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

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.”

“What Do You Love About Facilitation?” – A Conversation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Listen to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer talk about how we came to love what can happen when we discover and share our truth in workshops, meetings, and other sessions. For Joy, it started with leading workshops for students at Columbine High School in Colorado after the 1999 shooting, and Caryn found her facilitation legs leading large meetings for people of many backgrounds fighting against a highway that would have impacted the environment, history, and even native American burial mounds.

This podcast was recorded 6 months ago to launch our “The Art of Facilitation” series (starting with our Roots and Blossoms class, to be offered again in November). You can see our upcoming class, “The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating for Community and Change,”  for more details.

TLA Network Newsletter – February 2020

Join us for the 17th annual Power of Words Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 30 – November 1, 2020. 

Get $45 off the regular conference fee – the super early bird rate is available through Friday, January 31!

Featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as conference keynoter, the conference will take place at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, in the heart of Santa Fe.

Our conference brings together writers, storytellers, performers, musicians, educators, healers, activists, health professionals, community leaders and more.

We invite your proposals for experiential, didactic, and/or performance-based sessions that focus on writing, storytelling, drama, film, songwriting, and other forms of Transformative Language Arts. 

Submission deadline is March 31.

We encourage proposals from people targeted by racism, low-income people, people with disabilities, queer-identified people, and people of transgender and/or gender non-conforming experience.  

Spotlight on the TLA Network Council: Brenda Magnetti

Empathy.  It’s a powerful experience to understand someone else’s condition from their point of view. Brenda Magnetti has built a strong industry reputation for being one of the best brand experience planning experts to amplify the role of empathy in changing buyer behavior. She spent her most recent years developing award-winning digital marketing and commerce strategies for Beltone, Glanbia Sports Nutrition, Michelin, Wrigley, J&J, Unilever and Mondelez International. As a life-long learning advocate, Brenda just finished advanced marketing strategy, analytics, and technology certification from Northwestern.  And she recently earned her Brain-Based Coaching credentials from the NeuroLeadership Institute on her path toward ICF certification and her consulting practice.  These additional expertise areas amplify Brenda’s commitment to the power of words and her focus on Right Livelihood in both corporate and non-profit settings. Brenda heads the TLA Network’s membership campaign.

The TLA Network is governed by a council, the membership of which is arrived upon annually. In council, we come together as equals, all drawing on our gifts and working with our challenges cooperatively to forward the mission of the Network. 

Purposeful Memoir and a Thriving Future — Jennifer Browdy

Jennifer Browdy, who is teaching “The Elemental Journal of Purposeful Memoir” as an online class for the TLA Network starting March 18, recently wrote a marvelous essay, “Purposeful Memoir as a Path to a Thriving Future,” published in The Artful Mind.

You can read Jennifer’s essay about how we can make the world a little better through telling our story in this precious time here.

To learn more about Jennifer’s class, please visit her class description here.

Don’t Miss “Your Memoir as Monologue” with Kelly DuMar!

Kelly DuMar is teaching an online six-week workshop, Your Memoir as Monologue: Writing Monologues for Healing and Transformation, starting January 15, 2020. Kelly is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year and she teaches the weeklong Play Lab at the International Women’s Writing Guild Annual Conference. Her plays have been performed around the US and beyond and are published by dramatic publishers. Here’s a short interview with her on this class:

What inspired me to teach this class?

I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern

Don’t you love the invitation to enchantment? The theatre, darkened, the stage lit. Whether I’m in the audience or the playwright, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question, What if. . . is an invitation to be enlightened, and changed through storytelling.

I love helping writers tell powerful stories on the stage – particularly those whose voices and stories have been unheard, silenced, trivialized or marginalized. Thirteen years ago, I founded a play festival, Our Voices, for new and experienced women playwrights to have a uniquely supportive place to develop their stories for the stage. Our Voices is an all day play lab that has supported nearly 150 women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. I love how one participant describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:

“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness.  I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice.  Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”

How is writing for the page different from writing for the stage?

Collaboration with other artists is illuminating, joyful, and challenging – and writing for the stage requires it. Sitting day to day at one’s desk can be lonely. But writing for the stage invites us into a theatre – a rehearsal, into a relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage: “One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage.”

Writing monologues for the stage makes the healing power of writing visible, visceral and accessible – not just for the playwright, but the audience as well. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing monologues for the stage is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.

What are some of your favorite dramatic monologues? 

My favorite is definitely Emily Webb’s “Goodbye,” monologue in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town. What moves me in a dramatic monologue is when a character goes on a compelling emotional journey and takes me with her – she begins in one place and ends in another – she’s more awakened, and so am I.

Watch these Youtube videos of two different performances of the Emily Webb role – the first is from a movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCLHkaHOO80

Here’s the same monologue in a recording of a stage performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmCnzU5uZUY

What can students in this class expect?

We need spaces where we can give ourselves permission to un-silence our deepest truths and most authentic self. In Memoir as Monologue, I facilitate a safe, supportive, healing environment for writers to tap into their deep feelings and beliefs and find the courage and skill to share them for personal growth and craft them for performance. Participants can expect to express ordinary and extraordinary life experiences, and feelings and construct powerful, dramatic stories with universal appeal. Scripts need to be heard as much as they need to be read. We will have at least two LIVE webinars (held on Zoom) where participants will bring their writing to be read aloud and shared.

Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., C.P., is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year, and she teaches the weeklongg Play Lab at the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly’s award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn,HeuerYouth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and three poetry and prose chapbooks, girl in tree bark, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild. You can learn more at kellydumar.com. More on her class is here.

“What Do You Love About Facilitation?” – A Conversation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Listen to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer talk about how they came to love what can happen when we discover and share our truth in workshops, meetings, and other sessions. For Joy, it started with leading workshops for students at Columbine High School in Colorado after the 1999 shooting, and Caryn found her facilitation legs leading large meetings for people of many backgrounds fighting against a highway that would have impacted the environment, history, and even native American burial mounds.

You can see their upcoming class at www.tlanetwork.org/event-3567618 for more details.

Your Casting Call: A Comic Monologue — By Kelly Dumar

I’ve written for the stage, and held auditions as a playwright or director, and made difficult casting choices. But I’ve never experienced the thrill, the risk, the humiliation or the anxiety of an audition from inside the actor’s skin. When my youngest daughter discovered a talent and passion for acting in elementary school, I began to understand the actor’s experience of prepping for and going through with an audition. As a stage mom, I witnessed the emotional roller coaster, the hopes, wishes, dreams of success and inevitable failures. I waited on the sidelines, or, if the audition was a play for school, I waited at home, anxiously, for news of whether she had been cast–or not, for a much hoped for part. And, many times she was cast. And, just as many, she wasn’t.

When I began writing the series of monologues for my character, ENVIA! A One-Woman Show, the first scene I imagined was ENVIA! taking charge of an audition after a series of frustrating failures to be cast. It’s a comic monologue I’ll share with you now for the fun of it. I’m teaching “Your Memoir As Monologue” online in January for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and just want to share the fun of writing a comic monologue, inspired by life. ENVIA!, and her many monologues, have been performed and produced by many talented actresses, and all of them have put their own unique spin on this monologue–inspired by their own trials and joys of handling auditions over the years.

My daughter Franci, has, also had the opportunity to perform “Your Casting Call,” and I felt a great sense of satisfaction watching her on stage having the last word.

YOUR CASTING CALL
A monologue by Kelly DuMar

SETUP: An actress ENTERS, as if preparing for an audition, on a bare stage, dressed as The Goddess of Illusion

ENVIA!
(CLEARING HER THROAT, ADJUSTING HER COSTUME, CLOSING HER EYES, PUTTING HER TWO HANDS UP WITH PINKY &  POINTER FINGER TOUCHING AND TAKING A BEAT OR TWO IN THIS POSE. DEEP CLEANSING BREATH, OPENING HER EYES)

Hello! My agent may have led you to believe I’m here to audition, but I’m not here to meet your casting requirements – I’m here to shatter them!  My intention is to inspire your deepest, most authentic, creative response to me.  Oh! By the way, my monologue doesn’t require nudity, but it may inspire it, so, you’re free to remove as much clothing as you choose. . . my name? E-N-V-I-A! That’s all caps – My last name is the exclamation point! Aries is my star sign and Spontaneity and Creativity leapt into alignment the moment I was conceived!  Wherever I go – whomever I meet – here I am! And I am always evolving.  You will love me or loathe me but you will not beat my innate talent into compliance with your incomprehensible expectations and then reject me for my lack of originality!  I’m sorry – I didn’t mean for that to sound jaded.  I may be receptive to having an experience with you – if we are able to co-create a medium of mutual expression that sustains our integrity as artists and human beings.
(Her stomach growls)
I may also be receptive to an offer of a protein shake. Do you mind if I ask if you got enough sleep last night?  Are you open to feedback?  It’s just that you would have made a better impression on me today if you had gotten a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you were dreaming of me – And, if that’s the case, well, whatever you do – don’t stop!
(She gets ready to leave)
I don’t do call backs. If I’m interested, I’ll follow up.  No worries – I’ve got your number

END OF SCENE

Here are some links to my published plays and monologues where you can learn more about my writing for the stage.


All text and photos ©KelllyDuMar. Do not use or reproduce without permission. For permission to perform the monologue, contact Kelly DuMar at kellydumar@kellydumar.com.

Praise for Kelly’s Monologue & Playwriting Workshops

Kelly Dumar’s is teaching “Your Memoir as Monologue: Writing Monologues for Healing and Transformation,” an online class Jan. 15 – Feb. 25. Here’s what some previous students said of taking this inspiring and life-giving class with Kelly:

“Memoir as Monologue taught me the power of my own story. Kelly’s guidance on creating effective drama, her concrete feedback on improving my work, the nurturing environment she created for participants and the excellent resources she brought to the table opened a whole new world for me. This was one of the most effective online classes I’ve taken.”

“Kelly provided excellent resources, offered valuable, timely feedback, sought our feedback as the course progressed and created a nurturing atmosphere. The opportunity to both write and hone monologues and then hear our work performed by a professional actress exceeded my expectations of the class. I learned the freedom monologues offer in contrast to writing.”

“[I learned] better ways to approach monologue than the ways I’d been trying; liked that I cracked open a tough nut of a story in a new way, identifying the core problem Narrator needed to solve (which was different from the problem she was trying to solve).”

“Thank you so much for guiding us all into a most wondrous experience . . . and your attentive intelligence in keeping us on track and focused as each shared and bared depths.”

“Your class was awesome, inspiring and so very insightful. What gifts you bring and give. Thank you!”

“Your memoir-to-monologue class has inspired a whole new project. Thank you. And thanks to my classmates. I learned so much from each of you.”

“Thank you for creating such a collaborative atmosphere of mutual support.”

And here’s a description of the class: “There’s beauty and meaning to mine from your life story, and this workshop will help you artistically express what you’ve overcome and achieved, and creatively share your experience to benefit others through the medium of theatre. You’ll learn how to write successful dramatic monologues based on your life that are personally meaningful, emotionally satisfying, and relevant and engaging for an audience. In class, through thematic writing prompts and creative exploration, you’ll develop your ordinary and extraordinary life experiences into powerful, dramatic monologues that can be performed – by you or an actor – with universal appeal. In class meetings will present elements of dramatic structure and explore the artistic qualities necessary for an effective dramatic monologue. We’ll explore the role of conflict, plot, communicating subtext, voice, narrative, and the importance of set-up. New writing will be generated in and out of class, shared in class and aspects of revision will be presented and practiced. Beginning and experienced writers in any genre are welcome!”

You can find more here.