Friday, August 30, 2013

RIP Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb  
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound  
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds  
Bends low, comes up twenty years away  
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills  
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft  
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.  
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hot times - 10 ways to cool off in the heat of the summer

Here in Kansas City it's hot. Really hot. Close to 100F during the day and not much below 80 at night. My sweetie loves it, he is an efficient sweater (both kinds - he sweats well in the heat and is cozy in the cold) but I am not. I just turn red and get uncomfortable.

In an effort to stay cool I've come up with some creative ways to tone down the heat. Use these at your own risk, some are untested.

10. Eat more fruit. Summer is the season for fruit, so enjoy those watermelons, peaches, nectarines, plums and more while you can. Your body will appreciate the liquid, your mouth the taste and your lover the site of that juice running off your chin.

9. After you've eaten it, wear it. China is in the midst of a terrific heat wave and some parents are coming up with unusual ways to cool their kids down. I think a watermelon helmet is pretty damned exciting.

8. Use new words. Hot? Try tropical. Humid? How about sultry. Sweaty? Maybe you're delightfully damp instead.

7. Pretend you're on vacation. I bet many of you paid good money to go someplace close to this hot. Put on a bathing suit, stick your feet in a bucket and listen to some Calypso music. Maybe have a drink with an umbrella in it.

6. Explore nudism. Why wear clothing in the house? Just be careful if you sit on something smooth, the butt pull when you stand up can be uncomfortable. And if your neighbors complain just tell them it's value added - they probably download stuff like this when no one's looking.

5. Put on a big floppy hat, enormous sunglasses and carry a water bottle. Pretend you're avoiding the paparazzi. Deny all requests for autographs. Pretend your fan is a hair fan for your photo shoot.

4. Consider sweating a mini-ecosystem. You are no longer a body, but the water cycle. You drink water, sweat it out like rain and drink more. Think of all the possibilities for life you are creating.

3. Tell winter stories, remember the need for cocoa and crackling fires. Evoke the chill in your imagination and then welcome the heat.

2. Experiment with winter sports in the summer. Can you ski on grass? What about snow-shoeing on sand? Give it a shot!

1. Stop whining and enjoy it. In a few months you'll be complaining about the cold and wishing it was summer again. Use this as a moment for mindful living in the present. And anyway, it could be worse. Given climate change, next year it probably will be.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Storyquote: Scribe of your tribe

"It is important to tell good stories. You can tell stories even if they are not huge, epic, and wonderful. You can still take the responsibility for being a scribe of your tribe."
― Ajay Naidu

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Story quote: Behind the veil of familiarity

“The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Small, brave things

One of my favorite things about my new life in Kansas City is the diversity of wildlife. It’s farther south than I’ve ever lived so I’m meeting animals and plants I had only encountered in books. There are eagles that circle over my house, cicadas and frogs that sing at night. New kinds of flowers and roadside weeds. Different ladybugs. And recently I encountered a luna moth at my front door. 

Luna moths are stunning (as you can see in the picture). They’re also big insects - this moth was at least 6” across. As I leaned in to look, it flared its wings out, showing me the eye spots that might frighten a predator away. It was so small and so brave. If I were inclined to eat moths, it would have been an easy snack. I coaxed it onto my hand so I could move it to a spot less likely to be disturbed; I could feel its delicate toes gripping my finger, the soft, white body brushing my skin. It didn’t want to leave. 

As it finally settled into a safer spot I remembered the first time I ever saw a luna moth. 

When I was a kid my family took extended road trips across the U.S. We traveled from state-to-state in our VW bus, stopping at campgrounds along the way. I remember campfires and stars, torrential rains beating on the tent and hours spent in the back of the car. By the time I was 10, I had seen many of the contiguous 48 states. 

At each new campground my parents would set up camp while I took a walk. It was a more innocent time, so there was no worry as I wandered, looking for friends.  I’d find kids somewhere near my age, introduce myself and we’d see if we wanted to play together. I did this in every camp we stopped at. I met some great people and have some wonderful memories.

We were somewhere in the southeastern U.S. My parents were pitching the tent while I went out, looking for friends. I saw a group of kids standing in a semi-circle, looking at something on the ground. One had a stick and was poking at their object of interest. I walked up to introduce myself and saw a luna moth, pinned to the ground by a rock, its wings fluttering weakly.

I asked them what they were doing.

“Why do you have a rock on that moth?”
“Pick up the rock, let it go. It’s hurt!”
“It can’t fly anyway, see?”

One of the boys picked up the rock then put it back carefully, so the moth remained pinned, slowly crushed.

“That’s mean, you’re hurting it!”

By now the kids were less interested in the moth than in me. I found myself in the middle of their circle. The boy with a stick stepped up close.

“What do you care? It’s just a stupid moth. And it’s ours, we found it, so we can do what we want.”
“It’s a living thing, let it go!”

By now I’m sure I was yelling. The kids moved in closer, the boy with the stick was so close I could smell his breath. He was easily 6" taller and 20 pounds heavier. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t leave the moth trapped. I didn’t want to get hurt. 

With one sharp shove I pushed the boy down and ran, kicking the rock off the moth as I passed. I know now that was likely the moth’s death knell, but better a quick death than a lingering one. The kids chased me until we were back in the main part of the campground then fell back. We all pretended nothing had happened and I told my parents I couldn’t find any friends.

The next day I found crumbled moth wings at the front of our site. I didn’t tell my parents. I buried them, crying as quietly as I could. 

Each time I see a luna moth I can’t help but look at it tenderly and want to protect it. Maybe I’m trying to protect the little girl I was, the girl who grew up to be someone who still can’t be quiet, who still pushes bigger bullies and who still wishes she could have saved that one broken beautiful thing.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Story Quote: Congratulations, you're alive.

“If you're reading this...
Congratulations, you're alive.
If that's not something to smile about,
then I don't know what is.” 
― Chad SuggMonsters Under Your Head

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gigs in the strangest places

I spent this past weekend at the National Storytelling Conference in Richmond, VA. It was a wonderful gathering of the tribe, a chance to reconnect with some of my favorite people, learn new things about my art and remind myself of why I do the work I do. I had planned for this post to be about the conference, but something happened on the way home that I need to share with you; conference stuff can come later in the week.

Since moving to Kansas City I have found myself on more airplanes than ever before. We're close enough to most places that flying doesn't take very long, far enough that flying is the only reasonable way to get many places. I flew to the conference, Kansas City to Atlanta to Richmond. Easy.

On my way home, my second flight from Atlanta to KC was delayed. The crew did a great job letting us know why it was delayed and when we might depart. I have worked in the service industry and know how many people complain, how few people praise, so I decided to thank the captain for being so clear. He was waiting for the plane, just like everyone else, passing time at the gate desk.

I thanked him and we got to chatting about travel, life and work. When I told him I'm a storyteller he was fascinated and asked all the questions I have come to expect. What do you do? Who are your audiences? How did you get into it? And then his face lit up.

"Would you like to tell a story on the plane?"

I froze. And then said, "Yes!"

Half an hour later we boarded. After apologizing for the delay, the captain told everyone that there was a professional storyteller on board and, if no one objected, she would tell a short story. Once the passengers gave their consent we took off.

I have to tell you, I was anxious. I've been telling stories for 20 years and rarely get that nervous anymore, but telling to a captive audience was nerve-wracking.

Halfway through the flight I went to the front of the place, was told how to use the intercom, the captain gave me a lovely introduction and I began. I told a simple version of There's Always Room for One More. It seemed appropriate for an audience sitting cheek-to-jowl on an airplane. As I told I could see people all the way down the airplane leaning into the aisle to see. I think, for the most part, they liked it. They applauded politely and smiled as I walked back to my seat.

I have to say, it felt like a Brother Blue moment. Blue would tell to anyone, anywhere at the drop of a hat. I could imagine him smiling at me the whole time.

I enjoyed the experience and am grateful for the opportunity. If nothing else, it gives a whole new meaning to in-flight entertainment!

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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