Making Art That Nourishes by Robbyn Layne McGill

Robbyn Layne McGill is a teacher and workshop facilitator based in Amsterdam. Robbyn’s upcoming 6-week online TLA Network class, Kissing the Muse: A Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventurestarts October 18.

Art feeds and enriches our souls in the same way food nourishes our bodies. Reading books, watching films, looking at paintings, and listening to music or poetry can elevate everyday reality to something sublime. But, because we are more than consumers, we also crave opportunities to contribute something of ourselves to the conversation. 

Unfortunately, we don’t find many opportunities to express ourselves without judgment, criticism, or comparison these days. Our society seems to have created a hierarchy around what constitutes a “worthy” contribution. So, only those who have gained the proper validation— through publication, professionalism, or fame—have “permission” to create. 

The rest of us are cut off from something we really need and therefore crave—the direct experience of our vital life force through uninhibited self-expression. To see and know ourselves through our own creativity, to play, like children, with materials, only for the joy of discovering who we are, what we like, what we don’t like—this truly feeds us. 

Original artwork, Robbyn Layne McGill

Images speak to us on a soul level. They bypass our rational, critical mind and allow us to feel whatever they evoke in us, intuitively. Unfortunately, that’s also how advertising works. So, it’s incredibly powerful to work with images—even if we identify more as writers who create literary images than visual artists.  We are all visually literate, and through collage, we can create our own language and meaning. 

When we learn to reappropriate the media and propaganda used to “sell” us who we are, we can turn it on its head. By cutting up glossy magazines and collaging commercially printed detritus, we change it into something else, not an externally directed expectation of who we should compare ourselves to or aspire to be, but our own reflection instead. 

Making collages, or “muse mirrors,” as I call them, is the core of my “kissing the muse” creative practice and course. “Who am I? “What do I really want, need, and value?” It’s so surprising how the answers bubble up easily through this practice.

Original artwork, Robbyn Layne McGill

Collage is accessible to everyone. You don’t need to know how to paint or draw to work visually. Different disciplines can inform each other, so my course also includes other expressive art modalities, like music, poetry, writing, and movement. It also brings in everyday modes of creative expression, like food and relationships, to stretch your definition of “creative practice.”

So, kissing the muse is an interdisciplinary, tangible, spiritual practice that puts us back in our bodies. When we’re making art simply to know ourselves, we’re connected to the moment, through our hands, mind, body, and spirit—cutting and pasting, touching and feeling, manipulating materials to make sense of our world, inner and outer. It’s so natural and human. We become collaborators with the ultimate reality: infinite, ceaselessly dynamic, swirling, potential. Through expressive art-making, we create intimacy and connection with ourselves, heal our hurt parts, and bring our inner light out to shine. And by doing this, we add our innate value as unique human beings to the world, which feeds us all.  

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn has an MFA in New Practices, an MA in Transpersonal Psychology, and a BA in Journalism—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting.  www.kissingthemuse.com.

Kissing the Muse, by Robbyn Layne McGill

Original artwork by Robbyn Layne McGill

Calling all creatives and sensitive souls attempting to navigate in this strange, new, unpredictable world. Could you use a guiding map to help you engage more consciously and courageously through all this change? The world can seem darker, depressing, and beyond our control when we forget we’re creatively powerful individuals. You can learn new ways to create from your most authentic place and more confidently express your heart’s true purpose and passion. When we remember we are the world’s contributors and collaborators, we can move towards remaking it, better, more inclusive, saner, and more hope-filled— even if it is just our little corner of it. A drop in the ocean, sure…but imagine the ripple effects one drop can make.

Kissing the Muse is a transformative practice that can help you experience your full creative potential and power. In my TLA Network course, we’ll embark on a 6-week Messy, Magical, Art-Making Adventure together designed to deepen your connection with your inner muse—your ultimate, infinite creative power. You will meet and “kiss” six different muse archetypes, each representing a particular aspect of the mythic journey (the same pattern found in stories, movies, and fairy tales around the world). This cyclical pattern also serves as a map for navigating your personal life, your artistic process, or the narrative arc of a memoir, novel, or story.

This course also offers three opportunities for live interaction—two group ZOOM sessions, on October 17 and November 21, and a personal, 1/2-hour, one-to-one coaching session with the instructor the week of November 4-11.

Original artwork by Robbyn Layne McGill

Ultimately, the purpose of this course is to help you engage in a creative practice that provides emotional clarity, conscious connection, hope, and encouragement.

So grab a gluestick and pucker up. Let’s go on a messy, magical, art-making adventure to change the world for the better.

Robbyn Layne McGill is a writer, film-maker and painter who lives in Amsterdam, and runs workshops and trainings around the globe. Robbyn has an MFA in New Practices, an MA in Transpersonal Psychology, and a BA in Journalism—but the story of how she came to live in Amsterdam (with a man she truly loves, and a cat named Leonard Cohen), and host collage-making “Muse Dates” is far, far more interesting.  www.kissingthemuse.com.

How Pictures Heal: Honoring Memory and Loss Through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives. In my upcoming webinar for the TLA Network, “How Pictures Heal,” these treasured personal archives will be the bridge to writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. (Learn more about the class here.)

The first thing I invite participants to do is to choose a photo of yourself to write from. Any photo, from any time in your life. It’s best to trust your instincts, and choose a photo that arrests your attention and seems to be whispering – it has a deeper story to tell.

Here’s what happened for Grace, a recent participant in one of my workshops, when I invited her to step into the three-dimensional world of her photo – in her own words:

When I was asked to find a picture to write about, I went to the one that I felt more sorrow, the picture that I look at, and wished I could go back to and stop time. There were so many questions, I just saw three cute kids, kind of looking like triplets, the way we looked so much alike.

I chose it not knowing how much the writing would come to life, I went back to that five-year-old who was plucked from her tropical safety net in Costa Rica, to come to America, where the cold hit me from my nose to the bottom of my terracotta soles. I am answering the questions that kept me in that time-warp of sadness. Today, opening up my mind and remembering things I thought were lost in a bottomless pit, the phoenix is rising, and the void of my past and memories of light not darkness are helping me stop, smell, and feel the sunshine that disappeared the night the plane landed in Logan Airport.

Grace’s 1965 passport photo, Costa Rica (Grace is on the far left).

Grace initially wrote what I call the “raw material,” from her photo, by answering question prompts I offer. Then, she continued developing the memory and her writing, and eventually composed a short personal memory piece, “Passport to Snow (1965).” Below are some excerpts from her photo-inspired memoir vignette (shared with permission of the author):

Grace – Always know, that if you keep both feet on the ground everything is going to be all right. ~ Tia Flori

In Costa Rica, where I was born, we run without shoes. We run around in the dirt, but we are always clean. Jabon. Soap. Smell of clean. A nice, shiny black soap with a scent I cannot get out of my system. Sweet, the smell of my grandmother.

I love to wiggle under my grandmother’s porch to eat the chalky dirt. I crave the gritty taste. Light brown to a red, like a spoonful of cinnamon. Me and my sister, Iris, are under the porch, eating dirt. The dirt is moist, like moss.

I am always in trouble…

At five, I feel my feet suddenly stepping into the unknown. I am being led by the hand, by my cousin Gloria, and my grandmother, to stand on a blank, white, piece of paper. What am I putting my feet on this paper for? The cobbler is drawing my feet with his pencil. First the paper was blank. Now I see the imprint of both my feet, left and right.

A few weeks pass, and a beautiful pair of ankle high shoes arrive. First, I smell the fresh paper they are wrapped in. Then I inhale the aroma of new leather. The white patent leather shines bright like the Costa Rican sun. The shoes are sturdy and strong: white with laces, with a terra cotta sole.

I have never had shoes as special as these made for me before. My mother and father are in a place called Sudbury in a state called Massachusetts, in the United States. They tell my grandmother, make sure the children get some shoes, because it’s winter here.


Who Should take this class? How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, with Kelly DuMar
 TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
 Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
 Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
 Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
 Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos.

We’ll create a safe and supportive environment, offering respectful support that inspires the development of every writer’s voice. I look forward to working with you!


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com

How Pictures Heal: Write Three Sentences to Enliven Your Spirit Now, By Kelly DuMar

In the midst of our shifting daily realities, I believe this one experience remains a constant: we all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. If we have access to a cell phone or a camera, we are snapping images that inspire, comfort, stimulate mystify and delight us. We are snapping images to capture moments of emotional nourishment.

Look at your own photo stream now. Scroll through the last few pictures you took. Now pick one out that’s grabbing your attention. Give it a title.

Here’s one of mine from my daily walk I’ll title: “Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed.”

Found Feather on Bed of
Seaweed, by Kelly DuMar

During these times when our daily habits and familiar counted on experiences shift us into periods of disruption, unknown outcomes, and deprivations, we need, more than ever, to give ourselves permission to renew our spirit and generate calm and comfort. Our personal photos, whether recent or past, hold secret satisfactions that we can immediately summon through writing and reflection. We can take a few moments, somewhere in our day, to focus on something that captures our curiosity, is deeply comforting, or profoundly mysterious.

So, find your photo, and title it.

Now, I invite you to write a three-sentence story about your photo. Only three sentences––you can find the time for this, can’t you? So, I want you to think about what is meaningful to you about this photo; you sense it, because the photo is calling on your emotions and senses. Let’s tease the meaning out a bit by playfully and imaginatively filling in these sentence prompts:

  1. This photo seizes my attention because. . . 
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around in it, I would. . . 
  3. As I return from my experience in this photo, I carry with me. .

Okay, as an example, I offer you a first draft of my own:

Found Feather in Bed of Seaweed

  1. This photo seizes my attention because of how the wings of sky meet the underworld plant life of sea.
  2. If I could step inside this photo and move around. . . I string the wet seaweed in my hair and borrow the bird feather and flap my arm/wings and fly freely over the Sound and have my bird’s view––how large and deep and hidden but full of life the ocean is.
  3. As I return from my experience in the photo, I carry with me the ability to believe in the vitality of so much that is around me that I cannot see.

I hope you will find a recent or past personal photo––with or without people––any personal image that is grabbing your attention. You don’t have to know why. I want you to let yours emerge in all the wonderfully unique ways your photo will emerge in your sentences.

Consider sending me your photo and three-sentence story. I hope you will consider writing from many more of your photos with me in my upcoming course for the Transformative Language Arts Network. We will generate new drafts of your writing in any genre you choose, you will develop, revise and craft your writing, and you will learn many skills and approaches for working professionally in facilitating expressive writing from photos.


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com

SPOTLIGHT ON: Kelly DuMar, psychotherapist, teacher, poet, and playwright

Kelly is a long-time member and workshop facilitator for the TLA Network, and she has presented workshops at the Power of Words Conference every year since 2015, when she also joined the organizations governing body, the TLA Network Council. Kelly created SPARKS, a quarterly online open-mic and featured presenter series for TLAN. In her upcoming TLAN class, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos,” Kelly demonstrates how we can use our imaginations to heal ourselves and inspire our readers and listeners with empathy, comfort, and hope. Kelly is a member of the TLA Network because, she says, together, we are a gathering of empathic and imaginative people who care about helping each other heal by “telling-out” the large and small wounds we call encounters. Essential practices matter, now more than ever. 

Kelly believes wholeheartedly in the creative and spiritual renewal of a daily writing practice. In August, she celebrated four years of #NewThisDay, her daily photo-inspired creative writing blog. “Every day,” Kelly writes, “I walk in nature, which very often is along the Charles River in the suburbs of Boston where I live. I take pictures of nature just as I find it, in all seasons and cycles and weather. Something in the landscape, what I call my writing habitat, grabs my attention, and I snap a photo. At the end of every day, I put my photos in my blog, and appreciate once again the beauty, aesthetic delight, mystery, and imagination of the photo. Then I write, spontaneously, into the images, focusing only on the present moment. This is my daily practice of not suffering about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. I discipline myself to be here now, and to notice and fully experience the beauty of the present tense. Many of my poems eventually spring from the seeds of this daily writing.” 

Kelly continues about the impact of expressive writing throughout her life. “As a thirteen-year-old, writing in my first diary about the death of my first love, I had no idea this impulse to tell-out my sorrow and troubles between the lines of blank white paper would seed a practice of a lifetime. As a psychotherapist, a psychodramatist, a playwright, a poet, writing workshop facilitator, and mother––all of the roles I have played in my life have been shaped by, and rooted in, expressive writing.”

Essential practices matter, now more than ever.  – Kelly DuMar

About a decade ago, Kelly found a photo of her Aunt Marion who had died of cancer. “This photo had arrested my attention in such a mysterious, powerful way. I knew I needed to unpack all the deeper meaning and wisdom, truth and beauty it held. As I wrote my first photo inspired poem, ‘Monadnock,’ the process helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss.” 

From this first photo-inspired poem, Kelly developed a method of writing from personal photos that can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally. 

“Whether we are singing or telling our stories, or crafting our wounds into poems, we need to tell-out our own, and listen to each other’s stories. In our TLA network gatherings, we open our ears and eyes and hearts to each other. We find beauty in truth in community.”

Catalyst: Inspiration, Contemplation, & Observation

From: Judith Goedeke

This poem was inspired by specific terrorist attacks, and applies equally to the ongoing, everyday, barrage of violence swirling around us.  It was inspired by the magical comfort a mother provided her child.  It was inspired by the work we are all here to do, which requires a steady hand, clear vision and a peaceful heart.  How shall we center ourselves in this turbulent new year? 

The Poem: he shouts from the dark room

. . . his mama scoops him up, rocks him

says “everything is okay, don’t worry

nothing bad can happen where Qu’ran is”

she nods toward a pile of books

a splash of yellow Curious Georges

and the thick, white one

“where Allah is, no harm can come”

she sings to him softly in Farsi

the sounds flow like sunshine

onto olive and orange trees

his eyelids flutter

©Judith Goedeke 2019

Dedicated to the memory of the 51 Muslims murdered in their mosques on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Questions, Prompts & Ideas:

I invite you to wander through the words, paying attention to places that entice or thrill or repel or otherwise jump out.  The shift may show up in your body, mind, emotions or spirit.  Linger there in tender exploration; surround your path with loving kindness.  Poems are my questions and my statements of possibility that I share in hopes you will explore your own.  Feel free to agree or take issue.  Change the words if that suits you.  And please invite yourself fully into the poem by changing any pronouns that don’t fit.

***

Are you a member of a group held in contempt by some folks? Are you a member of multiple groups held in contempt by some folks? Are you at risk simply existing in proximity of hateful people? How does this affect your body? Mind? Emotions? Spirit? Goals? Dreams? Education? Employment? Housing? Health care? Transportation? Food availability? Air and Water quality? Finances? Spirituality? World view? What are the everyday and long term affects of this on your precious life? What cumulative entrenchment, if any, do you experience?

If you are not part of a group held in contempt by some folks, what is the effect on your precious life, of living in an environment where others are vulnerable through no fault of their own? Where do you stumble?  How do you find and maintain a centered way forward?

At times, we are all the child in the poem, crying out for comfort.  Explore your moments of neediness and surround them in tender love.  Search for the bedrock cause; don’t stop until you find it.  What wholesome, truthful solutions arise?

Consider contemplation, meditation, self-care, prayer, the varied and infinite ways to cultivate a wide-open love that is both deeply personal, and is universal.  Consider taking effective actions in hopes of relieving the suffering of others.  Are you called toward inward cultivation or outreach?  Is one more important than the other?  Is it okay to do the thing you are naturally inclined toward, but not the other?  Or do you have a responsibility to do both?

My New Year’s wish is that we hold ourselves steady, rock ourselves, sing to ourselves, plant ourselves even for a moment in a place of peace.  Then may we respect all beings, bring true equality to life, and champion justice for all.

The enormous healing power of words compels Judith to write. She strives to clarify, challenge, redirect, own up to and celebrate life. And do damage control. 

Poetry’s unique spaciousness invites us to land in surprising places, come face to face with ourselves anew, and discover fresh perspectives. It connects us more deeply to ourselves, and erodes isolation. 

“Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”   Pete Seeger

About Judith Goedeke:

Judith Goedeke

An award-winning poet and retired acupuncturist, Judith’s work appears in anthologies, literary journals and River of Silver Sky, a book of poems. She facilitates Poem as Portal Workshops that foster loving self-awareness, intentional living and compassion.

Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

Right Livelihood: In Search of Runes-Part 3

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

Shall I become a Rune Master?

During the years that included marriage/children/divorce/single parenthood and my first explorations into runes I was content in my log cabin at the foot of the mountain on the far end of a long dirt road. We had limited, dial-up internet at the time, and I was not subscribed to a cable TV network, so most of my worldly news came through the Times-Argus, our local paper. One day I saw an ad for a “Power of Words” conference at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and since I was only living an hour from the campus, I called a friend who lived near Goddard to see if she had a spare bed for the weekend. When she said “Yes”, I signed up for the three-day event. The first night’s keynote speaker brought me face-to-face with Julia Alvarez, a favorite author of mine. I just did a quick google search of Julia and read through her bio. I was not surprised to see that one of her personal realizations was: “Since ours was an oral culture, stories were not written down. It took coming to this country for reading and writing to become allied in my mind with storytelling.” These words would ring true for me many years later.

In my continuous, frequently frustrating, sometimes delightful search to answer the question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I noticed that so many of my interests involved nature. I was a kayaking teacher in the summer, and led snowshoe expeditions at a local ski area in the winter. I volunteered for a program called ELF (Environmental Learning for the Future) at my children’s elementary school. I had been a self-taught animal tracker for years and was an active member of a local organization called “Keeping Track”. The director’s name was Susan Morse, and oddly enough, that was also my sister’s name. Her middle name was Carol, so we bonded and I became one of her most devoted followers.

Under Sue’s tutelage I learned about trees, plants, water sources and wetlands, connectivity of habitat, behavior, seasonal differences, social and privacy needs. Her favorite critter was the bobcat, an elusive, solitary, nocturnal predator who was on the “protected” list. When we were out on a tracking expedition in search of the wily feline, we looked at scat (poop) and could tell what the hungry omnivore had been eating (birds, rodents, deer, berries, eggs). If it was a particularly lean year, domestic cats or small dogs might be on the menu as well. Since my involvement with Keeping Track, I can’t pass by a pile of poop without checking it for content (hair, feathers, bones, berries), and whenever I find some mud and see a clear foot print I check to see if it is cat (one leading toe with no toenail indentations) or dog (4 toenail marks). So, the world of nature has been a familiar one for me and when I first found out about runes, I was able to identify with much of the language that was being used to describe each individual symbol.

Wild animals have many ways of communicating – bears rub up against the rough bark of red pine trees to leave hair behind and dogs and their relatives leave their personal calling-card’s scent of pee just about everywhere. Only humans have developed meaningful symbols to pass on detailed information. Over a thousand years ago, during the time of the Vikings and the meandering Nordic tribes in Scandinavia, the first runic marks were found on sticks, bones and rocks. Because there was no written language at the time, all of the knowledge surrounding the use of runes continued on through word of mouth. Just like the whispering game where people sit in a circle and repeat a phrase received in one ear and passed to the next person, the final combination of words didn’t always end up identical to what was originally spoken. The same was true with runes – the interpretation was not “set in stone”, so to speak. There was fluidity, nuance and similarity, one locale’s version and another’s explanation. But ultimately, the bridge of connecting threads was woven together by the spoken word, the communication and connection with an other, and the personal awareness of relativity to one’s own experience.

Runes were useful tools for initiating dialogue, investigating options, delving into past experiences and narrowing down choices. They were a means, but not an end. Somehow, years ago, the elements came together in my constellation and I felt the calling to runes.

I just had to figure out a way to take my skills and my knowledge and transform them into a profession…

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

Chrysalis is open for submissions!

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.16.55 AM

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.

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.