Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

Oh, but I love Halloween. I remember when I was a little girl I loved the costumes and candy, but mostly I loved the forbidden thrill that came with being out at night, the possibility of ghosts and goblins all kept safely away by the warmth of my parent's hand as we wandered through the neighborhood. As I grew older I'd venture out with friends, parents safely at home, and wear obscure costumes. My last Halloween costume was a shadow. I wore black and would stand behind people mimicking their movements. No one got it.

I also love Halloween because it is the ancient turning of the year, Samhain. Now we enter the dark days, the harvest is done and we cherish what light we can find. Now is the time to celebrate our beloved dead through Dia De Los Muertos. Now is the time to hunker down and remember who we are without the distractions of the bright light, we can see who we are in the shadow and coming cold with the guidance of our ancestors; they will help if you ask them. Now is the time to reach into the past and use what we find to reinforce our own selves, our past and our future.

Tonight I will write a letter to the dead, light a candle for them to see me by and set out a saucer of milk and bread for any visitors. I will breath the night air and peer into the mysteries of the dark. And I will welcome any little ghosts, goblins, pirates and politicians with delight and good candy.

Have fun!

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, October 29, 2007

Birthday, schmirthday (an exercise in ego)

I love birthdays. I think it's great that there is one day of the year when we get to say, "Hey! Look at me! I'm here!" I know there are people who complain about being another year older but, most of the time, it's better than the alternative! You're alive and healthy enough to complain, so shut up and eat some cake.

My birthday was this past Saturday and it was one of the significant ones, you know, one that ended in a zero. I feel great. We had a big party and invited all the people I could think of who might care. And most of them came, along with others who heard about it and wanted to celebrate too. Talk about a validation of the values I've held for the last umpteen years! Whaddya know, when you care about people, they care about you!

It was a little unworldly, seeing my old friends talking with my work friends talking with my storytelling friends talking with my camping friends talking with my family and so on, but it worked. I recommend doing this, bring everyone into one place and see what it's like. I survived and you probably will too. You may just learn something about yourself.

Remember to celebrate your next birthday. You deserve a day that's all about you. So here is my birthday wish for all of you: May your lives be filled with true friends, with observed and internalized opportunities to grow and celebrate, may you live the duration of your life in comfort and usefulness and joy, and may the world be a better place for your time in it. Thanks for sticking around.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer
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Monday, October 22, 2007

Breath as vital distraction

I know there are people out there who like pain. I'm not one of them. I'm not talking about a nibble here or a pinch there in the name of good fun, but the kind of pain that makes me whimper. Migraines. Menstrual cramps. Stubbed toes (I bet you winced). Damaged knees. Kidney stones. And my new discovery, scratched corneas. Yuck.

But there is something about that lingering, persistent presence that forces a discipline I don't otherwise often rise to. I hurt. Pills don't help, sleep won't come and I'm having trouble distracting myself. I can't escape it. Crying doesn't work nor does talking about it. So what can I do?

I breath. Slow deep breaths, in and out. I concentrate on what doesn't hurt. I focus on the fine details of cloth against my skin, air rushing through my lungs, the temperature of the room. Anything in this moment except that which is the focal point of my existence. If I do a good enough job of breathing there is a chance I will survive through this moment, through this pain.

I wish I could remember to breath through pain more often, not just in those awful moments of physical distress. I sometimes remember to take deep breaths when I'm upset, when I need to keep my mouth shut. I fill myself with cool air so I don't explode with all the heat inside and the words best left unsaid come out in a searing wash. I sometimes remember to breathe when I'm sad or lonely, but not often enough.

I know taking deep breaths isn't the cure for every kind of pain, but it might help if I did it more often. It might help me survive the remaining year and a half of the current administration. It might help me remember to be kind as a first reaction, not after a pause. It might help me just feel better and avoid future pain.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fiction depiction

Letter Found Caught Under the Rug by the Front Door of a House Recently Put Up For Sale

Dear Mrs. Berg,

My mother told me I had to apologize, even though it’s not really my fault but if I don’t say I’m sorry she’ll never let me go out again and that would really stink, so I’ll say it here, even though I don’t mean it. She won’t read this letter anyway, she’ll just tell me to give it to you when it’s done so it doesn’t matter if you know the truth.

I’m the one that TP’d your tree over Halloween. I guess I shouldn’t do things like that, but it’s a lot of fun and I bet you pulled pranks when you were a kid if you ever were a kid. You know how the toilet paper looks like fireworks or something when it flies over the branch? It’s just so pretty you can’t stop and besides the other kids were daring me to do it and I guess I just got carried away and didn’t notice where your garden gnomes were. My mom always said they were a “scourge on the neighborhood” anyway, so when I stepped on one and broke its head off that seemed pretty funny to me. I wasn’t the one who broke the heads off the other gnomes and made it look like the lady bending over with her underwear showing was doing something to them. My mom says you probably never had a boyfriend and don’t understand what they were supposed to be doing, but that’s beside the point, she says it was rude, so I have to apologize for that too, even though I didn’t do it.

I guess I am sorry that when it rained all the TP came off the tree and got clumped up in your side yard, where you let your dog go. I’m sorry because it looks really ugly now. I know it’s not your fault that you can’t walk very far with your fake leg even though you say you were never a pirate and your dog tries to bite me when I have to get my ball out of your yard, but I think my mom is right that you could hire someone to clean up all the dog poop. On hot days it smells awful and now with all the toilet paper there it looks like someone had a really messy accident.
I bet you would have laughed when your dog got his head stuck in the gnome head. I didn’t even have to push very hard to get it on, and he ran around like crazy trying to get it off. My mom says the neighborhood is much quieter now, but I guess you miss him, so I hope he comes home soon.

Anyway, I’m supposed to tell you I’m sorry I TP’d your tree, which got you so angry you had to go to the hospital. I’ve never seen anyone turn that red before! I hope you like the picture I drew of your tree without toilet paper on it. Those are your garden gnomes underneath, with their heads on. Get well soon.

Your friend,


I wrote this for 10 weeks, 10 stories, a class I took at Grub Street last spring. The assignment was to write a story in which things go from bad to worse. I had a lot of fun writing this, though I bet you guessed that already. And I assure you, this is entirely fictional.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, when thousands of blogs all over the world post on one topic - the environment. Far be it from me to be left out of this kind of event, even if I'm late getting on board.

So here are some things I love that are happening in the environment right now:

- the scent of the woods in the autumn
- the sound of geese migrating in the evening
- the taste of cold water drunk from cupped hands by the spring
- the feel of green moss on the tree trunk against my fingers
- the sight of wide open spaces, uninhabited and clean.

When we say the word "environment" in this context we generally mean a clean, healthy place, though the word simply means the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded. I am writing this in a bleak environment, florescent lights, no windows and cubicle walls around me. But I know the whole world is out there, that the environment as a living, complex, interactive thing is just waiting for me to step out and be a part of it.

We are all part of the environment and are all responsible for it, so here's what I suggest. Go outside. Take a walk. Breath some of that real air in. If you are someplace where the air is pleasing count your blessings then write a letter to your local legislator to keep it that way and to improve it for someone else. If you live someplace where it is not so pleasant to breath then write a letter, make a call, knock on the door of your representative (even if you didn't vote for them, they are yours) and let them know it needs to change.

And own up to doing what you can, every day. I keep this list pinned to my wall. I don't follow it religiously, but it makes me stop and think.

10 Simple Things to Start with Today

1. Turn off lights and other electrical appliances when not needed.
2. Do things manually instead of electrically, like open cans by hand.
3. Use fans instead of air conditioners.
4. In winter, wear a sweater instead of turning up your thermostat.
5. Use less water.
6. Whenever possible, use public transport, or ride your bike or walk. You'll meet interesting people and feel better too!
7. Use recycled paper products; recycle paper when you're done with it.
8. Support local farmers.
9. Use cloth bags when you shop or bring your own.
10. Think before you use and live joyfully!

Try it, you just might change the world!

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Random acts of creativity and kindness

I've mentioned swap-bot here a couple of times and decided it's time I write about it. I feel some reluctance to do so, I think because this means two parts of my life are intersecting - writing and craftiness. Like many people I have tended to keep my life somewhat compartmentalized so when those walls break down it can be uncomfortable. I think it's a good idea to break down those walls, and have been doing so with increasing frequency in the last few years (storytellers meet old friends from the drinking days meet work colleagues meet family) but it's still not comfortable. I'm doing this because I'm working on the theory that it's better to live as close to an integrated life as I can and being active about living is always better.

Enough of that digression. Swap-bot is a website where people all over the world trade things, often but not always stuff they make. My friend Joy turned me onto it. I am finding myself somewhat obsessed and for once I think it's a pretty good obsession. It's making me be creative in new ways, not just with language or cooking, but with color and physical objects. I used to do a lot of origami but got away from it and found myself with still hands, not a good thing. Now I'm making artist trading cards, altered boxes and books, handmade postcards, other mailart and so on. I'm also writing various things for these projects (such as the found letter and werewolf story) and sending all of this stuff out into the world. I've always liked the idea of making things, but then was just stuck with more stuff. This way I make stuff and give it away.

And I'm getting stuff back, some of which is very cool. Every day I come home anxious to see what's in the mail. Some of it is amazing art, some is clearly personalized to me (everyone fills out a profile so swap partners can do this if they choose) and some is just plain nifty. Regardless, it's a blast coming home and finding a package, a postcard, a letter almost every day.

Swap-bot also has a community associated with it, people who craft, people who write, people who care about one another. Recently the daughter of one participant posted on the forums that this particular swapper is dying of cancer. Many people wrote in with expressions of sympathy, offering to send stuff to her in her last days. Many others offered to finish up her swaps for her, so no one would think she didn't send out stuff she had promised to give. None of these people have ever met this woman in person. The internet repeatedly amazes me with its potential as an agent for community and I continue to find examples of this, swap-bot is no exception. I think it is one of the better parts of human nature, that we create community wherever we can.

I know that this odd little obsession is serving a wonderful purpose for me. By making me use other parts of my creative mind I am finding my imagination freed to do more in all areas. I am writing more, telling more and looking at the world with fresh eyes. If I remain limited to one creative outlet it's too easy to become stuck, jaded. With this additional outlet and community I can stretch. It feels good.

Writing this post has led me to other trains of thought I hope to explore later - community, how creativity in one area can be a catalyst in another, cooking, the role of the internet (oh, that little thing) and other, but for now I'm going to go make dinner and enjoy this autumnal evening.

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Word drunk and my aching head

This past weekend I attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. I was invited to come down and tell a story on one of their stages, an honor for which I feel deep gratitude. Thanks are especially due to Judith Black, a marvelous storyteller who advocated for me.

I am still processing the whole weekend, my performance, and what I hope may come of this. I heard many wonderful storytellers, strengthened existing relationships, built new ones, and was just utterly immersed in the world of spoken word (of a certain type) for a few days. It was wonderful, exhausting, encouraging, disheartening, overwhelming. A great big bite of living.

What I want to touch upon here is being word drunk and the subsequent hangover.

For four days I was utterly surrounded by words. Stories told and listened to. Conversations about stories. Overheard talk between spectators, and wonderful keeking. A maelstrom of words and wordplay. I was drunk on it. Drunk with listening and dreaming and telling and writing.

The first few days were just like having a drink or two. That glorious intoxication where everything seems just a bit more clever, everyone is just a bit more beautiful and I wanted that feeling to go on forever. I couldn't stop imbibing words, my vocabulary seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, words I had forgotten I knew came tripping off my tongue. Moonglade. Gnathonize. Wanweird. Fun, huh? Just like being drunk.

Then came the few words too many and I began to crave silence. Began to question why I was uttering all these words in the first place (not questioning others' words, just my own. Other people get to make their own choices about word addiction). My throat began to hurt, a real, bodily hint that I could perhaps shut up.

A few words more and I began to forget what I was saying. Nothing untoward came out of my mouth (as far as I recall) but I began to lapse into silence, just as I do when drinking, to make sure I won't say anything I'll regret later. My throat hurt enough that I couldn't really talk anymore, just the way drinking too much makes you lose the coordination you need to pour another drink.

Once we got home I found myself hung over from all the words. All I wanted was quiet, dark, and maybe some ibuprofen. No talk. Maybe some mindless television, Dexter seemed to be part of the cure.

But it's not over. Not by a long shot. My throat is almost better and, oh god, I find myself craving more. More words. I don't want the cheap stuff, no advertising labels or Reader's Digest for me. Big words. Hard words. Eloquent words strung together like pearls.

I need them. I need to hear them speakthemwritethembethem. Be drunk on them again. Even though I know it might not be good for me, even though I know this addiction could lead to a downward spiral where I forget how to speak again. "Hey man, ya got a pen? Could you spare a story?"

I'm willing to risk it. Even if there is no 12 step program for being a word drunk.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Further zombie thoughts

Found letter
If you’re reading this then you must have gotten away, heard the warning sirens or one of the last news reports. Thank goodness. You’re one of the lucky ones.

I’m giving this letter to the underground network. I told them to look for you, to try to get it to you, to tell you I’m thinking of you. I know I’ll never see you again. I have a gun and will use it when they get too close. I won’t become one of them.

Guns don’t work on zombies.

I was at home with Zack when they attacked. You remember how I told you on the weekends we turned off the tv and radio, shut off our computers so we could just relax? That’s what did us in. We didn’t know they were coming. We heard the sirens but figured it was just the police running for donuts again. So we ignored the noise.

I don’t know if it would have made any difference at that point anyway, they were everywhere.

We were upstairs, in bed, when we heard the banging, windows breaking. It’s the usual story, I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over by now. Zack thought it was burglars, so he took his baseball bat – you remember the one we used for softball when you visited last summer – and crept down the stairs. They were already inside. He ran back up, locked the bedroom door and tried to tell me what he saw. I didn’t believe him, went to open the door, and he hit me. He hit me. He’d never done anything like that before, but he hit me to keep me away from that door. I knew it was something serious then. He wrapped his arms around me and cried, telling me how sorry he was, but there was something awful out there.

That’s when we heard the banging on the door and the moaning. I have nightmares about that moaning and wake up screaming. Do you?

He pushed me towards the window, the one that overlooks the garage roof. It was a lovely dawn, bright and clear, and there were zombies in the house. It seemed like something out of a stupid horror movie, the kind he liked to watch so he could laugh at me when I got scared.

The door broke. And zombies came in. I don’t have to tell you how awful they look; I don’t have to tell you about the smell.

We struggled to push the air conditioner out of the way and open the window as they shambled closer. Zack had his baseball bat and swung at them, connecting with one on the head. It made a sound like a rotten melon and it fell, just as I opened the window and climbed out. He was coming out behind me, and they grabbed him. I latched onto his arm and pulled, and it was like some kind of terrible tug-o-war. He kept yelling for me to go, but I just couldn’t let him go. Then I heard a tearing sound, and he started screaming. Not for long. All I had in my hands was part of his shirt.

I jumped off the roof, got on my motorcycle and took off. Some chased me, but I was too fast. I was crying and screaming the whole time.

Some people in the underground found me after I crashed the bike.

We’ve been hunkered down here for awhile now, but we’re running out of food and they’re closing in. When I crashed I hurt my leg, it hasn’t healed right. I can’t go with everyone else. That’s why I’m sending you this letter and all I have left of Zack so I know someone will remember him.

Be careful. Be vigilant.
Stay alive.


This was inspired by a swap-bot swap on surviving the zombie wars. It was accompanied by a torn scrap of bloodstained t-shirt.

It was fun writing in this voice, so different from my own. At least I hope it's different, though who knows how I'd sound under those circumstances.

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer

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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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