Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another good quote

Speaking of fools...

I must learn to love the fool in me -- the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.

Theodore I. Rubin
American psychoanalyst, whom I would probably find frustrating. Creative Commons License

Right here, right now

I am blessed by many things in my life. I am loved. I have friends, family, community. I am healthy. I have comparative wealth. There are many blessings in my life.

One of the greatest blessings is my friendship with Brother Blue and Ruth Edmonds Hill.

Brother Blue is a storyteller. In many ways he is the storyteller, the one who got so many of us started. He is fearless, passionately committed to his art and to the singular idea that we are all storytellers, that if we all listen to each others' stories, there will be no more wars because we will all understand each other. Storytelling to change the world. Ruth is his wife. She is a scholar in her own right, brilliant, kind and thoughtful. She is the counterbalancing force that makes Blue possible. She is equally committed to deep listening and to loving the world.

Together they have shaped my life and the lives of so many. They are a blessing on this earth.

They have hosted a Tuesday night storytelling group for over 15 years, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was there that I stood up and told my first, real story. I was never the same. It was their faith in me, their loving listening, that convinced me that I could do this, that I am a storyteller.

Last night many of us chose to tell our stories to honor Brother Blue and Ruth. We told them, in no uncertain terms, how much we love them. How they have helped us, changed us, inspired us. We all were in tears at some point or another. I told a story about Crazy Jane, before she was crazy, meeting a man in blue and woman with a smile that could coax flower from the ground. Brother Blue and Ruth knew what I was talking about.

We did this because, so often, at memorial services, you hear stories about how wonderful someone was, how important. Why wait? Tell the stories here and now, when the people they are about can hear them. Let them know how much they mean to you. I am so glad we took this time to tell Ruth and Blue we love them. We know they know. And really, that is one of the best, most human stories of all.

I think that may be the closest we get to happily, ever after.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Magic in the streets

There are dragons in Lowell, Massachusetts.

I spent today at the Lowell Folk Festival with a friend. It had much of the usual folk festival stuff - music from all corners of the world, food from local community associations including Laotian, Cambodian, Polish, etc, and lots of people who looked as though I knew them even though I didn't. 

And there were dragons. Gund Kwok performed, the only all women dragon and lion dance troupe in the US. They were stunning. It wasn't four women inside two costumes, it was a lion and a dragon, dancing, leaping, flirting and playing. I was completely captivated as were the hundreds of people standing around me. 

It was a wonderful thing being part of this ancient magical moment. It could as easily have been a mountaintop in ancient China as a street in Lowell. Time no longer mattered. All that existed was the dance. In that moment, it was everything.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer 

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Traffic. A micro-rant.

I really try not to let traffic upset me. When I'm sitting in my car, creeping along, I use the time for reflection, to listen to music or NPR, I tell myself stories. Sometimes I watch the patterns and try to figure out where the swirls and eddies are that cause the congestion. I think about chaos theory. Usually this works well enough.

Not so this week.

I have been the avatar of Kali behind the wheel (alright, maybe not Kali, but perhaps her irritated younger cousin) ranting and raving at every jerk who cuts me off or drives too slowly. I've had no patience, trying to find alternate routes at the drop of a hat. I'm reaching for my map book (remember those? Before mapquest and googlemaps and gps made us all forget how to navigate the world?), watching my gas gauge creep down (I drive a Toyota Corolla and get reasonably good mileage, so this adds to my ire) while my blood pressure creeps up. I'm out there with all of the other driving zombies, trying not to become another statistic, and lately I've had no patience with it at all.

All of this seems to have happened because I'm leaving work just a little bit later. A mere 30 minutes has added hours of angst into my life. Bah. I guess this is a product of our modern, convenient life, but I don't like it.

More than the traffic, what I don't like is how I feel myself changing into someone else when I get behind the wheel. I used to like driving and now I feel like I'm girding for battle. I don't want to become one of those drivers, you know the kind, but I have to say, this week, I've had more sympathy.

I'd like to write something interesting here about how this could be part of my daily hero's j0urney, through the test of traffic, but honestly, it just seems trite. I'd be trying way too hard. Traffic just sucks and right now is especially trying.

Thanks for listening.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Telling tales

Last night I had a gig at Club Passim, telling the Adventures of Crazy Jane and Red-haired Annie. These two characters are my own creation, inspired by various people I know, Yeats and the odd myth-fed depths of my own imagination. They have various adventures in no-where, no-when.

I love these stories. The characters are robust and individual, the plots are intricate and multi-layered without excessive complexity and they are simply a lot of fun to tell. I wish more people had been present to hear the stories, though it was my own fault for falling down on pre-event marketing.

It felt so good venturing into those odd places for an hour-and-a-half. Besting the King of Mirrors, walking from pond to lake to sea, and getting to share these stories with good listeners.

What strikes me about telling these stories in particular is how the veil between character and creator becomes so thin. I know that each story I create is mine, that the characters are products of mining my own joy, sorrow, darkness, hope, etc. But with these characters I see it so clearly.

Crazy Jane's madness, wildness and occasional accidental wisdom tastes right in my mouth. Red-haired Annie's loyalty, hope and quiet courage are echoes of what I imagine I could be on a very good day. Whenever I tell these stories I have to breath deeply so I won't cry at the end, not because the ending is so sad, but because it feels so right, so true, so incredibly personal and real. When I tell them I am telling my own story more than when I tell a personal story. So what if I've never met the Queen of Faeries face-to-face? I've met what she represents. I know that cool gaze. And when I tell about her capturing what Crazy Jane loves best the fear that shakes my character's voice is my own.

How could I not love these characters when they let me give voice to what I cannot easily say in the here and now.

No-where and no-when is a far safer and more honest place.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

p.s. I recorded the set in the hopes that it might become my next CD. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.
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Good quote

I hate this quote. I love this quote. It makes me uncomfortable. And that's good.

Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

Marianne Williamson

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Fiction depiction 2

This won't surprise you, but I have pretty turbulent relationship with writing. When I'm in a dry spell I feel like a spurned lover (even though it's my own fault for not sitting down and just writing) and when I'm in a time of abundance it's as though I can't stop. I'm forever seeking that happy medium, the place where I write some every day but don't always end up drunk or destitute. 

I wrote this a long time ago, trying to understand my own relationship with writing. She isn't me, but she could be. This is somewhat unfinished, perhaps, but I still like it.


Tsunami Words

The words, when they came were like a tsunami. They swept her away and she had no choice but to be drowned. It was as though language became a force of nature and she wrote with a ferocity that could be measured in storm force. Everything else was inconsequential in front of their power. Answering the phone, the needs of loved ones were nothing to be noted. The demands of the body – eating, excreting, sleeping – were deep inconveniences, the pitiful cries of those who couldn’t swim in the waves. And she wrote in torrents, loving each word as it poured out of her.

As she wrote she muttered, paced, laughed, as though her body itself became the storm, wrenched back and forth, a lifeboat in the storm and she was eager to be drowned. As each wave rose and relented she found herself surrounded with more wreckage – unwashed dishes, ignored children, frustrated friends, but none of that mattered, because the words were there and she felt free. It was as though she was the white cap atop each great wave and she could see forever.

But when it stopped suddenly she was left adrift on the desert ocean, surrounded by salt water she could not drink, fish she could not eat. When the words would not come she starved amidst riches. She longed for the tsunami to come again, even though she knew it brought devastation.

She tried to trick the words into coming, tried to lure them closer. She would read good writing, as though trying to convince her own words to come back. “See? You would have friends, just come back.” When that didn’t work she’d put out lures, scraps of unfinished writing, as though language might become frustrated with the possibilities and sneak in, finishing the unwritten poems by itself. And as a last resort, when all else failed, she would pretend she didn’t care, would watch television and ignore the voices inside that told her she could do better.

She would wash the dishes, pick up the wreckage left by the waves, and all the while plan for their return.

Books were her altars, the more there were the greater the likelihood the words would return. She knew there was a chance she’d become a madwoman, the kind who’s home was full of items with ritualistic meaning lost when she died, but this was a risk she could take on the chance the words would come back.

Each word had it’s own particular nature, and in combination they had their own power, personality and needs. They needed to be wooed carefully. Some were brash and relentless, would haunt her dreams like old boyfriends who still showed up unwanted, while others were elusive and shy, wild things that ran at the slightest crack of a branch. She longed for them all when the storms were gone and wished they would at least send a postcard.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writing vs telling

Maybe the title of this post shouldn't be so belligerent, but it does sometimes feel like a battle.

This post was sparked by a post in my friend Elsa's blog. She wrote about writing a story down then trying to tell it, after a conversation with a friend about the tension between writing and telling (I may have been the friend she cites, I'm not sure). I struggle with this and I'm not sure why it's such a dilemma

I am a writer. I am also a storyteller. And it seems as though those two parts of my creative self can't quite co-exist.

When I tell a story it is a protean thing. It changes every single time it's told, twisting, turning, morphing into what it needs to be in the moment. The plot remains the same (usually) but the words change, the colors shift, the emphasis varies depending on how the audience responds, what they seem to need. It's a dance between the three of us, the audience, the story and me. And every dance is different.

When I write it's about crafting the language. Choosing the right word. (Hmm... do I use protean or variable. Oh, fine, I'll show off a little. Jeez I'm pretentious.) Finding the right reading rhythm. Or tonalities that will leap off the screen or page. It's far more about linguistic niceties, because I don't have the advantage of my body and physical voice to help me out, nor do I have your direct feedback. It's a much more internal process.

Now comes the interesting part. I don't write down the stories I tell. None of them, not one of the 75 or so stories in my active repertoire exists as more than a slim list of notes, the bones.

I have tried. And I have managed to write some of them successfully, turn them into good written pieces, but when I do they pretty much universally stop being telling stories and become written works, alive on the page, but not the stage. Since much of my creative process is tied into performance I have become quite reluctant to write these stories down, to tie them to written language.

I'm not quite sure why this happens though I find it incredibly frustrating. I think it may have to do with somehow thinking the language becomes fixed once I write it. If I try to perform the story again I become more concerned with the exact phrasing and exact language, so I can't pay as much attention to the needs of the audience. I get tangled up in words. Just as in dance, if you are always worried about where to step instead of paying attention to your partner and the music, you start to stumble and fall.

It's a problem. I have a pretty substantial body of work, but it's ethereal. If anyone has any brilliant ideas about how to loosen these ties I'd love to hear them. I don't want my stories to become ghosts and memories when I do.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Physical frailty

It could be worse. But jeez does it sound dumb.

To avoid straining my knee more (which ached some after yesterday's ride) I decided I'd instead go swimming and lifting today. Before we went to the gym Kevin and I decided to enjoy this lovely day and fly a kite. 

I'm new to kite flying, so I'm still learning all the ins and outs. One of the things I'm still learning is to how to keep the string from burning my fingers when the wind grabs the kite. It's a windy day.

The kite was really going and my finger got caught, singed. I let go of the strings and started chasing the kite so it wouldn't fly away. After maybe five steps something happened inside my right knee and I fell down, in a fair bit of pain. Ouch.

I can just see the medical report. "Patient injured knee kite flying." I feel like a dope. With a limp.

If it still hurts this much tomorrow I'm going to the doctor. For now it's rest, ice, compression and elevation.

But boy, before that happened the kite and I were soaring.

(c) 2008 Laura S Packer
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

oh, by the way

I've given in and started a food blog. I wanted to keep this blog more about writing, storytelling, observational essays, life, and I know once I get started talking about food I can just go on and on and on and on and on, so...

If you're interested it's here: cook pot stories.

It's nascent. 

What I find more interesting is that this suggests that I am getting hooked on blogging. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or merely naval gazing, since I'm not sure if anyone is reading any of this (hi Mom!) but there it is. We'll see how long it lasts. 

Actually, I know someone other than Mom is reading this, since I recently broke 1000 on my visitor count. Woo-hoo! Thanks for reading everyone.
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White tail grace

I was out for a ride this morning and, boy, the voices were loud. You know the ones I mean, those voices that tell you (me) that you're (I'm) a failure at whatever you are (I am)trying to do at the time.

At that particular moment, the voices were saying, "I pretty much suck. Why am I even doing this? I'm in terrible shape. My knee hurts. Why bother? You won't make a difference anyway." That last was in reference to the fundraising I'm trying to do for the Dana Farber Cancer Center via the PMC. It's going slowly, no one has much money this year.

The voices were pretty loud and I was struggling to ride through them, those monsters in the road. I saw a guy stopped by the side of the bike path a bit in front of me and slowed down to make sure he was okay. He said to me, sotto voce, "There's a deer right here."

I got off my bike and we stood together, looking at a young deer, looking at us. It wasn't 15 feet away. After a little while the guy rode off while I stayed and watched.

It was beautiful. And it clearly didn't find me threatening. We looked at each other. I could see its nostrils flare as it smelled me (I did smell, I'd been riding), then it stopped watching me and calmly began eating berries off of a nearby tree. In a little while it wandered away into the underbrush. When I could no longer see it I got back on my bike and rode away.

The monsters were gone.

I am grateful that man needed to share his moment of beauty. I am grateful the deer simply is.

Sometimes the universe offers moments of grace and for once I was able to stop and notice.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I want to believe in reincarnation

I think about the afterlife and I wonder. Sometimes I am comforted by the thought that I will return to the earth, giving back all that has made me (ignore the physics and embalming problems here), returning the cows and chickens and fish and carrots and tomatoes and lettuce and beets and rice and chocolate and so on. That when I die, I am done, my successes and failures die with me, while the world goes on; there is comfort in that. Other times I contemplate heaven, but that is fraught with philosophical difficulties - do we shed the more troublesome aspects of ourselves when we die, are we insipid in heaven? Or is heaven something so far beyond my comprehension that I can't understand it enough to long for it? I don't particularly want to be a ghost, as far as I can tell that's pretty boring. So what's left?

Reincarnation sounds pretty good to me. I really like this option because, damn, but life is hard sometimes. I'd like to think that all the crap I'm sorting through these days, crap that keeps coming up over and over again, will be worth something. That the stuff I'm learning now will have some value later, because honestly I sometimes doubt that I'm going to learn it well enough to use it in this lifetime. But with a little processing time in between, I just might be able to do something with it.

I would love to know:
how to love without sacrificing myself.
how to speak painful truths such that they are heard
how to use anger effectively.

Stuff like that. If I could learn that this time around and carry it into the next, that would really be something. And if I carried the recipe for tomato cucumber salad over too, that would be huge plus.

Take a couple of lovely, heavy, ripe tomatoes. Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds. This will sting if you have any scrapes or cracks in your hands. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Put it in a good sized bowl. A pretty one.
Take a cucumber. I usually peel it some, but not entirely. Slice it in half the long way and run your thumb down the inside, scraping the seeds out. You can use a spoon, but this is more fun. Chop up the cucumber and add it to the tomato.

Find an onion that seems non-threatening. Peel it, dice it and add it to the bowl of veggies. If you cry a little no one needs to know. Some tears are a gift.
Take a bunch or parsley, flat or curly, your choice. rinse it and shake it dry. Chop it up until you have what you think is enough, then add some more. Add it to the bowl.
Sniff it all. Mmmm....
Take a nice, ripe lemon. Cut it in half and squeeze the juice out from both halves over the veggie mix. You may want to use two lemons.
Add salt and pepper to taste; it may take more salt than you're expecting. Mix it all up well. Eat.
This, I know, is heaven.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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Sunday, July 6, 2008

The naked truth

We went camping this past weekend. This is nothing unusual, lots and lots of people pack their cars and drive off to someplace in the woods where they can gaze into a fire and slap at mosquitos. What differentiates the camping I did this weekend was that I went to a nudist camp.

There are a lot of things I could tell you about this place. It is a lovely, quiet setting. It's not prurient, no orgies or wild sexual escapades. If anything it's like spending time with a bunch of kids who can drive. And happen to be naked. And the bodies? Just like yours. The average age is probably close to 60. It's a bunch of really nice, ordinary people, who happen to like not wearing clothing.

There are some rules, spoken and unspoken.
- You get more direct eye contact at a nudist camp than you will anywhere else in your life - you're not supposed to look, even though I suspect most people peek. You don't catch anyone peeking, instead everyone looks right at your face whenever you talk with them.  
- There is some smugness about being at a nudist camp. If you somehow manage to forget that everyone there is naked, sooner or later, someone will remind you that in some way we are a little bit better because we camp naked. I don't really agree with this, but it is in the air.
- There are some real rules about keeping everything pretty much asexual (no significant touching (there are kids around), no visible body jewelry below the waist, etc etc.).
- Conversation is light, no politics or other heavy stuff. I suspect this is because we're already so exposed no one wants to be more so.
- If you're playful, you're better off. It's a really silly bunch, with silly senses of humor.
And so on. It's all friendly, polite and very sociable. This is not the kind of camping you do if you want quiet communion with nature.

I don't really care much one way or the other about being naked, though there is something nice about the nude sunbathing and hot tubbing whenever I want, not to mention not having to worry about clothing getting wet in the inevitable rain. What I find really interesting about this place is the community. I don't know if it's because everyone is naked, so there isn't really much left to hide, or because it's a bunch of people drawn together by one common, relatively unusual interest but this group of people seems to be strikingly honest and open with each other.

If someone has a problem, everyone knows about it. Yes, this could just be common gossip, but it seems deeper that that. People want to help. They want to talk and be listened to. The underlying assumption is that if you are there, you are part of a community that will help each other.

I show up with my tent and gear, people stop to assist me, even though they all have their trailers and permanent sites and barely know my name. I don't ask, they just do it. There are potluck dinners where we are fed even if we have nothing to share and the response is just delight that we came. A few years ago I mentioned the PMC to one person; within 15 minutes an announcement was made over the PA systems and people can running, literally, to give me money for the ride. People I didn't know, people I knew didn't have much money, people who were doing it because they cared. When I've asked in other communities, with people who know me better and have more money, I don't get anything like that kind of response. It is truly remarkable.

I don't know if it's because everyone there has the great equalizer of being naked, being revealed for all to see. I don't know if it's because it's simply a kind of community I hadn't had the good luck to encounter before and it exists elsewhere, with clothing on. I do know I am grateful for it and if I have to drop trou be part of it, then I will.

Oh, and that recurring nightmare about performing naked? Not such a big deal, stories are stories no matter where you tell them.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Watch, give, save a life

When I was 18, I thought about killing myself. We all have those thoughts from time to time, I know, but this was my long dark night. I spent a lot of hours on a bridge and a lot of time looking at my wrists. I got through it. But I didn't tell anyone at the time and I would likely have gotten through it faster and more easily if I had.

Hopeline, 1-800-SUICIDE, is a national listening line that helps people considering suicide. It's free. It's confidential. It doesn't record you or track you or judge you. And they need help.

I learned about it from Postsecret. I believe they help people. I believe they give more stories happy endings.

Watch this video, go to the website and donate. You may never know whose life you save.

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