A Conversation on Right Livelihood and Transformative Language Arts, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

carynlaura

The Transformative Language Arts Network’s “Right Livelihood Professional Training” with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer offers writers, storytellers, performers, coaches, facilitations, and others in the arts a pathway to make a living in concert with their callings and communities. Unlike cookie-cutter career programs, this visionary training guides you toward what constellation of vocation works best for you now, and when the path meanders, whether you’re leaping into a new career or form of service or developing your new work while keeping your current job. This 110-hour training includes weekend retreat in Kansas City June 7-10; an in-depth online class; video-conferencing with luminaries including Harriet Lerner, Charles Eisenstein, Gregg Levoy, and Patti Digh; and a graduation seminar Oct. 12 in central Vermont. Early Bird Deadline ends December 15. https://www.tlanetwork.org/Right-Livelihood-Training

What does Right Livelihood mean in the context of TLA? How does it relate to finding and staying in conversation with our life’s work while keeping the cupboards and gas tank full as well as caring for our health, art, soul, and community?

Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, between them, have decades of experience. Laura has been supporting herself as a storyteller, writer, consultant and coach for more than ten years. While her income isn’t as consistent as it was when she had a day job, Laura finds her work to be fulfilling and meaningful, which more than balances the occasional financial unpredictability. These days she travels around the world teaching, performing, coaching, giving talks, and helping people and organizations discover and find meaning in their own stories. Her writing ranges from ghost-writing for CEOs to lyrical essays about storytelling and life to the occasional piece of fiction or poetry. Laura is nourished and transformed by her work every day; she sometimes says her work is synonymous for living, because story is everywhere.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has been balancing freelance workshops, consulting, presentations, and collaborative projects with her own writing and teaching at academic institutions since 1986. She makes her living now from teaching in Goddard College’s Graduate Institute and coordinating the TLA concentration and driving her 2004 peanut-butter-cup-colored Honda CRV all over Kansas and nearby states to lead workshops, give readings and talks, and collaborate on projects. Threaded through all, she writes poetry, fiction, memoir, blog posts, and songs. Her work also encompasses long walks with her husband and dog, being present for and with loved ones, making things (from quilts to soups), and watching great movies.

Here is Caryn & Laura’s conversation, which starts and continues each time they visit in person but was caught here through a google doc over several months.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: When I was growing up, I had no idea how a poet would make a living, and although people pushed me toward journalism and advertising, it didn’t stick. I was made to make things, especially out of words.

Now I make a living in ways that didn’t even exist when I was a teenage poet: I teach in a low-residency master’s program at Goddard College, traveling from Kansas to Vermont twice each year to work with students intensively in designing and implementing their individualized studies and facilitate community writing workshops for many populations, particularly for people living with serious illness. I love what happens when mortality is at the table, and we speak, listen and write from our souls. I give talks, workshops and readings through the Kansas Humanities Council and University of Kansas Osher Institute, and mostly on my own, conversing deeply with audiences on everything from poetry and wild weather to oral histories of people who survived the Holocaust. My work is a kaleidoscope of gigs and teaching, mentoring and consulting, driving across the plains in the bright light of early spring and occasionally flying over the green wonder of the mountains surrounding Lake Champlain to land again in Vermont.

What is your work, Laura, and how did you find your way to it?

Laura Packer: While I was pursuing my degree in Folklore and Mythology I had a lot of people tell me to practice saying, “Would you like fries with that?” I ignored them and persevered. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the degree, I just knew that I loved stories and that my work lay in that direction.

I met the man who would become my mentor when I was 19. He was telling stories and, as I listened, I knew that this was my path. It took me awhile to realize I would have to build the path myself. I worked part time for many years while I pursued my craft, but now I support myself doing a wide range of things that all fall under the umbrella of storytelling. I perform around the world to a wide range of audiences. I’ve told stories in pre-school, at festivals, universities, homes and so on. I teach, running workshops and coaching people ranging from storytellers to CEOs to parents to marketers to non-profit professionals and more. I work with organizations, both for- and non-profit, helping them understand and refine the stories they tell. I give keynotes and lead workshops at conferences. And I write, blogging about storytelling and taking on freelance assignments from a wide variety of clients.

It’s never boring. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of. I am always learning, hearing new stories and remembering that the work I do matters. Everything I do, as diverse as it is, touches upon story and the ways that our stories matter. I know that the work I do supports me both financially and spiritually. I also know that the work I do helps others. It is the right path and one it’s been fascinating to create.

Caryn, I’m wondering about the work you do with TLA and what that has to do with right livelihood. For that matter, could you explain what right livelihood means to you?

CMG: When I first heard about the term “right livelihood”—at Goddard College during a session on making a living true to ourselves—it chimed in me as something I had been seeking for myself and my community for a long time. After being thrown out of journalism school (the extremes we will go to so we can land in the right place!), I earned my BA in labor history, drawing on my concern since I was a teen about how our work lives infuse the whole of our lives. What we “do” colors not just our workaday life but how perceive ourselves, our communities, our world, and our potential to change. If your work entails saying, “Would you like fries with that?” on regular basis, it’s likely that being a fast-food worker shapes your identity, sense of self and what’s possible for you, and even your belief about what kind of work you’re entailed to do in your life.

Right livelihood is a Buddhist term, part of Buddha’s eightfold path (which also includes right speech, another TLA concept in my mind), and it connotes work that does no harm. Stretched out, the term points toward work (both vocation and avocation, for pay and just because it feels like our work) that serves, including conversing with our own callings as well as our community’s calling.

I didn’t realize when I was studying labor history, and later working as a labor organizer and reporter—all the time writing and reading and breathing poetry—that all would converge into my own right livelihood. As a transformative language artist, I draw on the power of our words aloud and on the page, solo and choral, to herd us toward greater health, vibrancy, liberation, and connection with the living world. My work—both at Goddard as a faculty member and coordinator of TLA, and as a working artist facilitating brave spaces for others to find more of their own voices and visions—is how I practice my right livelihood. All of this aligns me with the continual conversation with a calling, but it’s also work that, at best, helps others articulate more of their own truest work in the world. In the Brave Voice writing and singing retreats I co-lead with singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt, we fly on the assumption that opening your voice in one way cannot help but strengthen your voice in your whole life, and I’ve witnessed many people making courageous leaps into who they already were and what they now need to do.

Laura, is that how it is for you too as a performer, teacher, mentor, and writer as well as someone I would call a fellow transformative language artist?

LP: Caryn, you hit the nail right on the head. Right livelihood means work that enlivens and enriches us thoroughly, from fiscal health to spiritual health and beyond. It’s work that nourishes our spirits as well as our bodies and allows us to function as contributing members of a larger community, which is what artists are.

When I remember the value of my work in that larger picture, as someone who brings something powerful to a community as well as enriching my own life, it’s easier for me to be able to charge appropriately, advocate for myself and remember that what I do, as well as all other artists, matters.

CMG: Absolutely! I think part of this work, to really put the “right” into “right livelihood,” entails making paths for and sometimes with other artists. Little makes me as happy as seeing someone I helped mentor come out with a first book or start giving writing workshops in their communities.

Laura, you’ve talked with me before about the importance of charging what we’re worth as a way to honor those who come after us. The whole issue of what to charge, and how to ask for what our work is worth, is challenging and variable for me. I’ll do some things for hardly anything or for free, and other things for a livable stipend, yet negotiations can encompass lots of gray areas. I find our system of working this out to be awkward: an organization will often not say what it can afford until I suggest an amount. I often present what I charge as a range from the lowest I’m willing to accept to the highest I believe I should be paid, and if it’s something I really feel is mine to do, I try to convey that I’m open to negotiation.

Of course, all these issues speak to our cultural tendency to soil our money relationship with shame, privilege, hurt, defensiveness and other difficult guests to host. I’ve had a lot of help along the way to ask for what my work is worth, even and especially as a poet. Once a representation of an organization I was working with told me, a few hours before my gig there, that they didn’t have enough in the budget to pay me what we agreed on, so would I take a cut in pay? The musician I was collaborating with wasn’t asked to take a cut, so we talked this over, and together told the organization, “no,” but it was eye-opening for me, re-affirming my bias against myself that poets don’t get paid or paid much. Having someone stand tall with me helped me to challenge my self- and poet-destructive thinking, and hopefully, as time goes on, may have some effect for others too.

How do you navigate all this?

LP: Oh, this is a hard one! I feel like I don’t navigate it well much of the time, but I do the best I can, which is all any of us can do. Money is such a taboo subject, I try to understand my own prejudices and fears as well as talk about it, so it becomes less taboo. I use several tools to help me think and talk about money.

First, I talk with my colleagues about what they charge. If we remove some of the secrecy, we can all charge a living wage AND put a dent in the cultural idea that transformative language art should be cheap and that those who hire us should pay us less than they would their caterer, organizer, musician or others. It’s related to your experience with being asked to take a pay cut when your musician friend was not; if we charge a reasonable amount and know that we aren’t pricing ourselves out of range of our colleagues but in alliance with them, it can be easier to ask for. Additionally, by talking about it with my colleagues we get to remind ourselves that we are charging for far more than the 30 or 60 minute event, but for all of the time and experience that lies behind it.

Second, I do what you do. I often give the representative a range of cost and then remind them that this is how I make their living. I also tell them that I am open to negotiation (if I am).

Third, if I give work away for free or at a greatly reduced cost, I always give an invoice that reflects what I would have wanted to be paid. This helps lay groundwork that what I, and other TLA artists do, is valuable and worth paying for.

Fourth and last, I remember what a wise friend said to me, when I asked him money questions. He told me, “You can always negotiate down, you can’t negotiate up. Think about what you want and then ask for double.” I don’t do it quite this way (asking for double feels too bold for me) but I do ask for what I want and a little more. I can lower my rate, shorten the event, barter for other services but once I’ve set a price I can’t really come back and ask for more unless they ask for more service first.

When I remember to financially value my own work I am not only telling myself that what I do is worthwhile, I am also telling the rest of the world that art matters.

CMG: That’s very wise advice, and I love the idea of the invoice for what this is worth. There’s something magical about saying on paper “this is what my work is worth” when it comes to inviting in more lucrative work to balance out what we feel drawn to give away.

I’ve been thinking of what I do for free lately because in the last few months. I have one project that I’m grappling with because it’s sort of a “closure” project with a group of people, a way to share some social capital after working with this group for many years in the past. In the long run, I know this project is what I should be doing, but it’s sometimes difficult to balance the volunteer work with the paid work and still have time (not!) to write.

I’ve also been editing a book for a wonderful poet in his dying days, and that’s a sweetheart labor of love through and through. It’s an immersion in grace to be able to do this for someone I love and whose poetry is so important to share with others who can find a lot of sustenance in what he has to say about death, dying and life.

Often though, it’s hard for me to know the impact of my work and if I’m making the best decisions about where to put my time. My husband, also a writer and grassroots organizer, and I often joke as we’re falling asleep that we won’t know the impact of our work until after we’re dead, and I think that’s true. We don’t know, and this makes think of a stanza in one of my favorite Rumi poems:

If you are here unfaithfully with us,

you’re causing terrible damage.

If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,

you’re helping people you don’t know

and have never seen.

So maybe all we can do is to try to be faithful in being here with our people, which also means being faithful to ourselves, and through our work and being, open our hearts (whether we use phrase like “God’s love” or not in describing this) to dropping our pebble in the pond and hoping for the best for what ripples we make and receive.

How have you learned and how are you learning how to do your best Right Livelihood?

LP: Most of what I’ve learned about right livelihood has come from trying things, seeing what works, and talking honestly with my colleagues. We build community by have frank conversations about value, issues and solutions, about how to support each other, not undercut each other and still get work.

I love your idea of being faithful to ourselves and our work. When we are open hearted in our approach we are at once more vulnerable and more reachable. I think vulnerability is too often seen as a weakness in the working world. When we are vulnerable we let others know they can be vulnerable too. I have found I am no more likely to be hurt or not get work when I am honest.

If I model that for everyone with whom I interact then they may be a bit more vulnerable too. We can connect more effectively. We help others without even knowing it.

CMG: I also think of those I owe homage to for what they taught me and are teaching me about Right Livelihood. One of my close friends, Kris Hermanson, is a wiz at organizational development and consulting, and I’ve learned a great deal from her about how to write and share strong proposals, grants, pitches to those who might want to bring me on-board. Plus, we both work at home or in coffee houses, so we check in with each other often, helping each other talk through questions and dilemmas, quandaries and decisions, such as how to deal with people along the way. Mostly, though, it’s how to navigate projects with people who have great intentions, but limited budgets and experience, and how can we make this a learning experience in the best way that really serves the community.

Another mentor is also a close friend, Kelley Hunt, who has been a touring musician for decades. We’ve had infinite conversations on the nuts and bolts of freelance work, including deeply pondering whether to say yes or no, what to charge, how to take care of ourselves during big push times when there’s too many gigs at once, and we have our own business together, Brave Voice, which lands us in the center of thousands of spinning details and bits of magic when there’s a retreat or performance afoot.

I’m also very lucky to have a great partner in life, my husband, Ken, who I can puzzle through various predicaments with, and who has great sense in seeing ways through the bramble to lift up everyone involved. He’s a Midwesterner to my east coast Jewish background, so he’s less apt to escalate and more seasoned in taking a breath and finding the wide-sky perspective on how to proceed.

One of my big tripping points is forgiving myself when I overschedule and overcommit. I tend to first go to the, “Oh, you did it again! What is wrong with you?” Place. My people help me let go of the shame and accept that making mistakes is part of this work. I also find conversations with you, Laura, to be immensely helpful in the “what is enough?” and “what is too much?” as well as about the whole Right Livelihood quest.

Who are your guides and mentors, Laura?

LP: Thank you Caryn! Likewise, I find talking with you to be immensely helpful. Your honesty and willingness to talk about difficult topics with vulnerability help remind me that I am not alone. Your insight is invaluable.

I have a number of what I call accountability buddies who help me set and keep goals. They also help me forgive myself when I overreach and remind me to take time for self-care. Two of those buddies in particular, Mark Binder and Cameryn Moore, help me with getting things done on time and prioritizing. Mark also helps me think through some of the financial issues of our work. My friends Elsa Zuniga and Trish Berrong help me think strategically and remind me that I can’t do everything. And friends like Priscilla Howe and Christie Keegan help me work through various artistic projects.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of the lone writer, scribbling away in her garret. It’s part of the cultural story about artists and it’s compounded by the American story of the lone hero. Neither of those stories really work for me. We need help, no one can do everything alone. We need people we can rely on to keep us on track, to remind us that what we do matters and to help us be kind to ourselves in meaningful ways. Most of the time people are honored when you ask for help. It’s worth the risk. I know I couldn’t do what I do alone. For all that the actual acts of creation take place alone and all of the sustaining work is made easier by having allies.

CMG: You teach a class for the TLA Network on “Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity.” Could you say more about what “a sustainable story” means to you?

LP: We understand our lives through story. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, how we got that way, our roles in the world and the work we do. It can be easy to tell ourselves stories that are destructive or impossible to achieve. Stories like, “I will never be good enough for my parents,” or “I will succeed at my work only when I win award x or am published in the New Yorker,” or “I am a struggling artist.”

If we can identify the stories we are telling them we understand more about why we do what we do. If we tell ourselves empowering stories that can be sustained long term then it’s more likely we will have a positive impact in the world and be able to measure our success in realistic ways. For example, contrast the story I am a writer who struggles to be published because no one understands me with the story I am a writer who continues to seek out receptive audiences. Those two stories may be about similar experiences but one offers more hope than the other.

A sustainable story is one that has room for varied definitions of success and empowers us to continue to do what we love. It nourishes us because it is a story of value, worth and flexibility. There is room to be driven and room to take a break. A sustainable story is one we can engage in long-term, not just until the first roadblock.

It’s not a story of the lone hero who never errs, but of the human being who is supported, who can accept help and who succeeds in achievable steps. It’s about understanding that pulling the sword from the stone (finding purpose) is only the first step and that there are many detours along the way. Some of those detours may become the main story instead. By understanding the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and including allies and self-care, we are more able to keep going when things are tough. We are less likely to brand ourselves failures, but to give ourselves permission to fall down, get up and try again.

How do you keep going when you stumble? What tools do you use? What stories do you rely on?

CMG: I stumble often although it’s not always visible to people outside of my own mind because I am good at sucking it up and putting myself out there, even when I feel like shit, which is what the stumbling is often about. For better or worse, and especially since surviving cancer in 2002, I tend to get sick often. Because I love my work so much and have a hard time self-regulating or even knowing what not to do so that I have enough space and time for optimum health, I’ve become a reluctant student of self-care.

My old story was more along the lines of “You can never try hard enough,” and obviously, that’s a dangerous story when it comes to allowing the spaciousness needed for self-care and even self-love, let alone living a creative life. Yet, I’ve always had a conflicting story that’s the underground well for my poetry and other writing, and it has to do with loving the life force as it unfolds in the sky, land and moments of real love between humans and the more-than-human world. This story requires stopping, listening and watching, opening my senses and heart and letting myself be more vulnerable and permeable.

“This is enough” echoes me through a lot now, even when I have a pile of work on my computer screen. I tend to focus in on the next paragraph, next conversation and next email more than driving myself crazy with the whole of everything at once. I also try to remind myself that this moment—like right now when I’m writing, the brown dog is stretched out on the blue couch, a blue jay is hopping on the railing of the deck out the window, and I’m sipping tea—is as rich with the potential for loving life as any moment.

This is central to self-care, which feels like a part-time job that goes full-time as we age. When you’re working in the ways we are, it can be especially challenging because we often face feast-and-famine times (and income). I struggle to find and keep the best self-care for myself, which tend to include not eating so much sugar and doing a lot more yoga, swimming, walking, dancing and other ways of moving this body. But self-care can also manifest as going to a movie in the middle of the day, taking a bath (or, on a bad day, several), planting more hosta plants in a shady spot although the last ones I planted died, sitting in the corner with a magazine and cup of tea, making a luscious stir-fry, staring into the eyes of my dog, talking with my husband and friends, surfing Netflix, and taking one deep breath while watching the leaves unfurl on Cottonwood Mel, the big tree in my backyard that I named in memory of my father.

How do you see self-care, and how does it evolve, change, surprise you, and unfold in your life?

LP: It changes every day and is probably my biggest struggle. I often feel guilty about taking time for self-care, feeling instead as if I’m being lazy or avoiding the work. I also struggle to get back on track when I’ve been derailed by circumstances beyond my control. I frequently need to remind myself that when I’m depleted, my work will suffer. If my work suffers, then I am less able to help others. So taking time for myself is really a way to help others. Sometimes that’s the only way I can stop for a little while, by reminding myself that it’s not just for me.

Self-care for me can be reading a novel I’ve read before, one that isn’t particularly challenging. It can be going for a walk or moving my body in some other way. I recently hired a personal trainer to help me take better care of my body. I’m reminding myself that my mind and body are inextricably linked, so this is an investment in my work.

I get listened to. That’s a big source of self-care for me. I find a friend who I know won’t judge me and just whine for a little bit. Airing the self-pity helps me see how petty and insubstantial it is.

I take baths, I spend time with trees and rivers and (when I’m near it) the ocean. Sometimes I go to movies. I cook delicious, nourishing food.

I also try to set reasonable goals as a form of self-care. By breaking the big goals down into smaller parts I am giving myself tasks I can succeed at and I find success breeds success. That feels like self-care to me because I get to feel good about what I’m doing.

Self-care is constantly evolving. Paying attention to what is helpful at any given time takes work but is worth it. When I am well cared for it becomes easier to care for others through my actions and my work.

Lastly, when we care for ourselves it is easier to care for others. When we love ourselves, we love the world more easily. And really, that’s what we do as TLA artists. We love the world into seeing itself more clearly.

CMG: I love what you say about how when we’re well-cared for, we can better take care of others: an ethic of care, and really, of love for ourselves, our work, our people and place that fosters sustainability in how we and others live. I’ve been thinking lately about the term “social sustainability,” which also speaks to me of what we’ve been exploring in the bioregional movement for decades: how can we make and hold space to sustain our community and support each person’s unfolding conversation with what work and life calls to us?

Related to this for me has always been making things and ritual, which seem often like the same thing to me. There’s a kind of ceremony involved in surrendering my will to writing, designing a quilt, and especially working with groups to listen for and support the group’s collective heart and intelligence. I’ve been involved in many rituals that also bring in the arts, such as the water circle we do at the end of Kansas Area Watershed Council gatherings in which each person can step into the center, tell a story, say a poem, make a gesture, sing a song, and pour water from their home or travels.

TLA involves bringing together people to make greater meaning and unearth greater vitality in how we live. It helps us find—through our words, images, rhythms—our work in this life. Mary Oliver said in one of her poems, “My work is loving the world,” and I feel the same. What I actually do for a living and beyond is just a form of that ritual: practicing how to love the world.

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Poetry as Therapy with Rachel Mckibbens

Rachel combines her personal story with her spoken word poetry to explain how the practice of sharing written words aloud in an environment of safety, encouragement and support is an invaluable, cathartic experience of emotional and intellectual re-framing.

Rachel Mckibbens was born in Anaheim, California. She is the author of Into the Dark & Emptying Field (Small Doggies Press, 2013), Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009) and Blud (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). McKibbens is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and the 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam champion. She co-curates the monthly reading series Poetry & Pie Night with poet Jacob Rakovan in upstate New York.

Sparks Meeting November 7th!

sparks

“Constellations of Work, Art, Self-Care, & Life” with special guests, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg & Laura Packer

Moderated by Kelly DuMar

Sparks is a free bi-monthly teleconference moderated by Kelly DuMar, interviewing notable Transformative Language Artists on their work, followed by a poetry open mic.

Seeking your own best right livelihood in balance with your life, health, creativity, and community? Join us for a cozy conversation with Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, who are facilitating the first Right Livelihood Professional Training through the TLA Network.

Laura and Caryn will share stories, strategies, and tips about how they continually dance with their own constellations of making art (Laura is a storyteller and Caryn a writer), practicing self-care, and evolving ways of making a living. They’ll also answer questions about the Right Livelihood Professional Training and how it supports writers, storytellers, performers, educators, coaches, healers, and others in finding their best constellation of work.

About the Special Guests

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate is the author of two dozen books, including the forthcoming Miriam’s Well, a novel; Following the Curve,poetry; and Everyday Magic, a collection of beloved blog posts and personal essays. Founder of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely, particularly for people living with serious illness and their caregivers. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-leads writing and singing retreats. She also is a writing and right livelihood coach. Caryn has worked extensively with many arts and ecological/bioregional not-for-profit organizations as a grant-writer, fundraiser, staff, board member, and consultant, and she also founded several long-term groups.Born hard-wired to make something (in art, music, and especially writing), Caryn’s long-time callings include writing as a spiritual and ecological path, yoga, cultivating a loving marriage, family, and community, and helping herself and others make and take leaps into the miraculous work of their lives.

Laura Packer has been performing, coaching, writing, consulting, andleading the storytelling field for almost 25 years. She knows the best way to the truth is through a good story, and that this universally accessible artform creates empathy, builds bridges, and has the power to both heal and change the world. When she isn’t performing, Laura is the sole proprietor of thinkstory, llc, one of the nation’s foremost organizational consulting firms. Laura considers her whole life her calling, which includes the depth and breadth of her storytelling and writing work, building and growing healthy relationships, loving the people in her life, practicing radical forgiveness, spending time in nature, cooking, listening, demystifying and destigmatizing grief and other powerful feelings, and trying to live as authentic and engaged a life as possible. You can learn more about her storytelling and coaching work at laurapacker.com, her organizational work at thinkstory.com, and read some of her writing at truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.

Learn more about the Right Livelihood Professional Training.

Poetry Open Mic

And there’s more to share — Bring an original poem! This unique discussion and networking opportunity will be 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.

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly will interview the special guest for 30 minutes

  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.

  • We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.

  • You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!

Joining the Call on Zoom

Kelly will arrive on the video conference at 6:45 p.m. CENTRAL so you can connect early & work out any glitches! You will receive links and numbers in your email after RSVPing.

Register Here!

About co-host, Kelly DuMar

Kelly DuMar, M.Edis a playwright and poet who facilitates expressive arts writing workshops for creative writers across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Southern Writers Conference, and Winter Wheat Conference. Her poems are published in many literary magazines, including “Lumina Online,” “Corium,” “Cape Cod Review,” “Kindred,” “Apeiron,” and “Tupelo Quarterly,” and her award-winning poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Her newest chapbook, Tree of the Apple, was published by Two of Cups Press (2017). Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year, and she moderates, SPARKS!, a bi-monthly teleconference and poetry open mic for the Transformative Language Arts Association. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and a Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, and a member of Playback North America. Her website is kellydumar.com, and she blogs daily in #NewThisDay Writing From My Photo Stream

 

Your Body—Servant or Friend?

by Diane Glass

For much of my life, I treated my body as a servant, there to carry out my brain’s decisions and plans. This strategy worked short time in building a successful corporate career; it did not work long term. My body suffered. It rebelled.

Long meetings led to chronic back pain, at times so intense I had to stand up, rather than sit, to participate. While a leave of absence from my job provided an opportunity to recover, I returned to the same demanding routine. Not until I was diagnosed with breast cancer did I acknowledge that my relationship with my body needed to change.

That change began with simple conversation. I asked my body,

“What do you want?”
“What is your preference?”
“How do you feel about this?”
“How can I help?”
“What is the source of this pain?”

This conversation led to friendship and gratitude. (It also led to quitting my job.) Who else is present with us at birth and at death? Who else knows our deeply intimate fears? Who else provides a home for our dreams and joys? Who else goes with us everywhere to engage in the world?

My body began to respond. She wanted to spend more time outside. Together we rediscovered clouds—how beautifully they glide through an open sky. She missed music so we began the piano lessons set aside since childhood. She longed for freedom of movement so we took swimming lessons.

The dialogue surprised me by opening up deeper insights into my physical problems. Plagued by chronic urinary tract infections for years, I used art and journaling to uncover what the problem might be.

“I’m afraid,” my bladder told me, “but the fear is not yours, it’s your father’s.”

Born with spina bifida and troubled with incontinence, I carried fear about having accidents, but more importantly I carried my father’s fear about whether I would survive this birth defect. Talking with my bladder allowed me to express and release this fear. The infections cleared up after nearly three decades of regular occurrence.

The body uses dreams to show what simmers below the surface of our consciousness. When my bladder showed up in one of my dreams as a pale, thin woman in an Edwardian style waitress outfit on the verge of collapse, I knew it was asking for more support and I called an urologist. She came up with a novel new surgical solution to address my incontinence.

Like all friendships, my relationship with my body has its ups and downs. If I gain weight, become easily fatigued, or discouraged with aging, I at times criticize my body. Can’t she control herself, keep up and fight those wrinkles? This negative self-talk hurts her and hurts us. I come back to expressions of gratitude to make amends:

“Thank you for hanging in there with me when I overdo it and later regret it.”
“Thank you for my ability to walk, even if I need to use a cane.”
“Thank you for the joy of placing my hands on the piano and making music.”
“Thank you for the warmth that comes with hugging grandchildren.”
“Thank you for sharing your wisdom.”

My engagement in TLA study and practices has affirmed my faith in the power words to create relationships, build community, share beauty, address inequities, and heal wounds. In my work as a spiritual director and teacher, I help individuals listen to their bodies and to engage in dialogue that leads to major life shifts. Through such workshops as “The Transformational Power of Story” and “Coming Home to Your Body,” I reach pastors, social workers, mental health counselors, individuals with chronic pain and other spiritual directors.

My TLA practice forms the foundation of my work in the world. But it starts in the most personal and intimate of space—my own body.

diane
Diane Glass, spiritual director and teacher, is a candidate for the Certificate in Transformation Arts Language. She enjoys playing the piano, spending time with her grandchildren, and volunteering with the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa.

The Power of Words with Grace Taylor

Grace Taylor is a spoken word poet, teaching artist and youth development worker. She believes in the empowerment of words, in particular through creative manifestations and providing spaces for people to tell their own stories. Grace’s poetry ciphers strongly around dialogues about identity, with her believing that the exploration of a sense of belonging is underestimated in many facets of society. Grace is co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective and the Rising Voices Youth Poetry Movement.

Unpicking The Wound With Words

by Stefanie M Smith

It’s over a year since I first discovered the Transformative Language Arts Network. I’d been looking for a class I could take online fore self-development, and having always had a love of language; it was only natural that I decided to look at some language classes. Little did I know what an amazing transformative tool I had discovered.

Now as the current class I am taking comes to a close, I have decided to take some time to reflect on just how far I have come.

I previously saw myself as a failure; I was 46, disabled – in pain both mentally and physically, and I was mourning my nursing career. I felt totally overlooked by society as a whole and that my voice was no longer relevant or important.

I realise now that some of my insecurities and lack of self-belief were due to the abuse I had been a victim of whilst I was growing up, combined with my mother’s lack of belief about the abuse when I tried to tell her about it. I had had no real validation throughout much of my childhood, however this realisation only truly came to me during my second TLA class – Wound Dwelling: Writing the Survivor Bodies with Jennifer Patterson. The class description had called out to me so strongly that I just had to take it, and I am so glad that I did.

One of the writing prompts from the first week asked us to do a free write based on a piece by Leslie Jamison – beginning from: “here is a [person] who is almost entirely wound…” It was an uncomfortable prompt for me but I decided it was something I needed to tackle head on, and this is an extract from what I wrote.

If I describe myself as Wound – what does that look like – what do I look like as Wound? If I close my eyes and think about how deeply I am wounded I can see a deep deep pressure sore – there at my base – on first look it seems small and neat but then on closer examination I can see that it goes Waaayyyy deep – right around and behind my spine – I could pack it with fibres to try and draw out the stinking pus and allow the edges of the wound begin to close in – but what I choose to do time after time – even though I know it won’t help me heal – is to patch it over & cover it with a sticking plaster – let the surface heal – and try to ignore the deep set rotting that carries on underneath – it looks pretty like that – in the same way that I choose to use a smile to hide my pain- but time and again without warning the rot – the pain – rises to the surface and breaks back through – a slimy ooze trickles through the flesh and releases my secret again. The stench a nose wrinkling smell that drags me back down to the depths.

This is not the story I want my wound to tell – I want to heal it properly from the inside out – not just allow the surface to heal – then break – then heal again in a never ending cycle.

My Wound – its’ story should follow a more linear path – the edges growing granulation – slowly steadily safely – letting new tissue – healed flesh working its’ way up – replacing the stinking pus – growing the pain and hurt out – yes there will be a scar – but scar tissue has its’ own strength – and once this Wound is closed properly – with honesty and revelations – it will not be broken down again – of this I am sure……….

It felt like I had gained a powerful new insight into my inner turmoil with just this one small piece of writing. I was amazed both at myself and at the process and it led me to challenge myself more over the duration of the class, each week coming to a new understanding of myself and my healing journey. This was just the first step of many along the path to a newly healed soul.


Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s first blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

stefanieStefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.

 

StoryCorps

By Melissa Rose

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It is easier to dismiss others when we know them on the surface. We are all more than that surface image however. In fact, we are the same. Our stories unique, but somehow exactly alike, and if you take the time to listen, you discover the connection between us all.

Storytelling is a unique characteristic of human beings. We learn easiest through stories. storycorps4We connect with other humans through stories. Stories tells us who we are and who we want to be. They inspire and reflect. They show us the people we could be. The people we once were. The lessons we learned and learn again. Most importantly, they connect us.

StoryCorps is an organization dedicated to building connections through stories. Founded in 2003, what began as simple pop up “story booth” in Grand Central Station now has growth into a national movement, prompting permanent story booths located across the country, and a mobile booth which takes the storytelling on the road. Places where anyone can share a story with the world, and anyone else can listen to it.

StoryCorps’ mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build storycorps3connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

The more we share our stories, the more we discover that we are more alike than different. That no matter our background and culture and history, we all experience the pain of loss. The power of love. The strength of our own resilience in the face of impossible odds. We discover that we are, in fact, one human family.

Discover some stories, and share your own!

 

“Beautiful” by Sonya Rene Taylor

Sonya Renee Taylor is an Internationally acclaimed performance poet, actress, educator and activist who’s been seen on HBO, CNN, BET, MTV, and the Oxygen Network. She has performed on stages from New Zealand to Scotland to New York, and is currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She is the creator of The Body Is Not An Apology Movement 

Writing Our Lives: An Interview with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

Liz is going to be facilitating her class, Writing Our Lives: The Poetic Self & Transformation starting October 18th and we are excited to be able to share this interview with her about the upcoming class.

TLA Blog (TLA) What inspired you to teach this class?
 
Liz Burke-Cravens (LBC) I have always been in love with autobiographical poetry, ever since I first read Sylvia Plath as an angst-filled teenager. Somehow, she honored my pain through the expression of hers. I had that sense that she knew me.  I was forever changed and continue to be changed by the poetry I read and write. My inspiration for this class, fundamentally, is my desire to share this transformative expression with others.
 
I have also been looking for an opportunity to synthesize two classes that I taught a few years ago in the undergraduate psychology program at a small, private university in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first class focused on elements of craft, literary criticism, and autobiographical writing. The other class focused on potential for reading/writing poetry as catalyst for healing and deepening connection, with a particular emphasis on theories of poetry therapy. The upcoming class, Writing Our Lives: The Poetic Self & Transformation, brings together a focus on craft and generating new writing, autobiographical inquiry, and reading/writing poetry as transformative and healing practice. In other words, this class is my way of sharing a framework to creatively examine one’s life, to develop greater self-awareness and understanding of one’s experience, and to empower people with the tools to authentically voice their truth.
 
TLA: How is writing poetry specifically a transformative experience? What makes the poetic medium different from other forms of expression?
 
LBC: Writing poetry offers the opportunity to express and explore the complexity of our emotions in relation to our lived experience. It can help you discover feelings you didn’t know where alive in you, explore them with the use of figurative language, and by doing so, enable you to reach new understandings or at least accept what we do not fully understand. When writing about your life, it becomes an examined life. It honors your sufferings, joys, fears and hopes as important and meaningful. Acclaimed poetry therapist John Fox summed up the transformative potential of writing poetry: “Poetry is natural medicine….Writing and reading poems is a way of seeing and naming where we have been, where we are, and where we are going with our lives.” Writing poetry, quite simply, expresses what plain language does not.
 
TLA: Who/What are some of your favorite poets/poems?
 
LBC: I would be negligent to not mention Sylvia Plath, not merely because, as I mentioned before, she was the first poet who I felt was speaking directly to me. I carried around her Collected Poems everywhere I went as a teenager! One of my favorite poems of hers is “Tulips.” The first few lines of the fifth stanza take my breath away every time: “I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free— / The peacefulness is so big it dazes you.” Astonishing.
 
Marie Howe’s work never ceases to resonate with me. Her book What the Living Do, is my current favorite. She has an amazing way of elevating the mundane tasks and happenings of one’s life to intensely meaningful—if not spiritual—proportions. The poem “What the Living Do,” is an excellent example of this. The last few lines capture not only mundane details, they also capture a certain experience of grief: “But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the / window glass, / say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing / so deep / for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m / speechless: / I am living. I remember you.”
 
TLA: What should students in this class expect?
 
LBC: Students should expect to be inspired by the work of a variety of contemporary poets, to play with elements of craft, and to generate a new body of work. But beyond what is noted in the class description, I want students to know that as a teacher/facilitator I understand how emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually vulnerable writing can be. I value that aspect of the writing process. My intention is to create a safe, respectful, and engaging learning environment that has space for both the expression of difficult emotions and joyful playfulness.
 
TLA: Is there anything else about this class you would like to share?
 
LBC: To learn a bit more about me, and my approach to teaching and writing, I invite people to visit my web site http://www.abravespace.org/. Feel free to contact me with any questions about the class!
lizburkeDr. Liz Burke-Cravens is a poet, educator, writing coach, passionate scholar and determined optimist. As an educator she is committed to critical and transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Her writings have appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2, The Irish Herald, Soulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. She lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits.