Friday, January 28, 2011

Fiction: The True Cause of World War 1. Part 2

Part 2. In which we learn where poetry comes from and begin to suspect that language may be contagious.

The story so far... In Part 1 we met a group of poets in the early 20th century. Language is their love, their mistress, their all consuming passion. One day, a new poet named John Davies is introduced to the group. He seems naive and unlikely to be a crafter of words. He reads them a poem and...

Paper trembling in his hand, John Davies read us a poem. It wasn’t so many lines, it didn’t rhyme, in truth I don’t remember what it was about, but it was the best we’d ever heard.  The room was silent.

Finally Seigfried cleared his throat,  his customary aplomb gone. “Oh. Oh my. Could you read us another?”

John Davies read another and another and another until he’d read all he had brought. We clustered around him, slapped him on the back and assured him that yes, he was a fine a poet, then before not too long we all rushed to our rooms to write. To see if we could compare with the fire, the fury, the light of his words. We couldn’t. But we kept trying, each writing long into the night, long after the coal in the scuttle had burned to ash.

We all fell in love with him then. We all hated him then. Great poetry makes you want to be greater yourself and when the source of that inspiration stands before you and grins like a school boy twisting his cap, you don’t know whether to fall to your knees in awe or to plunge a knife into his heart and bury him, before anyone knows such a thing ever existed.

The thing about John was that he was never mean about it. Of course he knew he was good, how could he not with our praise soaking into his skin, but he thought we were good, too. He never pushed us down, always brought us up. The gift he brought to us, the gift of sharing his poems, made us want to write and made us be better writers. We all wanted to hate him, his talent made ours look tiny, but we couldn’t. He was too good a man.

In our own ways we each fell in love with him not only because he had words like that but because he made us better writers. Better people.

John Davies quickly became one of us. He talked and he listened. He taught us how to listen. In truth, we hadn’t been good listeners before. Now, when someone brought a fresh poem instead of thinking only about how we would tear it down, we listened to it as the tender new thing it was. Of course, the insults were still elegant and we all competed to be second to John, but we were perhaps a bit kinder to one another. Not that we would ever have admitted it. We still argued about nature of poetry, of history, of man, god and nature itself. Above all else we argued about and revered words. Words poured out of our hearts, down our arms, into pens, across paper in smears of black ink. I remember the scratchy sound of nib on paper, I remember feeling so eager to write the nib split and spilled, I remember the smell of ink, I still remember John’s handwriting. Cramped, small and unschooled. Beautiful in content if not in form.

I don’t know how long it had been, but by then John was a friend. I valued him as much as any of the others. One evening he seemed troubled and quiet. He had never been as boisterous as the rest of us, but not like this, staring into his beer as if it might contain answers or maybe more questions. The others were drinking, smoking, arguing - verdant isn't right word for spring it’s trite and over used, try something else. Someone noticed John didn’t look right. Pale, pulled in. Rocking back and forth as if he were trying to comfort himself.

"What’s wrong?" we asked him and pushed another drink into his hand.

He pushed it away. “No, I don’t want another drink. This one’s gone warm anyway.” We crowded around him.

"What's wrong?" we insisted. "Are you ill? Has someone died?"

“No, I’ve had some news.” The room was silent. Waiting. Finally, "What news?"

“What would you do if you were told the thing you most wanted to hear and you were told it from a source of utter purity? What if you learned the thing you most longed for and feared were true?”

“I’d get drunk, what else?” someone laughed in reply.

“No I don’t believe you would.” John Davies clutched at his drink.

“What were you told.?”

“I can’t tell you. You’d laugh, think I’m mad. Hell, I think I’m mad.”  His hands were shaking and he was pale, sweaty.

Seigfried stepped forward and crouched so he was at eye level with Davies. “We are your friends. You can tell us anything.” Sig could be very persuasive. He waited.

Someone handed John Davies a glass of water. He drank, his chin wet. He looked at each one of us, a steady gaze as if he was affirming who we were. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began to speak.

“Last night as usual I went home to my rooms. I was sitting at my desk writing, words pouring out, you know how it is. I don't know how long I'd been writing when I felt heat on back and I wondered if the landlady put coal on fire. Not bloody likely, she’s a stingy soul. I turned around.

“Gentleman, I don’t know how to tell you what I saw.”

The room grew quieter still, I think no one breathed. John Davies was out of words? Unable to describe a piece of the world?

“It was as though it was made of light. As though it was heat and poetry personified. I didn’t believe it, especially not the wings, but it looked at me and said

John Davies I have come with a message from God.

Now I don’t know what you would have done, but I found I was on my knees, there was no doubting when I heard that voice, when I was in that presence. This was something divine.”

He fell silent again, seeing something we could not.

Someone asked what we all were wondering. “What did it say?”

“It said to me: You are voice of your generation. You shall write the greatest poetry of 20th century. But you have been given a gift for purpose.

“Poetry is how God seeks to speak with Man. Poets speak with the voice of God and, since time began, poets have spoken God's dreams through Man’s throat and fingers. Poets are celestial translators, speaking words for Man that God can no longer speak directly. They are words from God that Man hears. Man can no longer bear the voice of God without a filter. Poets translate between Man and God. And you are the greatest poet of your generation. 

“I think I wet myself then. You would have too.”

None of us disagreed.

John Davies went on. “It said: We have come to you with a message. God is coming, you are God's herald. God thanks you deeply and truly for your service to Man and your service as God’s voice. God needs you to spread word of God’s return. With that my heart was full of the most glorious poetry.

“ I ran to desk and began to write regardless of the winged thing standing behind me. I think I would have hurt anything that tried to stop me from writing. I found myself writing songs of God's return. The thing stepped forward and touched my shoulder. Now, John Davies, you will go forth and spread the word.

“When I stopped writing the room was cold, the creature was gone, my hands were cramped and the sun was cresting the trees. I have all of this.” He held out a great sheaf of paper full of his cramped handwriting.

“John,” said William, “surely you just drank too much absinthe.”

“I was NOT DRUNK,” John Davies roared, “and  I have the words to prove it.”

He read us a poem then. I don't remember it. I do know it was beyond anything I had ever heard and I am glad I can't recall the words, it was too pure. I do know it was full of cadence and language  overflowing with love and longing and hope. As soon as they entered my ears and flowed through my body my heart too knew this language. This was the language of the world before the Tower of Babel fell. All I could do in response was to grab paper and begin to write poems of God. All praise songs about God coming to earth and the joy we would lie in once God arrived.

I wasn’t alone. We were all compelled to write throughout night, right where we were. We didn’t go home, we didn’t stop to wash the ink from our clothing or our hands.

Continued in Part 3.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest post: Mental illness

I have a dear friend who is fighting some mental illness issues. She has taught me so much about courage, dignity, strength and the value of small things. Yesterday, in her own blog, she wrote about how hard it is to feel alone and how much she appreciates those who are still by her side. I read this and thought that these were words more people needed to hear. No one, no matter their illness, deserves to be abandoned.

To protect her privacy I've reposted here with her permission. If you'd like to contact her please leave a comment or send me an email; I'll make sure it gets to her. More importantly, reach out. Our lives are too short and the world is too big to leave each other behind.


Mental Illness?
By J.

I remember when I started slipping this time around it wasn't just me who slipped. It was my friends and family; they slipped away one by one!

First, it was the dinner invites (thank heaven), then craft days (sad), gym dates (sadder still) and finally phone calls and emails. Until I was left, alone, with this power in me - no, scratch that - this power OVER me, that reminded me that I was worthless and deserved every evil thing I did to myself. Every meal skipped was punishment, every mile logged a reminder that I was far away from being someone who was cared for or, for that matter able to be cared about.

***I am going to stop myself here to interject that I do have a husband who stood and continues to stand by my side.

I DID and DO have a couple friends who reached out and, when I couldn't reach back, came and strode beside me.

I also still have a couple friends who, to this day call and come over and probably know of nothing being wrong because my job to them is to be their friend (a role I am okay with so don't think this is pitiful).

I do have friends I have made in ip and at resi who daily amaze me!

I want to touch on a couple of these before I get to my point here.

Hubster = great guy who REALLY doesn't see evil in this world, so to him I'm not sick and it is not something we discuss.

Friends who have reached out and supported (Laura & k) me = there was a period where I thought that they hated/were ashamed of me. That was the eating disorder talking and for a year I was convinced hook line and sinker! A single hug from k (aka the world's best hugger and the only person who has permission to hug me whenever) and a gentle invitation from l with honesty and kindness for thanksgiving broke those walls for me (okay that and they think pupster is cute!)

Friends who never know = this is a hard one for me, part of me loves it and then part of me gets to the "where is the back and forth in this relationship?"

And lastly new friends who only know "crazy joy." I often wonder if (when??) I get better, will they still love me? Or is our desire to injure our bodies, minds, and souls our bond? I believe with a couple it is but I am pretty sure at least 2 (l and n) are for keepers!

This brings me to today! Today, I sat in a church and cried silent tears while in the company of 4 others. Let me repeat that: 4 OTHER PEOPLE! as my cousin Joe was laid to rest!

Joe was wonderful, and sweet, and literal, and loved to dance (he has been taking ballroom dancing for years) He truly lived the simple life, he had childlike virtues and gentleness. You couldn't help but love him! Joe was crazy, he was, I guess you'd say, clinically insane.

As I sat there I was brought to my own funeral - would the handful come? Probably. Would those who had been my "best friends" for years? Or would the stigma of loving someone like Joe, like me, maybe even like you, keep them away? I don't know and honestly, I don't want to.

I started out being very sad with these thoughts and the turnout and then a little bit of Joe reached me and I decided that those people he has danced with for years? Well, this week they'll dance for him. And his girlfriend? Well, I am sure there's a smile or two that will leave her face and land on his. And my sisters? Well, shame on them, I hope they remember that nobody chooses insanity. But I still hope they can send a thought, a prayer, a laugh or a kiss up to an old friend with a child's light!

So I leave with this request: if you have someone in your life with a mental illness (including yourself) please remember them. Cards, phone calls, emails and visits are relatively cheap and yet priceless!

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, January 24, 2011

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

We're deep in the heart of winter, up 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.
    There are many great online resources full of traditional stories.
  2. Learn something new, part 2. The internet has many wonderful other resources available for you to explore.
    • 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. 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. 
  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. 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, myspace, facebook or linkedin pages?
    • Send a few emails to organizations where you'd like to tell.
    • Update your basic press release.
  5. Tell someone a story. Do you live with room-mates, family, friends? Do you have a telephone? 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.
    These cold, dark days are a gift. We have the chance to pull into our shells and do some housekeeping, catch up with ourselves. Savor the time.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Fiction: The True Cause of World War 1. Part I

    Part I, in which we consider words as weapons, great talent and modesty.

    Have you ever met someone who had the gifts you most long for? It fills your heart with conflict. You don’t know whether to be grateful that yes, such things exist in the world, or full of hate and rage, that you are not the chosen one. That you must feel the grinding jealousy of someone else’s light. When he first came among us we didn’t know whether to love him or hate him. We thought we had to choose.

    This is not the way to tell the story. I am old now. The others are gone, all dead and buried, mostly forgotten, a few celebrated but truly their hearts are unknown. I am the only one left, the only one to tell the story, the only one who knows what really happened. Sometimes I think my whole life was meant for this moment. That this was my role. To witness. To remember. And finally to tell.

    I won’t tell this to you in my voice. I don’t want you to know what my hand did, what my voice said. My shame and fear and sorrow are still too deep. And I want my death to end this story, to ensure that these actions are not repeated. I would rather be forgotten and leave only a warning. So please, indulge an old man. Listen.

    We had never seen Seigfried so excited. It was written! He had done it! The world can finally rest! He went on and on and on about his marvelous words. Frankly we were sick of his talk about marvelous words, he was extraordinary but only every once in a while, though truly, the poem was written and it was fine.

    We lived in our words. Through our words. Our words were our swords, our limbs, our every sense. We were the best of our generation in the best of times. We listened to each other, read each other’s poems and criticized with the sharpest of phrases, a surgeon's scalpel had nothing on our tongues. We spoke to one another as only poets could.

    We talked about meaning and greater meaning.  We gathered to talk of everything that mattered in the world; of beauty, of truth, of love, of language and mostly of poetry. We were drunk on language, it sustained us, fed us and inebriated us more thoroughly than the finest foods, the sweetest wines. We were in love with language, with our youth, with what we thought we could become.

    Me and Seigfried and Willy and Robert and Bertie and all of them. We wrote our poems, drank and wenched and then compared notes. But it was always the words that we came back to, the words that drove us, each of us trying to write a better poem than last time, capture that peculiar essence of what it was to be alive, how our lovely mother tongue could mother us all. Some nights we were undoubtedly insufferable, singing and arguing and boasting beyond compare, but when we wrote and listened to one another - ah! Then we lived.

    It was Bertie who told us about him first, interrupting Seigfried's pleasure in himself. Bertie was too eager, so we didn’t believe him of course. He said, “I have met the perfect poet. I have found the poet whose words will change world and he doesn’t even know it yet. I will bring him to you, you will listen to him and you will believe.” His face was radiant. How could we believe him? I thought he’d simply found a better absinthe.

    Robert laughed. “He’s not better than any of us. Bertie, you’ve just fallen in love with another pretty face, you’re confusing fine words with a fine -”

    “Oh no, John Davies is the best there is, maybe the best there ever will be.”

    Bertie’s face took on a stubborness I had never seen. There was something different in his voice and I wondered if maybe he was telling the truth. Then I laughed with the rest and went on teasing him about his fine boy of a poet.

    It took Bertie weeks to convince John Davies to come to us. I don’t know where he met him, he never would say which perhaps confirms my suspicions that Bertie first thought of him as a toy and nothing else, but he wouldn’t stop talking about the words that flew from John Davies' pen. He said he begged him to join us, but he didn’t want to. That he would say over and over again, “Oh no, I can’t come, can’t read with them, I am just not good enough. I am only a simple man who likes to write.”

    The awful thing was, that it wasn’t false modesty, he was a simple, kind man who by happenstance had the greatest gift for poetry I have ever encountered. He didn’t think of himself as anything other than someone who wrote what he believed. Nothing more or less.

    Bertie begged and pleaded. Finally John Davies came among us and nothing would ever be the same. We didn't know that at first.

    Seigfried walked around him and said, “So you’re Bertie’s prodigy. Very nice We’ll see if your words are as good as he says. Frankly I think he’s been dancing with the green fairies too much. But it’s not your fault that he falls in love so easily.”

    John Davies look chagrined and twisted his hat in his hands. He sat at a table in the corner and sipped a beer.  He remained quiet while Sig declared in a voice that brooked no challenge, “Poetry isn’t the voice of God. The fools who decry us as as blasphemers for writing poems of men and mens’ lives haven’t lived themselves, they are too afraid of their own blood and passion to know what poetry really is. Poetry is man's voice.  Poetry is the song of man’s experiences. It is how we proclaim ourselves beyond God because God doesn’t waste time with us. God no longer bellows from the mountains, no longer gives us tablets writ with rules. God has left us alone to babble to ourselves, so we have given ourselves poems to take over the voice of God. Poetry fills in where God lacks.”

    John Davies leaned forward then and spoke into the silence that always followed Sigfried's challenges.

    “No. Poetry is the voice of man for God. It’s how God understands man. Since the fall of the tower, we no longer speak with divine tongues. God gave us poetry so we could explain ourselves to him. He longs to know us in our own words.”

    It was the first time he’d spoken since Bertie introduced him. It was as if he noticed his voice in the silence and pulled back, embarrassed. Sigfried looked at him from arched brows. The argument went on around the room - did Adam and Eve chatter in verse and so all cultures have poems? - was the tower of Babel really a kind of poetic meter? but the words lacked the passion that rang in John Davies’ voice.

    Finally the arguments turned into little more than biblical puns. Sig announced that it was time to read. He asked if anyone had a poem they would like to share, that we could then discuss. No one stepped forward. The discussions, as all but John Davies knew, were brutal. Poets snipe like no one else and utter the most elegant insults you will ever hear.

    And of course, because he didn’t know, John Davies was the first to step up; in spite of his modesty, he had come to be heard.. He cleared his throat and, clutching a sheaf of papers, said, “If no one minds, I did come here to read my little poems to poets. Perhaps I could try.” I could hear the fear in his voice and almost told him to sit down, almost wanted to protect him, but didn’t for fear of the lashing I would then endure. With barely a glance beyond his drink, Sigfried waved him into the center of the room.

    Paper trembling in his hand, John Davies read us a poem. It wasn’t so many lines, it didn’t rhyme, in truth I don’t remember what it was about, but it was the best we’d ever heard.  The room was silent.

    Continued in Part 2.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer
    Creative Commons License

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Feeding the birds

    We've gotten an awful lot of snow here in Boston over the last few weeks. We have close to 2 feet on the ground and more is coming. I love the aesthetic of snow, the blinding whiteness, the way it glows blue in the evening, the quiet it creates, but I am getting tired of the shoveling, the slipping, the traffic delays. I'm no different than most, enjoying snow when it's convenient and complaining when it's not.

    How lucky we are that we have warm homes and safety. Just consider how many don't. I'm carrying food and chemical heat packs to give to the homeless people I meet. It's not enough, but it's something. This weather reminds me that we have an obligation to care for each other when we can.

    That extends to my non-human neighbors. Each morning I look outside and see a crowd of birds waiting for me at the feeder. I'm of two minds about feeding them - I so enjoy watching them flock and fight, though I know it disrupts their natural cycles and inclinations. I do it anyway.

    As I watch the birds, mostly house sparrows, gather at feeder, I am struck by the tenacity and familiarity of life. As they fight with each other for seeds, some jerk their heads, tossing seed out onto the ground below. Birds flock on the ground to eat what falls. Is this altruism? Is it tossing a morsel to the crowd so the lucky birds with a perch will be left alone? Am I just ascribing human feelings to these lovely little creatures?

    When I was a child, a sparrow was caught in the fence lining our backyard. I could see it struggling to free its foot from the boards. I put on a pair of gardening gloves and walked to it. It eyed me with what I imagined then was relief. Now I think it was resigned terror, a predator finally coming to finish it off. As gently as I could, I held it with one hand while I shifted the boards with the other. Its foot was released. I held my cupped hands open and felt its rapid heartbeat as it sat in my palm. After a few moments it flew away, leaving a smear of blood on the boards and my gloves.

    I remember its lightness in my hands, the frantic beat against my skin even through the fabric glove. I know this particular bird probably died soon thereafter, weakened from its injured foot, but I imagine its descendants landing on my bird feeder this winter, cocking a cautious eye at me as they eat. If I listen closely, I believe I hear their heartbeats.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Tell the stories that scare you

    Every storyteller, writer and artist has a comfort zone, the place where they know they can excel or at least do well enough, easily enough. It's comforting to think of yourself as a teller of funny stories, fairy tales, personal stories, bawdy stories, whatever. It's a really good thing to know what you specialize in and to have the confidence to tell those stories well. It helps with marketing and artistic self-esteem. You should know what you're good at and not be afraid to tell people.

    Once you know what you're good at, don't think that means you stop growing. You may be able to tell a fairy tale with more pizzaz than anyone else around, but what would happen if you stretched a little and told a personal story? Would it kill you? Or would you maybe learn something about yourself as a performer, artist and human being?

    When we step out of our comfort zone and tell a kind of story we don't typically tell, we have a chance to hone the creative process. For example, I am not comfortable singing in front of audiences. My singing voice isn't strong nor particularly tuneful. But I wanted to tell a story that had a sung refrain. I first worked on the story by myself, then with trusted friends. I eventually had a story I was willing to share with an open mic (as of now I don't know if this story will remain in my repertoire for reasons unrelated to singing). I still don't sing well, but I was able to craft the story and make accommodations for my singing. I was able to spend time thinking about why I wanted to tell this piece and put in a level of work I might not offer a more familiar kind of story where I am more comfortable. I was able to see my weaknesses as a performer, because they were so exposed in this story, and work on them. All of this work enhances all of the stories I tell.

    Other examples might be telling a personal story or one with loaded emotional content. Those stories can be frightening to the teller. Remember, you're not alone. You don't know what's happening in the minds of your audience, you don't know who needs to hear this story so they know they're not alone. If you put in the time and the effort to craft a personal story you can tell effectively, you're giving your audience a huge gift. You're building bridges from person to person and making the world more connected. You're also going to learn about storycraft and maybe even yourself along the way. The secret is to put in the work.

    It can be very hard to step out of your comfort zone, especially if you don't have a community with whom you can practice. If you're isolated, don't venture out to good practice spaces like open mics, or don't ask people to listen to you and help you craft better stories, you may feel afraid to work on a different kind of story than the one you're accustomed to. Ask a friend to listen to you. Jay O'Callahan has said we should ask our neighbors to listen to us practice, it builds community and builds a greater appreciation for storytelling.

    Find someone and tell the stories that scare you. Even if you never turn them into performance pieces you will learn immeasurably from the experience. Besides, it's not like you'll forget how to tell the stories you're comfortable with.  You might just end up with the next great story for your repertoire and a whole new kind of tale to explore.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Listening to strangers

    Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? 
    And why should I not speak to you?
               - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, To You

    I love talking to strangers. Pretty much wherever I go, I find myself engaged in conversations with people I've never met before and am unlikely to meet again. There is always opportunity. On the subway, out for walks, in line at the supermarket. Cops, bums, clerks. You may be thinking this is risky, but I've found that people love to be listened to and are grateful for a willing ear, so I've never felt endangered. And really, that's what I end up doing. Listening to strangers.

    I think of this as my work in the world, as the best kind of storytelling. Storytelling, after all, is mostly listening. You listen to your audience for their sighs or yawns. You tailor your story according to how they react. Sure, you're going to tell the same plot, but you can shift the details based on what they need. This is how I tell stories anyway.

    When I talk with strangers, I'm doing the same thing. I listen to what they have to say, respond with what they need to hear. If I can, I tell them something similar to what they are telling me. I tell them the story they're looking for. They then know they have a sympathetic audience and can say what they need. They know when we're done talking I will disappear and take their secrets away, so they are safe with me.

    And they are safe. I file these stories away, jotting them in my notebook. I remember some forever. Others might become the seeds of a character or story I tell. Still others become stories I tell the next stranger, when they are in need of solace and companionship. These conversations are among the key ingredients in this storyteller's creative life and I would never hear them if I wasn't willing to listen.

    I've heard about death and birth, love and rage, damnation and redemption. Each story came spooling out of the teller with only some good listening and trying to tell them the story they need to hear so they can tell me what they need to say.

    "Wow, that sounds amazing."
    "My aunt had something similar. Are you okay?"
    "Sure, I have a few minutes."

    I don't know if these stories are factual though I hear them as true, nor do I know how they end, but it doesn't really matter. We're two human beings connecting, telling each other stories for a few moments and bridging the gaps between us. And really, in the end, isn't that what storytelling is about?

    (c) 2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Ten places you can tell a story

    In my storytelling travels I am often asked, "Where do you perform?" I have a pat answer about theaters, fringe festivals and schools, assisted living facilities, businesses and spoken word venues. But the real answer is anywhere I can. Just about every time I open my mouth, I tell a story. If I limit myself to venues or other audience driven opportunities then I miss out on most of the chances I'll have to tell.

    Stories are a part of the human fabric - as massmouth says, because you have a life, you have a story. You tell those stories everywhere. At home, to your friends and family, at work, to the stranger beside you on the bus.

    When you consider your storytelling life, why limit yourself to performance spaces and the places you get hired? Here are some suggestions for places you can tell. Your audiences may be different than what you're used to, but it's good for you. Stretch those boundaries. See what comes out of your mouth.

    1. Open mics like this one or that one are great places to stand up in front of audiences and say something. The audiences are usually friendly and at worst you've tried something new. You don't need to go to a spoken-word specific open mic, just respect the time limits and present work you're proud of. If you're nervous, bring a friend. You can even call the organizer ahead of time to make sure you'd be welcome.
    2. Story slams are another great place to tell a story. Unlike traditional open mics, slams are competitive and often themed, so you'll need to make sure your story meets the slam criteria ahead of time. The competition gives everything a bit of an edge, so your adrenaline really propels you onto the stage and helps you bring out your best.
      For both open mics and slams, try a google search with your city name and "open mic" or "story slam." The links above are local to me.
    3. Home Sweet Home. You tell stories to the people you live with every day. What if you were to ask them if you could set up storytime? A few minutes every week or every few days where you told them a tale, for their ears only. You might need to coach them on the kind of response you want - should they tell you what they liked? What they thought needed work? Should they break into wild applause? Regardless of the ground rules, your kids, spouse, siblings, parents or housemates will probably appreciate a bit of story time once in awhile.
    4. To your pets. Tell your pet a story. They might not look like they're listening, but you never know.
    5. At work. Or just hanging out with friends. My co-workers routinely ask me for stories. If I'm working on a piece and need to hone a particular section, they listen to me. I set up ground rules, as mentioned in #2, but they have become one of my most reliable and charming audiences.
    6. In odd public places. Bring a friend or two to listen to you and start declaiming your tale aloud in a public space. Others may come to listen. Welcome them. Tell for the joy of it, for the relationship you'll build with your audience; many locales require permits for public performance, so check out the law beforehand. At a minimum, if you don't have a permit, don't set out a hat. Tell for the love of story and for the love of your friends who came out to hear you.
    7. House concerts. Ask a friend with a nice, big living room to host a house concert. Have them invite ten friends over, you invite ten friends, order some pizza and tell them stories. 
    8. At work, part 2. Or in school. Next time you need to give a presentation, tell a story. Instead of facts and figures pull a story from the real world or from traditional stories. Make it relevant, short and interesting and it gives your audience a way to connect with your material beyond the slides.
    9. Volunteer. There are many wonderful underfunded organizations in the world. Think about what you're passionate about, find the organization that helps people with that need and ask if you can come and tell their constituents stories. Battered-women's shelters, assisted living facilities, dementia units, children's hospitals, prisons - most organizations that help the needy may need your help. Go tell some folktales to kids who are down on their luck. You'll enjoy it just as much as they do.
    10. In the middle of nowhere. Next time you find yourself alone on a beach, in a field or the woods, tell yourself a story. Hear how you savor the words, how your mind and imagination come together to craft this moment of beauty. You are the only audience you can always count on; why not perform your very best when you are the only one listening? Besides, the trees, grasses and waves may hear you too, in their own way.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Pompeii revisited

    I've been playing around with altering books lately. This is my latest effort.

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    I have a code in by dose

    I've had a cold for the last week. It's not pretty. I'm coughing enough that I keep thinking I'll crack a rib, my nose is sore and chafed from blowing and the amount of mucus emerging from various orifices makes me feel like a biohazard site. I'm so congested I can no longer speak clearly. All I really want to do is doze and drink tea.

    I get one or two bad colds each winter and every time I try consider them gifts from the universe. No matter what I may want to do, I need to stop doing it. I need to stop running around, stop trying to do 17 things at once, stop putting my own need for rest and recuperation behind the business of life. I just have be sick and get better. Because I'm in generally good health I know it won't be fatal, it's just uncomfortable. It's the universe telling me that if I rested more, took the time to look after myself with a little more diligence, I might not have gotten this cold in the first place. And each time I swear I'll remember to take better care when I recuperate.

    I manage to do so for a little while. For a week or two I sleep more, take my vitamins and take long, soothing baths. Then something happens and I start rushing again. I forget. Until the next cold.

    David Wilcox has a great song about this called COLD, where he says

    You ever wonder why you get a cold
    Look at the word - spell it - C-old.
You're pulled over by the reaper for a warning
He says,"I clocked you thinking 80"

    You know you're not that old
You've been worried about the darkness in the morning

    Colds are reminds to stop rushing through life and simply live it. Don't worry your life away. Drink some tea. Eat some soup. And when you feel better, be grateful for your own self in the midst of busy-ness and the fine world around you. You know, the one you can smell again.

    I hope I can remember this time. Now, where did I put those tissues?

    (c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    How to be alone

    I love this.

    (c)2010 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.
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