How Pictures Heal: Honoring Memory and Loss Through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives. In my upcoming webinar for the TLA Network, “How Pictures Heal,” these treasured personal archives will be the bridge to writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. (Learn more about the class here.)

The first thing I invite participants to do is to choose a photo of yourself to write from. Any photo, from any time in your life. It’s best to trust your instincts, and choose a photo that arrests your attention and seems to be whispering – it has a deeper story to tell.

Here’s what happened for Grace, a recent participant in one of my workshops, when I invited her to step into the three-dimensional world of her photo – in her own words:

When I was asked to find a picture to write about, I went to the one that I felt more sorrow, the picture that I look at, and wished I could go back to and stop time. There were so many questions, I just saw three cute kids, kind of looking like triplets, the way we looked so much alike.

I chose it not knowing how much the writing would come to life, I went back to that five-year-old who was plucked from her tropical safety net in Costa Rica, to come to America, where the cold hit me from my nose to the bottom of my terracotta soles. I am answering the questions that kept me in that time-warp of sadness. Today, opening up my mind and remembering things I thought were lost in a bottomless pit, the phoenix is rising, and the void of my past and memories of light not darkness are helping me stop, smell, and feel the sunshine that disappeared the night the plane landed in Logan Airport.

Grace’s 1965 passport photo, Costa Rica (Grace is on the far left).

Grace initially wrote what I call the “raw material,” from her photo, by answering question prompts I offer. Then, she continued developing the memory and her writing, and eventually composed a short personal memory piece, “Passport to Snow (1965).” Below are some excerpts from her photo-inspired memoir vignette (shared with permission of the author):

Grace – Always know, that if you keep both feet on the ground everything is going to be all right. ~ Tia Flori

In Costa Rica, where I was born, we run without shoes. We run around in the dirt, but we are always clean. Jabon. Soap. Smell of clean. A nice, shiny black soap with a scent I cannot get out of my system. Sweet, the smell of my grandmother.

I love to wiggle under my grandmother’s porch to eat the chalky dirt. I crave the gritty taste. Light brown to a red, like a spoonful of cinnamon. Me and my sister, Iris, are under the porch, eating dirt. The dirt is moist, like moss.

I am always in trouble…

At five, I feel my feet suddenly stepping into the unknown. I am being led by the hand, by my cousin Gloria, and my grandmother, to stand on a blank, white, piece of paper. What am I putting my feet on this paper for? The cobbler is drawing my feet with his pencil. First the paper was blank. Now I see the imprint of both my feet, left and right.

A few weeks pass, and a beautiful pair of ankle high shoes arrive. First, I smell the fresh paper they are wrapped in. Then I inhale the aroma of new leather. The white patent leather shines bright like the Costa Rican sun. The shoes are sturdy and strong: white with laces, with a terra cotta sole.

I have never had shoes as special as these made for me before. My mother and father are in a place called Sudbury in a state called Massachusetts, in the United States. They tell my grandmother, make sure the children get some shoes, because it’s winter here.


Who Should take this class? How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, with Kelly DuMar
 TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
 Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
 Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
 Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
 Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos.

We’ll create a safe and supportive environment, offering respectful support that inspires the development of every writer’s voice. I look forward to working with you!


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com

SPOTLIGHT ON: Kelly DuMar, psychotherapist, teacher, poet, and playwright

Kelly is a long-time member and workshop facilitator for the TLA Network, and she has presented workshops at the Power of Words Conference every year since 2015, when she also joined the organizations governing body, the TLA Network Council. Kelly created SPARKS, a quarterly online open-mic and featured presenter series for TLAN. In her upcoming TLAN class, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos,” Kelly demonstrates how we can use our imaginations to heal ourselves and inspire our readers and listeners with empathy, comfort, and hope. Kelly is a member of the TLA Network because, she says, together, we are a gathering of empathic and imaginative people who care about helping each other heal by “telling-out” the large and small wounds we call encounters. Essential practices matter, now more than ever. 

Kelly believes wholeheartedly in the creative and spiritual renewal of a daily writing practice. In August, she celebrated four years of #NewThisDay, her daily photo-inspired creative writing blog. “Every day,” Kelly writes, “I walk in nature, which very often is along the Charles River in the suburbs of Boston where I live. I take pictures of nature just as I find it, in all seasons and cycles and weather. Something in the landscape, what I call my writing habitat, grabs my attention, and I snap a photo. At the end of every day, I put my photos in my blog, and appreciate once again the beauty, aesthetic delight, mystery, and imagination of the photo. Then I write, spontaneously, into the images, focusing only on the present moment. This is my daily practice of not suffering about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. I discipline myself to be here now, and to notice and fully experience the beauty of the present tense. Many of my poems eventually spring from the seeds of this daily writing.” 

Kelly continues about the impact of expressive writing throughout her life. “As a thirteen-year-old, writing in my first diary about the death of my first love, I had no idea this impulse to tell-out my sorrow and troubles between the lines of blank white paper would seed a practice of a lifetime. As a psychotherapist, a psychodramatist, a playwright, a poet, writing workshop facilitator, and mother––all of the roles I have played in my life have been shaped by, and rooted in, expressive writing.”

Essential practices matter, now more than ever.  – Kelly DuMar

About a decade ago, Kelly found a photo of her Aunt Marion who had died of cancer. “This photo had arrested my attention in such a mysterious, powerful way. I knew I needed to unpack all the deeper meaning and wisdom, truth and beauty it held. As I wrote my first photo inspired poem, ‘Monadnock,’ the process helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss.” 

From this first photo-inspired poem, Kelly developed a method of writing from personal photos that can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally. 

“Whether we are singing or telling our stories, or crafting our wounds into poems, we need to tell-out our own, and listen to each other’s stories. In our TLA network gatherings, we open our ears and eyes and hearts to each other. We find beauty in truth in community.”

August notes

Dear TLA Community:

We hope you and your loved ones are doing well during these long, hot, summer days.

As might be true for you, we have been deeply inspired recently by the power of words in these most troubling times. U.S. Congressman and longtime civil rights activist John Lewis wrote an important essay to our nation recently, published widely on the day of the Congressman’s funeral last week. Congressman Lewis’ words are a testament to the power of a deeply compelling call to action embedded in meaningful context – the very essence of the power of words. If you have not yet seen it, you can read the full text of the Congressman’s transformational message here.

We know many of you in the TLA Network are finding ways to use your voices to help raise awareness, offer perspective and understanding, and help guide our communities toward healing and hope. What are the words that have inspired you recently, that remind you to be your biggest, boldest, most courageous self, that keep you focused on your vision and your work in these challenging times?

We continue to be dedicated to growing the transformative language arts – empowering each of us to find and use our biggest voices to effect the change we wish to see in the world. As John Lewis so eloquently wrote, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

To the Power of Words,  

Hanne Weedon, TLA Network Managing Director

“What Do You Love About Facilitation?” – A Conversation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Listen to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer talk about how we came to love what can happen when we discover and share our truth in workshops, meetings, and other sessions. For Joy, it started with leading workshops for students at Columbine High School in Colorado after the 1999 shooting, and Caryn found her facilitation legs leading large meetings for people of many backgrounds fighting against a highway that would have impacted the environment, history, and even native American burial mounds.

This podcast was recorded 6 months ago to launch our “The Art of Facilitation” series (starting with our Roots and Blossoms class, to be offered again in November). You can see our upcoming class, “The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating for Community and Change,”  for more details.

Final days to register for the Power of Words early bird rate ($45 off the regular fee)

Join us for the 17th annual Power of Words Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 30 – November 1, 2020. 

Get $45 off the regular conference fee – the super early bird rate is available through Friday, January 31!

Featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as conference keynoter, the conference will take place at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, in the heart of Santa Fe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What Do You Love About Facilitation?” – A Conversation with Joy Roulier Sawyer & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Listen to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer talk about how they came to love what can happen when we discover and share our truth in workshops, meetings, and other sessions. For Joy, it started with leading workshops for students at Columbine High School in Colorado after the 1999 shooting, and Caryn found her facilitation legs leading large meetings for people of many backgrounds fighting against a highway that would have impacted the environment, history, and even native American burial mounds.

You can see their upcoming class at www.tlanetwork.org/event-3567618 for more details.

Not too Late for the Power of Words Conference and Your Right Livelihood Training

Friends and lovers of words! Please join us for two life-changing events: the 16th Annual Power of Words conference Sept. 26-29, and right beforehand, Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love. If you’re in the Scottsdale, Arizona area or game for a road trip, there’s still room, and we’d love to meet you for these soulful events, all happening at the replenishing Franciscan Renewal Center.

The Power of Words Conference

Come to the Power of Words Conference to explore how we can use our words — written, spoken, or sung — to make community, deepen healing, witness one another, wake ourselves up, and foster empowerment and transformation. The conference features workshops, performances, talking circles, celebration and more, featuring writers, storytellers, performers, musicians, community leaders, activists, educators, and health professionals. The conference, founded in 2003, features workshops in four tracks: narrative medicine, social change, right livelihood (and making a living through the arts), ecological literacy, and engaged spirituality.

The 2019 conference keynoters include author and speaker, Gregg Levoy; storyteller and author, Noa Baum; and and poet and playwright, Usha Akella.  Over 20 other presenters will be sharing a variety of performances and workshops including:

  • Lisa Chu’s “Bad Asian Daughter” on transforming shame through embodied storytelling,
  • Loren Niemi’s “Walking Fields and Streets to Find Poems and Stories,”
  • John Genette and Doug Bland’s “Sacred Earth, Common Ground,”
  • Lyn Ford’s “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins: Other Ways of Seeing ‘Red,'”
  • Valerie David’s “Fight Back Any Adversity in Life: Overcoming a Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis, the Pink Hulk Will Help You Find Your Inner Superhero” and
  • Rachel Gabriel’s “Writing Memoir for Empathy and Inquiry.”

As conference attendee Robin Russell wrote to us:

“The TLA Conference is an adventure of diving into a deep pool of unexpected discoveries. Some are delightful and awe-inspiring, some frightening and strange, but the immersion in diversity and the authenticity of the presenter’s (and participant’s) stories and presence is palpable and real. A necessary reminder of what we are so starved for in the current climate of media and political rhetoric. If change is going to be sustainable and humane, we need more people trained and working with the qualities of these warriors. The conference is a way to either dip a toe in or dive in head first.”

More at www.TLANetwork.org/conference

Your Right Livelihood

Consider Your Right Livelihood — a training with TLA founder and writer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and storyteller and consultant Laura Packer. Your work in writing, storytelling, theater, and related healing and social change arts can bring you greater fulfillment and enable you to help others find and amplify the voices and visions so needed to address the challenges facing our communities, culture, and planet. Whether you’re just starting out, making a mid-career transition or revisioning your life’s work after retirement, this training guides you toward what constellation of vocation works best for you and your community now and when the path meanders.

This 100-hour training begins with a 2-day intensive September 25-27th at The Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (where the Power of Words Conference will be held immediately following), and continues through mid-December with online study and community support, weekly video conferences with entrepreneurs and leaders in the field, weekly group check-ins and discussions, individual consultations with Laura and Caryn, and a toolkit of resources for planning, marketing, further training, and next steps.

Franciscan Renewal Center

The spectacular yet secluded 25-acre Franciscan Renewal Center offers a tranquil oasis in the heart of greater Phoenix for quiet reflection, prayer, learning, healing or joyful worship. Nestled in the lush desert valley at the base of majestic Camelback Mountain, The Casa is just a quick 20-minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The campus features a newly remodeled 60-ft swimming pool and spa, gift and book shop, labyrinth, healing garden, desert walkways, buffet-style dining, and private bathrooms in every lodging room. Owned by the Franciscan Friars of the Saint Barbara Province, The Casa has been renewing lives through spiritual growth, healing and transformation, and service to others for over 60 years.

Find more on all of it here.

Three Videos on the Power of Words To Rock Your World

The 16th Annual Power of Words conference Sept. 26-29 brings together three keynotes — Gregg LevoyNoa Baum, and Usha Akella — who know firsthand 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 are three videos to show you more about what Gregg Levoy, Noa Baum, and Usha Akella have to say. 

Gregg Levoy speaks on “Callings: Finding and Living an Authentic Life,” telling amazing stories to illustrate what it means to follow and live the work and life of your soul here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrrDYIRPWZY&t=6s

Gregg Levoy is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life. More on Gregg here:  www.gregglevoy.com

Noa Baum talks on “Beyond Labels: Bridging Differences Through Storytelling” in her Tedx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vsg7VTUjYLI

Noa Baum is an award-winning storyteller and author who presents internationally. More at http://noabaum.com

Usher Akella speaks on “Why Poetry Matters” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPPgUV61hSY

Usha Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted and produced one musical drama. 

You can learn more about the conference here

We still have a limited amount of scholarships and work-study positions still available. More here.

If you’re not able to attend the whole conference, please come for Noa Baum’s performance, open to the public. More here.

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/