|As I retire from volunteering for the TLA Network, I’m in awe of the work we do make brave spaces for individuals and communities to break silences, build connections, and envision and embody greater justice, peace, and meaning in our lives.|
One of the miracles of TLA is how it helps us grow our sense of belonging. Just by coming together in classes, conferences, trainings, and other projects, we can often find the people who really “get us” and resonate with the song our heart is singing and the work of our callings. Like many of you, I’ve drawn great strength, inspiration, and courage from being with other transformative language artists, which I try to pay forward in my writing, workshops, classes, coaching, and consulting.
I have great trust in the generous leadership of the TLA Network, and I want to give a shout-out in particular to Wendy Thompson, who is bringing her considerable vision to chair the classes committee, something I’ve done for so many years I can’t remember when I started. I have great faith in TLAN’s council, our leadership body, chaired by Liz Burke-Cravens, as they look at TLA and TLAN with new eyes in this time of fast-moving change and challenge.
My work encompasses online classes, Zoom workshops (particularly with people living with serious illness, a group I’ve worked with for 17 years), and coaching people on writing, facilitation, and right livelihood.
I’m grateful to TLAN for helping Laura Packer and me launch Your Right Livelihood, now an independent project in the process of developing a partnership with TLAN.
I spend my days, even when it gets crazy-hot (as it does in Kansas) on the porch, writing blog posts and poetry about the pandemic and a memoir about healing, cancer, and climate.
Being outside to witness the undaunted beauty and grace of the living earth led me to writing (and consequently, TLAN) in the first place, and continues to feeds my soul.
Here’s an essay by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg with input from Laura Packer. This essay also speaks to Caryn and Laura’s approach to Your Right Livelihood: A Training to Do the Work, Art and Service You Love, which is a new certification with the TLA Network. Learn more here, and feel free to each out to Caryn and Laura (via Caryn at CarynMirriamGoldberg@gmail.com) to set up a free 15-minute discovery call about the training and your dreams and goals). You can also attend one of our Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching Sessions April 22, June 14, or Aug. 11.
We all have our callings: the work we’re alive to do, yet for most of us, the path is not just a wavy line to follow but a tangle that runs through mosquito-filled forests, swampy grasslands, and even along the sea bottom at times before being tossing us back onto the shore.
By conversing with our callings, we can drop a kind of anchor, connecting us to the main story we’re meant to live, and from that story finding our own Right Livelihood. Traditionally Right Livelihood, part of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, means work that does no harm, but a more contemporary definition is the work that follows our callings, helps us grow, and serves the world in some way, however small.
Growing up as a mediocre student and expert daydreamer in New Jersey, I had no idea that my love of art and music, then writing, would lead me toward calling myself a Transformative Language Artist, a person who uses writing, storytelling, and performance for personal and community transformation. As a teenage poet, when my dad told me I had two choices for a career – advertising or journalism – I followed the conventional wisdom of the day: I chose journalism. It didn’t stick, but it got me to the Midwest where my passion for the stories I was covering led me to grassroots organizing until I returned to school for graduate work in poetry. Paying my bills by gigging as a teaching assistant, I happened upon a twin calling: teaching.
I now make my living in a kaleidoscope of ways: leading writing workshops for people with serious illness, collaborating with a singer on a poetry music performance about courage, teaching classes on poetry to change our lives, coaching people on writing and right livelihood. While what I do isn’t something I can explain in one word — and it does entail a lot of travel, video-conferencing, and mostly listening carefully to what people are saying and writing – I continually find meaning, connection, and joy on the wild road trip of living my calling.
In putting together the Right Livelihood Professional Training (https://www.tlanetwork.org/Right-Livelihood-Training) with storyteller Laura Packer, based on what we wish we knew when we started out as working artists, Laura and I have discovered some uncommon steps most of us take in just starting out, making a mid-career shift, or launching a third act after retirement:
- Converse with Your Calling: Callings, according to writer Gregg Levoy, aren’t so much lightning bolts as they are continual conversations, sometimes with a voice whispering in code and sometimes with a loud booming billboard. You can catch more of what’s coming your way by keeping a callings journal: write for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis with what work calls to you, how you might do it, how others seem to do it, what would be required for you to launch yourself, and whatever else comes to you as questions or answers. You can even write a dialogue between yourself and your calling, imagining meeting your calling for coffee at a local cafe.
- Look for Signs and Wonders: Finding ways to cover your bills while doing the work of your heart is sometimes akin to looking for water in a big field with only a dowsing stick. It can take a lot of meandering, but along the way, you can be on the watch for signs and wonders: hints that this new direction is the right one for you. When I was developing the emerging field of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) (http://tlanetwork.org), just when I began to doubt myself about whether any of this made sense, someone would email or call to say how TLA named exactly what what they were doing for years. Listen to what little hints you find: snippets of conversation you might overhear, repeated lessons the universe keeps giving you, or something you keep dreaming about each night. It can be helpful to write down their signs and wonders in your callings journal because the more attention you pay to them, the more they show up.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” goes the old joke. “Practice, practice, practice,” is the answer, and the same is true for changing your job, either from the inside out or by shifting to new work. You can practice by learning all you can about what the new work may entail. For example, if you plan to launch a small consulting business, shadow someone else who does similar work, then practice by offering free sessions to people in exchange for their honest feedback on how to improve. Even when you’re doing your beloved work in the right balance for your life – whether as a paid job, volunteer work, or art – you’re always learning from the work itself how to do it better.
- Surround Yourself With Support: Laura and I know first-hand how essential it is to have a strong support system as you transition toward your dream work. Laura, who also does storytelling coaching, has a fellow coach she checks in with regularly, and I talk with several friends regularly who are crafting livelihoods from arts or activism. It can be invaluable to meet up with a group of people doing parallel work. If you’re developing writing workshops for your community, get together a group of people who offer art, music, and other kinds of workshops to share strategies and support.
- Leap When the Time is Right: “Timing is everything” goes the old adage. For most of us, leaping from a less-than-fulfilling day job without tried-and-true plans, connections, and experience doing the work we love may be far more exciting, exhausting, and fearful than you anticipated, not to mention less successful. Take your time to transition into your work. Study the field and learn the ins and outs from others doing this kind of work, develop a strong business and marketing plan, and surround yourself with people and resources that support your new work. Also, consider taking baby steps into the new work. Laura points out that moonlighting and volunteering are noble ways to test the waters and get some experience under your belt. Many people find themselves gradually transitioning, then taking a timely leap, often surprising themselves in the process. Of course, there are also times the universe forces us to jump when a job or contract ends, and at such moments, we have a little extra push when it comes to taking such a leap.
- Take Care of Yourself: Even once you’ve leapt (or are in mid-leap), it’s a good idea to keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Remember to take time off for your well-being, hanging out with friends or family, and making time for hobbies and other passions. Do whatever is self-care for you, from taking ten deep breaths in the morning before you start answering emails to showing up at a restorative yoga class regularly to slipping out of a stuck moment to see a movie or take a walk instead. Taking good care of yourself is essential to cultivating the perspective you’ll need for living your calling and doing the work you love, and it will inevitably make that adventure all-the-more sustainable.
Most of us experience lightning strikes – moments when there’s a flash, and what we’re supposed to be becomes illuminated like the night sky – at some points in our lives, but we can’t depend on where, when, and even if that will happen.
What we can do is treat our discussion with our callings – for our work as well as for other parts of our lives – as a lifelong conversation, sometimes over tea in a lovely castle filled with antiques, and sometimes while driving our car through fog late at night, knowing that we will only be able to see where we’re going by going.
The Your Right Livelihood Training with Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers you ways to listen to what questions, longings, resentments or joys keep occur to you about your work, look toward the signs and wonders that guide you, and engage with your big hunches, questions, and leanings at this moment to find your way forward. You can also find out more and get a taste of how we work with people at the Life & Livelihood Group Coaching sessions April 22, June 14, or Aug. 11 — more here.
The training begins with a soulful retreat Oct. 28-30 (leading up to the Power of Words conference) at the ElDorado Hotel & Spa in beautiful Santa Fe. It continues on with a 10-week online class, weekly video-conferences with guest teachers including Gregg Levoy and Heather Forest, one-on-one coaching with Laura and Caryn, and extensive resources and supports for making your dreams come true. Read testimonials from last year’s group here.
Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go,” and likewise, we learn where we’re being led as well as what we have to say to that calling by dialogue throughout our lives.
What’s right for one stage in our life will likely change over time, so by listening and speaking – asking questions, testing out ideas, thinking and feeling our way toward clarity – we will be able to continually use this conversation as a flashlight leading us forward.
Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission.
Friends and lovers of words! Please join us for two life-changing events: the 16th Annual Power of Words conference Sept. 26-29, and right beforehand, Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love. If you’re in the Scottsdale, Arizona area or game for a road trip, there’s still room, and we’d love to meet you for these soulful events, all happening at the replenishing Franciscan Renewal Center.
The Power of Words Conference
Come to the Power of Words Conference to explore how we can use our words — written, spoken, or sung — to make community, deepen healing, witness one another, wake ourselves up, and foster empowerment and transformation. The conference features workshops, performances, talking circles, celebration and more, featuring writers, storytellers, performers, musicians, community leaders, activists, educators, and health professionals. The conference, founded in 2003, features workshops in four tracks: narrative medicine, social change, right livelihood (and making a living through the arts), ecological literacy, and engaged spirituality.
The 2019 conference keynoters include author and speaker, Gregg Levoy; storyteller and author, Noa Baum; and and poet and playwright, Usha Akella. Over 20 other presenters will be sharing a variety of performances and workshops including:
- Lisa Chu’s “Bad Asian Daughter” on transforming shame through embodied storytelling,
- Loren Niemi’s “Walking Fields and Streets to Find Poems and Stories,”
- John Genette and Doug Bland’s “Sacred Earth, Common Ground,”
- Lyn Ford’s “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins: Other Ways of Seeing ‘Red,'”
- Valerie David’s “Fight Back Any Adversity in Life: Overcoming a Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis, the Pink Hulk Will Help You Find Your Inner Superhero” and
- Rachel Gabriel’s “Writing Memoir for Empathy and Inquiry.”
As conference attendee Robin Russell wrote to us:
“The TLA Conference is an adventure of diving into a deep pool of unexpected discoveries. Some are delightful and awe-inspiring, some frightening and strange, but the immersion in diversity and the authenticity of the presenter’s (and participant’s) stories and presence is palpable and real. A necessary reminder of what we are so starved for in the current climate of media and political rhetoric. If change is going to be sustainable and humane, we need more people trained and working with the qualities of these warriors. The conference is a way to either dip a toe in or dive in head first.”
More at www.TLANetwork.org/conference
Your Right Livelihood
Consider Your Right Livelihood — a training with TLA founder and writer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and storyteller and consultant Laura Packer. Your work in writing, storytelling, theater, and related healing and social change arts can bring you greater fulfillment and enable you to help others find and amplify the voices and visions so needed to address the challenges facing our communities, culture, and planet. Whether you’re just starting out, making a mid-career transition or revisioning your life’s work after retirement, this training guides you toward what constellation of vocation works best for you and your community now and when the path meanders.
This 100-hour training begins with a 2-day intensive September 25-27th at The Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (where the Power of Words Conference will be held immediately following), and continues through mid-December with online study and community support, weekly video conferences with entrepreneurs and leaders in the field, weekly group check-ins and discussions, individual consultations with Laura and Caryn, and a toolkit of resources for planning, marketing, further training, and next steps.
Franciscan Renewal Center
The spectacular yet secluded 25-acre Franciscan Renewal Center offers a tranquil oasis in the heart of greater Phoenix for quiet reflection, prayer, learning, healing or joyful worship. Nestled in the lush desert valley at the base of majestic Camelback Mountain, The Casa is just a quick 20-minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The campus features a newly remodeled 60-ft swimming pool and spa, gift and book shop, labyrinth, healing garden, desert walkways, buffet-style dining, and private bathrooms in every lodging room. Owned by the Franciscan Friars of the Saint Barbara Province, The Casa has been renewing lives through spiritual growth, healing and transformation, and service to others for over 60 years.
One of the great benefits of Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love is the face-to-face weekly opportunities to talk with luminary writers, teachers, and change-makers about what’s calling to you in your work, art, and life. The training, which launches Sept. 25 and ends in mid-December, led by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer, helps people both navigate their callings and their livelihoods (read an interview with Laura and Caryn to learn more).
In addition to the two-day opening retreat — to be held Sept. 25-27 at the Casa Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (where the Power of Words conerence starts shortly after our retreat ends), the weekly video-conference live meetings with guest teachers helps us get to know each other voice to voice and face to face, and it gives participants the chance to ask our guest teachers questions and discuss many dimensions of making our life’s work come true. The training also includes a 10-week online class, one-on-one coaching with Laura and Caryn, and lots of extra supports and resources.
- Dr. Harriet Lerner, one of our nation’s most respected voices in the psychology of women, and the “how-tos” of navigating the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships. She lectures and consults nationally, and is the author of numerous scholarly articles and 12 books including The Dance of Anger, which has sold more than three million copies with over 30 foreign translations, and her recent book, Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurt.
- Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life and Vital Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life, writes for, consults with, and speaks to thousands of people regularly on finding and following your life’s work and passions. See a SPARKS session, hosted by the TLA Network, featuring Gregg Levoy talking about callings and right livelihood.
- Donna Washington a professional author, storyteller and multicultural folklorist who has been sharing stories for over thirty years. She has been featured at numerous festivals, schools & libraries theaters and other venues around the world, and she has released nine CDs and four children’s books. She offers a range of multicultural folktales, personal narratives and stories of her own creation.
- Doug Lipman is a renowned storyteller, storytelling mentor and teacher, and innovator. Doug loves to help artists and other self-employed professionals become comfortable (and effective) in marketing their own work. He says, “We tend to view marketing as something pushy and dishonest – which much marketing sadly is. But true marketing consists of discovering who is hungry for what you love to do—and letting them know you’re available to do it.
- Kim Go is an interfaith minister, former minister of congregational life, public speaker, coach, author, ritual celebrant and expressive facilitator. A focus of her work is the project, Alive and Mortal, an online group to address grief and impermanence. She says, “We work togetherto learn expressiveness around grief and find our voice. This aids us to use the power of the group to move out into the world to speak of our grief and love story that we carry with an expanded language.
- José Faus is an artist, writer, teacher, and mentor. A native of Bogota, Colombia and long time Kansas City resident, he has participated in mural projects throughout the Kansas City area, Mexico and SantaCruz de la Sierra, Bolivia where he traveled under a State Department grant. He is a founder of the Latino Writers Collective and sits on the boards of the Writers Place, UMKC Friends of the Library, The Latino WritersCollective and the Charlotte Street foundation.
- Rob Peck, is an author, humorist and recovering perfectionist! True to the title of his new book, It’s a Juggle Out There, Rob’s moving speeches and uplifting seminars focuses on three things simultaneously: Stress management, Streamlining, & Simplifying.
- Heather Forest is a modern-day bard fusing poetry, prose, original melody, and the sung and spoken word. A pioneer in the American storytelling revival she has shared her repertoire of world tales in theaters, schools, literature conferences, and storytelling festivals throughout the United States and abroad. A multiple award-winning author and recording artist, she has published seven children’s picture books based on folktales, three folktale anthologies, eight audio recordings of storytelling and a popular educational web site StoryArts Online.
Hanne Weedon, our managing director, recently shared this email, giving Power of Words conference attendees a great deal when attending Your Right Livelihood training too.
As we approach our 16th annual Power of Words conference, we’re excited to share a special offer: if you register (or are already registered) for the conference, you are now eligible for a 10% discount for the pre-conference Your Right Livelihood: A Training in Doing the Work, Art, and Service You Love, led by Laura Packer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.
Your Right Livelihood starts with a retreat at the Casa Francisco Retreat Center from Wed. evening Sept. 25 to Fri. afternoon, Sept. 27, ending in time for the conference. The 100-hour training continues through mid-December with online study and community support, weekly video conferences with entrepreneurs and leaders in the field (such as Harriet Lerner, Gregg Levoy, and Heather Forest – see special guest teachers here), weekly group check-ins and discussions, individual consultations with Laura and Caryn, and a toolkit of resources for planning, marketing, further training, and next steps. All participants receive a certificate of completion at the end.
It is no exaggeration to state that this training changed my life. The RLPT course not only taught me how to improve my professional portfolio, but, more importantly, how to live holistically as a creative person. I will continue to use the course materials for years to come, and will count myself very lucky to stay in touch with the outstanding community of people who were in my cohort.
~ Rachel Gabriel, writer and facilitator, Minneapolis, Minnesota
If you’d like to learn more about the training, please set up a free 15-minute discovery call here with Caryn or Laura.
To catch the 10% discount, if you’re already registered for the conference, please contact Hanne at Director@TLANetwork.org so I can get you registered. You can register for the conference and training together or apply to the training on its own.
“Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work, and the Business of Creativity” with Laura Packer begins September 14. This six-week online class — do it from wherever you are at any time of the day or night — gives participants practical and soulful ways to learn how, according to Laura, “There are many joyful, sustainable and meaningful ways that we can craft our work and our lives. We can choose our path….Using creative tools, writing exercises, brainstorming and dreaming aloud, this class will help you think about your work in practical terms, will help you develop the language to talk with non-artists about what you do and why they should care, will help you build or expand your support network, will help you plan for sustainable self-care and will help you develop the resources to succeed.” Learn more here about the class, and read what Laura has to say about becoming a self-sustaining writer and storyteller below.
The first time I decided to try to make a life as a self-sustaining writer and storyteller, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought my talent and passion for the art were enough, that the world would recognize my extraordinary nature and flock to me. I was, of course, wrong. No amount of talent and passion will propel a creative person to the forefront of their field. Overnight success usually results from many years of hard work and dedication.
The second time I tried I thought I would apply all of my hard earned lessons about business, dedication, and marketing. I would be organized and focused. I would be a good businessperson. I was. I was so focused on the business part that I forgot about the art and, while work began to come in I’d left myself no time or energy to dedicate to it. I’d forgotten to give myself permission to play in the midst of the administrative tasks of running a business, and play is part of what feeds our creativity and passion. Without the play and self-care the work was no fun and I saw no point in working that hard for something I didn’t love.
By the third time I decided to try to make a go as an independent creative person, I’d done some serious thinking about what I’d learned. The first time I forgot that I needed more than just passion. The second time I forgot that the passion was integral. How could I balance the need for creative nourishment with the demands of running a business?
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s come down to a few basic principles.
- Self-care is essential.
- Planning is as essential and can be as creative as anything else I do.
- I deserve a living wage. I don’t have to be a starving artist.
- Even the administrative tasks I dislike can be broken down into manageable chunks.
- It is far more profitable to operate from a mindset of abundance in all things than to assume scarcity. There is enough.
- I don’t need to work in isolation. Community is sustaining.
- At the same time, I deserve the time and space to do my work.
I am delighted to share what I’ve learned with the TLAN community. While we all will make many mistakes in this life and through the course of our work, there’s no reason for you to make the same mistakes I did. Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity offers you a chance to develop sustainable practices for meaningful work, creativity, reducing isolation and functional income.
Through a variety of creative exercises (including writing, simple arts and other explorations) we will look at the intersections between our creative lives and the practical habits we need to make those lives sustainable. In a safe, collaborative and supportive environment we will develop toolkits that will keep us whole as we move deeper in the artistic life.
Laura Packer is a performing storyteller, writer, coach and communications consultant with for- and non-profit businesses. She has been a self-supporting practitioner for almost a decade. She has told stories for adults and families in venues as varied as festivals, universities, hospices, retreats, on the streets, fringe festivals and more. Her writing has been published in a variety of print and online publications and she was a featured speaker at the 2012 Ciudad de las Ideas festival in Puebla, Mexico. Laura has worked with organizations ranging from NASA to 4-person non-profits. She helps organizations and the people involved understand the strengths and weaknesses of stories they tell internally and externally; develop appropriate brand stories; works with employees to create a more empowering workplace and helps craft a variety of media to tell those stories to wide audiences. Laura also coaches storytellers, writers, executives, , teenagers, marketers and others in their own stories and for public speaking. She loves applying artistic and creative tools to the practical and prosaic, and thinks solving problems in new ways can actually be a lot of fun.
Making a living through the arts is a way to, among living your passion, bump right against whatever doubts and fears you have about what you’re doing, how you get to earn your livelihood (or not), and the whole shebang of living your calling. Thanks to Laura Packer for writing about something we don’t often talk about in her new blog post, “The Telling Life: I Am the Wicked Queen, the Cursing Fairy.” Laura writes,
I know I’m not the only storyteller artist human being to feel this way. The old stories tell me that, because there are so many characters who struggle with feeling left behind or worthless. But the old stories don’t offer me a roadmap of a way out of these feelings; they tell me only that acting on them is evil. I remind myself that I still have worth even if I feel petty things. I do my best to not stifle others as I was stifled. I work to remain generous with my time, my mentorship, my leadership, my talent. But some days it’s not easy and all I want is to have my mirror tell me that yes, I am still fair.
Read more here, and check out Laura’s life-giving blog to any of us in transformative language arts.