The Uninvited Guest, by Lyn Ford

About a week after “safe-at-home” became the way we play the game of life, we were visited by a storm.  This shushing, persistent deluge of white noise lasted through the night and late into the next morning.

I awakened to an unexpected, uninvited guest.  Something told me to inspect the basement, where I was greeted by at least ten inches of sewer water. This guest had entered through the drain in the cellar floor, and vandalized the place.

Floating in that nastiness were craft and workshop supplies.  Soaked handouts drifted from cardboard boxes, along with twenty years of preschool items, some of my husband’s old tools, things our grown children had left behind, and sundry other items, including the laundry I’d sorted into three baskets—mostly my clothes and all my white underwear.

I numbly summoned my husband.  What he said when he met our guest should not be repeated.

Then the furnace and water heater passed out.  Fortunately, they didn’t die.  An already exhausted heating and furnace repair person returned our call, suggesting we try letting the circuit breakers dry.  It was almost midnight. The water had subsided.  We prepared to pay for more visitors: appraisers, hauling crews, plumbing aficionados, and the microbial cleaning squad.  

Please note:  I didn’t say anything about insurance people.  “Backup” insurance is a separate entity from “flood” insurance.  We had no backup insurance. We do now.

We also lost all the paper items we stored in what we call the “paper closet” under the basement stairs.  We’d purchased our usual bulk supplies long before the run on toilet paper. Now our stockpile was gone.  

That was a good thing.  One young man, dragging items from our basement and tossing them in his truck, said, “It’s a good thing you had all that paper.  It absorbed the water and saved your bottom steps.”

Who knew that toilet paper could swell to the size of Miss Muffet’s tuffet?  We were grateful for that.

We’re grateful for a lot of things.  The basement is clean.  It is also dry, dehumidified and sanitized.  The water heater and furnace circuit breakers dried out on their own (free!).  The house creaks a bit more, as does our budget.  But we’re warm, safe and happy.  And I have new underwear.

Our unexpected guest helped us realize and appreciate what is important.  Life is good.  And I hope this guest doesn’t invite himself to our home again.

The Guest House
by Rumi  (as translated by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

The Masks We Wear: A Story for These Pandemic Times, by Lyn Ford

Let’s begin with a story.

Once a man who could not see lost his walking stick and could not find his way to the home he shared with his mother.  He called for help, but no one seemed to hear, and he stumbled along a rugged path.

Then he heard someone call out to him, “Hello, you, perhaps I can help you.”  The man walked in the direction of that voice, and tripped over something, no, someone, another man, who dragged himself on the same rugged road, for he had no legs and sought a place of shelter.

The two of them rested a while, and talked.  Now acquainted, they realized they both faced great difficulties.  They also knew they could help one another.

The man who could not see carefully took upon his shoulders the man who could not walk.  He became legs for his new friend and this new friend became his eyes.  They soon found an easier trail.  Both men made the journey safely to the mother’s home.  She joyfully greeted them both as her sons.  

And all their lives were easier for this. ———-

This is an incredibly old fable, sometimes attributed to Aesop the storyteller, but its motif is found in stories in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Valuable old stories travel far.

Recently, I walked across an almost empty parking lot, and passed a few masked people.  Being who I am, I tried, at a safe distance, to make eye contact. Behind my own mask, I smiled and said, “Hi.”

No one spoke or looked directly at me.  Shoulders hunched, eyes to the ground, brows furrowed, strangers remained strangers.  I thought, are masks distancing us even more than we already must be, or is it the fearful, lonely frustration behind them?

Masks can help us stay physically healthy in these pandemic times, but they can’t protect us against our fears.  They may help preserve our physical wellbeing, but they won’t lift our spirits, or bring us joy. 

We must communicate hope and empathy, and let our hearts shine.  No matter how much masks obscure, they don’t hide our eyes, our body language, or our voices, tools that have always been important to sharing our stories.  Now, they’re even more important to sharing our humanity, showing others that we’re safe havens for one another, even when we must remain separated.

To be whole, to make the journey easier, to find shelter, the two men in my folktale adaptation needed one another.  Together, they found possibility and hope.  One couldn’t see, but heard the voice of his new brother.  One couldn’t walk, but recognized the strength of another.  Both were willing to ask for and receive help.  If either had ignored the other, where might each have ended his journey?  And what might have happened to that mother, who was alone?

Our present situation may not be a “happily ever after” narrative.  Real life isn’t.  But we can live this story together, and communicate.

We can be there for one another, even behind the masks we wear.

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

Facilitating for Community and Change Faculty — Come Join us!

Joy Roulier Sawyer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s new class, The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating for Community and Change, launches June 24th. This online class, is complemented by four videoconference sessions with guest teachers Caleb Winebrenner, Katt Lissard, and Suzi Q. Smith. You can learn more about the class here, and here’s more about the teachers:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, is the founder of Transformative Language Arts and the author of 24 books of poetry, fiction, memoir, and more. She has facilitated community writing workshops widely since 1992 with diverse populations throughout the Midwest, the U.S., and in Mexico, including people living with serious illness, intergenerational communities, women living in public housing, teens and young adults, and humans at large in big-life transitions. She offers one-on-one coaching on writing and right livelihood. She co-leads Brave Voice writing and singing retreats with Kelley Hunt and the Your Right Livelihood training with Laura Packer.

Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections as well as several nonfiction books. Her extensive training and experience as a licensed professional counselor and in  poetry/journal therapy gives her special expertise in facilitating expressive writing workshops. Joy was selected by poetry therapy pioneers to revise and update Arleen McCarty Hynes’ groundbreaking textbook, Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process. For over a decade, she’s taught at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the largest literary center in the West, including leading workshops designed for those experiencing homelessness or poverty.

During the pandemic, both Joy and Caryn are facilitating workshops, meetings, and collaborate projects through Zoom, Google Docs, email, and various online formats, including writing workshops for people living in extreme poverty, with serious illness, and who are facing other challenges.

Katt Lissard is artistic director and co-founder of The Winter/Summer Institute (WSI), an international HIV/AIDS & Theatre for Social Change project based in NYC and Lesotho, Africa. WSI’s process is built on collaborative dialogue and theatre-making with/in communities and across cultures. She’ll present on facilitating theatre for social change across cultures and boundaries.

Caleb Winebrenner is a storyteller, poet, and educator. He holds an MA in Educational Theatre. At both the high school and college levels, he crafts his classes to be engaging events for everyone. Caleb has been a member of the TLA Network Council for several years, and he is chair of the 2019 and 2020 Power of Words conference. He will address how to facilitate and teach for different learning styles and accommodating special needs, speaking both as an educator and from his own experiences of living with cerebral palsy.

Suzi Q. Smith Suzi Q. Smith is a nationally recognized slam poet and coach (and one of the most well-known performing poets in the U.S.) and is currently the co-chair of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs.   An educator whose primary language is poetry, she has taught creative writing, poetry, spoken word, public speaking, MC school, and social studies, and has  worked extensively with youth. Suzi’s served as a Teaching Artist with Youth on Record, and as a coach of Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, resulting in two international championships. Suzi has worked in many diverse environments: elementary schools, middle schools, traditional and alternative pathways high schools, hospitals, residential treatment centers, prisons, and more. She will address how to build adaptive and inclusive facilitation models that allow you to respond to the needs of the population you serve.

“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.

Masks, Capes and the Strength to Smile, by Lyn Ford

The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying. 

It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?

Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs. 

Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish. 

In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling. 

This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.

We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.

We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.

“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

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.

Facilitators for a Better World: Meet Our Teachers & Guest Teachers

“The Art of Facilitation: Roots & Blossoms of Facilitation” with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg sets sail Jan. 15 – Feb 25. This online class also includes  video-conferencing (easily done through your phone or computer) with people well-versed in facilitating workshops, classes, meetings, coaching, and other sessions for change, community, and transformation. We are thrilled to interactive sessions with Callid Keefe-Perry, Beatric Briggs, and Marianela Medrano (plus one with Joy; Caryn will do such a session in the other class in this series next summer). Here’s some background on our gifted and experienced guest teachers and main teachers:

Callid Keefe-Perry is an Executive Director of ARC: Arts | Religion | Culture, a traveling minister in the Quaker tradition, and an advocate for the arts as a way of deepening spiritual practice. He has been a public school teacher, co-founder of a community theater, and Coordinator of the TLA Network. He thinks it is OK for people to laugh a lot, that power cedes nothing without demands, and that creativity is a vital quality of adaptive and effective leadership. Callid will share a bit about the field of theopoetics and talk about using different modalities for group facilitation and what is gained by doing so.

Beatrice Briggs helps leaders and organizations co-create conditions that make their meetings worthy of people’s time, talent, and energy. 
 As Director of the International Institute for Facilitation and Change, she has worked in over 30 countries with an change-oriented organizations such as UNICEF, World Wildlife Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Development Research. A native of the United States, has made Mexico her home since 1998 and is fluent in both English and Spanish.

Marianela Medrano is a Dominican writer, poet and a psychotherapist with a Ph.D in psychology whose practice include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, and Integral Psychotherapy. The author of numerous poetry books, Medrano’s poetry has been widely published and translated. She is a certified poetry therapist and serves as a mentor/supervisor for the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. Medrano’s Tedx Talk can be found here.

The Art of Facilitation Teachers

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, is the founder of Transformative Language Arts and the author of 23 books, including Miriam’s Well, a novel; Everyday Magic, memoir, and Following the Curve, poetry. Her previous work includes Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust and six poetry collections, including the award-winning Chasing Weather. Mirriam-Goldberg has facilitated community writing workshops widely since 1992 with diverse populations throughout the Midwest, the U.S., and in Mexico, including people living with serious illness, intergenerational communities, women living in public housing, teens and young adults, and humans at large in big-life transitions. She offers one-on-one coaching on writing and right livelihood. She co-leads Brave Voice writing and singing retreats with Kelley Hunt and the Your Right Livelihood training with Laura Packer. You can find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Linkedin. Her Patreon campaign to create transformative writing, workshops, and podcasts and offering patrons weekly inspirations is here.

Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections, Tongues of Men and Angels and Lifeguards as well as several nonfiction books. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been widely published. Joy holds an MA from New York University in Creative Writing and a master’s degree in counseling. Her extensive training and experience as a licensed professional counselor and in poetry/journal therapy gives her special expertise in facilitating expressive writing workshops. Joy was selected by poetry therapy pioneers to revise and update Arleen McCarty Hynes’ groundbreaking textbook, Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process. For over a decade, she’s taught at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the largest literary center in the West. Along with her other creative writing and poetry classes, Joy helps facilitate Lighthouses’s Denver Public Library, Arvada Library, and Edgewater Library’s Hard Times workshops, designed for those experiencing homelessness or poverty, as well as the Writing to Be Free program, an outreach for women transitioning out of incarceration. She has also taught at the University of Denver and in the TLA MA program at Goddard College. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

More on this dynamic class right here.