Vital Signs and Essential Stories For Our Lives and World

The 16th Annual Power of Words conference brings together three keynotes — Gregg Levoy, Noa Bam, and Usha Akella — who know first how our stories and callings can help us weave together our work and communities for positive change. Taking place at the breathtaking Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ., the conference brings together storytellers, writers, performers, health professionals, change-makers, and community leaders to explore and celebrate the potential of our words for liberation and healing. Here’s a little about each of our keynoters:

Gregg Levoy is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life – rated among the “Top 20 Career Publications” by the Workforce Information Group and a text in various graduate programs in Management and Organizational Leadership. He is a former “behavioral specialist” at USA Today, and a regular blogger for Psychology Today. A former adjunct professor of journalism at the University of New Mexico, former columnist and reporter for USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer, and author of This Business of Writing (Writer’s Digest Books), he has written for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Omni, Psychology Today, Christian Science Monitor, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, and many others, as well as for corporate, promotional and television projects. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and his website is www.gregglevoy.com

Noa Baum is an award-winning storyteller and author who presents internationally. She works with diverse audiences ranging from The World Bank and prestigious universities to inner city schools and detention centers. Born and raised in Israel, she was an actress at Jerusalem Khan Theater, studied with Uta Hagen in NYC and holds an M.A. from NYU. Noa offers a unique combination of performance art and practical workshops that focus on the power of narrative to heal across the divides of identity. In a world where peace is a challenge in the schoolyard and beyond, Noa’s work builds bridges of understanding and compassion. Noa’s book, A Land Twice Promised – An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace – a winner of the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award – is an introspective memoir that mines the depths of the chasm between the Israeli and Palestinian experiences, the torment of family loss and conflict, and the therapy of storytelling as a cleansing art. With her storytelling background, Noa captures the drama of a nation at war and her own discovery of humanity in the enemy.

Usha Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted and produced one musical drama. She earned an MSt. In Creative Writing at Cambridge University, UK. She read with a group of eminent South Asian Diaspora poets at the House of Lords in June 2016. Her work has been included in the Harper Collins Anthology of Indian English Poets. Her most recent book, The Waiting, is published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s highest literary authority. She was selected as a Cultural Ambassador for the City of Austin for 2015 & 2019. She has been published in numerous Literary journals, and has been invited to prestigious international poetry festivals in Slovakia, Nicaragua, Macedonia, Colombia, Slovenia, India etc. She is the founder of ‘Matwaala,’ the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the US.

You can learn more about the conference at http://tlanetwork.org/conference. We still have a limited amount of scholarships and work-study positions available.

If you’re not able to attend the whole conference, please come for Noa Baum’s performance, open to the public – https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-3467554 https://www.facebook.com/events/319662462249450/

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Right Livelihood Luminaries: Our Guest Teachers

One of the great benefits of Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love is the face-to-face weekly opportunities to talk with luminary writers, teachers, and change-makers about what’s calling to you in your work, art, and life. The training, which launches Sept. 25 and ends in mid-December, led by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer, helps people both navigate their callings and their livelihoods (read an interview with Laura and Caryn to learn more).

In addition to the two-day opening retreat — to be held Sept. 25-27 at the Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (where the Power of Words conerence starts shortly after our retreat ends), the weekly video-conference live meetings with guest teachers helps us get to know each other voice to voice and face to face, and it gives participants the chance to ask our guest teachers questions and discuss many dimensions of making our life’s work come true. The training also includes a 10-week online class, one-on-one coaching with Laura and Caryn, and lots of extra supports and resources.

This year’s crop of guest teachers includes:

  • Dr. Harriet Lerner, one of our nation’s most respected voices in the psychology of women, and the “how-tos” of navigating the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships. She lectures and consults nationally, and is the author of numerous scholarly articles and 12 books  including The Dance of Anger, which has sold more than three million copies with over  30 foreign translations, and her recent book, Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurt.
  • Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life and Vital Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life, writes for, consults with, and speaks to thousands of people regularly on finding and following your life’s work and passions. See a SPARKS session, hosted by the TLA Network, featuring Gregg Levoy talking about callings and right livelihood.
  • Donna Washington a professional author, storyteller and multicultural folklorist who has been sharing stories for over thirty years. She has been featured at numerous festivals, schools & libraries theaters and other venues around the world, and she has released nine CDs and four children’s books.  She offers a range of multicultural folktales, personal narratives and stories of her own creation.
  • Doug Lipman is a renowned storyteller, storytelling mentor and teacher, and innovator. Doug loves to help artists and other self-employed professionals become comfortable (and effective) in marketing their own work. He says, “We tend to view marketing as something pushy and dishonest – which much marketing sadly is. But true marketing consists of discovering who is hungry for what you love to do—and letting them know you’re available to do it.
  • Kim Go is an interfaith minister, former minister of congregational life, public speaker, coach, author, ritual celebrant and expressive facilitator. A focus of her work is the project, Alive and Mortal, an online group to address grief and impermanence. She says, “We work togetherto learn expressiveness around grief and find our voice. This aids us to use the power of the group to move out into the world to speak of our grief and love story that we carry with an expanded language.
  • José Faus is an artist, writer, teacher, and mentor. A native of Bogota, Colombia and long time Kansas City resident, he has participated in mural projects throughout the Kansas City area, Mexico and SantaCruz de la Sierra, Bolivia where he traveled under a State Department grant. He is a founder of the Latino Writers Collective and sits on the boards of the Writers Place, UMKC Friends of the Library, The Latino WritersCollective and the Charlotte Street foundation.
  • Rob Peck, is an author, humorist and recovering perfectionist! True to the title of his new book, It’s a Juggle Out There, Rob’s moving speeches and uplifting seminars focuses on three things simultaneously: Stress management, Streamlining, & Simplifying.
  • Heather Forest is a modern-day bard fusing poetry, prose, original melody, and the sung and spoken word. A pioneer in the American storytelling revival she has shared her repertoire of world tales in theaters, schools, literature conferences, and storytelling festivals throughout the United States and abroad. A multiple award-winning author and recording artist, she has published seven children’s picture books based on folktales, three folktale anthologies, eight audio recordings of storytelling and a popular educational web site StoryArts Online.

Find out more about the training here.  You can also schedule a discovery call with Laura or Caryn to talk about the training and your life by going here. 

Values of the Future with Doug Lipman for What We Need Now

Doug Lipman, one of the foremost mentors in storytelling and otherwise unearthing our most vital truths, explains of his upcoming class, “Values of the Future,” that “Our current economic, political, and social systems are serving fewer and fewer people, not to mention destroying the environment. I don’t know what a future society will look like, but if it is to meet our human needs better than our current society does, I believe it needs to be formed with certain values in mind.”

Listen to Doug’s powerful TEDx talk, “What Can Storytelling Teach Us About Creating Connections?”

His focus in this class is to help us find, amplify, clarify, and share our values for the world through stories, writing, and other arts and also, as he explains, “through the very processes of telling or creating stories….In other words, our artistic processes themselves can give people experiences that open them to values that are necessary for an improved society.”

The six-week class, kicking off Sept. 4, is all online, which means you can do it from anywhere and at anytime, looks toward how to cultivate the kind of world we envision through the process of our stories and storytelling, the power of listening,  the importance of relationships and openness, the preciousness of every human point of view, the universality of human potential, and other values that bring us all to the table.

The class is ideal, according to Doug, “for storytellers, fiction writers, narrative poets, songwriters, improvisational singers, dramatists, etc. – all who use language to help people imagine or convey their experience – especially those interested in teaching their art or discipline with an eye toward promoting generative values.”

“Taking a class with Doug Lipman is like sitting down with a trusted friend and mentor, who believes in you with all his heart and guides you to new ways of living.” — Laura Packer, storyteller and writer

Doug found himself becoming a storyteller when he was a struggling teacher of troubled teens, who responded positively to him telling them a story. From there, he has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom. More about Doug here.

A Class For Our Time: Speaking Your Truth with Angie Ebba

Angie Ebba, one of our most beloved online class facilitators, has created a new class, “Speaking Your Truth: Creative Writing for Political Times,” which you can do from anywhere on your computer. The class as open to writers of all ability, experiences, and genres (poetry, fiction, nonfiction and more).

Angie writes in her class summary:

From ancient times to modern day, creative writing has been used for a way to explore and navigate political and social issues. In this workshop we will use a variety of readings, videos, and podcasts to investigate and discuss the role creative writing has played, and continues to play, during political times. Writing from various time periods and of many different viewpoints may be presented. However, rather than focusing on the ways our political views may separate us, we will instead use these writings to explore both the history of social and political creative writing, as well as the role it can have in creating change and developing empathy. Each week we will also focus on one or two tips or techniques for effective writing in a given genre.

Angie’s classes over the years have helped many people find their words, strength, voice, and callings, including one student who wrote, “This class transformed me and my self image” and another who simply said, “I have been enlightened.”

Angie comes by such praise honestly: she has created, worked, and lived for years as a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist rooted in the transformative power of words and performance. With a Masters in Teaching and another Masters in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College, Angie is deeply experienced with working with people of all ages and backgrounds. A powerful writer who navigates the world as a self-identified “white, cis, queer, disabled, fat femme,” she recently began a regular column at She Explores Life, which includes her inspiring and evocative essay, “Why I Need Radical Positivity (and Think You Do Too).” Angie says of her approach to writing and teaching,

I fully believe in the power of words to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.

Find out more about Angie and “Speaking Your Truth” here. And check out Angie’s website, “Rebel on Page” here.

Upcoming Class-Cultivating Our Voices: Writing Life Stories for Change with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

When we discover, explore, and (re) connect with our voices—that perspective, knowledge, and expression that is uniquely ours—our life stories become intimate and emotionally powerful. We begin to offer a glimpse of what it’s like to live the complex constellation of privileges and disadvantages, joys and heartbreaks that are exclusive to each of us. Embarking on this type of self-reflective inquiry not only has the potential for healing and developing a greater understanding of one’s self and experience, it also holds the potential to open the hearts and consciousness of others, becoming narrative catalysts for change. Throughout this 6-week course, we will explore our various life experiences as a springboard for generating life stories that reflect our distinctive voices. By the end of the course, you will have a body of new writing, a clearer understanding of your writer voice, and an enhanced ability to connect with your audience. This course is also beneficial for non-writers, such as storytellers and other performers, who want to generate new material to use in their work.

This class is ideal for a wide variety of people, including poets and writers of all genres, storytellers, healing arts professionals, teachers, songwriters, and anyone interested in reflecting on, writing about, and sharing their personal experiences as a way to make connection, build community, and foster understanding of self and others.

The class begins September 6th 

Register for the class

Read an interview with Liz Burke Cravens

About the Teacher

Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens is an interdisciplinary educator, poet, writing coach, passionate scholar and determined optimist. She is the founder of A Brave Space, a learning community that seeks to create positive social change and personal transformation through writing. Her work has appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2The Irish HeraldSoulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. Liz enjoys traveling, kickboxing, cycling, photography, and cooking. She has a deep love for language and a passion for teaching and supporting student success. Originally from Portland, Maine, she now lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits. You can learn more about her work, courses, and inspirations at http://www.drlizburke.com and http://www.abravespace.org.

WATCH: Sparks replay-Empowering Human-Trafficking Survivors

If you missed this last Sparks meeting, watch the replay featuring an interview with special guest, Jennifer Jean, discussion, and open mic!

Jennifer Jean is a poet, educator, activist, and consummate “literary citizen.” Her debut poetry collection is The Fool (Big Table); her poetry chapbooks include: The Archivist, and In the War. Jennifer’s newest manuscript, titled Object, was a finalist for the 2016 Green Mountains Review Book Prize. Other honors include: a 2018 Disquiet FLAD Fellowship; a 2017 Her Story Is residency, where she worked with Iraqi women artists in Dubai; a 2016 Good Bones Prize; and, a 2013 Ambassador for Peace Award for her activism in the arts.  As well, her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in: Poetry Magazine, Waxwing Journal, Rattle Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, Mud City Journal, Solstice, Pangyrus, and more. She is Poetry Editor of The Mom Egg Review, Managing Editor of Talking Writing Magazine, and Co-director of Morning Garden Artists Retreats. Jennifer teaches Free2Write poetry workshops to trauma survivors, and she teaches writing at Boston-area universities.

Jennifer Jean’s website for more information is: http://www.fishwifetales.com

Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

My Journey From Marine to Actor with Adam Driver

You may recognize Adam Driver from the newest Star Wars movies, but before his time fighting in galactic space battles, he was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. Adam describes perfectly how he learned how to find the words to express his complex feelings throughout his transition from soldier to civilian as he tells the story of how and why he became a Marine and how he formed his nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces.

learn more about Arts in the Armed Forces

Remembering Dick Allen, 1939-2017

We share this in memory and honor of Dick Allen, who is also a good friend of the TLA Network. He keynoted at our 2013 conference, and he’s one of the featured poets who contributed to the class, Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Time with Poets Laureate. [This is an excerpt from Caryn Merriam-Goldberg’s blog.]

What impressed me first was his sestina, a very challenging kind of poem he wrote after hanging with a bunch of us fellow state poets laureate at a lingering dinner at a Concord, New Hampshire Holiday Inn restaurant. A dozen of us gathered from Louisiana to Texas for the Poets & Politics conference to first travel around the small state, giving readings with local poets, then present together for conference-goers.

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The only problem was, that aside from the conference organizers, there were only a handful of conference-goers. We filled the open space with getting to know each other, and those three evenings spent lingering for hours over dinner were some of the most delightful of my life. We talked poetry of course, but also about our kids, how we got to or stayed in the states where we lived, and what we regretted and embraced in how we juggled writing with the other aspects of our lives. But mostly, we laughed, and somehow caught the wave of making air quotes with our fingers for every noun in a sentence one long night over chicken parmesan and garlic knots.

Dick was quirky, approachable, and full of stories, wit, and a kind of peaceful presence only matched by his passion for all things poetry.  The next evening he shared the sestina he had just written, and we raised our glasses to him after he read it to us, all of us blown away that he could turn such a spectacular poem out in such short order. What makes sestinas hard to write is that 1) they’re long — 39 lines, and 2) you have to repeat in a very complex pattern the ending word to a line in each stanza. It’s a little like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle without a picture of what it should look like while juggling six words (repeated at the  end of lines in various formations). It probably takes most people, even very experienced poets, weeks to write a sestina, and blessings of the gods to write a great one. Yet he wrote “If You Visit Our Country,” which he also read on Prairie Home Companion, and is also published in my poet laureate memoir, a book Dick kindly blurbed, Poem on the Range.  

I was so impressed by Dick that I invited him to be a keynote speaker at the Transformative Language Art Network’s Power of Words conference in 2013 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. We had a tight budget and could only offer him an amount that probably just covered travel for his and his wife, poet and fiction writer L. N. Allen, but he kindly accepted our offer, then showed up to give one of the most powerful talks on poetry and life I’ve ever heard, plus a wonderful workshop. But what I remember most was taking a walk with Dick to look at the oldest beech tree  in Pennsylvania, which towered over the very tall and tree-like Allen. We stood in wonder at the base of this grandmother tree, placing our hands on it, and looking up. The size and presence of this being was so awesome that we stopped talking and just smiled at each other, then after a while, walked back, talking about what a gift this moment was.

Not only did he and his wife give so much goodness to the conference, but he wrote Callid, the then-coordinator of the TLA Network, and myself the best notes of our lives, which has the same kind of wild and enthusiastic sentences that threads together in some of his shining poems, thanking us, among other things, “….for the quiet path to the small pond with the fountain and the willow I took Saturday afternoon, for what may be the best brownies of my life, in addition to fabulous breakfasts; for the huge writing expertise of those in my workshop, for the terrific audience response to my poems, for the flashlights we didn’t need when the lights went on, for the ever present care and devotion to the written art, for storytelling and transformations,  for the chocolate bar and the parking space and places to meditate everywhere, thank you!”

Dick knew a lot about gratitude, and attending to the moment. A long-time student, and through his own way of being in the world and his poetry, teacher of Zen Buddhism, he showed up fully at conferences and in email exchanges also.  I just looked over a bevy of emails in which we joked about New England versus Kansas, and Dick sent along photos of wide-perspective Kansas highways leading to a steady point, surrounded by flatlands, which he said he especially loved, while I joked back, “Our state is so big that we can fit two New Englands in it and still have room for New Jersey.” When I sent him photos of our town’s gorgeous maples turning deep red and orange, he responded, “Don’t you realize there are no maple trees in Kansas? You’re living in a hallucination and need to drink some dark sunflower coffee.” We went on to write about our grown children, and in his case, the miracle of the grandchild he didn’t expect and now adores. His love for Kansas and New England was as real as his support for a younger poet — surely I’m one of many he reached out in various ways.

He knew how to bring just the right touch and tone to the most difficult curves of our time also, just like he did in the poem he wrote in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting, “Solace.” You can hear him reading this tender and powerful poem here.

He’s also one of the featured state poets in the self-paced online class “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” I put together for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and we were just emailing about at the end of November when I asked him to share a bunch of poems, writing reflections, writing prompts, and many  links to his work. Not only did he give (again) freely, but he wrote me of the class, “That’s a great thing to do and an honor to be asked.”

The real deal is that Dick was a truly great poet — one of the foremost poets of our time — with an immensely generous and loving heart and a brave and clear mind. In one of our stretches of correspondence, he shared what he called “Gerund Phase Sonnets” — each 14 lines long like a sonnet, but loosely rhymed, all describing a process, some parables too. He wrote of these sonnets, “The form is a vessel, perhaps comparable to Emily Dickinson’s use of simple quatrains, freeing the poet to concentrate on theme and subject and/or to be led by the easy rhymes and American speech patterns of lines of varying length into unexpected places.”

I’m grateful for getting to know him, and sad he’s suddenly gone, having died Tuesday after a heart attack on Christmas. What he’s left behind are many poems I’ll return to with fresh eyes, remembering what he showed me and reflecting on what his poems illustrate about how to simply be while overflowing with compassion, humor, intelligence, and vitality.

 

 

 

Deeper Understanding Through Shared Stories: PBS’s “The Vietnam War”

On Sunday night, PBS will begin airing a ten-part, 18-hour series called The Vietnam War. I’m looking forward to watching it, and I’m dreading watching it.

For those of us old enough to have lived through that time, memories of the war are still painfully raw. As a country, we still argue about its lessons. In fact, there is so much controversy, we haven’t done a very good job of telling its history to younger generations.

Perhaps this television series will help correct that. No doubt, creating the documentary was a daunting task. How do you provide a window into so many conflicting perspectives? How do you bring to life so many different experiences?

PBS and the filmmakers wisely decided to open up the dialogue. They are soliciting and publishing personal narratives about the Vietnam experience from anyone with a story to tell (go to http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/vietnam-stories/ to join in). The stories have one thing in common: their diversity, in both the tellers and their experiences. There are stories of soldiers, of children who lost their fathers, of protestors, of conscientious objectors, stories of sorrow, of triumph, of loss, of courage, and more.

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I’m sure the 18-hours of documentary will be instructive and often riveting. But these personal stories on the website bring an added dimension and deeper understanding of the effect the war had on us as a people. Together—the artfully crafted film by professionals and the informal heartfelt outpourings of self-appointed witnesses—paint a complicated and more complete portrait of a cataclysmic event.