Sunday, July 29, 2012

On teaching storytelling

Last week my storytelling class held their final concert of the semester. It was powerfully moving, watching these storytellers, experienced and new, stand in front of an audience and tell their best. They were great. And they surprised me at the end of the concert, by publicly telling me what they appreciated about the class and my leadership. I was moved to tears.

There is an unfortunate saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” Bullshit. Good teachers, no matter what the topic, combine both skill in the subject and a knack for communication, an ability to translate something they may understand innately into comprehensive steps and process. It’s something to be proud of.

I am proud of the fact that, of late, I am teaching storytelling as much as I am performing. Every single time I teach, I find myself marveling at how much I love the work and what a privilege it is to be able to share my passion for this art, my thoughts on the craft and understanding of how it works, and maybe inspire some new storytellers along the way.

There is something magical that happens each time I teach storytelling. I’ve written before about the magic of telling a story. As a performer, I’m lucky enough to see the audience relax into the story, move with me, inhale the story and turn it into their own. But when I teach I see lightbulbs. Student after student enters the classroom excited, nervous and unsure. At some point they get it, they realize that not only can they tell a story, they have been telling stories their whole lives and that the stories they tell matter. A lightbulb goes off over their head and they are illuminated. Their brows clear, their eye sparkle and they become more animated. It’s amazing and it’s consistent. What’s more, the method I use teaches students to help each other. They invariably are skeptical during the first class, but by the end of the second they are fully engaged and are becoming a community. By the end of the session they trust each other and are ready to go out into the world to tell their tales. 
Over and over, I witness groups of strangers learning to support each other in new ways and blossoming within that support. 

As a performing artist, I have the rare and wonderful opportunity to share my stories with an audience. I can reach across the invisible fourth wall and interact with my listeners. It is an extraordinary thing, telling a story and knowing I have touched an audience, made them laugh, given them something to thing about. 

But when I teach storytelling, my reach becomes greater. Sure, when I perform I am sharing something with an audience of maybe thousands. But when I teach, when I help my students understand the power of their own stories, when I offer them a way to to help others, my reach becomes practically infinite. 

This is part of how I carry on Brother Blue’s legacy. This is part of how I strive to change the world, by helping people tell their stories with more confidence. This is part of what we can do for each other every day, teach what we do best and share what we know.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Advance, retreat, advance again

Please don't duplicate w/out permission.
I wrote recently about my deep need for white space, the time and geography that allows for creativity. I've just returned from a week of white space, time spent in the Adirondacks on retreat. While the patterns in my life that drove me to eliminate white space from my life haven't really changed, I have had a chance to spend time thinking, writing and staring out at the world without interruption.

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
              - Albert Einstein

Prior to my week away I'd been driving myself forward, having set some substantial goals and pushing relentlessly to meet them. What I'd forgotten was that meeting goals, or even working towards them, or even simply being alive in the world, results in change. Meeting some of my goals made things happen, so I had new obligations to meet, new opportunities to seize. I filled up all of my spare time with actions, advancement, motion. I'd forgotten to be still, which is part of my work, part of anyone's work, to find stillness in the chaos so we can see who we have become and what we can offer.

One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.
              - D.H. Lawrence

So I went on retreat. It was really hard, unplugging entirely and having no access to email or cell phone. At first I was pretty twitchy, but within a few days, began to relax. I stared at light-dappled water. I floated in the lake. I admired the spiders. 

I found myself in a place that encourages stillness, so I could be present with 
the water.
the loon.
the boat.
the tree.
the sky.
the ant.
the stone.

And in that stillness, while I didn't find all I might have sought, I found some measure of peace and clarity around my life, around coming actions and, finally, around white space.

There are aspects of modern life that require strategy and planning. Times when we long for maps. By remembering we are in this world to explore the uncharted, to take a step forward and another back without it meaning failure, to prepare for a long journey with many diversions, to meet allies and foes, we can plan for strategic retreat and future advances.

A dance, really, one step at a time.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, July 9, 2012

Searching for white space

In the last six weeks I've had only one day without any kind of obligations. This isn't sustainable and so, unsurprisingly, I now have a summer cold. It's foolish of me to push this hard and think I can get away with it. More than that, it's foolish of me to think I can be creative without any time in which to create. How can I create without white space?

I have become a believer in whitespace, in both its necessity and fragility. I began thinking about this in earnest following PopTech 2011, when I listened to a speaker discuss the importance of white space for a creative life. As I listened I found myself weeping, feeling a deep yearning for more white space. Since then I've tried and failed and tried again to create a life rich in white space which may lead to a life rich in creativity.

But what is white space? At its most basic, white space is the portion of the page left unmarked, the space between words, images and other representations. It isn't nothing because it is both the space in which the objects exist and a balancing force. I've written before about the need for white space in storytelling, how the storyteller must leave room for the audience, white space in which the audience can create their own version of the story. Without white space the storytelling experience is, at best, stilted.

So why do I need white space in my life? It might be easier to think of it graphically. Compare the graphic up above with this one.

In one, there is room. There is room for imagination to grow, play, rest, explore. I can add color or just enjoy the serenity of the moment. In this other, I am lost. There is no room. No room for color, for exploration for anything other than that which is most immediate and pressing. (I know, someone could easily make some snarky comments about imagining things in the static. If it makes you happy, go ahead, but I expect most of you know what I mean.)

So what do I do? Right now, I'm finding bits of white space where I can. I'm driving without the radio on. I try and get outside every day. On Friday, I leave for a week in the Adirondacks, where I will have ample white and green space, though I know a week isn't enough to nourish me for a year. It at least gives me a chance to reset and ponder new strategies.

And I ask you, what do you do for white space? How do you find it? How do you nurture it in your life? Let's see if we can find a way to create a white space rest stop in our busy lives and, for just a moment, see what might emerge.

(c)2012 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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