How Pictures Heal – Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, with Kelly DuMar

WOMAN WHO WEARS HER MOON HEART FULL ©Kelly DuMar

. . . A long time we were separate,
O Earth,
but now you have returned to me.

~ Elaine Equi

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 6-week writing webinar for the Transformative Language Arts Network, we will write from personal photos as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope, and resilience during and after loss. Particularly, throughout this time of the pandemic, unexpected losses, without meaningful closure, have mounted for many people. TLA practitioners and writers at all levels of experience will imaginatively encounter personal photos sparked by questions that generate remarkable and uplifting writing experiences.

If you’ve ever kept a diary or journal, it’s likely you know what expressive writing is–– and how this spontaneous writing about your feelings serves your emotional well-being in a variety of ways. Expressive writing is a way to get in touch with the “ideal listener” or the “silver lining voice” within all of us. The imagined listener who lets us express our feelings, hurts, dilemmas and joys, without judgment––or editing. And, because we write what we need to express without controls of grammar, form or outcome, we transform feelings, gain insights, and reduce our stress and anxiety. When we practice expressive writing in a supportive workshop, we also gain powerful feelings of connection with others, and the recognition that we are not alone. In fact, our stories and experiences can help others heal and grow.

Photographs fill boxes in our attics and cover our walls. We store them on our computers and cell phones and share them instantly on social media. We’re taking and sharing more pictures than ever before. Why? Because our photos show what we care about and hope to preserve, what moves and delights us. Our photos capture the people, places and memories that bring beauty and meaning into our lives. Writing from personal photos brings insight, healing, and zest into your life––whether you consider yourself a “writer” or not.

One young man wrote from a photo of himself and his brother as a child posing in the arms of their mother. As soon as he began writing, he wondered who had taken the photo. Ah. He realized it was the last photo his father had taken before leaving the family. His expressive writing led to this awakening: I was able to not only write something I’m proud of, but to process and communicate emotional difficulties I hadn’t been able to find words for in years.

Photo-inspired expressive writing revives our spirit. Long-dormant parts of our lives, places we’ve traveled to, people we’ve loved and lost come alive on the page. As the psychologist James Hillman brilliantly said, the gift of an image is that it provides a place to watch your soul. Expressive writing leads to re-discovering a zest for living. Deep conversations are sparked by showing, writing and sharing who, and what, we love. And, because listeners are truly interested, we feel a renewed enthusiasm, energy and sense of connection. As the author Martin Prechtel writes:

Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.

AUNT MARION , from the private collection of Kelly DuMar

My own photo-inspired creative writing was sparked by this picture. I was a twenty-two-year-old college student when the aunt I’d looked up to and adored since childhood needed me by her side. Caring for Marion as she died took me out of my comfort zone––and changed my life. So, when I saw my young, adventuresome aunt in my mother’s scrapbook, I asked her if I could keep it. This photo of Marion, captured in this archetypal pose of the archer, like the goddess Diana, stretching her bow, aiming her arrow, captivated me. My expressive writing helped me unpack all the truth, beauty and healing it held.

What I love most about photo-inspired writing is that it engages us with the profound beauty of our ordinary lives. We discover what I call The Secret Reveal––a revelation––something we have been unable to express that leads us to a new way of knowing ourselves or others and changes our response to the community and the world.

About the Webinar Format
This 6-week class is hosted on the online teaching platform, Wet Ink, and on Zoom. The Wet Ink platform allows you to log in on you own time to post your writing from the prompts and get to know others through their writing by adding your comments. The day before class begins, you’ll receive an invitation to join Wet Ink. There are no browser requirements, and Wet Ink is mobile-friendly. Additionally, you will have three LIVE webinars on Zoom to discuss your writing and interact in real time with other participants (scheduled during the first week according to best availability of participants).

Who Should Take This Class
This course will serve writers and TLA practitioners at all levels of experience, as well as anyone interested in personal and artistic development. Counseling professionals and para-professionals will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development. Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos may also be quite interested.

About Kelly DuMar
Kelly is a poet, playwright, workshop facilitator, and certified psychodramatist from the Boston area who has been leading creative writing workshops for decades. She’s author of three poetry chapbooks, and her fourth is upcoming from Lily Press, 2023. A producer of high-quality literary and transformative arts programming, Kelly currently serves on the Board of the Transformative Language Arts Network, and produces the Open Mic Writer Series for the Journal of Expressive Writing. Her past board leaderships include the International Women’s Writing Guild, and Playwright’s Platform, Boston. She blogs her nature photos and creative writing from the Charles River (where she lives) daily, for the past six years, at #NewThisDay.

The Messenger, a guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

Credit: Sharon Bippus

To be seen is something that I have struggled with since childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I was the middle child sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother, my mother’s obvious favorite. I was the second girl when I don’t think my mother even wanted the first one. I felt unloved and neglected. Feeling so shy and awkward, it felt safer to remain hidden and keep my distance.

Fast forward to the present, and I continue to work on this issue. To be sure, I have made progress, and my creativity has played a large role in my healing. My art, whether it is photography or mixed media or collage, is where I can safely express my emotions. It’s where I can relax and play. It’s how I can give back to that little girl inside me that never felt safe or wanted.

Nowadays, I find my creative outlet expanding into writing which is a new way of being seen. While taking Kelly DuMar’s “How Pictures Heal” course with TLAN, I had the opportunity to examine layers of myself, which allowed me to both see myself more clearly and to be seen by others. It was in this course that a photograph of a cardinal taken at a nearby nature sanctuary helped me uncover a revealing message about myself.

Read more

For the first assignment in the course, Kelly directed us to select one of our own photographs to use as a writing prompt. I had no idea which of my personal photos to choose, and I spent hours scrolling through the pictures on my phone. A few of them whispered to me, but none of them really jumped out. Then – serendipitously – I was checking one of my social media accounts and saw that a woman, whom I don’t know personally, had tagged me in a photo. She is an artist and a friend of friends, and I follow her on social media. Intrigued, I looked at her comment to me. She had taken one of the photos that I had recently posted on Instagram and used it as a model for her watercolor painting. A thrill of excitement went through me, and my mouth hung open in surprise. Someone who works as an artist had been inspired by my photograph! I was so excited, so flattered, so joyful! 

This was the picture. This was the picture that I needed to explore in Kelly’s class – a bright red cardinal staring straight at me, seeds protruding from his beak making it look like he has buck teeth. He saw me and tried to make me laugh with his fake teeth. Then Sue (the artist!) saw my work, and by doing so, I felt as if she saw me. She saw the beauty that I try to capture and share with the world.

Some people say that birds are messengers, and I believe that is true. This is what my cardinal told me:

People notice me and see my beauty right away.  There’s no hiding it.

I can fly.  I can soar.  I am free.

Nature is my home.  The trees shelter me.  The wind guides me.  The rain cleanses me.

I am nourished here in this sanctuary.  I am bold and determined.  I can look you right in the eye, and I can make you laugh.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

(1/5)

I found a community: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Tracie Nichols

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

Walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Tracie Nichols

Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two venerable Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, fascinated by the potential of language to heal and transform people and communities. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics. She’s just beginning her foray into submitting poetry for publication and has already accumulated a healthy pile of rejections to her few joyfully celebrated acceptances.

Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Tracie Nichols: One ordinary Tuesday in January 2020 a writer friend mentioned an organization with great writing classes called the Transformative Language Arts Network. Being a perpetually curious lover of words, I found the website and started excavating. As I explored, I realized that the Transformative Language Arts bring together two foundational foci of my life: my master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change, and my deep love of writing—especially its power to cultivate understanding and catalyze change. Within days I registered for “Changing the World With Words” and within the first few weeks recognized that I’d found a community of practice where I fit. 

The timing of this recognition collided with my 58th birthday and the milestone of having been in practice as a life and business coach for nearly a decade. Through the preceding winter, I’d had a sense that a pivot was coming in both my life and work. The TLA Foundations certificate process offered me a way to continue exploring both the intersections between Transformative Learning and Transformative Language Arts and the possibilities for making language the focus of this next piece of my body of work. It also connected me with an extraordinary community of artists and facilitators who continue to influence and inspire me. 

What TLAN courses did you find most useful and why?

I have found every TLAN course helpful in its own way. Among the courses specific to earning the certificate, I found “Changing the World With Words” the most useful because it grounded me so well into the concepts and the community. I felt oriented and able to navigate ensuing courses with ease. I loved “The Art of Facilitation” and only found it marginally less useful because, by the time I took the course, I had nearly 20 years of experience with facilitating formal and informal group learning experiences. The course that changed me, that radically shifted my perception of myself and my capacities as a word artist and change maker, was “& They Call Us Crazy” [with Caits Meissner]. I almost didn’t enroll because it felt like such a giant step outside my comfort zone. That stretch was what taught me the most, of course. 

What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned – viscerally, not just theoretically – that people in all kinds of struggle can use language arts to plant their staff, push outward, and redraw the terrain that is their birthright. They can take up the space that was denied them by terror, trauma, social and cultural oppression, becoming creative forces for change in their own lives and communities.

Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Two experiences stand out:

During “& They Call Us Crazy” I learned that I had wrapped my poetic self in a very tiny, tidy package, afraid if I tested my edges, I’d lose the voice I’d spent a decade excavating. I spent the next five weeks repeatedly testing and disproving that assumption, surprising myself with the intensity and candor of my own writing. This was an incredibly affirming experience. 

During the pre-conference panel discussion at the 2021 Power of Words Conference, Joy Harjo invited us to “move with honor and integrity” and a bit later in the conversation said something like, the power doesn’t belong to us—it was given to us to take care of and share. She reminded me that walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one. My ears are still metaphorically ringing from that wake-up call. 

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

The certificate process helped me define myself as an artist and as a facilitator by encouraging me to reclaim myself as a poet and as a midwife of words, both mine and other people’s. It reminded me that writing is an exquisitely powerful wayfinding tool in anyone’s hands. 

I have pivoted my business and now offer classes and writing circles centered on personal transformation and cultivating resilience. Though I welcome anyone, an interesting mix of women counselors, coaches, wellness practitioners and artists seem to gravitate to my offerings these days. 

Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Absolutely, yes. For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.   

Learn more at tracienichols.com, or connect with her on Instagram at @tracietnichols (https://www.instagram.com/tracietnichols/).

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

Something shifted within me: An interview with Renu Thomas, recent graduate of the TLA Foundations Certificate

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

I feel challenged to use my voice for social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Renu Thomas

Renu Sarah Thomas in a BAAT registered Art Psychotherapist, educator and workshop facilitator. She was born in India, raised in England, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Renu has lived in India but for most of her adult life she has lived in Dubai (UAE).

Renu has a Masters in Textiles and Clothing from Coimbatore, India and a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Edinburgh, Scotland. She has extensive experience working with adults and children of varied ethnicities and having witnessed their stories, has a growing interest in the field of displacement and trauma.

As a self-taught artist, Renu finds ceramics and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable. However, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. She passionately encourages others to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves and live on purpose. 

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Renu Thomas: I would say that it was the sense of achievement and satisfaction I felt on the first course that made me curious about possible certificate with TLA. I felt the certificate would give me credibility in using language as an expressive art form along with art-making in my coaching/facilitation work.

What courses did you find most useful? Why?

In terms of personal transformation, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Writing” [with Kelly DuMar] was the most useful course. I found that I was able to engage better than I thought possible. The facilitator’s weekly feedback very detailed, constructive, and encouraging.

I also felt a very strong connection with the others in the group. I read their work and was intrigued by the fact that although we were so different in terms of life experience and cultural background, we had such similar stories.

The Foundations [“Changing the World with Words” with Joanna Tebbs Young] courses were extremely useful in improving my skills and confidence as a coach/facilitator, in workshop design, and in giving me direction as to next steps to improve my reach.

TLAN: What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

Validation.

More often than not I was the only one in the group who wasn’t a writer or had a degree in English. However, the sense of acceptance and belonging was unprecedented and that played a huge role in my wanting to sign up for more courses and complete the certificate.

TLAN: Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

The showcase at the end of the “Your Memoir as Monologue” [with Kelly DuMar] was a very pleasant surprise. I have shied away from sharing my written work because it never felt good enough. The experience of seeing my photo on the flier along side other playwrights and writers and having my monologue performed by an actor and witnessed by people other than those in the group — it shifted something within me.

The Power of Words conference was a unique experience and I am so grateful that it was possible online. I appreciated the vulnerability of first-time presenters of workshops as well as the variety of offerings. It showed me how we can combine our skills, knowledge, and passions in our workshop design.

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

I have used ideas and suggestions from the TLA courses in my workshop design and in my facilitation.

My father has Parkinson’s Disease, so I am hoping to create more awareness of the disease and the abilities of the individuals who are living with it. I also want to have conversations around geriatric bullying which I find to be prevalent in India. In all I do, I also hope to include advocacy for creative/expressive art psychotherapy for mental wellness and health.

I feel challenged to use my voice or social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple. The two certificate foundation courses [now rolled into one] were instrumental in this. I feel grateful.

Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Of course! In fact, I already have.

Renu can found at www.artspeaks.org

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

New Scholarship Fund Supports Access to Conferences and Classes.

The Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Fund was established in the fall of 2021 to honor the founder of the transformative language arts and the TLA Network. The Fund provides Power of Words Conference and TLA Network classes support for both BIPOC people and people who are living with serious illness and/or disabilities.

The following remarks by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg were made at the TLA Network’s online Power of Words Conference, on October 30, 2021.

I am so honored by this fund in my name, which will provide scholarships for people of color, people living with serious illness, and people with disabilities.

Why these communities, all of whom are negatively impacted in our problematic world:

As a survivor of both a very common cancer and a very rare cancer, and as someone who’s had the joy and education of facilitating writing workshops for 18 years for people living with serious illness – patients, survivors, caregivers, and community members, I know first-hand how essential is to to have supported spaces for big writing and witnessing.

I’ve also been involved with disabilities rights and communities through my husband’s work for 30 years as an occupational therapist and activist working with people living with disabilities.

Both people living with serious illness and disabilities, which sometimes go hand-in-hand, are so often limited in accessing workshops and conferences like what TLAN offers, and not just by a lack of wheelchair ramps. The isolation and pain, overwhelm and fear we face in such situations can make us feel so alone with our pain, dread, anxiety, difference. 

We are missing such important voices at the table, ones that have so much to teach us about resilience in real-time, what it means to age and change, and how to grapple more directly with being humans who are mortal. Scholarships can help us bring life-giving creativity and community into people’s homes through their laptops. 

Black, brown Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and other marginalized people of color have too often and so extensively, to the detriment of all of us, been silenced or had their voices abused. My more personal connection is that I live in the home of Haskell Indian Nations University and the ghosts land burial ground where so many children died when it was a boarding school. I’ve also witnessed many people’s stories through teaching at Haskell and facilitating workshops for many years with Indigenous women.

When we started the POW conference, we began with a commitment to continually work on undoing racism and inviting many more voices to the table, or even forgetting the old table and making a new one. From our first conference, we had scholarships for POC, a determination to bring in keynoters from unrepresented communities, and outreach to communities of color. Most arts-based organizations like ours are primarily white and although we’ve come a long way, we have so so so long to go. 

Removing financial barriers where and when needed is part of this work, and it also helps foster new leadership and a more attuned vision to how TLA can bring voices previously ignored or debased into our civic conversations. 

In 2014, we were able to bring close to a dozen people living with serious illness and disabilities to the POW conference to share their stories and truths. A year later, we brought 15 young people of color, all in the foster care system, to the conference. How wonderful it would be to have scholarship funds available for people who want to attend Angie Ebba’s superb upcoming TLAN class, “Not Enough Spoons: Writing About Disabilities and Chronic Illness” and to next year, have even more black and brown faces, people undergoing heavy cancer treatment or navigating disabilities in an ableist world at this conference.

Please consider giving what you can give to make our offerings more accessible to others. Please help create this new table where we can all come and speak our lives and visions.

Contribute to the Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Fund here.

All funds will be processed through the TLA Network’s fiscal sponsor, The Foundation for Delaware County. When contributing via FDC, make sure to note your donation is made “in honor of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.”

Spotlight on the Volunteer: Fiber Artist and Poet Cindy Rinne

As part of our Spotlight series, we have been focusing on some of the transformative artists who make up the TLA Network.

This month, we asked TLAN member and volunteer Cindy Rinne to share some about her work as a poet and an artist, and about her connection to the transformative language arts.

TLA Network: It’s wonderful to get to learn more about your work. Tell us about your process, and how you combine fiber arts, poetry and performance.

CR: I am an ecofeminist artist creating mixed-media fiber works as process art – these are collages layering fabrics from around the world to tell stories. There is not always a plan when I begin.

I work in collaboration with the materials. Sometimes text from my poetry comes alongside the imagery. Nature is the inspiration in both animal, tree, and plant voices. People may appear. I work on several projects at once to allow ideas to percolate.

In my work, textiles hang like tapestries to form a sculpture or are quilted. Sculptures explore dimension on the body and are a narrative from my poems or a play. The wearable fabric sculptures are also meant to come alive in performance art. Body holding space in movement, pattern, and sound.

TLA Network: You are fairly new to this community – how did you happen to find the TLA Network?

CR: I like to check out the residencies and conferences in writing magazines. The TLA Network’s 2019 Power of Word conference, in Scottsdale, AZ caught my eye. Not too far away and at a retreat center sounded great. Annually, I attend a huge writers conference and liked the idea of a more intimate, creative event – no huge book fairs or thousands of people.

The POW conference…was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. ~ Cindy Rinne

The POW conference description was a mix of who I am as a fiber artist, poet, and performance artist. Here was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. While attending, I was able to have early morning discussions and meals with the workshop leaders and some presenters. I could walk the labyrinth. This was a safe place to try new, creative things with other attendees.

TLA Network: You’ve written two chapbooks of poetry while participating in the TLAN conference and a Caits Meissner class for the Network – what in particular inspired you to create these works?

CR: My latest chapbook, Knife Me Split Memories (Cholla Needles Press), contains poems about my amazing Power of Words conference roommate, actor and playwright Valerie David – I describe her as a “three-time cancer survivor [who] has pelican bones and feathers of broken glass who sings a water spirit song.”

During the pandemic, I decided to take the TLAN workshop “& They Call Us Crazy” by Caits Meissner. The concept of the outsider appealed to me. A class combining art, writing, and social justice was a unique offering. I also liked that she creates ‘zines and thinks outside the box with her own work. Caits brought enthusiasm and great energy to the class as she presented us with artists and writers both known and unknown to me. She gave several prompts to choose from. The online class was easy to navigate, allowing me to see the richness in what other students created from the same prompts. I tried various poetic forms including erasure, canto, and collage.

I wrote silence between drumbeats (Four Feathers Press & Written by Veterans), as part of Caits’ class. In the process of writing, sometimes I combined art and poetry. The social justice poems and cover fiber art for this book were birthed in that class. “I alone / tread the red circle.” 

Cover artwork from silence between drumbeats, by Cindy Rinne.

Both the in-person POW conference and the online TLAN class expanded who I am and how I impact the world for social / ecological justice. I am now volunteering as part of the Power of Words conference committee team.

TLA Network: What are your hopes for the 2021 Power of Words conference?

CR: As we tread the new world of a virtual conference, my goal is to create a container where others stretch their wings. The presenters are all boundary pushers who will help me see the world through a new lens as I take my creative practice to new heights as a part of community.

Cindy is a San Bernardino artist and poet who has created fine art for over 40 years. She participated in “Lydia Takeshita Legacy Exhibit Series: 3” at LA Artcore, and has been in several online group exhibitions through LAAA/825. Cindy had tapestries in “Woven Stories” at MOAH (Lancaster Museum of Art and History) and at RAFFMA at Cal State San Bernardino for “Voices of Ancient Palmyra Resounded.” She participated in “50/50, FIFTY/FIFTY, The Creative Magic of Collaboration” at the Progress Gallery, Pomona, CA. In 2020, Cindy was selected for “Hobson’s Choice” at the Torrance Art Museum. She has exhibited at the Beatnik Lounge and La Matadora Gallery in Joshua Tree and is represented by Desert Peach Gallery in Yucca Valley, CA. You can see more of her work at www.fiberverse.com

Facilitating For Change & Community

Facilitation21Do you want to learn more about facilitating workshops, meetings, collaborations, or coaching sessions? Come join Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer for “The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating for Community and Change,” June 2 – July 13. This online class also includes video-conferencing and lots of resources to give participants a rich experience of and education in effective and soulful facilitation.

As Joy and Caryn write in the class description: “We’ll explore how creating intentional communal spaces, taking an inward look, and working across vast definitions of “difference” (including race, religion, gender, class, living with ability or health challenges, and more) can help foster greater cohesion and expression in a fragmented culture. We’ll also learn how to navigate difficult situations and people more smoothly and compassionately, as well as how to joyfully sustain ourselves in our own individual TLA callings.”

Joy and Caryn also share this video about what happens in the class and who comes. Continue reading

An Invitation from The TLA Network

Dear TLA Community,

As part of our effort to grow the TLA Network, we are always on the lookout for new instructors to teach classes for our community. Over time, we have developed a strong reputation for offering classes that speak to deep and meaningful human experiences, and, we are always eager to encourage fresh voices to join in the mix. 

We invite you to consider teaching for the Network. If you are that person who has often thought, I would love to teach what I know to this community, consider joining us in learning the fine art of teaching a well-crafted, strong online class.

Curious about what it would take? Interested in learning how to market a good class? This month we launch a new series, Tools for Teachers, geared towards training people to teach for the Network – we hope you will join us in honing your craft.

We encourage you to be bold: speak your truth, share your vision, and join us in creating a learning environment that builds connection, provides replenishment, and supports our community to go out to do the important work of healing our world.

To the power of words, 
Hanne Weedon, Managing Director

Hanne Weedon comes to TLAN with 20 years of leadership and program development experience in not-for-profit and government-funded organizations. A longtime community, arts and social justice advocate, she resonates with the goals and values of the TLA Network. Hanne’s appreciation for, understanding of and dedication to building representative, inclusive and diverse communities is a core aspect in all her work. 

Strengthening Our Ability to Facilitate for Community and Change, by Ada Cheng

Several months ago, I completed The Art of Facilitation advanced level class by Caryn Mirriam-
Goldberg and Joy Sawyer. The following consists of my reflections to this prompt: What will particularly help strengthen our ability to facilitate for community and change?

First, the importance of flexibility. As a former academic, I am inclined to be critical and aim for
perfection in my work. This drive for perfecting the craft can dampen other’s desires to experiment as they may not feel comfortable making mistakes. By flexibility, I mean I need to adjust my expectations. I need to recognize my weaknesses. I am learning to adapt my skill set to the context of the group and the demand of circumstances.

Second, the necessity for humility. Humility is the willingness to see strengths in one context as weaknesses in another. It is also the willingness to honor the gap in knowledge as the world evolves. This is particularly true in the way we use language and understand politics. We may sharpen our skills in facilitation. Yet without any substantive grasping of the changing world, these acquired skills will not be adequate. There is so much to unlearn as well as to learn. Humility goes a long way.

Third, I keep on going back to the basics these days. The basics provide a blueprint and a guidance for what we do. I constantly ask myself the following questions: What is the purpose of my work? Why do I do what I do? What are the values that undergird my work? What is my vision? What is my mission? The answers help me make informed decisions.

Fourth, the imperative of doing. We cannot “will” the world to change. Talking will not automatically lead to actions. It is in the doing that I see commitment. If I want to make the world a better place for everyone, then I need to commit myself to actions. If I want to contribute to the cause of social justice, then I need to ask myself: What is it that I need to do to make a difference and exert impact?

Fifth, the necessity to allow for accountability and to create an open space for critical feedback. This is particularly important for those of us who are in positions of power or have accumulated a certain amount of privileges. Power and privilege can easily blind us to the reality of how the world operates for others. We need to create and maintain a vulnerable space for critical feedback and work against any instincts for comfort and complacency.

Sixth, honesty, truthfulness, and boundaries. I am at a point where I no longer wish to hold my tongue and silence myself. Words I swallow will turn into poisons that easily rot my soul. Boundaries are not for others; boundaries are for myself, so I affirm and validate my worth and truth again and again.

Ada Cheng is a professor-turned-storyteller, solo performer, and storytelling show producer. Ada is the producer and the host of five storytelling shows, including Pour One Out, Am I Man Enough?, Talk Stories: An Asian American/Asian Diaspora Storytelling Show, Speaking Truths Series, and This Is America: Truths through My Body. She creates platforms for people to tell difficult and vulnerable stories as well as for communities who may not have opportunities otherwise. Her motto: Make your life the best story you tell.

Why Write to this Moment? By Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

The story we make of this moment becomes the life we lead.
~Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. 

“I’ve run out of words! We need new words. The strongest words.”

My friend and I were texting back and forth about the latest NPR news alert to light up our phones. It would have been a much better conversation in person, far more satisfying to laugh together instead of trying to find the emoji that most accurately expresses our level of gobsmack, of anger, of despair. 

But that’s where so many of us are right now: stuck at home and stuck for words to express the inexpressible. 

So, I write. 

I write to make sense of it all, to search for a semblance of meaning in the midst of the madness.

And I read. 

I read the words of others to find solace in similar experiences, in our shared humanity, and in the connection established through empathy. To share our words beyond ourselves is to cultivate compassion and create community.

Two years ago at TLAN’s Power of Words conference, Storyteller, Activist, and Founder & CEO of #MeWe International, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, gave a presentation called “Storytelling as a Tool for Healing and Community-Building.” He told the crowded room why he believes in the power of storytelling: “The stories we tell ourselves shape us and how we interact with the world and others.” Healing cannot happen in isolation, he said. We need each other—we need to hear each other’s stories. 

And thus the raison d’etre of “Writing to this Moment: Taking Uncertainty to the Page,” a journey from notebook to narrative, from the personal to the public. 

Over the four weeks of this class we will record experiences and express feelings with prompts as a “trail-head,” then learn some basic creative nonfiction methods to turn our writing into a crafted personal narrative, which may be shared with others in the class—maybe beyond!

Because we need new words. We need your words. In this moment. Because as Toni Morrison reminded us in 2015:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is author of the award-winning biography of Vermont historian, Lilian Baker Carlisle, and has both a memoir and personal essay collection in the works. She holds a BA in History, an MA in Transformative Language Arts, and is currently an MFA-Creative Nonfiction student at Goddard College. A writing coach since 2009, Joanna is also a facilitator for Vermont Humanities Council and teaches online for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Historical articles written during her time as columnist and feature writer for the Rutland Reader can be found at Rutland When…  Joanna lives in Rutland, Vermont with her husband and two teenagers.