So you want to be a TLA (writing for healing/change) facilitator?

This evening I was asked by one of my online students how to start a TLA (Transformative Language Arts) — Writing for Change or Healing — practice/business. That is a big question and not one easily answered. There are too many factors to consider: location, niche, experience, education, personality, and financial situation, among others. So, instead I will tell my story, as briefly possible.

How to (possibly) start a TLA practice:

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  1. Start a diary at age twelve. Keep writing daily through high school. Stop writing during college except for sappy and maudlin poems after break-ups with each new love of your life and consequently completely lose sight of who you are.
  2. Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and artistsway-tstart writing “Morning Pages” like your life depends on it. (It kinda does.) Fill binder after binder with complaints and dreams for the next few years. Start calling yourself an Aspiring Writer as you write (embarrassingly pitiful) stories and essays early in the morning.
  3. Leave your job and the state to become a stay-at-home mother. Get bored real fast and design a journaling workshop and offer it at the local bookstore. Discover the Center for Journal Therapy and start the instructor certification.
  4. Move again and take part time jobs while finishing the certification and caring for two young kids.
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  5. Finish the certification, get marketing materials (business cards, fliers, website, social media pages) together, and start offering workshops at the local wellness centers, bookstores, coffee shops (including a monthly one for free to get your name out there).
  6. Contact/join writing groups/centers, networking and social service organizations, colleges and schools, and get your name on a list of alternative practitioners.
  7. Keep offering workshops despite low turn-out and cancellations. Get posters up wherever you can and blast social media. Do this for … years.
  8. Keep writing. Finally get the courage to call yourself a Writer. Get published. Start freelancing. Put your “facilitator” in your mini bio at the end of each article.flyer_Lower Stress Write Way
  9. Ask, and accept invitations to speak at networking, wellness, and writing events. Collaborate with other facilitators and organizations.
  10. Discover there is a Masters program in this field in your home state (at Goddard College) and spend the next three years transforming your life in the most amazing way imaginable.
  11. Open your own writing center and offer weekly workshops. Start getting more name recognition, more speaking engagements, and more writing work.

So, that’s my story in a very small nutshell. But my journey from designing my first workshop to today was a not a short one — at all. My daughter was two when I began and she is about to turn thirteen! And it has been almost seven years since I got certified and I am only just beginning to feel I am “making it.”

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have helped along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. I know many people.
  2. I live in a small, rural state and am one of very few who does this kind of work.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity until I found my niche (I can  adapt my work to many areas and populations).
  4. I am a freelance columnist. My name is in the paper every week.
  5. My connections through the Center of Journal Therapy,  Goddard College, and the Transformative Language Arts Network have allowed me many opportunities.TLAN-Banner-940x198

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have hurt along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. There is not a huge population to draw from.
  2. I live in a small, rural state. Writing as wellness is not considered a mainstream activity.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity and took a long time to get focused enough to find my niche and in what/with whom I worked best. My “brand” and “elevator speech” have therefore been unclear — trying to be too many things for too many people.
  4. (Related to #3) I don’t enjoy marketing myself and may have not always used the most successful methods.

What I believe you don’t have to do that I did:

  1. Get a MA or other advanced degree in this field. Experience is the best teacher.

What I believe you do need to do:

  1. Be passionate about this work.
  2. Do the work yourself. Be introspective and Write. Write. Write.
  3. Have some training/experience in ethical and successful facilitation practices. Creating safe space for your clients is a priority.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the theories and modalities of TLA/Writing for Change (through the TLA Certification, for example.)
  5. Collaborate!
  6. Find your niche(s). Find your people. Stay focused. (But be willing/prepared to puzzle-piece your career together with lots of different projects and collaborations).
  7. Be confident that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly.

But my number one piece of advice:

Never stop believing you can make this work because if you can’t imagine doing anything else, you will.

 

A Path to Publication, part 12: When the silence descends

manda4Silence. My yearning for it is as strong as my need for sleep. At least eight hours of sleep and almost as much silence. Otherwise, don’t expect too much from me.

Today I have silence. For an entire day. It’s a different kind of silence than I experience weekly once the kids are off to school and I sit in my office to write my articles. It’s a silence where I get to think and write what I need to. For me.

The last time I wrote a post here, it was high summer and my children were away visiting family. I lived in daily, sometimes empty, silence for many weeks. It was wondrous. It was enlightening. Rejuvenating. Inspiring.

During that time I worked on my memoir manuscript to send it off to an agent who had requested it (see previous posts). Other than these blog posts and those in my journal, I didn’t write copiously during that time, I’d even taken some time off from my weekly newspaper columns. All my creative energy was thrown into editing, which I thoroughly enjoy.

But since that time, when I hit send and watched (in my mind) the .pdf snapshot of my life shooting through cyberspace to an office, and hopefully appreciative agent in New York City, a new silence has descended.

In August my children returned, and I reveled in their energy, yes, even in their noise. For a while. When they went back to school, I, thankfully, once again fell deeply into the softness of a quiet house, the calmness of  solitude, and into the love of writing. And I was writing almost every day, producing 3,000 words a week for my columns, and who knows how many more scribbled in my journal.

But I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write. Besides in my journal where I anguished and cried and pep-rallied my way through a difficult personal situation, I began to feel my voice was silenced. Of course, my writing voice came through in every article I wrote; every turn of phrase, every angle, every theme was mine and a reflection of my authentic self, but it wasn’t quite right. Writing had become my job. I was doing it for a paycheck. Deadlines were almost daily, interviews frequent, and topic brainstorming endless. I had lost the joy. It felt as if I was talking a lot without saying a word.

The busy-ness of my freelance life took over from everything else. This blog became silent, and the urge to write after my deadlines were met was gone.

It has been almost five months since I sent off my manuscript, and I didn’t hear a word — silence. And that’s OK (well, it’s not exactly OK, at least a “no, thank you” note would have nice). It’s mostly OK because I feel freed up to move on. And move on not necessarily with that piece of work. It called me over the summer and I responded with a passion that wouldn’t let me quit despite the emotional chaos of those few weeks (in fact, it probably helped get me through it), and now I feel satiated for a while.

It’s like last year when I became obsessed with making mandalas. manda1I knew I needed to do something meditative to pull me and my mind from my ever-open laptop. Over a period of three months I made over 100 mandalas, one or two a day, and I loved every second of it.

Then I stopped. Just stopped. I was done. And that was OK.

I’ve been a singer since childhood — solos, small groups, choirs, voice lessons — and I continued until my first child was born. After that my singing activity was sporadic at best. And that was OK.

I was an avid artist from my senior year of high school through college and a little beyond. Then I started writing and it took over my imagination and my life. And that was OK, too. Very OK.

I always knew I would get back to singing (I have) and to my art (more than mandalas) which I will when the time is right. I feel similarly about my book right now. Like the mandalas, which served a valuable purpose when I needed them, working on my book was necessary at that time. I don’t feel the drive for now, and that too is OK.

What worries me — as in, it is causing me discontentment with my good fortune of having such stable freelance work — is that something is beginning to bubble in my depths. Something else needs to be written. I’m not sure what it is, I get only a vague glimmer of it once in a while. I try to get it to focus in my mind, but it won’t.

I also re-experience the joy of writing once in a while when I decide to write one of my columns free from the constraints of interviews and profiles and event promotions. It is when I write these pieces that I remember why I love to write, and it verifies that I have more to give, more to experience, more to say. That I need to free myself from the confines of freelance work. That I need my “talking” to say something more authentic and more — dare I say? — important.

Ideas and questions I discovered during graduate school and am learning in life right now need further exploration as only writing can do; things that need to be shared and offered to others to (hopefully) help them on their own journey. I need to do more but I can’t quite grab hold of what it is and how I might do it.

So, in the unexpected silence of today while my family is off playing in the snow, I ponder the silence of words not written, the silence that is caused when what one really wants and needs to say is not said.

But acknowledgement is a first step. Yes, I know I have more to say, but it might not quite be the right time to say it. But it will be. And so, that is OK.

The W.O.R.D.S. Project: Calling (Or, how do I know my bliss?)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Can you hear the calling of your soul?

And are you really listening?

Listen, listen with your heart,

Listen with your breathing

In, and your breathing out.

Notice how your body feels when

Guiding words vibrate within.

“It was his calling to be a doctor.” “Midwifery is my calling.” “I was called to be a writer.”

Our calling. What does this really mean? And who’s calling?

Some would say it is God who is calling us to our destined path. Well, maybe so – if you believe God is happy to let you do whatever it is that sets your soul free and your spirit soaring. Unfortunately, some believe that those things that make a person happy and fulfilled are contrary to God’s will and so they stunt their own potential in pursuit of unclear message of what it is to be acceptable to God.

That’s not my idea of a divine, higher source of wisdom. For me, divinity IS the journey towards, the search for,  as well as that itself which brings us FLOW (when we lose time doing something we love and have a talent for – our gift). It is the quest for, and the experiences of, transcending the monkey-mind of ego; that place where we are challenged, yet loving it (even during the difficult spots).

We know what these experiences are, what activities can bring us to that place, but we don’t always know it. Contradiction? Not really. Deep, deep inside, in that place that resonates when we hear and recognize some innate truth — when we catch our breath, or our eyes suddenly smart with tears — that is the place of true, gnosis: Knowing

But, as humans in a head-mind “body,” we’re not very good at accessing that spot on a regular basis. It’s deep down there in the body. In our cells, not our thinking mind. We have to listen very carefully to connect to that place. And many times we’re doing everything except that which resonates, that which causes us to flow  beyond, below, and above our critical, fearful, rational ego that tells us we SHOULD be doing this, that, and anything else that will make us respectful, scripted members of society – perfectly.

But that place is calling. That place which knows what your Purpose — our Bliss — here on earth is calling out. And if you listen carefully, very carefully — and it might take some practice, a lot of “walking” around down there — you will hear your Higher Wisdom speaking to you, reminding you what you probably knew intuitively as a child: Your Calling.

So, who’s calling? You. Divine You.

I write this as a reminder to myself because my “calling” has become a little hoarse lately. I thought I knew — and I know I’m on the right path — but the exact destination (or journey, because life is a journey, not a destination) seems to have shifted. But that’s how this thing works: Listen, take a step, listen again, take another, sometimes in the opposite direction than you thought. And that is exactly perfect. Whatever step you take it is enough and right for today for tomorrow you can take another.

~~~

*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

Danger: Toxic levels of self-bashing

This post is a bit of an off-shoot for me but as I write it I will somehow figure out how to make a journaling prompt out of it. And I also know many of you will relate to what I am about to say.

I got rejected.

By a home-cleaning professional.

Let me explain. I don’t like chaos or clutter. My preferred living arrangement is tidy and beautifully decorated; OK, it’s more eclectic than beautiful, but everything has a place, everything in its place. That’s how it is supposed to be, however, I have two young kids: Clutter Happens. I am a Virgo: I don’t like doing the same things over and over.

I JUST vacuumed this rug, did you HAVE to bring a plate of rice crispies (a plate? of cereal? seriously?) in here and lick them up like you’re a dog? Seriously?!

And I hate, hate, hate to clean. I was absent the day they were giving out the cleaning gene. Consequence: My house is a mess! Yes, I go through when I can no longer see the floor daily and pick up the socks, toys, shoes, wrappers, escaped rabbits, backpacks, papers strewn around and get the house looking marginally like somewhere I might enjoy living. But to be honest, once the rabbit-trapping game is over I have no energy left to get out a dust rag. In fact, I don’t even have the energy to even see the layer of dust that is holding the piano together. In other words, if you come over you may be impressed by the cozy furniture arrangement, art on the walls, and homemade pillows on the couch, but please don’t look too closely at anything. Let’s put it this way, there might as well be a Spider Safe Zone sign on my front door. No arachnid need fear for their life here: my home is your home, Mr. and Mrs. Legs. Dust bunnies are also welcome to multiply to their dust bunny delight.

Most of the time I turn a blind eye to my greasy microwave and be-crumbed counter corners, but once in a while it all comes uncomfortably into focus and I tearfully bemoan my lack of housewifery skill. That’s when Hubby and I have the conversation we have had countless times before: Let’s get a cleaner. OK, OK, I’ll make some calls… but I never do. Why? That is a mystery only my therapist can help me unravel. But at last this week when I admitted it was crazy to be putting myself under so much pressure to do something I detest and frankly, suck at, I made a call.

So, she came over. I promised not to clean up before she came. The house wasn’t in too bad a shape to my eyes. Well, it was tidy, at least. Still it felt like she was peering into my unconscious and finding it to be a scary place. She looked around, we decided on a number of hours and what exactly she would be expected to do. Thanks for coming by, hear from you soon about starting date? Yes, nice to meet you too. Yes, goodbye.

Two days later I got The Call. She was going to have to pass on the job. The time slot she was planning to give to me didn’t open up as she was expecting and she had to be honest with herself about her own schedule and energy level. OK, no problem. I understand. Good for you for looking after yourself. Bye.

Suddenly I feel rejected. Was my house even too dirty for a house cleaner?? Seriously, do I suck that badly? I was taking it personally. Because I’m not very nice to myself.

As I scrubbed my kitchen counters and swept the floor this morning I realized there was a bash session going on in my head that I hadn’t been invited to:

You are a TERRIBLE housewife! You can’t even keep the counters clear? Look in that corner! And under there! And, oh, good job on cleaning the oven… I can still smell the smoke from the burnt piece of, what was that? Last week’s pizza? And what the hell is that mush in the back of the fridge? Ugh!

On and on it went as I wiped and de-crumbed. It was kind of like having a drill sergeant in my head: What is it, Young? Scared of a little cleaning? You wuss! You failure as a woman! Drop and give me 50 scrubs of that floor!

But then I stood up straight and fired back at that ugly, yelling fathead. I don’t HAVE to be good at this. So there!

Just because I’m a woman it doesn’t mean I was born knowing how, or liking to scrub toilets. It’s not required. No one expects me to know how – or want – to paint a picture, build a house, fill potholes, or solve global warming. But for some reason cleaning house (and cooking – don’t enjoy that either) is a requirement of my gender. I pay someone to do my taxes, fix my car, and cut my hair, why should I feel any different about cleaning my house? Worst of all, I put this expectation on myself.

Someone once said: Don’t get good at what you don’t want to be doing. Right then, I won’t! I want to be writing and studying. I want to be a happier, less stressed mom and wife. I want to live in a clean house that fills me with contentment not reminders of my “failure.” I want to be authentic! Do what you love and leave the rest to someone else. I’ll make another call. Someone out there is looking for work. I can be a happier failure as a housewife, get my own much-enjoyed work done, and help someone else. Score!

And here are your Prompts (told you I’d find something to journal about!): What are you getting good at but would rather not be? What’s your drill sergeant saying? Do you believe him/her?

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Gratitude, even while leaning over the bowl

I believe in gratitude. I try to be thankful for everything, to find something to be thankful for even in the midst of a blitz of ugh. I won’t deny this is very hard for me. I love to complain. Love it! Too cold, too humid, too hungry, too tired, too poor, too, too, too. But I am practicing gratitude and practicing finding the positive. I’ll get good at it yet!

Being thankful for what you have now instead of being focused on what you haven’t got is a very healthy mindset. Being grateful for everyday’s little blessings does not mean you can’t dream of bigger and better, it just means being content in this moment, now. After all, our life is ultimately made up of minutes. What you do, think, and say during the minutes is your life. Constantly wishing for something else makes a mockery of what you have now. Thankfulness for what you have now opens the door for more to be thankful for in the future. Contentment in the moment brings happiness in the long run.

The last two days has found me holding one or other of my children while their poor little bodies convulsed to void themselves of illness. This has meant two days when I couldn’t be at my computer rambling away as usual. I had to pull my mommy-nurse hat firmly down over my ears and set to comforting my weakened children. I tried not to think about the two looming article deadlines or the last minute marketing I could/should be doing for a workshop starting this week. I tried to immerse myself in housework that I never have (never allow myself) time to take care of. I tried to live in the moment even while mopping vomit off Little Lady’s chin.

It was hard. My work kept sneaking up and taunting me. And I had moments of frustration when I tried to sit at my computer while Elmo occupied my offspring in the other room, only to be called upon for more water or a tissue.

But then I realized something. I am so blessed! I can be home with my children. I am not letting anyone down at the office or using sick days that I might need for myself at a later date. I am not shorting us a paycheck and I am not subjecting anyone else to my children’s germs. How wonderful that I can be here to hold a coughing child and bring him hot milk.

I am so grateful that Hubby and I made the decision to stick to our guns and pursue what matters to us. It was incredibly important to me to be here to see our children off to school in the morning, to be here when they come home in the afternoon, and to eat dinner together at night. Yes, my dream to write and teach writing was an extremely high priority also, but the fact that these priorities merge almost seamlessly is an amazing blessing.

I acknowledge – and do not in anyway demean – that others would not choose the same route as me. Their dream, their priorities, lie on a different path. I do not for one moment intend to imply that those mothers (or fathers) who have chosen, or have no choice but to work outside of the home, care one inkling less for their children. My point is this, and only this: Be thankful for your every moment, even when you spend a morning washing sick-bed sheets when you would much rather be wringing out words and phrases. Being thankful can change your attitude from frustrated to fulfilled.

Prompt: Even if you are not particularly content in your current situation, what ARE you thankful for?

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Finding my rhythm

Children don’t know about rhythms, not the ones we adults recognize, anyway. Their internal beat is like one from another culture – African, Asian, Alien – that is not the 4/4 we Westerners are used to.  Time is of no consequence. Play always, eat whenever, sleep only when legs will no longer run.  Until my children are old enough to tune into the boring beat of responsibility, I must attempt to live with an erratic pulse.

I fantasize about a time when I, the Writer and Business Woman, will have my own rhythm by which to structure my day. Writers are always interested in the working habits of their fellow wordsmiths as they try to unscramble the secret code of being a writer. One thing comes through from these stories: There is no one way to practice your craft.

The two stories I recall (and I have no memory of where I read them or to whom they refer) offered just two possibilities. I’m guessing this first one sounds downright luxurious to most of us. The writer in question would arise at a fairly normal hour, say 7AM, eat breakfast, walk the dog, and then go back to bed! Wow. She would then get back up a few hours later and write into the night. The second author was a mother (ahhh, someone I can relate to). She would get up crazy, crazy early, like 4AM (oh, no longer relating), work until the kids got up, get them off to school and then write for a couple more hours. After that I don’t recall how she spent her day – I would guess zoned out with exhaustion.

For how differently these two women scheduled their life, one thing is consistent: Discipline.

I am learning to structure my days in order to be more efficient and productive, but it is difficult. So many times my mood and energy depends on how many times I was yanked out of REM sleep by a Mama! or how the wake up-breakfast-school departure went off. Some days I can sit in front of my computer all day with not much more to show than some meaningless babble on Facebook. On these days I need to give myself permission to sit on the couch with my journal or a good book (and consider it research). I’ve written before about the benefit of the spaces in between work, but it is hard to remember the creative benefit of stopping once in a while. I also have to remember that doing a load of laundry or meeting a friend for lunch will not kill my career. The Work From Home police are not going to come and check up on me to see if I took a break to have a cuppa.

But efficiency is the name of the game. My goal is to set time limits on myself. Half and hour to journal before the work day begins, another half an hour to email (and OK, Facebook – for business purposes). Two hours to write whatever piece I’m currently working on, and then my blog. Another day it might be writing an Examiner article or preparing for an upcoming workshop. Whatever it is I’m working on, I have to block out the time in advance and be fair to myself. Don’t work at it until I’m ragged but turn to something else to always keep it all fresh and exciting. I must take breaks and most importantly, schedule in some FUN!

I’m still struggling to get the hang of this working from home thing. Time away from the computer still feels like I’m slacking. But I dream of the day when my day will run like clockwork from bed-rise to beddie-byes. I will churn out words like John Grisham, I will email and do paperwork as if I was my own legal secretary, and I will make beds and pick up toys with the spit-spot of Mary Poppins. And then at 3:30 precisely, I will shut down the computer and put on my Mommy hat.

Rhythm. Sometimes it is hard to keep in time with a new and unfamiliar one. But if you keep at it, eventually the beats, the rests, and the cadences will click with your own and you’ll be able to dance.

Prompt: What does your ideal day look like? Does it have a rhythm?

Waiting for the serendipity to stir

I realized I hadn’t said much about serendipity or positive thinking lately. Since I started the job that was the result of a serendipitous event, life has become kind of run of the mill. Despite having not worked (out of the home) for 4 years I have slipped back into the routine and mindset of being in an office as if I just returned from a extended vacation. Thankfully this job has yet to stress me out like my last “real” job where I had publication deadlines, front-of-house crowd control issues, and the pressure of being a new, working, breast-pumping mother.

Even so, I think I’m a little down. I had finally started writing – or at least got my head in a place where I was (truly) ready to start – and now I’m wrestling The Schedule. I have marked up my planner until it looks like the departure board at Logan airport, blocking out every hour with this chore, that errand, appointments, work, and writing. But then that errand takes an hour longer than it should (due to the rice having been moved from aisle 4 to aisle 13 and pizza dough apparently no longer made) or a staff meeting and work project running over time, shrinking the scheduled writing time from three hours to one (which, of course, means no writing).

I’m glad I’m working and I especially can’t wait to write a grant. Plus, we definitely needed the extra paycheck to get through this heating season. But I also feel that maybe – once again – I have put my own dream on hold. Did I do this on purpose; subconsciously sabotaging myself because I was getting too close to actually doing what I have dreamed of?

When you no longer have an excuse to fall back on, the responsibility of a dream can loom large and scary.

I think I have stopped thinking positively and looking for serendipity because my life has become, well, normal, and a normal life – boring life – doesn’t foster spiritual thoughts. But I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m making a mistake. If I did start thinking more positively about merging my working, mothering, and writing lives into a more do-able, less scary whole, I would most likely start to see the serendipity stir.