Changing Myself with Words: A guest post by TLAF Certificate Graduate Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a graduate of the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she submitted as part of the certificate requirements.

As an adult, I know I can rewrite my story.

Changing the World with Words is one of the required courses [to be offered again in 2023] in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations certification program. In my opinion, it brings to mind the famous quotation erroneously attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Apparently, this is actually a paraphrase of a longer idea that Gandhi expressed:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

In this vein, I wonder if a better name for the TLAN course would be “Changing Myself with Words.” It seems a slightly easier place to begin before I actually tackle the reformation of the entire world.

In an interview I heard last year, the Irish poet Padraig O’Tuama discussed the healing effects of writing poetry to a younger version of himself who had undergone a severe trauma. He stated:

There’s something so redeeming for me all these years later to be able to speak that poem back to that frightened 18-year-old…somehow eventually to have recovered the capacity to be able to say something back. It doesn’t undo it, but it’s enough. I can somehow feel like I’m able to have a conversation between the me then and the me now. That is enough, and I can examine it.

Like O’Tuama, I have the ability to use my words to examine my past. Through my words, I have the power to write my own narrative and develop a new story for myself. For me, that change in perspective began after attending the first day of Changing the World with Words. When we met on Zoom, we were given five sentence stems to use as we introduced ourselves to our new classmates. One of the prompts seemed innocent enough:

When I was a kid, I wanted to be…

From my perspective, the other participants must have spent a few enjoyable minutes reminiscing about their favorite childhood memories and games – playing dress up, playing with imaginary friends, playing outside with the neighborhood kids – because the answers they shared were exciting and diverse. One wanted to be a dentist, another a potter. There was a teacher, a welder, and an actress. Most people listed multiple future professions and abilities – so many choices that revealed great imagination and inspiration.

My response was, “When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be.”

I was embarrassed when I read that sentence aloud. I was the only one in the group without a dream or an imagination. What did I do as a child? I read. I watched TV. I drew pictures and floorplans. In middle school, I took sewing lessons in Home Ec. But most of all, I kept to myself. I had learned at a young age that to reveal any personal information was to open myself to ridicule. Today, as I look at the list of the activities I enjoyed as a young person, I realize that I could have fantasized about being a writer, an actress, an artist, an architect, or a fashion designer, but I don’t recall ever having those thoughts. It’s hard to imagine a future when you’re busy simply surviving each day.

Now, as an adult, I know that I can rewrite my story. I can acknowledge what that little girl wanted to be. She wanted to be held in a warm embrace. She wanted to be encouraged. She wanted to be seen and heard. She wanted to feel valued and accepted. She wanted to know that someone supported her.

She wanted to hear the words “I love you.”

I can’t change the past, but I can use my words to reassure that little girl. I can offer that innocent child-that-I-was compassion and tenderness. I can use my words to work through issues and to achieve clarity, and in turn, the woman that I am now can dream of changing the world one day.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

Photo: Pixabay


Join Us for an Evening of Transformative Monologues!

Presenting a showcase of recent work created by Kelly DuMar’s TLA Network class, Your Memoir as Monologue.  We hope you will join us tomorrow, Wednesday, October 12, 2022, from 7-8:30PM EST.

In writing monologues for the stage, a story begins as words on the page. The next stage of development is to have the monologue performed by an actor in front of an audience. In this monologue showcase, class participants who have been developing monologues over six weeks will have the chance to see their writing performed by an actor for an audience––you.

Stella Adler called theater the “seeing place”––the place we come to see the truth about our lives and social situation. Oscar Wilde called theater “the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” And August Wilson was, “fascinated by the idea of an audience as a community of people who gather willingly to bear witness.” We invite you, our audience, to share in making dynamic theater with us, by being present for this showcase of brand new stage monologues. This intimate and powerful experience will present writing by class participants––read by actors––is part of the critical page-to-stage development process that all new plays need. Please join us, and share the vitality of your presence and your witness as our much-appreciated audience.

The show is free and open to the public – although donations are always welcome! – and will take place via the online video conferencing platform Zoom. A link to the show will be sent out the day of the event.

About the Director
Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. 
 is a poet, playwright, and workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. She founded and produced the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College for twelve years, and she is a past president of Playwright’s Platform, Boston. For the past seven years, Kelly has led the week-long Play Lab Intensive at the annual conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of Transformative Language Arts Network.  You can learn more about Kelly at

About the Actors

Jamila Capitman, MA. is a Staff Counselor at Simmons University, a Youth Development Specialist and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant with VISIONS Inc., Jamila is the former Director of Multicultural Student programming at Milton Academy and was an educator in the Boston Public Schools. Jamila is an actress, playwright, and producer/director, with a Master’s degree in Drama Therapy from Lesley University who works on various creative independent projects that center her passions for beauty, justice, and transformative healing.

Franci DuMar is a member of the playback theatre troupe, True Story Theater, in Arlington, MA. She has trained, performed, taught and conducted playback theatre in a wide variety of community and therapeutic settings over the past ten years. She has a Master’s Degree in Expressive Arts from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, in drama therapy and mental health counseling. She lives in the Boston Area.

Tonya Quillen is an Actor, Licensed Psychotherapist, Trainer of Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy, Clinical Supervisor, and an Executive Leadership Coach. Prior to pursuing her career as a Psychotherapist, Tonya performed professionally for many years. She graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy where she double majored in Theatre and Voice and then continued her studies at Florida State University. After completing graduate school and training as a Psychodramatist, Tonya co-founded a Playback Theatre troupe where she served as Artistic Director, Conductor, Actor and Musician. Tonya also develops scenarios and enacts characters in role-training workshops for law enforcement officers, threat assessment professionals, and security operations personnel to provide them with the experience needed to effectively interact with, and interview, persons of interest.

Elizabeth Rose spent a considerable part of her life as an actor, both in film and industrial work along with local theater in Massachusetts. In addition, Elizabeth has written both screenplays and theatrical works as well as a popular blog that captures the life of a midlife woman. She works as an editor supporting other writers, and as a mediator, helping couples end their marriages while sustaining their families. She also works with couples who choose to stay together and want to explore new ways to communicate and strengthen their relationship. She is a Mother, Partner, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Dog and Cat lover. Elizabeth lives in Ojai with her husband, spirit cat and soul dog. 

Healing, One Letter at a Time: A guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

I have always loved children’s literature – the illustrations, the simplicity of the language, the uplifting stories. So imagine my surprise when I was triggered by a picture book as I was browsing in a bookstore in my hometown of Houston, Texas in the fall of 2018. I was still carrying that anger when I sat down at a restaurant a short time later. As I waited for my food, I wrote the following on Facebook:

I went to Barnes and Noble this afternoon, and I saw a new children’s picture book called H is for Harvey. It contains sentences such as “H is for hurricane blah, blah, blah” and “H is for hope blah, blah, blah.” The very last sentence is “H is for happy.” Apparently, the home of the author of this book didn’t flood and has her happy, normal life back. How nice! So I’m going to write my own Hurricane Harvey book. It’s called P is for Post-Traumatic Stress. I was playing with that idea as I went across the street to have linner (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) at La Madeleine. When the cashier gave me the “P” spoon, I knew it was a sign! I’ll be posting the story in the comments below…

While not appropriate for a children’s book, what followed was an outpouring of my grief, anger, and confusion.

  • P is for panic, what you feel when you know for certain that your house is going to flood.
  • P is for patience, something that you lose.
  • P is for privacy, something else that you lose.
  • P is for pain, something that you feel a lot of.
  • P is for psychiatric, the kind of help you need now.
  • P is for puppy, like the one who lives in #187 and was able to enter #190 and pee on the floor because we no longer have any walls dividing us.
  • P is for paper plates, what you have to use because all of your dishes are packed away.
  • P is for pessimism because it’s been over a year and your house still hasn’t been repaired.
  • P is for property value, something that has gone down about 35%.
  • P is for plummet, what happens to your energy level.
  • P is for pregnant because one of my former students had a baby since Harvey. He and his wife actually produced a living, breathing human being faster than my house could be repaired.
  • P is for pray, the only thing I can do at this point.

Now I am writing the sequel to this story. It is mid-August of 2022, and the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey is approaching. I’ve been thinking about how to commemorate this event that turned my life upside down on August 29, 2017, and I realize that now I can find comfort in the letter “C.” The book I would write today is called C is for Complex PTSD.

While there are similarities, Complex PTSD differs from PTSD. A simple definition is that Complex PTSD refers to an accumulation of traumatic events that usually occurs in childhood whereas PTSD is the result of a single event. What I didn’t understand at the time is that I was reliving the emotional trauma of my childhood through the events that surrounded Hurricane Harvey.

With this knowledge, I am writing a new story:

  • C is for clarity, what I have gained since learning about Complex PTSD.
  • C is for cathartic, the releasing of grief through the infinite number of tears I have cried.
  • C is for compassion, what I need to give to my inner child.
  • C is for curiosity, the ability to stay open and continue learning.
  • C is for consistently, the way I need to show up for myself day after day.
  • C is for my creative practice, one of the ways that I heal.
  • C is for change, what I am doing with my life and my outlook.
  • C is for connection, the healing relationships I forge with people, nature, and myself.
  • C is for care, specifically self-care, actively taking steps that contribute to my well-being.
  • C is for calm, what happens after the storm passes.
  • C is for the courage to heal myself.
  • C is for the commitment to live my best life.

C is also for closure which I will commence by returning to the letter “P.” This particular “P” was a gift from a friend who added it to my Facebook post back in 2018:

P is for permission, permission to own my feelings and permission to express myself.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.


Spotlight on the Teacher: Riham Adly

We re delighted to welcome Riham Adly back to teach for the TLA Network this fall, with Dreams, Fairytales, and the Tarot: Exploring Self using Flash Fiction Forms. The class runs from November 2 – December 14, 2022, and the early bird rate for the class ends in mid-October.

Riham is an award-winning fiction writer and editor from Giza, Egypt. In 2013 her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN award. In 2019 she was long-listed in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s food-themed contest and in 2020 her story “How to Tell a Story from the Heart in Proper Time” was a winner and was included in the 2020 Best Micro-Fiction Anthology. In 2022 her story “Two Peas in a Pod” won second place in the Strand International Flash Fiction Contest.

Riham was nominated for the Pushcart in 2019 and was nominated for Best of the Net in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Her flash fiction has appeared in over sixty journals such as Litro Magazine, Lost Balloon, The Flash Flood, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, and New Flash Fiction Review among others.

Riham’s was the first female from Africa and the Middle East to have a debut flash fiction collection published in English. Her collection “Love is Make-Believe” was published in November 2021 by Clarendon House publications in the U.K.

Riham has worked as an assistant editor in 101 words magazine and as a first reader in Vestal Review magazine. She’s worked as a writing coach and developmental editor accepting mainly manuscripts by local writers for whom English is their second language.

Riham offers her signature workshops “ Flash Fiction: Writing From the Subconscious” and “ Flash Fiction: Writing From Where We Dream” through various platforms, including the TLA Network. She is also the founder of “ Riham’s Cairo Book Club” and the “Let’s Write Short Stories” workshops in Egypt.

Along with Riham’supcoming TLA Network class, Dreams, Fairytales, and the Tarot: Exploring Self using Flash Fiction Forms, Riham will be hosting a flash fiction Open Mic showcase for the TLA Network, on September 15, 2022. The event is free and open to the public and all are welcome – we hope you will consider sharing your own flash fiction work, too!

Majd Kurdieh: Finding Meaning and Purpose Through Art , by Renu Thomas

My colleagues at the gallery find it amusing that I stand in awe and silent dialogue before Majd Kurdieh‘s paintings or look around for new ones each week. The merchandise promoting his work has grown from cards and mugs, to include fridge magnets, coasters, and now T-shirts, which are all displayed at the entrance of the quaint café attached to the gallery. Kasha who works there informs me when new products arrive and translates the Arabic script for me.

Kurdieh is a Syrian refugee and currently lives alone in a small house with just two rooms in the mountainous area of Lebanon, close to the Mediterranean Sea. His art practice dominates his life and in his free time, he enjoys fishing. His images are whimsical and childlike and include Arabic text inspired by his love of books, poetry, and music.

Majd Kurdieh

The animated characters Kurdieh created, the Fasaeen – which means ‘tiny people’ in Arabic – are a boy (Fasoon) and a girl (Fasooneh). They look deceptively innocent and have an unusual gang of friends, including a hyena and a monster. Kurdieh calls the gang ‘the very scary butterfly gang’ and each painting offers a narrative of how they work together, to steal sadness from the world and replace them with flowers. The butterfly, Kurdieh explains, is a fragile creature, so our instinct is to approach it delicately, afraid to harm it and in this context, he uses the word ‘scary’. His message is that we should approach each person in our lives with that kind of fear – of knowing that unless we are cautious, we can do them harm.

The Fasaeen are often painted with missing arms, which to me suggests a feeling of helplessness and perhaps the artist’s as well, but Kurdieh’s intention is to portray connection; that when two people truly connect, they must connect with their hearts. The little girl is the leader of the pack and he relates most with her. The characters act as a conduit through which his stories flow and he says that they seem to control him. The narrative develops as the painting progresses and he does not begin with the end in mind.

Majd Kurdieh

I am unsure exactly what it is that draws me to his work. I wonder if it is my Syrian roots on my father’s side or the simplicity of his work that makes one feel that if he can paint, well then, so can I. Perhaps it is the stories of war, displacement, and trauma that have come knocking on my
door since I began my clinical placement as a student of Art Psychotherapy. Something in me awakened as they revealed their stories, the impact of war, the senseless loss of lives, and the strength of the human spirit to survive. They had left in a hurry and were not prepared for what lay ahead.

Irrespective of our circumstances or where we live, there is a need to know in our innermost being, who we are, and where we belong, and in the comfort and safety of that knowledge we no longer just survive, but we begin to thrive. Majd Kurdieh stays anchored to his roots through the stories and poems of his favorite authors. Books occupy a big part of his home and are a tangible reminder of where he came from.

The initial paintings of Kurdieh seem hurried and the words of the poem look as if they were placed without much thought of alignment. Some of the words in a few paintings have even been crossed out with a line running through them, as if the artist is granting permission to make mistakes. The rawness of his work is appealing. I was intrigued to learn how his method of drawing the monster morphed intentionally from the way he draws the dove. Nuances like this draw the viewer in for a closer look at Kurdieh’s work, and new layers of meaning are revealed.

The first series, ‘Stealing Sadness’ showed the characters outlined with bold black lines. The removal of those boundaries in his second series ‘Surrender to Love’, was a simple but inspired way to visually free the characters of the restrictions they faced, and empower them to do more.

For the past two years, I have been facilitating creative art and writing workshops in collaboration with an art gallery in Dubai, and of all the artists I have seen exhibited here, Majd Kurdieh and his series ‘Stealing Sadness’ remains my favorite.

Kurdieh’s poems written in Arabic on the paintings are replaced in later work with more concise statements like “the country is the wound and you are the honey”. Other than the motley crew of animals, most of the repeated motifs in his paintings are from nature and include the sun, moon, clouds, flowers -particularly the poppy.

Majd Kurdieh
Majd Kurdieh

There is an invitation to look at what is within us in his paintings and the condition of the heart appears to be a popular theme. An elephant with the heart of a butterfly has the message, “If your heart is as light as a butterfly, anyone can fly”. In another, the elephant is seen to have the heart of a fish.

Kurdieh is in no way bitter about the path that has led him to Lebanon. Art making and poetry have served to channel his pain through the Fasaeen, transforming it into a message of hope and optimism. He is the best-selling artist at the gallery here in Dubai and his work is gaining global attention and popularity.

Majd Kurdieh

The very scary butterfly gang Kurdieh says, lives in the hearts of each one of us and the artist poignantly tasks us with the responsibility of finding ways to take away the sadness from the lives of people and make the world a better place.

Don’t miss the chance to check out Renu Thomas’ online class, Identity and Belonging: An Exploration through Visual Art and Creative Writing. The class runs from October 26 – December 7, 2022, at the TLA Network.

Renu Sarah Thomas is an Art Psychotherapist (British Association of Art Therapists – BAAT) and workshop facilitator. She has several years of experience in introducing and conducting programmes that promote the personal, social, and emotional well-being of individuals in Dubai, India, and Scotland and adapting these programmes to suit the cultural climate of the region.

She is a self-taught artist and although Renu finds pottery making and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. Her growing areas of interest include displacement and trauma and through her spontaneous creative art and creative writing workshops, she passionately encourages people to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves, and intentionally find their purpose.

Born in India and raised in England, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, Dubai has been her home for the past 20 years.

Our voices matter and need to be heard.

Dear TLA community,

In the midst of a very hot summer here in the eastern continental United States, it is ever more clear how needed and significant our collective voices are in this time of increasing political turmoil, attacks on our constitutional rights, escalating war, and the climate crisis. 

The decision to remain hopeful in the face of so much challenge is a powerful tool – as radio host Krista Tippett recently shared in a New York Times interview: “I talk about hope being a muscle. It’s not wishful thinking, and it’s not idealism. It’s not even a belief that everything will turn out OK. It’s an imaginative leap, which is what I’ve seen in people like John Lewis and Jane Goodall. These are people who said: I refuse to accept that the world has to be this way. I am going to throw my life and my pragmatism and my intelligence at this insistence that it could be different and put that into practice.”

We invite you, the poets, journalists, writers, novelists, songwriters, playwrights, and other brilliant wordsmiths, to join us as we set our sites on hope, speak truth to power, and harness our collective courage to step beyond what has been familiar and comfortable to move much more quickly and in much bigger ways. The time is now.

Our voices matter, and need to be heard. 

To the power of words, 

Hanne Weedon
Managing Director

The Journey Within, by Kimberly Lee

You’ve seen the iconic poster—a woman in profile, her head turned to look boldly at the artist, her right arm raised in a fist while her left hand rolls up her sleeve. She wears a blue work shirt and a red, polka-dot scarf tied around her temples. Eyebrows immaculately sculpted, eyelashes done up, red lipstick topping it all off.

During the height of the pandemic, my cousin sent around a photo she’d unearthed, of our grandmother with a work crew, wearing that same blue shirt. When I asked my mother about it, she said my grandmother was part of a World War II “ladies’ crew,” and that her work had to do with ball bearings or something. My mother would have been four. I’d seen the poster a million times, but never knew my grandmother had been a “Rosie the Riveter.” I set out on a mission and eventually found a mug online representing her in this role.

Rosie the Riveter: We Can Do It!

My grandparents were part of the “The Great Migration” of Black people from the Deep South to the northern and western states that took place in the early 1940s. Although their movement was within the same continent, when I think about it, I get the feeling of something epic, and it is, because their choice to undertake the journey deeply impacted my quality of life, even though I wouldn’t be born until decades later. I heard about this journey in detail from my grandfather, with whom I was very close, yet I recently wrote about it from the perspective of my grandmother, who I never knew—she passed away well before I was born. In “Departure,” I take on her voice, describing how my grandfather came to California, started working on the naval shipyards, set up house, then sent for her and their two girls—my mother and my aunt. “The air is different here. Lighter. It could be that I’ve never been this close to an ocean, never felt the calm mist tickling my skin. Or maybe this is what it feels like to breathe easy, and free.” Those lines were my attempt to capture the emotional journey, the change that seems to be coming from outside conditions but is actually burgeoning from within.

Ship scaler Eastine Cowner helps construct the Liberty ship SS George Washington Carver. 1943. Kaiser shipyards, Richmond, California. E.F. Joseph/Library of Congress.

Because while my grandparents’ movement was definitely physical, through numerous states from one end of the country to the gorgeous Pacific Coast, I know that faith, perseverance, and fortitude were the true inner gifts of the journey, the qualities they silently nurtured and developed in their own hearts to have the fortitude to make the trip.

Although the narrow definition of a journey is geographical, a movement from point A to B, we know an emotional component is always present. The richness of the inner adventure compels us to see the journey as a metaphor for countless situations, no physical change of place required. We face challenges, find allies, and overcome obstacles on the way to a final destination. We experience personal growth and development, chances to rise to the occasion, and strength arising from finding our innate gifts. We triumph, determining for ourselves what success truly means.

IAM members from District Lodge 751 were among the African-American Rosie the Riveters who played a large part in building planes during WWII.

Joseph Campbell described the well-known archetypal pattern of the hero’s journey in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. While Maria Tatar’s recent The Heroine with 1001 Faces might be seen as a response to that work, it goes beyond it by expanding our view of heroism to include qualities and narrative arcs centering the power of women to effect change. Similarly, the journey of the healer and seeker, along with the journey of integrity, offer fruitful ways to view the universal struggles and joys we face on life’s trajectory. On each of these paths, even if there is physical relocation, the deeper journey always takes place within. The process may be as silent as caterpillars transforming within the confines of silky, stationary cocoons. They emerge exquisite and renewed—altogether new creatures—as a result of the inner journey. Containing invisible remnants of the past yet exploding with flight into the future, they affect their own destiny and that of those to come. We are those butterflies.

6th Century Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Through the lens of the heroine’s path and other narratives, the thousand-mile journey becomes our lives, splayed out across the years of our existence. We look back to see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, then venture on, knowing that just as fog clears when we move forward, our next steps will be revealed.

Welders at the Landers, Frary, and Clark plant in New Britain, Connecticut, 1943. Gordan Parks/Library of Congress.

Last year I cut and pasted this quote, author unknown, to a vision board: “Take every curious little opportunity and own it.” A flyer that read “Jobs For Negroes” was the curious little opportunity my grandparents seized in the mid-twentieth century, buoyed by hopes and dreams for safety, security, and larger, more fulfilled lives. They didn’t know the ultimate outcome, but had faith that if they took the leap, a net would surely be there. As musician Jan Garrett sang: Fight to stay awake/Choose the path you take/Even if you don’t know where it’s going/Trust your own unknowing. Like my grandparents, we don’t need exact certainty to enter uncharted territory. Whether our movement is physical or centered on the journey within, we only have to believe in the possibilities and stay awake to the signs that illuminate our path, guiding us to precisely where we need to be.

Beyond the Hero’s Journey: Exploring the Paths of the Heroine, Healer, and Seeker, with Kimberly Lee, runs from September 14 to October 26 on the TLA Network. Join Kimberly for an engaging exploration of long-established and recently-outlined journeys in literature, film, poetry, videos, podcasts, and the lives of public figures. Through creative writing prompts, SoulCollage®, and other interactive exercises and activities, we’ll discover how aspects of these paths exist within our own lives and can be used to inform and enrich our work with others.

Kimberly Lee (@klcreatrix) left the practice of law some years ago to focus on motherhood, community work, and creative pursuits. A graduate of Stanford University and UC Davis School of Law, she is certified as a workshop facilitator by Amherst Writers & Artists, the Center for Journal Therapy, and SoulCollage®. She has led workshops at numerous retreats and conferences and is a teaching artist with Hugo House and Loft Literary. She serves on the board of the Transformative Language Arts Network and is actively involved with The Center for Intentional Creativity. A former editor and regular contributor at Literary Mama, Kimberly has served on the staffs of Carve and F(r)iction magazines. She holds a certificate in copyediting from UC San Diego Extension and is an active member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and ACES: The Society for Editing. Kimberly’s stories and essays have appeared in publications and anthologies including Minerva Rising, LA Parent, Fresh Ink, Words and Whispers, Toyon, The Ekphrastic Review, Wow! Women on Writing, Read650, Quillkeepers Press, I Am Woman: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America, and elsewhere. Kimberly trusts in the magic and mystery of miracles and synchronicity, and believes that everyone is creative and has unique gifts to share. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children.

Spotlight on the Teachers: Kelly DuMar, Kimberly Lee, Marianela Medrano & Renu Thomas

Clockwise from upper left: TLA Network fall teachers Kelly DuMar, Kimberly Lee, Renu Thomas, and Marianela Medrano

This fall’s classes include four of exceptional quality and strength, and more are in the works. Don’t miss our annual Summer Sale of 20% off all classes, now through August 15! 

Kelly DuMar (@kellydumar) is offering her Memoir as Monologue class, which includes the rare opportunity to see each participant’s monologue performed by trained actors at an online performance. A longtime supporter of our work, Kelly has recently rejoined the board as part of our leadership team. Her care, attention-to-detail, and dedication to fine teaching are a rare and special set of gifts, and we are lucky to have her engaged in leading this organization, and teaching for us again. 

New-to-the-Network teacher, Kimberly Lee (@klcreatix), is offering an exciting opportunity to take a deep dive into reconfiguring the concept of the hero’s journey. An attorney-turned-facilitator/editor/writer, Kimberly brings thoughtful, generous, and expansive perspectives to her roles as Network board member and workshop leader. Read her recent blog post about her class here. We are thrilled to offer this exciting new class, and welcome Kimberly to the heart of our TLA community.

Renu Thomas is new to teaching for the Network, hails from India, and has spent much of her adult life in Dubai. She combines a deep knowledge of west-African, south-, and west-Asian cultures, and brings significant professional experience as an art psychotherapist and facilitator to her role on the Network’s board, and to our teaching and learning community. Don’t miss finding a spot in her brand-new class, Identity and Belonging, as it is filling quickly!

We are so lucky to have poet, therapist and community activist Marianela Medrano (@palabracounseling) offering Pathways to Wholeness to our community again this fall. Students love this class, and we are excited to provide the chance for more people to learn from this incredibly talented and brilliant change agent. Marianela recently wrote a bilingual book of poetry titled, Journeys/Viajes, and is completing a new non-fiction book, Pathways to Wholeness: Mindful Writing Toward Momentous Leaps of Meaning.

Take advantage of our Summer Sale, available now through August 15, and take 20% off the regular registration fee for any of these wonderful classes.

Red: A guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

Collage created by Sharon after listening to a guided meditation where participants meet the Muse. After creating the collage, participants respond to a series of prompts in order to communicate with the Muse and receive her special messages.

Robbyn Lane McGill’s two-part class, Kissing the Muse [offered again July 2022], is a wonderful circular journey through the ups and downs of life. On this great adventure, I had the privilege of meeting interesting characters such as the Seducing Siren, the Reluctant Rebel, and the Magical Guru. These wise messengers communicated with me through a variety of creative prompts, and I especially enjoyed meeting the Magical Guru who introduced herself to me as “Vision.” She helped me to see my surroundings in a new way.

During the autumn when I was enrolled in the Kissing the Muse course, I found myself in need of some rest and relaxation one day, so I went to the nearby nature sanctuary with my camera. I was sitting quietly on a bench near the bird feeders waiting for the wildlife to appear. From previous visits, I had learned to be still so that the animals would not feel threatened. My patience was sometimes rewarded with visitations; on one occasion, a jackrabbit appeared and on another, two possums. Various birds stop at the feeders – woodpeckers, blue jays, wrens, and my personal favorite, cardinals. On this particular visit, a male cardinal was perched in a tree on a branch above me. I took several pictures of him, and afterwards I sat in silence simply enjoying his company.

My peace ended abruptly when two women walked by. One of them stopped near the bird feeders, complaining in a loud voice about the sanctuary, “There’s no color here. Well, it’s green, but there’s no color. I mean, it’s pretty, but it needs some color.” Her friend, probably tired of listening to her criticism in the midst of this oasis, kept walking, leaving the grouch behind. Her loud voice now aimed in my direction, “Where’s the red?” I replied with a tinge of sarcasm in my voice, “Welcome to Houston?” If she wanted fall colors, she was in the wrong city. Failing to get the response she wanted from me, she moved on.

As she walked away, I realized that had she just looked up 20 feet, she would have seen the vibrant red cardinal above her head. Beauty was visible, but only to someone with open eyes and not an open mouth. Later, as I walked around the sanctuary, I was extremely aware of the pops of red all around me. Here was a spiky red flower. There was an autumn leaf on the path. A couple of bright red berries hung from a branch. Another cardinal appeared. Red was all around me, and it was magnificent. It wasn’t the shade of anger and it was strategically placed for those who take the time to look.

I felt deep gratitude towards my Magical Guru named “Vision,” and I felt even more connected to my cardinal friends, grateful that I have the patience to sit with them in quiet solitude and receive their unspoken but powerful messages. On this day Cardinal said to me, “Beauty is all around you. Just open your eyes.”

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.


What Some of Our Teachers are Reading Now…

Following up on last month’s post about what our staff and board members have been reading, we asked some of the writers, editors, poets, and facilitators who teach for the TLA Network what they are currently reading, and why. We thought you might enjoy getting more of a glimpse into our teachers’ worlds – see their selections, listed below.

We would love to hear what YOU have been reading – share your latest favorite reads with us, and we might just feature you and your favorite book(s) in an upcoming newsletter, or as part of a Network book club! We would love to hear from you!

Jennifer Browdy, PhD – professor, editor, community organizer & group facilitator.

LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven, Chris Bache.
The author is a distinguished professor emeritus of world religions, who spent 20 years researching the nature of reality and metaphysics by taking himself on more than 70 high-dose, carefully set and monitored LSD explorations, with fascinating results.

The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science & Spirituality, by Paul Levy.
Levy has done an outstanding job of bringing the insights of quantum theory, Jungian depth psychology and mystical spiritual traditions like the Kabbalah to bear on foundational questions of reality and human consciousness.

The Radiant Heart of the Cosmos: Compassion Teachings for Our Time, by Penny Gill.
Gill, a retired professor of political science and longtime dean of the college at Mt. Holyoke College, unexpectedly began to channel the voices of two Tibetan deities, Manjushri and Kwan Yin, who taught her about the “tsunami of Spirit” that is accelerating the pace of change on Earth at this time, and how we can learn to keep our psychic balance and ride with it, rather than getting swept up in fear and resistance. This book, written in three voices, tells Gill’s personal journey as well as relating the conversations she’s had with Manjushri and Kwan Yin. 

Lisa Chu, M.D. – multidisciplinary artist, illuminator, and community catalyst.

The Apology by V (formerly Eve Ensler).
The concept and content of this volume — an imagined apology written to the author in the voice of her long-dead father — are a healing salve to those among us who are still searching for the roots of the harmful, invasive, or violent behaviors of the ones who proclaimed to love us. V’s cleansing work speaks to the heart of anyone who has spent time inquiring into, deconstructing, and reconstructing internal narratives in an attempt to liberate from the invisible yet unmistakable tendrils of these violent inheritances.  I take this book in small sips, returning to pick it up again after walking with it in my belly for awhile.

Sara Berman’s Closet by Maira Kalman.
This is a short illustrated volume that I didn’t expect to have such an impact on me. At first I flipped quickly through it, but as I neared the end I realized there was a twist, an unexpected turn inside me that planted a seed for reimagining a definition of a well-lived life. Everything by Maira Kalman astonishes and delights me, but this was an added surprise and life lesson inspired by the story of her mother’s closet.

Remarkable Diaries: The World’s Greatest Diaries, Journals, Notebooks, & Letters by Kate Williams.
This one sits on my art desk and reminds me of the long lineage of thinkers – artists, explorers, writers, inventors – whose notebook practices have been reproduced as images with historical context here. I feel like I am in the company of my people whenever I leaf through these pages. I feel grateful for the existence of these notebooks, their preservation, and the fact of the existence of the minds and hands which made them. To me these are as much a product of their lives as any final works published. They are each a piece of multidimensional evidence of the uniqueness of creative process and the shared medium of the notebook across centuries of human existence.

Kimberly Lee – Writer, Editor, Workshop Facilitator.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.
This book’s  compelling premise was hard to resist: Four young siblings visit a woman who can supposedly predict the exact date of a person’s death, and as the characters move into and through adulthood, we learn how this knowledge affects their choices and behavior in all aspects of their lives. 

Goddesses of Self-Care: 30 Divine Feminine Archetypes To Guide You, by Stephanie Anderson Ladd.
This nourishing workbook offers a wealth of information on a wide variety of feminine archetypes from cultures around the world, inviting readers to harness the wisdom and ways of these entities to craft a self-care strategy through reflection, journaling, art making, and other activities. 

Infinitum by Tim Fielder.
A gorgeous graphic novel that begins in ancient Africa, then moves through history to the present and beyond, spanning the globe as the main character, Aja Oba, seeks to destroy the curse that binds him while finding love and purpose. 

Robbyn Layne McGill – writer, editor & producer.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Douglas Carlton Abrams, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
I’m actually listening to the audio version of this book while I do my daily chores – a simple practice for elevating the mundane into a joyful experience. Two friends, who also happen to be two of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders, come together for a weeklong event to share their thoughts on living with joy, even in the face of adversity. In the audio version, two actors read the parts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond, as the writer weaves his insights around them. It’s a thought-provoking, inspiring, entertaining, and uplifting read (or listen). 

Falling in Honey, by Jennifer Barclay.
Inspiring for aspiring memoir writers, and anyone who loves the Greek islands. This book gets some mixed reviews as far as the quality of writing goes, but I am still putting it here for two reasons. One, I’m a huge fan of memoirs about travel and love, and this one is an entertaining story about the British author’s experience of discovering and moving to a tiny Greek island in the Dodecanese (one that I just visited, and also fell in love with), with a twist. 

And two, you can learn a lot from the way other memoirists craft their stories – good, bad, and in-between. This was only Barclay’s second book, and she continues to write, improve, and follow her creative heart, so I find that very inspiring.

Storycraft, by Jack Hart.
This book brings readers into the process of developing nonfiction narratives by revealing the stories behind the stories. Hart shares tips, anecdotes, and recommendations he forged during his decades-long career in journalism, with examples that draw from magazine essays, book-length nonfiction narratives, documentaries, and radio programs. A great resource but also a fascinating, fun read. It also greatly improved my ability to write blogs, newsletters, and articles for my clients.

Angie Ebba – Writer, Activist, and Performance Artist.

Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlich.
This collection of poetry looks at the author’s mental health and her relationship to the medications she takes. I love the raw honesty and vulnerability in many of the poems in this book, and the way that we see the struggles and triumphs that can come with learning how to navigate mental illness.

The Boy With a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund.
I loved how this novel tackled the question of what it means to be different, the cost of hiding ourselves, and the courage it takes to show who we are, even when people don’t like it. This book has great representation with a variety of LGBTQIA main characters. Despite the book being full of surreal elements, I found myself completely believing them, and looking for the birds that may be living in the chests of others.

Marianela Medrano – Psychotherapist, Writer, and Poet.

What the Dead Want Me To Know, by E. Janet Aalfs 
These poems have a life of their own and speak of justice and inclusivity while whistle-blowing the rich old boys who “behind our backs launder money/fumbling hands in drawers the same old way….”  In this collection, lyricism meets reality, crudeness, and injustice with the mastery of great poetry. Aalfs knows that “not looking away” is the “given prize.” 

She understands the relationship between body and mind as a continuum. Her white body crosses a black one, breathing in the same lines, knowing that “budding bruises” come up from the breathing ground… healing. She prays and revises her prayer, asking for calm, giving it to us on each line that breathes now and forever.

Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer, by Jamie Figueroa. 
Jamie Figueroa gets us into the world of two siblings rooting meaning and a sense of self in this brilliant and well-plotted novel. They meet at the intersection of humor, sorrow, and loss that crosses generations. One can say it is a novel that puts generational trauma into perspective.

Riham Adly – Writer and Editor 

Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us, by Lynn Mundell.
The collection explores those tender moments in the lives of women and young girls who could not embrace or explore their sexuality. They need to fit but they could not belong. Coming from a culture where women are treated as lesser beings,  I felt intrigued when I realized women struggled everywhere. 

One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large by Chris La Tray.
This is one of those books that I return to over and over as a writer. It is both touchstone and inspiration, reminding me of the power and pleasure of staying curious and writing down what I notice. 

The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker by Susan Wittig Albert.
A delicious summer read where the characters feel so real I could pop next door for some lemonade and a chat, the setting and history is well researched and accessible and the mystery stays a mystery until the end. I’ve never been disappointed by anything, fiction or nonfiction, that this author writes and she is prolific!

Tracie Nichols – Facilitator, Copyeditor, and Poet. 

One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large by Chris La Tray.
This is one of those books that I return to over and over as a writer. It is both touchstone and inspiration, reminding me of the power and pleasure of staying curious and writing down what I notice. 

The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker by Susan Wittig Albert.
A delicious summer read where the characters feel so real I could pop next door for some lemonade and a chat, the setting and history is well researched and accessible and the mystery stays a mystery until the end. I’ve never been disappointed by anything, fiction or nonfiction, that this author writes and she is prolific!