As one your new editors of the TLA Network blog, I am looking forward to reading your submissions and engaging in the conversation about the importance of Transformative Language Arts to each of us, as well as the importance of our TLA practice to the community around us. I am fairly new to the field, although I have been telling stories through writing for my entire life. As the title of this post says, I write from Maine, which means I’ll be excited to attend the Power of Words Conference in Maine this summer, where I hope I’ll meet many of you in person.
The conference, officially called the 14th Power of Words Conference: Transformation, Liberation, and Celebration Through the Spoken, Written, and Sung Word, takes place from August 18 – 20th at Ferry Beach in Saco. As a Mainer, let me assure you that this is prime summertime on our beautiful southern coast. I can’t imagine a better place to feed the imagination and create a sense of community. Here’s a photo from the Ferry Beach website:
Picture yourself in one of the chairs on the porch surrounded by fellow conference attendees. You’re all sharing stories, ideas, and reactions to the great workshops/lectures/performances you just attended, while the porch flags flutter in the sea breeze. (Learn more about the Ferry Beach Retreat and Conference Center here.)
Keynoters at the conference include Joseph Bruchac, True Story Theater, Mahogany L. Brown, Susan Bennett-Armistead, and Kelley Hunt. The list of workshops is varied and extensive. To find out more about the conference, visit the conference webpage: https://tlan.wildapricot.org/conference.
Speaking of the conference, if you are planning to attend, you can save $20 by registering before April 25th. After that date, the registration fee becomes $230 for TLA members and $250 for non-members.
I have to say, just thinking about a wonderful seaside conference in August is an effective spirit-raiser in gray late February. And, this year, it seems more important than ever.
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
We 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.
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.
Kelly 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
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.
Juanita Kirton shares about her show.
The monologue that I created started out as a poem in the voice of a slave women who dreams of what it would be like to be free. Her dreams take her on a magnificent journey, from the fields of cotton/tobacco to Nova Scotia. She experience true love and loss. Through her dreams she is able to mentally escape the horrors of slavery.
Juanita Kirton holds a BA in Psychology, an MEd in Special Education, a PhD Educational Administration and a PhD in Developmental Disabilities. In 2015 she obtained a MFA from Goddard College in the Creative Writing/Poetry track. Juanita sings with Riverside Church Inspirational Choir, is a member of Rutgers University South African Initiative Brain Trust Committee, the Pocono Mountain Arts Council, the Pocono Mountain African American Network, volunteers with several local organizations.
Juanita facilitates the Blairstown Writers group in New Jersey, which is affiliated with Women Who Write in NJ and participates in the Women Reading Aloud workshop series. She directs the QuillEssence Writing Collective that coordinates an annual women’s writing retreat at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Bangor, PA, and is currently a poetry editor for the Goddard College Clock House Literary Journal.
Editor’s Note: Amy has written for us before, and her story is a powerful one. With the Power of Words Conference coming in two weeks, we asked her to share more. We will also post her TEDx talk within the next week.
Bringing Gutless & Grateful to the Transformative Language Arts Network Conference last year was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to be presenting again this year! In my workshop, I’m sharing my near death experience and unique personal story with humor, hunger and heart, and helping others realize their potential as storytellers who can heal through their own word and powerful personal stories.
I’ve presented this workshop on college campus, at conferences, theatres, hospitals, and many other audiences from Hawaii to Pennsylvania, to survivors of sexual assault to business entrepreneurs, medical professionals to law students. Everyone has a story to tell – some of us just don’t know it yet! Once we discover this, it’s incredibly empowering, and my greatest joy is watching people realize this for themselves.
From the time I could remember, I have always possessed an intense passion for the world of words and music. All my life, I had dreamed of pursuing a career in theatre. However, at 18, I was rushed to the ER, and to summarize very briefly, my stomach exploded, I was in a coma for six months, and I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for over three years. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with whatever I had left. However, to persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength. I relied on my creativity to get through. My therapy was purely based in the world of theatre, art, writing, dance, music, and whatever else I felt was an area that I could express myself appropriately. The arts were a way for me to express whatever felt too painful and overwhelming to put into words. They also helped me process what I was feeling. But most importantly, they served to be the greatest reward acting as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world while utilizing my passion. Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings you.
I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell. Until I could put into words what had happened to me, I couldn’t fully heal. Telling my story is the magic push I needed to move forward, and that is what inspired me to bring my workshop to TLAN for the second year in a row: to help others bring out the story burgeoning inside of them.
As actors, writers, creators, humans, we tell stories constantly. I first told mine over four years ago. Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York theatre-goers. Fresh out of my 27th surgery, I performed words from journal entries I wrote years ago as a way to pass the time between the endless series of medical interventions. Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process. Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything – and usually tells us this at times we need it most.
I’m truly touched by how my story has affected so many people and it only serves to spur on my creativity more and more. Even on the more difficult days, knowing I can have an impact is just one extra nudge to get me going in the morning.
It’s really the ability to give back, and to have my work serve as a lens, a mirror, a window that others can look through, or look into, and see themselves or whatever they need to see at that moment. To feel whatever they need to feel. That’s how I connect with my world – that is my aliveness. As a member of this human race, it’s how I can contribute. Isn’t all we ever want: to make a mark on the world?
“Gutless & Grateful,” the honest one-woman musical story of my life. It’s my story, shared through a medium I’m passionate about. I was finally able to heal and move on once I was able to share, and now I’m so excited to help others share the story within them in whatever medium that they feel most comfortable in.
Why share at all? It takes “guts” to talk — and sing — about my sexual abuse, my anger, my guilt, how I lost hope in things ever getting better. But I share to show that things do get better with patience, trust and resilience. I share to give courage and a sense of belonging to people who are struggling with all kinds of mental health or physical challenges, but also to help build a campus that gives everyone the kind of awareness and generosity of spirit that makes that world a better place. If we all share our “detours,” we see that our detours are not detours at all. Every road leads somewhere — we just need to hang in long enough to catch the flowers along the way. The more we share our stories, the more we realize we’re not alone.
Through the transformative power of words, we can all share our stories. I can’t wait to hear yours!
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.
As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.
To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.
As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn more: amyoes.com.
Editor’s Note: I’ve known Lyn for several years, and she is an incredible human being. Listening to her talk would itself be worth the conference registration.
OH, MY STARS AND GARTERS…I’M TALKING ABOUT BELLY BUTTONS!
THE HERNIA JOURNAL: MY WORD-DANCE THROUGH DARKNESS TO JOY – A journey in progress, from belly-ache to belly laugh, from abuse to a-ha, from hell to Hafiz, shared in personal narrative, folktale, and poetic joy.
That’s the blurb I passed on to TLAN for my Saturday, August 13 keynote performance for the 2016 Power of Words Conference. Then I set aside any thought on the subject, so that, in a couple days, I could look at that blurb with fresh eyes.
Five days later, I looked at what I’d sent, and my fresh eyes blinked as if I’d been smacked by a hard gust of wind. I said to myself, “Self, you’ve just committed to sharing a portion of the map of that dark walk into and through the woods, the one that frightens and confuses and excites you, and makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Just a few steps, reflection and folktale connection and poetry. You are going to share from your hike through personal muck and mire, in 45 minutes.”
Oh, my stars and garters…
This writing project grew from journaling while I worked on socio-emotional development activities and stories for educators and storytellers. That work became difficult as I maneuvered over several rough patches—illness and injury, problems with medications, emotional situations…you know, life. In the worst of it all, I wrote and shared my stories. Folks laughed with me, which made me laugh more.
I’ve selected stories and verse from my journal, offered because they lend themselves to the conference theme, “Begin with YES!” But “yes” isn’t just the beginning of transformation. It’s the effective affirmation of every step of each human being’s personal journey. “The Hernia Journal” presentation has its emotional ups and downs, but, yes, we will laugh, because that’s how I roll…or, reel, or trundle, …it’s all good. I always pack joy for the journey, even when I’m crawling, with “yes” in my heart.
The preconference workshop that I’ll facilitate is titled “LAUGHTER, BREATH, JOY: COMMUNAL COMMUNICATION”. That’s what we’re going to share. As a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader (and now, I’m a Certified LY Teacher, too—yay!), I’ve become more aware of the important empathetic connections of laughter, play, and simple stories. Most big folks just don’t play enough, or feel the excitement of telling their own stories without self-criticism and with the lightness of the child’s heart that still beats inside us. I’m hoping folks come to the conference early, and play and laugh and communicate with an open heart and mind.
Lyn Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and workshop facilitator. Lyn is also a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), and a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. 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, and Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore. Lyn’s 2015 book, Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts is a creative-writing resource; Lyn’s fourth book (with friend, Sherry Norfolk), Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Kids, is set for publication in the summer of 2016. For more information on Lyn’s work, go to her website at www.storytellerlynford.com. Or contact Lyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deb Hensley and Martin Swinger, the dynamic duo co-chairing the Power of Words conference, Aug. 12-14 at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, share this invitation to our 13th annual conference. Read on, and register by Nov. 15 to catch the super early bird rate. Find out more and register here.
Imagine yourself a place. Imagine a chair on a wide porch next to a beach where you bask in the afternoon sun. Imagine a morning walk through a grove of sunlit trees. Imagine joining brilliant vocal improvisation sessions under a bright moon, filling yourself with poetry, storytelling around a campfire and choosing from 25 workshops on the transformative power of the written, spoken and sung word.
Imagine a loving community of people, healthy, delicious food, good coffee, lots of music, time for reflection and an after dinner frolic in the surf. Imagine Ferry Beach on the coast of Maine at the Power of Words Conference, August 12-14, 2016.
I don’t know which excites me more, this fabulous conference we’re putting together or the amazing place where we are holding it. With world renowned Vocal Improv Artist and Activist, Rhiannon, Award winning Poet and Author Seema Reza, Afrilacian Storyteller Lyn Ford and Quaker Minister, author and educator Callid Keefe-Perry as our keynoters, this conference promises to embody spontaneity, humor, comfort and joy. And what could be more a more gorgeous location to gather singers, poets, authors, activists, and a host of other transformative language artists than a coastal paradise only 20 minutes from the Portland International Jetport?
Ferry Beach is a retreat community with 900 feet of beachfront in Saco, Maine offering respite away from the everyday world. It is a collection of meeting spaces, wide porches, an art and pottery studio, an outdoor chapel, a performance space, many gathering places and a wonderful dining hall.
It is a place of unsurpassed beauty where you will experience the joy of community, challenge assumptions, celebrate, reimagine, and commit your own language artistry to nothing less than global transformation. It is a place for renewal and rejuvenation where a small but mighty group of all ages and races, for one glorious weekend in August of 2016, will lovingly and boldly explore the Power of Words. I’ll be there! You?
See more about Ferry Beach right here.
On July 25, about a dozen members of the Power of Words conference committee met with teenagers from Kansas City, MO who are likely going to join us at the conference through special funding from the Jackson County Family Court Emergency Children’s Fund. Thanks to poet, writer and artist Jose Faus’s wonderful mini-writing workshop with all of us, we enjoyed and were moved by the writing from the teens, all of whom are in court-mandated programs (such as foster care, diversion, etc.) and have a lot of lifetime stories already percolating through them. Jose invited us to describe a room, real or wished for, where we could feel comfortable ourselves and comfortable and even stay for 24 hours. Here are some samples of what the teens wrote:
My Perfect Room
I walked into my room. I look left, then I look right.
I see this is my room, not any kind of room.
My room so as I look left, I could see my bed, also dresser.
Then I look right, and I could see my TV and
my mini basketball goal. Then I see my closet,
then I see my shoes all messed up.
Also I see posters on both sides.
I say to myself, this is no ordinary room.
It’s my room, and it’s the way I want it to be,
the perfect room for me.
The Perfect Room
I walk in the kitchen, and all I see is a stove and a refrigerator.
That means I can eat all day.
I see a bed and a class room.
That means I’m already at school.
Last but not least, I see a bathroom.
Basically, I don’t have to get up.
I’m the luckiest person in the world.
Oh, I forgot I had to call my coach and tell him
I quit because I had a trainer and a 10-foot basketball goal.
This room is big enough to fit my whole family in here.
Thanks to Kelly Hams Pearson, operations director of the 16th Circuit Court for setting up this meeting and being the bridge between the teens and the conference. We look forward to seeing everyone from our July 25 meeting at the Sept. 18-20 Power of Words conference, which features a keynote poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca, who started out all-too-familiar with the court system where he grew up before, in the middle of committing a crime, he realized his true mission was to become a poet. Jimmy also shares his story of going from the barrios of the Southwest to become one of America’s best loved poets here in the new documentary about him.
We’ve just announced the new certification in TLA (http://tlanetwork.org/certification), and already there’s ample interest and some great questions. To help answer questions, I’m interviewing myself, trying to address all I’ve been asked and all I can imagine. Please feel free to ask additional questions in the comments.
Me: Caryn, so good of you to meet with me.
Caryn: Anytime. You know I’m always close by.
Me: That’s so reassuring. So let me kick off this interview by asking why now when it comes to the TLA Certification.
Caryn: For many years, we’ve been talking about a TLA certification. For over six years, we worked at Goddard College to develop this option in MA in TLA concentration for people with vast experience in the field. Because of new Department of Education regulations regarding new certification restrictions when it comes to educational funding, we realized the college certification program wasn’t feasible at this time. In further conversations, some of us at the college and in the TLA Network realized that the not-for-profit TLA Network was a much better home for the certification. We developed this certification to give people a rounded introduction to all things TLA. “Why now?” has to do with several factors: the launch of the certification coincided with the Power of Words 2014 conference because that was a good way to talk about face-to-face with those who were interested. We also just signed a partnership agreement between the college and the TLA Network, and that agreement grants people who complete the certification a scholarship of $1,000 for any Goddard program (spread over two semesters).
Me: Who is this certification for?
Caryn: I’ve been in touch with people who want to study more about TLA, put it into practice in their lives, but for whom getting a graduate degree doesn’t fit right now. I’ve worked with several students at Goddard who already had doctorates, and ended up coming for a semester to immerse themselves in TLA. There are also people who want to do the Goddard program, but the timing isn’t right. Finally, there are some who want to infuse their professions and livelihoods with TLA — from pastoral counselors to teachers to psychologists to activists to artists. This certification speaks to various ways to develop TLA, including active participation in TLA activities in your community and over distances, investigation and study on how TLA is practiced and could be practiced, and ways to enhance your individual practice of TLA, whether that’s storytelling or writing or collaborative community projects. This certification helps people incorporate TLA as an art, study, practice, form of advocacy and celebration in their lives.
Me: You mentioned the Goddard program, and so I wonder how the certification compares to the Goddard program?
Caryn: The certification provides participants with a thorough orientation to TLA, some avenues for developing a TLA practice and connecting with others involved in TLA, and encouragement to be part of the TLA community, help grow that community, and further define and develop TLA in the world. The Goddard program is a much more intensive immersion into TLA because its core is master’s level degree criteria focused on theoretical groundwork in TLA at large and intensively in a specific focus; a deep development in the individual art of TLA, such as writing a memoir or putting together a collaborative performance; and an in-depth community practicum, such as facilitating a series of storytelling workshops, teaching yourself filmmaking for change, or doing some other project that helps people interface with their communities. We’ve designed the certification to be both freestanding as an educational journey, and/or complementary with the Goddard MA-TLA as a first step or a way to develop a plan for right livelihood after graduation.
Me: How is this certification different or the same as other certifications?
Some certification in related fields are much more intensive and focus on a specific approach, such as the certification in poetry therapy offered by the National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy, which I did and found very helpful. That certification takes people at least two years, and is more involved in terms of the hours and costs. Some certifications are shorter when it comes to the length of time, such as the Amherst Writers and Artists week-long intensives. Yet both the certifications I just named advocate and train people for a specific approach in working with certain populations, a model for how to do workshops. The TLA certification is far less expensive than many programs out there, and it’s also open-ended as to people’s approach (although people who complete our certification may go onto other learning opportunities and vice-versa). That’s because we’re TLA: we bring together people involved in storytelling for social change, writing for healing and growth, spiritual adventuring through theater, and much more so that we can make and keep community across using words aloud or on the page for change. In the “Changing the World With Words: TLA Foundations” course, we offer people exposure to multiple approaches, encouraging people to learn about what fits their calling, community, and focus, and then to educate themselves on specific models for workshops, consulting, coaching and more. The certification incorporates involvement in the TLA community through attending conference and/or participating in classes, and participating in various projects, such as One City One Prompt, or Chrysalis: The Journal for TLA. So overall, this certification is based on coursework and reflection, and but also on action learning through doing TLA.
Me: Is this the only certification in TLA that will be offered?
Caryn: This is a first step, and as a community focused on growing our hearts and minds individually and collectively, we’ll be tweaking and enhancing the certification components as we go. I can imagine a more advanced certification option in the future, either through Goddard or the TLA Network.
Me: How much would this certification cost the average person?
Caryn: We’ve worked to make the certification affordable for people from many backgrounds. The application fee is only $40, membership in the TLA Network is $35/year, online classes are approximately $35/week, and the conference ranges from $160 for super early bird registration to over $200 for regular registration, plus room and board, and for some, travel. The certification overall would cost $500-$1,000 (depending on conference attendance, travel, classes taken, etc.). People can spread out what they do and when they do it over two years. While this might seem like a big number, it’s significantly less than some other similar certifications (although those certifications can be extremely valuable and do have different focuses).
Me: Who makes decisions about who gets in and who completes the certification successfully?
Caryn: We have a small committee reviewing applications for certification right now, and this committee will be reviewing completed certification evaluations and reports by participants at the end of their certification road trip. I believe it’s important that decisions are not based on any one person’s read, but from the collective wisdom of people with experience in the TLA world. As time goes on, we will surely reach out to people who completed the certification to serve on this committee.
Me: How would people get started?
Caryn: The first step is to click on and fill out the application (http://TLAnetwork.org/certification) and pay the $40 application fee. Within several weeks, we’ll be back in touch. Once you’re accepted, you can sign up for classes, join the network if you’re not yet a member, and take other steps. It’s advisable to start with the “Changing the World with Words: TLA Foundations” class to help you map out your focus. Within a few months of starting, we will be in touch to ask you to fill out your certification plan (what options you’ll be pursuing), and we’ll be available to meet briefly on the phone to help you talk through those options.