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)

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Writing Truth & Beauty: Using Photography for Inspiration, with Kelly DuMar

Editor’s Note:  Presenters at the Power of Words Conference wanted to share about their work. This week, we feature a couple of those that did not get posted before the conference.

Kelly DuMar shares about her workshop.


Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Personal Photos For Creative Inspiration and Healing

aunt-marionWe all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. Photo albums and unsorted pictures may fill our attics and basements or cover our walls in frames. We store them on our computers and cell phones and share them instantly on social media. Each of us is generating and storing an amazing archive of inspiration. Have you mined the creative writing potential of your photo stream?

My workshop at The Power of Words Conference helps you explore your pictures in poetry and prose. What do you take pictures of? What do you want to preserve? What moves and mystifies you? Who are the people, places, things & experiences that bring meaning, healing and transformation into your life? This is how we will write together.

My Writing Truth & Beauty process guides you to explore the unspoken world of your images. By asking yourself questions, you’ll generate remarkable raw material that reveals insight and emotion you can shape into beautiful, original writing. You’ll start by sharing a photo with other participants, exploring why you chose it, then reflect on probing questions to generate your raw material. You’ll craft a first draft you can share if you choose. Then we’ll explore ideas and suggestions for expansion.

Writing Truth & Beauty from personally chosen helps you:

  • Find creative inspiration in unexpected places
  • A truth you didn’t know you knew
  • A new idea about an old belief
  • A transformative personal revelation, insight or awareness that allows you to live more meaningfully
  • Something you have been unable to see/express/articulate that leads you to a new way of knowing yourself or others and changes your response to the community/world

Here’s a personal photo I spontaneously snapped in an unexpected place – my father’s Alzheimer’s unit. This photo haunted me for days and weeks until I finally sat down and unpacked the story of its beautiful mystery. Here it is, paired with the writing it inspired, bearing a truth a didn’t know I knew, a new awareness, a revelation and a new way of understanding my father’s legacy of love.

Are You Doing the Wonderful?

It’s a sunny summer morning and Memory Care is pleasantly chaotic, chatty with Sunday visitors looking for the one they belong to. My sister and her first granddaughter are visiting my father when I arrive. His first – his only – great granddaughter is looking up into his eyes from her seat on his lap. He no longer has words to call her by name. And her exact relationship to him is a sweet kind of mystery. But his smile shows he is certain this girl on his lap is wonderful.

dad-alaina-bw-copy-2

We all need the blessing of someone special who believes wholeheartedly in our wonderfulness long before we have reason to believe in it ourselves. Someone who expects us to do wonderful things with the gifts we’ve been given. For some it’s a parent, best friend or a spouse, a teacher or mentor, even a child. It may come from someone we’ve never met in person. Maybe it comes from a spiritual source, like the voice of God in Rumi’s poem, Prayer is an egg, translated by Coleman Barks –

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy

your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes?
What did you make with

your five senses while they were dimming and playing out?”

We need to hear the voice so we can internalize this voice – make it our own, to believe we are wonderful, we can be wonderful, we have wonderful work to do in the world before we leave it. So many things get in the way of wonderful. Self-doubt is a paralyzing. We need to keep this voice of belief in our wonderfulness somewhere deep inside yet readily accessible.

My father no longer has the words to say what a picture shows. He wants his great grand daughter to know her wonderfulness been seen – and recognized. He wants her to imagine his voice, picture his smile in a moment she’s lacking confidence or grace or energy. He has held her and looked into her eyes so he trusts. He trusts her to risk doing her wonderful work in the world.

If you couldn’t make it to the workshop in person, you can download my free pdf guide, Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Photos for Creative Inspiration by subscribing to my monthly newsletter at http://www.kellydumar.com


Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1Kelly DuMar is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops for creative writers across the US. Her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014 and her plays are published by dramatic publishers. Her newest chapbook, Tree of the Apple, poems and prose inspired by her father’s Alzheimer’s, is forthcoming by Two of Cups Press. Kelly passionately supports women writers to develop new work in her roles as a board & faculty member of The International Women’s Writing Guild, as well as founder & producer of the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights held at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year. She is a TLAN Council Member who produces the Let’s Talk TLA bi-monthly video conference. Her website is kellydumar.com, and you can follow her on Twitter & Instragram @Kellydumar

Saturated Selfies: Intentional & Intense Photography and Writing with Angie River

1916582_10208096803279557_8139095001714800862_nAngie River is teaching a new online class for the TLA Network, “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing,” April 13 – May 10. This four-week class that you can do from anywhere in the world on your own time (want to write at 2 a.m. in your pj’s? you can!) is a wonderful vehicle for exploring identity in image and words as well as a new view on selfies as its own emerging art form. As Angie writes, “In photography, the term ‘saturation’ is used to describe the intensity of colors. This course will investigate our intense, colorful, and amazing life through a combination of photography (specifically, selfies) and writing.”
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Over a year ago, you taught a very beloved classes on selfies, combining writing and photography, so we invited you to develop a new way to continue that dialogue between self, image and words. What led you to bring the concept of saturation into this exploration to help people better understand our lives and stories?
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Angie River: When invited to do another selfie class, I began pondering photography terminology and the ways that various terms relate not to just images but also to writing and to life. The term ‘saturation’ came to mind, which in photography has to do with the definition between and intensity of colors. This term really struck me though, as our lives can be beautifully ‘saturated’ too, where we have soaked up so much into them that we are ready to overflow. My desire for this class is to use selfies and writing to explore just how much beauty we have in our lives, and in our selves.
CMG: We live in a culture, as you describe in your class description, where selfies are rampant but also seen as “silly at best and at worst narcissistic.” Why do you work with the selfie as the core of this class, and how can we use selfies to go beyond silly or narcissistic?

12631307_10208270067931065_6323963300978360194_nAR: I use the selfie because I feel it is a tool to help us better know and understand ourselves, as well as to present to the world a narrative that we have created. Many would agree that it is often easier to process emotions or thoughts or events once they are written down and ‘out of your head’ on the paper. I believe the same can be said for selfies; when we take photos of ourselves and our lives and then look at them, it helps us to see from a new perspective. Just as a poem or a blog post can be used to process something and share it with the world, a selfie can too. I think selfies are often viewed as silly or narcissistic because we’re taking pictures of ourselves, sharing them on the Internet often, and getting joy out of the ‘likes’ and comments we get! However, there is a lot to be said about the way that selfies help us to write our own stories and present ourselves the way we wish others to see us, which is especially powerful for marginalized populations.

CMG: You combine writing and photography in this class. What can that combination do to give us greater perspective, freedom, and vision?

AR: I believe it is powerful anytime we combine more than one art form! The reason I choose both of these forms of creativity though is that they interact so nicely together, one visual and one word-based. I personally enjoy using writing to reflect on visual works. This allows both ourselves as creators, and whatever audience may see the pieces, to have a visual piece (which may be abstract, or at first glance just look like any other ‘selfie’) further explained and explored in the writing. I think of the Japanese Haiga, which combines a haiku with a piece of visual art; the two are supposed to work together to communicate a message that is greater than if either the poem or the artwork was standing alone. It is my hope that the combination of selfies with writing will do the same in this class.

CMG: Tell us about your own evolution as a transformative language artist, and how you’ve explored many aspects of the self through writing, film, movement, dance, performance, and stories (and other arts).
AR: My own journey as a transformative language artist is ever changing and growing! selfI started out as a poet and working with incarcerated youth to write about their feelings. I am still very much a poet, thoroughly enjoying writing as a means to explore and process the world both external and internal. However, I’m also discovering so many more ways that I really love to experience creativity and transformative language arts. I am a performer, and have been using both burlesque and performance art (including video) as a means to challenge societal norms and ask questions of the audience. One of my favorite things to do in shows is a combination of performance and poetry, in which I have audience members answer a question or respond to a prompt in writing, and I then create a performance poem out of their answers. Now, in the past year or so, I’ve been also using the selfie as a form of transformative language arts. In addition to these TLAN classes, I’m also documenting my journey as a disabled person though the healthcare system using selfies and Instagram (you can look for my disability-related photos by searching for #sickfemmeglam). One of the things I love about transformative language arts is how versatile it is. I simply love all the new things I’m discovering!
CMG: I love hearing about all that you’re discovering too, and how you keep turning your treasures into treasures for us too. Thank you so much for offering this class as well as the other superb classes you offered on selfies and writing through chronic illness.
AR: I really look forward to this class! I appreciate the Transformative Language Arts Network allowing me this opportunity to explore selfies again, in a new way. I can’t wait to meet all those going on this newest journey with me, and to see and read about all your saturated lives!
Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist, as well as a lover of selfies! She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blog (https://nittygrittynakedness.wordpress.com/) and zines. Angie fully believes in the power of art to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.  All photos in this interview are Angie’s selfies.