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.

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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.

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

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.

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

by Karen Silsby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.

 

Quick, Change Modes!

by Barbara Burt

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baggage: How I Wrote My Way Through Self Destruction

by Melissa Rose

Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.

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This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.

As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.

I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.

Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.

Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.

I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.

I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.

baggage3

After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me.  I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Through writing and performing my story,  I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.

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.

 

 

Writing in concert

by Barbara Burt

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

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

I wrote this during the most recent workshop:

Writing in Concert

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

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

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

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