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)

May2015

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)

mharris

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)

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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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Who Am I – Unravelling Myself with Words

by Stefanie M Smith

Since I discovered the TLA Network and taken some classes I have begun to use journaling and creative writing more consistently, and one of the biggest issues that it is helping me to unpick is the jumbled knot within my mind shaped in part by the perennial question – Who Am I?

Like most people there have been many names, roles and titles that can, and have, been applied to me over the years, and like most people (I suspect) I have gotten tied up in knots over the presumptions and expectations titles can place on us or that they help us to place on ourselves. These expectations can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing.

In my professional life I have been many things: legal secretary, bank clerk, PA, project co-ordinator, nurse, hypnotherapist, reiki therapist, whilst in my personal life the various roles I experienced are sadly not all as positive and sometimes the edges between them blur a little too.

In my early life I was a great adventurer travelling with my father behind the Iron Curtain into the then Communist Czechoslovakia, and later to the Netherlands. Sadly my role of adventurer was to end when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, passing away when I was 10; the remainder of my childhood became unrecognisable as I became the daughter of an alcoholic mother and the victim of incestuous sexual abuse. I left home as soon as I could and rushed headlong away from this into becoming girlfriend, wife, mother, victim of psychological abuse which inevitably led to new roles: divorcee and depressive single mother.

Being the mother of two small children who needed me, I did what people do; I picked myself up and started again, trying to pretend this blip never happened, ignoring the push to look inwards and heal. I managed to keep my life on a very basic level: work, pay bills, feed the kids, repeat. I found a new partner and a new career, retraining as a nurse, and everything seemed to muddle along nicely.
Then I got ill.

Yet again I found myself grieving the loss of a career. One I truly loved and was heavily invested in. It was part of me I was part of it. I was a nurse but then suddenly I wasn’t. It was really difficult to separate the two and I found depression striking me down again, but this time my mental health issues came on top of my physical difficulties, lengthening my recovery considerably. Yet again I realise, in hindsight, that I had allowed the role of nurse to merge into my identity, if it was part of me rather than just something I did, how could I leave it behind?

So there I was aged 40 and living with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition comprising elements of pain, fatigue and depression. At first I allowed myself to sink to new depths of despair, wondering what to do with my life, what had brought me to this point. I was initially ready to blame any external sources I could find. Then I realised I wanted out of those depths; despite several attempts at rising from the ashes with the help of my friends and partner, talking therapies and anti-depressants, I always had seemed to stumble back down at some point, never quite escaping the roles that seemed to taunt me; Victim, Failure.

I needed to find a new route, one I could walk by myself.

There are many theories behind the causes of Fibromyalgia but some recent studies seem to highlight a link to childhood trauma, which in my case could explain a lot. I hadn’t realised that by blocking out the traumatic events of my later childhood I had built a barrier in my mind that also blocked out earlier, presumably happier memories. I had cancelled out a large portion of my life; giving me very shaky foundations to build upon. It was what I had needed to do to survive at that time, but now I recognised that I needed to go back into my past root out and explore those traumas, finally laying them to rest in order that I could begin to move forwards.

When I first went in search of those memories all I found was a tangled mess of abuse, neglect and trauma. Slowly though, with the support of my partner and by working through some TLAN classes I managed to begin to unravel some of the snarled up threads, gaining glimpses of new memories, insights into my story, and the more I explore, the more I see. I had rediscovered my love of writing and I realised it was providing me with a coping mechanism, and helping me to finally reject the roles of Victim and Failure. I had unintentionally discovered the growing field looking at the therapeutic benefits of writing.

And now: I journal; when I get upset, I unravel my emotions in words; I recall some small snippet – I jot it down; I read my words back, I write poetry; if I get stuck, I journal about being stuck ……. and so it goes on, each word written, either on its own or in conjunction with many, uncovers another piece of my mystery. So for me journaling has most definitely been the way forward in discovering Who I Am.

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

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

Right Livelihood: In Search of Runes-Part 3

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

Shall I become a Rune Master?

During the years that included marriage/children/divorce/single parenthood and my first explorations into runes I was content in my log cabin at the foot of the mountain on the far end of a long dirt road. We had limited, dial-up internet at the time, and I was not subscribed to a cable TV network, so most of my worldly news came through the Times-Argus, our local paper. One day I saw an ad for a “Power of Words” conference at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and since I was only living an hour from the campus, I called a friend who lived near Goddard to see if she had a spare bed for the weekend. When she said “Yes”, I signed up for the three-day event. The first night’s keynote speaker brought me face-to-face with Julia Alvarez, a favorite author of mine. I just did a quick google search of Julia and read through her bio. I was not surprised to see that one of her personal realizations was: “Since ours was an oral culture, stories were not written down. It took coming to this country for reading and writing to become allied in my mind with storytelling.” These words would ring true for me many years later.

In my continuous, frequently frustrating, sometimes delightful search to answer the question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I noticed that so many of my interests involved nature. I was a kayaking teacher in the summer, and led snowshoe expeditions at a local ski area in the winter. I volunteered for a program called ELF (Environmental Learning for the Future) at my children’s elementary school. I had been a self-taught animal tracker for years and was an active member of a local organization called “Keeping Track”. The director’s name was Susan Morse, and oddly enough, that was also my sister’s name. Her middle name was Carol, so we bonded and I became one of her most devoted followers.

Under Sue’s tutelage I learned about trees, plants, water sources and wetlands, connectivity of habitat, behavior, seasonal differences, social and privacy needs. Her favorite critter was the bobcat, an elusive, solitary, nocturnal predator who was on the “protected” list. When we were out on a tracking expedition in search of the wily feline, we looked at scat (poop) and could tell what the hungry omnivore had been eating (birds, rodents, deer, berries, eggs). If it was a particularly lean year, domestic cats or small dogs might be on the menu as well. Since my involvement with Keeping Track, I can’t pass by a pile of poop without checking it for content (hair, feathers, bones, berries), and whenever I find some mud and see a clear foot print I check to see if it is cat (one leading toe with no toenail indentations) or dog (4 toenail marks). So, the world of nature has been a familiar one for me and when I first found out about runes, I was able to identify with much of the language that was being used to describe each individual symbol.

Wild animals have many ways of communicating – bears rub up against the rough bark of red pine trees to leave hair behind and dogs and their relatives leave their personal calling-card’s scent of pee just about everywhere. Only humans have developed meaningful symbols to pass on detailed information. Over a thousand years ago, during the time of the Vikings and the meandering Nordic tribes in Scandinavia, the first runic marks were found on sticks, bones and rocks. Because there was no written language at the time, all of the knowledge surrounding the use of runes continued on through word of mouth. Just like the whispering game where people sit in a circle and repeat a phrase received in one ear and passed to the next person, the final combination of words didn’t always end up identical to what was originally spoken. The same was true with runes – the interpretation was not “set in stone”, so to speak. There was fluidity, nuance and similarity, one locale’s version and another’s explanation. But ultimately, the bridge of connecting threads was woven together by the spoken word, the communication and connection with an other, and the personal awareness of relativity to one’s own experience.

Runes were useful tools for initiating dialogue, investigating options, delving into past experiences and narrowing down choices. They were a means, but not an end. Somehow, years ago, the elements came together in my constellation and I felt the calling to runes.

I just had to figure out a way to take my skills and my knowledge and transform them into a profession…

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

Right Livelihood – In Search of Runes: Part 1

by Carol Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of an ongoing, 5 part blog chronicling the author’s journey with TLA.

I began my voyage towards a “Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certification” two years and two months ago. I needed a new start, a new direction and a new focus, so I signed up for classes that provided me with the tools to Gather Courage, the keys to the Values of the Future, and the skills to figure out how to Change the World with Words. Today, as I look toward my next evolution and see where I am as a result of my history with TLA, I do so with a sense of sadness, liberally sprinkled with pride, as the finality of an ending begets the excitement of a new beginning. The past two years have brought about a huge change in my life, a change that continues to amaze and astound me. I have been given the opportunity to re-create myself once again.

When I first put together my TLA Network Profile I listed my profession as “Granny-nanny” and this was my short Bio:

“I just made the decision to quit my job, sell my house and all of my belongings, retire and move from Vermont to the Bay area in California to be near my new and first grandson, Dylan, and his family (they live on a 41′ sailboat!). I LOVE California, but miss Vermont and my friends and expect to return to the Mad River Valley some day.”

My profile picture showed me on the sidewalk in front of the sweet, affordable ($1000.00/month), 740 square foot, one bedroom, one bath cream-colored stucco apartment that was my first home in 42 years not situated in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Located two blocks from my beloved Dylan, I was able to walk to the marina in 8 minutes. I’m standing in front of my new-to-me bright red Prius named Ruby Begonia with my new-to-me electric yellow 16’ long Eddyline Nighthawk sea kayak proudly perched on top. Life was good. I was living the dream (California, right?) with a car that could zip me around town getting 50 miles per gallon and my fantasy boat that could provide unlimited adventures around the San Francisco Bay.

Two years later, Dylan is now the toddler with a “never take no for an answer” attitude (remember the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons?), the Prius is history (kept having battery problems) and I traded it in for a dependable slate blue-grey Corolla, the sea kayak is gone (found a shorter, fatter, more kid-friendly model at REI) and the one-bedroom is now a two-bedroom ($1800.00/month) on the other side of town (long story…). I rarely get to San Francisco because the traffic is horrific, and I sold the building lot in Vermont that I hoped to put a tiny home on some day, but, I’m still standing, thank you, Elton John:

“Don’t you know that I’m still standing better than I ever did
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
And I’m still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”

To be continued!

 

Carol ThompsonCarol Thompson moved from the Mad River Valley in Vermont to Benicia, California on Christmas Day, 2014, in order to be close to the marina where her first grandchild and his family live on a 41′ sailboat.  A life-long learner, Carol has a BS in General Studies and holds certificates in Counseling & Human Relations, Non-Profit Management and will soon be certified in Introductory Transformative Language Arts.    Two of her main interests are the study of Runes  and the creation of beautiful miniature succulent gardens.   She has taught Introduction to Runes classes in Vermont, California and New Zealand.  A DNA test confirmed her Scandinavian ancestry.

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.

melpromo4

 

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.

Chrysalis is open for submissions!

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Chrysalis is an online, peer-reviewed, international journal that publishes critical, creative, and reflective work on the use of language arts to create personal and community change.

Dedicated to the research and practice of Transformative Language Arts (TLA), it is a foundational resource for those who are currently studying or practicing TLA; for those interested in the power of the spoken, written, and sung word to engender change in both the reader and the writer; and for those who seek to discover that power.

You are invited to submit material to Chrysalis that challenges, inspires, educates, and guides us to grow the community of Transformative Language Artists.

  • Creative writing, audio and video products (poems, short stories, essays, etc.) accompanied by a short reflective paper regarding the process of writing the piece and its relevance to the transformation of the author and/or the author’s community.
  • Narrative accounts of TLA projects in action in communities, or experiences practicing TLA alone and with others.
  • Critical writing related to the power of words, including qualitative and/or quantitative studies, and other related investigations of TLA scholarship.

Submissions are made through Submittable on the Chrysalis website. The open submissions period is November 1, 2017 – February 1, 2018.

Unpicking The Wound With Words

by Stefanie M Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.

karen

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.

When Writing Doesn’t Make Your Heart Sing

by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was my dream job. I mean, come on! Getting paid to research the life of a historian and prolific writer while looking out over Lake Champlain from the picture window of said dynamic woman’s former home? Writing up her story, choosing the visual pieces from her myriad scrapbooks, and designing the layout of the book? And having my name on a published book at the end of it? The freelance gods had smiled on this writer-graphic designer-history buff.

For two years I worked on this project and loved every minute of it. Well, almost every one. As any writer will tell you, pursuing our craft is actual pretty tortuous. Most sane people would wonder why we do this to ourselves — over and over again. Richard Hass puts it this way: “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”

And so, we keep writing in order to be in that “tolerable state,” if only for a few minutes. (Case in point: I started writing this post barely an hour after finishing my weekly column. It had, for some reason, taken me far longer than necessary this morning. I just wanted to be free of it, get it off to my editor. But no sooner had I grabbed some lunch, my fingers were once again hungry for the keys, and so here I am.)

The truth is, at moments throughout that two years of putting the book together, I would find myself feeling down. Tearful even, especially when I was writing the text (as opposed to doing the layout work). I wondered what my problem was — I was, after all, doing something I had dreamed of doing for, what? Ever? So, what was it?!

When I first became a columnist for my local paper (another dream come true), after a couple years of writing about my community and the go-getters within it on a weekly basis, I found myself feeling the same kind of yearning. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy writing for a living, far from it. It was that I needed something else, in addition, in my writing life.

Then I realized: I missed heart-writing. Writing from the heart.  

Once in awhile, in my column, I would decide to write about something that was important to me, something that pulled me emotionally in one way or another. I would always write these off-the-cuff, no interview or research, just me speaking from a place of personal truth. Heart-writing. While I would feel slightly raw and vulnerable when I clicked “Send” to my editor, I would also feel refreshed, more alive. And inevitably the feedback from these types of articles would be overwhelmingly positive. People would email me or even sometimes approach me at the coffee shop to thank me.

My other columns, the more fact-based ones, were, I came to call them, head-writing. This historical book was also head-writing.

Heart-writing versus head-writing.

Although I continued to journal all through this book project and once in awhile made time to write a personal blog post, I missed personal essay and memoir writing. Due to time constraints in the second year of the book, I’d also decided to call an end to my heretofore weekly sacred circle writing group where, although I was facilitating, I would write along with the participants from the deep soul-searching prompts. I missed communing with my heart.

I am a TLA practitioner — for others and for myself. I feel I was born to be. I need to write

On those days when I want to cry from frustration over an essay, article, or memoir section and my husband asks me again why I do this [to myself], I tell him, as I have told others over the years, I can’t not do it. I have to. I have to have “just written” from the heart over and over again.

So, while I will continue to Head Write for a living as needed, I will make sure that my heart gets a say too, and as often as possible. Because that is what makes my soul sing. And if my words give voice to another person’s soul, then I have done my true work.

joannatebbsyoung2Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA, a graduate of Goddard College’s Transformative Language Arts concentration, is a freelance writer and Expressive Writing facilitator and coach living in Rutland, Vermont. Her book, Lilian Baker Carlisle, Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure: A Scrapbook Memoir, was published in June 2017 and is available through cchsvt.org. Joanna blogs at wisdomwithinink.com and rutlandwhen.wordpress.com. Her column can be found at rutlandreader.com/category/columns/circles/



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.