Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Story Quote: Being a dreamer

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, July 29, 2013

Eight things I learned from the Kansas City Fringe Festival

This past week found me at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, telling my story of cancer survival, mythology and bike rides, From Terror to Triumph. It was a great experience. I met hundreds of wonderful people attending fringe, many talented performers and learned a great deal about living the life of a storyteller.

So you don't make the same mistakes I did (you get to make your own) as well as for our mutual amusement and edification, here is a list of the Top 8 Things I Learned (or relearned) From The Kansas City Fringe Festival.

8. I like accosting people on the street. A big part of getting audience for your fringe show involves handing out publicity postcards on the street to people going to other shows. Turns out, this is fun! People like meeting the performers and love to talk. (If you want a copy of the postcard, I will mail them to the first 10 people who contact me. Bonus gift if you comment below on this post!) Maybe my next career is as a street side story vendor?

7. Listening counts. My street postcard pitch went something like this, "I'd like to invite you to my fringe show. It's a mythic journey through cancer and beyond. If you or someone you care about has been effected, please come." About a third of the people I said this to then told me their cancer story. The ones I listened to came to my show.

6. The definition of fringe is flexible. What defines edgy art? Does it need to have nudity? Swear words? Sometimes just being honestly playful or talking about the tough stuff makes for a powerful fringe. We bury play in work, hide the tough stuff behind admonishments to buck up. Sometimes art is fringe just because it declares itself.

5. Don't forget to feed your beast. I went to several great shows at the Fringe Festival and was reminded that making good art requires consuming good art. Don't starve yourself.

4. Practice is a good thing. Practice with listeners is better. In this case, I was practicing my story in front of an audience, running through the whole 55-minute set three times in five days. Because I am a storyteller and not confined to a word-for-word script, the story shifted each time. I loved hearing how some bits rose to the surface and others fell away as I danced with the audience. I now have a much greater understanding of the story than I did, even with many hours of solo practice behind me.

3. Be yourself. Be vulnerable. No matter what I tell, my audience is always more connected and involved if I am myself. If I'm not trying to be someone else or do something contradictory to my nature. What's more, by allowing myself to be vulnerable on stage my audience has permission to be vulnerable themselves, to experience whatever they need to while they hear the story.

2. Self-care matters. I didn't see as many other shows as I would have liked because I was worn out from performing this emotionally intense piece. That's okay. I saw enough to feed the beast and I rested enough to give my audience everything I could.

1. When you touch people, they need to touch you. I've experienced this before, certainly, but it was borne home with great power during the fringe. When you tell a story that means something to people, when you give them permission to feel strong emotions, they often need to connect with you  afterwards. It's been a long time since I've had this many people need to hug me, touch my shoulder, even cry in my arms. This is part of the storyteller's job, helping people feel what they need to feel. I believe I have a responsibility to not run away from the feelings my story may have induced.

The last thing I relearned? Gratitude. I am so grateful for the chance to tell this story to these audiences. Thank you.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some thoughts on the Kansas City Fringe Festival

This week has found me performing in the Kansas City Fringe Festival. For those of you who may not know, a fringe festival is a non-juried arts festival, where acts are selected by lottery. Traditionally, fringe festivals have latitude for every kind of art, from the tame to the outrageous. They are often associated with the outrageous, since acts that might not get into traditional arts festivals or venues have a chance here.

I have been performing my one-woman show, From Terror to Triumph: Overcoming cancer one mile at a time. It merges my experiences as a cancer survivor and slow, fat athlete with two ancient myths, altogether taking a look at identity and survival. It's a fairly draining show to perform, since some of the emotions are still (19 years later!) pretty raw, but it's worth it. While it isn't really all that fringe-y - I don't strip, swear much or cover myself in edibles - it is meaningful to those who have been effected by cancer. Which means almost everyone.

It's been a powerful thing, performing this show twice in a week with the third time this coming Saturday. People have been telling me their own stories of loss and survival. When I go out of the street to hand out fliers, people stop, their faces shift, and I know this means something to them. I am reminded over and over that none of us are unique in our experiences.

My audiences have been small but interested and engaged. I've made people laugh and cry. Maybe I convinced someone that they could make a difference in the world. Kansas City fringe audiences are very generous with their attention. It's been lovely.

I grateful for the opportunity to share this story. I'm especially enjoying the challenge of crafting together over 10 years of my life and ancient myths, making it all somehow applicable to a wide range of people, regardless of their experience with cancer, bikes or me. I am also enjoying revisiting this time of my life. Mostly, I'm enjoying the experience of performing, of connecting with my audiences, of remembering that yes, I am still here.

Next year I hope to perform in the fringe again, likely something quite different, maybe Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups, which is more in keeping with the edgy nature of the fringe. But then again, who knows? By next year I may have a whole new adventure to share with the world.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Story Quote: Developing wings

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Story Quote: Truth inside the lie

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
― Stephen King

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, July 15, 2013

Searching for white space

I'm on a writing retreat this week, so am posting an old blog post for your reading pleasure. While I'm away I'll be largely offline, recuperating and regrouping. I'll be surrounded by white space. I'd love to know how you find white space in your life.

Originally published in June 2012.

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Story Quote: Chariots

“Telling the proper stories is as if you were approaching the throne of Heaven in a fiery chariot.”

—Baal Shem Tov

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Kansas City: the small things

It's been almost seven months now, which seems amazing. Almost seven months since Kevin and I packed up our life in Boston and began reconstituting here in Kansas City, Missouri. It was the right choice. It was the hard choice. Every day is a new adventure.

It puts me in mind of the millions of people who left their homes for new lands, knowing they never would go home again, that the most they could hope for was a long-delayed letter. How lucky we are to live in this age of electrons and airplanes.

I'm working on a piece about what all of this feels like, but I'm finding it challenging writing, so it will go up another time.

For now, I wanted to share some of the small wonders I've found here. I am a fan of small wonders. Kansas City is a pretty amazing place and I thought you might like to see some of the details. In the next few weeks I'll post some broader views.

Let's start with where we are, in case there are any doubts. I found this on the step of an old warehouse. KC is rich in old warehouses.

I'm not the only one who enjoys looking around Kansas City.

Who would have thought this would be here?

And if you need a rest, there are secret gardens. This is my favorite. 

I have found wonders within and without.

And, barring bad weather, I can always go to my own back yard for succor.

(c) 2013 Laura Packer
Creative Commons License

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Everyone has one, likely more than one. I'm not talking about the big ones - you know, booze or tobacco or drugs or sex or gambling - but the little addictions. 

I've just got to have my morning cup of coffee.
If I didn't go to the gym every day then I don't know what I'd do with myself. 
Leave me alone, I'm reading the paper.
I don't feel like myself if I don't put on my face.
I can't wait for the next season of X to start. In the meantime, I'm rewatching it again on Netflix.
Hang on, let me finish this game. 

I'm not saying the little addictions are inevitably bad, I'm just saying it's helpful to know they are there, so we can accommodate them. Support them. Understand why we might feel a bit off if we don't get to them. Make a decision about what to do, to yield or get help.

Me? I have plenty of addictions. Some are private. Others, like hot showers and baths or writing or tea are more visible. The little ones are easy to indulge. It's the big ones that get scary, that I try to overlook and pretend aren't there. Those are the ones I imagine don't have power over me.

It's like that sometimes. 

When I lived in Boston, my life was rich with performance. I could tell stories weekly if I wanted to, even more often. Audiences were everywhere. Getting up on stage (or what passed for a stage) was my drug. The trembling anticipation. The beating of my heart. That first deep breath and the rush as the story began to flow out of me, the audience leaning forward, the connection. 

It's a visceral jolt. 

After almost every performance I would feel balanced. Centered. Sure of my place in the world. It was as though the concentrated attention of my audience fed something in me, that the act of giving them story gave me something, too.

It all sounds a little seedy here, but if you are a performer, then you know what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter if you work with kids or adults, there is something about that time on stage that feeds you. I imagine everyone feels it, be they preacher, dancer, storyteller, actor or newscaster. You go somewhere inside, someplace hidden, and reveal yourself. The fear switches over to something else and it. feels. good. It is my drug. If you look inside, if you’re honest, you know what I mean.

Since moving to Kansas City I've had far fewer performance opportunities. The spoken word community here is less dense and more poetry specific, so I’m working my way into it, finding and creating the opportunities I crave. I’ve performed maybe every month or so since arriving, and then it’s only been short pieces in open mics or in the class I’m teaching. These have been good stories, fun, with responsive audiences, but it’s infrequent. I hadn’t realized I’ve been in withdrawal. What I had noticed over the last few weeks is that I’ve been kind of blue. A little listless. Antsy. Plucking at my mental clothing for something to do, for the right thing to do, for the thing that will make me feel whole, all the while not realizing it’s my drug I’m craving. The audience. The connection. The visceral jolt.

It’s like that sometimes.

A few days ago I was one of many performers standing on a street corner pitching my show for the Kansas City Fringe Festival. I felt so good, enjoyed every moment so much, it was such a familiar and welcome feeling. It hit me like a ton of bricks, like that first drink Oh god, I’ve missed this. The feeling has lingered, my mood lifted, hope restored. And that’s when it hit me. I’m an addict. I needed the audience, the connection, the moment, the visceral jolt. 

And now I find myself wondering where I’ll get my next hit. Wondering what happens if I don’t find the stage soon enough. Is there a support group I should be looking for? I don’t know. My name is Laura, I’m a storyteller. I need the dance, the sway between audience and tale. And if it’s not there, well…

It’s like that sometimes. 

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Story Quote: Once Upon a Time...

“‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”
—Philip Pullman
(1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech)

(c)2013 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
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
Related Posts with Thumbnails