A letter from TLAN founder Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

As I retire from volunteering for the TLA Network, I’m in awe of the work we do make brave spaces for individuals and communities to break silences, build connections, and envision and embody greater justice, peace, and meaning in our lives.

One of the miracles of TLA is how it helps us grow our sense of belonging. Just by coming together in classes, conferences, trainings, and other projects, we can often find the people who really “get us” and resonate with the song our heart is singing and the work of our callings. Like many of you, I’ve drawn great strength, inspiration, and courage from being with other transformative language artists, which I try to pay forward in my writing, workshops, classes, coaching, and consulting.

I have great trust in the generous leadership of the TLA Network, and I want to give a shout-out in particular to Wendy Thompson, who is bringing her considerable vision to chair the classes committee, something I’ve done for so many years I can’t remember when I started. I have great faith in TLAN’s council, our leadership body, chaired by Liz Burke-Cravens, as they look at TLA and TLAN with new eyes in this time of fast-moving change and challenge.

My work encompasses online classes, Zoom workshops (particularly with people living with serious illness, a group I’ve worked with for 17 years), and coaching people on writing, facilitation, and right livelihood.

I’m grateful to TLAN for helping Laura Packer and me launch Your Right Livelihood, now an independent project in the process of developing a partnership with TLAN.

I spend my days, even when it gets crazy-hot (as it does in Kansas) on the porch, writing blog posts and poetry about the pandemic and a memoir about healing, cancer, and climate.

Being outside to witness the undaunted beauty and grace of the living earth led me to writing (and consequently, TLAN) in the first place, and continues to feeds my soul.

The Uninvited Guest, by Lyn Ford

About a week after “safe-at-home” became the way we play the game of life, we were visited by a storm.  This shushing, persistent deluge of white noise lasted through the night and late into the next morning.

I awakened to an unexpected, uninvited guest.  Something told me to inspect the basement, where I was greeted by at least ten inches of sewer water. This guest had entered through the drain in the cellar floor, and vandalized the place.

Floating in that nastiness were craft and workshop supplies.  Soaked handouts drifted from cardboard boxes, along with twenty years of preschool items, some of my husband’s old tools, things our grown children had left behind, and sundry other items, including the laundry I’d sorted into three baskets—mostly my clothes and all my white underwear.

I numbly summoned my husband.  What he said when he met our guest should not be repeated.

Then the furnace and water heater passed out.  Fortunately, they didn’t die.  An already exhausted heating and furnace repair person returned our call, suggesting we try letting the circuit breakers dry.  It was almost midnight. The water had subsided.  We prepared to pay for more visitors: appraisers, hauling crews, plumbing aficionados, and the microbial cleaning squad.  

Please note:  I didn’t say anything about insurance people.  “Backup” insurance is a separate entity from “flood” insurance.  We had no backup insurance. We do now.

We also lost all the paper items we stored in what we call the “paper closet” under the basement stairs.  We’d purchased our usual bulk supplies long before the run on toilet paper. Now our stockpile was gone.  

That was a good thing.  One young man, dragging items from our basement and tossing them in his truck, said, “It’s a good thing you had all that paper.  It absorbed the water and saved your bottom steps.”

Who knew that toilet paper could swell to the size of Miss Muffet’s tuffet?  We were grateful for that.

We’re grateful for a lot of things.  The basement is clean.  It is also dry, dehumidified and sanitized.  The water heater and furnace circuit breakers dried out on their own (free!).  The house creaks a bit more, as does our budget.  But we’re warm, safe and happy.  And I have new underwear.

Our unexpected guest helped us realize and appreciate what is important.  Life is good.  And I hope this guest doesn’t invite himself to our home again.

The Guest House
by Rumi  (as translated by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

The Masks We Wear: A Story for These Pandemic Times, by Lyn Ford

Let’s begin with a story.

Once a man who could not see lost his walking stick and could not find his way to the home he shared with his mother.  He called for help, but no one seemed to hear, and he stumbled along a rugged path.

Then he heard someone call out to him, “Hello, you, perhaps I can help you.”  The man walked in the direction of that voice, and tripped over something, no, someone, another man, who dragged himself on the same rugged road, for he had no legs and sought a place of shelter.

The two of them rested a while, and talked.  Now acquainted, they realized they both faced great difficulties.  They also knew they could help one another.

The man who could not see carefully took upon his shoulders the man who could not walk.  He became legs for his new friend and this new friend became his eyes.  They soon found an easier trail.  Both men made the journey safely to the mother’s home.  She joyfully greeted them both as her sons.  

And all their lives were easier for this. ———-

This is an incredibly old fable, sometimes attributed to Aesop the storyteller, but its motif is found in stories in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Valuable old stories travel far.

Recently, I walked across an almost empty parking lot, and passed a few masked people.  Being who I am, I tried, at a safe distance, to make eye contact. Behind my own mask, I smiled and said, “Hi.”

No one spoke or looked directly at me.  Shoulders hunched, eyes to the ground, brows furrowed, strangers remained strangers.  I thought, are masks distancing us even more than we already must be, or is it the fearful, lonely frustration behind them?

Masks can help us stay physically healthy in these pandemic times, but they can’t protect us against our fears.  They may help preserve our physical wellbeing, but they won’t lift our spirits, or bring us joy. 

We must communicate hope and empathy, and let our hearts shine.  No matter how much masks obscure, they don’t hide our eyes, our body language, or our voices, tools that have always been important to sharing our stories.  Now, they’re even more important to sharing our humanity, showing others that we’re safe havens for one another, even when we must remain separated.

To be whole, to make the journey easier, to find shelter, the two men in my folktale adaptation needed one another.  Together, they found possibility and hope.  One couldn’t see, but heard the voice of his new brother.  One couldn’t walk, but recognized the strength of another.  Both were willing to ask for and receive help.  If either had ignored the other, where might each have ended his journey?  And what might have happened to that mother, who was alone?

Our present situation may not be a “happily ever after” narrative.  Real life isn’t.  But we can live this story together, and communicate.

We can be there for one another, even behind the masks we wear.

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother. 

Masks, Capes and the Strength to Smile, by Lyn Ford

The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying. 

It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?

Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs. 

Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish. 

In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling. 

This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.

We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.

We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.

“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace

Fourth-generation nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller and Ohio teaching artist Lynette (Lyn) Ford will returning to teach for the TLA Network this summer. Fantastic Folktales & Visionary Angles to Transform Our Stories, starts in early August and is not to be missed.

Lyn has shared programs and workshops on telling and writing stories with folks of all ages for more than twenty-five years. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books: Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition; Beyond the Briar Patch: Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore; Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts (2017 Storytelling World Award winner, also a creative-writing resource), and, Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Ages 4-9, written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk and recently nominated for an Anne Izard Award. Lyn is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and a great-grandmother.