even at this stage there are many revisions ahead, but I’m rarely disappointed and often surprised by the force of my raw emotion, the vivid imagery and expression.  This process is much like peering into a mirror; viewing a simultaneous image of who I was those months before and who I have become.

It provides an awareness that while difficult to articulate, is quite liberating and healing.  It is the power of words as witness manifested through a dedication, a perseverance to simple and sustained morning ritual.

 

Kelly Hams-Pearson writes and performs poetry, creative essay and original theatre from her woodsy perch along the river in Parkville, Missouri. When she is not working as one of the directors for a local government agency or as a volunteer hospice counselor, she facilitates workshops and writing sessions. Possessing the belief that everyone must be given the ability to affirm their creative voice, to share their life story through the open, equal opportunity mediums of artistic expression, she focuses on sharing her craft with youth most at risk for entering the juvenile justice system.  Working in the genres of poetry, creative non-fiction and story-telling, she has won several writing fellowships and state contests with her most recent work appearing in The Crucible, Origami, The Black Chronicle and Splendid Table. Channeling the spirit of the late great June Jordan’s revolutionary blue print, Poetry for the People, Kelly stresses to inexperienced, often tentative artists the simple truth that hope floats not on air and expectations but through the power of words.

Baking Pies & Introducing Gems

By Seema Reza

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One of my favorite quotes by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder of the TLA Network, comes from this interview with Joy Jacobson:

“In a lot of MFA programs and writing conferences there’s a real setup for competition. I’ve been to writing conferences where everybody’s lining up with what they perceive as the best poet and vying for validation. There’s the sense that there’s just one pie and there’s so many of us; some people are just going to get bigger pieces. TLA’s answer to that is to bake more pies.”

I love quoting this.  I have quoted this so many times, I think nearly everyone who has talked writing with me has heard it.  I quote it on a page of this very blog.  Because, yes, yes, yes!  Bake more pies, make space at the table for every voice.  We’ve all had that tired conversation about the ‘death of poetry’ and I think this idea is the answer to it–poetry begins to die when it is made an exclusionary practice, a privilege.  Great art inspires more great art.  When we welcome more people to poetry, more people keep it alive.  More people write poems, more people read poems.

In a conversation with Ursula Rucker before a performance of REDBone: A Biomythography, writer and TLA Member Mahogany L. Browne said, “Before I found your work, I didn’t realize there was space for my voice in poetry.”  Browne has written books, edited anthologies, founded the amazing Penmanship press, and empowers voices from all margins and corners of society.  First she discovered the necessity of her own voice and then she set to work freeing the voices of others.  Mirriam-Goldberg says, “For so many people who resonate with TLA, it names what they have been moving toward their whole lives as a writer or storyteller working with others around social change.  individual practice dovetails with community practice.  What are you doing to make and keep community and foster healthy communities?”  How much poorer would the literary, art and social justice communities be if Browne hadn’t felt she could claim poetry, had instead decided to stay silent, to be an accountant?*  And where would we be if we hadn’t had the opportunity to hear her?

As facilitators of TLA work, we bear witness to less literarily accomplished voices that ought to be heard.  So often I hear a piece of writing in a workshop and feel an intense aha!  I wish everyone could read it.  But the publishing world can be stupid discouraging, especially to a novice writer who has put so much on the line by the courageous act of touching pen to paper while looking inward.  Self publishing on a personal blog or on social media is an option, of course, and a solid one, but the audience is limited to an individual’s existing circle.  In order to spread empathy, which I believe is one of the most essential uses of writing and reading, one has to confront the unfamiliar.

In an attempt to facilitate that, I’m proud to introduce a new section of this blog that I hope will grow and flourish and place a wide variety of voices and perspectives on the power of writing in one place: Gems from the Workshops.   I hope you’ll encourage a new voice to submit writing.

*in case the IRS is reading this, there’s nothing wrong with accountants, we need accountants.

 

Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique multi-hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a population struggling with emotional and physical injuries.  She serves as a council member-at-large for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and curates the TLA Blog.

 

How Writing Truth & Beauty Helps Us Accept What We Can’t Change

Kelly & Dad

by Kelly DuMar

Our family’s plan to move my father with Alzheimer’s from an acute hospitalization into Hospice care recently did not go as planned.  We’ve all been there many times, right?

There’s what we expect will happen.
There’s what actually happens.
There’s the struggle to accept what is happening.

Coping with my father’s Alzheimer’s continues to bring lessons in letting go of my expectations, accepting reality on its own terms – and writing poetry is one way I find meaning, discover truth and beauty and, sometimes, even humor in the process.

My father’s not ready for hospice, but he can’t return to the memory care assisted living residence we’d grown fond of – where we’d grown comfortable with his caretakers What has happened is that he is now living in an Alzheimer’s Nursing Care facility. Not exactly like the one depicted in the HBO comedy, Getting On – but I relate to most of the experiences the writers depict in the show.

The other morning on my run, I listened to a podcast of Fresh Air, an NPR radio program hosted by Terry Gross, with the creators of Getting On, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. I’m a fan of the show because in Getting On, these writers are making meaning, finding truth and beauty, and sharing humor inspired by their experiences with their own mothers, who were both in extended-care facilities at the ends of their lives.

As a daughter, I’ve been afraid of going to the places where my father’s Alzheimer’s is taking him. But, I can really relate to Scheffer when he shares:

“I think what caring for our mothers really taught us — all the way up through the hospice experience — was that. . . . ‘Gosh, I was so afraid of this, I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to be here.’ But being here is starting to feel like a good thing, a good part of life — something that we avoid in this culture. That actually is a rich experience, albeit painful; it’s actually so much a part of life.”

In “Getting On,” Olsen and Sheffer have found humor and humanity in their experiences of loss and love. Writing about how we feel about our painful experiences, and sharing that writing in any way we choose, is a way of finding truth and beauty in the moments we have with our loved ones who are aging and living and dying in ways we cannot control. As Olsen says:

“When my mother finally lost the ability to speak. . . it saddened me tremendously. . . [her caretakers] would never know who this woman was. . . It hurts on a deep, true level that we really didn’t know what to do with it except put it in a show. . .

Writing about it helped. This is how I feel about taking care of my father and writing poetry. My poems about my father’s memory care and Alzheimer’s are growing into a poetic memoir that is helping me be where I didn’t want to be. A poet friend suggested I submit some of my memory care poems to the editor of Tower Journal, who accepted all seven of them, published this week. I’ve listed them below with a short excerpt from each. I hope you’ll read them in full here. I hope you’ll write your way to truth and beauty and share it with all of us who need to know what you learn.

The Color of Her Eyes

…She looked at me. We must have remembered
something like love, and then she closed her eyes
and I was gone…

Absence

Stay put I tell my dad, like a parent
warning an impulsive child to behave
in her absence. I leave the car running,
heat blowing, knowing he can’t follow me…

What This is Called

…You can hold a bright white world called
something beautiful in your hand.

Who Does Not Love a Wall

In the unit called Memory Care he grows
wild and young as a colt restless to sow his
oats and goddammit he will find the exit or
die trying, there’s a wilderness out there…

Cornered

Somewhere there’s a door but it’s locked. They paint you into a place like this
but any way you look at it there are only two sides to a corner…

Mystery Shopper in Memory Care

…My money must
have slipped my mind into your bank account and I need
to make a deposit. Will you remind me what do I owe and
what I don’t own?…

How He Asks (After Alzheimer’s)

…How did you get here? By this I mean tell me how I
brought you into this world and what you are doing
with the life you’ve been given?…

Kelly DuMar is a poet and playwright whose chapbook “All These Cures,” won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Her award winning plays have been produced around the US and she produces the Our Voices Festival of Boston Women Playwrights & Poets, now in its 9th year. Kelly’s certification in psychodrama and passion for Playback Theatre inspire her creative writing workshops with transformative energy. Visit her website www.kellydumar.com, where you can download her free 50-page guide, Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Photos for Poetic Inspiration. Kelly is a member of the TLA Network.

Everything You Wanted to Know About TLA Certification

certificationby Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

We’ve just announced the new certification in TLA (http://tlanetwork.org/certification), and already there’s ample interest and some great questions. To help answer questions, I’m interviewing myself, trying to address all I’ve been asked and all I can imagine. Please feel free to ask additional questions in the comments.

Me: Caryn, so good of you to meet with me.

Caryn: Anytime. You know I’m always close by.

Me: That’s so reassuring. So let me kick off this interview by asking why now when it comes to the TLA Certification.

Caryn: For many years, we’ve been talking about a TLA certification. For over six years, we worked at Goddard College to develop this option in MA in TLA concentration for people with vast experience in the field. Because of new Department of Education regulations regarding new certification restrictions when it comes to educational funding, we realized the college certification program wasn’t feasible at this time. In further conversations, some of us at the college and in the TLA Network realized that the not-for-profit TLA Network was a much better home for the certification. We developed this certification to give people a rounded introduction to all things TLA. “Why now?” has to do with several factors: the launch of the certification coincided with the Power of Words 2014 conference because that was a good way to talk about face-to-face with those who were interested. We also just signed a partnership agreement between the college and the TLA Network, and that agreement grants people who complete the certification a scholarship of $1,000 for any Goddard program (spread over two semesters).

Me: Who is this certification for?

Caryn: I’ve been in touch with people who want to study more about TLA, put it into practice in their lives, but for whom getting a graduate degree doesn’t fit right now. I’ve worked with several students at Goddard who already had doctorates, and ended up coming for a semester to immerse themselves in TLA. There are also people who want to do the Goddard program, but the timing isn’t right. Finally, there are some who want to infuse their professions and livelihoods with TLA — from pastoral counselors to teachers to psychologists to activists to artists. This certification speaks to various ways to develop TLA, including active participation in TLA activities in your community and over distances, investigation and study on how TLA is practiced and could be practiced, and ways to enhance your individual practice of TLA, whether that’s storytelling or writing or collaborative community projects. This certification helps people incorporate TLA as an art, study, practice, form of advocacy and celebration in their lives.

Me: You mentioned the Goddard program, and so I wonder how the certification compares to the Goddard program?

Caryn: The certification provides participants with a thorough orientation to TLA, some avenues for developing a TLA practice and connecting with others involved in TLA, and encouragement to be part of the TLA community, help grow that community, and further define and develop TLA in the world. The Goddard program is a much more intensive immersion into TLA because its core is master’s level degree criteria focused on theoretical groundwork in TLA at large and intensively in a specific focus; a deep development in the individual art of TLA, such as writing a memoir or putting together a collaborative performance; and an in-depth community practicum, such as facilitating a series of storytelling workshops, teaching yourself filmmaking for change, or doing some other project that helps people interface with their communities. We’ve designed the certification to be both freestanding as an educational journey, and/or complementary with the Goddard MA-TLA as a first step or a way to develop a plan for right livelihood after graduation.

Me: How is this certification different or the same as other certifications?

Some certification in related fields are much more intensive and focus on a specific approach, such as the certification in poetry therapy offered by the National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy, which I did and found very helpful. That certification takes people at least two years, and is more involved in terms of the hours and costs. Some certifications are shorter when it comes to the length of time, such as the Amherst Writers and Artists week-long intensives. Yet both the certifications I just named advocate and train people for a specific approach in working with certain populations, a model for how to do workshops. The TLA certification is far less expensive than many programs out there, and it’s also open-ended as to people’s approach (although people who complete our certification may go onto other learning opportunities and vice-versa). That’s because we’re TLA: we bring together people involved in storytelling for social change, writing for healing and growth, spiritual adventuring through theater, and much more so that we can make and keep community across using words aloud or on the page for change. In the “Changing the World With Words: TLA Foundations” course, we offer people exposure to multiple approaches, encouraging people to learn about what fits their calling, community, and focus, and then to educate themselves on specific models for workshops, consulting, coaching and more. The certification incorporates involvement in the TLA community through attending conference and/or participating in classes, and participating in various projects, such as One City One Prompt, or Chrysalis: The Journal for TLA. So overall, this certification is based on coursework and reflection, and but also on action learning through doing TLA.

Me: Is this the only certification in TLA that will be offered?

Caryn: This is a first step, and as a community focused on growing our hearts and minds individually and collectively, we’ll be tweaking and enhancing the certification components as we go. I can imagine a more advanced certification option in the future, either through Goddard or the TLA Network.

Me: How much would this certification cost the average person?

Caryn: We’ve worked to make the certification affordable for people from many backgrounds. The application fee is only $40, membership in the TLA Network is $35/year, online classes are approximately $35/week, and the conference ranges from $160 for super early bird registration to over $200 for regular registration, plus room and board, and for some, travel. The certification overall would cost $500-$1,000 (depending on conference attendance, travel, classes taken, etc.). People can spread out what they do and when they do it over two years. While this might seem like a big number, it’s significantly less than some other similar certifications (although those certifications can be extremely valuable and do have different focuses).

Me: Who makes decisions about who gets in and who completes the certification successfully?

Caryn: We have a small committee reviewing applications for certification right now, and this committee will be reviewing completed certification evaluations and reports by participants at the end of their certification road trip. I believe it’s important that decisions are not based on any one person’s read, but from the collective wisdom of people with experience in the TLA world. As time goes on, we will surely reach out to people who completed the certification to serve on this committee.

Me: How would people get started?

Caryn: The first step is to click on and fill out the application (http://TLAnetwork.org/certification) and pay the $40 application fee. Within several weeks, we’ll be back in touch. Once you’re accepted, you can sign up for classes, join the network if you’re not yet a member, and take other steps. It’s advisable to start with the “Changing the World with Words: TLA Foundations” class to help you map out your focus. Within a few months of starting, we will be in touch to ask you to fill out your certification plan (what options you’ll be pursuing), and we’ll be available to meet briefly on the phone to help you talk through those options.

More information at http://TLANetwork.org/certification and the upcoming online class, Changing the World With Words: TLA Foundations.