Monday, April 30, 2012

Story quote of the week: On passion

Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
― Julia Child
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy rebirthday!

I love birthdays. I think it's important to have one day of the year when you can celebrate your own existence. I'm lucky. I keep two birthdays, the day of my birth and the day of my rebirth. I'm not talking about a spiritual born-again experience, although there are ways in which this second birthday is quite spiritual. I'm talking about a second chance at life. And last week I celebrated my second 18th birthday.

When I was 26 (go ahead, do the math, I'll wait) I was diagnosed with a fairly rare malignancy. It showed up in the orbit of my left eye and was surgically removed. I was lucky. It's more likely to be a liver, bone or brain tumor and it's frequently recurrent with a high rate of metastasis. I get checked out regularly and, so far, I'm okay. I got to keep my eye and I have minimal visual effects from the surgery.

You don't have a disease like this without it having a significant impact on your life. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that I am a cancer survivor. Riding the Pan Mass Challenge helped immensely. It took me years to process this experience into story, which I have done with several short pieces and one long piece called From Terror to Triumph. And it will take me the rest of my life to live out the gift I have been given, this opportunity to say "yes," to the world.

I've written before about some of the things I've done with this time. I could certainly add to this list but I won't. Simply know that I have continued to live and, I hope, will continue to live for a good, long time. I will continue to celebrate my rebirthday and be grateful for the gifts of time and mindful living.

Next time we see each other, or if we meet for the first time, let's sit down. Tell me the story of your rebirthday. We all have at least one, more or less dramatic. Then let's eat cake or drink tea or lie on our backs and watch the clouds to celebrate. Because we are alive and that is very much worth proclaiming.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story quote of the week: On ears

It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.
—Italo Calvino Creative Commons License

Monday, April 16, 2012

Story quote of the week: On retelling

Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth. This approach applies to all the incidents of everyday life: the phrase in the newspaper, the endearing or infuriating game of a toddler, the misunderstanding at the office. Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.
          -Mary Catherine Bateson
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flash fiction: Once Bitten

I'm really enjoying the flash writing site oneword. You get a single word prompt and 60 seconds to write. Everyone once in a while I produce something evocative. Like today. The word was bitten.

*     *     *

Once bitten twice shy. Once bitten twice shy. Fucking mosquitoes, I’ll show you shy. Slap!

I wish I wasn’t out here tonight, didn’t have to hide in this god forsaken bush while I listen to everything that’s happening inside the house but I don’t dare go back in cause if I do I know what will happen and I don’t want that again.

Once bitten twice shy. Once bitten twice shy.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cartography, boundaries and mapping my life

I sometimes think of my life as a cartographical dilemma. I am my own city-state, surrounded on all sides by other city-states. We engage in constant negotiation over boundaries. Where can we build bridges? Where would walls be more appropriate? How do we negotiate? What’s more, these cartographies are medieval maps, hand-drawn relying on instinct and supposition, story and emotion. They don’t have the distant satellite view of a modern map, though they are every bit as much influenced by politics and desire and perhaps more honest because of their individual nature. 

The metaphor falls apart, of course, when the human heart comes into the equation, as it must even on physical maps with geographical and geological boundaries. What are my personal borders? How do I reconcile their flexibility - the incursions I will accept from one person are not the same as those I’ll accept from another - with survival? The limits of those incursions can even change within a relationship - what was okay yesterday is not okay today.

I wasn’t raised with clear boundaries. It was understood that my plate would be eaten from, that who cared for whom and when was fuzzy, so perhaps it makes sense that I have tended to care for people well beyond when most would have stopped, have tended to accept more responsibility for the actions of those I love than is reasonable. 

In the last few years I’ve had opportunity to examine my own boundaries, to think about where I end and others begin with a clarity I wish I had exercised years ago. 

This isn’t an easy essay to write. This isn’t an easy essay to write in the context of a hard world, where good people are driven beyond their breaking point and need help. This isn’t an easy essay to write in this hard world, where good people will accept the help offered, and then ask for more than you can give because all they can see is their own need. 

I struggle with this last point. It isn’t unreasonable for these good, broken people to ask for more because, after all, I’ve been able to give before. I’m rarely clear with my limits because I often don’t know them until I’ve exceeded them. And even when I’ve exceeded them my tendency is to keep trying, to attempt to fix things that aren’t mine to fix, things I cannot fix because the solution was never in my hands to begin with. So, ultimately, I can’t blame these good broken people for continuing to ask for more, more, more. The responsibility really lies with me, with a need to communicate more clearly, to lay out clear limits sooner, without becoming hard-hearted and rigid. I think maybe the key lies in remaining flexible, honest and clear. It lies in understanding my own limitations which may help me ultimately be more compassionate and able to render care, because I will know when to stop before I break.

Which brings be back to maps. There is no GPS for relationships and the human heart. But, maybe, there could be maps. A good map is easy to read. It suggests a world with easy routes and boundaries. You know that this land ends here, that this road goes there.  You understand what you can and cannot cross and the landmarks you’ll see along the way. 

I am my own cartographer and must refer to my illustrated map complete with smudges and scribbles and warnings that “here there be monsters,” so I can continue to navigate these complex relationships. And I need to remember that I cannot read anyone else’s map, only my own. I can only mark my own boundaries. I can only put up my own warning signs. I can only modify my route, by my own map, as my own navigator, not by the back seat driving of someone else’s need. 

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, April 9, 2012

Story quote of the week: On facts

If a storyteller worried about the facts - my dear Lucian, how could he ever get at the truth?
― Lloyd Alexander, The Arkadians
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Story quote of the week: On sense

A story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And 'making sense' must be here understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses. A story that makes sense is one that stirs the senses from their slumber, one that opens the eyes and the ears to their real surroundings, tuning the tongue to the actual tastes in the air and sending chills of recognition along the surface of the skin. To make sense is to release the body from the constraints imposed by outworn ways of speaking, and hence to renew and rejuvenate one's felt awareness of the world. It is to make the senses wake up to where they are.
― David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
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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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