Mother’s Day Writing Prompts

flowersmom

In honor of Mother’s Day, explore some of your motherly memories here with the following prompts:

  • Use color to describe your mother and three of four (or more) smilies comparing her to things of that color.
  • Write your mother as a flower. What kind of flower is she? Where is she planted? What fragrance envelops her?
  • In Yugoslavia, Mother’s Day seems more for the children then the moms themselves. The children have a tradition of tying up their mother and ransoming her freedom for gifts. What is an alternative Mother’s Day tradition you would like to have with your mother?
  • Write a letter to your mom with the starting like: “I have always wanted to tell you…”
  • Write about an adventure you and your mother had
  • If you are a mother, describe your proudest moment as a mom so far. Was it the time your child learned to read their first words? When they left the nest to start college? Something else? Recall how you felt at the time and what it meant for you as a mother.

I’m Changing My Story

by Susan Hulsebos

A recent writing class using narrative therapy prompts has revealed to me, once again, how much control the stories we hold in our lives have over our sense of identity and problems. Narrative therapy seeks to unhook us from problems resulting from stories we hold, and support us as we create new stories and an alternative story line we want to live out. I have definitely discovered some stories stored in my heart as a child which have given me problems as an adult. While the meta story for me has always been a felt sense of rejection, it wasn’t until I responded to a recent prompt by writing it out in detail, that I gained a true release in my spirit and new perspective on my story. The prompt asked me to write about a female caregiver from my childhood including things I wouldn’t ordinarily say. Right away my maternal grandmother popped into my head and I began to write. I never thought much aGrandmother Photobout her before. We weren’t close. And I always thought it was me.

What’s amazing about therapeutic writing—getting the whole story out—is how adult perspective on a childhood problem is often all that’s needed. Ahhhh! I sigh as light bulbs start going off as I write, Of course you felt that way. She never had a personal conversation with you or really liked it when you came to visit. She was still in mourning for her husband’s early death and besides—“children are to be seen and not heard” was your family’s child-rearing motto. Grandma was elegant and flawless, I had skinned knees and sticky hands. I was a cute little kid, she was an aging glamour queen.

All of the deeper insights and releases I have experienced while writing to therapeutic story prompts I could not arrive at any other way. There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice. As I began to explore my childhood hurts from Grandma, I ended up writing about the time, as a teenager, I walked into her room and caught her naked. She was standing with one thin leg propped on the bed and clipping her silk hose onto her satin garter belt. This grandmother, a woman I knew as cool, unavailable and uninterested in me, who never bonded with me as a child, laughed and excused my awkward mumbles. She didn’t care at all that her little boobs were hanging down like silk hankies. This was the first time I felt like a lady in her presence, and I bonded with her. I think I asked to borrow her nail polish and left.

There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice.

At this point in the writing, the rest of the stories that came up allowed me to integrate our truths as family and as women. She was born in the early 1900’s. Her life derailed when her husband died at 45 and it never got back on track. She was a glamorous widow maintaining her beauty parlor coif and long painted nails, matching shoes and handbags until the end. What I know to be true is that she lived a very adult life in a very ordered house. As we got older, she played cards with us and we went to lunch, but her inability to grow close with me was not because I wasn’t interesting, smart, or stylish enough. It was because she didn’t have a taste for intimacy with kids.

This truth is the healthy break in my hurting childhood narrative that has healed my relationship her. It wasn’t just me—NO little kid got to sit on her lap or play with her. She didn’t play with toys; she played cards, smoked, and cracked snarky jokes. This type of truth-telling is a big part of regular therapeutic writing. By sorting out our stored impressions and truth-checking them we can stop creating problems for ourselves through buried, harmful narratives.

The goal of narrative therapy, typically led by a professional counselor, is to help the client re-author their story with truths to support a new life experience freed from the problematic stories of the past. I have found this to be a rich treasure of the process. I have re-authored characters in my past who I have come to see as being authentically different and unable to give me kind of love I needed when I was with them. So I’m changing my story.

My new story involves surrounding myself with people and communities where vulnerability, authenticity and supporting each others unique calling is primary. We talk about everything in intimate, sometimes hilarious conversations. And arriving at my new story line is reason enough for me to write regularly and with hope, every day.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.

“Everyone has something beautiful to say”

Do you prefer to read stories in a book? Listen to them on the radio or in a podcast? See them told live onstage or recorded in film? As you surely know, The Moth showcases stories in any and all formats. For 20 years, The Moth has nourished storytellers and listeners by providing a steady menu of fabulous “true stories told live” (and recorded for later broadcast, etc.).

The Moth’s website describes their anthology, All These Wonders, edited by Catherine Burns with a foreword by Neil Gaiman, as “a new collection of stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown.”

Interviewed about the new book on Salon.com, artistic director and collection editor Catherine Burns said, “One of these things we say at The Moth is that we’re really trying Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 10.02.52 AMto find the story about how you became you. We know it’s a tall order but that there’s truth in that, and everyone has that, has stories like that from their life. Will everyone find them and tell them in front of a crowd? Maybe not. But I think that most people, if you talk to them and listen very carefully, there are beautiful things. Everyone has something beautiful to say. We find that again and again.”

In the Salon article, Burns talks about how “highly processed” storytelling had become, with blockbuster movies and television programs—all requiring teams of hundreds to tell the tale. “I think this movement has come up because people love to just connect individually with one person, to hear one person’s point of view,” she said.

“Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.”          – Neil Gaiman, from his introduction to All These Wonders

The collection contains stories told by well-known writers and stories told by regular people—a scientist, a high school student, a former model, a business owner, and more. The settings range from the quotidian to the wildly unfamiliar; there’s a story about going to summer camp and one about going undercover in North Korea. While each is unique, they all share a sense of intimacy, as if the storyteller is speaking directly to the reader, divulging personal information in a moment of vulnerability.

Hearing (or reading) such absorbing stories is bound to have an impact on the listener. As Neil Gaiman recounts in the foreword to All These Wonders, describing what happened when he became a Moth podcast subscriber, “… every week somebody would tell me a true story that had happened to them that would, even if only slightly, change my life.”

 

The Telling Room: Proving the Power of Words

TellingRoom

Tonight, a story about Maine on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” began by claiming that Maine is the oldest and whitest state in the nation. But what may be true for the state as a whole is not true for its biggest city, Portland, home to recent immigrants and refugees from impoverished and war-torn places around the world. The children among them come with amazing stories.

Since 2005, as many as 3,500 students a year have had the opportunity to use poetry and prose to build their writing and storytelling skills at a special place called The Telling Room. Founded by three writers who believed that the power of story could change a community for the better, The Telling Room today reaches students and teachers in more than 30 Maine towns. Their paid staff of eleven, Teaching Artist in Residence, nine interns, and more than 200 volunteers provide individualized support to the young writers, some of whom are English language learners.

“The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.”

Both a physical place and a wide-ranging program, The Telling Room has been recognized with grants and awards, including a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award as one of the top twelve youth arts and humanities programs in the nation.

Every year since the beginning, The Telling Room has published an anthology of writings from that year’s group of students. Titles such as “Swimming to Safety,” “A Day in Three Worlds,” and “The Faithful Doves of My Father” illustrate the variety of experiences and perspectives found in these poems, plays, essays, and stories. As shown in the image above, this year’s anthology is entitled A Season for Building Houses.

My Inner Critic Is Not Having a Good Week

by Janet Toone

Responses to traumatic experiences produce one of three nervous system responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing. The third response, freezing, is the one response that provides survival for many children living with trauma.

One effect of freezing in response to trauma is that the developmental stage of that child becomes what is described in Internal Family Systems as an “exiled part.” For that child to be who they really are could endanger their welfare and even their life. I spent a lot of time frozen and I did not write while in a frozen state.

Keeping exiled parts silent is the job of what Internal Family Systems, developed by Richard Schwartz, calls “firefighters.” The purpose of firefighters is to reduce the feeling of shame, pain, and guilt, and most often involves impulsive behaviors including overeating, addiction, promiscuity, and workaholism. As I began the work of identifying, accepting, and nurturing my exiled parts, my personal firefighters, overeating and workaholism, went into overdrive. My internal civil wars between my firefighters and my exiled parts have at times been epic.

As I continued working on this extensive recovery process, I struggled for a long time to find safe ways for the multiple exiled stages of my childhood development to find expression and be free to emerge and exist in peace so I could begin the process of integrating. I am not sure when I realized that writing in their voices was one way to provide resilience to some of my exiled parts. One of those safe ways of letting my seven- to-nine-year-old self emerge is to write mediocre poetry with lots of rhyme on subjects significant to her experiences.

Courses on writing and writing about trauma have helped me explore this process. I am thankful for those who have read and provided feedback during this journey. My empty chair has been filled by a variety of individuals providing guidance and encouragement and has had significant symbolic meaning in this process.

My inner critic has fits regarding writing this poetry but she and I have come to an agreement that this stage of my childhood has this freedom. While my inner critic has been effectively subdued about the writing of the poetry, she is very uncomfortable with it being shared or heaven forbid published in any public form. My inner critic is not having a good week :).


“Butter, I need butter” hollered the ogre.
Midge went to the fridge and with relief
Found a small wedge of butter for him.
“This wedge of butter has a bad edge,” He squawked

Midge muttered, “I want to ask that judge
Why don’t you lock him far, far away?”

But Midge’s mother held her grudge and would
Not budge. Midge was not to utter a word.
“Oh fudge, this mess is a drudge,” muttered midge
This is another sad, bad, mad day.

Midge stepped outside the sqalid dark hovel
As a hawk hovered floating overhead
Then a butterfly fluttered by Midge’s head.
Nature would hold Midge together today.


Some stuff, if it happens often enough
Or is excessively, viciously rough and gruff
Changes the wiring in the brain and luffs one by the scruff.

Gettin in a huff will only cuff the brain like it’s been muffled.
Even if one sniffs around searchin for change stuff
It all feels like a bluff, like you’re still sittin on your duff,

Cuz there ain’t no pause button, no do overs, no backspace key
And you can wish, but wishin don’t even make pigs fly in fantasy pink skies.

 

* * *

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

Journaling for Life Transformation by Susan Hulsebos

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds

These lyrics speak to me of a morning journaling practice I started earlier this year. I have enjoyed writing creative non-fiction for years but find that personal journal writing, writing for life and healing, is so very different because it is transformative instead of “publishable” in intent.

Through the journaling process, I am learning how to form an intimate bond with my own life, coming to know myself as a supportive friend. This unfolding practice has also surprised me in how it has opened me up to be increasingly empathetic with others and interested in their stories.

 I find that I can write to my own ideas as if in conversation with them.

My interest in transformative writing developed through the classes I’ve taken with the TLAN network in pursuit of the TLAN Certificate. The weekly class prompts have been huge in transforming my writing practice. I can now easily shift into writing therapeutically, and not academically. Listening to what I am thinking, naming what I am feeling, discovering what influences my behavior and then working with these insights allow me to change my patterns. I find that I can write to my own ideas as if in conversation with them. I can challenge myself, encourage and develop a more vulnerable emotional expression – unedited, authentic and motivating.

So, in this new way of “knowing”, unpacking baggage, cleaning out the shelves and hidden drawers of accumulated experiences, I have gained a new hope for the future and what it holds. I have new confidence in the plans I make every morning, I trust myself more because I am less reactive and more familiar with what I need every day.

Journaling for life transformation moves me from being a numb, passive responder ( co-dependent ) into an informed advisor in my own life, a compassionate listener who is reliable and who I can count on to help develop a plan to work with whatever life throws at me. Living with increased vulnerability to myself has also brought me closer to God in that self-compassion and forgiveness for myself and others is growing. I do not have to fear “not being good enough” for a future someone else has planned for me. I can greet the future as an active participant and co-creator of my life story.

This prompt always feels opening, very simple, and non-threatening, and is a favorite from Write for Life, by Sheppard B. Kominars, Ph.D.: What surprised me the most today?

* * *

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. The post is excerpted from a writing prompt offered in Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s TLAN class, “Your Calling, Your Livelihood, Your Life.” Lyrics are from Des’ Ree’s “You Gotta Be.”

Three Strategies for Planning a Satisfying Writer’s Road Trip by Susan Hulsebos

Pack the car for adventure, gas up, and head out to find it–that pleasurable transformation of mind and spirit, arrived at in the middle of nowhere, on a satisfying road trip. Road trips fall into two general categories: A) the pounding down the miles to a single destination travel or B) the inner calling to transformative adventure travel (which is how my writer girlfriend and I pitched the idea to our husbands last fall). Travel around the world concept flat design

In our minds, this trip would be akin to an aboriginal walkabout except that we would, for the most part, remain fully clothed, bring coolers stuffed with pre-packaged salads, gin and tonic, wine, and chicken salad cups, and have reservations in strangers’ homes via Airbnb for four nights. So, although more of an American roll-about, the religiosity of wandering as a rite of passage and transformation remained intact.

We also chose to devote some time to collaborative writing and to photograph old cars and off- road oddities.

Our journey was successful in every way because we chose to plan a few key elements. Our top three strategies were:

  • Plan to hit three states in five days, stopping wherever and whenever anything piqued our interest or when one of us had to pee. (We both have a love for off-road oddities of all sorts and drink lots of coffee.)
  • This is not a “working” trip, nor will we craft assignments for each other to complete, nor keep a schedule or daily agenda. We met to brainstorm a list of supplies to have on hand for spontaneous art-making or photo shoots. We had a few half-formed scenarios in mind. I had made some art stickers to “install” along our trail. The fact that my buddy insisted on bringing duct tape, rope and a ladder was a bit scary.
  • Pick a general writing game to have on hand for long stretches of open road, or when cranky. In the way that all great parties have great hosts, we chose Basho, 17th century Haiku master and author of the party-poem form, Renga, to be our writing coach. We both love collaboration and concrete nouns. There are many forms of Renga, a linked verse poem, which was passed between guests at drinking parties and plays according to general rules such as who writes how many lines and some prescribed references to season and moon. Since our trip was scheduled for October, we chose a traditional Autumn Kasen Renga. Our template can be found in the following link, along with other seasonal forms: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thecageunhitched/RengaFrm.htm

I find casual collaborative writing with friends, using forms such as Renga, a very pleasurable way to practice Transformative Language Arts. It is far less strenuous than full on therapeutic personal journal writing, which I also practice daily. Renga is very well suited for small groups in person or online. However, having practiced Renga both online and in person, I highly suggest the party or social gathering format. When everyone is linking verses while in each other’s company, mutual experiences and shared environment add a special cohesiveness to the images. The final piece then stands as the lived expression of the occasion in much the same way abstract impressionist painters created works that imaged their lived experience while painting the canvas.

What follows are excerpts from different sections of linked verses written collaboratively on our last road trip. Again, these verses were not written with publication in mind; however, that could happen in the future. The verses hold impressions, associations, daydreams, and humor channeled on the open road in the voices of two writing friends and the road itself, who began to speak somewhere on day three:

a cello slides the black notes of Metallica
through the legs of market patrons buying produce

“Are you from Arizona?
I lived there 12 years and left”
the summer moon sticks to everything

that winter before my mom died
she made my dad fill the Christmas tree with angels

lying on the thin layer of snow
we flapped our arms and legs until the black dirt showed
“Look” you said “snow demons”
__________________________________

Driving away in my Chevy
I’m not even sure that I said good bye

Arriving in Bisbee, lightening cracks the sky over the
metal municipal bus, tiki theme, our nights’ rental
we paid 88 bucks for this?

One final thought, plans are underway to write the Kansen Renga form, the spring form, perhaps on a backpacking road trip. This just might evolve as a quarterly, seasonal writing journey. Why not plan a collaborative writing trip of your own making?

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

A Counting by Susan Hulsebos

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

      As a visual artist, too overwhelmed with loss and grief to continue working, I took up a writing practice to process the death of my son. I discovered the TLAN network while searching for an online class where I might receive weekly input, writing prompts, and connection to a caring and healing community while not leaving my house. Fortunately for me, the first class I found was Angie Rivers’s “The Five Senses and the Four Elements: Connecting with the Body and Nature through Poetry.” The class was perfect. It had just the right amount of lesson material, the prompts helped me explore small, controlled writing forms and led me to sensory experience in nature.

      For a mother in shock whose mind was numb, whose heart and days felt broken but also as someone who still had way too much energy to stay in bed, I needed healing in small yet controlled chunks. The following poem was written in that first class, in the double Etheree form (where each set of 10 lines has a syllable count that moves from 1 – 10 ) while I was trying to accept the fact that my son had just died in my home – the house he had just helped me move in to weeks before.

A Counting

One of two things I need to tell you, for
the first time, is that ten days ago
seven steps into the front yard
I stood still outside the one
window I had on you
while you lay dying
in my guest room
all alone.
Junkie.
Son.
Saved
from death
by overdose
you met cancer
as pennance for crimes
against yourself and us.
Secondly, I thought there was
still time, ten days ago. Not that
four sighs at two a.m. plus one cough
would end the count of your years at thirty.

      Reading this piece one year later, the fresh pain of loss is so present in those lines. I am grateful to have this poem as a marker, a touch-stone for myself of that time because now I count those first weeks as very precious. It was a time when his presence still lingered in those rooms. I can recall it now from a gentler but still grieving place, and it helps me stay connected to all of it.

      This is the power of Transformative Language Arts: to find a practice in the verbal arts to fully connect and voice the deeper movements in whatever experience we are living through. At present, daily journaling practice has brought me back into a flowing space where depression has lifted long enough that I am painting again. One new painting was recently juried into a show in my community. I doubted this would ever happen again. Before my discovery of transformative writing all hope was gone that I would ever feel like painting again. It felt too happy and nothing was happy. Also, painters can struggle with feelings of loss, grief or fear if the canvas isn’t developing like you hoped it would. Painting is risky and sometimes it just dies right in front of you no matter how much you try to resuscitate it. I had no resilience to resume this task so soon.

      But I had a deep urge to express what I was feeling and not just give in to numbing activities such as excessive drinking or cramming my life with activity. Both of which might give relief but would not heal the gaping hole in my heart. Healing from his death – especially with the emotional entanglements of his long addiction – is requiring intentional remembering of his life. The practice of writing down my feelings and memories, the hopes and disappointments, and recently moving into writing down how my life is moving on, is healing.

      “When we neglect the artist in ourselves, there is a kind of mourning that goes on under the surface of our busy lives.” I love this line from Pat Schneider in her book, Writing Alone and with Others. So, artists and creative people flooded with grief can be encouraged through TLA to not neglect the artist in themselves while grieving. Neglecting our voice, our expression, feels like being silenced which only fuels depression. A careful shift to another expressive form such as poetry, journaling or nature writing really can transform grief into manageable healing chunks. It might even evolve into a regular practice to help us navigate the longer seasons of grief when we must now come back to our work as a new person, living our “new normal.” I am writing daily, it is helping me stay connected to myself, my life and my memories. I am still alive. I am still doing my work and it’s richer now because it’s painfully deeper.

How Pictures Heal – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-51-37-amIt was nearing dawn, outside the little cabin in New Hampshire, when my Aunt Marion died, at fifty-five. All night I sat beside her, moistening her parched lips with ice cubes. When necessary, I changed her colostomy bag. Occasionally, I dozed off, but not for long. This was the third night of our vigil – my other aunt, her sister Virginia – slept in the bed beside us. My Aunt Marion had colon cancer and had come home – to her own bed, her cabin, her favorite lake, to spend her final days.

I was a twenty-two year old college student on summer break. Stepping up to care for my Aunt Marion as she died changed my life. Her death sparked an awakening for me of my own mortality and vitality. So, when, years later, I found this picture of my independent, powerful, adventuresome aunt – captured in this archetypal pose of the archer, like the goddess Diana, stretching her bow, aiming her arrow, I asked my mother if I could keep it. This photo had arrested my attention in such a mysterious, powerful way. I knew I needed to unpack all the deeper meaning and wisdom, truth and beauty it held. As I wrote my first photo inspired poem, “Monadnock,” the process of unpacking the emotional experience of the photo helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss. The poem, and the photo, helped me internalize this relationship and experience as a way of summoning inner wisdom, courage, strength and healing.

Since then, I have been leading writing and expressive arts workshops on writing from photos, integrating my training and experience as a psychotherapist, psychodramatist, poet, and playwright into my method.

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives.

In my 6-week online class, How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, starting March 1st, these treasured personal archives will be the source of inspiration for writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. This method of writing from personal and treasured photos can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally, by:

Entering the three-dimensional world of photographs to stimulate meaning, surprise, delight and possibility;screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-02-am

Embracing the imaginative wonder of exploring role reversal and altered point of view in photos;

Writing the truth and beauty of relationship histories, exploring significant rites of passage and recognizing gifts that keep on giving;

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-16-amExploring nature, landscape and favorite places photos to stimulate curiosity, spirituality, comfort, relief and aesthetic satisfaction and transcendence;

Crafting first drafts (exploring forms, including character portraits, essays, poems, Monologues, letters, dialogues and creative list-making) and applying tools for revision).

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-27-amWho Should Take This Class?

  • TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
  • Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
  • Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
  • Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
  • Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos may also be quite interested

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

How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, a 6-week online class with Kelly DuMar starting March 1st

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Southern Writers Conference, and Playback North America & more. Her poems are published in many literary magazines and her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and former psychotherapist. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she moderates, Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and she’s a member of Playback North America. Her new poetry chapbook, Tree of the Apple, about her father’s Alzheimer’s, is published by Two of Cups Press. You can follow her on Instagram @kellydumar and learn more about Kelly at kellydumar.com

Monadnockaunt-marion

This perfect aim you take
points toward some mysterious,
unconventional life.
You will never marry,
wear dresses,
make excuses.
You will love animals and women,
raise dogs,
teach other people’s children.

Baked dry as a bone,
you will bring Poncho and Bear,
back from the desert,
to bathe in Laurel Lake,
reeking of sage,
telling Indian stories.

You will teach us to hike
– to sing as we climb –
M-o-u-n-t-m-o-n-a-d-n-o-c-k!
It’s the thrill of your life
when you get to the top,
they say!

This perfect aim you take,
toward us.

Some day, when I am almost grown,
you’ll be too sick
to climb from your bed
for one last swim
I should help you take –
your bloated belly
rising like Monadnock
between us.

Death rattling your breath,
you will die at dawn
in my arms,
before you go, taking perfect aim
toward some mysterious peak
I will someday climb.

Copyright 2008 Kelly DuMar, All Rights Reserved (published in Emerge Literary Journal, and All These Cures)

Playwriting & Identity, by Latisha Jones

Editor’s Note: Latisha and I went to graduate school together. She is a tremendous educator, artist, and advocate. I’m thrilled to share some of her thoughts on theatre, playwriting, and identity — reminiscent of many conversation’s we’ve had. ~CMW


As a playwright, theater artist and educator, the written and the spoken word are intimately intertwined. I often write words intended to be performed aloud, and I speak my written words in order to clarify my thoughts. As a student of both creative and critical writing, I learned how the written word could free my voice and allow me to unravel and express the multilayered — and oft-contradictory — truths of my existence. It is utterly impossible for me to speak about my life as a writer without my social identities informing the narrative. I am a college-educated, 30-year-old black woman who grew up in a mixed class background with a single mother. I was raised in one of the richest counties in the United States, Howard County, MD, with a “private school level” public education system. I received my bachelor’s degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting from Drexel University and my master’s degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. I worked in public school education for about 5 years and have recently changed careers to Arts Administration. And my name is Latisha Jones.

Why the short biography? Because often times when artists who are minorities are asked to speak about their creative experience, they are asked to talk about their art separate from their social identities —  because it “makes people uncomfortable” — or they are asked to be the “representative” for their social identity and are seemly asked to speak for the likely millions of people who may have similar backgrounds. Both demands are nearly, if not completely impossible to fulfill, but many try anyway as a means of survival and learning to live as an artist. This is one of the many contradictions that can, at once, cause great anguish and yet prompt great art. For me, its life within these contradictions, either to explain them, use them or escape from them, which prompts me to create.

Art is often a method to temporarily make peace with the cognitive dissonance of everyday life. When used by the government and other hierarchical structures, the pacifying power of art can crush the critical discourse needed for a thriving, democratic society. In Ancient Greece, the theatre served three main purposes; to serve the gods, to tell the stories of the past and to release the “negative” impulses of the public that were seen as a threat to Greek social and political order. When used personally, the pacifying power of art allows us to find a place a calmness and focus in our chaotic lives. In the world of “Black Lives Matter”, constant stories police brutality, and Trump, the power of art is more necessary than ever to our well-being.

One of the ways I have tried to utilize the artistic power of the written word is by writing well-researched interactive plays for children. When I was a child, learning about African American history was a source of pride. I learned that there were writers, intellectuals, doctors and freedom fighters that looked like me. I was able to draw strength from stories of Harriet Tubman when I was feeling tired and weak; I drew strength from Shirley Chisholm when I needed to stand up for myself and from Sojourner Truth when I needed to speak. However, in working with the public school system, I’ve learned that some these stories which have the power to strengthen the resolve of children and help to prepare them for a society that is not always kind to their presence can sometimes be lost in the shuffle of standardized testing and academic benchmarks.

In order to help solve a problem within the elementary education and remind myself of the humanity of my heroes, I wrote plays that are meant to be performed by children and shown in a classroom environment. When I originally started writing my plays, I was still working in schools, so I had the opportunity to direct and teach children about their history while teaching them how to project and speak with eloquence. The end result was a community event which educated the parents and students that attended, informed the lives of the students who performed, and brought a community to celebrate some of the historical achievements of Black Americans.

The entire process of writing, teaching, directing and presenting these plays is transformative in the way that it gives me a small measure of solace in world where people need to be reminded that #blacklivesmatter, young black boys are tracked based on their reading scores in 4th grade and stories of police brutality are continually featured on the 24 hour news cycle. I cannot change my past or the way that people will perceive me based on external characteristics, but with my pen (or keyboard), I can create some measure of internal peace and clarity; and maybe be a positive influence for the people around me. That’s all any artist really wants, right?


12033156_10101513801406746_5933751511083360828_nLatisha Jones is the Program Manager and Outreach Coordinator  for the Children’s Chorus of Washington. She has her master’s degree in Educational Theater from New York University. She has worked as a theater teaching artist and teaching assistant for the past ten years. Her lifelong passion for the written word started from writing stories in the second grade and morphed into writing plays and movie scripts by time she was in college. She hopes to continue writing historical plays for children and inspire more dialogue.