Monday, June 3, 2019

Powerlessness and action

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. I'm sure I was overly controlling about many, many things because I felt so powerless, but 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 was powerless not to. 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.

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.

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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(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, May 13, 2019

Observations from the road

Travel is a big part of my work. Storytelling isn't a local experience for me; I teach, speak, tell, coach, and consult all over the nation and sometimes the world. While it's sometimes challenging, I generally really like it, not only because I love my work but because it gives me a chance to see places I might not otherwise visit. Whether flying or driving, there is always something to see, someone to hear, something to ponder.

I've started keeping a journal of some of the things I see and hear; I thought you might be interested in a few of these observations. I've scrubbed specifics, so no particular place or person is easily identifiable.

  1. I am somewhere in middle America. I am hungry and don't have time to go searching for a sit-down dinner. Besides, I love fried chicken even though I feel guilty every time. I walk into a fried chicken joint near by cheap hotel. There are no tables, a few chairs for waiting, and a set of metal shelves to one side with a miscellaneous array of groceries. The only decoration is a poster of the American Olympic team and another of the local baseball franchise. Both have prominent American flags. The restaurant is owned by an Indian man, an immigrant. All patrons but me are African American; the owner welcomes them all by name. As I wait for my order a woman tells me she hates fried chicken except for the wings she can get in this place. "They're delicious here," she says. "I don't know how he does it." A family comes in communicating in sign language. The young man deaf and the man behind counter pulls out an illustrated menu so he can order. When my dinner arrives I take it to my hotel. The woman is right, the wings are delicious.
  2. I am somewhere on the West Coast, taking a walk in a park with a playground. I see an older white woman holding hands with a small African-American girl. They are having an animated conversation and clearly love each other. The woman is wearing a "Make America Great Again" t-shirt. The woman glances at me and I smile, "Is she your grand-daughter? She's lovely!" The woman beams. "Yes, isn't she!" She and I start to chat about kids and I eventually say, "I know we live in divided times, may I ask about your shirt?" She looks at me warily then sighs. "I know. I think Mr. Trump is doing good things for the country. He's a business man and will make us great again. Just because I support him doesn't mean I'm a racist. I love my grandchildren!" I nod and we sit in the sunlight, watching her grandchild play.
  3. I am driving through a Midwestern state. The land around me is broad and gentle. I can see plow marks in the soil and smell the fertilizer. It's a sharp odor and I want to wrinkle my nose, but this powers our agricultural landscapes. I see a plume that at first I think is smoke, but then realize it is dust from a truck barreling along a gravel road paralleling the highway. This is flyover country, but I love the details I can see from down here at ground level. There is an abandoned barn, collapsed more than the last time I drove past it. There is a farmhouse protected from the sweeping gusts by a stand of trees that are bent over from the constant winds. There is the road, ribboning out before me, endless and shimmering in the heat. There is the sky streaked with contrails that dissolve into long sweeping clouds, endless and blue and bright.

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(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, May 6, 2019

The lucky shot

I have always loved the nature photography in publications like National Geographic. Those stunning images give the sense of being right there with the animals, plants, events, and places with a crisp immediacy and vitality. These amazing images have proliferated and are easy to find with a simple search; it gives the impression that those moments happen all of the time, that the shots aren't hard to get.


As you may know, in recent years I've become more and more interested in photography. I have Kevin's good camera and use it often. My most frequent subjects are the birds and animals I see in our backyard and the woods beyond, though I'm also terribly fond of abandoned buildings and close up shots of things. Despite having a good camera, Annie Liebowitz' comment that her favorite camera is the one she has with her at the moment does me good to remember. It's a matter of timing and luck, not just equipment.

A few days ago Charley and I were watching a spectacular sunset from our back porch. I didn't have my good camera with me and was just present in the moment, watching the sky shift and the colors change. I'd been there for at least 30 minutes when our local owl flew by and landed on a nearby branch. I didn't have my camera, I had only my phone, and with it I captured what may be the best photo I have ever taken. Sure, it would have been better had I used my good camera with its wonderful zoom lens, but that wasn't what I had and sometimes you just have to leap for the lucky shot. Here it is, with no filters or post-production magic save trimming and a watermark.

The advent of digital photography means I take literally thousands of photos a month. Of those maybe a hundred are acceptable and a small handful are good. I'm sure those National Geographic photographers would say the same thing. It's a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right mindset.

Is there a metaphor here? Hmm... something about using what you have at hand, being present in the moment, being patient, leaping for the lucky shot, failing again and again and still trying? Maybe. Yes, there is, but for right now? I'll love whatever camera I have at hand, I will watch, I will forgive myself for the poor shots and missed moments, and I will be present in the world. The lucky shot will come again for me, as it has over and over.

It will for you, too.

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(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, April 29, 2019

Telling a story with #storyseeds

I post a lot here about #storyseeds, but it's a nice chance for me to think them through. As you know, many #storyseeds are single-shot prompts, with no connection to other #storyseeds or larger narrative framework, but I sometimes post sets that are intended to suggest another narrative. Tax day inspired just such a run.

I'm thinking about turning #storyseeds into a card deck, with some rules for play or just as a creative tool. What do you think? Would something like that interest you?

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(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, April 22, 2019

Planting, cultivating, and harvesting #storyseeds

Many of you know I've been sending out near-daily #storyseeds for several years. They are short images or questions, crafted to spur the reader's imagination and maybe lead to new creative work. Truthfully, I started them as a way to spur my own creativity. It's a challenge coming up with something every day and it's keeping my imagination supple.

#storyseeds started as text only. Sometimes they would be interrogative:

What is that smell?


Name your superpower and why.


What would you give up to create the change you hunger for?

Other times they might be a teeny-tiny story, or a sentence with the potential to become one.

My garden is full of wild onions, tumbleweeds, and dandelions.


You find a note on the mirror. "Don't look behind you."


"I can never find shoes in my size," grumbles The Monster, "It makes me think there is an anti-monster bias in the fashion industry."

Lately I've been experimenting with #storyseeds that include images. I'm really enjoying this because it's giving me a multi-layered challenge. Not only do I have to come up with the seed itself, I need to find a way to enhance it with an image. Sometimes the image is integral to the seed as in these:

Other times not as much. While the image supports the seed it isn't the key part. This particular set of #storyseeds were part of a set released over one week, intended to suggest a longer story.

I'm also offering expanded, multi-part #storyseeds over on Patreon. To see those go over to my Patreon page.

I find planting and cultivating #storyseeds has given me a great harvest of ideas. I hope it has for others. Stories rarely emerge fully formed like Athena from Zeus' forehead; they often need to be tended and cared for as they grow. When we pay attention, the potential for a story is everywhere.

As I mentioned in the ideas, images, and story seeds entry in my book, From Audience to Zeal: The ABCs of Finding, Crafting, and Telling a Great Story, "Storyseeds are all around. Ask yourself questions about why the world is as it is. Pick one thing and wonder about it. Maybe your next-door neighbor has a secret. Maybe they are really a minotaur...or used to be a prima ballerina. Maybe they are looking at you and wondering who you really are."

Which leads me to ask: Who are you? What are your #storyseeds? What are you cultivating?

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(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, April 15, 2019

The world through my eyes - adventure day

I went for an adventure a few days ago. Adventures are good for my spirit. They help me feel both minuscule and vast, connected to the world in a deep way and still observational of it, as well as offering me glimpses into the unknown. I decided to explore parts of the Twin Cities that are new to me and I found wonders.

I posted some of these photos originally on Instagram, but here I can explore them a little more thoroughly. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my adventure and (more than that) I hope you have adventures yourself.

Adventures are about looking at the world in new ways.
Looking up in the lobby of a historical building.

They are about the details you see when you look closer.
The skylight.

They are about watching the watchers.
And finding beauty.
The ceiling in the hallway of the historical building.
Beauty that is in the details as well as the big picture.
Mushrooms in an asian market.
They are about cherishing the contrasts in the world.
This is my favorite picture in the bunch. It was taken in a Hmong market and shoes skeins of embroidery floss, used to make traditional art, and modern shoes.
Sometimes adventures bring unexpected friends.

(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, April 8, 2019


As you may know, I've been posting #storyseeds on Facebook and Twitter for several years. These are little creativity sparks. I've shared longer, text based seeds here before, but I'm trying something new. I've begun making them image focused and it's really fun. Having to think through an image and seed has been sparking all kinds of ideas for me, so I wanted to share them with you here. I'd love to know what they might evoke!

(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, April 4, 2019

You can't go home again

This past weekend I returned to Sharing the Fire for the first time since Kevin died. We were both deeply involved with this conference, and the thought of returning filled me with dread for quite a few years. I had tremendous trepidation about going back this year, but decided I may as well find out if I could.

It was both easier and harder than I anticipated, as so many things are.

On the one hand, it was wonderful seeing people I care about whom I haven't seen in years. I did a good job of planning for something that would be stressful so when it was, I had a safe place to hide and people who took care of me. I didn't have to bark at anyone, which was something I had genuine concern about since so many people say well-meaning things that are actually hurtful.

On the other it was yet another marker, another way of noting that Kevin has been gone for five years now, which seems so very long. It was another way of noting how much things change and how little they change. It was an enormous marker of how I have changed and not always in ways I would have hoped.

It was hard and good and hard. So it goes.

I expect I will return next year, now that I've managed it once. I don't expect that it will ever be easy.

My gratitude to all who helped me through. As it is with most things, I wouldn't have made it without you.

p.s. I posted a ghost story on patreon, one that is largely about Kevin. There is a video teaser here, and you can support me (and therefore have access to the story) here.
(c)2018 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 28, 2019

An open letter to Kevin, five years on

Dear Kevin,

I remember thinking on the first anniversary of your death that five years seemed impossibly long. That when you'd been gone for five years I might be dead too. That I could not bear the thought of five years without you.

All of that was true.
All of that wasn't true.

Loss and grief are like that. They change everything. The fundamentals of my world are not the same as they were before you died, before you were diagnosed, and yet I am still here.

There are so many things I could say but I don't know how. It's funny, writing about losing you was my driving reason to write for so long and today I don't know what to say. I miss you. I love you. I am so glad we had each other and in some ways still do. What else is there to say?

Now, five years on, I am finally starting to feel the joy and love of being each others start to outweigh the pain of losing you. Part of me is ashamed that it's taken this long, but so it is. I still have flashbacks and sometimes they are very bad, I still wonder if I did enough for you, I still am afraid I wasn't enough, that my memories of us are an illusion, but I can now draw up the sweet memories more easily and remember that yes, we were that good. I was that lucky. You would say blessed. Yes.

The hospital chaplain (you remember him, the white guy with reddish hair and the sweet face, the really smart guy, the one you kind of liked as much as you liked anyone in the hospital) was very kind to me in those days. I wish I could remember his name. I said to him several times that I didn't know how I could live without you, that I felt like I would die too, and he responded gently, each time, that I might. I didn't understand it then. I am starting to, finally.

Who I am now is at once much the same and so very different. I am still thinking about how to describe those changes (that alone is a difference, I am slower to speak. You might be relieved.) and this is not the time or place to list them, but I hope you are proud of me. I hope you would love the me I am now. I think you would. In some ways I've become the person you wanted me to be, the person you knew was there and I doubted. I wish it hadn't taken losing you to finally get here. Maybe I would have anyway. I hope so. I hope you know.

I hope you know how absolutely amazing your kids are. They reflect your light into the world and add to it with their own.

Thank you, beloved, my heart, for everything. For loving me, for loving all of us so very well.

Today I will take a walk and do my best to feel your hand in mine. Today like so many days I will miss you. Today I will remember that love endures, that it is infinite, that we are still each others. Today I will look at the waters and see you in them, in the air, in the sky. I will celebrate your continuation in the stars, the waves, the universe. Today I love you still and I always will.

Yours always,

Thanks to James for the amazing video.
(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The raging river of social media

Social media is a constantly shifting river. It's more like the raging Congo (which you can see right over there) than your local fishing spot, full of riches and wonder but murky, dangerous, and hard to take in.

I've been on social media for a long time. I wasn't quite an early adopter, but I'll say I had a friendster account and leave it at that. At first I used social media to connect with friends and then to talk about storytelling or chart difficulties in my life, but over the last several years it has been more and more about my work, in large part because storytelling is the driving force in my life. It has always been a positive way for me to share my art, get feedback, and communicate with anyone interested in what I was doing.

Social media is changing. It's very hard to stand out in the rushing rapids, especially with ever-changing algorithms making sure the most of my posts are like raindrops in the river - unnoticed and without impact. I don't like inundating those who are kind enough to read what I write with a zillion social media pointer posts in the hopes that a few new people will see them. That doesn't feel ethical or polite. It's all made more complicated now by security breaches, browser activity tracking, privacy issues, and Russian troll farms.

That's part of why I stepped away from this blog. I wanted to share stories and thoughts with people who were interested, but very few people ever saw the posts unless I promoted the heck out of them, which led me back to the problem of how to not inundate those who were already interested.

I also stepped away because writing a thoughtful post takes time, and sometimes that's time I need to work on making a living. Being a working artist, coach and consultant is at least 80% marketing and administration. Trying to post here three times a week when I had no certainty many would see the post and fair certainty it wouldn't help me pay the rent was frustrating and discouraging.

I'm saying all of this for those of you who do read this blog and value what I have to say here. I will continue to post once a week for the foreseeable future though I'll likely miss a week here and there. I'll write about the stuff I always write about - storytelling, culture, grief, how to get along in a challenging world - and I'm delighted that you are still here with me. Thank you.

For those of you what want more, please take a look at my Patreon page. For those who aren't familiar with Patreon, it's essentially a subscription platform designed to support artists by leveraging micro-donations into working capital. I'm posting stories, essays, videos, audio recordings, and more. Please consider this if you'd like to follow or support my work and be guaranteed something interesting for your time. I'm trying to post there at least twice a week. You can follow along for free if you'd just like to see what it's about... there's no risk either way.

You can also sign up for my newsletters. I publish them once a month and try to always have something interesting and worthwhile. It's also where I let readers know about gigs, opportunities, and so on, all the things you'd expect in a newsletter. I write mostly about storytelling and performance here and about organizational storytelling and consulting here.

I'm still on my usual social media channels, too. My personal facebook page which has personal and professional posts, along with some political content so avoid that if it would be uncomfortable; my storytelling facebook page where I publicize gigs, post articles you might find interesting, and so on; my thinkstory consulting facebook page, my twitter feed which is the place to go if you want #storyseeds and #barkagainstthedark; and LinkedIn. I'd be delighted to connect with you on any of these platforms. I also have my web pages and which is where you can find out more about the services I offer.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for sticking with me in this blog. I love writing here and will not give it up. Thank you, too, for understanding that being a working artist is a complicated dance between earning a living and following the muse.

I hope your muses are singing clearly to you. I hope the world treats you well.
(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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