Sonya Renee Taylor is an Internationally acclaimed performance poet, actress, educator and activist who’s been seen on HBO, CNN, BET, MTV, and the Oxygen Network. She has performed on stages from New Zealand to Scotland to New York, and is currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She is the creator of The Body Is Not An Apology Movement
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.
On Sunday night, PBS will begin airing a ten-part, 18-hour series called The Vietnam War. I’m looking forward to watching it, and I’m dreading watching it.
For those of us old enough to have lived through that time, memories of the war are still painfully raw. As a country, we still argue about its lessons. In fact, there is so much controversy, we haven’t done a very good job of telling its history to younger generations.
Perhaps this television series will help correct that. No doubt, creating the documentary was a daunting task. How do you provide a window into so many conflicting perspectives? How do you bring to life so many different experiences?
PBS and the filmmakers wisely decided to open up the dialogue. They are soliciting and publishing personal narratives about the Vietnam experience from anyone with a story to tell (go to http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/vietnam-stories/ to join in). The stories have one thing in common: their diversity, in both the tellers and their experiences. There are stories of soldiers, of children who lost their fathers, of protestors, of conscientious objectors, stories of sorrow, of triumph, of loss, of courage, and more.
I’m sure the 18-hours of documentary will be instructive and often riveting. But these personal stories on the website bring an added dimension and deeper understanding of the effect the war had on us as a people. Together—the artfully crafted film by professionals and the informal heartfelt outpourings of self-appointed witnesses—paint a complicated and more complete portrait of a cataclysmic event.
TLA Blog (TLA) What inspired you to teach this class?
Sparks is a bi-monthly free tele-conference for all things TLA! Moderated by Kelly DuMar & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, this tele-conference is a great opportunity for anyone to learn more about TLA practitioners and their work in the TLA community.
When and Where:
Wednesday, September 6th
7:00 PM – 8:15 PM (CDT)
Online via Zoom video conference
(Kelly will arrive on the video conference at 6:45 p.m. CENTRAL so you can connect early & work out any glitches! You will receive links and numbers in your email after RSVPing.)
This month’s featured guest is Gregg Levoy.
Gregg is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion (Penguin), and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life (Random House)—rated among the “Top 20 Career Publications” by the Workforce Information Group. He is also the former “behavioral specialist” at USA Today and a regular blogger for Psychology Today.
As a speaker, he has presented at the Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Protection Agency, Microsoft, National Conference on Positive Aging, American Counseling Association, National Career Development Association, and many others, and been a frequent guest of the media, including ABC-TV, CNN, NPR and PBS.
A former adjunct professor of journalism at the University of New Mexico, and former columnist and reporter for USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer, he has written for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Omni, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, and many others.
Format of the Gathering
- Kelly and Caryn will interview Gregg for 30 minutes
- We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask Gregg questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.
- We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.
- You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!
with Kelly DuMar
Kelly DuMar is teaching the six-week online class “Your Memoir as Monologue” starting September 6, 2017. She’s a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year.
What inspired you to teach this class?
I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern.
Don’t you love the invitation to enchantment? The theatre, darkened, the stage lit.
Whether I’m in the audience or the playwright, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question, What if. . . is an invitation to be enlightened, and changed through storytelling.
I love helping writers tell powerful stories on the stage – particularly those whose voices
and stories have been unheard, silenced, trivialized or marginalized. Eleven years ago, I founded a play festival, Our Voices, for new and experienced women playwrights to have a uniquely supportive place to develop their stories for the stage. Our Voices is an all day play lab that has supported nearly 150 women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. I love how one participant last year describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:
“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness. I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice. Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”
How is writing for the page different from writing for the stage?
Collaboration with other artists is illuminating, joyful, and challenging – and writing for the stage requires it. Sitting day to day at one’s desk can be lonely. But writing for the stage invites us into a theatre – a rehearsal, into a relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage:
“One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage.”
Writing monologues for the stage makes the healing power of writing visible, visceral and accessible – not just for the playwright, but the audience as well. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing monologues for the stage is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.
What are some of your favorite dramatic monologues?
My favorite is definitely Emily Webb’s “Goodbye,” monologue in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town. What moves me in a dramatic monologue is when a character goes on a compelling emotional journey and takes me with her – she begins in one place and ends in another – she’s more awakened, and so am I. Watch these Youtube videos of two different performances of the Emily Webb role – the first is from a movie:
Here’s the same monologue in a recording of a stage performance:
What can students in this class expect?
We need spaces where we can give ourselves permission to un-silence our deepest truths and most authentic self. In Memoir as Monologue, I facilitate a safe, supportive, healing environment for writers to tap into their deep feelings and beliefs and find the courage and skill to share them for personal growth and craft them for performance. Participants can expect to express ordinary and extraordinary life experiences, and feelings and construct powerful, dramatic stories with universal appeal.
Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., C.P., is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year, and she teaches playwriting at the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly’s award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn,Heuer, Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and two poetry and prose chapbooks, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild and the TLAN Council, and she moderates SPARKS: a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner and leads an open mic. You can learn more at kellydumar.com
Praise for Kelly’s Monologue & Playwriting Workshops
“Memoir as Monologue taught me the power of my own story. Kelly’s guidance on creating effective drama, her concrete feedback on improving my work, the nurturing environment she created for participants and the excellent resources she brought to the table opened a whole new world for me. This was one of the most effective online classes I’ve taken.”
“Kelly provided excellent resources, offered valuable, timely feedback, sought our feedback as the course progressed and created a nurturing atmosphere. The opportunity to both write and hone monologues and then hear our work performed by a professional actress exceeded my expectations of the class. I learned the freedom monologues offer in contrast to writing.”
“[I learned] better ways to approach monologue than the ways I’d been trying; liked that I cracked open a tough nut of a story in a new way, identifying the core problem Narrator needed to solve (which was different from the problem she was trying to solve).”
“Thank you so much for guiding us all into a most wondrous experience . . . and your attentive intelligence in keeping us on track and focused as each shared and bared depths.”
“Your class was awesome, inspiring and so very insightful. What gifts you bring and give. Thank you!”
“Your memoir-to-monologue class has inspired a whole new project. Thank you. And thanks to my classmates. I learned so much from each of you.”
“Thank you for creating such a collaborative atmosphere of mutual support.”
by Barbara Burt
During the Power of Words Conference early in August, Caryn Merriam-Goldberg offered a generative workshop called, “Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash to Re-Vision Our Lives.” As she explained, “Midrash is the Hebrew tradition of re-interpreting and re-visioning our guiding myths and messages to foster greater meaning, freedom, and authenticity.” After examining different examples of midrash, she invited us to consider it in our writing. For some reason, the folktale of Snow White popped into my head. This and Sleeping Beauty and all the other tales of damsels in distress have long bothered me; these girls sleep until awakened by a handsome prince’s kiss—how passive and unimaginative those heroines are! Yet, through the power of Disney and myriad children’s books, they are role models buried deep in many young women’s consciousness.
I believe that midrash specifically refers to retelling or commentary on the Torah; Snow White is no sacred text but it does carry cultural weight. I decided to try a retelling of Snow White in a poem. Other workshop participants created awe-inspiring poems and stories—all in a scant half hour, once again illustrating the creative power of silently writing together.
Here is the result of my effort, with a bit of editing since the workshop.
Snow White Remembers
I was not beautiful.
That is an embellishment added by the Grimms,
who couldn’t imagine a commonplace heroine.
And my stepmother didn’t really hate me.
She read rebellion behind my solemn stare,
resentful questions in the crick of my eyebrow.
Because she recognized a vestige of the same in her
She had to murder it in me.
But I do not know if she poisoned that apple pie on purpose.
She was a terrible cook.
I’d known those seven woodsmen since childhood.
Caught in a thunderstorm, I came upon their clearing
and sheltered in their cabin.
It was strewn with books left by an unnamed professor long ago.
He’d tried solitude on a summer sabbatical,
only to flee, books in his wake.
As I grew, I escaped to the those bookshelves
when I could,
drinking in word of other lands, other lives.
The loggers paid no mind to my visits.
They were busy in the woods most days.
And I was neat, straightening and dusting
the rows of books.
I left bouquets of wildflowers and pine boughs on the table.
On the day the illness came upon me,
I ran to the cabin after the compulsory midday meal at home.
(Apple pie to finish.)
I was sixteen and sick of arguing,
and the cabin had an extra bunk where I could stay.
I chose a stack of books from the shelves
and buried myself under blankets.
In a day or two I could keep food down again.
She doesn’t want to be found, said the loggers,
turning away searchers at their door.
A year went by
as I read through the pile
until few titles remained.
I was restless;
my attempts to help with cabin upkeep
Chipmunk chatter was no longer delightful.
Almost a housewife, I was no longer just playing house.
The loggers were kind
but their table talk described saws and stands of trees
and they were snoring by dusk.
So when they spoke of a young man new in town,
He is kind to us, they said.
He fingers tunes on his fiddle.
He carries a well thumbed journal
with poems and colored sketches of birds.
Shall we invite him here? they asked.
Perhaps, I said,
But I was fire inside.
That day I entwined flowers in my braids,
chose my eyelet blouse,
and rehearsed clever conversation.
I spied him walking up the path,
deep in thought,
and was pleased by his brown curls and open expression.
Just as he knocked, I opened the door,
and I kissed him.
Don’t miss this 6 week class that will empower you to share your story on stage!
“There’s beauty and meaning to mine from your life story, and this workshop will help you artistically express what you’ve overcome and achieved, and creatively share your experience to benefit others through the medium of theatre. You’ll learn how to write successful dramatic monologues based on your life that are personally meaningful, emotionally satisfying, and relevant and engaging for an audience. In class, through thematic writing prompts and creative exploration, you’ll develop your ordinary and extraordinary life experiences into powerful, dramatic monologues that can be performed – by you or an actor – with universal appeal. In class meetings will present elements of dramatic structure and explore the artistic qualities necessary for an effective dramatic monologue. We’ll explore the role of conflict, plot, communicating subtext, voice, narrative, and the importance of set-up. New writing will be generated in and out of class, shared in class and aspects of revision will be presented and practiced. Beginning and experienced writers in any genre are welcome!”
Beginning September 6th
About the Teacher:
Kelly is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who loves leading new and experienced writers through dynamic writing exercises and meaningful sharing that leave you feeling engaged, intrigued and surprised by the depth of your experience. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn, Heuer,Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s also author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget – The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s 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 has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over a decade, and she founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year. She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild and the TLA Council, and she facilitates Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner. Her website is KellyDuMar.com
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.
Joanna 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/
It was clear by the end of the conference that there is indeed great power in words — written, drawn, spoken, sung, danced — and in this time of division in our country, giving more people more power through telling their stories is one way to bridge differences. We have a duty as artists to express and create, but perhaps we also have a duty as citizens to create space for understanding. Transformative Language Arts can do that.
Many thanks to all the workshop presenters who generously shared their wisdom and experience with all of us. I’m already looking forward to Power of Words 2018 — October 11 – 14 in beautiful Vermont!