Influencing Values Through TLA, by Doug Lipman

In our society, “influencing values” brings up images of someone lecturing children on abstract concepts (e.g., “honesty,” “perseverance,” etc.).

values-of-futureIt turns out, though, that we learn values from our own experience. In workshops I do with organizations, I often ask, “Choose a value that is important to your work. How did you learn the importance of that value?”

In response, people almost always have at least one story of something that happened to them. Having told it, they continue, “After that happened, I realized that…” Rough examples of their stories might be:

  • The time my family cooperated to get something done, taught me the value of cooperation;
  • The time I lied taught me the value of honesty;
  • The time someone else was disrespectful to me, I learned the value of treating people with respect.

Prompting Value Changes

As we’ve seen, values grow out of specific experiences. We don’t learn them by prescription, but by construction: we build our values over time. If you want someone to change their values, then, you probably shouldn’t begin by arguing with them about why their values are wrong. Instead, you need to make sure that they have experiences – first-hand or vicarious – in which they are practicing those values and then, as a consequence, experiencing success.

Having had those experiences, they can realize at some point, “Yes, when I acted that way, things went better than when I didn’t. And, yes, that was an example of this value.” Initially, they may not realize it consciously, but in time they will begin to regard acting in accordance with that value as good, right, or worth the cost.

Imagined Experiences

Storytelling gives people imagined experiences. When I listen to your story of how treating someone disrespectfully caused painful results, I imagine a version of your experience. I see and hear things similar to what you saw and heard. I feel emotions similar to those that you felt.

If I tell a story that is about living out a value (or failing to live that value) then people imagine my experience, thus replicating that experience in their minds.

Embedded Values

Of course, the idea of telling stories about values is not, by any means, a new idea. Anyone who has thought seriously about language arts has probably realized that stories, songs, poems and more can reinforce certain values.

But have you considered this idea: The very process of telling stories reinforces certain values! In fact, the very process of participating in many language arts can do the same.

In a society where we see political debates in which people call each other names and shout each other down (only listening long enough to form a rejoinder) the value of open, delighted listening seems foreign and impractical, like some ideal from the distant past or from an impossible future.

But storytelling, for example, already gives people the experience of open, delighted listening! In every culture, people learn unconsciously to listen to stories differently from how they listen to explanations or exhortations. You might readily interrupt someone, for example, who is telling you their opinion about a political race. But if they are telling a story about their own experience, the unconscious rules of conversation change: you are expected to wait for the story to be over. Further, you listen, not so much to comprehend, but to imagine and feel.

Eight Values Embedded in the Processvalues-of-the-future

As it turns out, even the process of preparing a story to tell (discovering, developing, shaping, and practicing stories) can give people practice in certain values, as well.

I’ve made a list of eight values that, I believe, are potentially embedded in the process of learning and telling stories:

Group A: The Primacy of Connection

  • Value #1: The Power of Listening
  • Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
  • Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
  • Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness

Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds

  • Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
  • Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
  • Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
  • Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

Further, I suspect that most, if not all, of these values can be reinforced by numerous arts.

Process Shapes Values

As we have seen, conventionally we tend to think that values are taught by talking about them. Many of us have come to the deeper realization that we learn values primarily from experience, including the imagined experiences provided by the arts. I invite you to explore yet another layer, as well: experiencing the processes involved in an art form can also reinforce values.

And, as it turns out, the values embedded in certain artforms are values that can guide the transformation of our society—to one that is more just, less wasteful of our abilities,  and more supportive of the flourishing of every human.

Learn More!

If you’d like to learn more about how the very processes of storytelling reinforce these values—and might like to participate in describing how the process of other arts can do the same—there are two upcoming opportunities:


In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug 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.

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Making the Leap into the Work You Love with Scott Youmans

Youmans_2012March_SmallScott Youmans knows his way around Right Livelihood, having left a lucrative career in the corporate world for the work of his heart, which turned out to be its own winding rock trip. He’s also a superb facilitator of helping others find not just their dream work, but how to make their present work richer with meaning and joy. Here’s an interview on his upcoming online class, “Making the Leap into the Work You Love,” which runs June 29 – August 9. Sign up before June 10 for the Summer Buzz sale and save 10%.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: What in your life led you to design and develop this class?

Scott Youmans: Over a decade ago, when I facilitated the first incarnation of Making the Leap into Work You Love, I was in the midst of transitioning out of the corporate world and into something … unknown. I was about to complete my Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts, and at the same time leaving my full-time job to start a web consulting business. The thoughts and emotions were swirling: fear and uncertainty, joy and curiosity. What would happen next? How would I make a living doing what I loved on this new path?

In the midst of all of this, the TLA Network had come into being, and we noticed that our members were interested in learning more about the practice of Right Livelihood, and in particular, many of us were asking, “how do I make a living doing what I love?” The Network began to consider how we might create space for practitioners to approach this question. Drawing from the whole of my life experiences, including experiential workshops and my own writing practice, certain threads––poems, exercises, videos––began to tie together to help guide me in exploring answers to this question. It was easy to see how these could serve others on the journey. After a little encouragement from the chair of the Network, I set about building this class to be part of an early Power of Words Conference. It has since become a recurring staple of the Network’s offerings.

CMG: What can people expect from this class?

acrobatic_shadows_croppedSY: At its heart, this class is a journey into one’s self. My hope is that it is a gift, a space for being and becoming, with a focus on career and right livelihood. Each week will have a primary focus and exercise, along with accompanying readings, videos, and activities. The participants will form a community around the course, offering feedback and support, and asking for support in return. The class will begin by examining each participant’s journey by looking at the choices and beliefs that brought us to this place and time. We’ll then begin crafting a vision, informed by our past, and rooted in our heart’s desires. The class will end with specific community-supported steps to advance our vision.

CMG: How does this focus on the leap into the work you love manifest in your own life, art and work over the years?

SY: That word, leap, has a certain ring to it in my mind. When I first left my job in the corporate world, I imagined myself leaping off of a spinning carousel. I had a belief that the carousel was built by someone else, that it was spinning too fast to see any other path, and that I had to stay on it for survival. Leaping off of the carousel meant leaving the security of a full time job with benefits, it meant leaving a career path that seemed inevitable.

Since leaping, both professionally and in offering this class, I think I’ve been able to hold onto the possibility of finding a way to be in the world that allows me to share my gifts in a healthy and fulfilling way. By holding on to this possibility, I haven’t really stopped leaping. I continue to find enjoyable ways of earning a living that meet my needs in that moment.

Not everyone has a job that they love. I know many people whose jobs merely facilitate their passions, whether it’s their family, a hobby, or a side business. In many cases, to fully leap into this other hobby or side business may not be healthy, but it may one day be sustainable. Often, these extracurricular professions provide the joy and satisfaction that can sustain someone through their workday worlds.

Primarily, this focus means that I keep the idea of “work I love” present in my heart. I use it both to seek the work that I love, and to make the work that I’m doing loveable, or worthy of love. How I show-up at work, the tone I set, the language I use, impacts both my job and the work environment of everyone around me. If I make my job one that I love, then perhaps those around me will be able to better love their jobs too.

One of the ways this focus has manifest in my life has been though my most recent job change and move. There was a time when I recognized that my current job wasn’t as healthy for me as I wanted it to be. For example, I worked alone at home and I missed having daily in-person connections with my co-workers. From this realization I began to imagine and to write about ways I could earn a living using all of my gifts. I created an elaborate plan––we’ll call it “Plan A”––to transition into Unitarian Universalist Ministry. It would take six years of part-time education along with internships and credentialing while I continued working. A year into this plan, I was laid off, disrupting everything and creating an immediate need for income. Now, I also had Plan B, which involved a degree and credentialing in the field of Marriage and Family Counseling, and Plan C, which was to work for a company where I could combine my technology skills and my spiritual path. The layoff forced me to look again for companies that matched Plan C, and this time, within a month I found a job with a company whose mission is to disseminate spiritual wisdom. No extra degree needed. No additional credentialing. From this experience, I learned to not overcomplicate things. Sometimes holding on to a vision means letting it go. You might just find that you get something better than you could have imagined.

Learn more about Scott’s upcoming class here, and consider registering by June 10 to save 10%.

Let’s Talk TLA with Z. Hall – A Free Teleconference Interview, Q&A & Poetry Reading, moderated by Kelly DuMar

When I met Z. Hall at the Power of Words Conference in 2015 in Kansas City, she was new to TLAN, but sitting cheerfully at the volunteer desk greeting people. After our short conversation, I wanted to learn more about her advocacy for public dialogue through Salon~360, based in Kansas City. On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 8 – 9:15 pm (Eastern), 7-8:15 p.m. (Central), we’ll all have the chance to talk with Z during our free, bi-monthly teleconference, Let’s Talk TLA, which everyone is welcome to join.

Z. HallZ. is a Poet, Artist, Scholar and Executive Director of Salon~360, a monthly event that brings together artists, business people, scholars, activists, and community members in dialogue around issues faced by our society. Z. fosters the power of creating what she calls “360 degree public conversations,” believing that true understanding requires examining issues through integrated, public dialogue. Her interests include culture, art, race, identity, media, TV and radio, film, theater performance, rhetoric, and intersections of these.

During our teleconference, we’ll explore Z.’s thoughts on why open dialogue is important, what we can expect when it does not exist, and how society benefits when it does.

What is Salon 360?

Events are held at restaurants or venues, supporting locally owned businesses in the Kansas City region. Like the salons of France and like many in-home congregating spaces outside the Western world,” Z says, “Salon~360 is a hub of artistic, intellectual development, and cultural exchange, hosting local and international guests and participants.

For instance, in Salon~360’s inaugural 2015 season, themes explored included: forgiveness, anger, suicide, humane capacity, and grief. The first year closed with a benefit show based on its five themes. Salon~360’s second season opened with the theme ‘Art Activism’ in collaboration with InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park. On Tuesday, February 23, Salon~360 will present the theme ‘Economic Liberation’ in collaboration with The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.

Salon~360, Z. says, fosters community and growth. “It’s a much-needed space for working out ideas in the public sphere that lead to cross pollination among creatives on new and collaborative projects,” she says. Her passion is creating a venue where artists, business people, activists, academics, journalists, scientists, K-12 educators, and the community gather in dialogue. Z is committed to making a safe, comfortable space for engagement with a cross-section of individuals who may have been inaccessible outside of Salon~360. “It’s an important space for civic engagement, dialogue, growth, and creativity,” Z says.

To learn more about Z. Hall and Salon~360, before or after our teleconference on Feb. 17, you can check the Decade of Light calendar for upcoming Salon~360 events, or, to see highlights of past events go to: www.decadeoflight.org > Programs > Salon~360. You can also join the Salon~360 Facebook group to meet other creatives and engage. To be included in Salon~360’s monthly Evite list, send your name and email address to: info@decadeoflight.org

I hope you’ll call into our free Let’s Talk TLA teleconference with Z. to explore “Dynamic Dialogue,” followed by a Poetry Open Mic. Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience. You don’t need to be a member of TLAN – this meeting is free and open to the public, and you can join from your by phone by calling 1-857-232-0155, code #885077.

Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1

Kelly DuMar, Membership Chair, TLAN, Let’s Talk TLA Moderator

Taina Asili Pens a Black Lives Matter Anthem

meTaina Asili, a long-time Transformative Language Artist and activist singer-songwriter, just wrote and recorded a powerful anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Featured in the online news source mic.com, Taina shares a video of her song “Freedom.” She writes from experience, as the article states:

As the daughter and sister of two formerly incarcerated Afro-Puerto Rican men, musician Taina Asili has also been an activist involved in the prisoner justice movement for years. In attempt to proliferate the messages of equality and justice, Asili recently released a powerful new song and accompanying music video, “Freedom,” which features Black Lives Matter and prisoner justice activists in an attempt to invigorate and support their work.

She wrote the song in response to the Black Lives Matters movement after being inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “Freedom” builds on the musical legacy left to her from her parents, and was filmed in her home community of Albany, New York, an important stop on the Underground Railroad. It also features Michael Reyes.

See the video here:

Taina graduated from Goddard College with a MA in Transformation Language Arts. A longtime touring artist with her band, Y La Banda Rebelde, Taina is “carrying on the tradition of her ancestors, fusing past and present struggles into one soulful and defiant voice” (from TainaAsili.com). Learn more about her tips for activists keeping healthy and engaged in this post, and more about Taina’s study and work while at Goddard here. Taina has been a featured performer at several of the TLA Network’s Power of Words conferences over the years, bringing big crowds to their feet and onto the dance floor. Learn more about Taina, listen to her music, and watch her videos here.

We’re Having Powerful Conversations – Will you Join us on Let’s Talk TLA?

Were you at our Power of Words Conference this year? Our annual conference brings us into deep conversation and exploration once a year. If you made it or missed it, Let’s Talk TLA is one way of staying connected by creating powerful conversations all year round. Whether it’s in person or over the phone, as members of TLAN, when we do meet, we instantly have a powerful conversation. Why? Because we belong to an artistic community grounded in words.

Call in on Wed., Oct. 28, 8-9 p.m. EST/ 7 p.m. CST/ 6 p.m. MST/ 5 p.m. PST. Let’s Talk TLA! Free Phone Conference Q&A and Poetry Open Mic with Kelly DuMar and her special guest, Callid Keefe-Perry, educator, minister, advocate for the arts, TLAN Council Chair, and POW 2016 Keynoter. Let’s Talk TLA is free and open to the public, and you can join from your by phone by calling 1-857-232-0155, code #885077.

We love language and the expressive power of the written word.

We love singing, speaking, and writing to help and heal, ourselves, and others.

We Can Learn From Each Other All Year Long

As individual artists and healers, we have unique ideas and experiences to share about how we use words to change ourselves and the world. And Let’s Talk TLA is our bi-monthly, long distance way to connect and discover the fascinating, life-changing ways that other TLA artists are applying this passion for words in their own communities. Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015

Our October Let’s Talk TLA conversation will feature Callid Keefe-Perry, someone essential to TLAN for many years, who was unable to attend Power of Words conference this year. Callid is our TLAN Chair and 2016 Keynote speaker, an educator, minister, and advocate for the arts who is based in Boston, MA. As my interview guest for Let’s Talk TLA free teleconference on October 28, this is your chance to have a powerful conversation with him – wherever you live. Callid’s focus during the call will be on his passion and concern for the state of arts in our educational system. The title for his talk is: The Imagination in Public Education: Learning Ourselves into Boredom.

If you have not yet had a chance to join us, the format of our teleconference is that I will interview Callid for 20 minutes about his practice of TLA and his concern for the arts in public education. Listeners on the call will then have about 15 minutes to ask questions of Callid & discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision. There’s more.

A Writing Life Can Be Lonely – At TLAN, It Doesn’t Have to Be

Another essential element of Let’s Talk TLA is to create an opportunity for those of us who are writing poetry to share our work with each other in an impromptu poetry open mic. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience. As one recent participated said:

Great phone call last night. Thanks for providing this to us. . .

I really enjoyed hearing the interview with Laura and the lovely poetry after.

Learned a lot, as well. Thanks again to all involved.

So, On Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. Eastern, bring your questions for Callid about how he uses Transformative Language Arts to advocate for arts in education, and an original poem for the open mic. I look forward to the powerful conversation we’ll create with each other!

If You Can’t Make the Call – You Can Listen to the Podcast!

We’re recording our calls to make them available all year long to members. So, in case you missed our last call with storyteller and coach Laura Packer about Creating Your Sustainable Story: How to Pursue Meaningful, Creative Work as a Business. Click here to listen in!

About Callid Keefe-Perry: Callid is a husband, father, and a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers working toward his PhD in Theological Studies at Boston University’s School of Theology. His work focuses on the intersection of imagination, spirituality, and creative practice in education. He is the author of Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer and one of the founding members of the journal, THEOPOETICS. He currently serves as the Chairperson of the Board for the Transformative Language Arts Network and he is one of the co-hosts of the progressive Christian podcast, Homebrewed Christianity.  You can learn more about him on his website, http://callidkeefeperry.com

Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1About Kelly DuMar: Kelly is the membership chair of TLAN and a poet, playwright, and creative writing workshop facilitator from the Boston area. Her award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget – The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, her poems are published in many literary magazines, and her award-winning poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press in 2014. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and a Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and psychodrama, a board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, and a member of Playback North America, You can learn more about her at http://www.kellydumar.com

Joanna Tebbs Young: Changing the World with Words in Her Life and Teaching

12039647_10205649886620629_4834052489016945884_n Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com. Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class, “Changing the World with Words: Transformative Language Arts Foundations,” starting Oct. 26. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and Joannaheadshotsmall2-275x300finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

Wisdom from Youth: Voices from Kansas City

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.

~ Daveontae

 

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.

~ Donnell

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.

Seema Reza Wins USO Award for “Bringing Down Walls With Words”

Seema Reza with Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger, and Peyton Manning at USO Awards

Seema Reza with Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger, and Peyton Manning at USO Awards

Seema Reza, a member of the TLA Network governing council and accomplished writer and facilitor, just won a major award from the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore. She was honored at the organization’s 33rd annual awards dinner on March 26 along with Oscar-nominated filmmaker, author and war correspondent Sebastian Junger, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, and starting NFL quarterback Peynton Manning.

According to the USO, Seema received the John Gioia award “for her work with wounded, ill and injured service members at military hospitals and USO Warrior and Family Centers

at Fort Belvoir and Bethesda. Reza conducts workshops to help service members recovering from visible and invisible wounds express themselves through art, writing, film and music.” During the ceremony, she read a poem about working with service members while accompanied by Grammy-nominated, progressive hip-hop musician Christylez Bacon.

As one of the transformative language artists featured in Transformative Language Arts in Action, co-edited by Ruth Farmer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Seema says:

I love most of all witnessing the relationship between participants as they help each other move forward. Writing can be an isolating endeavor. We sit with the page, immersed in our thoughts and experiences, uncertain if our voices are valuable or valid. When we share our work—either through public readings and exhibits or in a workshop setting—we begin to feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to the collective narrative of our time.

Seema1

Seema, her son, a member of the service, and Christylez Bacon

Seema is also an accomplished writer with a mixed-genre book coming out from Red Hen press, and she’s a member of the TLA Network.  Read more about Seema’s work here, and see her superb website for more of her writing.

See a short video of the award-winners here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulCA1d0ikJ8

Perspective and Truth

 

Acrylic on wood board.  Seema Reza 2014

Acrylic on wood board. Seema Reza 2014

by Seema Reza

In her essay, “When We Dead Awaken” Adrienne Rich writes, “Our struggles can have meaning and our privileges–however precarious under patriarchy–can be justified only if they can help to change the lives of women whose gifts–and whose very being–continue to be thwarted by silence.”

I’ve been reading Rich’s collection of essays, “Arts of the Possible” for the past week.  I believe it is important for me, as a TLA Facilitator, to not only read great writing but to read great writing about writing.  Some of it can be pretty dense and exhausting, but understanding and weighing various theories about art making and the role of art in society is integral to continue to renew and deepen my passion for my work.  It is how I keep alive the sense of purpose as I stand in room after room to encourage (sometimes unwilling) people to write, to give their experiences voice.  Rich acknowledges the privilege of having her voice heard–one that we sometimes take for granted.  Even if we work for it, hustle for it, sacrifice for the time to hone our craft–it is a privilege to sit with the page.  We have access to literacy and language, a computer and the Internet so that we can put our words out there, submit them to journals, publish them on our blogs.  As TLA facilitators, we try to pass this privilege on, because we know what being heard can do for an individual.  We like to see people grow.  But sometimes, even with the luck I’ve had in finding platforms for my words, I experience something that reminds me of the early thrill of voice–the terror and the courage and the validation, the deep exhale that leaves the body alongside a secret.

Yesterday a very personal essay of mine was published on Full Grown People.  I was so honored to have it published, but terrified also, to be so vulnerable on the Internet (the WORLD WIDE web, if you will).  But with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility to go to the places that are scariest for us and confront them.  Next week we’ll have a post about love and overcoming illness and hospitalization through story.  Check back.

 

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SEEMA REZA is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, D.C., where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the  arts as a tool for narration, self-care, and socialization among a military population  struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Duende, Pithead Chapel, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. When the World Breaks Open, her first collection of essays, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press.  She is a TLA Network Council-Member-at-Large & Curator of the TLA Blog.

Baking Pies & Introducing Gems

By Seema Reza

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One of my favorite quotes by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder of the TLA Network, comes from this interview with Joy Jacobson:

“In a lot of MFA programs and writing conferences there’s a real setup for competition. I’ve been to writing conferences where everybody’s lining up with what they perceive as the best poet and vying for validation. There’s the sense that there’s just one pie and there’s so many of us; some people are just going to get bigger pieces. TLA’s answer to that is to bake more pies.”

I love quoting this.  I have quoted this so many times, I think nearly everyone who has talked writing with me has heard it.  I quote it on a page of this very blog.  Because, yes, yes, yes!  Bake more pies, make space at the table for every voice.  We’ve all had that tired conversation about the ‘death of poetry’ and I think this idea is the answer to it–poetry begins to die when it is made an exclusionary practice, a privilege.  Great art inspires more great art.  When we welcome more people to poetry, more people keep it alive.  More people write poems, more people read poems.

In a conversation with Ursula Rucker before a performance of REDBone: A Biomythography, writer and TLA Member Mahogany L. Browne said, “Before I found your work, I didn’t realize there was space for my voice in poetry.”  Browne has written books, edited anthologies, founded the amazing Penmanship press, and empowers voices from all margins and corners of society.  First she discovered the necessity of her own voice and then she set to work freeing the voices of others.  Mirriam-Goldberg says, “For so many people who resonate with TLA, it names what they have been moving toward their whole lives as a writer or storyteller working with others around social change.  individual practice dovetails with community practice.  What are you doing to make and keep community and foster healthy communities?”  How much poorer would the literary, art and social justice communities be if Browne hadn’t felt she could claim poetry, had instead decided to stay silent, to be an accountant?*  And where would we be if we hadn’t had the opportunity to hear her?

As facilitators of TLA work, we bear witness to less literarily accomplished voices that ought to be heard.  So often I hear a piece of writing in a workshop and feel an intense aha!  I wish everyone could read it.  But the publishing world can be stupid discouraging, especially to a novice writer who has put so much on the line by the courageous act of touching pen to paper while looking inward.  Self publishing on a personal blog or on social media is an option, of course, and a solid one, but the audience is limited to an individual’s existing circle.  In order to spread empathy, which I believe is one of the most essential uses of writing and reading, one has to confront the unfamiliar.

In an attempt to facilitate that, I’m proud to introduce a new section of this blog that I hope will grow and flourish and place a wide variety of voices and perspectives on the power of writing in one place: Gems from the Workshops.   I hope you’ll encourage a new voice to submit writing.

*in case the IRS is reading this, there’s nothing wrong with accountants, we need accountants.

 

Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique multi-hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a population struggling with emotional and physical injuries.  She serves as a council member-at-large for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and curates the TLA Blog.