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)

mharris

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)

eila2

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)

dianeg

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.

Advertisements

Changing the World with Words with Joanna Tebbs Young

Joanna will be teaching the upcoming TLA Foundations Class, Changing The World With Words starting June 27th. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and
finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

joannatebbsyoung Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com.

When Writing Doesn’t Make Your Heart Sing

by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was my dream job. I mean, come on! Getting paid to research the life of a historian and prolific writer while looking out over Lake Champlain from the picture window of said dynamic woman’s former home? Writing up her story, choosing the visual pieces from her myriad scrapbooks, and designing the layout of the book? And having my name on a published book at the end of it? The freelance gods had smiled on this writer-graphic designer-history buff.

For two years I worked on this project and loved every minute of it. Well, almost every one. As any writer will tell you, pursuing our craft is actual pretty tortuous. Most sane people would wonder why we do this to ourselves — over and over again. Richard Hass puts it this way: “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”

And so, we keep writing in order to be in that “tolerable state,” if only for a few minutes. (Case in point: I started writing this post barely an hour after finishing my weekly column. It had, for some reason, taken me far longer than necessary this morning. I just wanted to be free of it, get it off to my editor. But no sooner had I grabbed some lunch, my fingers were once again hungry for the keys, and so here I am.)

The truth is, at moments throughout that two years of putting the book together, I would find myself feeling down. Tearful even, especially when I was writing the text (as opposed to doing the layout work). I wondered what my problem was — I was, after all, doing something I had dreamed of doing for, what? Ever? So, what was it?!

When I first became a columnist for my local paper (another dream come true), after a couple years of writing about my community and the go-getters within it on a weekly basis, I found myself feeling the same kind of yearning. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy writing for a living, far from it. It was that I needed something else, in addition, in my writing life.

Then I realized: I missed heart-writing. Writing from the heart.  

Once in awhile, in my column, I would decide to write about something that was important to me, something that pulled me emotionally in one way or another. I would always write these off-the-cuff, no interview or research, just me speaking from a place of personal truth. Heart-writing. While I would feel slightly raw and vulnerable when I clicked “Send” to my editor, I would also feel refreshed, more alive. And inevitably the feedback from these types of articles would be overwhelmingly positive. People would email me or even sometimes approach me at the coffee shop to thank me.

My other columns, the more fact-based ones, were, I came to call them, head-writing. This historical book was also head-writing.

Heart-writing versus head-writing.

Although I continued to journal all through this book project and once in awhile made time to write a personal blog post, I missed personal essay and memoir writing. Due to time constraints in the second year of the book, I’d also decided to call an end to my heretofore weekly sacred circle writing group where, although I was facilitating, I would write along with the participants from the deep soul-searching prompts. I missed communing with my heart.

I am a TLA practitioner — for others and for myself. I feel I was born to be. I need to write

On those days when I want to cry from frustration over an essay, article, or memoir section and my husband asks me again why I do this [to myself], I tell him, as I have told others over the years, I can’t not do it. I have to. I have to have “just written” from the heart over and over again.

So, while I will continue to Head Write for a living as needed, I will make sure that my heart gets a say too, and as often as possible. Because that is what makes my soul sing. And if my words give voice to another person’s soul, then I have done my true work.

joannatebbsyoung2Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA, a graduate of Goddard College’s Transformative Language Arts concentration, is a freelance writer and Expressive Writing facilitator and coach living in Rutland, Vermont. Her book, Lilian Baker Carlisle, Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure: A Scrapbook Memoir, was published in June 2017 and is available through cchsvt.org. Joanna blogs at wisdomwithinink.com and rutlandwhen.wordpress.com. Her column can be found at rutlandreader.com/category/columns/circles/



Joanna Tebbs Young: Changing the World with Words in Her Life and Teaching

joannatebbsyoung Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com. Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class, “Changing the World with Words: Transformative Language Arts Foundations,” starting March 1st. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

joannatebbsyoung2

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

This is Not a Political Post, by Joanna Tebbs Young

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. This one was originally posted on Joanna’s blog, here.


This morning I woke to find that the nightmare developing when I finally went to bed at 1 AM, the one where the map turned increasingly red, was real. I immediately broke down sobbing. I haven’t really stopped since. My children have never seen me like this; it scared them. I tried to gain control of the whirling weather-map of emotions surging through me, but they were too much.

So, I will try, now that I can see through my waterlogged eyeballs again, to break down these various emotions:

  • Sadness

For my country, for those who had so much hope that “Love Always Wins,” and for those who believed we were finally going to see a woman in the White House. That people have experienced rifts in their friend and family circles during this election.

  • Shock

That which I, and so many millions in this country and around the world, couldn’t even conceive happening, did.

  • Despair and Disillusionment

That half – half! – the population of this country voted for a man who has been shown over and over again to be a crappy — and dangerous — human being. That many of these voters (other than the ones who supposedly voted for him because they felt they had no other choice) don’t believe in love or compassion, don’t believe in equity, don’t believe in diversity, and instead believe, as a bumper stick I saw the other day declared, that what makes America great is God, Guns, and Guts. People who favor above all their whiteness, their sexually-aggressive maleness, and their so-called Christianity; those who prefer a leader who parrots their worst fears back to them and, like some orange fairy godmother, tells them their greatest dreams will come true.

“The charismatic or hypnotic leader who successfully rallies his followers… exhorting Americans to go out and battle the ‘heathen and immoral humanists, feminists, and communists [or socialists or liberals or Muslims]’ — whom they blame for all our world’s ills.”**

It is in despair (and utter bafflement) that I witnessed a man stand in front of the world spewing hatred, fear, and lies, and have his repulsive, illegal behavior excused away or completely ignored by even the smartest of his supporters. I despair that people I know, who I know are fundamentally good and not stupid, can vote for a person who could well take our country to war while denying people healthcare and equal rights — human rights.

  • Fear 

That violence will rise. That hate crimes will increase. That white supremacy will surge. That our Middle-Eastern and Hispanic friends and neighbors will be targeted, including the Syrian refugees who are arriving in my town soon. That families will be separated through deportation. That our gay friends, friends of color, our liberal friends will take verbal or even physical abuse.

“Elites of fascist and communist totalitarian state hierarchies … impose [their word/law/ideology] by force or the threat of force… Obedience and conformity are the supreme virtues. And in both, violence is not only permitted but ordered if it is in service of the officially approved ideology.”**

Fear that our children will see a rise in bullying and name-calling. That our sons will grow up continuing to believe females are inferior and objects for their enjoyment. That sexual assaults will continue to be dismissed as female over-reaction to a male’s right.

That the advances we’ve made in women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, healthcare, etc. will be over-turned. That we will be looking at a country (once again) governed by archaic patriarchal/religious laws. (Sound familiar, Sharia-law fearers??)

“The first policy priority in a male-dominated system has to be the preservation of male dominance. Hence, policies that would weaken male dominance — and most policies that offer any hope for the human future will [i.e. reproductive freedom and equality for women] — cannot be implemented.”**

Fear that this presidency will lead us to war. World and/or civil. That the gun culture will make our country a tinderbox.

That the “hoax” of climate change will endanger our planet to the point of extinction.

  • Anger and Frustration

At all the above. (Plus some at the DNC, the non-voters, the 3rd party voters, the uninformed voters, and those who wanted the country to go to shit to prove some point. And a lot at the electoral college which have gave us a president the majority did NOT vote for.)

  • Love

In times of group grief, love surges. I am so in love right now with the people of my “tribe” who are reaching out over social media to give virtual hugs and inspiration, who are meditating for personal and communal peace, who are taking this as an opportunity to speak out from a place of compassion. A friend on Facebook, after I had posted of my despair, wrote, simply, “I love you.” In those three words I felt the circle of connection tighten, my heart lurch. I began crying all over again but this time it wasn’t out of desperation, it was because of love.

  • Hope

I believe what has happened today is the death rattle of a mindset/heartset which is will no longer be tolerated. The fear-focused individual has a heart in which love cannot flourish. For a long time the worst of these fearful ones have been hidden away. But Trump has drawn them out and legitimatized their fears and hate. They are out in the open now.

While we have been living for a few decades in a world of advancing rights for minorities and human-beings in general, what the majority of us have been able to deny or file away as the point of view of a few disturbed, angry individuals, is staring us in the face. And we are not going to ignore it.

Women have bravely risen up to tell their sexual assault stories — by the millions. People are demanding their human right to healthcare and freedom to make their own choices regarding their body. Women are determined in their right to career options and advancement, and equal pay. The working class are asking to have a living wage and students to be able to be educated without drowning in debt. Activists are working on the behalf of the incarcerated. Bernie will continue to lead us in a fight for social reform and environmental restoration. I could go on and on.

The point is, inequities created in our society by old, tired patriarchal, religious, aggressive-capitalist ideals are no longer tolerated by the majority. As a friend, who just stopped by to give me a much-needed hug, put it, the boil has festered into a pustule. It will burst — and that’s when the healing begins.

Our world is changing. Indeed, writes Riane Eisler in Chalice and the Blade, during a historical period of greater gender equality, when “women obtain relatively more freedom and greater access to education… one of the most telltale signs that the pendulum is about to swing back is the revival of misogynist dogmas.”

Apparently it took a major, uncomfortable kick (and it might be a longer lasting and more painful kick than we would like under the inflammatory rhetoric of our new president) to jump start actions that will get that pendulum swinging the other way. But swinging it always is.

According to Eisler, Cultural Transformational Theory shows that, “following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption,” when there are unstable states, “a shift from one system to another can occur.”

“What may lay ahead is the final bloodbath of this dying system’s violent efforts to maintain its hold. But the death throes of androcracy [form of government in which the government rulers are male] could be the birth pangs of glylany [partnership society based on gender equality] and the opening of a door into a new future.”

And in that frightening yet hopeful assertion by Eisler, I will hold my hope — a tenuous silver lining — that today wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of a new one.

— —

*This isn’t intended as a political post. However, I will say this:

I love Bernie. I supported Bernie. I trust Bernie. Reluctant as I was to have to support someone else, I trusted he knew what he was doing despite any corruption which may have/probably forced him out of the race. And to see a woman as candidate, was, despite my love for Bernie and his message of change, inspiring and exciting.

I was elated that my children would see a woman break the last glass ceiling. And that woman would, I absolutely believe, have continued facilitating positive change for the equal and human rights of women, LGBTQs, people of color, immigrants, children, the sick, the poverty-stricken, the working-class, etc. etc. No, she isn’t Bernie but she is a mother, and an educated and experienced one at that… and, above all, NOT Trump.

I don’t intend this to start a political dialogue. I am too raw to engage right now. But, all other discussions are welcome!

**From Riane Eisler, Chalice and the Blade, which read today like all-too real-right-now prophecies.

Joanna Tebbs Young: Changing the World with Words in Her Life and Teaching

12039647_10205649886620629_4834052489016945884_n Joanna Tebbs Young is a Writer and Transformative Writing Facilitator and Coach. She holds a Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College and is a certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy. Joanna writes weekly columns for two local newspapers and offers workshops at her writing center in Rutland, VT. Her blog and coaching information can be found at http://wisdomwithinink.com. Here’s some of her words, in response to questions Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg asked her, about her upcoming online class, “Changing the World with Words: Transformative Language Arts Foundations,” starting Oct. 26. Take the class to learn more about TLA and/or to also start your path in the TLA Foundations Certification.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you discover TLA?

Joanna Tebbs Young (JTY): I began writing a diary at twelve when my family moved to America from England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it most definitely helped smooth the transition into a new culture and era of my life. After college I discovered Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Morning Pages became an addiction that allowed me to navigate the new experiences of adulthood—work, roommates, boyfriends—while keeping my creative dreams of being a writer and artist alive.

After I had my first child, I left the workforce but quickly got restless. I designed and taught a journaling workshop, not knowing anyone else in the world did such a thing. While researching for the workshop I discovered the Center for Journal Therapy. After I was certified as a “Journal to the Self” instructor and I began running workshops, someone told me about Goddard’s TLA program. I had waited fifteen years after my BA to finally find the Masters degree I just knew had been designed for me! Through my degree work I not only learned more of the “Whys” behind the benefits of expressive writing, I found my own voice through the personally healing journey of writing a memoir.

CMG: Tell us some about how you make a living as a Transformative Language Artist?

JTY: My husband and I renovated a small carriage house in our backyard into a workshop space. I call it The Writers’ Room at Allen House. I run a weekly writing workshop called “Voice Quest” which has been meeting for three years. I also run workshops for local organizations, such as a tween’s class at an art center and various summer camps, writing-for-wellbeing presentations for teachers and college students, a stress-relief program at the hospital, “The Yoga of Journaling” workshop at wellness centers, writing for goal-setting at business networking events, and “writing practice” workshops at writing conferences. A college-level course on expressive writing is in the works. I am also a columnist for the county newspaper, using my words to hopefully affect positive change in my town.

CMG: This class focuses on “all things TLA.” What can people expect to get out of participating in this class?

JTY: This class is an overview of the “whats” and “hows” of TLA—what TLA is (and isn’t) and how it can be useful in the world. Using essays from The Power of Words: A Transformative Language Arts Reader, websites, videos, poems, and writing prompts and discussion questions, you will be introduced to the history, the different fields, theories and practices of TLA. You will also explore the personal growth, community-building, and social change aspects of TLA. In the last three weeks you will look at the various ways TLA can be utilized, how you might consider making a living as a TLA practitioner, and Joannaheadshotsmall2-275x300finally some concrete ways you might put your dreams and plans into action.

CMG: What do you love most about teaching “Changing the World with Words?”

JTY: is fascinating to see the different writing styles and responses to the various prompts from people with diverse backgrounds; some write prose, some poetry, some are naturally humorous, others are sentimental, some are academic, others are more heart-centered. It’s also great to see the students open up to each other, most obviously tentative at first to be sharing their writing and thoughts with strangers in a computer. But as the weeks go on, most become freer in their writing and sharing. And everyone is always so supportive of each other, giving positive feedback and relating what resonated with them. I also enjoy reading of all the different TLA experiences and plans, the different populations people work with and creative ideas they come up with for TLA work.

Creating Safe and Sacred Space

IMG_4905by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was a new writing workshop, just a few weeks old. Three people had been coming from the beginning, a fourth had joined this particular day. She — I’ll call her Shandell — was nervous; letting me know she hadn’t written in a long time and backing herself into the corner of the couch in self-protective mode.

After I explained the process of this writing group, including the fact that there is never any obligation to share — “I want you to feel safe to write whatever it is you need to write” — I gave the first prompt. In the ensuing silence all that could be heard was the scrabble of pen and crinkle of paper as they scribbled away. Then time was up. 

One by one the writers shared their words, asking Shandell last so she would have a chance to see how it all worked. She declined. I thanked her and moved on. Second prompt. Again, silence and scribbling. 

This time when I looked at Shandell and asked if she’d like to share, she responded, “I wasn’t going to, but now I think I will.” Tears glistened in her eyes as she heard her own words in her own voice. When she was finished the room seemed to exhale. She smiled meekly but I could see the joy in her eyes. From then all, she always shared her writing which made us sometimes grin, sometimes laugh, and always nod in understanding.

This is what can happen in a group or workshop where a sacred or safe space has been created. With this type of writing — or any workshop which calls out the deep and personal — it is vital that the participants feel safe in their emotional nakedness. 

First, let me explain how I understand safe/sacred space. “Safe Space” is fairly self-explanatory: A place where participants feel safe to speak up and out without judgment or repercussion, or fear that their confidence will be betrayed outside the “walls” of the workshop. 

“Sacred Space” is safe space with an added dimension — and this is more elusive and sometimes dependent on the personality of the facilitator and the dynamic of the group — that of Connection. For me, sacred or spiritual means connection to something within and beyond ourselves; to the others in the room, to the nature outside the window, to our Higher/Wiser Self which comes through the writing, and to whatever Source one believes in. It is creating — or tapping into — an energy that is both at once vibrating madly with creativity, and calm and meditatively introspective.

Here are some ways I have found work well to create Safe and Sacred Space:

  • Sit in a circle.
  • Read a confidentially agreement (I use Kathleen Adams’ C.A.R.E.S.: Confidentiality, Acceptance, Respect, Encouragement, Support).
  • Encourage sharing but make it very clear it is optional and no judgment is held towards someone who chooses to pass.
  • If you plan to have discussion after sharing (which, in a reflective/expressive writing group should never be a critique of technique, unless it is with genuine praise), let participants know they always have the option to just be “witnessed.” If a piece is particularly emotional or the writing poses questions through which the writer is working and for which s/he doesn’t need/want well-meaning advice, “witnessing” asks the group to listen respectfully and “respond” only with silence. If the reader is emotional, send him/her loving energy and virtual hugs — never real ones (this can wait until after the group IF the group member is comfortable with the gesture).
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. After someone has shared their work, don’t rush to say something just to fill space. If there’s going to be discussion, allow listeners a moment to take in what they’ve heard and then to form their thoughts. If there is no discussion, wait a moment before thanking the reader and moving on. Sitting with the after-silence can be as powerful as the words themselves.
  • Using some kind of time-keeping device (I use a meditation chime app on my phone) can avoid the difficulty of corralling run-away discussions and assures every member of the group that they will have equal time to share. 
  • After someone has read, thank them. It takes courage to make oneself vulnerable in this way. 
  • Above all, as facilitator listen, really listen. Model for other participants that listening to each other’s deep wisdom is powerful for everyone in the room. 

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is a writing and creativity facilitator, certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy, and freelance columnist living in Vermont. Her blog and workshop info can be found at her website, wisdomwithinink.com

When Writing To Relieve Stress Makes You Anxious

writing-journalby Joanna Tebbs Young
I made a mistake.

I recently presented a workshop at a local hospital about using writing as a stress reliever. The small  room was half full. While I am fairly comfortable speaking or facilitating with a larger group, this was a new experience for me in that I was being videoed. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow for audience participation other than quick comments or questions. My usual preference after a writing session is to give the opportunity for sharing (with no obligation) so that the participants warm up to each other and become more of a cohesive group rather than silent students being “lectured at.” This allows them to get more out of the session – to learn from each other and themselves, and not just me.

This particular group never really relaxed. I’m not sure if it was the presence of the video camera or the time of night or the starkness of the room or the lecture-setting (I usually facilitate with the participants arranged in a circle), but there weren’t many questions or comments. In my experience, this was unusual. I could tell by the smiles and head-nodding that most participants were interested in what I was saying, and during the writing prompt times almost everyone wrote until time was called. But there were a couple of women I couldn’t read.

On the anonymous evaluation forms I later received, the comments were all positive. Except for this: “I got more stressed… I left with a knot in my stomach.” Our first prompt had been “What’s going on?” This is one of Kay Adams’ prompts (author of Journal to the Self and founder for the Center for Journal Therapy), and one which I actually had the opportunity to write on in a training with her. And this is where I had messed up in my presentation.

I had forgotten to tell my story.

I had been so excited to take Kay’s class and I sat there in my seat almost busting with anticipation about what I was about to learn. She opened as I did, with the prompt “What’s going on?” I wrote frantically for the timed five minutes. But when she called time I realized I didn’t feel so good. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I was kind of shaky. When Kay asked if anyone wanted to share their feedback of the writing exercise I raised my hand and admitted I felt awful, that the writing had drastically changed my emotional state from happy to downright anxious.

“Hold on to that feeling,” she said. “We’ll work with it later.”

Later, we did another exercise where she invited us to find a word or phrase that had jumped out at us during the first writing. Using another journaling technique I was able to dig deeper into what had actually made me anxious. As a result I made an amazing discovery, which, long story short, prompted me to quit my job in a life-move that was a major steppingstone towards where I am today. The words I wrote in that second write still resonate with me today.

So, I want to say to the woman who left upset: I am sorry. I wish I had explained what Dr. Pennebaker tells us in his book Opening Up and his other works, that writing expressively can cause you to feel worse initially but in the long-run, it will help. I wish that I had been able to tell you that feeling that knot is a good thing! It means you were experiencing your body’s felt-sense (to use Eugene Gendlin’s term from his book Focusing). It meant that you had touched something, made it come alive, got it moving, so that could move past it. This was a first step towards healing.

I made a mistake which I won’t make again. Lesson learned.

For a video of Joanna’s workshop go HERE

Children Who Journal: Hanging Onto Their Inner Resources

a204574e2c53124336dd72f9af6771e0By Joanna Tebbs Young

The journal is a place to nurture what is best within the self, and I think children understand that. — Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children My daughter, who is eleven, has already managed to accumulate a pretty impressive collection of journals. While the explosion she calls a bedroom obviously doesn’t reflect the tidy genes I passed on, her love of paper and pens and writing does. Although many of the pages are filled with the inked characters that spring from her imagination, as her writing abilities grew, so did the number of written pages. And on those occasions when she comes home from school fighting tears of hurt or frustration, I send her to her journal. This tends to calm the emotional-fireworks enough for a more rational, productive, and pro-active conversation.

Journaling is an extremely flexible and beneficial method for children to explore their creativity, express their emotions, and discover their own inner resources.There are so many reasons why it is a great idea for children – even pre-writers – to keep a journal. Whether it is pages of healthy scribbling, a self-portrait in thick crayon, a retelling of an experience, or a complex fantasy story featuring themselves in the lead role, any self-expression has been proven to improve both physical and mental health. For example, the very act of writing down emotions has been found to promote healing, regulate emotional extremes, and reduce anxiety (resulting in less illness and missed days of school).

Lucia Capacchione, founder of the Creative Journal Method and Inner Child work, lists in her book, The Creative Journal for Children the many benefits of journaling for children:

• The privacy* of a journal with its freedom from judgment or failure:

• The writing and drawing practice — verbal and nonverbal expression:

• The emotional release which comes through the writing and/or drawing allows for:

o Fosters feelings of safety and relaxation

o Encourages self-honesty and spontaneity

o Cultivates a child’s innate creativity and imagination

o Encourages and enhances communication and brainstorming skills

o Develops and integrate both right and left brain functioning

o Acceptance of feelings; self-understanding

o Self-Confidence

o Self-Discovery (of own beliefs, desires, and talents)

But above all, teaching them at a young age to express their feelings in a healthy manner provides them with the skills to not only be aware of their various emotions, but to not be afraid of them. In general, our culture teaches us to suppress our “negative” emotions and intuition at an early age (and in some cases, due to family dynamics, religious/social teachings, and/or trauma, this suppression can be exacerbated to the point of emotional numbness), and re-connecting to this vital, message-giving internal language can be extremely different as an adult. We want to give our children a defense against this unfortunate human habit. Learning from the get-go that emotions are neither good nor bad but rather just messages that can and should be expressed in a safe place, your child will have a leg-up on developing into an emotionally mature adult.

*Privacy: PLEASE respect the privacy of your child’s — especially your pre-teen/teen’s — journal. I have heard from many an adult who can no longer write down their own feelings and/or secrets, or write at all, for that matter, because their trust was broken once upon a time by a snooping parent, sibling, or friend.

Children Who Journal: Helping Themselves in School and Health

Joannaheadshotsmall2-275x300By Joanna Tebbs Young

On the pages of a fat, 3-subject notebook I recorded my loves, my losses, my fears, and my (many) mortifications. Every year from age 13 until I began college I reported the details of my daily life, which to my adult eyes could seem so trivial and silly.

But I know now that those daily scribbles served as a life-line at a tumultuous time of my life. I know from my research into women’s development that it was what allowed me to hang onto my voice – my sense of self – as I was learning who I was and who I wanted to become. At a time when I most needed someone to talk to, my journal was my therapist and friend.

In school, I was a hardworking and high-achieving student, who loved to write research papers. And despite high test-anxiety on such standardized tests as SATS, on lower-stress tests I was able to recall retained knowledge fairly well. And in college I was an honor student.

I can’t say whether it was my daily journaling that helped me academically, but research indicates that it most likely did. I know for a fact it helped me through grad school–without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Academic

[Journaling] makes learning more concrete, personal, and alive. – Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children

It has been found by both psychologists and teachers that children who journal have a higher success rate in school. Among the findings of the benefits for students are:

·       Improved grades

·       Lower pre-exam anxiety

·       Increased cognitive function

·       Higher problem-solving and decision-making skills

·       Expanded memory

·       Positive social-emotional development

·       Helps those with behavior problems or learning disabilities

Students tend to score higher grades when they first record their feelings about an upcoming exam or school project. It is believed that journaling allows children to gain understanding of their own particular learning style and thought patterns. This would explain why those who journal are able to enhance their own learning experience by giving it personal meaning.

Heightened self-awareness also allows for empathy for, and understanding of, their peers and the self-confidence to speak out on their (and their own) behalf. This allows for an improvement in group dynamics within a school setting.

Teachers who use journals as a classroom tool can be extremely creative with this flexible tool. Both writing and art can be used (some methods and prompts will posted at a later date), and traditional pen-on-paper journals or computerized ones are equally beneficial. Parents should also encourage their children (starting as soon as they can hold a pencil) to journal outside of the classroom as a way to process their thoughts and feelings about their home, school, and inner life. Privacy of these writings is imperative, however!

Therapeutic

Providing our children a place and permission to express themselves is one the greatest gifts we can bestow. Help them open a door into themselves. – Lucia Capacchione, The Creative Journal for Children

Children who express, explore and evaluate their thoughts and feelings have a self-awareness that encourages problem-solving and decision-making in a direction of positive change. When a child is aware of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and values, he or she can identify and achieve goals and work through problems and their solutions.

Journaling helps children become self-actualized. Ira Progoff, founder of the Intensive Journal Method and author of At a Journal Workshop, believed that when you can identify your own resources – your own inner strengths – you can use them to proceed towards wholeness. By recording their life and their reaction to it, children learn who they are and what they want. Instead of thrashing around in a forest of fear and vulnerability, this knowledge gives them a clearer path on which to travel. Especially in trying times.

Lucia Capacchione, among many others (Kathleen Adams and Julia Cameron are just a couple), calls the journal a friend. It serves as a non-judgmental confidant during difficulty. It is always available day or night and listens to anything and all you have to say. For a child who may be feeling unnoticed and unimportant in an adult world, this is so vital to their sense of self-worth.

According to Luciano L’Abate journaling also helps develop coping and problem-solving skills and promote self-growth. As an adjunct to therapy, journaling has been found to enhance, prepare for, and clarify talk therapy and allow the client to obtain a better understanding of his own beliefs and of personal behaviors. Writing “I…” in a journal promotes personal responsibility and involvement in the healing process. It has been found through various studies, one in particular by Dr. James Pennebaker, that the actual act of putting an experience or memory into words changes the way the brain processes the information, allowing healing to begin. Dr. Pennebaker recorded statistical differences in the mental/emotional health of students who had written expressively and those who had not.

Introduce your child to a new friend, one who loves and listens unconditionally. Encourage them to express what’s inside – whatever is inside. Together, your child and her journal will navigate the sometimes choppy passage of childhood and adolescence and come out the other side a stronger, more confident and emotionally stable adult.

References

Capacchione, Lucia. (1982). The Creative Journal for Children: A Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Counselors. 

Zyromski, B. (2007). Journaling: An underutilized school counseling tool. The Journal of School Counseling, 5, Retrieved from http://www.jsc.montana.edu/articles/v5n9.pdf

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is a writing and creativity facilitator, certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy, and freelance columnist living in Vermont. Her blog and workshop info can be found at her website, wisdomwithinink.com.