Friday, July 29, 2011

Re-emergence soundtrack

I spent the last week in the middle of the woods. No phone or internet, no tv or radio; just me, some friends, the wild world and encouragement to write. It was a deeply restorative time, one I needed badly. I've come back re-energized and with renewed priorities.

I have some concern about how to maintain this energy and purpose in the face of so many competing needs. I've written, talked and, as I was driving home (about five hours) I sang about it. Without consciously thinking about it, I found myself singing out some of what I need to remember.

As I drove out through upstate New York my dear friends (and yours too, probably) The Beatles, sang to me about the Two of Us, how connected I am to so many, and reminded me to Let it Be. By the ferry into Vermont Joan Armatrading reminded me that I'm Lucky. Kate Bush sang to me about Cloud Busting, how the impossible is possible even when forces align against us. Barreling into New Hampshire David Wilcox sang about Laura's last ride in Johnny's Camaro (if you don't know this one, you should), then Jane Siberry reminded me that Love is Everything and that I am Bound by the Beauty. And by the time I was almost home The Beatles were back with me, all of us singing at the top of our lungs about being a Paperback Writer, considering scenes In My Life and remembering to take a sad song and make it better.

By the time I got home my throat was sore from singing for five hours but my heart was reassured that I could maintain my self against the combined forces of traffic and timecards, work and worry. I was midwifed across three states and back into my known life, a renewed woman, by four guys from Liverpool, some wild women and a gentle man.

And I got to wondering: What are your soundtracks? What music midwives you from one state to another? How do you re-emerge from retreat to everyday life?

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flash mob in South Africa

By now you've seen some YouTube video of a flash mode, heard about one on the news or even participated in one. They are a lot of fun, an opportunity for play we sorely need in our busy lives.

Most flash mobs make me smile. This one made me smile and brought tears to my eyes. It's a lovely singing moment in a mall. In South Africa. With black people, white people, all kinds of people, singing and marveling together. This wouldn't have happened 20 years ago (20 years ago I was fasting to help convince my university to divest from South Africa). Ten years ago I don't know if there would have been only wonder on these faces.

Music is powerful. In this context it becomes more. Let us all sing and wonder together.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 22, 2011


I'm going on a weeklong retreat in the woods. No phone, no email, no twitter, no tv, nothing to tie me to the modern world beyond basic needs. Really, twitter and email aren't basic needs.

At first it will be hard. I'll shake and tremble with confusion. But it will be good for me.

It's good for all of us to get out of our lives from time to time, to disappear into places larger than we are. To live in the moment.

Where do you retreat to? What do you retreat from?

I'll see you when I get back. I'll bring back secrets from the loons.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do we tell stories?

For more information about me as a storyteller and writer please go here. For information about organizational storytelling go here.

This post was originally posted in 2010. I'm revisiting it now to see if I still agree with what I said then.

For many years when I ran Storytelling for Grownups in Medford, MA I would start every session with that question. The answers were as varied as the attendees, including:

  • it’s fun
  • if I didn’t I would die
  • it helps us connect to each other
  • it keeps the monsters at bay
  • it’s a socially sanctioned way to get the attention we desperately crave
  • because I can’t sing.
And so on. You get the gist.

So why do we tell stories? Not just as storytellers but as human beings? I don’t pretend to know all the answers to this, but I can propose some and I’d love to know what you think. Please add your thoughts in the comments section below.
  1. Recent research shows that storytelling is hardwired into our brains. We learn more effectively when we hear narrative, rather than just dry facts or are expected to passively take in information. In fact, MRI studies have shown that the parts of our brains that process experience (“this is happening to me”) are activated when we hear narrative, but not when we watch video or read. Cool, huh? This means that we are built to listen to stories. We hear stories because that’s part of what humans do.

  2. Be retelling our own experiences, whether as personal stories or through the metaphor of folktales, myths or literary tales, we process our experiences into something we can understand more deeply and can share with others without the audience needing to care for us. We tell stories because we have to. It does keep the monsters at bay.

  3. When we tell stories to audiences that are hardwired to hear us, we are re-enacting something our species has been doing for countless generations. Culture is conveyed through stories. Meaning is more easily described through metaphor and narrative than by exposition. You can certainly describe the events that made you feel sad, your physiological reaction and the sequence of steps you undertook to feel better, or you can tell the story and connect with your audience. Someone will think, “I’ve been there too.” We connect through the storytelling experience because it is a shared, finite, temporary moment in time that captures our attention and pulls at our deepest ancestral memories. It keeps who we are alive, in the dark times and the light.

  4. Stories convey so much meaning they can do anything we want. When we tell a story and connect effectively with the audience we can make them laugh. Or cry. Or get aroused. Or commit heinous acts. Or lead. Or save the world. Stories are a shortcut to the human heart. We tell stories because we need to connect with one another. We need to be heard. We need to listen.

  5. And yes, it gives us the attention we crave. It’s a huge amount of fun; come on, who doesn’t enjoy being the center of attention once in awhile? Whether you’re telling to one person or an audience of hundreds (or even thousands) when we tell a story well we connect with the best part of ourselves, the most giving part that offers up our own honed experiences, words and art to our listeners so they can in turn connect with whatever the story touches inside of them. They get to have that experience and we can guide them through it. If that isn’t fun I don’t know what is.

  6. Oh, and singing? We all can sing. We just can’t all carry a tune. Sing anyway.
If you'd like to find venues near you please check out the National Storyelling Network.

(c) 2011 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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