Building Strong Foundations: TLAN Graduates Share Their Experiences

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, One City One Prompt facilitation, and publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, eighteen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world.

The next TLA Foundations class, Changing the World with Words, a requisite for certification, begins next week on Wednesday, June 27. There is still time to register (and can be counted towards certification retroactively within one year of taking it). Register here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-2758556.

An interview with instructor, Joanna Tebbs Young, about the course can be found here: https://tlablog.org/2018/05/31/changing-the-world-with-words-with-joanna-tebbs-young/

For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

May2015

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

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1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Susan Shepler (graduated May 2017)

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

The kind of work I do involves language and art, and it is also associated with transformation and healing.  “Transformative Language Arts” perfectly describes my area of interest and my offering.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

The courses that I find most useful are ones designed to produce specific outcomes, such as outlining and creating courses and offerings, including the technology associated with such courses.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m always interested in the “how-to” part of course offerings.  Anything that helps structure and demystify the path forward.

4. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

It’s a helpful certification for me because, in itself, it offers an explanation of the [TLA] path.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

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1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie River taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

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1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

3.  What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

4. Is there are particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc., that stands out for you?

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

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I Cannot Stand By Silently, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts.

Additionally, 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 submission to our blog by monologist Janet Toone.


This last week we had an election, an upset many of us did not expect. During the campaign, the male candidate, who in his own words, repeatedly showed himself to be misogynist and a bigot. According to my perspective, by his own words, he also fit the profile of a sexual predator.

As a woman who grew up in a home where I was taught on a daily basis that females were worth less than cows; where women and children were battered and abused; where females were continuously sexually objectified and abused, I found myself in disbelief. Had American women really contributed to the election of a President who openly objectified females; who bragged about sexual assault, who engaged in brutal verbal abuse of females; and who had a long history of discrimination against individuals of color?

As I watched this candidate gather his “team of good old boys” including a democrat turned independent turned republican with his own share of scandals, another who was reprimanded as Speaker of the House for providing false information to the House ethics committee and using a tax exempt organization for political purposes. There was nothing in the history and personal lives of these men to reassure me that they have any desire to protect the rights of children, females, or minorities.

This election became a wake-up call. I cannot stand by silently and passively allow this lack of respect and lack of values to be perpetuated. I owe a commitment to stand and be counted as a woman who is not only openly intolerant of such behaviors, but who is also willing to fight for the rights of children, women and minorities to my grandchildren, my great granddaughter and their peers.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Monologue to my Paternal Parent, by Janet Toone

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 second piece by monologist Janet Toone.


As I previously mentioned, each TLA course I have taken has opened my eyes to the potential for healing with methods of expression I had not considered. I took the “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing” course taught by Angie Rivers. I really struggled with the technological requirements in that course. However, I was not long into it before the possibilities began to flood my mind. I found this combination of monologue and selfies to be particularly empowering.

(Yes this post relies only on the written description. I tried not to be too graphic with the descriptions but be aware the reading may be difficult for some.)

Complex Childhood Trauma, Decades Later

MONOLOGUE TO MY PATERNAL PARENT

I’m taking a course on selfies. Yeah, I can hear your response, “What the #%$#$#@$% are selfies? Don’t you have any real work to do?”

There has been a lot of talk about narcissism in this course. I haven’t mentioned that I knew a true narcissist up close and personal. That secret is out now.

I went out to the funny farm where I took some selfies out in front of the 12 by 12 foot brooder house. I was glad it is still standing, bare weather beaten pine boards on the outside and no interior walls. The outhouse is gone but some of those memories of living in that building with no electricity and no running water still seem like yesterday.

One selfie was of me holding the leather harness strap you shaved down so it would give a more thorough lashing. I remember when I got the first lashing which left welts from my neck down to my knees because I dawdled on the quarter mile walk in from the school bus. I couldn’t sit down at school the next day. Someone must have noticed my pain, because two teachers took me in an office and looked at my backside. But it didn’t make any difference. That was before CPS.

Biff wouldn’t let me borrow the gun you used to shoot at and threaten to kill us with so I could take a selfie. He still has all of his pain stuffed inside. He believes that ignoring it is the best way to handle it. So instead, I took a selfie in front of the bullet holes where you shot through the inside wall of the last two room shack we lived in. What’s it been, 58 years ago you shot those particular holes in the wall?

I took a selfie in front of the latest sawmill. It still looks like the one you threatened to saw us through lengthwise when we couldn’t roll those huge pine logs down onto the sawmill carriage, with those peavey hooks that were longer than I was tall. I was the oldest kid there — and I was 8 or 9 years old.

My selfies at the funny farm were just a drop in the bucket. The actions I observed you participate in still fill me with revulsion and disgust. But I also feel sorry for you. I won’t bore you with that journey for now, except to say that I realize you were not only narcissistic, you were also psychotic and anti-social.

Last year, I read letters you wrote home to your parents during you military training and I realized you were disturbed before you ever entered the military. Your commanders evidently realized it too, which is probably why you never saw combat duty in the war.

I have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend and understand; partly because it was necessary for my healing process, but also because I keep wanting to make some kind of sense out of it all. You walked some dark cognitive paths that I have not the time to describe here. But I theorize you may also have been filled with fear — or was it paranoia? I realize that even if you were here, you would not be able or willing to discuss it.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Being Broken, by Janet Toone

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 first piece by monologist Janet Toone.


I have written pieces for a number of workshops. Since my background includes a childhood of chronic complex trauma, some of my pieces focus on my C-PTSD recovery. In each course, I learned far more than I had anticipated I would learn about the healing process and different avenues for both viewing and facilitating that healing process. This is a monologue I wrote for Kelly DuMar’s “Your Memoir as Monologue” course.

BEING BROKEN

(Mature woman reminiscing about being broken. She is talking to a friend.)

I know about feeling broken. I suppose this is one of the big beginnings of my brokenness.

I was five years old. We lived in a tiny tarpaper shack with no running water, no electricity and no inside walls. When you were inside you could see the cracks between the outside rough knotted pine boards nailed to the two by four frame.

My father’s name was Bob. Since I have been an adult I have never been able to call him Dad or father. Bob stood with his hands on his hips, the bare incandescent light bulb glaring against the rafters. The rough wood floor was littered with clothes and paper beneath the bare table.

I glanced out the open door where I could see the dirt and rocks. I wanted to run, but I knew I dare not run.

On my back, I could feel the heat of the wood range where we cooked. I held my breath as he loomed over me and sneered, “We don’t want you anymore, so we are going to send you to an orphanage.”

His green eyes held some combination of glaring contempt and the look of a predator studying its prey. That look on his round face always chilled me to the bone.

My first thought was, “What’s an orphanage?” I knew better than to ask him.

About a week later, my aunt came to visit. I asked her, “What is an orphanage?”

I remember how I savored her reply. “An orphanage is where children who don’t have a family to love them are taken to be cared for until someone who will love them adopts them.”

I was ready to go.

I waited.

I waited through seasons, like a kid waits for Christmas.

One particular early summer day, we were in the second shack. Bob was screaming, and swearing at my brothers, “You stupid #$*&@#$#@#$*& I should beat you until you can’t stand up.”

I stood watching Bob’s volatile reaction and I thought, “Okay, enough of this. We’re out of here.”

Aloud, I asked. “When are we going to the orphanage?”

His response burned into my body and my soul, “You are so stupid and so bad, no one would want you, so we are going to keep you here and have you work for us.”

My heart sank in disappointment. The orphanage wasn’t going to be my great escape.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

“The Poetry of English” 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 second post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification.

The Poetry of English

By Laurie Pollack


I am a very verbal person. Have always been. Have been writing poems since age 7, when I started writing little rhymes with my poor handwriting.

Words are who I am. Meaning is, too. I am constantly trying to figure out what things mean, both analytically and intuitively.

I have a constant internal mental dialog going on, as well as a mental soundtrack.

Thus, I am constantly flooded with words.

I also have had since I was young a very strong need to understand and be understood. I would feel frustrated when this did not occur. Recently I started to let go of this. To realize that one person really cannot understand another. Because each of us is different.

As I let go of the obsessive need to communicate, I started to look at language. Not what it means, but what it sounds like. And to realize there is a sort of poetry in language sounds.

I first experienced this when I lived in Israel for a year in 1982 at age 23. Although for part of that time I was enrolled in a 6 month Hebrew work-study program, still most of the time what people said in Hebrew was unintelligible to me other than a few scattered words. I felt as if I were behind a wall, a wall of not understanding. At times this was extremely frustrating. I wanted to connect but could not. At least not in the usual way.

But because I could not understand what was being said I found I listened more carefully to the feeling behind the conversation and looked more carefully at expressions and gestures.

I also found that I could hear a sort of melody in the language itself. But it was hard to explain this to others so I didn’t try.

Lately I started listening in the same way to my own language: English. Put up the wall of misunderstanding of meaning, deliberately. And was amazed at what I found.

All my life I had heard that English was a harsh, guttural Germanic tongue that is not “pretty”. This may be true, but I found to my amazement that when I tried, I could imagine a sort of poetry in the way the words sounded.

If you are a native English speaker, try this. Everyone’s reaction will be different. You will hear English different from what I hear.

It is hard to do this when you understand the words. So make a deliberate attempt to NOT understand.

Listen to the sound of an English sentence. It can be an interesting experiment in mindfulness and attention. In going beyond the habitual.

How does it sound? Are there visual pictures or images? Colors? Does it have a certain feel to it?

What does your English look like? Sound like? Feel like? Taste like?

What is its poetry?

Try any sentence. How about this one?

“English is a harsh, guttural, ugly language”.

To me, the above sentence looks like a purple tree blowing around in a hurricane, with the leaves being torn roughly off. Smells like the earth of a newly dug up garden. Feels like sandpaper being rubbed against a block of wood. Sounds like rocks falling down a cliff.

If you really want a powerful experience: try looking, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling a sentence from Shakespeare, or the King James Bible, or Walt Whitman. Or better yet: your own poetry.

Contemplate a single English word.

Consider the word “HAT”.

To me it sounds like the wind blowing.

“Water”.

Feels like a tidal wave sucked out to sea then crashing back to smash whatever is on shore.

“Dance”

Looks like a tornado in the distance.

“Blue”

Tastes to me like a butterfly flapping its wings.

NO, English is not pretty.

To me, English is the power of a cold waterfall full of icy shards.

English is the energy of a crackling bonfire.

English is the strength of a room full of dancers celebrating a wedding.

It is the warmth of the sun on the pavement, on a hot July day

English is not beautiful. Is not pretty. Is not delicate. Is not spun glass.

English is not a chocolate mousse. It is a crockery of unfired earthen pottery filled with split pea soup fragrant and filling.

Look, listen, touch, taste and smell your English. And dance!

Laurie Pollack: To my Ten Year Old Self

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 first post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification.

As part of my daily journaling practice, I write something (maybe a poem or a brief piece of “flash fiction”) in response to a prompt from a book of writing prompts. I choose each day’s prompt randomly. One day the prompt was, “Write a letter to your 10 year old self.”
I have always had a sensitivity to harsh words. As a child I could not handle this, and the adults around me were mystified and could not handle ME. As an adult I have learned to use this awareness to honor the power of words to heal and help and to weigh my words very carefully. It has turned me into a poet.
Dear Laurie ten years old

Dear Laurie ten years old,
I know you feel sad

Because you get in trouble a lot
And sit in the principal’s office.

Because the other kids call you names.
Because when they do it feels
like you were hit in the gut
Hard
and it hurts bad
and the only way to get rid of
the pain is to hit them back.

Dear Laurie ten years old
I know you are feeling alone

Because your parents do not “get”
the fact that words can hurt
and tell you to “just ignore it”

Because your mother tells you that once when
she got teased it didn’t bother her
but that she just hit them with
an umbrella and they stopped
but that you should not do that

Because the teachers tell you
you just need to control yourself
and if you ignore it they will stop and
it will be happy ever after and the kids will all be your friends

Dear Laurie ten years old
I know you are feeling angry

Because the pediatrician tells your parents
that words should not hurt like that
and that you are too sensitive
and maybe in a girl it is a sign of
Attention Deficit Disorder and he
gives you a prescription

Because tells you it is a “smart pill” to make your “motor go slower” and the kids’ words
will stop hurting

Because you thought you were smart already and you like to read authors like James Michener and Isaac Asimov and you have written poems since you were seven

Because you think your “motor” runs just fine

Because the medicine does not help
but just gives you nightmares
and makes you scared to fall asleep
and makes you want to pull out your hair all the time
and the words still hurt.

Dear Laurie ten years old

I  am writing to tell you that words DO hurt
and you have a right to feel hurt
And that one day you will be in a place and
time where you are safe
and there may be words that hurt
but you will be strong
enough to find ways to deal with the pain
other than hitting back

Because you will come to know
that words have power
not only to hurt
but to heal
to change
to manifest
to transform
to love
to heal the world
and you will use words to work for a gentler world

And when you do you will call
yourself three words
That will heal you:

Activist
Teacher
Poet

20150626_203509Laurie Pollack by day works with computers weaving code using the words of the programming language Visual Basic.Net, but this is not where her heart lives. Her heart lives in writing poetry and creating art with painting and SoulCollage (R) (an intuitive collage art practice). 
She gives occasional local workshops in SoulCollage (R) and hosts several free Facebook events yearly challenging people explore their creativity in writing and the arts. In the latest, “April Fools! Break the Rules!”, participants were challenged to list 10 rules they follow in doing their art or writing then create a piece breaking at least 3 of them. She is thinking of expanding this idea into a longer online class.
She has self-published one book, PeaceWalk, in 2006 and is working on another. “The Box”, a poem set in Sime-Gen, the universe created by science fiction author Jacqueline Lichtenberg, was included in 2015 in an anthology of fan writings, “Fear and Courage: Fourteen Writers Explore Sime-Gen”.
Laurie likes to read her poems at events like desert peace walks and anti-war vigils, enjoys gardening, and shares a rowhouse near Philadelphia with Mary: her legal spouse of 2 years and life partner since 1995, and two cats, Maggie and Lucy, who rule and demand regular “tributes” of Fancy Feast.