Building Strong Foundations: TLAN Graduates Share Their Experiences

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, One City One Prompt facilitation, and publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, eighteen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world.

The next TLA Foundations class, Changing the World with Words, a requisite for certification, begins next week on Wednesday, June 27. There is still time to register (and can be counted towards certification retroactively within one year of taking it). Register here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-2758556.

An interview with instructor, Joanna Tebbs Young, about the course can be found here: https://tlablog.org/2018/05/31/changing-the-world-with-words-with-joanna-tebbs-young/

For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

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1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

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1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Susan Shepler (graduated May 2017)

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

The kind of work I do involves language and art, and it is also associated with transformation and healing.  “Transformative Language Arts” perfectly describes my area of interest and my offering.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

The courses that I find most useful are ones designed to produce specific outcomes, such as outlining and creating courses and offerings, including the technology associated with such courses.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m always interested in the “how-to” part of course offerings.  Anything that helps structure and demystify the path forward.

4. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

It’s a helpful certification for me because, in itself, it offers an explanation of the [TLA] path.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

eila2

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie River taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

dianeg

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

3.  What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

4. Is there are particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc., that stands out for you?

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

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What Does Vulnerability Look Like?

by Melissa Rose

This piece was written during my experience in the TLA online class, Diving and Emerging: Finding Your Voice and Identity in Personal Stories facilitated by Regi Carpenter. I loved this class and the places the writing prompts led me, causing me to form a richer relationship with my memories and experiences. 

       The woman sits crossed legged on the shore of the silent lake on a crisp spring morning. The lavender mist hovers above the water, as she watches a flock of brown and black birds bob along the surface. She has been up for hours, watching the sun rise from behind the mountain in the distance, wrapping herself in a thick pink sweater, as the chill around her is remedied by wool. In this moment, she is anything but restricted. No pressure of tiny hands reaching for her. No eyes watching where she is. She inhales the fresh air and for once feels free. She tries to savor moments like this. They only come occasionally. Every minute by herself she wishes she could stretch into miles between obligations. It’s been so long since she could remember what it felt like to be alone. To simply “be” without label. Without definition. Only the morning breeze blowing a quiet promise through her wispy brown curls. She slips a single foot from her sandal and digs her bare toes into the soft sand beneath her; a boulder worn down into a million pieces.

      I am 4 years old, up at the cabin on the lake. It is early, and my mother sits next to the water outside, watching the Canada Geese bob along the surface and I awaken alone in my bed. I see her from the window, and sliding out of my pajamas I open the screen door and step outside. Stumbling on the sappy rocks, I walk towards her. She doesn’t notice me for several seconds because I am so quiet, watching her behavior, how she looks different. Not like my mother, but a wild creature in its natural habitat. She senses she is not alone, and like a doe, turns her head suddenly, with a sharp startled snap, then smiles, relaxing when she sees me, amused by my nudity. It is spring, and the air is crisp. I dip my feet into the cold water, but feel no chill.

      She always felt her body was wrong. The bumps never fell in the right place. The stomach expanding in places she didn’t want it to go. She felt trapped inside herself. Sweaters become her uniform. She never goes swimming. She never speaks of her body as anything but a burden. The flesh dragging behind her, like a punishment.

      I am 5 years old, and I search the house for my mother. I check the kitchen and the bathroom, even venturing into the dark garage. Then I notice her bedroom door is closed. My tiny hands turn the polished copper knob and I push the wood, stepping over the threshold, turning my head back and forth, looking for her familiar shape. We lock eyes, her body bare, pink breasts exposed and she covers her naked flesh with her arms, screaming in surprise, her voice high and tight as violin strings:

“Get out!!”

I flee from the room, retreating to my bed and under the covers like I had just witnessed a cardinal sin. My mother had never raised her voice to me before, and the sound frightens me. Shaking under the covers, she eventually finds me, applying her voice in an apologetic band aid.

“I’m sorry, Melis…you didn’t do anything wrong…” but the image of her face as our eyes met in that moment left an imprint. The shock and softness. The sting of her standing there completely exposed. A deer in headlights. The nakedness of her in her most pure and isolated state. The place of her she never wanted anyone to see.

I am my mother’s daughter.

      I hide my body as it grows and expands. As the pieces of it change shape. I grow breasts at age 9. My mother tells me to cover up. It is no longer “appropriate” for me to walk around my own house without a shirt on and I don’t know why. Only that my flesh is no longer amusing like it was when I was 4. It carried with it another message altogether. Something shameful. Wrong.

So I hide.

I wear sweatshirts on hot summer days.

      I don’t look at my naked body for years. Every mirror is an averted glance. Every locker room is a struggle to expose as little as possible. To never be left vulnerable. To never be seen without armor. Armor becomes my voice. Becomes my brashness. Becomes my need to hide how I really feel. Armor becomes a way to cover everything I do not want seen about myself.

      She drinks alcohol, hiding the bottles in her closet. Keeping the soft parts hidden under intoxication. Swallowing everything, covering up the raw places, collecting the pieces of herself and telling the children to keep her secrets.  

      In a bedroom, a man asks me to take off my clothes, and I am silent. As the pieces flake off my skin, a new exposure emerges. The prying open of a mollusk. The vulnerability left in the dark with my voice. I tell myself “You didn’t do anything wrong” but now the nakedness becomes more than a scream from my mother. It becomes the reason I scream too.

      A year later and I am fully clothed, standing on a stage. The lights hit me and I speak about the things no one wanted me to say. Exposure is what happens when I show my mess to strangers. Raw is what happens when I realize there is nothing to hide. That speaking is a step towards healing. That telling my story saves me from it.

      I stand on another stage. This time I say nothing. I am naked in front of strangers, but for a different purpose. For 3 hours every week I pose for artists. I embody emotion through my posture. Communicating without speaking every inch my flesh can muster. Telling the story of my body itself.

      Being naked is how I show myself my body is worthy of love. That there is safety in uncovering all that you hide behind. That for the first time since I was 4 years old, I can show myself that my nakedness is nothing to be ashamed of. That vulnerability comes in many forms. That the flesh I reside in is anything but sinful.

      I think of my mother, and all she chose to hide from me. That seeing her unclothed was the first time I was ever able to see a glimpse of who she really was, and everything she never wanted me to experience.

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Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon and is the executive director of Siren, a nonprofit organization that empowers women through spoken word.

TLA Professional Training Opportunity

As part of the launch of the Right Livelihood Professional Training, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer are offering two separate 90-minute small group coaching sessions at a highly discounted rate. Normally, their rate for such a session is $40 a person, but they are offering these special sessions for just $9.99!

Here’s an opportunity to discuss what you’re looking for in your vocation and avocation and hear about other’s passions. Each participant will have time to ask a question and listen to Laura and Caryn’s suggestions on:

  • Making a living,
  • Balancing work and life,
  • Connecting with community,
  • and other aspects of doing our life’s work for each member of the group.

Click to register for the first session on Sunday, December 10th. The second session will be offered on Thursday, January 11th.  Enrollment is limited to 10 people, so reserve your spot today!

When: 10 Dec 2017, 7:00 PM CST    Where: Online video conference (Zoom)

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My Opened Awareness after Taking the TLA Class: The Five Senses and the Four Elements

by Karen Silsby

I highly recommend this class (TFSATFE) with Angie Rivers, our instructor! While moving through the weekly assignments, I had a profound opening up of my inner awareness. This came about as we explored The Four Elements with our five senses open, using poetry as a vehicle to absorb the meaning behind the assignments. Our readings and expeditions out into nature helped my classmates and I define what the different Elements of Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth meant to us as human beings and as a part of nature. As well, she created a supportive community amongst the class participants to aid our processes of self-exploration.

For me, one of the biggest take-aways from this class was keeping up the practice of what Angie calls, “small noticings” of nature, relating to these things from our five senses. What I noticed over the six weeks of classwork was that I came to a deeper sense of mindfulness and compassion. Whenever I practice this exercise now, some weeks after finishing the class, I land in the same place of quiet, mindful understanding and peace.

Let me go back and explain a bit more about the class as a means of self-exploration.

An easy example, one that we tried yet anyone can do, incorporated a Wabi Sabi approach when exploring the Earth Element. That meant we were to look at what we perceived as the “uglier” parts of the Earth, and see the “singular beauty” in small things. So I went outside and weeded, raking through the dirt and mud, observed the earthworms grinding through the leaves, all the while hearing the sounds of jays shreaking about my head. I could taste the bitter leftover coffee in my saliva; and smelled the verdant long grass as I raked its twisted, gnarly heads. In the 90-degree heat, the sweat rolled warm, down my chest in incessant drops. My awareness was heightened to see the world in a more vivid and heartfelt way, even through the difficulties and challenges of weeding my garden in the heat!

Further, this sense of wonder and engagement was broadened by our use of poetry. Angie had us try out a variety of poetic forms, like Haiku and Renga. I found that the poetry weaved into my weekly writings and “noticings” in a rather interesting way. My inner writer became looser and more watchful of deeper truths. I noticed the shift from being in a reporting mode to one of, something that I can only describe as, more spiritually connected to myself and the world and others around me. As each week progressed, I felt more at peace writing poetry that was grounded in my sensory experiences.

At the end of class, we were charged with deciding how we wanted to continue our journey with the Five Senses and the Four Elements. I chose to go out into nature once a week to continue my small noticings and be more quiet and mindful. Some weeks, I write down these noticings in detail and formulate a poem. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of one backyard sensory noticing that allowed me to touch on my up and down health after cancer and a resultant, changed life path. This led to a free form poem, as follows:

Sometimes I think I’ve had enough ickiness
And am ready to go,
Tired of the fight to stay on top of things.

Yet, that is a transitory point of view.
Life is precious
And all experiences are a
Part of the memory box
Which becomes so full by age 67.

Believing in myself to anchor me,
Believing in something more vibrant than me
That roots me,
Believing that life is a journey of many lessons,
Brings me to that ever-present light from a singular star, pointing the way.

I breathe in the verdancy of hope.
I shine the light of sun upon my living skin.
I touch the earth’s heart with my toes.
I listen to the song of the bells chiming free.
I taste the inner peace of life within me.
And my senses are one with The Elements.


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

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Karen Silsby is a Life Fulfillment Coach and journaling instructor in the San Diego area. She has a long history of
using writing as a means of self-exploration and life strategizing. Karen is presently in the TLA certification’s program, enjoying the opportunity to expand her horizons with the written word as a means of diving deeper into the inner wisdom source that guides us all.

Creating Space

by Melissa Rose

The writing process can be ritualistic, so setting the space is important.

Keep it consistent. Keep it holy.

I set the timer. Write the prompts on the white board while pictures of Frida Khalo gaze down at a table I have covered in stray paper, pens and composition notebooks.

Every week I lead a writing workshop with female trauma survivors. The format is simple: One hour of writing. Your time. Your space. I provide prompts that encourage introspection and self-care, but the direction the participants choose to take those prompts are unique as they are.

What began as a simple routine has quickly transitioned into a life line. Women who have curiously come one week now come every week. Diving deeper into themselves, discovering more with each session and unearthing more possibilities with every word they write.

Giving oneself permission to do something healthy, even for one hour, has slowly become a reason to give oneself permission to do something healthy for another hour. A reason to speak up in situations where they wouldn’t have before. A reason to forgive. A reason to tell their story. A reason to love themselves more.

Writing may be the medium we use here, but what we are creating is sacred space. Collectively, through sharing the space we have conjured, we are tapping into something magical. The strength of creative energy. The spell of communal healing.

Creating space, for me, is such an integral part of TLA. It is the equivalent to turning the soil, preparing it for the seeds. I now find myself just as excited to lead the workshop every week and contribute to that space. To understand that it is not only the participants who benefit from this experience, but I as a practitioner.

Together, we have learned that we cannot heal alone.

Healing

is the little ghost

hiding under your tongue.

A miracle you mutter under

your breath

Afraid you will jinx its magic

Mind over matter

Whole life preparing you for this

You will now show your cells

Life is worth living.

Healing

is the the voice that reminds you to rest.

The whisper that challenges you

to take a step back.

The gently falling rain on the roof

above your head.

The sound of growth.

The promise of a million new lives.

Healing is what happens when you finally put yourself first.

It is the wound that knows exactly what to do

when you give it the chance.

The burn that saves you

from infection.

The silent pulse

only you can feel within yourself.

Here

in your empty

there is still space to put your hope.

The seed that is sheltered by will

and soil.

The dirt beneath you

you are not ready to die in.

Swallow this spring.

Let it fill you like a sunrise.

You are only just beginning. 

 

 

 

melpromo4Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.

 

Making Music

by Barbara Burt

“Can You Turn a Poem into a Song?” is the title of an article I just ran across. “How hard could it be for a poet and fiction writer to turn a poem into a love song?” asks the article’s author, Desiree Cooper. She concludes that it’s “Pretty hard.”

Some of us in the TLA Network might beg to differ. The fact is, even if you don’t read notes, play scales, know chords or fingerings, you have the capacity to make music. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

We are all born with music in us; whenever we sing or play music, we unleash that expressive engine. A number of ways to make music are represented in workshops offered at this month’s TLA Power of Words Conference. Here’s a sampling:

Songwriting: The Inspiration and Acrobatics of Language — Martin Swinger shares insights and processes that lead to the creation of his quirky, one-of-a-kind songs which gain national recognition and awards for their originality. Part concert, part discussion, part hands-on exploration of language, inspiration, songwriters ‘filters’ and the prosody which makes songs SING! No songwriting experience necessary.

Soul Song for Centering: An Experiment in Creating Sacred Song — Using your name as a foundation for exploration, you will be guided to create your own personal Soul Song to sing or chant whenever you want to connect with and feel the beauty of your Soul. You will create your own meaning and intention for your Soul Song and will be gently guided to find your inner melody. Whether you’re shy or comfortable using your voice to sing, we will create a safe environment for you to find your Soul Song for Centering. No singing or musical experience needed. Bring notebook, ear buds or plugs (if you have them), and an open mind and heart. Led by Tonia Pinheiro.

Sound Puzzles, Rounds, and the Meaning of Life According to the Woodthrush — This interactive presentation showcases the culmination of one woman’s modest experiment in responding to birdsong as a unique portal to re-inhabiting her own singing voice.  Interspersed with narratives from her story, “I Shall Go Singing,” spoken against a recorded backdrop of original vocal sketches, Deb Hensley’s presentation offers listeners live performances of original songs, rounds, and sound puzzles inspired by birdsong. Audience members will be invited to learn a few of these lyrical, whimsical, and sometimes quirky “why” rounds. Deb’s story offers insight into how deep attention to sound and song in the natural world promotes access to one’s own ancestral, spontaneous, innate, and amazing natural voice, as well as a deeper understanding of ecological literacy, place, and identity.

Note that none of these workshops requires previous experience with songwriting or musical training. Yet, by the end of the workshop, some wonderful and unique musical compositions are sure to have been created. I plan to record some examples of this music-making as I attend the conference; watch for videos on upcoming blog posts.

Quick, Change Modes!

by Barbara Burt

As we went around the table, each workshop participant talking about her past week, Chris was squirming. When it was her turn, she giggled and said she’d had a funny experience. She’d been stuck about what to write and hadn’t managed to get very far. Then, as she drove along a familiar road the day before, a story began to form in her mind. Not wanting to lose inspiration, she pulled over, took out her smart phone, and recorded the story. To her surprise, it came out whole, in one delightful swoop. However, she said, she hadn’t had time to transcribe it yet.

This was disappointing news. We all loved hearing Chris’s stories. “Do you have the phone with you?” I asked. She nodded. “Would you consider playing the recording for us?” Chris looked surprised, then dug deep into her book bag. Phone in hand, she pressed the buttons until her familiar Maine accent filled the room.

The story was hilarious. We laughed all the way through, as Chris’s voice on the phone recounted one mishap after another. When it was over, it seemed like some sort of miracle. Where did that come from? How did she do it? Chris, a clay artist and newly hatched writer who didn’t yet feel confident about the words she wrote on a page, had discovered a better way to capture her storyteller’s voice.

On another day in another workshop, I frightened the group by giving them a two-stage prompt. The second instruction was to rewrite as poetry what they had just written in prose. “Poetry!” Dave exclaimed. “I can never understand poetry, let alone write it.” I let them know that any form of verse was fine but they needed to use line breaks and brevity to convey the meaning. Each person read their two versions out loud: prose, then poetry.

Dave’s original prose piece had been about an emotional experience. It was full of detail and quite affecting. Then he read the poetry version. When he ended, we all sat in silence, stunned. “The poetry was more powerful,” he said with surprise, looking around the table.

When I work with people who don’t consider themselves writers, I often find that they are intimidated by preconceptions of what “writing” is. Yet, their stories are fresh and original when they feel confident enough to use their own voice. By trying lots of different modes of storytelling—including music, drawing, and movement—in the safety of a supportive workshop, they can escape those preconceptions, and get to the heart of the story they want to tell in the way they need to tell it.

 

Workshops At The Power Of Words Conference

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The Power of Words Conference (POW) will soon be underway and we are so excited to see the amazing keynote speaker presentations and workshops that will be occurring during the event.

From songwriting to storytelling, to body movement and awareness, this year’s POW Conference offers many opportunities to share in the community building possibilities of Transformative Language Arts facilitated by some of the most inspiring practitioners in the field.

Here is a list of the workshops. Click  here for a full description

Friday, August 18th-Pre-Conference Keynotes and Workshops:

  • Limbs & Language — Mahogany Browne
  • Creative Empathy that Builds Bridges Across Difference — True Story Theater
  • We All Belong to Stories — Joseph Bruchac
  • Soulful Singing — Kelley Hunt
  • Can We Talk? Strategies for Building Young Children’s Language — SusanBennett-Armistead
  • Keynote Presentation: True Story Theater — Stories of Stigma and Social Healing
  • Keynote Presentation: Mahogany Browne — By Any Means Necessary: When the Narrative Interrogates a Righteous Rage

Saturday, August 19th

  •  Love is All There Is: Mantra Singing for All — Barb Asen
  • My Story In A Soundbite: Notes from A Digital Evolutionary — Brenda Magnetti
  • Wabi-Sabi Storytelling: The Perfect Imperfection of Spoken-Word Art — Lyn Ford
  • What’s Your Blue Moon Legacy?: Honoring the Uniqueness of Your Voice and the Bigger Message in Your Work — Tina Games
  • Mother’s Voice: Nurturing Self through Expressive Writing — Joanna Tebbs Young
  • Keynote Presentation: Dr. Susan Bennett-Armistead — Read it gain! Read it again! How Read Aloud Builds Brains and Changes the World!
  • How to Write the Story That Brings You Audiences and Jobs — Doug Lipman
  • Women’s Writing Circle (WWC): Using Expressive Writing in Sacred Circle — Jennifer Minotti
  • Psychodrama, Writing, & Imagination: Playful Tools for Healing, Growth, & Change — Kelly DuMar
  • Songwriting: The Inspiration and Acrobatics of Language — Martin Swinger
  • Soul Song for Centering: An Experiment in Creating Sacred Song — Tonia Maria Pinheiro
  • Drinking from the Well of Laughter: Laughter Exercises — Lyn Ford
  • Sound Puzzles, Rounds and the Meaning of Life According to the Woodthrush — Deb Hensley
  • What a Composer Hears and Sees: Sharpening Your Musical Sight — Wytold
  • Contact Improvisation Movement: ​A Nonverbal Language of Communication — Christopher Eillinger
  • Making Friends with a Poem — Cynthia Anderson
  • Keynote Presentation: Joseph Bruchac — Trickster’s Truth and Lies

Sunday, August 20th

  • Gratitude as Wisdom and Healing — Karen Edwards
  • Qualitative Research in the Arts for Publication, Research, and Funding — Emilee Baum Trucks
  • Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash to Re-vision Our Lives — Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
  • Narrative Healing: Transcending the Illness Narrative — Reggie Marra
  • Connect to the Earth & Dance your Heart, Body, and Soul AWAKE! — Katey Branch

Read about the Community Building Opportunities At The Conference 

Register for POW!

Spread The Word!

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Writing in concert

by Barbara Burt

I have been leading a writing workshop at my local community center. While I enjoy hearing the writing that the four members have worked on over the past week and are eager to share, I think the most fruitful part of the workshop is the prompted writing during the workshop. Often the prompt is met with moans: “I hate these introspective exercises.” “I can’t think of anything…” But invariably, within a minute or two, everyone is writing away, engrossed in their response to the question that may have made them feel a bit uncomfortable at first (although that’s not my aim).

When the time comes to share the prompted writing, at least one or two people find that there is the germ of a story to follow up on, planted in that day’s scribbling. To me, there is definite music in the quiet sound of all that thinking and writing that reminds me of playing chamber music. We are aware of each other, listening, but also intent on our own part. It happens that the music of our own writing is more meaningful, somehow, residing in the harmony of our group endeavor, whether we share it or not.

I wrote this during the most recent workshop:

Writing in Concert

We sit in folding chairs
and set our elbows on the plastic tabletop.
Its bumpy surface doesn’t slow us.
The mah-jongg game in the next room
erupts in loud laughter.
Still, we are not deterred.

Pens scratch.
Hands swish across smooth sheets,
pages are turned, paper rattles.
We hold our breath
or sigh.                                                                                                                                         Sip coffee.
Or rest our foreheads in our hands,
eyes closed, thinking.

There is companionship in writing alone
together.
Our thoughts are secret
but our output obvious.
We start together with the same prompt
then wander separate paths,
secure in the knowledge that
each step is worthy of its effort
and will be celebrated.

Celebrated, whether spoken or
silent.
Celebrated by our fellow writers
in the chamber music of creation.