Friday, February 23, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: A world without

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others. I'm posting expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

What would you give up for a week? For a month? For a year? For the rest of your life? The Lenten season started last week, which brings giving things up to mind. 
Things.
Behaviors.
A way of life.

Last week we saw another horrendous act of violence that leaves many families without their loved ones while others argue about what they are or are not willing to give up. 
Memories.
Objects.
A future.

What would you give up to change yourself? What would you love to remove from your life? What would you give up to change the world? What would you sacrifice? What would you see excised from the world entirely? How would things change?
Species. 
Environments.
A known path.
  1. Embodied
    When you think about giving something up, where do you feel it in your body? Does something tighten or relax? What if you think about giving something else up? Does it change?
  2. Described
    Describe a day without the given up thing.
    Describe the world without it.
  3. A seed...
    You wake up tomorrow and find that you no longer remember the thing that you thought shaped you.
    Or
    You wake up tomorrow and have the power to remove one and only one person from the world. They would be removed from this point forward, not any point in the past. What happens?
    Or
    You wake up tomorrow to find the one thing holding you back has been removed.
  4. Story-story-go! Tell the story of a world without. Start with the day-to-day changes then move to the larger implications. Do you miss the way the world was? Does it impact you at all?
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Ask the storyteller: What is #askthestoryteller about anyway?

Welcome to the next installment of #askthestoryteller, a monthly column where I answer a few questions about various storytelling topics. A number of you have asked me why I'm doing this, so that is this month's answer.

Q: Just what is #askthestoryteller?
A: #Askthestoryteller is a monthly opportunity for me to answer your specific questions about storytelling and its related topics. Past questions have included telling stories from other cultures; when is it appropriate to swear in a story; why do I tell stories; how do you deal with interruptions; tips for dealing with creative blocks; how to get gigs; and so on. I'm looking forward to new questions!

Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Because I learn best when I engage. I become a better storyteller, coach, consultant, and teacher by telling stories, coaching, consulting and teaching. It's also a way for me to share over 25 years of experience with a broader audience.

Q: Why should we believe your answers are the right ones?
A: You shouldn't. My answers are based on my years of experience and my thoughts on the art and craft of storytelling. They all come out of my understanding. You should always think about answers you're given and decide what parts work for you and what parts won't.
If you're asking about my qualifications to write this column, then you should know that I have 25+ years as a working storyteller; I have written extensively about the art, craft, and application of our work; and I am passionate about sharing what I know.

Q: But my question feels kind of lame.
A: Honestly, there are no dumb questions. Each question gives me a chance to think on a topic in a new way, and I'm sure others are wondering the same thing. I welcome simple, complex, challenging, philosophical, etc questions.

Q: So how do I submit a question?
A: Ask! Post something in the comment, send me an email, post it on my page in Facebook, tweet it to me. I welcome them and can't wait to see where we go together!


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Friday, February 16, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: What is that smell? Is that love?

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others. I'm posting expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

It is the week when romantic love is in the air, whether or not you want it to be. This week's #storyseeds are here to help you think about love in all of its many forms and possibilities.
  1. Embodied
    How do you feel when you love? Do you feel different with different kinds of love? How does romantic love feel compared with loving a pet compared with the love you may have for a really great sandwich?
  2. Described
    Describe the first thing or being you knew you loved, other than a parent. What did it look or feel like? Why did you love it? Do you love it still? 
  3. A seed...
    You fall in love with someone you used to despise. What changed? You? Them? Are the very things you found revolting before now appealing and endearing?
  4. Story-story-go! Tell a love story from the point of view of a physical object or non-human being. A table in a cafe watching a couple fall in love. Juliet's knife. Your dog, meeting the dog of your new sweetheart.
Please post any answers you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to know what these prompted for you!

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Storytime: No, I don't have horns, recorded for Racebridges Studios

RaceBridges Studios is an amazing project run by Susan O'Halloran, devoted to using storytelling to build bridges across divides of race, culture, religion, sexuality, and more. They offer a wide array of stories and other free materials to teach diversity. This is storytelling making a real difference in how people interact. Susan is saving the world, story by story.

It has been my honor to contribute two stories to RaceBridges. This is the second.

When I was 13, I visited friends who lived in rural North Carolina. I arrived full of northern urban  misconceptions about the people who lived in Appalachia, and encountered some misconceptions from them about people like me. I was fortunate; I was able to learn from the experience and I hope they were, too.

You can find a variety of teaching materials to use with this story at the RaceBridges site. I hope you find this story interesting and maybe just a little bit useful.


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Friday, February 9, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: Unknown objects

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others. I'm posting expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

In the 1980 film The Gods Must Be CrazyXi (a Kalahari Bushman) and his people find a glass soda bottle. They don't know what it's for, so they use it in as many ways as they can; as a musical instrument, a pestle, a firestarter and more. Eventually this object brings strife to their village and Xi must dispose of it at the end of the world.

We are rich with things. Our culture is largely based on acquisition and use; how much stuff do we have and who has the best stuff? It's not a very healthy way to love, thoughI freely admit I fall prey to it.

What would happen if we changed our relationship with the stuff in our lives? This week's #storyseeds may help you think about all the things we have in new ways.
  1. Embodied
    Take an every day object, like a fork or a pen or your computer keyboard. Look at it carefully, examining all sides. Take in its qualities, from the color and texture, to the smell and any sounds it may make.
    Now write a list of 25 alternative uses for this object. Try to look at it as if you have never seen it before. Could it be decorative? A ritual object? A tool? A musical instrument? A magical item?
  2. Described
    Describe something you own and treasure. When did you get it? Why do you love it? What does it do? How does it make you feel? Who would you give it to if you had to release it? What would make you give it up?
  3. A seed...
    A woman wakes up and all of her possessions have been swapped out for similar but not identical items. 
  4. Story-story-go!Ask someone you care about to tell you the story of something they love.
Please post any answers you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to know what these prompted for you!

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Resources: Six websites for traditional stories

The internet can be a dark wood of information. You know what you want is out there but don't know how to even begin to look for it so you wander off the path, get lost, and give up. I'd like to share some of the online resources I find most useful in the hopes that you will find them just as wonderful and have your own moments of illumination in the woods.

Here are six sites I use regularly when I'm digging into traditional stories. Each offers me something a little bit different but I find every one inspiring and useful. Be warned, they are rabbit holes; once you start digging it's really easy to keep going and find some new, unexpected and unasked for treasure. Without further ado and in no particular order, I give you six sites that help me be a better storyteller and folklorist.

  1. Csenge Zalka's Multicolored Diary
    Csenge is a talented storyteller and excellent folklorist. Her blog digs into more obscure folktales from around the world with intelligence, clarity and a healthy dash of humor. The search function works well, so if you're looking for stories on a particular theme, it will help. She doesn't always include the text of the story, so you may need to refer to a book but her bibliographic information is terrific. Her tagging system alone can keep you occupied for days. 
  2. The Internet Sacred Text Library.
    A fairly comprehensive site covering world sacred texts, ranging from religious books to myths to folk and fairy tales. What I have found most useful is their archive of scanned books. Many are very hard to find elsewhere. The site was established in 1999 and isn't particularly modern in its look or usability, but there is material available here that can be hard to find elsewhere. The search function (the giant question mark in the middle of the page (as I said, not modern design) lets you find just about anything you want, though there may be quite a bit to sort through in response to your query.
  3. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.
    Rather than a broad collection, Sur La Lune is a deep one. They offer annotated versions of 49 fairy tales that then lead to hundreds of variants. You can also buy all kinds of neat fairy tale related items and books here (I don't usually recommend stuff for sale, but they have some really nifty things). The annotations will help you understand where the stories come from and how they came to be as they are. The associated blog offers book reviews of new fairy tale collections. 
  4. Karen Chace's Story Bug.Karen Chace is another talented storyteller who is very generous with her research. She publishes her blog monthly and each post covers a wide range of topics with stories that fit into the theme. For instance, her January post covers empathy, Chinese New Year, (for which she lists 14 world folktales about roosters since we are entering the year of the Rooster), National Pig day (seven stories), husband appreciation day (five stories) and more. Using her search function you can find stories on almost any topic you desire, along with links to the full text of the story.
  5. Professor Ashliman's Folklinks Archive and Folktexts
    These pages aren't pretty but there is a library's-worth of information here. Dr. Ashliman was a folklore professor at University of Pittsburgh and these pages are the resources he developed for his students. He retired a number of years ago, but the pages are archived.
    Folklinks is a set of links to folklore and related resources around the web. It is now a bit dated but may link you to material you hadn't found before, especially if you're looking for international resources.
    Folktexts lists stories by tale type. When you click on a given tale type you find links to stories related to the tale type. It's a great way to spend a rainy afternoon or three.
  6. Terri Windling's Myth and Moor blog.
    Terri Windling is a wonderful and respected writer of fantasy fiction. Her work is based in a deep understanding of traditional material, particularly that of the British Isles. Her blog is different from the other resources here, in that she shares information about her creative process and what inspires her. I have found it inspiring and helpful when I need a reminder that folk material is deep, meaningful, and others love it at least as much as I do.

I hope you enjoy these resources. Please share your favorite traditional material online resources!

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Friday, February 2, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: Small animals, signs and portents

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others. I'm posting expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

Today is Groundhog Day, that date in the United States on which a poor, hapless groundhog is pulled from its den and forced to look for its shadow. The tradition may derive from a German tradition by way of the Pennsylvania Dutch, wherein an animal, originally a badger, looks for its shadow to predict the coming of spring. In the British Isles it's a hedgehog who looks for his shadow. Alternatively, Groundhog Day may be linked to Brigitmas, which celebrates Saint Brigit, originally the goddess Brigit, whose animal was a groundhog. Her feast day was February 1. Either way, it's a reminder that spring is coming, winter won't last forever, and creative fires should be stoked regularly.
  1. Embodied
    Rough hands grab you and pull you out of your comfy bed. They make you face the light and demand that you tell them if the world will end or continue. What do you say? Whose hands are they? Why do they think you know?
  2. Described
    Would you rather be a groundhog, a badger, or a hedgehog? What would it feel like to live on four legs and close to the ground? Tell me how delicious worms and grasses are, and what it's like living in the earth.
  3. A seed...
    You wake up tomorrow morning and have no shadow. 
  4. Story-story-go!
    Go for it, shadows and all!

Please post any answers you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to know what these prompted for you!
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Monday, January 29, 2018

Ask the storyteller returns!

A few years ago I ran a blog series called #askthestoryteller. It was a lot of fun and a good way to get conversations going about different storytelling topics. I'm relaunching it today, but monthly instead of weekly. I don't think you or I want to have to ask and answer questions quite that often!

I'm starting with a question raised by storyteller Jennifer Cayley. She recently lost her beloved partner and asked me if any traditional tales were helpful to me as I moved through my grief over losing my husband. I am naming her with her permission and gratitude.


Let me start with my deepest condolences on the loss of Jan. I am so very sorry.


Traditional stories have been helping humans understand the tough things in life for as long as we've been human. They deal with love and loss, life and death. It is no surprise that these stories have endured so well; they help us know that our experience is part of the universal human experience and that we are not alone.

That being said, I struggled with traditional material in the months after Kevin died. While many folk and fairy tales deal with bereavement, most aim for some version of "happily ever after" and I had no faith that such a fate was available to me. Even now, in another relationship, it's an entirely different understanding of happily ever after. A few fairy tales about weeping helped a bit, but the happily ever after repulsed me.

Instead what appealed to me were, and are, some of the big epic stories, in particular Isis and Osiris and the story of Sedna.

Isis and Osiris helped me feel less alone. This ancient Egyptian myth is at least four thousand years old, so it helped me place my loss in the continuity of human existence; as long as we have loved, we have lost those we love. As long as we will love, we will lose those we love. I felt part of a timeline and so less alone. Isis loved Osiris fiercely and, even with her magic, could not fully bring him back to life. This helped me feel less helpless in my inability to alter the course of Kevin's illness.

The Inuit story of the goddess Sedna, while not about a lost spouse, helped tremendously. I think there is something about her rage to live and the implacability of her death that gave me solace. There is also the cruelty of the father's action that reminded me of cancer, so perhaps this story helped me see Kevin as transformed instead of gone. Lastly, Sedna is soothed by having her hair combed and I was hungry for gentle touch.

I kept reading stories and looking for the one that answered my pain, but I found no one remedy. As time has passed, I've found the stories of Koschei the Deathless have been helpful, because they remind me that immortality may not be all it's cracked up to be. I have also found comfort in some myths of lovers reunited in the stars.

Jennifer, while this is in no way a complete answer, I hope this helps some. I know you will find stories that give you solace and, when you're ready, I would love to know which worked for you.

Readers, what stories help you when you are in dark places? How do you connect with stories and use them to connect with others? And what would you like me to muse on in the next #askthestoryteller?

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Friday, January 26, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: Love, life, and hair problems

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others.

I'm going to start posting slightly expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

Since today is National Spouse's Day AND National Big Wig Day, here are some prompts about relationships, cover-ups, and things that shouldn't be that obvious. Please post any answers you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to know what these prompted for you!
  1. Embodied
    You wake up and realize your hair has changed color and texture. Overnight you've gone from one extreme to the other. What does it look like? How does it feel? Do you relish it or immediately buy a hat or wig? How do you explain it to others?
    What if you woke up and found your spouse's hair had changed overnight?
  2. Described
    Think of someone you love. If you have a partner or spouse, think of them, but anyone you have been close to will do. Describe them using all of your senses. Not only what they look like, but their scent, how they feel, the sounds they make, their taste (if appropriate). How would they describe you?
  3. A seed...
    What would you do if you were King of the World for a day, a real big wig? What would you do if you were President and had to work with a deeply divided congress? What is the scandal that would bring you down?
  4. Story-story-go!
    Show me what you've got!

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Storytime: Body and Soul

I thought, in light of ongoing world events, we could use a little Monday morning help keeping body and soul together.

I learned this story from Patricia McMahon, many years ago. We both were attending Tuesday night storytelling with Brother Blue in a basement bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those were formative days for me, learning to listen and tell stories from some of the best storytellers around. It was before storytelling had become a buzzword; storytelling venues were few and far between and so this was sacred and rarified time. I went one night every week crammed in with others who were hungry for story. It was nourishing in the deepest of ways.

Patricia was one of my favorite storytellers. Every time she got up I knew I would hear something well-crafted and interesting. For the most part she was working her way through a novel, telling it eight-minutes at a time, but every now and then she'd tell something different. This is one of those something different stories.

Patricia heard Body and Soul from another teller, who had heard it from another teller, and so on. She knew it as a Sufi story and so I tell it as such. I've not been able to find a definitive source for this story, but there is a reference to a similar Arabian story in The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan: Sufi Mysticism, by Hazrat Inayat Khan. I like the version I learned from Patricia and now tell, because it explains how to best keep body and soul together using tools we all have available to us all of the time.

I hope you enjoy this story.


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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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