Greetings from Maine, site of the 2017 Power of Words Conference

As one your new editors of the TLA Network blog, I am looking forward to reading your submissions and engaging in the conversation about the importance of Transformative Language Arts to each of us, as well as the importance of our TLA practice to the community around us. I am fairly new to the field, although I have been telling stories through writing for my entire life. As the title of this post says, I write from Maine, which means I’ll be excited to attend the Power of Words Conference in Maine this summer, where I hope I’ll meet many of you in person.

The conference, officially called the 14th Power of Words Conference: Transformation, Liberation, and Celebration Through the Spoken, Written, and Sung Word, takes place from August 18 – 20th at Ferry Beach in Saco. As a Mainer, let me assure you that this is prime summertime on our beautiful southern coast. I can’t imagine a better place to feed the imagination and create a sense of community. Here’s a photo from the Ferry Beach website:

ferry-beach-porch-photo

Picture yourself in one of the chairs on the porch surrounded by fellow conference attendees. You’re all sharing stories, ideas, and reactions to the great workshops/lectures/performances you just attended, while the porch flags flutter in the sea breeze. (Learn more about the Ferry Beach Retreat and Conference Center here.)

Keynoters at the conference include Joseph Bruchac, True Story Theater, Mahogany L. Brown, Susan Bennett-Armistead, and Kelley Hunt. The list of workshops is varied and extensive. To find out more about the conference, visit the conference webpage: https://tlan.wildapricot.org/conference.

Speaking of the conference, if you are planning to attend, you can save $20 by registering before April 25th.  After that date, the registration fee becomes $230 for TLA members and $250 for non-members.

I have to say, just thinking about a wonderful seaside conference in August is an effective spirit-raiser in gray late February. And, this year, it seems more important than ever.

–Barb Burt

POW Workshop: Self-Expression Through Movement and Play with Marguerite Walker

Thank you for this opportunity to exchange ideas with the other presenters for the POW conference in August!
My workshop “Self expression Through Movement and Play” is designed to enable the participants, regardless of background, to experiment with their childhood curiosity. They will be encouraged to use voice and movement in a play -like atmosphere. Scenarios will be provided or the participants may develop their own. These stories will be shared with the group in a supportive atmosphere.
I enjoy enabling others to experience the freedom of letting our adult guard down
and then allowing our creativity to find new ways of looking at a situation.
This workshop is an outgrowth from my passion for improvisation with voice and song. In watching and learning from artists such as Rhiannon and Bobby McFerrin and locally from improv director, David LaGraffe, I have been motivated to share my joy of play with others.

Marguerite WalkerAfter 35 years spent as an RN, Marguerite Walker  brings a cornucopia of life experiences to her workshop. As a lover of word play and seeing the zany side of situations, she enjoys helping others experience that sense of enjoying the moment.
Marguerite presently resides in South Portland enjoying time with her dog, going to Meet ups, visiting with friends, reading historical fiction, singing daily for the joy of it, and looking forward to her next adventure.
She agrees with GK Chesterton regarding play:
“The true object of all human life is play.”
She would like to thank Debra Hensley for suggesting that she submit a workshop proposal to the TLA Network.

“Oh My Stars and Garters!” with Lyn Ford, POW Keynote Speaker

Editor’s Note: I’ve known Lyn for several years, and she is an incredible human being. Listening to her talk would itself be worth the conference registration.


OH, MY STARS AND GARTERS…I’M TALKING ABOUT BELLY BUTTONS!

THE HERNIA JOURNAL:  MY WORD-DANCE THROUGH DARKNESS TO JOY – A journey in progress, from belly-ache to belly laugh, from abuse to a-ha, from hell to Hafiz, shared in personal narrative, folktale, and poetic joy.

That’s the blurb I passed on to TLAN for my Saturday, August 13 keynote performance for the 2016 Power of Words Conference.  Then I set aside any thought on the subject, so that, in a couple days, I could look at that blurb with fresh eyes.

04crw_2102-1Five days later, I looked at what I’d sent, and my fresh eyes blinked as if I’d been smacked by a hard gust of wind.  I said to myself, “Self, you’ve just committed to sharing a portion of the map of that dark walk into and through the woods, the one that frightens and confuses and excites you, and makes you laugh and cry at the same time.  Just a few steps, reflection and folktale connection and poetry.  You are going to share from your hike through personal muck and mire, in 45 minutes.”

Oh, my stars and garters…

This writing project grew from journaling while I worked on socio-emotional development activities and stories for educators and storytellers.  That work became difficult as I maneuvered over several rough patches—illness and injury, problems with medications, emotional situations…you know, life.  In the worst of it all, I wrote and shared my stories.  Folks laughed with me, which made me laugh more.

I’ve selected stories and verse from my journal, offered because they lend themselves to the conference theme, “Begin with YES!”  But “yes” isn’t just the beginning of transformation.  It’s the effective affirmation of every step of each human being’s personal journey.  “The Hernia Journal” presentation has its emotional ups and downs, but, yes, we will laugh, because that’s how I roll…or, reel, or trundle, …it’s all good.  I always pack joy for the journey, even when I’m crawling, with “yes” in my heart.

The preconference workshop that I’ll facilitate is titled “LAUGHTER, BREATH, JOY: COMMUNAL COMMUNICATION”.  That’s what we’re going to share.  As a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader (and now, I’m a Certified LY Teacher, too—yay!), I’ve become more aware of the important empathetic connections of laughter, play, and simple stories.  Most big folks just don’t play enough, or feel the excitement of telling their own stories without self-criticism and with the lightness of the child’s heart that still beats inside us.  I’m hoping folks come to the conference early, and play and laugh and communicate with an open heart and mind.


Lyn FordLyn Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and workshop facilitator. Lyn is also a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), and a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books, Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition, and Beyond the Briar Patch:  Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore. Lyn’s 2015 book, Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts is a creative-writing resource; Lyn’s fourth book (with friend, Sherry Norfolk), Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Kids, is set for publication in the summer of 2016.   For more information on Lyn’s work, go to her website at www.storytellerlynford.com. Or contact Lyn at friedtales2@gmail.com.

Watch “Hush in the Room,” Regi Carpenter’s Tedx Talk

Storyteller Regi Carpenter speaking at TEDxChemungRiver 2015 in Corning, New York talks about what she’s learned through work with sick and dying children and the power of our stories. Watch her Tedx Talk here.

Check out Regi’s upcoming class for the TLA Network — Living Out Loud: Healing Through Storytelling and Writing — here. This online class allows you to explore writing, storytelling and healing on your own time in a support community. Scroll down for a recent interview with Regi to learn more.

Imagine Yourself a Place of Unsurpassed Beauty: The Power of Words Conference on the Coast of Maine

img_13241-cropped-belownav-cropped-photoDeb Hensley and Martin Swinger, the dynamic duo co-chairing the Power of Words conference, Aug. 12-14 at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, share this invitation to our 13th annual conference. Read on, and register by Nov. 15 to catch the super early bird rate. Find out more and register here.

Imagine yourself a place. Imagine a chair on a wide porch next to a beach where you bask in the afternoon sun. Imagine a morning walk through a grove of sunlit trees. Imagine joining brilliant vocal improvisation sessions under a bright moon, filling yourself with poetry, storytelling around a campfire and choosing from 25 workshops on the transformative 3058162_origpower of the written, spoken and sung word.

Imagine a loving community of people, healthy, delicious food, good coffee, lots of music, time for reflection and an after dinner frolic in the surf. Imagine Ferry Beach on the coast of Maine at the Power of Words Conference, August 12-14, 2016.

I don’t know which excites me more, this fabulous conference we’re putting together or the amazing place where we are holding it. With world renowned Vocal Improv Artist and Activist, Rhiannon, Award 8117810_origwinning Poet and Author Seema Reza, Afrilacian Storyteller Lyn Ford and Quaker Minister, author and educator Callid Keefe-Perry as our keynoters, this conference promises to embody spontaneity, humor, comfort and joy. And what could be more a more gorgeous location to gather singers, poets, authors, activists, and a host of other transformative language artists than a coastal paradise only 20 minutes from the Portland International Jetport?

Ferry Beach is a retreat community with 900 feet of beachfront in Saco, Maine offering respite away from the everyday world. It is a collection of meeting spaces, wide porches, an art and pottery studio, an outdoor chapel, a performance space, many gathering places and a wonderful dining hall.2459481_orig

It is a place of unsurpassed beauty where you will experience the joy of community, challenge assumptions, celebrate, reimagine, and commit your own language artistry to nothing less than global transformation. It is a place for renewal and rejuvenation where a small but mighty group of all ages and races, for one glorious weekend in August of 2016, will lovingly and boldly explore the Power of Words. I’ll be there! You?

See more about Ferry Beach right here.

 

Interview with Denise Low: The Writer in the Public Square

pfr_-_Denise_bw_2k_12-29_t300Denise Low, second Kansas Poet Laureate, had a little chat with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, third poet laureate, about the writer in the public square. Denise is teaching an online class for the TLA Network starting Nov. 9 and running until Dec. 20, “The Word Artist in the Public Square,” focusing on being a writer for life. She’ll be covering public reading basics, publication and personal balance, reviews, blogs, blurbs, conferences, workshops, residencies, contests, grants, and building community.

Denise Low is an award-winning author of 25 books of prose and poetry, including Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mountain Press); Mélange Block (poetry, Red Mountain Press); Ghost Stories (Woodley Press, a Ks. Notable Book; The Circle -Best Native American Books); and Natural Theologies: Essays (Backwaters Press). She has British Isles, German, Delaware (Lenape/Munsee), and Cherokee heritage. She edited a selection of poems by William Stafford in an edition with essays by other poets and scholars, Kansas Poems of William Stafford (Woodley). Low is past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She blogs, reviews, and co-publishes Mammoth Publications. She teaches professional workshops nationally as well as classes for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Her MFA is from Wichita State University and PhD is from the University of Kansas. More at www.deniselow.net, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/denise-low, http://deniselow.blogspot.com, and www.mammothpublications.com

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you learn to be a writer in the public square?

Denise Low (DL): Oh, this is a long, long story. Before I was 30 years old, the editorship of the nationally known University of Kansas journal Cottonwood Review became vacant, and I volunteered. Volunteer work is a great starting point. The quick, on-the-job experience was invaluable. They had 35 subscribers, and when I left, we had 100s, including libraries. I found grants for our income stream, and I had added book publications. I learned that reliability, clean writing, and meeting deadlines were seriously important. Since that analog cut-and-paste era, I have adapted to digital media, but the basics of public interaction remain—be dependable, consider audience and polish style, and be on time.

CMG: What gifts and challenges are there to being “out there” as a writer?

DL: Gifts are many—self-awareness, great friends, appreciating enduring works of art, travel (both physical Low.crop.12.smallishand intellectual)—I love the writing life. Writers are my favorite people, because of their interest in history, science, gossip (really, human behavior anecdotes), cultural geography, and more. Yes, writers can be a tad egotistical, but heck, they are worth it. The main challenge is self-absorption. The good writer has a sense of what appeals to an audience, not just what is fun to write. I’m working with a new fantasy writer, self-taught, who loves to spin out his stories. Now he wants to publish. I feel a bit sad that his joy in creating tales will be tempered by demands of writing—point of view, grammar, character development, and so forth. Yet these technical issues make our work comprehensible to others. Also, when he publishes, he will have to promote his works. Now writers have to know how to prepare press kits, approach reviewers and media, schedule readings, and so much more. Cutbacks at most presses plus the rise of self-publishing make it necessary for writers to generate their own publicity. Further, years ago it was permissible at a book launch for writers to mumble passages from their books and get drunk at receptions. Now author presentations are quite professional, often including PowerPoints. This is an exciting time to be an author, and also a challenging one.

CMG: How do you balance your writing time with putting yourself out there in community?

DL: Writing is a solitary, self-reflective act. Paradoxically, we introverted writers participate in so many community activities— readings, conferences, workshops, reviews, blogs, social media commentary, residencies, and more. Keeping a schedule helps me out. I divide my time into blocs for book biz, revision, and drafting new work. Usually, I spend Mondays on promotion and other business, plus office management. Keeping a fairly clean workspace helps me stay productive. Yes, I have lost checks and lots more in piles of papers. Time management people advise us to schedule clean-up time, and they are right. The rest of the week I spend only an hour or so on incoming business. Then I turn to writing chores, including revisions. The end of the week is for drafting new work, my favorite. I never do business or chores on weekends. That way I truly have some quality writing time scheduled. Other people divide up their days differently. Each of us is individual, so the challenge is to find what works best. No one has the exact formula for how to write. This is the delight of the writing process.

Not Enough Spoons: Writing about Disability and Chronic Illness

by Angie River
photo-4-300x225Around February of 2014 my body began acting in ways it had never acted before, doing things I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. Doctors began the long process of diagnosis, poking and prodding, taking blood, having me fill out numerous forms and questionnaires, testing various medications on me in search of something that would improve or eliminate my symptoms. Over the course of many months I began racking up a series of diagnoses, but the words that the medical system assigned me, while being a bit validating, didn’t help me to deal with the things happening in my body and life.
 
I found that I was in grieving for my body, mourning the abilities I’d lost such as favorite hobbies like rollerskating and going out dancing, or basic things like being able to clean the house or grocery shop without exhaustion. However, at the same time that I was grieving, I was also celebrating my new-found connection with my body, my improvements in self-care, and the community I found with other disabled people.
 
I was at a loss for how to express my feelings and thoughts about my body and my disability in any traditional means, and turned to poetry, which is where I always turn when I need to voice things that are heavy with emotion and less concrete than the normal ways in which I communicate. In poetry, I found that I was able to process some of the sadness and confusion I was having, celebrate the ways I was learning to communicate with my body, and explain to others what I was going through.
 
It is because of the profound experience I personally had with writing about my disability that I decided I wanted to offer the class “Not Enough Spoons: Writing about Disability and Chronic Illness.” The spoon theory (more info here) is something that many disabled or sick folks mention, saying “I don’t have enough spoons to do that activity today,” or “I need to conserve my spoons because I know tomorrow is going to be hard.” Spoons are, for us, just another way of talking about the energy it takes for us to go through our daily lives while sick or disabled. What I found personally, is that writing about my illness helped me with my spoons in many ways! I helped me to be better in touch with myself and my body so I could regulate my spoons better, it helped me explain my spoons to others and why I may have to cancel plans or why I may be tired more often, and because of the emotional value of the writing, it helped me to even gain a spoon or two! I wanted to share this experience with others!
 
The class “Not Enough Spoons” is geared both to those who are disabled or have chronic illness themselves, but also to those who work with individuals with disability or illness. The class will have two “tracks” of writing exercises. I am thrilled to be offering this class and I hope that through it many others can experience the transformative experience of writing about their bodies!
 
Visiting Hours are Over
by Angie River

Last night I dreamt I went to visit you in a sterile hospital room,
white and steel.
You lay in bed and I watched you, touching twitching eyelids,
holding hands that trembled as you slept.

In my dream I looked at you with love, longing for you to wake and smile
at me, rise from the bed and walk into the world.
Instead I woke, breathing through pain,
feeling spasms ripple from unknown places and darkness
creep into the corners of my mind.

I woke up angry, blaming you for my inability to work, to fold clothes,
to bake cookies, to pick up my child.
I blamed you for sweat pants and dark-circled eyes, for numbers
that climb with each step on the scale. I blamed you for hours
curled on the couch, for late-night sobbing in the bathroom.
But really, you have been holding me through all of this,
just trying to keep me together.

My therapist said, “Angie, the body does not lie.
Your body is screaming.”

I wish I could read between the lines of whimpers and tremors,
hear you over the static of neurons firing,
interpret your flailing language.

You pull words from my grasp, replacing them with stutters,
empty holes where language once was.
You reach over and shake me, pull my eyes back into my head
begging me to see your secrets hidden there.
You ache and cry with crippling pain,
and still I cannot translate what you are saying.

Together we dream of dancing.
You remember extended limbs, thigh muscles tight, toes pointed,
arms circling ‘round yourself before flinging out to embrace the world.
I remember exhileration, warm sweat on skin,
looking in my spouse’s eyes and laughing.

Together we repeat the words,
“We will get through this.”

Together we repeat the words,
“We are strong.”

Together we dance in new ways,
limps jumping and head nodding to music only we hear.

You are not someone I can visit between the hours of nine and five,
bringing flowers and cookies.
I cannot come and go as I please, leaving your side to go home to my life.

This is my life.

I am within you and you hold me, and we both are here,
in light and dark.
You are here, trying to make me understand,
trying to be heard.
I am here trying to hold on to hope and possibility
trying to be heard.

You ask me to listen,
and I ask you to listen.
You say, “one day we will dance again,”
and I promise I will not be
just a visitor in my own body.


 

IMG_2158-300x225Angie River is an educator, activist, and performance artist. She also has chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, PTSD, and a handful of other things which impact the ways in which she moves through the world. Angie has discovered that writing helps her to process the things her body is doing and the emotions she experiences. She is currently in the process of writing a series of poems based on her medical bills, as well as taking a series of chronic illness self­-portraits. She will be presenting in June at The Body Love Conference in Tucson, Arizona on the power of telling our stories, as well as on disability and performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seema1

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

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

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

Baking Pies & Introducing Gems

By Seema Reza

IMG_5390.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Creating Safe and Sacred Space

IMG_4905by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was a new writing workshop, just a few weeks old. Three people had been coming from the beginning, a fourth had joined this particular day. She — I’ll call her Shandell — was nervous; letting me know she hadn’t written in a long time and backing herself into the corner of the couch in self-protective mode.

After I explained the process of this writing group, including the fact that there is never any obligation to share — “I want you to feel safe to write whatever it is you need to write” — I gave the first prompt. In the ensuing silence all that could be heard was the scrabble of pen and crinkle of paper as they scribbled away. Then time was up. 

One by one the writers shared their words, asking Shandell last so she would have a chance to see how it all worked. She declined. I thanked her and moved on. Second prompt. Again, silence and scribbling. 

This time when I looked at Shandell and asked if she’d like to share, she responded, “I wasn’t going to, but now I think I will.” Tears glistened in her eyes as she heard her own words in her own voice. When she was finished the room seemed to exhale. She smiled meekly but I could see the joy in her eyes. From then all, she always shared her writing which made us sometimes grin, sometimes laugh, and always nod in understanding.

This is what can happen in a group or workshop where a sacred or safe space has been created. With this type of writing — or any workshop which calls out the deep and personal — it is vital that the participants feel safe in their emotional nakedness. 

First, let me explain how I understand safe/sacred space. “Safe Space” is fairly self-explanatory: A place where participants feel safe to speak up and out without judgment or repercussion, or fear that their confidence will be betrayed outside the “walls” of the workshop. 

“Sacred Space” is safe space with an added dimension — and this is more elusive and sometimes dependent on the personality of the facilitator and the dynamic of the group — that of Connection. For me, sacred or spiritual means connection to something within and beyond ourselves; to the others in the room, to the nature outside the window, to our Higher/Wiser Self which comes through the writing, and to whatever Source one believes in. It is creating — or tapping into — an energy that is both at once vibrating madly with creativity, and calm and meditatively introspective.

Here are some ways I have found work well to create Safe and Sacred Space:

  • Sit in a circle.
  • Read a confidentially agreement (I use Kathleen Adams’ C.A.R.E.S.: Confidentiality, Acceptance, Respect, Encouragement, Support).
  • Encourage sharing but make it very clear it is optional and no judgment is held towards someone who chooses to pass.
  • If you plan to have discussion after sharing (which, in a reflective/expressive writing group should never be a critique of technique, unless it is with genuine praise), let participants know they always have the option to just be “witnessed.” If a piece is particularly emotional or the writing poses questions through which the writer is working and for which s/he doesn’t need/want well-meaning advice, “witnessing” asks the group to listen respectfully and “respond” only with silence. If the reader is emotional, send him/her loving energy and virtual hugs — never real ones (this can wait until after the group IF the group member is comfortable with the gesture).
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. After someone has shared their work, don’t rush to say something just to fill space. If there’s going to be discussion, allow listeners a moment to take in what they’ve heard and then to form their thoughts. If there is no discussion, wait a moment before thanking the reader and moving on. Sitting with the after-silence can be as powerful as the words themselves.
  • Using some kind of time-keeping device (I use a meditation chime app on my phone) can avoid the difficulty of corralling run-away discussions and assures every member of the group that they will have equal time to share. 
  • After someone has read, thank them. It takes courage to make oneself vulnerable in this way. 
  • Above all, as facilitator listen, really listen. Model for other participants that listening to each other’s deep wisdom is powerful for everyone in the room. 

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is a writing and creativity facilitator, certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy, and freelance columnist living in Vermont. Her blog and workshop info can be found at her website, wisdomwithinink.com