Chrysalis is open for submissions!

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Chrysalis is an online, peer-reviewed, international journal that publishes critical, creative, and reflective work on the use of language arts to create personal and community change.

Dedicated to the research and practice of Transformative Language Arts (TLA), it is a foundational resource for those who are currently studying or practicing TLA; for those interested in the power of the spoken, written, and sung word to engender change in both the reader and the writer; and for those who seek to discover that power.

You are invited to submit material to Chrysalis that challenges, inspires, educates, and guides us to grow the community of Transformative Language Artists.

  • Creative writing, audio and video products (poems, short stories, essays, etc.) accompanied by a short reflective paper regarding the process of writing the piece and its relevance to the transformation of the author and/or the author’s community.
  • Narrative accounts of TLA projects in action in communities, or experiences practicing TLA alone and with others.
  • Critical writing related to the power of words, including qualitative and/or quantitative studies, and other related investigations of TLA scholarship.

Submissions are made through Submittable on the Chrysalis website. The open submissions period is November 1, 2017 – February 1, 2018.

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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.

Journaling for Life Transformation by Susan Hulsebos

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds

These lyrics speak to me of a morning journaling practice I started earlier this year. I have enjoyed writing creative non-fiction for years but find that personal journal writing, writing for life and healing, is so very different because it is transformative instead of “publishable” in intent.

Through the journaling process, I am learning how to form an intimate bond with my own life, coming to know myself as a supportive friend. This unfolding practice has also surprised me in how it has opened me up to be increasingly empathetic with others and interested in their stories.

 I find that I can write to my own ideas as if in conversation with them.

My interest in transformative writing developed through the classes I’ve taken with the TLAN network in pursuit of the TLAN Certificate. The weekly class prompts have been huge in transforming my writing practice. I can now easily shift into writing therapeutically, and not academically. Listening to what I am thinking, naming what I am feeling, discovering what influences my behavior and then working with these insights allow me to change my patterns. I find that I can write to my own ideas as if in conversation with them. I can challenge myself, encourage and develop a more vulnerable emotional expression – unedited, authentic and motivating.

So, in this new way of “knowing”, unpacking baggage, cleaning out the shelves and hidden drawers of accumulated experiences, I have gained a new hope for the future and what it holds. I have new confidence in the plans I make every morning, I trust myself more because I am less reactive and more familiar with what I need every day.

Journaling for life transformation moves me from being a numb, passive responder ( co-dependent ) into an informed advisor in my own life, a compassionate listener who is reliable and who I can count on to help develop a plan to work with whatever life throws at me. Living with increased vulnerability to myself has also brought me closer to God in that self-compassion and forgiveness for myself and others is growing. I do not have to fear “not being good enough” for a future someone else has planned for me. I can greet the future as an active participant and co-creator of my life story.

This prompt always feels opening, very simple, and non-threatening, and is a favorite from Write for Life, by Sheppard B. Kominars, Ph.D.: What surprised me the most today?

* * *

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. The post is excerpted from a writing prompt offered in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s TLAN class, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life.” Lyrics are from Des’ Ree’s “You Gotta Be.”

Laurie Pollack: To my Ten Year Old Self

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 post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification.

As part of my daily journaling practice, I write something (maybe a poem or a brief piece of “flash fiction”) in response to a prompt from a book of writing prompts. I choose each day’s prompt randomly. One day the prompt was, “Write a letter to your 10 year old self.”
I have always had a sensitivity to harsh words. As a child I could not handle this, and the adults around me were mystified and could not handle ME. As an adult I have learned to use this awareness to honor the power of words to heal and help and to weigh my words very carefully. It has turned me into a poet.
Dear Laurie ten years old

Dear Laurie ten years old,
I know you feel sad

Because you get in trouble a lot
And sit in the principal’s office.

Because the other kids call you names.
Because when they do it feels
like you were hit in the gut
Hard
and it hurts bad
and the only way to get rid of
the pain is to hit them back.

Dear Laurie ten years old
I know you are feeling alone

Because your parents do not “get”
the fact that words can hurt
and tell you to “just ignore it”

Because your mother tells you that once when
she got teased it didn’t bother her
but that she just hit them with
an umbrella and they stopped
but that you should not do that

Because the teachers tell you
you just need to control yourself
and if you ignore it they will stop and
it will be happy ever after and the kids will all be your friends

Dear Laurie ten years old
I know you are feeling angry

Because the pediatrician tells your parents
that words should not hurt like that
and that you are too sensitive
and maybe in a girl it is a sign of
Attention Deficit Disorder and he
gives you a prescription

Because tells you it is a “smart pill” to make your “motor go slower” and the kids’ words
will stop hurting

Because you thought you were smart already and you like to read authors like James Michener and Isaac Asimov and you have written poems since you were seven

Because you think your “motor” runs just fine

Because the medicine does not help
but just gives you nightmares
and makes you scared to fall asleep
and makes you want to pull out your hair all the time
and the words still hurt.

Dear Laurie ten years old

I  am writing to tell you that words DO hurt
and you have a right to feel hurt
And that one day you will be in a place and
time where you are safe
and there may be words that hurt
but you will be strong
enough to find ways to deal with the pain
other than hitting back

Because you will come to know
that words have power
not only to hurt
but to heal
to change
to manifest
to transform
to love
to heal the world
and you will use words to work for a gentler world

And when you do you will call
yourself three words
That will heal you:

Activist
Teacher
Poet

20150626_203509Laurie Pollack by day works with computers weaving code using the words of the programming language Visual Basic.Net, but this is not where her heart lives. Her heart lives in writing poetry and creating art with painting and SoulCollage (R) (an intuitive collage art practice). 
She gives occasional local workshops in SoulCollage (R) and hosts several free Facebook events yearly challenging people explore their creativity in writing and the arts. In the latest, “April Fools! Break the Rules!”, participants were challenged to list 10 rules they follow in doing their art or writing then create a piece breaking at least 3 of them. She is thinking of expanding this idea into a longer online class.
She has self-published one book, PeaceWalk, in 2006 and is working on another. “The Box”, a poem set in Sime-Gen, the universe created by science fiction author Jacqueline Lichtenberg, was included in 2015 in an anthology of fan writings, “Fear and Courage: Fourteen Writers Explore Sime-Gen”.
Laurie likes to read her poems at events like desert peace walks and anti-war vigils, enjoys gardening, and shares a rowhouse near Philadelphia with Mary: her legal spouse of 2 years and life partner since 1995, and two cats, Maggie and Lucy, who rule and demand regular “tributes” of Fancy Feast. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Five Senses and the Four Elements: Connecting with the Body and Nature Through Poetry with Angie River

10999971_10207183679692038_1273670405101342328_nAngie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist who is teaching a dynamic online class for the TLA Network, “The Five Senses and the Four Elements: Connecting with the Body and Nature Through Poetry.” She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blog (https://nittygrittynakedness.wordpress.com/) and zines. Angie fully believes in the power of writing to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change. Special discount for registering for the class by the end of the year!

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: What inspired you to put together this class?

1796496_10207655113717594_91051899620670155_nAngie River: I have always enjoyed the experience of writing in and about nature. In my undergraduate work, I took a class from a wonderful professor, Bruce Goebel, who talked about incorporating “small noticings” into our poetry, and as a foundation for our writing. Being able to see the world through these small noticings has impacted how I experience the world. More recently, in doing reading and work around mental and emotional well-being, I learned a very helpful grounding technique in which you notice, using each of your senses, something in your environment. Reflecting on these things I was moved to put together this class, in which participants will practice “small noticings” using each of their senses, in various realms of nature, and then incorporate those into their writing

CMG: This sounds like a splendid way to help students open up their writing to greater vitality. How else do you see this class speaking to people’s lives?

AR: Not only will this class help students enhance their writing, but I think that it will also enable them to practice being present in the world in the small moments. This can be a vital practice when living in a fast-paced and often overwhelming world. Personally, I have found the practice of slowing down and intentionally noticing the details around me to reduce my anxiety and help me ground myself. I hope that students will experience something similar through their practices in this class.

CMG: Tell us more about how this practice has helped you and can help others develop their art of words, and a better sense of how to live meaningfully.

AR: The act of slowing dow11990506_10207375504847547_952140599183553748_nn, using all of my senses, and paying attention to the various elements of nature and the world around me has helped me to be more detailed in my writing. It has also allowed me to connect more to myself and better understand the way I move through this world, which translates to me being able to write more grounded and personal poetry and narratives.

CMG: What do you love most about the practice of writing?

AR: There are two main things I love about writing: the ability to transform often jumbled thoughts into meaningful art, and the ways in which writing connects me to others. 

CMG: How did you find your way into your TLA passions?

AR: I didn’t know it was TLA at the 11025859_10205844721218913_2721645719349275530_otime, but I’ve been writing since the 4th grade. For me, writing has always been an outlet where I could express the ways I felt and the things I thought. For me, as a very shy child and teen, this was essential. Without writing I don’t know how I would have managed my difficult times. The same holds true today; I write to heal, to process events in my life, to connect with my self and others, and to further experience the world around me. My love for writing transformed into a love also for performance poetry, which then transformed into a love for performance in general. My Transformative Language Arts practices have done just that – transformed me! Because of the huge impact writing, poetry, and performance have had on my life, I try to share these passions with others as much as possible.

Learn more about Angie’s online class here.

Imagine Yourself a Place of Unsurpassed Beauty: The Power of Words Conference on the Coast of Maine

img_13241-cropped-belownav-cropped-photoDeb Hensley and Martin Swinger, the dynamic duo co-chairing the Power of Words conference, Aug. 12-14 at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, share this invitation to our 13th annual conference. Read on, and register by Nov. 15 to catch the super early bird rate. Find out more and register here.

Imagine yourself a place. Imagine a chair on a wide porch next to a beach where you bask in the afternoon sun. Imagine a morning walk through a grove of sunlit trees. Imagine joining brilliant vocal improvisation sessions under a bright moon, filling yourself with poetry, storytelling around a campfire and choosing from 25 workshops on the transformative 3058162_origpower of the written, spoken and sung word.

Imagine a loving community of people, healthy, delicious food, good coffee, lots of music, time for reflection and an after dinner frolic in the surf. Imagine Ferry Beach on the coast of Maine at the Power of Words Conference, August 12-14, 2016.

I don’t know which excites me more, this fabulous conference we’re putting together or the amazing place where we are holding it. With world renowned Vocal Improv Artist and Activist, Rhiannon, Award 8117810_origwinning Poet and Author Seema Reza, Afrilacian Storyteller Lyn Ford and Quaker Minister, author and educator Callid Keefe-Perry as our keynoters, this conference promises to embody spontaneity, humor, comfort and joy. And what could be more a more gorgeous location to gather singers, poets, authors, activists, and a host of other transformative language artists than a coastal paradise only 20 minutes from the Portland International Jetport?

Ferry Beach is a retreat community with 900 feet of beachfront in Saco, Maine offering respite away from the everyday world. It is a collection of meeting spaces, wide porches, an art and pottery studio, an outdoor chapel, a performance space, many gathering places and a wonderful dining hall.2459481_orig

It is a place of unsurpassed beauty where you will experience the joy of community, challenge assumptions, celebrate, reimagine, and commit your own language artistry to nothing less than global transformation. It is a place for renewal and rejuvenation where a small but mighty group of all ages and races, for one glorious weekend in August of 2016, will lovingly and boldly explore the Power of Words. I’ll be there! You?

See more about Ferry Beach right here.

 

Joanna Tebbs Young: Changing the World with Words in Her Life and Teaching

12039647_10205649886620629_4834052489016945884_n 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 http://wisdomwithinink.com. Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class, “Changing the World with Words: Transformative Language Arts Foundations,” starting Oct. 26. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and Joannaheadshotsmall2-275x300finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

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.