From Page to Stage

by Diane Glass

Through Kelly DuMar’s online TLA Network class, “Your Memoir As Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance,” I learned the possibilities and power of taking my print work to an oral form, the monologue.

I discovered the value of imagining a live audience in performing a scene from my memoir, “This Need to Dance.” What would be the set-up for the monologue? How would I shape the dialogue with that audience in mind? The audience became real as I engaged in conversation with them. My language became conversational, expressive, and alive. Without the fallback print offers to explain myself in detail, I cut to the heart of the story.

When Kelly brought in a professional actress to perform each of our class members’ monologues, that actress blew new energy into our pieces with skillful pacing, intonation, and her distinctive voice. She expressed undetected (by me) humor in my piece. I was serious about the value of talking to my bladder in healing a painful experience. But she anticipated the smiles this practice would elicit and claimed their amusement in her interpretation.

This class strengthened my writing through incorporating conversational style and honing my message. By reading aloud, I experienced the rhythm of my work. Some of it plodded. Some of it danced. This practice showed me what needed to be invigorated.

This is the monologue I prepared for presentation at the end of class:

One Breast or Two?

Set-up:
A woman unaccustomed to talking about her personal life has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone a mastectomy. In a conversation with a friend at her house over coffee, she struggles to share the intimate details of her situation.

Monologue:
You’re asking the same kind of questions the women at the breast cancer support group asked, Kalinda. I just don’t feel comfortable talking about this.

Oh, they wanted to know the specifics of my surgery and treatment. The leader of the group started the meeting by saying she had one breast, had done chemotherapy and was soon to start radiation. Then each woman followed her lead, announcing whether she had one breast, two, or none. When it came time for me to say something, I froze. Is it anyone’s business how many breasts I have? I just said I had had surgery without adding any specifics.

I know you want to help, Kalinda. And you can. Support can mean a lot of different things. Your offer to bring food is appreciated. Take me to the doctor and check in on me by phone. But beyond that, I just don’t want to talk about my body.

Reconstruction? Again, that kind of thing is private. These women were even debating the merits of reconstruction with and without a nipple. I just cringed listening to that all of that.

Yet I admit, when I saw others in the group pour out their concerns and having people hug them and comfort them, I felt lonely. No one hugged me that night—and I didn’t hug anyone else.

How can I talk about my breasts without acknowledging all my body has already gone through? In one sense breast cancer is less of a big deal than everything else.

Yes, it is helpful to have someone to talk with, Kalinda, but your probing makes me uncomfortable. Let’s go to lunch.

It’s back to my body again! You just don’t quit, do you? You know, it’s the spina bifida. It’s too much to go into now. Problems with my bladder, all those accidents. This experience is disgusting to talk about and disgusting for others to listen to.

No, I haven’t talked about it. It’s just than when I imagine talking about it, I think, “Ugh.”

It sounds stupid but I feel like I betray my bladder by talking about my breasts and not it. I can hear it saying, “And what about me? What about all we’ve been through together? Doesn’t that matter? Don’t tell just part of the story!”

Yeah, yeah, I talk to my bladder and it talks back. That’s the way we’ve survived. I couldn’t talk about my bladder to anyone else so we just kept all of this to ourselves.

Can I talk to my breast? Kalinda, don’t encourage my weird habits. Besides the breast is already gone.

You want to know what the big deal was? (Long pause) Well, I had horribly embarrassing accidents as a child. My mom or dad, mostly my dad, catheterized me until I was 13. I couldn’t even decide for myself when to go. I felt completely abandoned as a child when I was dropped off at school without anyone to talk to in case I needed help.

You see, when someone asks me about my breasts, all of this fear, dread and loneliness come up. I am still that brave little girl who suffers in silence.

Of course I am scared. The tumor is big. The surgeon gave me a 50/50 chance of it recurring. And my bones. Chemo will weaken them and they are already weak because of the spina bifida. What does it mean to have both of these things to deal with?

I suppose I’m mad, too. It seems hardly fair that I narrowly escaped death as a child and now, here again, I am facing a life-threatening situation.

This helps, Kalinda. It really does. I am scared and I am angry.

Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” I am weary, weary of carrying this burden of secrecy and shame alone. That’s what I am feeling right now. My burden is heavy. I want to lay it down.

I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to do this alone, not any more. Kalinda, can you stay a while longer?

 

Diane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose by listening deeply to them and encouraging reflection. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon). She co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program of spiritual growth for women in transition, in 2003. (This is her second blog post written in part to fulfill the requirements to receive a TLA certificate.)

Discount On Classes This Weekend!

Sign up for Cait Meissner’s class, “The Poetics of Witness: Writing Beyond The Self “ or Angie River’s class, “The Five Sense and The Four Elements: Connecting with The Body and Nature Through Poetry” this weekend and receive 20% off the enrollment price!

Both classes run from June 14-July 25th, can be accessed online at your own pace, and are guaranteed to inspire you on your TLA journey. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Read our recent interviews with Cait and Angie and learn more about them and their classes!

Ask Yourself

Journaling for Life Transformation by Susan Hulsebos

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices with Ruth Farmer

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Ruth Farmer will be teaching an online class for the TLA Network called Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices starting April 19th. Here’s a short interview with Ruth about her class:

Q: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

RF: Teachers, consultants, coaches, community organizers, managers, and more. People who see themselves as passionate about helping others will not only get a lot out of the course, but will contribute as well. I hope a group of like-hearted people convene in this course, to expand upon the ways that we approach transformation and social change. I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.

Q: What is unique about this class?

RF: I start with what is working. As someone who has been a community organizer, teacher, director, workshop facilitator, conference coordinator, … I have immersed myself into anticipating what can go wrong, what is not working, and how something (or someone) can change. In the past several years, I have begun to take a different view when I lead workshops or teach courses: I try to help folks see their strengths, what is working, what is right. Doing this has helped me to become a better teacher, since I know what it is I want to see more of. By starting with strengths, what is going well, and focusing on what we want more of, we (and the people with whom we work) can gain confidence and insight that will help us to approach problems with greater creativity.

Q: What is your favorite part about Transformational Language Arts?

RF: If you mean the field, then its breadth: songs, prose, plays, conversations, etc. can all fall within this category. And the philosophical center of TLA helps to make these creative expressions more meaningful.


“I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.”


Q: What can students in this class expect?

RF: Students can expect to engage in dialogue with each other, apply their learning to their work in the world, and encounter a variety of source materials. Our discussions will emerge primarily from the anthology Transformative Language Arts in Action. We will also gain perspectives on strengths-based approaches through watching videos, reading short articles, and engaging with each other on the discussion forum about our insights. We will try, as we are able, to apply some of what we have learned to our current or proposed work.

Q: Why might this class be important at this time in the world?

RF: There are so many reasons to examine what is wrong with the world today. Focusing on this can be exhausting. More importantly, it keeps us stuck in the problems. This course asks participants to shift their gaze. That doesn’t mean to turn away, but to view things from different perspectives so that the problem (issue, however you want to describe it) is seen with fresh eyes.

Recently, I have seen people move from anger to frustration to hopelessness back to anger and even to despair. It’s difficult to hold that narrow range of perspective without at some point sinking into apathy. Let’s try looking at the shifts in people’s thinking – and that is definitely happening. I don’t know about you, but I have talked with so many people who were oblivious before and who are now realizing that they/we have the power and the energy to do something about issues and problems. They know this because they are focusing on what they can offer, rather than what is wrong.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

RF: I am looking forward to facilitating dynamic dialogues among people who have lots of ideas and energy.

A Counting by Susan Hulsebos

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

      As a visual artist, too overwhelmed with loss and grief to continue working, I took up a writing practice to process the death of my son. I discovered the TLAN network while searching for an online class where I might receive weekly input, writing prompts, and connection to a caring and healing community while not leaving my house. Fortunately for me, the first class I found was Angie Rivers’s “The Five Senses and the Four Elements: Connecting with the Body and Nature through Poetry.” The class was perfect. It had just the right amount of lesson material, the prompts helped me explore small, controlled writing forms and led me to sensory experience in nature.

      For a mother in shock whose mind was numb, whose heart and days felt broken but also as someone who still had way too much energy to stay in bed, I needed healing in small yet controlled chunks. The following poem was written in that first class, in the double Etheree form (where each set of 10 lines has a syllable count that moves from 1 – 10 ) while I was trying to accept the fact that my son had just died in my home – the house he had just helped me move in to weeks before.

A Counting

One of two things I need to tell you, for
the first time, is that ten days ago
seven steps into the front yard
I stood still outside the one
window I had on you
while you lay dying
in my guest room
all alone.
Junkie.
Son.
Saved
from death
by overdose
you met cancer
as pennance for crimes
against yourself and us.
Secondly, I thought there was
still time, ten days ago. Not that
four sighs at two a.m. plus one cough
would end the count of your years at thirty.

      Reading this piece one year later, the fresh pain of loss is so present in those lines. I am grateful to have this poem as a marker, a touch-stone for myself of that time because now I count those first weeks as very precious. It was a time when his presence still lingered in those rooms. I can recall it now from a gentler but still grieving place, and it helps me stay connected to all of it.

      This is the power of Transformative Language Arts: to find a practice in the verbal arts to fully connect and voice the deeper movements in whatever experience we are living through. At present, daily journaling practice has brought me back into a flowing space where depression has lifted long enough that I am painting again. One new painting was recently juried into a show in my community. I doubted this would ever happen again. Before my discovery of transformative writing all hope was gone that I would ever feel like painting again. It felt too happy and nothing was happy. Also, painters can struggle with feelings of loss, grief or fear if the canvas isn’t developing like you hoped it would. Painting is risky and sometimes it just dies right in front of you no matter how much you try to resuscitate it. I had no resilience to resume this task so soon.

      But I had a deep urge to express what I was feeling and not just give in to numbing activities such as excessive drinking or cramming my life with activity. Both of which might give relief but would not heal the gaping hole in my heart. Healing from his death – especially with the emotional entanglements of his long addiction – is requiring intentional remembering of his life. The practice of writing down my feelings and memories, the hopes and disappointments, and recently moving into writing down how my life is moving on, is healing.

      “When we neglect the artist in ourselves, there is a kind of mourning that goes on under the surface of our busy lives.” I love this line from Pat Schneider in her book, Writing Alone and with Others. So, artists and creative people flooded with grief can be encouraged through TLA to not neglect the artist in themselves while grieving. Neglecting our voice, our expression, feels like being silenced which only fuels depression. A careful shift to another expressive form such as poetry, journaling or nature writing really can transform grief into manageable healing chunks. It might even evolve into a regular practice to help us navigate the longer seasons of grief when we must now come back to our work as a new person, living our “new normal.” I am writing daily, it is helping me stay connected to myself, my life and my memories. I am still alive. I am still doing my work and it’s richer now because it’s painfully deeper.

Poetry and response: Staying vertical in the TLA world

Janet Toone, a participant in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Winter 2017 TLA class, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life,” wrote this poem during the second week of the course, which focused on The New Story of Your Life: Examining Myths & Messages about Who You Should Be.

Snow, ice, cold, threaten to shut me in, but I battle through.
Fear freezes my heart and mind, far more limiting than the weather
I shuffle, slipping and sliding on the invisible surface unsure
Exactly what the elusive enemies are binding and tearing at
My resolve. My myths I know well. The clouds begin to part.

Battles have been fought before. Often times I was very bloody,
And bowed before I thrived in spite of my perceived deficiencies.
Keeping my mind clear, my heart open, the target in my eye
My spirit willing, I move forward, seeking knowledge and skills ,
Winning those internal battles, I find purpose and build resilience.

Janet describes her approach this way:

“As I participated in Caryn’s class,  I came up against the chilling reality that selling myself was going to be the most difficult aspect of actually building and sustaining a TLA livelihood. I wrote this poem while I was battling that internal war of how and what it would take for me to feel like I could legitimately market my skills and my knowledge, while I was also fighting a battle to stay vertical in the snow and ice outside. I was working on pushing through my fear and setting my resolve to continue the work, to stay vertical in the TLA world, to not give up.”

Janet’s classmates reacted:

  • Your writing is very courageous.  And inspiring.
  • The alliteration you use in “Battles,” “bloody,” “bowed,” “Building,” and then “battles” again, really strengthens the flow of the second stanza.  Very cool. 
  • The second stanza, begun by speaking of battles and ending with the recognition that these are internal battles, is thought-provoking and evokes a feeling of warmth in contrast to the chill of the first stanza.
  • Powerful.  And amen!  For me, the way you took the descriptions of how winter weather shows up and connected those to the impacts of fear made the experience tangible. Real.

For Janet, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life” was a comfortable and supportive space in which to explore uncomfortable questions. Through the expressive art of her poetry, she was able to connect with others in the class experiencing the same challenges.

How Pictures Heal – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-51-37-amIt was nearing dawn, outside the little cabin in New Hampshire, when my Aunt Marion died, at fifty-five. All night I sat beside her, moistening her parched lips with ice cubes. When necessary, I changed her colostomy bag. Occasionally, I dozed off, but not for long. This was the third night of our vigil – my other aunt, her sister Virginia – slept in the bed beside us. My Aunt Marion had colon cancer and had come home – to her own bed, her cabin, her favorite lake, to spend her final days.

I was a twenty-two year old college student on summer break. Stepping up to care for my Aunt Marion as she died changed my life. Her death sparked an awakening for me of my own mortality and vitality. So, when, years later, I found this picture of my independent, powerful, adventuresome aunt – captured in this archetypal pose of the archer, like the goddess Diana, stretching her bow, aiming her arrow, I asked my mother if I could keep it. 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 of unpacking the emotional experience of the photo helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss. The poem, and the photo, helped me internalize this relationship and experience as a way of summoning inner wisdom, courage, strength and healing.

Since then, I have been leading writing and expressive arts workshops on writing from photos, integrating my training and experience as a psychotherapist, psychodramatist, poet, and playwright into my method.

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 6-week online class, How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, starting March 1st, these treasured personal archives will be the source of inspiration for writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. This method of writing from personal and treasured photos can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally, by:

Entering the three-dimensional world of photographs to stimulate meaning, surprise, delight and possibility;screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-02-am

Embracing the imaginative wonder of exploring role reversal and altered point of view in photos;

Writing the truth and beauty of relationship histories, exploring significant rites of passage and recognizing gifts that keep on giving;

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-16-amExploring nature, landscape and favorite places photos to stimulate curiosity, spirituality, comfort, relief and aesthetic satisfaction and transcendence;

Crafting first drafts (exploring forms, including character portraits, essays, poems, Monologues, letters, dialogues and creative list-making) and applying tools for revision).

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-27-amWho Should Take This Class?

  • 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 may also be quite interested

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!

How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, a 6-week online class with Kelly DuMar starting March 1st

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Southern Writers Conference, and Playback North America & more. Her poems are published in many literary magazines and her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and former psychotherapist. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she moderates, Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and she’s a member of Playback North America. Her new poetry chapbook, Tree of the Apple, about her father’s Alzheimer’s, is published by Two of Cups Press. You can follow her on Instagram @kellydumar and learn more about Kelly at kellydumar.com

Monadnockaunt-marion

This perfect aim you take
points toward some mysterious,
unconventional life.
You will never marry,
wear dresses,
make excuses.
You will love animals and women,
raise dogs,
teach other people’s children.

Baked dry as a bone,
you will bring Poncho and Bear,
back from the desert,
to bathe in Laurel Lake,
reeking of sage,
telling Indian stories.

You will teach us to hike
– to sing as we climb –
M-o-u-n-t-m-o-n-a-d-n-o-c-k!
It’s the thrill of your life
when you get to the top,
they say!

This perfect aim you take,
toward us.

Some day, when I am almost grown,
you’ll be too sick
to climb from your bed
for one last swim
I should help you take –
your bloated belly
rising like Monadnock
between us.

Death rattling your breath,
you will die at dawn
in my arms,
before you go, taking perfect aim
toward some mysterious peak
I will someday climb.

Copyright 2008 Kelly DuMar, All Rights Reserved (published in Emerge Literary Journal, and All These Cures)