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we could work there together, we could support each other

graffiti of a bee nestling into red clover
check out this fantastic commissioned graffiti in Inverness!

Gorgeous first meeting of the Fall ’10 Write Whole workshop last night — one of those meetings that leave me so damn grateful to get to be in this work. Declaring Our Erotic starts on Thursday night: pass the word, will you? That’s going to be a joyful space!

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This morning I would like to stay in bed until my body decides it’s time to get up, not the alarm — I’d like a long, hot bath to loosen my muscles and self into morning, I’d like a quiet breakfast I eat at my table rather than at a computer (or, in this case, at a meeting), and I’d like, then, to come back here to my desk at home to spend the day communicating with folks about writing workshop-related matters. Maybe a break in there for some time in the garden, weeding, deadheading, seeding new greens…

It’s going to be one of those days where every half-hour is scheduled, and so, just for right now, I’m envisioning something different.

Days like today, I have to remind myself that every part of my life is intentional — it doesn’t feel that way when my day job gets demanding, but I have this job for a reason. It’s funding the rest of my work, it’s funding the workshops and workshop space when they’re under-enrolled, it’s funding me in that work: the workshops barely cover the space and the materials/snacks. It’s also giving me connection with other folks, a place of some community, work that’s off the page, which I need sometimes. I get frustrated that my time isn’t all my own, which means (when I’m frustrated) that I’m not getting to do only what I want to do every minute. And then I remember (I remind myself) that I want to be in this job right now (health insurance is good), and so I am doing what I choose — which is a pretty damn big privilege.

Yesterday, though, too, I fantasized about putting out a call to the people I know who are starting new TLA-related work* (writing workshops, theater groups, drama therapy, maybe, or spoken work classes) and saying: Listen, if four or five of us pool three or four hundred bucks a month, we could afford a decent sized office space, with a few different meeting rooms, with a kitchen maybe, with our own bathroom, with a waiting area that we could decorate with plants and hangings — and we could work there together, we could support each other, we could have weekly office meetings where we get to write for five minutes and then talk about what’s happening, what changes need to happen around the space, what’s going on in our work, we could…

This is something that a handful of AWA-workshop facilitators, including myself and my friends Peggy Simmons and Chris DeLorenzo, began visioning a few years ago, and it’s an environment that I’d still like to find myself working in in the not-too-distant future.

I want that space, and that community. After coming back from the Power of Words conference, where I was a small part of a great team, I’m suddenly feeling isolated — granted, this isolation was entirely cultivated. Working alone at my day job gives me the kind of flexibility I need, and in the rest of my life, I’m growing a writing workshop organization from scratch, which meant doing a lot of the work (at least, for the first few years) alone. But I like being able to bounce ideas off people, and being able to do the work together: many hands make light work isn’t a joke. It means the work goes further, faster (which is maybe a bit scary sometimes).

One of the things I always loved about working at a non profit organization was the weekly staff meeting. Seriously. Even when the organization was embroiled in heavy drama, I loved the chance to get together and see everyone, hear what we each were doing. I sort of get that now with my friend and colleague Peggy: we talk every week about our work, and once a month we can get together over coffee.

So today I’ll be in lots of meetings, and though I won’t be meeting to talk about writing or AWA or TLA (these things I’d prefer to be spending my time on), I will be gathering with other people to discuss something important to us, to grow a new piece of work, to celebrate work well done. And after it’s all done, I’ll get myself to the yoga studio and stretch and sweat myself into today’s practice and my desires for tomorrow.

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A prompt for today? Maybe give yourself 15 minute — take 7 to write about why every bit of what’s happening in your life right now is exactly right (!) for where you’re hoping to get to, and then take 8 to write a vision of a year from now, or three, when you’re doing just what you want to do with your days.

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Thank you for being here, for reading, for the thick power of your words and the work they continue to do, even after you’ve moved on.

*And what does it mean to be Transformative Language Arts related work? After several days in Vermont spent discussing that very question, I don’t have a definitive answer for you. The TLAN website defines transformative language arts as “all forms of the spoken, written and sung word as a tool for personal and community transformation.”  In my work, I think of TLA very broadly: as any intentional application of language for change or growth. Intentional conversation can be TLA. Poetry and poetry workshops can be TLA, any AWA writing workshop is TLA, Playback Theater is TLA … it’s as broad as our human engagement with language.

http://www.tlanetwork.org/
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“don’t go back to sleep” (Rumi)

multi-colored graffiti image of a whirling dervish, skirts flying out, head tilted to one side, arms outstretched, eyes closed
Whirling Dervish in front of a house in Istanbul, Turkey. Click the image to see more of nassergazi's photos...

Happy Friday! My sense of this week is all wonky, because I’ve been at my day job at the end of the week instead of at the beginning — it feels like Wednesday to me, and I have a little distance from the fact that my fall workshops begin in just a few days!

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Last night we watched a movie, RagTag, about boys who loved each other and who met again as adult men and had to negotiate their desire for each other. Black men in England–one Jamaican, one Nigerian–and film dealt with the hostility between those communities, the bible-based homophobia, the racism they faced. A terribly acted film, but intimate and so important, and I’m glad we got to see it. Here was this movie about boys becoming men, boys loving each other for a lifetime, getting harassed but not beaten, not shot or killed. Having a happy ending. I needed that fantasy love story yesterday, and I need it again today.

Still sitting heart-heavy with all the boys who have died recently, and all the so many more kids who are horrified to have to wake up today and live their same lives.

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I picked up a GRE book yesterday: I’m thinking about PhD programs. I was scanning the disciplines again, looking at programs at Berkeley, at Stanford, at CIIS, at USF, at SF State, trying to figure out where my work fits, and who might accept my MA from Goddard. The perfect place of course would be the History of Consciousness program at Santa Cruz, but they’re not taking applications right now.

It could fall into psychology, there are PsyD programs, but that’s a clinical psychology program for work I’m explicitly specifying as non-clinical. And then sociology, anthropology: the study of humans, the study of how we engage in groups, in society: I could fit my work into those spaces, call it I’m interested in how we treat each other and how we use creativity to survive  trauma, how a creative practice can be explicitly engaged to alter how we know ourselves after trauma, how we learn and support one another in groups. Then I looked at the education programs and let a new framing fall into place: could this work fall here?

What’s the study I’m talking about? How trauma affects, both constricts and opens, our understanding of ourselves, and how creative engagement (both individually and in community) can help us to change, broaden, expand, help us again to complicate the way we know our selves. I want to know how the brain works after trauma, how we learn after trauma, and how creative process (and by that I mean creative writing) affects the ways our brains work, our sense of ourselves and others, our internal elasticity, maybe.

Trauma studies, creativity, resilience, writing, community: These are the main pieces; what are the research questions? Why can a writing practice in community make a difference for us? I want to get inside the way that AWA works and understand it better. I want to know how we come to understand ourselves through language (maybe, too, through story), how trauma affects that understanding (our stories) and our capacity for learning, and how it is that a creative, language-based process can alter and expand our sense of our own possibilities, our own boundaries, and those of others.

Do I want to talk about sexuality this time as well? I will be, of course, because the process, this creative process, is inherently an erotic one, and so there’s the piece of the erotics of change, of healing and wellness, of embodiment and the power there.

I don’t want to put this work under psychology, because I think it pushes too hard toward the clinical, and I don’t want to engage in clinical work. This is more social transformation, community transformation, education work, how we understand ourselves and what we think is possible, and how much of that happens through the words, the language, we have for ourselves and for our communities. I need that separation from this as therapy (TLA isn’t the same as therapy). Major changes happen for folks in school, in the classroom, and we don’t call it therapy. We call it transformation, we call it learning, we call that process healing sometimes, but we know the difference (well, don’t we?) between education and therapy.

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What about a prompt for a Friday? One of the folks at the Power of Words conference introduced me to this Rumi poem. I’ll invite you to read it, notice what stays with you, what catches your writers ear, what images or associations arise for you as you’re reading — let your writing begin with whatever comes up for you as you read. You might respond to the poem, you might start with a phrase in the poem itself — give yourself 10 minutes, following your writing wherever it seems to want to go:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

From Essential Rumi

by Coleman Barks

Thank you for being here today, for reading and wondering, for the words that shape you, for the words you use to shape yourself and the spaces between the words that hold so much possibility…


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there was glitter, poetry, rage and song

white spray-painted heart on red background, painted on Mass Ave sidewalk in BostonGood morning!  I’m back from my travels, and, as you can see, I didn’t manage to get any blogging done while I was out in New England — there was just too much happening! Now I want to tell you about everything that happened, which would require less of a blog and more of a book.

(Wow: it’s nice to be back here with you, though! I missed this space/time with you –)

What’s true is that I got to spend five days doing transformative language arts (TLA): thinking/talking/wondering about it, being with other folks who think/talk/wonder about it, visioning its possible futures, considering the next year of the Transformative Language Arts Network (of which I am the new membership coordinator — expect to hear a lot more about TLAN around these parts), all the while also practicing TLA.

This year’s Power of Words conference was, again, a gathering of phenomenal artists and cultural workers, social change workers and medical folks, spiritual folks, and healers of many flavors and practices.  The Power of Words was another opportunity to continue to engage with and expand what “transformative language arts” looks like and means: writing workshops, intentional conversation, theater practices, storytelling, spoken word, folk music, blues, choir, community mobilizing to help someone in trouble, using TLA to change our relationship with our health, writing about sex, video creation, Body Eloquence, poetry (period), ‘crazy’ as a story, so so so much more.

This is a space, the Power of Words conference, that’s working hard every year to walk its talk: doing TLA (yes, and other work!) to create this space where folks gather and think about TLA. I’m grateful for those doing the work behind the scenes, the folks I get to work with on the TLAN council: thank you thank you.

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The fall workshops begin next week! (Can it possibly be that next week is October?) Write Whole (our Monday night workshop open to women survivors of sexual trauma) is full, and Declaring Our Erotic (our Thursday night erotic/sexuality writing workshop, this time open to queer survivors of sexual trauma) does still have a few spaces–if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, please send a note! I’d love to answer any questions you have about the workshops… (Bayview Writers has no one signed up yet — if you want to do the Wednesday morning writing-ourselves-from-our-dreams-into-our-day workshop up here in the North Bay, please let me know soon: otherwise we’ll postpone until January 2011.)

Oh: and October’s Writing the Flood is on 10/16 — come write with us!  It’s a great chance to test out the way we write together, if you’ve been thinking about joining one of the multi-week workshops but been nervous or curious about the process.

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I want to tell you about this past week:

  • the exquisite tenderness of spending time with deep, true friends (the people who have known most of my me’s, and who love me nonetheless);
  • the power of driving around VT and NH in the fall, that transition time that used to be the time of returning to safety from the terror of being home; the turning of the trees’ tides, that shift from thick layered summer green to brash splashes of red, yellow and harvest gold, orange, all amid still the full green push of pine and the deciduous that had yet to turn–leaves fell all around us even as we moved through a heat wave on the Goddard campus;
  • a full day of conversation with people consciously and conscientiously engaging transformative language arts in their daily lives about what TLA means and could mean in the future;
  • my first ever board retreat, with the Transformative Language Arts Network Council (talking funds, growth and sustainability, who we are and who we want to be);
  • the deepening of connections with folks I get to see every year at the Power of Words conference, and the opening of new resonances with folks I just met but carry with me now into this daily life, folks I certainly hope to get to meet again next year —

and I carry, too, a sleep-deprived several days with someone who, how do I want to say this, someone who wasn’t exactly present in the same reality I am — that’s not exactly right, she was present in this reality plus another, or more. It was my first experience of someone outside the bounds of sleep, slipping and reveling into communication with someone or someones not visible to me, hearing things I can’t hear. I’m carrying her words, how I got to see her straddling this fence, this slim line or particular consciousness that we all agree to and call ‘reality,’ how I got to be with her, and also became aware that perhaps I wasn’t with her as far as she was concerned: that manifesting and presence-ing of our always-multiple realities. There’s more that I want to say about this part, but right now it’s this, to her: please rest easy. please be well in your heart.

Please know I remember you said daughter, you said god’s creation, and we got to look into each others eyes.

There was glitter and there were songs that moved me over and over into that breaking wet space of tears, there was the phenomenal gathering of women in our Blue talking circle, there was the sharing of poetry and practice, there was deep laughter. There were more people I wanted to have true, thick conversation with than I got to. There was the absolutely amazing group of folks at the erotic writing workshop, where we considered and then dove into the liberatory possibility of engagement with erotic story and writing: there were our powerful powerful (and, yes, hot!) writings. There’s how much I still want to thank you all.

I come back full of song and words, prompts and poems, connections in real life that will carry over, for this year, into the electronic realm, and that sense that there are so many people out there who know/grok what I mean when I say I do “transformative language arts,” and, too, that there’s so much space beneath that umbrella term for the social-changing work so many of us do in the world with story, with song, with words. I bet you fit here, too, if you’re wondering about that.

Prompts to come later this week – thanks for being there, for the breadth of your work in the world, and for your good words.

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Power of Words 2009 – Early Bird Deadline Extended!

From the Conference website: http://tlanetwork.org/conference/

TLA logo The Power of Words:
Liberation, Transformation & Celebration Through the Spoken, Written & Sung Word

September 4-7, 2009 at Goddard College, Plainfield, VT

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. Organized by the Transformative Language Network, and founded by Goddard College, this conference features experiential workshops on a wide range of the expressive language arts and right livelihood, performances, open readings, and celebrations. Make community with others who share your passion. Keynote presenters for the 2009 conference include:

Kayhan Irani, performer of the Theatre of the Oppressed and creator of Artivista, an organization that combines art and activism as a form of political expression and engagement

John Fox, poet, author, poetry therapist, and founder of Poetic Medicine, and author of Poetic Medicine and Finding What You Didn’t Lose.

Lewis Mehl Medrona, author of Coyote Medicine, Native American physician and psychiatrist and professor of family psychiatry who calls himself a post-modern, semi-urban neo-shaman.

Dovie Thomason, award-winning Native American storyteller, recording artist and author

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder of Transformative Languages Arts, and award-winning author of several books including Write Where You Are and Lot’s Wife, who will be debuting her memoir, The Sky Begins at Your Feet.

Sherry Reiter, poetry therapy pioneer and author of Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing will present a workshop with her co-authors.

Callid Keefe & Kristina Perry, facilitators-in-residence and writers on Theopoetics and the Quaker meeting tradition.

Terry Hauptman, artist-in-residence, painter and poet, and author of On Hearing Thunder, Rattle, and Masquerading in Clover.

This year, too, there will be tracks focusing on Narrative Medicine, Right Livelihood, and Social Change.

Visit http://tlanetwork.org/conference/ for more information and to register!

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Podcast Answers – Day 2: Transformative writing

As I mentioned on Monday (here, you remember), I’m going to post longer, more well-thought-out (maybe!) answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation last week. Here’s our second installation!

The second question on the list:
2. On your site, you describe [your workshops] as “transformative writing” workshops. How are they transformative?

Monarch emerging from its chrysalis Transformative writing is writing that changes you in the process of its creation. A dictionary gives one definition of transform as “to change completely for the better.” Another definition: “to convert one form of energy to another.”

And for the word transformation one of the definitions is: a complete change, usually into something with an improved appearance or usefulness.” Another? “A sudden changing of a stage set that takes place in sight of the audience.” Yes – that’s what we’re talking about here.

(In looking these up, I’ve just learned that there’s such a thing as transformational grammar, a phrase I find extremely exciting but which I’m not (necessarily! I can’t actually say for sure) talking about here).

Writing that’s transformative is writing that surprises the writer as it’s emerging, either with respect to form, content, structure, or some other element. It’s writing through which the writer maybe learns something about hirself* on the other end (even if the writing is fiction—that teaches us about our capacity as writers/artists). In my experience, there’s much writing that’s transformative – freewriting as a method works well for me, when I can let the writing come, can get the editor out of the way and discover after I’m done what it was that I was trying to say.

Dara Lurie, a writer and workshop leader in New York, describes transformative writing as, “a process of refining and clarifying ones own thoughts and actions through the conscious use of language.” ( from her website). I like this a lot! Transformative Language Arts NetworkI initially met the word ‘transformative’ in conjunction with writing when I learned about the Transformative Language Arts program at Goddard College, which describes itself as being “is for students interested in the intentional use of the written, spoken and sung word for individual and community growth, development, celebration, and transformation.” (more info here…)

There’s also writing that, because of its structure/creation, is transformative for the reader: this is writing that gives us as readers the chance to discover something about/for ourselves as we take in the work. (I’m going to name two names here, for me: Gloria Anzaldua – Borderlands/La Frontera; Jeannette Winterson – just about anything).

This all ties into my understanding of an erotic writing practice or process: writing that is risky, genre-defying, full of metaphors, stream of consciousness, deeply connected and unconsciously-driven. An erotic writing process is distinct (though not always separate from) writing that is erotic in content (sex stories & the like), a writing session in which one engages in the erotic/organic process of freewriting, an experience of writing that brings one well into the paths of one’s inner labyrinths. Over time, through the use of this practice, we are not only able to improve our writing, but we are also able to witness ourselves in the process of changing. “One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body…We must continue to open and trust in our own voice and process. Ultimately, if the process is good, the end will be good. You will get good writing” (Nataile Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones).

Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, which contains the essay, Uses of the Erotic - The Erotic as PowerI’m talking about the fact that the process of writing itself can be an erotic experience, if we can engage a definition of “erotic” that’s closer to Audre Lorde’s (“I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change.” About Audre Lorde) or Alicia Ostriker’s (“Metaphor is the erotic element in language.” Ostriker, Alicia. “A Meditation on Metaphor.” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, edited by Molly McQuade.).

Transformative writing is rich and risky – it takes chances – it’s not driven by our inner editor. It lets the hand, the writing, do the writing and gets our head out of the mix, at least for the first draft—the head comes in later! (No pun intended – let’s move on.) Sometimes the results of this kind of writing are very linear. Sometimes the results are an almost surreal conglomeration of verbs, nouns, and adjectives with no distinct structure, conjugation or form—often the resulting writing is somewhere between these extremes, and every time, every time, though, this is writing that brings listeners to the edge of their seats, emotionally resonant, writing you don’t want to end, even if the content, the topic, is difficult or hard.

The AWA workshop method, as defined by Pat Schneider, is an especially good container for, especially encouraging of, transformative writing: writing that takes risks, that rides on the edges of control, that opens us to the possibility of change. It’s what makes possible us writing ourselves whole!

What do you think about all this? What might “transformative writing” mean to you? What do you think of or envision when you hear/read that phrase? Let me know!

* hir/ze – these are gender-neutral, all-encompassing pronouns; more aesthetically-pleasing (and broader!) to me than “him/her-self,” etc,

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Writing and healing in the news

Some time ago, I set up a GoogleAlert to let me know when the words “writing and healing” appear in a news artlcle or online posting. I’ve received some surprising and lovely results, mostly from small, local or regional papers/journals/blogs. This is the sort of news we (I, at least) don’t read every day, the deeply important, so-called “small” stories that aren’t receiving wide, mainstream attention.

Recently, I learned about the following:

  • The Wordcraft Circle oF Native Writers and Storytellers are back to host the ‘Returning the Gift Native Writer’s Festival’ in March, at MSU in East Lansing, MI.

  • A story about veterans using writing to heal from trauma (in the National Catholic Reporter!)
  • And a report from Charlottesville about a reading from the collection ‘Meet Me At the Mountain Top, personal narratives of recovery from mental illnesses at Region Ten’s Blue Ridge House.

    Had any of you already seen these stories? All these folks are using the written word to transform their lives, and the lives of others.

    Oh! And from a completely different announcement, I learned about this wiki, hopebuilding, stories of ordinary folks doing extraordinary things to improve the world… let’s make sure to visit this site, and post our own stories of extraordinary action in the service of our individual communities! This is the kind of news we need to know…