Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Psychic Hairdresser, part 1 (fiction)

I have a big date tonight and want to look hot. He's, like, rich and cute. Do your thing.
Listen baby, I know you think this is the start of something special but he's not who you think he is. He'll make you pay for the drinks, will glare when you order the filet and when he kisses you it will bear an uncanny resemblance to kissing a fish. Trust me, I know. Let me give you a trim instead. Stand him up and take the extra money to go out with the girls. You'll never regret it and you just might meet someone better.

Do blondes have more fun?
Depends on the blonde. In your case, no.

Make me look like her. I loved her latest movie and I just know I could carry off that hair. Besides, my boyfriend thinks she's cute.
Gladly. This haircut will make you feel good like a woman should. I know it will. In fact, the next time your "boyfriend" goes out drinking, you'll throw all his crap out the window and have the locks changed by the time he gets back. The breakup will be fast and loud. It'll be worth the expense and embarrassment. You won't see him for a few years, then you'll bump into him at a gallery opening, where he never would go with you now. Your hair, by the way, will be gorgeous, you'll have dyed it that deep red you've always admired. The meet will be cute and you'll enjoy introducing him to your husband who adores you the way he never did.

I don't want much done today, just a wash and trim.
Oh, honey, trust me, today is the day to do it all. Go for the dye job. I know you've been avoiding it, but you know what they say, make the curtains match the drapes and you never know what's going to happen. You are wearing clean underwear, just in case, right? Do you really want me to tell you the rest of it?

I heard you can do amazing things. Make me into who I always wanted to be.
I can do almost anything I set my mind to, but I can't do that. No, really, I can't do anything with that hair. If I did it would be a disaster, I can see it now. Ask at the next chair.

Send your questions to the Psychic Hairdresser by emailing or posting comments below! Free answers with a wash and style! The Psychic Hairdresser knows all!

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, March 28, 2009

When did I become the grownup?

I wonder if I'm handling my 40s well. I always imagined that by the time I hit 40 I'd be married (nope) with kids (none that I can see, unless you count various adults in my life) a homeowner (renting and currently relieved to do so) and with a career (wait, how did I miss that one?). Here I am, living in sin with my sweetie, parenting any number of people though none are biological, in the same financial mess as most of my peers (retirement? wait, let me stop laughing) and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I'm not the grown up.

Except sometimes I am.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I was at an event where an older friend took ill. Only a few of us were around when this happened, but I found myself in the position of making the decisions. Should we call the EMTs? Should we send our friend to the hospital, even though they didn't want to go? What do we do next? I was the youngest person in the room, but I was the one calling the shots. Maybe it's because I'm bossy. Maybe it's because someone needed to be decisive and the others were having more difficulty putting their emotions aside, while I could. I don't know why, but I do know that I was the decisive one because someone needed to be.

Afterwards I found myself thinking, "When did I become the grownup?" I asked my sweetie and he told me that I'd been the grownup for years, the one people could rely on, the one who remained calm. Hell. Does being the grownup mean I have to be boring now?

I hope not. There are good things about being a grownup. I can get a new tattoo if I want. I can eat what I want when I want. It's easier to not care about what other people think. I can make my own decisions. I can choose what part of adulthood I want to embrace.

When I was a kid I marveled at how grownups seemed so self-assured and knew the right thing to do all the time. As I grow older, each birthday I wonder, "Is now when I start feeling like a grownup?" I suspect I'll ask that question until I die and, depending on if there's an afterlife, may continue to ask. I think part of the secret of being a grownup is that you learn to fake confidence more effectively. You've learned that it's better to move forward than to stay in stunned indecision.

Some days I'm fine with my 40s, thinking that I'm just not living a conventional life. Other days I grieve. But I do know that I'm trying my best and trying to treat those I meet with compassion and dignity along the way. What else can I do? We make the best decisions we can in any given moment.

My friend was fine, by the way. I'm glad I was able to help them and maybe that's enough of a reason to be a grownup from time to time.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mistaken gifts

The gifts given by those who are obligated to love us, even when they don't know us, are almost always the worst.

I was once in a relationship with a very nice man who had a very nice family. His extended family really cared about me and did their best but, boy, there were some challenging moments.

At Christmas there were usually moments like this:

I'd open a beautifully wrapped small box and find a brooch (or bracelet or necklace) inside. All well and good, you might think, but the brooch (or bracelet or necklace) was invariably well beyond the boundaries of good taste. Covered in rhinestones (and not in any kind of ironic way), festooned with cats with faux emerald eyes, dangling little metal dice, something... it was always absolutely hideous.

The relative in question would look at me, beaming, wearing her own version of the same jewelry and would ask, "Do you like it? I loved it so much I just had to get one for you!"

And I would remind myself not to look at the very nice man I was dating, knowing I would burst out laughing if I did, and tell the relative that it was lovely, thoughtful, considerate. Two out of three isn't bad.

The worst gift, however, came in our second Christmas together. One of the loving relatives was very excited, she said she'd found the perfect gift, ideal for a young lady, something she knew I would love. I opened the package with great trepidation and had to take a deep breath, tears coming to my eyes as I struggled not to laugh at the perfume bottle nestled in satin.

I know this family loved me. And I know she just didn't put two and two together when she gave me, her nephew's girlfriend, this particular perfume.

It was called "Tramp."

(c) 2009 Laura Packer

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cloning the sacred

This past weekend was the 27th annual Sharing the Fire Storytelling Conference sponsored by the League for the Advancement of New England Storytellers. One of the keynote speakers, Valerie Tutson, spoke quite passionately about the need to give oral narrative the same weight as written narrative in schools. At one point in her speech she prefaced a telling of The Cowtail Switch by explaining that the version she tells is not the version she learned from her teacher, which is not the version commonly found in books which was written down without attribution though with good intent. The name of the original Liberian storyteller and the context in which it was told has been lost. I found this question of story context just as thought provoking as the main points of her keynote.

I began to wonder what happens to stories when:
  1. they are taken from the oral tradition, where they have tremendous meaning imparted by their cultural context
  2. they are written down and standardized in books
  3. those texts are stored in libraries, where the stories gain another kind of context and meaning, one of academia and (one would hope) cross-cultural wonder
  4. the stories are eventually relearned and retold by storytellers who (through no fault of their own) can't have the deeper cultural context
  5. the stories are then uploaded to the internet, to a teller's page, a school project or some other form
  6. and again, the stories are relearned, now by someone thousands of miles away with even less context. At that point the stories are being told entirely without their cultural context; they have an entirely different life than in point 1.
Some people have very strong opinions one way or another about telling stories outside of your own culture. For instance, some Native American storytellers believe that no one who is outside of their culture should tell Native American stories, to do so is a violation of sacred bonds. Other people believe that stories belong to everyone, regardless of cultural roots. I am somewhere in the middle on this one, but for the sake of this essay, let's take as a given that stories are told and retold, often outside of their original context. I'm interested in how they change and if their original intent can be maintained, particularly when a story is learned off of the internet where it is so easy to strip all context from it.

So, can the sacred experience of hearing a story, rich in cultural meaning, be cloned when the story is learned from the internet without any of the accompanying cultural meaning and context?

The obvious answer would appear to be "no" since deep context is so vitally important for the creation of the sacred. You need to know why this story in this moment told this way is sacred.


There is a school of thought that the act of creation - whether it's woodworking or gardening or cooking or storytelling - is in and of itself sacred. If these stories are told with integrity of intent, even if the teller doesn't know who the original teller was or when in the cycle of the year this story was told, if she tells the story with the intent of communicating something of herself and of the truth she finds in the story, I suspect the sacred nature of the story is retained. The sacred is present in her reverence for the story and audience, and in the audience's reception of the story. The telling and hearingn are the sacrament. I suspect its sacred nature is retained even more so if she says something like, "I learned this story from my teacher (or a book or the internet). I have made it my own and I'm giving it to you." The act of sharing this creative moment with her listeners empowers them to create themselves (double meaning intended). It invites them into the creative process, the sacred moment. It creates context and meaning, even if she learned the story from the internet.

Imagine a storyteller finds a story on a website. She reads it and is deeply moved by it, even though it isn't from her culture. She learns the story, puts her own spin on it, and tells it. At the performance some of her listeners are in turn deeply moved, maybe even a few descended from the same culture as the story. Those listeners in turn look the story up, discover their own deep connection to the story and begin to explore its meaning in their own lives. They create meaning. The act of telling and listening created the sacred space for self-discovery and shared creation.

Perhaps with the incredible array of story information available to us now context becomes more academic and intent can fill some of the void. We create new context by telling old stories with new audiences and doing so with genuine intent to share the world all of our human commonality.

While I deeply believe we should understand as much context we can for stories, I also know that the shared experience of storytelling is in and of itself a sacred moment. It is foolish to try to stop stories from changing; it is human nature to change what we find. Instead we can embrace these new stories and new moments, and strive towards a vision of shared creative experience. We may not be able to clone the sacred moments of the past, but we can create evolving sacred moments now and into the future.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License

Time is speeding up

An amazing video illustrating how fast technology is changing.

Shift... Creative Commons License

Pictures for a thousand words

I love words, you know that. But there are sometimes images that evoke feelings with such strength that it's easier if I shut up and get out of the way.

I'm not sure if I like this site for its design or for the images it holds. Either way, take a look.

One Photo A Day Creative Commons License

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why blog?

Throughout this blogging sabbatical I’ve been thinking about why blogging attracts me. In so doing, I’ve been reading a lot of other blogs, like this one and that one, thinking about what makes a great blog and what makes one less than satisfactory.

I’ve come up with this highly subjective set of criteria for a good blog:
  • It’s well written
  • The writer has integrity to themselves and their topics
  • A blog doesn’t need to have an over-arching theme, but it helps if the blogger is clueful about their given topic and has put some thought into what they’re saying
  • The links are relevant and current
  • The blog is updated regularly
  • The writer is aware of their audience and isn’t just writing for their own entertainment.
With that set of criteria in mind, I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to make this blog better.
  • I’m not a bad writer and will become a better writer the more I write
  • I’m not interested in writing without integrity; I won’t lie to you
  • I’m not interested in devoting this blog to any one theme, though I often touch upon story and language
  • I check all links before I include them, so they are current at the time of posting
  • I’ve utterly failed to update this blog regularly, for many reasons, some related to the last point
  • While I don’t know much of my audience, I write with audience in mind and I know some of you. And that sometimes makes honest writing hard.
One of the things I love about blogging is the possible dialogue between writer and reader. In traditional publishing it’s rare that a writer can have immediate feedback from their readers. In blogging all a reader needs to do is type a comment and the writer knows if they’ve been effective. It’s great. I’ve become a better writer for it.

A few of my readers have my phone number, so can call me if they have comments about something I’ve written. That’s fine too, though it sometimes leads to conversations about me, rather than conversations about what I’ve written. And again, this is fine, these are loving conversations, but it can have a dampening effect on my writing. If I write about a troubling experience and my reaction to it – if I tell the story – and the response is always anxiety and concern it becomes hard to tell those stories for the sake of the story. I become more concerned about worrying my reader than I do about telling the story. And I end up not writing. This isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for me, as a writer; it’s not good for those of you who enjoy this blog. It’s not good for the stories themselves which have an independent life when they are told.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this quandary of worrying some of my readers by the stories I tell, until I talked with my friend Elsa. She suggested I blog about it, so I wrote this entry. I hope that in writing this I can move past my hesitation to tell other stories, write other entries and begin to write regularly again.

In answer to the question, “Why blog?” I’ve come to this: I blog because I love to write and I write better for an audience. I blog because I think some of what I have to say is worth sharing. And I blog because stories need to be told and read, because we understand ourselves by telling stories, because we are made of stories, those moments in our lives that are repeated and retold until they become myth and legend and dream.

See you soon.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.laurapacker.com.
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