The Messenger, a guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

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

Credit: Sharon Bippus

To be seen is something that I have struggled with since childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I was the middle child sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother, my mother’s obvious favorite. I was the second girl when I don’t think my mother even wanted the first one. I felt unloved and neglected. Feeling so shy and awkward, it felt safer to remain hidden and keep my distance.

Fast forward to the present, and I continue to work on this issue. To be sure, I have made progress, and my creativity has played a large role in my healing. My art, whether it is photography or mixed media or collage, is where I can safely express my emotions. It’s where I can relax and play. It’s how I can give back to that little girl inside me that never felt safe or wanted.

Nowadays, I find my creative outlet expanding into writing which is a new way of being seen. While taking Kelly DuMar’s “How Pictures Heal” course with TLAN, I had the opportunity to examine layers of myself, which allowed me to both see myself more clearly and to be seen by others. It was in this course that a photograph of a cardinal taken at a nearby nature sanctuary helped me uncover a revealing message about myself.

For the first assignment in the course, Kelly directed us to select one of our own photographs to use as a writing prompt. I had no idea which of my personal photos to choose, and I spent hours scrolling through the pictures on my phone. A few of them whispered to me, but none of them really jumped out. Then – serendipitously – I was checking one of my social media accounts and saw that a woman, whom I don’t know personally, had tagged me in a photo. She is an artist and a friend of friends, and I follow her on social media. Intrigued, I looked at her comment to me. She had taken one of the photos that I had recently posted on Instagram and used it as a model for her watercolor painting. A thrill of excitement went through me, and my mouth hung open in surprise. Someone who works as an artist had been inspired by my photograph! I was so excited, so flattered, so joyful! 

This was the picture. This was the picture that I needed to explore in Kelly’s class – a bright red cardinal staring straight at me, seeds protruding from his beak making it look like he has buck teeth. He saw me and tried to make me laugh with his fake teeth. Then Sue (the artist!) saw my work, and by doing so, I felt as if she saw me. She saw the beauty that I try to capture and share with the world.

Some people say that birds are messengers, and I believe that is true. This is what my cardinal told me:

People notice me and see my beauty right away.  There’s no hiding it.

I can fly.  I can soar.  I am free.

Nature is my home.  The trees shelter me.  The wind guides me.  The rain cleanses me.

I am nourished here in this sanctuary.  I am bold and determined.  I can look you right in the eye, and I can make you laugh.

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

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Finding What’s Underneath “I’m Fine,” a guest post by Sinclaire Dickinson

I recently led a TLA-inspired workshop at a yoga studio where I guided participants in a movement practice and prompted them to write about how they felt afterward. I’ve been a student of somatic movement and embodiment for a few years and have had powerful shifts in my way of being after certain practices. While you can feel the shifts, they can be hard to articulate. 

In hosting this workshop, I sought to help people capture what arose in their bodies during one of these practices. I planned movement focused inward (interoception) followed by movement focused outward (exteroception) and was curious to see if descriptive words would flow out of people when asked to journal after moving using stems like “My body feels…, my breath is…”.

I discovered that the words may bubble up, or they may stall entirely; it depends how concerned the mover is with getting them just right, as labeling our internal experience with truly representative words can be tricky. Having words flow out can be lovely, but sometimes it’s a slow process to get to a more honest representation of your state—positive or negative.

During our discussion period in the workshop, a couple of the participants expressed having some difficulty and even hesitance in labeling what they were feeling. The labels felt definite and they questioned if they were completely accurate. I appreciate that; words can fall short of our human spectrum of emotions. Still, putting internal experience on paper, crossing things out, workshopping, and finding better words, did bring some insights.

When one student, Erin, first scanned herself, she self-reported to be “fine.” I’m fine, I’m here, I’m not really anything. When she was invited to elaborate with more words, she discovered that what she was experiencing was actually a bit more positive.

My body has a gentle warmth, my mind has no apparent presence of stress, I’m kind of relaxed. She wondered if this might be an appropriate use for the word “happy.”

Erin decided yes, she was happy. Not only was she willing to assign happiness to that moment, she realized there were probably many more times within her life where she checks in as “fine” when she might instead use “happy.”

“How are you?”
“I’m fine.”

With such a spectrum of emotions and words at our disposal, think of how often we assign ourselves “fine” and close off to more nuanced possibilities. What if instead, we open ourselves up a bit more with our words? Even if we don’t find ourselves to be “happy,” we could likely learn more about our own experience than what “fine” will teach us.

I plan to challenge myself and my participants to play with their own labels, not fearing their permanence or precision, but trying them on and seeing what it feels like to embody them. In the same way that donning a smile improves your mood, can donning “energized” reinvigorate you in a mid-day slump?

I approached this workshop curious about how movement would guide diction, but now I’m equally interested in diction’s power to guide movement and experience. It’s a feedback loop that goes both ways.

Thank you to Erin for voicing what I’m calling what’s underneath fine. May we all lift up that dull gray rock and peek under a bit more often.

*Erin’s name has been changed.

Sinclaire Dickinson is a yoga instructor, humane education student, and exploratory communicator from a marketing background. In her writing and studies, she focuses on how we might address problems in the environment, human rights, and animal welfare by becoming more conscious of our daily experiences and cultural norms. Connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sinclaire-dickinson-3a134557/.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

A deep personal paradigm shift: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Loretta Mijares

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

The TLA certificate program helped me trust that I have the resources and capacities to bring my vision into reality.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Loretta Mijares

Loretta Mijares earned her PhD in Literature from NYU and have been teaching college English for over 20 years. She has studied with Linda Trichter Metcalf (Writing the Mind Alive) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), and is certified in Transformative Language Arts Foundations with the TLA Network as well as in Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leadership. Equally as important to her work in embodied writing facilitation is her many years of practice as a Zen meditator and conscious mover, especially Moving with Life (www.zuzaengler.com), Soul Motion®, and Gestalt Awareness Practice. Loretta’s passion is in bringing these practices of embodiment to writing in the context of supportive community, to deepen our capacities for presence and open new portals of creativity and insight.

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Loretta: I had started to facilitate small free women’s writing circles and wanted to do more of this, with the hope of creating a livelihood from writing facilitation. I was looking for a foundation of knowledge about facilitation and to learn what other folks were doing with transformative language arts.

What TLAN courses did you find most useful? Why?

Instead of “useful,” I want to say “inspiring” or “encouraging,” since one of the main takeaways for me in my TLAN courses was the affirmation that the kind of writing I had been imagining doing in my workshops was actually a thing. What I mean by this is writing that invited both creativity and personal discovery in the moment—writing in response to photographs or fairy tales (How Pictures Heal, Fantastic Folktales), or that reimagined a hopeful future emerging from our broken world (Future Casting). Having in-the-moment experiences of insight while writing for these courses excited me to continue pursuing my own visions for my TLA work.

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

I had a deep personal paradigm shift in Caits Meissner’s Future Casting class, wherein I grappled with my own eco-anxiety and skepticism about the power of poetry (and art more generally) to effect any change in the crises facing our world. The reminder of the long tradition of writers and artists who see it as their responsibility to help us envision blueprints for the futures we want to live in made me realize that even in the face of despair and skepticism, I want to choose adrienne maree brown’s path of the fractal (“How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale”).

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

I am now offering monthly 3-hour workshops combining expressive writing with movement. The TLA Foundations & Art of Facilitation courses helped me think through all the details of space, timing, facilitator’s role, prompts, etc. The certificate program as a whole helped keep me focused on my goals and find the courage to launch. I have so much more that I want to do with MovingWriting (the modality I’m creating), and the TLA certificate program helped me trust that I have the resources and capacities to bring my vision into reality.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One of the most encouraging aspects of the certificate program was the community building that happened, particularly during the pandemic, when so many of us were feeling so isolated. But even absent the pandemic, it was so supportive to share stories, doubts, concerns, and successes with others at different phases of their own TLA practices and goals. Everyone had such yearning to bring more creativity into their lives and the lives of others, and that shared yearning strengthened my own commitment.

Loretta can be found at: movingwriting.com/ and facebook.com/MovingWriting

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

I found a community: An interview with recent TLA Foundations Certificate graduate, Tracie Nichols

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

Walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Tracie Nichols

Tracie Nichols, M.A. writes poetry and facilitates writing groups from her small desk under the wide reach of two venerable Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She’s a Transformative Language Artist in process, fascinated by the potential of language to heal and transform people and communities. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics. She’s just beginning her foray into submitting poetry for publication and has already accumulated a healthy pile of rejections to her few joyfully celebrated acceptances.

Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Tracie Nichols: One ordinary Tuesday in January 2020 a writer friend mentioned an organization with great writing classes called the Transformative Language Arts Network. Being a perpetually curious lover of words, I found the website and started excavating. As I explored, I realized that the Transformative Language Arts bring together two foundational foci of my life: my master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change, and my deep love of writing—especially its power to cultivate understanding and catalyze change. Within days I registered for “Changing the World With Words” and within the first few weeks recognized that I’d found a community of practice where I fit. 

The timing of this recognition collided with my 58th birthday and the milestone of having been in practice as a life and business coach for nearly a decade. Through the preceding winter, I’d had a sense that a pivot was coming in both my life and work. The TLA Foundations certificate process offered me a way to continue exploring both the intersections between Transformative Learning and Transformative Language Arts and the possibilities for making language the focus of this next piece of my body of work. It also connected me with an extraordinary community of artists and facilitators who continue to influence and inspire me. 

What TLAN courses did you find most useful and why?

I have found every TLAN course helpful in its own way. Among the courses specific to earning the certificate, I found “Changing the World With Words” the most useful because it grounded me so well into the concepts and the community. I felt oriented and able to navigate ensuing courses with ease. I loved “The Art of Facilitation” and only found it marginally less useful because, by the time I took the course, I had nearly 20 years of experience with facilitating formal and informal group learning experiences. The course that changed me, that radically shifted my perception of myself and my capacities as a word artist and change maker, was “& They Call Us Crazy” [with Caits Meissner]. I almost didn’t enroll because it felt like such a giant step outside my comfort zone. That stretch was what taught me the most, of course. 

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

I learned – viscerally, not just theoretically – that people in all kinds of struggle can use language arts to plant their staff, push outward, and redraw the terrain that is their birthright. They can take up the space that was denied them by terror, trauma, social and cultural oppression, becoming creative forces for change in their own lives and communities.

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

Two experiences stand out:

During “& They Call Us Crazy” I learned that I had wrapped my poetic self in a very tiny, tidy package, afraid if I tested my edges, I’d lose the voice I’d spent a decade excavating. I spent the next five weeks repeatedly testing and disproving that assumption, surprising myself with the intensity and candor of my own writing. This was an incredibly affirming experience. 

During the pre-conference panel discussion at the 2021 Power of Words Conference, Joy Harjo invited us to “move with honor and integrity” and a bit later in the conversation said something like, the power doesn’t belong to us—it was given to us to take care of and share. She reminded me that walking with people through writing experiences isn’t simply a responsibility, it’s a calling, and a sacred one. My ears are still metaphorically ringing from that wake-up call. 

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

The certificate process helped me define myself as an artist and as a facilitator by encouraging me to reclaim myself as a poet and as a midwife of words, both mine and other people’s. It reminded me that writing is an exquisitely powerful wayfinding tool in anyone’s hands. 

I have pivoted my business and now offer classes and writing circles centered on personal transformation and cultivating resilience. Though I welcome anyone, an interesting mix of women counselors, coaches, wellness practitioners and artists seem to gravitate to my offerings these days. 

Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Absolutely, yes. For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.   

Learn more at tracienichols.com, or connect with her on Instagram at @tracietnichols (https://www.instagram.com/tracietnichols/).

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

Something shifted within me: An interview with Renu Thomas, recent graduate of the TLA Foundations Certificate

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

I feel challenged to use my voice for social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Renu Thomas

Renu Sarah Thomas in a BAAT registered Art Psychotherapist, educator and workshop facilitator. She was born in India, raised in England, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Renu has lived in India but for most of her adult life she has lived in Dubai (UAE).

Renu has a Masters in Textiles and Clothing from Coimbatore, India and a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Edinburgh, Scotland. She has extensive experience working with adults and children of varied ethnicities and having witnessed their stories, has a growing interest in the field of displacement and trauma.

As a self-taught artist, Renu finds ceramics and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable. However, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. She passionately encourages others to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves and live on purpose. 

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Renu Thomas: I would say that it was the sense of achievement and satisfaction I felt on the first course that made me curious about possible certificate with TLA. I felt the certificate would give me credibility in using language as an expressive art form along with art-making in my coaching/facilitation work.

What courses did you find most useful? Why?

In terms of personal transformation, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Writing” [with Kelly DuMar] was the most useful course. I found that I was able to engage better than I thought possible. The facilitator’s weekly feedback very detailed, constructive, and encouraging.

I also felt a very strong connection with the others in the group. I read their work and was intrigued by the fact that although we were so different in terms of life experience and cultural background, we had such similar stories.

The Foundations [“Changing the World with Words” with Joanna Tebbs Young] courses were extremely useful in improving my skills and confidence as a coach/facilitator, in workshop design, and in giving me direction as to next steps to improve my reach.

TLAN: What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

Validation.

More often than not I was the only one in the group who wasn’t a writer or had a degree in English. However, the sense of acceptance and belonging was unprecedented and that played a huge role in my wanting to sign up for more courses and complete the certificate.

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

The showcase at the end of the “Your Memoir as Monologue” [with Kelly DuMar] was a very pleasant surprise. I have shied away from sharing my written work because it never felt good enough. The experience of seeing my photo on the flier along side other playwrights and writers and having my monologue performed by an actor and witnessed by people other than those in the group — it shifted something within me.

The Power of Words conference was a unique experience and I am so grateful that it was possible online. I appreciated the vulnerability of first-time presenters of workshops as well as the variety of offerings. It showed me how we can combine our skills, knowledge, and passions in our workshop design.

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

I have used ideas and suggestions from the TLA courses in my workshop design and in my facilitation.

My father has Parkinson’s Disease, so I am hoping to create more awareness of the disease and the abilities of the individuals who are living with it. I also want to have conversations around geriatric bullying which I find to be prevalent in India. In all I do, I also hope to include advocacy for creative/expressive art psychotherapy for mental wellness and health.

I feel challenged to use my voice or social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple. The two certificate foundation courses [now rolled into one] were instrumental in this. I feel grateful.

Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Of course! In fact, I already have.

Renu can found at www.artspeaks.org

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

In Gratitude for Martin Swinger’s Life and Music, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter

Martin Swinger, a virtuoso singer and songwriter, died suddenly in early July, leaving behind his husband (and partner of 35 years) Brian and many broken hearts in his Asbury Park, N.J. home community, and prior to that, central Maine, where he was a mainstay of the music scene for years.

But when I think of Martin, I see him at my kitchen table, serenading the then-coordinator of the TLAN, Deb Hensley, volunteers Nancy Hubble and Laura Ramberg, and me as we stuffed folders for the 2014 Power of Words conference.

He was like this: always bringing joy, humor, and the power of music to wherever he landed. He was gifted at helping in multiple other ways too: for the conference, he coordinator participant transportation, helped Deb with many pieces of the conference coordination, and generally brought a sense of peace and homecoming to all of us.

Martin Swinger keeping the TLA Network volunteers company as they prepared for the 2014 Power of Words Conference.

Then again, Martin knew how vital hospitality and art are to this world. He grew up gay in the South, falling in love with music and books of all kinds. In recent years, he went on to be quite decorated as a songwriter, winning many notable big-time contests and performing across the country, even to the delight of the late Pete Seeger and very-much alive Vance Gilbert and John Waters. His seven CDs won lots of well-deserved awards, including from American Song Competition, SolarFest, Rosegarden Coffeehouse and more. Audiences have adored him for decades for his warm and vibrant voice and eclectic blend of Americana, swing and jazz, traditional music, show tune, Klezmer music, and improvisation. Deb and Martin sang together like angels from an enchanted land.

Deb says of Martin: Martin was a true prince, a friend to me and to so many others who knew and loved him. He had a heart the size of Mars and talent to match. Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay.” But Martin’s songs will stay. Oh yes they will. And so will his love. 

His generosity extended in other ways: when one of our keynote performers for the conference didn’t show up, Martin graciously volunteered to perform on the spot and for free (although we did extend to him a small stipend anyway). When he performed, he lifted a full house of conference goers, who had been waiting a while for the keynote, to their feet with original songs such as “Betty Boop and Buddha,” “Consider the Oyster,” and my favorite, “Little Plastic Part.” That song, about how breaking a tiny part of a vacuum that “makes the whole thing work” speaks to having a little part of our heart broken so that it doesn’t work anymore.

I can’t help thinking about how Martin himself was a little vital part with a big impact himself. 

Find more about Martin here: https://martinswinger.com/

With great gratitude and appreciation for the life of Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter.

An Invitation from The TLA Network

Dear TLA Community,

As part of our effort to grow the TLA Network, we are always on the lookout for new instructors to teach classes for our community. Over time, we have developed a strong reputation for offering classes that speak to deep and meaningful human experiences, and, we are always eager to encourage fresh voices to join in the mix. 

We invite you to consider teaching for the Network. If you are that person who has often thought, I would love to teach what I know to this community, consider joining us in learning the fine art of teaching a well-crafted, strong online class.

Curious about what it would take? Interested in learning how to market a good class? This month we launch a new series, Tools for Teachers, geared towards training people to teach for the Network – we hope you will join us in honing your craft.

We encourage you to be bold: speak your truth, share your vision, and join us in creating a learning environment that builds connection, provides replenishment, and supports our community to go out to do the important work of healing our world.

To the power of words, 
Hanne Weedon, Managing Director

Hanne Weedon comes to TLAN with 20 years of leadership and program development experience in not-for-profit and government-funded organizations. A longtime community, arts and social justice advocate, she resonates with the goals and values of the TLA Network. Hanne’s appreciation for, understanding of and dedication to building representative, inclusive and diverse communities is a core aspect in all her work. 

A letter from TLAN founder Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh My Stars and Garters!” with Lyn Ford, POW Keynote Speaker

Editor’s Note: I’ve known Lyn for several years, and she is an incredible human being. Listening to her talk would itself be worth the conference registration.


OH, MY STARS AND GARTERS…I’M TALKING ABOUT BELLY BUTTONS!

THE HERNIA JOURNAL:  MY WORD-DANCE THROUGH DARKNESS TO JOY – A journey in progress, from belly-ache to belly laugh, from abuse to a-ha, from hell to Hafiz, shared in personal narrative, folktale, and poetic joy.

That’s the blurb I passed on to TLAN for my Saturday, August 13 keynote performance for the 2016 Power of Words Conference.  Then I set aside any thought on the subject, so that, in a couple days, I could look at that blurb with fresh eyes.

04crw_2102-1Five days later, I looked at what I’d sent, and my fresh eyes blinked as if I’d been smacked by a hard gust of wind.  I said to myself, “Self, you’ve just committed to sharing a portion of the map of that dark walk into and through the woods, the one that frightens and confuses and excites you, and makes you laugh and cry at the same time.  Just a few steps, reflection and folktale connection and poetry.  You are going to share from your hike through personal muck and mire, in 45 minutes.”

Oh, my stars and garters…

This writing project grew from journaling while I worked on socio-emotional development activities and stories for educators and storytellers.  That work became difficult as I maneuvered over several rough patches—illness and injury, problems with medications, emotional situations…you know, life.  In the worst of it all, I wrote and shared my stories.  Folks laughed with me, which made me laugh more.

I’ve selected stories and verse from my journal, offered because they lend themselves to the conference theme, “Begin with YES!”  But “yes” isn’t just the beginning of transformation.  It’s the effective affirmation of every step of each human being’s personal journey.  “The Hernia Journal” presentation has its emotional ups and downs, but, yes, we will laugh, because that’s how I roll…or, reel, or trundle, …it’s all good.  I always pack joy for the journey, even when I’m crawling, with “yes” in my heart.

The preconference workshop that I’ll facilitate is titled “LAUGHTER, BREATH, JOY: COMMUNAL COMMUNICATION”.  That’s what we’re going to share.  As a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader (and now, I’m a Certified LY Teacher, too—yay!), I’ve become more aware of the important empathetic connections of laughter, play, and simple stories.  Most big folks just don’t play enough, or feel the excitement of telling their own stories without self-criticism and with the lightness of the child’s heart that still beats inside us.  I’m hoping folks come to the conference early, and play and laugh and communicate with an open heart and mind.


Lyn FordLyn Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller and workshop facilitator. Lyn is also a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), and a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. Lyn’s work is published in several storytelling-in-education resources, as well as in her award-winning books, Affrilachian Tales; Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition, and Beyond the Briar Patch:  Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore. Lyn’s 2015 book, Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts is a creative-writing resource; Lyn’s fourth book (with friend, Sherry Norfolk), Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Kids, is set for publication in the summer of 2016.   For more information on Lyn’s work, go to her website at www.storytellerlynford.com. Or contact Lyn at friedtales2@gmail.com.

Rewriting Myself, by Judith Hannan

Judith HannanWhen my younger daughter was born, she greeted me with her rigid body, as if the air had shocked her. This girl will not easy to raise, I thought. And, for a while, it was true. I was never a believer in old-souls, but Nadia appeared to have come to me with so many lessons already learned. I was never sure who was raising whom. What should my answer have been when, at age two, she said to me, “When I was your mommy, I used to give you your pacifiers”?

“You were a good mommy,” I answered, thinking this was an appropriate response.

Then, when she was eight years old, Nadia was diagnosed with a Ewing’s sarcoma. I had no doubts about what I needed to do now. I had to sit with Nadia in the hospital playing endless rounds of Spit and watching every episode of “S Club 7.” I had to administer medications and change bandages. I had to pulverize Nadia’s food and rub her tummy. One of Nadia’s doctors told me that he and his colleagues would do their best to cure my daughter. My job was to continue to raise her. I was reminded that Nadia would need more than my caregiving.

At first, my writing practice offered no illumination as to what kind of mother I needed to be for Nadia. I have a chapter in my latest book, The Write Prescription: Telling Your Story to Live With and Beyond Illness, in which I write, “Sometimes I just need to throw my words on a page. Splat! I…I…I…, No…No…No…, You…You…You…, How…How…How…, Can’t…Can’t…Can’t… No holding back, no reflection, no filter.” But howling at the page, however necessary, does not make room for reflection.

Over time, as I went back over my words, I began to get tired of myself. I had to get off my rant. The only way to do that was to stop making myself the center of all my thoughts. What became obvious as I wrote was that I had no lightness about me. Nadia—still a child who believed in fairies and dreamed of flying— began to shrink whenever I came near with my somber face. When I told her that her hair was going to fall out, she refused to engage with me and ran to join her brother and sister as soon as she could.

As I began to shape my rants into a book that would eventually become Motherhood Exaggerated, I could see that I was an unsympathetic character. I had to rewrite myself. I would think more like a child. I would laugh more. I would take my cues from Nadia rather than follow my old patterns.

I debuted my new character the day Nadia’s hair fell out. I was awake before her and saw hairs strewn over her pillow and on the sheet. As Nadia slept, I brushed my hand along the top of her head. The hair came off like dandelion fluff. If this weren’t happening to my daughter, I could think it was kind of cool. But maybe I could make it cool for Nadia. So when she opened her eyes, I told her the day had come. Her hair was falling out. “Here. Feel it,” I said. You’ll never have a chance to pull your hair out like this again.” And so the hair pulling began and even brought Nadia’s siblings running to participate. At dinner that night, Nadia presented me with a bowl of “angel hair pasta.”

As I wrote, my character acquired other attributes. Having been raised with a strict moral code, I soon found myself in cahoots with Nadia’s twin brother, sneaking him into the hospital even though he was too young to visit. I had to write compassion into my character so I could see the role I played in keeping my husband out of our children’s lives and to recognize the full scope of his contribution to the family.

What I saw most clearly as I told my story was that I had spent the first eight years of Nadia’s life shrinking from what she needed me to be. When she challenged me, since age four, with her questions about death, when she sobbed over the pain of others, when her first words, “I do”, became her mantra, I was too impressed by her depth, her empathy, and her independence. But Nadia didn’t need answers; she needed a place to bring her fears, a shelter when her own power overwhelmed her. By the end of writing Motherhood Exaggerated I finally understood what I should have said to Nadia when she said she gave me my pacifiers when she was my mother. “You were a good mommy but it’s my turn to be the mother now.”

(Note: Nadia is now twenty-four and healthy and exchanged her dreams of flight for dance.)

Judith Hannan is the author of Motherhood Exaggerated (CavanKerry Press, 2012), her memoir of discovery and transformation during her daughter’s cancer treatment and her transition into survival. Her essays have appeared in such publications as Woman’s DayOpera NewsThe Huffington PostThe Healing MuseZYZZYVATwins Magazine, and The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. She teaches writing about personal experience to homeless mothers and at-risk adolescents as well as to medical students, and is a judge of the annual essay contest sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism-in-Medicine. She served as Director of Development of the 92nd Street Y and then for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. She now serves on the board of the Museum, Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects, as well as on three boards affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York—the Adolescent Health Center (where she now serves as President of the Advisory Board), the Children’s Center Foundation, and Global Health. She lives in New York.