Monday, July 27, 2020

Homesickness in the time of pandemic

While I lived in Boston for almost 30 years, I never fell in love with it. What made it home were the people I loved and the New England landscape outside of the city. I never felt deeply bonded to the place the way one does with a capital H Home. I carry a sense of home inside of me and that's enough.

Why do I feel homesick for Boston these days? I've been noticing this feeling for weeks, wanting to go Home, even though the home I'm yearning for is long gone. I couldn't go back to the same apartment, Kevin is dead these six years, and I am content enough in Minnesota with Charley.

In thinking about this, what is no doubt obvious to you became clear to me. It isn't that I want to go back to a place, but I want to go back to a belief and a time. A time before Trump and pandemic and constant fear. A time when the future seemed brighter, when I was able to believe the illusion that there was some kind of certainty and positive momentum. A time when I had some confidence in the world as a relatively benign place. A time when I was more hopeful, maybe more innocent. I want that Home, and it doesn't exist. It never did.

The fact of its non-existence doesn't mean I can stop yearning for it. The pandemic has created a great sense of homesickness in me. I am hungry for a sepia-toned-Dorothy-Gale-Kansas version of home, but that doesn't work because I never liked the ending of that film. The message that we're not supposed to dream bigger, full-color lives never rang true to me. 

I'm pretty good at sitting with whatever I'm feeling, but this one makes me impatient with myself, because it comes perilously close to nostalgia, a feeling that I see used in many wicked ways (the good old days never existed and were pretty bad for many). So what am I supposed to do with this feeling? 

I'm asking myself that every day. Some days the answer is to feel the feeling then deliberately move on to other things. Some days it's to feel sad and scared and recognize that what I want isn't possible nor should it be. Other days, my better days, it becomes a spur to act in some way to create a better world. Sometimes that helps.

Today? Today I am homesick. Today I am angry and afraid and ready for change. Today I am sitting with those feelings and realizing I want to build a better idea of home. Today I need to remember that I am not alone in these feelings. Neither are you. 

If there's no place like home then let's make it a home we want to be in. Let's build a world where homesickness doesn't need to be. 

Today I'm calling elected officials and reminding them they work for me. I'm donating what money I can to a variety of organizations, among them some to help those who have lost their homes. And I am sitting with those feelings, yearning for what was, mourning what is gone and then picking up the phone for another call.

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Listening, telling, and empathy to build a more equitable world

This was originally published in my newsletter on 5 June 2020.

Without a doubt, we are living in challenging times. How we respond to it is part of the story we will tell ourselves for years to come, and it's worth some thought.

I've been getting newsletter after newsletter from companies and artists declaring their commitment to equity and human rights, which is as it should be. I've been debating whether I should send out such a statement myself, so let me clear: Black lives matter. Social inequity is an affront to all. Racism, sexism, and more, all of which are systemically entrenched in the United States, are wrong and we all must work to overcome hundreds of years of evil. Yes, evil. It will not be comfortable but it's worth it. I hope that if you know me, or have been following my work, you know my values are in favor of empathy, equity, human and environmental rights. You also know I make mistakes and strive to learn from them.

I've been thinking about how I, a single storyteller, can have a positive impact for a better world, and what I keep coming back to is that I need to shut up and get out of the way, or use my privilege to elevate the voices we most need to hear. When we listen to others we are much more likely to build empathy and understanding. Stories are one of the best possible tools to help us understand another's point of view and maybe learn a bit about ourselves in the process. To that end, I'm going to step aside and urge you to watch this powerful story by Sheila Arnold about how she responded when her son told her he had been pulled over by the police. I cannot watch it without sobbing. CW: Police violence against a man of color.

Sheila's story is a stark reminder of what it's like to be African American in the United States today. Listening to it evokes empathy and powerful emotions. If I could, I would make it required viewing in every police academy, for every store owner, for every white person.

That's part of what we can do as storytellers. We can listen more deeply, empathize more honestly, and share stories that will help others realize why this is important and overdue. That's part of what I'm doing. I'll find ways to do more, including continuing to talk about these issues in my classes, my programs, and most importantly, listening as much as I can.

Thank you for knowing how important story is to building a better world. Thank you for walking alongside me as we continue our march forward.

P.S. It feels rather unimportant in light of everything else, but I am honored and humbled to tell you that I am being inducted into the National Storytelling Network's Circle of Excellence. You can learn more here. I am so grateful to Brother Blue, Ruth Hill, Kevin Brooks, my parents, Charley Shaffner, Loren Niemi, Jamie Mayo, and everyone else who has believed in me over these years. Thank you.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

These are the times we are made for

These are unprecedented times. Never before in human history has a pandemic swept the globe so quickly. Never before have we been able to see it unfurl in real-time. Never before have we been so bombarded with information and misinformation, rumor and fact. 
Each of us is responding the best we can. What that means changes on a daily basis, sometimes even by the minute, but that doesn't mean it's anything but our best, even if in this moment the best you can do is nothing at all.
It can be hard to find a path or even a clear identity when so much is happening at once, but that doesn't mean who you have been, who we are, is invalid because of cultural changes brought on by illness, fear, and propaganda. In fact, who we are as storytellers is more important and valid than ever before. 
We are storytellers.  We are the ones who know that each individual story matters just as much as the big picture. We are the ones who know that person-to-person contact through story doesn't mean contagion of illness, but of shared humanity and hope. To quote Brother Blue, "We are the ones we've been looking for." 
We are listeners.  Storytellers understand the vital importance of deep listening without judgement. We can hold space for others and create places where anyone can share their tale so we build community, connection, and empathy.
We are observers.  Storytellers watch the world with an artist's eye. We see what is visible, what is overlooked, and what is hidden. We see, we notice, and we remember.
We are holders of truth.  Whether through metaphor or fact, storytellers hold the truth of what it is to be human. We hold the truth of love and loss, of heroism and deceit, of hope and resilience. We speak truth to power and know our words will echo through the world.
We are cartographers.  Elizabeth Ellis said we need to tell difficult stories because we are saying, "I went to hell. I came back. Here is a map." Our stories, whether traditional or personal, serious or funny, are maps to survival and change. They are a coded document of endurance, empathy, and determination. 
We are makers of meaning.  Storytellers know that meaning lies in everything. Whether a joke that reveals our fears and aspirations, a myth that shapes the world, or a personal recollection, our stories help everyone who hears them interpret and understand the world. We know that words matter. 
We are storytellers.

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Sunday, April 19, 2020

On being cancer free in a pandemic

26 years ago yesterday I woke up at 4:30 a.m., put on my rattiest pair of jeans, and went to a specialty hospital to have surgery. I had a mass in the orbit of my left eye. I had been assured it was likely benign, but they couldn't confirm until it was removed. The procedure for a biopsy was the same as for excision, so there was no reason to not just have it taken out. Besides, the mass was growing pretty quickly and I was starting to look like Marty Feldman's cousin, let alone having some unsettling visual problems, like partial blindness in my left eye and diplopia.

About 12 hours later I woke up in recovery, pushing the nurse away as she adjusted my oxygen mask. I looked like I'd been badly beaten, but was assured everything went well and I would heal quickly and easily. There had been some alarming moments in the surgery, but I was okay. That night in the hospital, a nurse named Steve? Bill? sat next to me and held my hand when I was afraid. I went home the next day.

A few days later I went back for a check-up and biopsy results. That was when the doctor told me that the mass wasn't benign but a fairly rare and (at the time) not well understood malignancy. Cancer. Long story short, there was some rigamarole about next steps, but I was fine. I still am. Some good stories have come out of it and I've learned a few things.

A year later, 25 years ago, I threw a party, my re-birthday. I kept that party up for ten years then decided I'd had enough and didn't need to do it anymore. I would do it again in 10 years for my 20th re-birthday.

Twenty years later, April 18 was 21 days after Kevin died from cancer. I didn't throw a party.

In all honesty, now I don't really remember to notice the day for my own sake. I'm reminded by something about the Oklahoma City bombings, which occurred on April 19, 1995 (remember when this kind of thing seemed impossible?) or, while I still lived in Boston by the Marathon or Patriots Day. If anything, when I did remember, it became another trigger for grief because I survived cancer and Kevin did not. Mostly it's just another day, which is probably good.

This year is different. It is, of course, different for all of us and in so many ways. Some of us are just learning about grief and trauma, others recognize some of it as a familiar ride. For all of us this is unprecedented.

I woke up yesterday not thinking at all about the date. Something was nibbling at me, something I should remember. At some point, I think while Charley and I were walking, I remembered. Oh. Right. Today I am cancer-free.

I'm not sure what the larger point is here, other than wanting to note it and recognize that against the greater backdrop of global grief and loss, it is both very small and not small at all. I keep thinking about A Blessing for the Wedding by Jane Hirschfield and Elizabeth Alexander's Praise Song for the Day, both poems about the ordinary-ness of the extraordinary and the extraordinary-ness of the ordinary.

Hirschfield reminds me that living and dying happen all the time, that there are unknown joys and tragedies every single moment of the world. So it is with my own cancer experience, with loving and losing Kevin, with loving and losing so many, with this moment when we are all suspended in time between life and death, staying home to stay safe or struggling to breathe.

Today when someone you love has died
     or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
     or someone you will not meet has been born

Every single one of those moments matters whether or not they impact me directly.

It is Alexander who comforts me. I wish I could share her words with my 26 year old self, who was so very scared. I don't know if they would have helped then, or if they will help now, but

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, 
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Today I am still here, amidst the certainty of death and loss, praise and courage, the un-noticed moments that compose our lives. Today I am 26 years cancer-free, half my life passed ahead of that frozen moment. I did not know then what was to come, all of the love and fear and strangeness and wonder. I still don't know. None of us do. But here we are.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. I love you all.
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Saturday, March 28, 2020

An open letter to Kevin, six years today

CW: In these strange days, please know that this letter contains specific descriptions of end-of-life, of grief, and of the days we are living through. 

Dear Kevin,

Here we are, the morning of the day you died, six years on. I remember waking that morning and fearing you'd slipped away in the night, knowing that today was the the day. I remember the smell of the hospital room, the angle of your head, the utter focus of those moments. I remember the hospital chaplain who visited, stroked your hair and told me he always found that comforting when he was a boy, when ill. I remember hoping it was comforting for you, and wondering if you even were aware of it. I remember that I was wearing your grey long underwear top. I remember the moment your heart stopped, the slide of your eyes which had been watching me to that very moment, and the very physical pain in my own body. I remember the sound I made, unbidden. I remember the feel of your skin as your body cooled. I remember.

I remember your laugh, your smile, your touch. I remember the sharpness of your mind, the sound of your breath, your scent, the expression on your face when you danced, the shape of your legs and back as you rode your bike. I remember how much you liked ketchup, but I don't remember everything you put it on. I remember the focus with which you'd watch television, but I can no longer list all of your favorite shows. I remember how much you loved swimming but I don't remember the print of your swim trunks. I remember you liked red wine and crisp white wines, but I don't remember what kind of beer you liked. I remember your feet but I don't remember what kind of socks you liked to wear.

I remember so much and I have forgotten so much. I am losing the details of you, the knowledge that comes from daily life, and that hurts terribly, each thing I realize I've forgotten a new small grief. I know this is the way it's supposed to work, but that doesn't make it easier. I know, too, that this is a peculiarity of my own mind, my memories of you are my own and others have their own version of you tucked away. So it is.

You are still so much a part of me and yet more distant. Like the water in this photo, you are everywhere, you are letting me know you're okay, but I can't see all of the specifics. I love that the camera captured you in blue, your favorite color. I remember that.

The world is so very strange now. I keep wondering what you'd think of it, how you would manage social distancing and staying in. I know how worried you would be for your kids, your mom (now with you, I trust you're enjoying each other), your friends. It would be hard for you not to run to some of them, even knowing it wasn't wise. I can imagine you on the couch, legs stretched out, focused on the show of the moment, waiting for this to pass. Honestly, I am relieved you don't have to live through this. It's an odd feeling to hold and admit, that there are some things I'm glad you've not been here for. It feels like another betrayal in some ways, and also so true.

The whole world is learning some hard lessons about loss, grief, and survival right now. Writing this letter to you in the context of COVID-19 is surreal and difficult. I'm not sure what to say other than that I love you still.

Maybe that's what I should close with, love in the time of COVID-19. I have learned a few things about love in the years since your death (that's a hard phrase, years since your death), maybe they were things I was learning before, but they are bright and clear now. Maybe it will help someone to read them. Maybe it will help me to write a few down.

  • Love with abandon. 
  • Love means you will be hurt. Love anyway.
  • Let those you love know repeatedly and often.
  • When you lose them, and you will, it will hurt beyond words. The only way out is through and then through again, and yet again.
  • Whatever you may forget, the love endures.
So it goes. I love you Kevin and I always will. Thank you for your time on this planet, your time with me, your whole self the parts public and concealed, flawed and perfect. Thank you for the hints that you aren't gone, and for the things I do remember. I love you from the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you.

One way or another, I'll see you around.

Laura

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Seven things to do with storytelling when you don't want to go outside

This was originally written during a cold 2011 New England winter, but it seems strikingly relevant now, when we are all washing our hands a million times a day and tracking COVID-19 as it moves closer and closer to our communities.

The world seems like it was so much simpler then. 

I've kept the original context for historical reasons and have added a few more thoughts. 

We're deep in the heart of winter, up here in the Northern hemisphere. These short, cold days and long dark nights lead me to nesting behavior. I just don't want to go outside when it's 10F with 2 feet of snow on the ground. I know, I'm a wimp, but this offers me a chance to hunker down and do some reading.

It's been awhile since I posted storytelling resources. I'm betting some of you are like me, having a tough time getting outside in this weather. In the spirit of keeping our creative fires burning, here are some storytelling things you might do from the comfort of your home. Please note, some of these links were previously posted here, but this is an updated list.
  1. Learn something new, part 1. How about adding a traditional tale to your repertoire? If nothing else, reading some of the old stories will remind of you that people haven't changed very much in the last 10,000 years. The same things still matter to us, it's just at a more frantic pace. You might learn something about yourself or find a piece you'd like to tell or alter, you might even find some comfort in knowing people have made it through tough times before now.
    There are many great online resources full of traditional stories.
  2. Learn something new, part 2. 
    • What about a personal story? Or some fiction? Try a genre that you don't usually engage in, or try telling in a style new to you.
    • Explore the resources at your local library. Most public libraries have their catalogs available online. Many will allow you to hold a book that you can pick up later, when it's warmer and many have vast digital holdings that you can access without going outside. Try a catalog search for storytelling with children, for example. Or some other topic that interests you. See what you can find!
    • Learn about a new kind of storytelling. As I mentioned last week, it's sometimes good to tell the stories that scare you. Check out the site for an organization that does something you'd like to tell about. Do you care about marine life? Go to the Cousteau Society and see how they tell their story. How would you tell that same story? What about digital storytelling? Or stand-up comedy?
    • Read an article by someone you admire. Many storytellers maintain blogs or archives of their advice. Go to their websites and poke around. 
    • Try some new kind of art. Maybe you could write a poem, do a collage, or something else to nourish your creative spirit.
  3. Listen to some stories, watch some storytellers in action. Organizations like massmouth post videos of storytellers strutting their stuff. What about trying a youtube search for storytelling? Maybe your favorite festival has videos online from previous years?
  4. Work with a coach to dig deeper. Many coaches, myself included, work via Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, or others video conferencing technologies. None of us need to go through creatively challenging times alone, help is out there at the click of a mouse.
  5. Hone your craft. There's no time like the present to work on your own skills as a storyteller and business owner.
    • How about telling a story in your living room, recording it and then going over the recording? What was great? What could be eliminated or fleshed out?
    • Work on a new idea. Jot down some notes, call a friend and aks them to brainstorm with you.
    • When was the last time you updated your webpage, resume, facebook or linkedin pages?
    • Send a few emails to organizations where you'd like to tell.
    • Update your basic press release.
  6. Tell someone a story. Do you live with room-mates, family, friends? Do you have a telephone or an internet connection? You can always reach out and tell someone a story. Maybe even more importantly, you can listen to their story. Ask them to tell you a story. You might be amazed at what happens.
  7. Join the Virtual Storytelling Guild. You can share stories from the comfort of your own home, listen to others tell in real time, and share the fire of storytelling, all through video-conference. 
    These challenging days are also a gift. We have the chance to pull into our shells and do some housekeeping, catch up with ourselves. Savor the time.

    (c)2011 and 2020 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Thursday, February 20, 2020

    Dream geography

    Does this ever happen to you? You find yourself in the same familiar places in dreams, over and over, known in the dream world, but not ones you've seen in waking life. It's not a recurring dream, but the same locale returned to regularly as you sleep.

    It happens to me. I have a slowly emerging map of my subconscious, especially the anxious and fear-filled places but some of comfort. When I was young it was the lake side with a volcano in the distance. What would happen there varied (as it does, there were not recurring dreams but places) and it always had a slight scent of sulfur and menace. For many years I would find myself on top of the unfinished building, looking out over the same city scape, not a place I recognize though something like 1970's New York City. It's cold and windy, unsteady and unsafe. There is an elevator that took me there but I can't get one to bring me back down. There have been specific woodlands, buildings, rooms, beaches, all places I return to again and again in my dreams. Some eventually fade away entirely, but most continue to make Special Guest Appearances from time to time.

    Most recently I've been dreaming of an indoor slum, deep underground, constricted and claustrophobic except when it opens into vast caverns. It was purpose-built to hold people; I can't really say house people, none of these rooms qualify as homes. They are industrial, kind of futuristic, and very small. Outside the rooms is a warren of narrow passageways with un-railed walkways over treacherous crevasses. It is not a safe, comforting, or easy place to manage, but in every dream I am trying to get back there for reasons that vary widely. In this morning's visit I needed to get back to my room so I could change clothing for a job.

    What I find particularly interesting about this place is the steps I must take to get there. It is clearly a related to the magic woods of wonder tales, because if I don't follow the proper route and say the right things, all will be lost. I don't remember it clearly in the waking world, but it has deep familiarity in the dream world. I must go through several buildings, take elevators to specific floors and follow certain routes. I pass over a footbridge and must discard that which I am carrying. I can cross, but not with any things (yeah, I know, it's a pretty blunt symbol). From there I enter a dark building with a winding path through mounds that could be hills or could be trash. There are three people along the path, a man I must not see, someone else I must not hear, and an old woman whom I must treat kindly. I remember she had enormous feet blocking the path and it was by calling her grandmother, massaging her swollen legs, and embracing her (though she smelled terrible) that I could continue.

    So it is in dreams. I have thought of trying to map them but somehow that feels unwise. I wonder sometimes if these places with their specific features and requirements are ever visited by others, if there is some kind of shared dream geography. Perhaps there is an old woman dreaming of kindness who calls me into the dream land when she needs it. I don't know. What I do know is that I love the depth of these places, the ways the symbols I find there are in the same language as fairy tales, and that the stories change while the landscape may not. It gives me a sense of mystery and wonder, even if the dreams are not always comfortable.

    All of this reminds me of the 1962 short film La Jette, remade as 12 Monkeys. If you've not seen it, in the not too distant future humanity has had to retreat underground. There is a man who has the same recurring image in his dream and this is used as a path to send him back in time, to stop the triggering event that led to the current dystopia. Such strong, recurrent dream images and geographies can't help but feel meaningful and real.

    Do you have dream realms? What are they like for you? What do they mean for you? And have you ever been to an underground indoor slum with a magical path for entry? If so, wave next time. I'll try to wave back.

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    Sunday, February 9, 2020

    Powerlessness and action

    Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash
    This was originally published in June 2019. The global state has continued to shift, so I've edited it some to reflect my current feelings. 

    I've been thinking a lot about powerlessness and action lately, which has led me down some real rabbit holes of research and exploration. For example, when I was looking at images for this post I ran an image search for "powerless." Once I tweaked a few settings to weed out stuff related to tv or religion, I was left with images of people standing with their heads down, looking (at best) really glum. I find this interesting because what I am learning is that, yes, there are many times I am and will be powerless, but how I move through that experience has a great deal to do with my mental health and ability to be resilient, as well as my ability to heal after the fact. Powerlessness sucks, but my response to it makes it more manageable or less.

    When Kevin was sick, even though I knew I was ultimately powerless to change the outcome of his cancer, I found ease in doing what I could. I could comfort him, talk with the staff, and share information with everyone who loved him. It was by acting then that I know now I did the very best I possibly could for his comfort and well-being, even as he was dying. If I didn't have that assurance I doubt if I would be as relatively okay as I am; I have enough to regret, at least I know I did the best I could in the face of powerlessness to change the outcome.

    Likewise, when I was in those first, harsh months after his death I gave myself over to grief. I couldn't change what had happened but I could make choices about how I responded. I knew the only way out was through, so I let myself mourn fully. I am still mourning him and always will, but I doubt I would have been able to let myself love Charley had I not made the choice to keep loving Kevin, and one way of expressing that was to grieve deeply.

    This line of thinking comes out of looking for ways to manage my own frustrations and fears during the Trump administration. I am largely powerlessness to effect what my government is doing, but there are still things I can control and impact through the actions I take. I can decide how I respond. I can give into my fears (which is part of why he was elected, he's very good at feeding fear) and hide (which I sometimes really want to do) or I can take what power I have and use what I've got. I have a voice. I can make donations where I think they might help. I can let myself be seen, even when it's scary or possibly dangerous. I can act in ways that I think are moral, ethical, and right in spite of the many messages that it isn't important.

    I also remind myself that allowing myself to be powerless, that giving up what power I have, is exactly what oppressors and despots want us to do. They want us to become so disheartened that we give up and become silent. When we do that we become complicit in our own disposal.



    There will always be things I am powerless over, but I can choose which response I feed and how I act. I could have forced Kevin to try treatments that would have only harmed him in my quest to control his illness. Those wouldn't have saved or prolonged his life. I could have tried to suppress my grief, in which case I'm sure I would still be deep in the heart of it. I could feed fear and not publish this post or give in to those who try to silence me. I could overlook injustices that don't impact me because it's safer, but none of these things are who I want to be. By acting in the face of powerlessness I retain my ability to decide who I am and how I respond.

    By engaging with my own powerlessness and choosing to act anyway, I become stronger. It's important that I remember to rest as well, but thinking of it as rest rather than giving up means I don't give up my sense of action. I might be powerless to create the kind of change I want in a timeline we need, but I can choose to keep trying and to rest while others pick up the ball. Whatever happens, I need to know I tried, I need to know I did what I could, I need to know that I stood in the face of powerlessness and claimed my own soul.

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    Monday, January 13, 2020

    See/Read/Hear/Do


    Everything we take in influences how we see the world. This is especially true for artists, not because we see/read/hear/do that differently, but because we are aware that what we absorb is reflected in our art. It's an interesting exercise for me to notice and share this material.

    As you know, much of my blogging has moved over to Patreon. I have an ongoing series there that I thought readers of this blog might enjoy because it's about what influences me and my art. See/read/hear/do posts are summaries of the things that are interesting me lately.

    The following post was published on Patreon back in November 2019. If you want more of my posts on creativity, storytelling, process, and more, you can subscribe for as little as $3/month, only $36 a year. This is less than the cost of a movie with popcorn for two, and it directly supports the arts and (I hope) an artist you care about.

    I hope you enjoy this musing, and I'd love to know what's inspiring you lately.


    See/Read/Hear/Do: Monsters+ edition

    Hello Patreon friends,
    I'm writing to you from the middle of the Kansas City Storytelling Celebration, where I am one of the featured storytellers. In the last two days I've told stories with close to 700 people, mostly kids. It's a lot of fun and very hard work. I'm honored to be one of the featured tellers, along with the remarkable Dovie Thomason, Michael McCarty, and Andy Offit Irwin. Truth be told, I'm pretty nervous when I'm sharing the stage with them. It's really something. Between the wonderful regional tellers, the featured tellers, and all the kids I've been meeting, I'm both exhilarated and exhausted.
    This post is another installment of see/read/hear/do, where I share with you some of the things that have been catching my interest. See/read/hear/do hopes to give you a glimpse into what feeds my creativity. Lately I've been thinking about monsters.

    See
    We're just past the season of scary movies. That is to say, I've lately been watching MORE scare movies than usual. I don't like really violent films, nor the kinds of scary that's about human monsters, but a good ghost story just makes my toes curl. Among my favorites I've seen lately is Errementari, a Basque film based on any number of stories about the the devil being held captive by a blacksmith. As it is in the folktale, so it is in the movie: A smith makes a deal with the devil and then tricks the devil into captivity. I really liked it, far more than I expected. It's kind of cheesy, but there is an integrity to the telling that I rarely see in folk horror films. It's not terribly scary, though there are some loud moments and violence.   
    If you have Netflix, you can see it here. I stress, watch it in Basque with subtitles. For one, it's a neat language to hear, and for another, the dubbing is terrible, awful, horrible, no good. 

    Read
    I admit, most of my reading lately has been non-fiction news. At least I hope it's non-fiction; maybe it would be better were it fiction, I don't know. In any case, I'd like to share with you one of the best books I've read in the last few years, instead of any of the news articles I can't stop myself from consuming. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a breathtaking book. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel, because it feels like so much more than that. It is a lavishly illustrated book, telling Karen's story. Karen lives with her brother and mother in an apartment in Chicago, and she comes to believe her upstairs neighbor has been murdered. This graphic novel is so much more than a murder mystery or a coming-of-age story or a family drama. It delves deep into how we see ourselves and those we love, as well as the cultural metaphors we use to survive. In Karen's case, it's b-movie monsters, metaphors I love, too.
    It's a stunning work. If you know it or pick it up, I'd love to know what you think. I can't wait for volume two.

    Hear
    Do you listen to podcasts? I do. I follow quite a few; they keep me company on the road, when I'm doing housework, and at the gym. I have quite a few favorites. Since this post seems to be the monsters edition, I'd like to tell you about the REI Camp Monsters podcast. REI, the camping equipment retailer, has released eight episodes of really fun campfire stories, all about monsters.  They use light sound effects to enhance the experience, but for the most part it really feels like sitting around the fire, listening to a good storyteller spin a yarn. They base most if not all stories on real local legends, and it's just delightful. I hope you enjoy it. 

    Do
    I love the dark time of the year, but it's hard for me emotionally. I get blue. I do a lot of different things to manage it. In part I try to embrace it, to recognize that it's a form of hibernation. I nest. I also use a happy light and try to be kinder to my body with movement and food. Another practice that helps is to notice small details and spend time with them. The glitter of frost on the golden grass. The way the cold air feels on my cheeks. The soft brush of my blanket on my skin.
    Do you have seasonal blues? How do you deal with them?

    That's it for this installment of see/read/hear/do. Please let me know how you're doing, if there's something else you'd like to see in this feed, and know how very grateful I am for your support.
    Love,
    Laura

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    Thursday, December 26, 2019

    What I miss

    This is a hard time of year for me. It may be for you too; if so I'm sorry. It's a rough feeling, isn't it? I was sitting with it a few days ago and realized it feels like a combination of grief and homesicknesses. This got me thinking about what it means to be homesick, what do I miss? It certainly isn't a place, I am as home now as I ever was (that's a whole other issue), yet I still feel homeless, like I'm looking in a mirror without a reflection. With a little time, journaling, and a couple of cries, I realized what I miss is a life, who I used to be. I miss a future I didn't get to have, existential homesickness. I miss Kevin, that much is hugely, painfully clear, but I also miss who I was with him.

    What I miss.
    • I miss being someone who didn't know what it is to grieve deeply.
    • I miss being someone who didn't have to learn how to navigate the medical system.
    • I miss the belief that there is time in front of me.
    • I miss laughing until I can't stand up.
    • I miss the inside jokes. I have new inside jokes, but not the old ones.
    • I miss being sharp and witty - my mind isn't as quick since he died, I think I used it up when navigating the medical system.
    • I miss looking forward to how much he loved Christmas.
    • I miss believing in Santa, or at least believing in Christmas magic.
    • I miss the future we didn't get to have, the adventures and arguments, the decisions and delights.
    • I miss being someone who tried to be empathetic to people who had suffered great losses, but didn't know how. I miss being someone who said some stupid though well-intentioned things about grief. I miss not knowing.
    • I miss the 30 years we didn't get have.
    • I miss who I might have become in that time.
    None of this is to say I don't have a lovely life now. I do. I love and am loved, I have meaningful work, and I like much of who I am now. But I miss who I never got to be.

    Loss is an evolving thing, I keep finding new pieces of it and making new discoveries about its reach. I miss not knowing this at all.
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