In Gratitude for Martin Swinger’s Life and Music, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter

Martin Swinger, a virtuoso singer and songwriter, died suddenly in early July, leaving behind his husband (and partner of 35 years) Brian and many broken hearts in his Asbury Park, N.J. home community, and prior to that, central Maine, where he was a mainstay of the music scene for years.

But when I think of Martin, I see him at my kitchen table, serenading the then-coordinator of the TLAN, Deb Hensley, volunteers Nancy Hubble and Laura Ramberg, and me as we stuffed folders for the 2014 Power of Words conference.

He was like this: always bringing joy, humor, and the power of music to wherever he landed. He was gifted at helping in multiple other ways too: for the conference, he coordinator participant transportation, helped Deb with many pieces of the conference coordination, and generally brought a sense of peace and homecoming to all of us.

Martin Swinger keeping the TLA Network volunteers company as they prepared for the 2014 Power of Words Conference.

Then again, Martin knew how vital hospitality and art are to this world. He grew up gay in the South, falling in love with music and books of all kinds. In recent years, he went on to be quite decorated as a songwriter, winning many notable big-time contests and performing across the country, even to the delight of the late Pete Seeger and very-much alive Vance Gilbert and John Waters. His seven CDs won lots of well-deserved awards, including from American Song Competition, SolarFest, Rosegarden Coffeehouse and more. Audiences have adored him for decades for his warm and vibrant voice and eclectic blend of Americana, swing and jazz, traditional music, show tune, Klezmer music, and improvisation. Deb and Martin sang together like angels from an enchanted land.

Deb says of Martin: Martin was a true prince, a friend to me and to so many others who knew and loved him. He had a heart the size of Mars and talent to match. Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay.” But Martin’s songs will stay. Oh yes they will. And so will his love. 

His generosity extended in other ways: when one of our keynote performers for the conference didn’t show up, Martin graciously volunteered to perform on the spot and for free (although we did extend to him a small stipend anyway). When he performed, he lifted a full house of conference goers, who had been waiting a while for the keynote, to their feet with original songs such as “Betty Boop and Buddha,” “Consider the Oyster,” and my favorite, “Little Plastic Part.” That song, about how breaking a tiny part of a vacuum that “makes the whole thing work” speaks to having a little part of our heart broken so that it doesn’t work anymore.

I can’t help thinking about how Martin himself was a little vital part with a big impact himself. 

Find more about Martin here: https://martinswinger.com/

With great gratitude and appreciation for the life of Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter.

Volunteer Opening: Director of Social Media

Looking for the chance to share your skills and talents with a thriving group of thoughtful, engaged peers who care deeply about the transformative language arts?

Consider volunteering for the TLA Network! 

We are currently looking for a Director of Social Media.

This part-time volunteer position is the perfect opportunity for the right person to build leadership experience in the field while developing and implementing a robust social media strategy for the Network.

Click here for more information about the position – or reach out to us at director@tlanetwork.org.

Future Casting: an interview with Caits Meissner

Caits Meissner sat down with us before the pandemic to talk about teaching for the Network and to tell us about one of her online classes – the latest version of which launches next month. Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision, begins April 14, 2021. More here.

What do you see as the relationship of poetry to future casting, and future casting to social change?

I use future casting here in the loosest sense of the word, drawing on the simple idea that when we launch our wishes and hopes into the universe with earnest intention, they amplify. The object of devotion may be a higher power, but also may be nature, the universe, the commitment to reducing harm, a deeper sense of self love or humanity itself. 

The way I’m thinking about future casting in this course, as intentional wishing and visioning that extends beyond the self, is a different energy than protest, and railing against what is—a necessary strategy, but not the only one. 

I’m thinking of future casting as an impassioned call to forces beyond the human realm to support our collective betterment, to protect who is vulnerable, to uplift who is ignored, to create harmony and equity and peace and justice and environmental responsibility. To call in the gods or ancestors or universal light energy or natural intelligence to give us the strength and tools to help dream and build a better world. 

What motivated you to put together such a visionary class?

My own desperation for something different drove me forward. I have always been drawn to resistance art, and while I find that incredibly important, in this terrifying era we’ve entered, I also craved something more—hopeful may the wrong word—perhaps more fitting is visionary. The concept of emergence in social change began to stir me up. 

It was Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy that really got my gears turning about a course that tied together inspiration from a wide array of sources to propel us into the possibilities for healing our society. Brown looks at biomimicry, speculative fiction, posts tarot cards on her social media—she is ideating new social justice practices from an amazing mix of movement work, divination, nature and art. 

I am certain that hidden in the natural intelligence of our bodies is a creative force more profound than what is easily accessible in the rigid and fast pace of modern society. I think it takes playing outside our go-to inspirations to draw up what has previously been untapped. I wanted to push myself, and others, to dream forward and innovate in our poetry practices, the way Brown is asking of those engaging justice work.

What can people expect to experience, learn, and write in this class?

There will not be much, if any soap-boxing or pontificating from me, as the facilitator. I am no expert, I am a fellow seeker. Rather than reading my thoughts and ideas on a subject, I see my role as cultivating process and possibility through curating readings. 

I want to encourage participants to listen to what their bodies reveal, and then act on their gut impulses, what pulls them towards creation in what I offer. I would also like to gently push participants past nerves or fear to try something new. Therefore, we’ll engage a large range of material in order to unlock new pathways in the brain. I encourage participants to arrive expecting to play, and to challenge themselves to write towards creating an image of a just world, rather than (always) against it.

Participants should come ready to journal in response to questions, write for 15 minutes based on sometimes strange or even silly-seeming prompts, to read about a 20 page packet each week of poems and essays, to write another poem (I suggest writing a draft in 15 minutes, but it’s up to the writer) and to post the work they’d like feedback on in the forum—1 or 2 short pieces weekly. 

How has future casting and social change spoken through your writing, and can you share an example?

I often use poetry as a space to work out questions and ideas about the world—as writers tend to. And though I write from a variety of perspectives, the lens I employ that most closely resembles future casting, for me, is gratitude. I’ve written tender praise poems for women in prison, and girls in jail (this one is a poem-comic). I am also at work on a series of more personal comic-based “pep talks” that explore what is good in daily life, not always connected to an anchored social justice issue, but for example, how I’ve pulled myself out of depression, or how to connect to a partner romantically when totally broke! 

I also have a silly personal example that illustrates the kind of, wait, huh, what just happened? Did I write that into existence? As a young poet in my early twenties I was depressed. On the train home after seeing my favorite poet at the time, Pulitzer Prize-winning Yusef Komunyakaa, I wrote a poem asking him where his gift of writing derives from, and calling out for the experience of pain in order to write like him. Of course, Yusef’s life story is incomparably more intense than my own has ever touched close to, but still. A few months later and I experienced a romantic break up that kicked the light out of me—that really awful, gutting kind of ending. And then I got a letter. I was going across the world to a writing conference, on a full scholarship, completely free. To study under Yusef Komunyakaa for two weeks.

Magic? Future casting? I don’t know. I am sparked by the ideas presented in quantum physics, and what are thoughts but energy? Maybe there is something here to be harnessed intentionally in our writing towards a better world. 

Anything else participants should know?

Yes! When you take a class with me, you invest materials that can be used to make poems for years. I am not exaggerating. Each week’s packet comes with approximately 10-15 optional prompts that can be revisited again and again (you’ll only write 1-2 poem drafts each week during the course). Erika Jeffers, who took this class with me live at Poets House over the summer wrote me a wonderful email about how she used the curriculum again to produce more work. With permission, I’ll share what she told me:

“On the last day of class, I think I mentioned to you that I was planning on taking a week off from New York and staying at a cozy house in CT to write and revisit this class syllabus and I did it in just one week! In the mornings, I tackled one week and in the afternoons, I worked through another week and I had the entire 6-week workshop experience all over again, but condensed in a week. The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I’m not just saying that, I wasn’t writing for a year before the class. I wouldn’t say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn’t really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what’s going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! Now that I’m back, I’m working on finishing up my chapbook!… Thank you soooo much! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus.”

  I’d say, like most experiences,  you get out of it what you put into it.

More on “Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision” here.

An Invitation from The TLA Network

Dear TLA Community,

As part of our effort to grow the TLA Network, we are always on the lookout for new instructors to teach classes for our community. Over time, we have developed a strong reputation for offering classes that speak to deep and meaningful human experiences, and, we are always eager to encourage fresh voices to join in the mix. 

We invite you to consider teaching for the Network. If you are that person who has often thought, I would love to teach what I know to this community, consider joining us in learning the fine art of teaching a well-crafted, strong online class.

Curious about what it would take? Interested in learning how to market a good class? This month we launch a new series, Tools for Teachers, geared towards training people to teach for the Network – we hope you will join us in honing your craft.

We encourage you to be bold: speak your truth, share your vision, and join us in creating a learning environment that builds connection, provides replenishment, and supports our community to go out to do the important work of healing our world.

To the power of words, 
Hanne Weedon, Managing Director

Hanne Weedon comes to TLAN with 20 years of leadership and program development experience in not-for-profit and government-funded organizations. A longtime community, arts and social justice advocate, she resonates with the goals and values of the TLA Network. Hanne’s appreciation for, understanding of and dedication to building representative, inclusive and diverse communities is a core aspect in all her work. 

My Journey With The Transformative Language Arts, by Wendy Thompson

Writing poems, journaling, storytelling, monologues, singing along with Janis Ian – I have been a TLA “practitioner” since I was a teen. The written, spoken, and sung word brought me through many a dark night into transformative light. 

Officially, my journey with Transformative Language Arts began in 2006. I was teaching creative writing at a public arts school in Vancouver, WA; students often submitted highly emotive, personal narratives to which I did not feel equipped to respond. I needed professional development. 

Although I personally understood the therapeutic value of journaling and poetry, I had not heard of poetry/biblio-therapy. My introduction to the field was “Writing as a Healing Ministry” with Sharon Bry. She told me about the TLA program at Goddard. I applied, was accepted and met Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Although I only attended one semester at Goddard, I was clear that this was the professional development I was looking for. 

I continued to study independently with Alma Rolfs in Seattle, WA and Kay Adams at The Center for Journal Therapy in Denver, CO. I attended several TLA Network Power of Words conferences, Miriam-Goldberg’s Brave Voice songwriting workshop in Kansas, and the National Association for Poetry Therapy Conference in Portland, OR. In 2015, I experienced a period of unemployment that afforded me the time to pursue the TLAN Certification program, which I completed in 2017.

I am certain that the pandemic is already affecting deep systemic change in public education – beyond reform to transformation.

Wendy Thompson, elementary school teacher & TLA Practitioner

My first foray into TLA facilitation was with a group of 5th graders, 40% of whom were directly affected by an immigration ICE raid in Portland, OR. The six sessions resulted in an anthology of student poetry From Here, There & Everywhere: Poems of Origin & Hope (available at lulu.com). This project motivated me to integrate my TLA theory and practice into standard Language Arts curriculum. I designed a unit titled Civil Writes, through which students had an opportunity to explore social justice issues through poetry and prose as well as respond with their own writing.

I have been an arts educator in multiple settings and content areas for over 30 years. This past year has been the most challenging ever. With the social and emotional health of students my first priority, I am relying on TLA experiences, methods, and processes (like Hynes & Hynes Berry 4-step method of recognition, examination, juxtaposition, and application) to guide me. I am certain that the pandemic is already affecting deep systemic change in public education – beyond reform to transformation.

Grateful for all I have gained in my journey with Transformative Language Arts, I am glad for the opportunity to give back in service to the TLAN Board. I am curious to see what we all will co-create, where this seachange will carry us!

TLA Network board member Wendy Thompson holds an MFA from the University of Utah in Modern Dance. She is an Movement & Integrated Arts Specialist at Lake Shore Elementary, in Vancouver, WA. Currently, Wendy serves as Co-chair of the TLAN Education Team, and is a Certified TLA Facilitator. She has been a member of TLAN since 2015

Your Right Livelihood, by Caryn Miriam-Goldberg

As you might know, Your Right Livelihood started as a project of the TLA Network. As the founder of Transformative Language Arts and co-founder of the TLA Network (TLAN), I have long believed transformative language artists and practitioners needed a holistic training to unearth and integrate our real work into our lives. When the time was right, I enlisted a partner in crime, Laura Packer, who brought complimentary gifts and skills.

That was four years ago, and since then we’ve offered annual trainings that brought together people who are retooling their day jobs, leaping to new work, creating livelihoods, re-inventing their art or service, and re-envisioning their post-retirement life’s work. We’ve witnessed life-changing courage, compassion, and wisdom in all our graduates. This becomes even more vital as our lives have changed so much during the pandemic. 

In the last year, Your Right Livelihood graduated from TLAN to become an independent project, while simultaneously remaining in partnership with TLAN. All TLAN members receive a $50 discount on the YRL training, plus graduates of our training receive a $50 discount on the Power of Words conference and a one-time $20 discount on a TLAN class. 

Our next Right Livelihood training launches February 19, 2021 with a weekend retreat (via Zoom and other bells, whistles, and charms) followed by a 10-week online class that includes weekly Zoom sessions, guest teachers, one-on-one coaching, and guidance in putting together a portfolio of all that’s needed for your emerging work. We conclude with a weekend retreat April 30-May 1, 2021.

Laura and I would love to talk with you about Your Right Livelihood. Please contact us to set up a discovery call by emailing info@yourrightlivelihood.com. You can also sign up for our January 7th Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching. Together, we can discover, develop, and grow our life’s work for our souls and communities. See more here:

Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, PhD is the founder of TLA, past poet laureate of Kansas, and author of two dozen books of poetry, fiction, memoir, and anthologies. Her life’s work now encompasses coaching and consulting with people and organizations on writing and creativity, teaching and facilitating community writing workshops, and immersing herself in many collaborative projects to make and keep community, and find and live our callings. carynmirriamgoldberg.com.

Laura Packer is an award-winning storyteller, coach, and writer, as well as founder of thinkstory llc, one of the nation’s foremost organizational storytelling consultancies. Her work is focused on the power of story to guide, shape, and define our whole lives in the workplace and beyond. Laura’s performances, coaching, and facilitation are all intended to empower and connect. laurapacker.com

Strengthening Our Ability to Facilitate for Community and Change, by Ada Cheng

Several months ago, I completed The Art of Facilitation advanced level class by Caryn Mirriam-
Goldberg and Joy Sawyer. The following consists of my reflections to this prompt: What will particularly help strengthen our ability to facilitate for community and change?

First, the importance of flexibility. As a former academic, I am inclined to be critical and aim for
perfection in my work. This drive for perfecting the craft can dampen other’s desires to experiment as they may not feel comfortable making mistakes. By flexibility, I mean I need to adjust my expectations. I need to recognize my weaknesses. I am learning to adapt my skill set to the context of the group and the demand of circumstances.

Second, the necessity for humility. Humility is the willingness to see strengths in one context as weaknesses in another. It is also the willingness to honor the gap in knowledge as the world evolves. This is particularly true in the way we use language and understand politics. We may sharpen our skills in facilitation. Yet without any substantive grasping of the changing world, these acquired skills will not be adequate. There is so much to unlearn as well as to learn. Humility goes a long way.

Third, I keep on going back to the basics these days. The basics provide a blueprint and a guidance for what we do. I constantly ask myself the following questions: What is the purpose of my work? Why do I do what I do? What are the values that undergird my work? What is my vision? What is my mission? The answers help me make informed decisions.

Fourth, the imperative of doing. We cannot “will” the world to change. Talking will not automatically lead to actions. It is in the doing that I see commitment. If I want to make the world a better place for everyone, then I need to commit myself to actions. If I want to contribute to the cause of social justice, then I need to ask myself: What is it that I need to do to make a difference and exert impact?

Fifth, the necessity to allow for accountability and to create an open space for critical feedback. This is particularly important for those of us who are in positions of power or have accumulated a certain amount of privileges. Power and privilege can easily blind us to the reality of how the world operates for others. We need to create and maintain a vulnerable space for critical feedback and work against any instincts for comfort and complacency.

Sixth, honesty, truthfulness, and boundaries. I am at a point where I no longer wish to hold my tongue and silence myself. Words I swallow will turn into poisons that easily rot my soul. Boundaries are not for others; boundaries are for myself, so I affirm and validate my worth and truth again and again.

Ada Cheng is a professor-turned-storyteller, solo performer, and storytelling show producer. Ada is the producer and the host of five storytelling shows, including Pour One Out, Am I Man Enough?, Talk Stories: An Asian American/Asian Diaspora Storytelling Show, Speaking Truths Series, and This Is America: Truths through My Body. She creates platforms for people to tell difficult and vulnerable stories as well as for communities who may not have opportunities otherwise. Her motto: Make your life the best story you tell.

Meet the teacher: Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Who is Yvette Angelique? Yes, you have niceties in the bio, but who I am is a more profound question.

I am first an artist. I always have been since a little girl playing the organ, then guitar, songwriting, letter writing, poetry, and essay. As I grew professionally in and out of my artwork, I became a strong facilitator of groups and a trainer. This path led me toward all sorts of incredible corporate and community work.

… I always wanted … to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

But what I always wanted was to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching. I’ve achieved that sweet spot and wish to share my path with others who are thinking about who they are as an artist, how they engage in uplifting their communities, and how they pass on their skill and talent so that others can grow and thrive. 

What is your passion? I have a few! One of my passions is to disrupt the starving artist narrative. As a TLA practitioner, I work on my art, activism, and educate/coach others in a one-on-one capacity, as a facilitator of teams, and as a teaching artist with womxn and girls.

There is enough work in the world for all of us.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

I am clear what I run as a business is a social arts practice where my time creating new art and engaging with others on social justice issues is healing, creative, and transformational. There is enough work in the world for all of us. 

What are your most recent projects? For many of us, this year has been a source of disruption and anxiety-making time. And when space and time wrinkles in this way, it pushes us (and me) into expanding creativity to see what else is possible. Right before the pandemic began to peak in March, I had completed an EP digital chapbook, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues. It was a fantastic creative project where I blended old and new poems and invested in professional recording time to deliver the product. I was invited by the University of North Florida’s Creative Writing Program to be a guest artist for 2020 on their Eat Poems platform www.eatwords.net. The EP is available for listening on the Eat Poems site and can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

Last fall, I enjoyed an art residency with Joy Harjo, our U.S. Poet Laureate, as an associate artist. I learned SO much in the small community of poets and the broader community of musicians, theater, dance, and visual artists. The time was freeing and intense. I came back home mid-November and started to work on the digital EP.

Another goodie I started last year and picked up again this year is facilitating girls in the juvenile justice system to write and tell their stories. After writing their stories, they perform them as monologues or like “Ted Talks.” They perform their stories for an audience of leaders in the community who touch their lives: law enforcement, state’s attorney, detention center personnel, social workers, advocates, etc. Through their storytelling, they have been able to make an impact by expanding the mindset of the realities of their experiences and influencing changes in policies and practices. Last year, several state attorney office rules changed to reduce harm due to the girls’ work. 

What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

What excites you about teaching this class? I am excited to work with folx who are artists, facilitators, community organizers, and cultural workers interested in using their art to engage in community healing and transformation. What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living. I refer to this work as a social arts practice. Use the time spent in this class to take a more in-depth look at what you offer and ways to strengthen your practice earning potential. Unpacking your skills, focusing on who you serve, understanding needs and what you offer—these are the key components to developing your social arts practice into a viable business. 

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams’ latest class for the TLA Network, “Leverage Your Expertise as a Social Arts Practice, for Community Engagement, & Radical Livelihood,” begins November 4.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams, MA-TLA, is the Principal and Chief Storytelling Officer at Narratives for Change. Yvette Angelique is a poet, teaching artist, and proven culture change strategist. Yvette’s recent artistic work includes: a digital poetry chapbook book, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues; a poetry chapbook, Shut Eyes See; and storytelling performances–See the Girl Monologues, and Europa: Zora Neale Hurston, Carlos Santana, and Me. Her poems appear in journals and anthologies, and her essays and book chapters contribute to the discourse on transformative language arts for personal and social change. Yvette teaches creative writing and storytelling to heal, create literary art, for consciousness-raising and advocacy. She is on the editorial board for the international publication Practising Social Change. She is Chair of the Board of Directors for Alternate Roots, a longtime organization for Southern artists and cultural workers.

MAKE ART, by Carol Pranschke

“Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong… and when things get tough… make good art.” ~Neil Gaiman, author, during his Commencement Speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

What is simpler than “Make Good Art?”

Make Art.

Let go of judgment. Stop creating under the cloud of perfection. Lose the long coat of the imposter.

As a community of TLA’ers, we make art.

Let’s do it, and then make more.

Has the current pandemic transformed your spare time? After you watch 13th, talk to your plants, walk the ferret, and search the cupboard for chocolate morsels, you’re wondering what to do next. Make your art. 

You may find yourself sharing unexpectedly. Recently on Facebook, a group of people with diverse spiritual beliefs (some Christian, some not), who believe in the power of praying the rosary, was having a “Black Lives Matter. No, All Lives Matter,” exchange. (Disclosure: I am a member of this group, and am not a Christian). I hesitated to jump in, not having made a public statement about the phrase Black Lives Matter before, and then I responded: 

Black Lives Matter. It is not that black lives matter more than anyone else’s, it is that we need to affirm that their lives matter so the killing will stop. So that black men and women can walk outside without fearing for their lives, so that their mamas (and papas) do not have to grieve for dead children, and do not have to fear every time their child steps outside. Black Lives Matter. As a white person, I am affirmed by my culture that my life matters, and I now affirm the lives of people of color. 

I’m glad I jumped in. I want to do better. Here’s my rewrite, where I’m striving for something more visionary: 

Black Lives Matter. It is time to affirm that Black Lives Matter so that the killings stop. It is time to affirm that people of color deserve to live long and healthy lives, with dignity, safely, and with opportunity to participate fully in solving the complex challenges of our time. As a white woman, I have much to learn from people of color – for starters, how to live with resilience and joy in times of great grief. I affirm that George Floyd’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter. 

As writer and activist Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “The most revolutionary thing … proclaim loudly what is happening.” You may consider this blog post to be a small step in making art, but I am calling it a proclamation.  

I leave you with words from my friend and leadership advisor, Mark Bernstein, who listened to me wonder if I was ready to go public with writing, and said, “Make your damn art.”

Thanks Mark, I will. 

@2020 Carol Pranschke with gratitude to Diane Glass and Laurie Fickle.

A long-time creative since she was little, Carol Pranschke’s first true love was story. Stories saved her life (along with meditation, long talks with sisters, and blowing big bubbles). She sees a storyteller in you, and would like to dialogue about transformative language. See more at Carol’s website,or contact her at carolpranschke@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The TLA Network supports and encourages our members to share ideas and perspectives via our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TLA Network.

Why Write to this Moment? By Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

The story we make of this moment becomes the life we lead.
~Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. 

“I’ve run out of words! We need new words. The strongest words.”

My friend and I were texting back and forth about the latest NPR news alert to light up our phones. It would have been a much better conversation in person, far more satisfying to laugh together instead of trying to find the emoji that most accurately expresses our level of gobsmack, of anger, of despair. 

But that’s where so many of us are right now: stuck at home and stuck for words to express the inexpressible. 

So, I write. 

I write to make sense of it all, to search for a semblance of meaning in the midst of the madness.

And I read. 

I read the words of others to find solace in similar experiences, in our shared humanity, and in the connection established through empathy. To share our words beyond ourselves is to cultivate compassion and create community.

Two years ago at TLAN’s Power of Words conference, Storyteller, Activist, and Founder & CEO of #MeWe International, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, gave a presentation called “Storytelling as a Tool for Healing and Community-Building.” He told the crowded room why he believes in the power of storytelling: “The stories we tell ourselves shape us and how we interact with the world and others.” Healing cannot happen in isolation, he said. We need each other—we need to hear each other’s stories. 

And thus the raison d’etre of “Writing to this Moment: Taking Uncertainty to the Page,” a journey from notebook to narrative, from the personal to the public. 

Over the four weeks of this class we will record experiences and express feelings with prompts as a “trail-head,” then learn some basic creative nonfiction methods to turn our writing into a crafted personal narrative, which may be shared with others in the class—maybe beyond!

Because we need new words. We need your words. In this moment. Because as Toni Morrison reminded us in 2015:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is author of the award-winning biography of Vermont historian, Lilian Baker Carlisle, and has both a memoir and personal essay collection in the works. She holds a BA in History, an MA in Transformative Language Arts, and is currently an MFA-Creative Nonfiction student at Goddard College. A writing coach since 2009, Joanna is also a facilitator for Vermont Humanities Council and teaches online for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Historical articles written during her time as columnist and feature writer for the Rutland Reader can be found at Rutland When…  Joanna lives in Rutland, Vermont with her husband and two teenagers.