Journaling for Life Transformation by Susan Hulsebos

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Counting by Susan Hulsebos

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

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

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

A Counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monadnockaunt-marion

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

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

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

This perfect aim you take,
toward us.

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

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

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

Playwriting & Identity, by Latisha Jones

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Three Little Kids on a Log, by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the fifth post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification. You can find her earlier posts here.


signed up for an all-day write-a-thon. I had wanted to attend one of these for a long time, but something else always came up. I had never attended one, but had heard some good things about it.

I read from the description we would be writing “to prompts.” I expected a series of exercises where we would be given a prompt, write to it, and do some sharing; then on to the next prompt, throughout the day. Safe. Routine. Predictable.

Instead, it was very different. We sat down, were given a page of around 30 prompts and were told to just write.

I found this challenging, especially for my concentration. I am usually a quick thinker AND quick writer. But after around an hour, I found it challenging to stay focused. I wanted to get up and turn on my phone. I wanted to go outside. I wanted to read/ relax/ filter/ withdraw. It was intense. I felt uneasy. Just being there with my writing.

For the first few hours, I played around. The writing I did was fun, but it didn’t really resonate with me. Then, nearing the end, something finally “clicked”. It was as if all the previous writing was the warm up, preparing me for this as it wanted to come out. It just poured out.

The prompt was: “Three little boys are sitting on a log in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky”.

The poem reflects a lot from my spiritual path/and background. I was brought up Unitarian. My ancestral heritage is Judaism. I attend Quaker meetings, and belong to a feminist women’s Goddess tradition called Mystai of the Moon. All of these religious paths have one thing in common: the belief that there is no intermediary between the seeker/worshiper and Source. No authority who can tell one what to think. Personally, I don’t believe that any of us can really know ALL or even a lot of what/who/God/Goddess/Spirit/Creator really, so each human being (and who knows? Even every squirrel?) has, not Truth, but a small part of the truth.

And the story that emerged in my day of writing reminds me a lot of the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Three Little Kids on a Log

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears a booming, majestic voice saying:
“I am the source of truth! I am absolutely right! You are powerless. You must submit to me and obey me in everything!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a gentle soft voice saying:
“I am the Goddess! I am the nurturer, the Mother. I bring you love and compassion!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears a calm, measured voice saying:
“The only truth is within.”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears only silence.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He hears many many voices all talking at the same time. He doesn’t understand what they are saying.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She sees and feels, the bugs crawling on the log. She scratches her arm.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He looks down at the log and decides to move it. It is too heavy to move.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He doesn’t see much up there. He looks down at the log. It seems like a pretty ordinary log. Nothing much. He wishes he could chop up the log and make a more comfortable bench with it. He thinks he could make some money selling benches that are made from logs. He finds an ax and starts to chop down some trees.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a hateful voice screaming:
“The other voices are all demons! The little girls who listen to them are heretics! They must all be destroyed! They must all be killed!”

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. All three of them look up at the sky.
They see different things so they start to argue about what they saw. They start throwing stones at each other. One little kid falls down and doesn’t get up again.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He sees only clouds. Dark storm clouds. He runs and hides from the clouds. Digs himself a hole in the ground.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She feels that she should cleanse herself. Purify herself. She jumps in the stream and bathes. She doesn’t feel any cleaner.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
He stands up, sits down, closes his eyes. And sits. And breathes.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. One of them looks up at the sky.
She hears a voice saying “Go and find food. “ She sees some berries and she offers some to the other little kids. They all enjoy eating together.

Three little kids sit down in a forest by a stream. None of them look at the sky.
They look into each other’s eyes. They all hold hands and they start to dance.

Writing Truth & Beauty: Using Photography for Inspiration, with Kelly DuMar

Editor’s Note:  Presenters at the Power of Words Conference wanted to share about their work. This week, we feature a couple of those that did not get posted before the conference.

Kelly DuMar shares about her workshop.


Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Personal Photos For Creative Inspiration and Healing

aunt-marionWe all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. Photo albums and unsorted pictures may fill our attics and basements or cover our walls in frames. We store them on our computers and cell phones and share them instantly on social media. Each of us is generating and storing an amazing archive of inspiration. Have you mined the creative writing potential of your photo stream?

My workshop at The Power of Words Conference helps you explore your pictures in poetry and prose. What do you take pictures of? What do you want to preserve? What moves and mystifies you? Who are the people, places, things & experiences that bring meaning, healing and transformation into your life? This is how we will write together.

My Writing Truth & Beauty process guides you to explore the unspoken world of your images. By asking yourself questions, you’ll generate remarkable raw material that reveals insight and emotion you can shape into beautiful, original writing. You’ll start by sharing a photo with other participants, exploring why you chose it, then reflect on probing questions to generate your raw material. You’ll craft a first draft you can share if you choose. Then we’ll explore ideas and suggestions for expansion.

Writing Truth & Beauty from personally chosen helps you:

  • Find creative inspiration in unexpected places
  • A truth you didn’t know you knew
  • A new idea about an old belief
  • A transformative personal revelation, insight or awareness that allows you to live more meaningfully
  • Something you have been unable to see/express/articulate that leads you to a new way of knowing yourself or others and changes your response to the community/world

Here’s a personal photo I spontaneously snapped in an unexpected place – my father’s Alzheimer’s unit. This photo haunted me for days and weeks until I finally sat down and unpacked the story of its beautiful mystery. Here it is, paired with the writing it inspired, bearing a truth a didn’t know I knew, a new awareness, a revelation and a new way of understanding my father’s legacy of love.

Are You Doing the Wonderful?

It’s a sunny summer morning and Memory Care is pleasantly chaotic, chatty with Sunday visitors looking for the one they belong to. My sister and her first granddaughter are visiting my father when I arrive. His first – his only – great granddaughter is looking up into his eyes from her seat on his lap. He no longer has words to call her by name. And her exact relationship to him is a sweet kind of mystery. But his smile shows he is certain this girl on his lap is wonderful.

dad-alaina-bw-copy-2

We all need the blessing of someone special who believes wholeheartedly in our wonderfulness long before we have reason to believe in it ourselves. Someone who expects us to do wonderful things with the gifts we’ve been given. For some it’s a parent, best friend or a spouse, a teacher or mentor, even a child. It may come from someone we’ve never met in person. Maybe it comes from a spiritual source, like the voice of God in Rumi’s poem, Prayer is an egg, translated by Coleman Barks –

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy

your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes?
What did you make with

your five senses while they were dimming and playing out?”

We need to hear the voice so we can internalize this voice – make it our own, to believe we are wonderful, we can be wonderful, we have wonderful work to do in the world before we leave it. So many things get in the way of wonderful. Self-doubt is a paralyzing. We need to keep this voice of belief in our wonderfulness somewhere deep inside yet readily accessible.

My father no longer has the words to say what a picture shows. He wants his great grand daughter to know her wonderfulness been seen – and recognized. He wants her to imagine his voice, picture his smile in a moment she’s lacking confidence or grace or energy. He has held her and looked into her eyes so he trusts. He trusts her to risk doing her wonderful work in the world.

If you couldn’t make it to the workshop in person, you can download my free pdf guide, Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Photos for Creative Inspiration by subscribing to my monthly newsletter at http://www.kellydumar.com


Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1Kelly DuMar is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops for creative writers across the US. Her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014 and her plays are published by dramatic publishers. Her newest chapbook, Tree of the Apple, poems and prose inspired by her father’s Alzheimer’s, is forthcoming by Two of Cups Press. Kelly passionately supports women writers to develop new work in her roles as a board & faculty member of The International Women’s Writing Guild, as well as founder & producer of the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights held at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year. She is a TLAN Council Member who produces the Let’s Talk TLA bi-monthly video conference. Her website is kellydumar.com, and you can follow her on Twitter & Instragram @Kellydumar

“Wordless” by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the third post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification. You can find her earlier posts here.


Terrorist attacks in the US and abroad. The shooting at the Pulse nightclub. Shootings of Black men by police. Shooting of police officers.

Angry words by Donald Trump. Condemnations of immigrants.

The words and acts go.on and on.

As I get older I get more and more drawn to quiet and solitude and silence… I feel more and more, a desire to go BEYOND words. Beyond their limits.

And I wonder:

Why can’t we shut up and just quietly look into each other’s’ eyes, and see the Light there?

I felt drawn to write this poem about the events going on and also felt moved to invoke the elements of nature: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. The power of words. But also the limit of it. What happens, where do we go when we are wordless? Maybe inside ourselves but maybe to each other?

I was also inspired by the title of the TLA Conference: Power of Words.

We all matter. Infinitely. Each human life is sacred.

 

Wordless

by Laurie Pollack

 

Words
I always thought
Always believed
Words have power

Campfire warmth
Sun melting snow
Sparks blowing high
Glowing coals
Flickering  candle
Forest fire
Nuclear blast
Words are Fire

Stream running over rocks
Ocean wave breaking
April rain misting down
Arctic glacier
Blizzard
Flood
Tsunami
Words are Water

Garden Seeds planted
Trees shedding leaves
Deep dark cave
Sandy beach
Geode crystal
Desert cliff
Landslide
Quake
Volcano
Words are Earth

Baby’s first breath
Evening breeze
Clouds in the sky
Hurricane
Tornado
Words are Air

No. It can’t be true. Words lose their power.

Please say this didn’t happen
Please say he isn’t gone
Please say she isn’t dead
No you can’t bring him back with words
No you can’t bring her back with promises
With statements about how sorry you are.
All I have is silence anymore
And still I want to look
Into your eyes
And see the Light in them.
Can we walk on in silence and carry
Their memories on the
Air, Fire, Earth and Water?
Human life is Spirit

Rewriting Myself, by Judith Hannan

Judith HannanWhen my younger daughter was born, she greeted me with her rigid body, as if the air had shocked her. This girl will not easy to raise, I thought. And, for a while, it was true. I was never a believer in old-souls, but Nadia appeared to have come to me with so many lessons already learned. I was never sure who was raising whom. What should my answer have been when, at age two, she said to me, “When I was your mommy, I used to give you your pacifiers”?

“You were a good mommy,” I answered, thinking this was an appropriate response.

Then, when she was eight years old, Nadia was diagnosed with a Ewing’s sarcoma. I had no doubts about what I needed to do now. I had to sit with Nadia in the hospital playing endless rounds of Spit and watching every episode of “S Club 7.” I had to administer medications and change bandages. I had to pulverize Nadia’s food and rub her tummy. One of Nadia’s doctors told me that he and his colleagues would do their best to cure my daughter. My job was to continue to raise her. I was reminded that Nadia would need more than my caregiving.

At first, my writing practice offered no illumination as to what kind of mother I needed to be for Nadia. I have a chapter in my latest book, The Write Prescription: Telling Your Story to Live With and Beyond Illness, in which I write, “Sometimes I just need to throw my words on a page. Splat! I…I…I…, No…No…No…, You…You…You…, How…How…How…, Can’t…Can’t…Can’t… No holding back, no reflection, no filter.” But howling at the page, however necessary, does not make room for reflection.

Over time, as I went back over my words, I began to get tired of myself. I had to get off my rant. The only way to do that was to stop making myself the center of all my thoughts. What became obvious as I wrote was that I had no lightness about me. Nadia—still a child who believed in fairies and dreamed of flying— began to shrink whenever I came near with my somber face. When I told her that her hair was going to fall out, she refused to engage with me and ran to join her brother and sister as soon as she could.

As I began to shape my rants into a book that would eventually become Motherhood Exaggerated, I could see that I was an unsympathetic character. I had to rewrite myself. I would think more like a child. I would laugh more. I would take my cues from Nadia rather than follow my old patterns.

I debuted my new character the day Nadia’s hair fell out. I was awake before her and saw hairs strewn over her pillow and on the sheet. As Nadia slept, I brushed my hand along the top of her head. The hair came off like dandelion fluff. If this weren’t happening to my daughter, I could think it was kind of cool. But maybe I could make it cool for Nadia. So when she opened her eyes, I told her the day had come. Her hair was falling out. “Here. Feel it,” I said. You’ll never have a chance to pull your hair out like this again.” And so the hair pulling began and even brought Nadia’s siblings running to participate. At dinner that night, Nadia presented me with a bowl of “angel hair pasta.”

As I wrote, my character acquired other attributes. Having been raised with a strict moral code, I soon found myself in cahoots with Nadia’s twin brother, sneaking him into the hospital even though he was too young to visit. I had to write compassion into my character so I could see the role I played in keeping my husband out of our children’s lives and to recognize the full scope of his contribution to the family.

What I saw most clearly as I told my story was that I had spent the first eight years of Nadia’s life shrinking from what she needed me to be. When she challenged me, since age four, with her questions about death, when she sobbed over the pain of others, when her first words, “I do”, became her mantra, I was too impressed by her depth, her empathy, and her independence. But Nadia didn’t need answers; she needed a place to bring her fears, a shelter when her own power overwhelmed her. By the end of writing Motherhood Exaggerated I finally understood what I should have said to Nadia when she said she gave me my pacifiers when she was my mother. “You were a good mommy but it’s my turn to be the mother now.”

(Note: Nadia is now twenty-four and healthy and exchanged her dreams of flight for dance.)

Judith Hannan is the author of Motherhood Exaggerated (CavanKerry Press, 2012), her memoir of discovery and transformation during her daughter’s cancer treatment and her transition into survival. Her essays have appeared in such publications as Woman’s DayOpera NewsThe Huffington PostThe Healing MuseZYZZYVATwins Magazine, and The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. She teaches writing about personal experience to homeless mothers and at-risk adolescents as well as to medical students, and is a judge of the annual essay contest sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism-in-Medicine. She served as Director of Development of the 92nd Street Y and then for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. She now serves on the board of the Museum, Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects, as well as on three boards affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York—the Adolescent Health Center (where she now serves as President of the Advisory Board), the Children’s Center Foundation, and Global Health. She lives in New York.

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

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

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