Monday, January 29, 2018

Ask the storyteller returns!

A few years ago I ran a blog series called #askthestoryteller. It was a lot of fun and a good way to get conversations going about different storytelling topics. I'm relaunching it today, but monthly instead of weekly. I don't think you or I want to have to ask and answer questions quite that often!

I'm starting with a question raised by storyteller Jennifer Cayley. She recently lost her beloved partner and asked me if any traditional tales were helpful to me as I moved through my grief over losing my husband. I am naming her with her permission and gratitude.

Let me start with my deepest condolences on the loss of Jan. I am so very sorry.

Traditional stories have been helping humans understand the tough things in life for as long as we've been human. They deal with love and loss, life and death. It is no surprise that these stories have endured so well; they help us know that our experience is part of the universal human experience and that we are not alone.

That being said, I struggled with traditional material in the months after Kevin died. While many folk and fairy tales deal with bereavement, most aim for some version of "happily ever after" and I had no faith that such a fate was available to me. Even now, in another relationship, it's an entirely different understanding of happily ever after. A few fairy tales about weeping helped a bit, but the happily ever after repulsed me.

Instead what appealed to me were, and are, some of the big epic stories, in particular Isis and Osiris and the story of Sedna.

Isis and Osiris helped me feel less alone. This ancient Egyptian myth is at least four thousand years old, so it helped me place my loss in the continuity of human existence; as long as we have loved, we have lost those we love. As long as we will love, we will lose those we love. I felt part of a timeline and so less alone. Isis loved Osiris fiercely and, even with her magic, could not fully bring him back to life. This helped me feel less helpless in my inability to alter the course of Kevin's illness.

The Inuit story of the goddess Sedna, while not about a lost spouse, helped tremendously. I think there is something about her rage to live and the implacability of her death that gave me solace. There is also the cruelty of the father's action that reminded me of cancer, so perhaps this story helped me see Kevin as transformed instead of gone. Lastly, Sedna is soothed by having her hair combed and I was hungry for gentle touch.

I kept reading stories and looking for the one that answered my pain, but I found no one remedy. As time has passed, I've found the stories of Koschei the Deathless have been helpful, because they remind me that immortality may not be all it's cracked up to be. I have also found comfort in some myths of lovers reunited in the stars.

Jennifer, while this is in no way a complete answer, I hope this helps some. I know you will find stories that give you solace and, when you're ready, I would love to know which worked for you.

Readers, what stories help you when you are in dark places? How do you connect with stories and use them to connect with others? And what would you like me to muse on in the next #askthestoryteller?

(c)2018 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, January 26, 2018

#storyseeds Friday: Love, life, and hair problems

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you know that I'm posting daily #storyseeds, a short prompt for creativity and imagination. I started doing them as much for myself as for anyone else. They make me stretch my mind a little bit each morning and they help me remember that I am a creative being. It's fun, a little therapeutic, and a little useful for others.

I'm going to start posting slightly expanded #storyseeds here on Fridays, both as a chance for me to experiment with more complex prompts and as a way for you to have a playful start for the weekend. Let me know what you think, which worked for you and which didn't, and send me any prompts you'd like to see posted! I can't promise I'll use them, but I may very well.

Since today is National Spouse's Day AND National Big Wig Day, here are some prompts about relationships, cover-ups, and things that shouldn't be that obvious. Please post any answers you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to know what these prompted for you!
  1. Embodied
    You wake up and realize your hair has changed color and texture. Overnight you've gone from one extreme to the other. What does it look like? How does it feel? Do you relish it or immediately buy a hat or wig? How do you explain it to others?
    What if you woke up and found your spouse's hair had changed overnight?
  2. Described
    Think of someone you love. If you have a partner or spouse, think of them, but anyone you have been close to will do. Describe them using all of your senses. Not only what they look like, but their scent, how they feel, the sounds they make, their taste (if appropriate). How would they describe you?
  3. A seed...
    What would you do if you were King of the World for a day, a real big wig? What would you do if you were President and had to work with a deeply divided congress? What is the scandal that would bring you down?
  4. Story-story-go!
    Show me what you've got!

(c)2018 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, January 22, 2018

Storytime: Body and Soul

I thought, in light of ongoing world events, we could use a little Monday morning help keeping body and soul together.

I learned this story from Patricia McMahon, many years ago. We both were attending Tuesday night storytelling with Brother Blue in a basement bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those were formative days for me, learning to listen and tell stories from some of the best storytellers around. It was before storytelling had become a buzzword; storytelling venues were few and far between and so this was sacred and rarified time. I went one night every week crammed in with others who were hungry for story. It was nourishing in the deepest of ways.

Patricia was one of my favorite storytellers. Every time she got up I knew I would hear something well-crafted and interesting. For the most part she was working her way through a novel, telling it eight-minutes at a time, but every now and then she'd tell something different. This is one of those something different stories.

Patricia heard Body and Soul from another teller, who had heard it from another teller, and so on. She knew it as a Sufi story and so I tell it as such. I've not been able to find a definitive source for this story, but there is a reference to a similar Arabian story in The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan: Sufi Mysticism, by Hazrat Inayat Khan. I like the version I learned from Patricia and now tell, because it explains how to best keep body and soul together using tools we all have available to us all of the time.

I hope you enjoy this story.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, January 12, 2018

Landmines and a different understanding of time

In March it will be four years since Kevin died. From my birthday in October through the anniversary of his death is a minefield of tough dates and triggering memories. I know to expect that now. Then there are the unexpected things that bite me on the butt.

I moved in with Charley last June. You know how it is with a move, it takes time to really be there. We have our first houseguest arriving tomorrow, so we're dealing with some stuff we hadn't touched since we moved in. 

I just found a bag with walkie-talkies in it. I'm sitting here crying over stupid cheap walkie-talkies. 

Kevin died 69 days after his diagnosis; it was brutal and fast. Most of that time, between diagnosis and death, he was in the hospital, but there were a few stints at home. By what was to be the last time he was home, the cancer had stolen his voice on top of everything else. We set him up in a hospital bed in the living room. I slept by him most nights, but I couldn't always be there. We got a pair of walkie talkies so, if he needed me and I wasn't in the room, all he had to do was push the call button. 

By this time the cancer had invaded most of his body and was affecting his mind. He couldn't figure out which button to push, so we put bright green tape on the appropriate button. He was so weak and  dazed that even that was too much to ask. Within a few days he was back in the hospital and a few days later he was dead.

I put those walkie talkies in a plastic bag, figuring I'd deal with them later. 

Is this later? I found them sitting amongst a pile of stuff leftover from the move and started crying. My new love, who is a good and understanding man, just held me. Now they are sitting in their bag on the kitchen table, waiting for me to see if I have the wherewithal to give them away or if they need to wait for a different later.

Time and memory carry different weight after a big loss. It's not as if the sorrow ever goes away or the memories become less tender, but it changes. Right now is later. It is also then. It is also when I packed them up, when I decided to move in with Charley, and 20 minutes ago when I found the walkie-talkie landmine waiting for me.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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