Thursday, March 28, 2019

An open letter to Kevin, five years on

Dear Kevin,

I remember thinking on the first anniversary of your death that five years seemed impossibly long. That when you'd been gone for five years I might be dead too. That I could not bear the thought of five years without you.

All of that was true.
All of that wasn't true.

Loss and grief are like that. They change everything. The fundamentals of my world are not the same as they were before you died, before you were diagnosed, and yet I am still here.

There are so many things I could say but I don't know how. It's funny, writing about losing you was my driving reason to write for so long and today I don't know what to say. I miss you. I love you. I am so glad we had each other and in some ways still do. What else is there to say?

Now, five years on, I am finally starting to feel the joy and love of being each others start to outweigh the pain of losing you. Part of me is ashamed that it's taken this long, but so it is. I still have flashbacks and sometimes they are very bad, I still wonder if I did enough for you, I still am afraid I wasn't enough, that my memories of us are an illusion, but I can now draw up the sweet memories more easily and remember that yes, we were that good. I was that lucky. You would say blessed. Yes.

The hospital chaplain (you remember him, the white guy with reddish hair and the sweet face, the really smart guy, the one you kind of liked as much as you liked anyone in the hospital) was very kind to me in those days. I wish I could remember his name. I said to him several times that I didn't know how I could live without you, that I felt like I would die too, and he responded gently, each time, that I might. I didn't understand it then. I am starting to, finally.

Who I am now is at once much the same and so very different. I am still thinking about how to describe those changes (that alone is a difference, I am slower to speak. You might be relieved.) and this is not the time or place to list them, but I hope you are proud of me. I hope you would love the me I am now. I think you would. In some ways I've become the person you wanted me to be, the person you knew was there and I doubted. I wish it hadn't taken losing you to finally get here. Maybe I would have anyway. I hope so. I hope you know.

I hope you know how absolutely amazing your kids are. They reflect your light into the world and add to it with their own.

Thank you, beloved, my heart, for everything. For loving me, for loving all of us so very well.

Today I will take a walk and do my best to feel your hand in mine. Today like so many days I will miss you. Today I will remember that love endures, that it is infinite, that we are still each others. Today I will look at the waters and see you in them, in the air, in the sky. I will celebrate your continuation in the stars, the waves, the universe. Today I love you still and I always will.

Yours always,

Thanks to James for the amazing video.
(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The raging river of social media

Social media is a constantly shifting river. It's more like the raging Congo (which you can see right over there) than your local fishing spot, full of riches and wonder but murky, dangerous, and hard to take in.

I've been on social media for a long time. I wasn't quite an early adopter, but I'll say I had a friendster account and leave it at that. At first I used social media to connect with friends and then to talk about storytelling or chart difficulties in my life, but over the last several years it has been more and more about my work, in large part because storytelling is the driving force in my life. It has always been a positive way for me to share my art, get feedback, and communicate with anyone interested in what I was doing.

Social media is changing. It's very hard to stand out in the rushing rapids, especially with ever-changing algorithms making sure the most of my posts are like raindrops in the river - unnoticed and without impact. I don't like inundating those who are kind enough to read what I write with a zillion social media pointer posts in the hopes that a few new people will see them. That doesn't feel ethical or polite. It's all made more complicated now by security breaches, browser activity tracking, privacy issues, and Russian troll farms.

That's part of why I stepped away from this blog. I wanted to share stories and thoughts with people who were interested, but very few people ever saw the posts unless I promoted the heck out of them, which led me back to the problem of how to not inundate those who were already interested.

I also stepped away because writing a thoughtful post takes time, and sometimes that's time I need to work on making a living. Being a working artist, coach and consultant is at least 80% marketing and administration. Trying to post here three times a week when I had no certainty many would see the post and fair certainty it wouldn't help me pay the rent was frustrating and discouraging.

I'm saying all of this for those of you who do read this blog and value what I have to say here. I will continue to post once a week for the foreseeable future though I'll likely miss a week here and there. I'll write about the stuff I always write about - storytelling, culture, grief, how to get along in a challenging world - and I'm delighted that you are still here with me. Thank you.

For those of you what want more, please take a look at my Patreon page. For those who aren't familiar with Patreon, it's essentially a subscription platform designed to support artists by leveraging micro-donations into working capital. I'm posting stories, essays, videos, audio recordings, and more. Please consider this if you'd like to follow or support my work and be guaranteed something interesting for your time. I'm trying to post there at least twice a week. You can follow along for free if you'd just like to see what it's about... there's no risk either way.

You can also sign up for my newsletters. I publish them once a month and try to always have something interesting and worthwhile. It's also where I let readers know about gigs, opportunities, and so on, all the things you'd expect in a newsletter. I write mostly about storytelling and performance here and about organizational storytelling and consulting here.

I'm still on my usual social media channels, too. My personal facebook page which has personal and professional posts, along with some political content so avoid that if it would be uncomfortable; my storytelling facebook page where I publicize gigs, post articles you might find interesting, and so on; my thinkstory consulting facebook page, my twitter feed which is the place to go if you want #storyseeds and #barkagainstthedark; and LinkedIn. I'd be delighted to connect with you on any of these platforms. I also have my web pages and which is where you can find out more about the services I offer.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for sticking with me in this blog. I love writing here and will not give it up. Thank you, too, for understanding that being a working artist is a complicated dance between earning a living and following the muse.

I hope your muses are singing clearly to you. I hope the world treats you well.
(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, March 18, 2019

The world intrudes

I've committed to relaunching this blog and I want to hold true to that commitment. My intent had been to write today about what it means to be a working artist and to share some of the joys and fears of this path, but the world intrudes.

I've written too many times in this blog about massacres and yet today I find I can barely think of anything else. Rather than bemoan the world, which you can do perfectly well on your own, I will step back for a day to regroup. I'll be back next week.

I'm also concerned about not having enough work for 2019, so I need to focus my attention there. The world intrudes in so many ways.

Thank you for understanding. I'll see you next week.
(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, March 11, 2019

Catching up week 2: Being present in the moment with writing, teaching, performing

Coming back to blogging feels good. I needed the break so I could give myself permission to write about something other than grief. Kevin and his loss are a huge part of my life, but I want to write about so many things. As I said in my rise from the blogging ashes, I'm back and a lot of things are going on. This is the second of several posts catching you up on my life and things that have been preoccupying me.

Of late I've been present with the idea of presence, especially in my work. In this instance I define presence as calm existence in the current moment, within my current context. When I am more present while working I am more likely to find a flow state; it continues to be an interesting journey and thought exercise. The word presence has a lot of new-age baggage attached to it, but the basic premise of benign the moment and aware of the context, the audience, and the purpose has great value for me.

Writing is an exercise in presence. While it requires reflection and thought, time and recrafting, planning and purpose, the act of writing is grounded in this moment, this emotion, this thought. It engages my brain like little else, except perhaps teaching, coaching, and performing. I am fortunate and grateful that I find these elements of my work all-encompassing; they are among the things that nourish me the most.

Writing From Audience to Zeal and its accompanying workbook (due out in about two months from Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group) was an exercise in presence. It triggered imposter syndrome like few things have, so I frequently had to refocus, remind myself that I do know what I'm talking about, and write another few sentences. There was a lot of swearing and short little walks around the house. It was when I could be present with the topic, with the words, with my own 25+ years of experience that the writing flowed.

I don't always find writing so hard, but I tell you this as an example of the importance of being in the moment when writing, at least for me. Other kinds of writing (such as memoir pieces, stories, poems, journaling) are more easily infused with presence. I suspect this is because I am less concerned with the audience, it's more about my own satisfaction in the creative process.

Teaching and performing each require a different kind of presence.

I love teaching. It's funny, the imposter syndrome I fight with when writing instructive material rarely arises when I teach. I think it's because the audience is right in front of me and I am able to focus on them. I am present. This is the case even in largely online courses, such as the upcoming Right Livelihood Professional Training (co-taught with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg) and Storytelling From Audience to Zeal: Finding, Crafting, and Telling Great Stories.

Right Livelihood Professional Training helps people find and follow their calling, so it requires some real self-examination on my part. I need to ask myself all the questions we ask our students so I know I'm engaged and teaching from an authentic place. It requires presence. Storytelling from Audience to Zeal has required me to craft a storytelling class with both live interactive and offline self-paced components. It's requiring my presence the process so it's easier for students to be present in their own learning. I need to look at each exercise with clear vision and make sure it's comprehensible outside of my own head. Both of these classes have taught me to be a better teacher because I must be more attentive.

Finally, performing requires deep presence on several levels. I need to be present internally, with the story and my own process, as well as with the audience in their context. This means I can't afford to get distracted by what I might make for dinner, my own imposter syndrome, or anything. I want to give the audience my very best, and the best that I am is in that moment. This applies to every performance, whether it's from a stage, in a corporate meeting room, during a keynote, or around a campfire.

All of this brings me back to blogging. I find writing a blog is an in-the-moment experience, combining aspects of performance (because I know the audience is right there) and writing (crafting effective written communication), not to mention instruction when I'm pontificating on a particular point of storytelling technique. It's good to be back. It's good to connect with you. It's good to be present.

(c)2019 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, March 4, 2019

Catching up week 1: The Book

As promised, for the next several weeks I'll catch you up on the busy-ness of my life. You can read the whole list (though I may not cover each topic in a stand-alone post) here.

It's taken many years and several false starts, but I have finally published a storytelling book. From Audience to Zeal: The ABCs of Finding, Crafting, and Telling a Great Story is a compendium of essays on a wide range of storytelling topics. I'm sharing my 25+ years of experience in a conversational, intimate collection that covers practical topics and some of the lesser known aspects of being a working artist. I am delighted with the way it's turned out, in no small part thanks to Sean Buvala and the Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group. Working with them was a terrific experience and I've learned so much about myself as storyteller, writer, and human being. At some point I will write about my own emotional journey with this book and the subsequent marketing (because writing it is only a small part of the work) but for now, I wanted to tell you about it.

From Audience to Zeal: The ABCs of Finding, Crafting, and Telling a Great Story is unlike most other storytelling books. It's a cross between a dictionary with short, practical discussions on a wide variety of topics, and a storytelling memoir which includes many personal recollections to help illustrate different points of the craft. I was inspired in part by Anne Lamott's approach in Bird by Bird, which reinforced the idea that you cannot separate the teacher from the material. This seems especially true in an art like storytelling and even truer for a storyteller like me.

My great hope is that you will find From Audience to Zeal to be informative, instructive, and interesting. I wrote it imagining we were chatting about storytelling over a cup of tea; I want to be your storytelling ally. It is intentionally conversational and intimate. I cannot separate myself from the way I talk about storytelling and I didn't want to struggle to be less present in the text.

So how do you use it? There are several approaches and each has its own advantages.

  1. Use it like a dictionary. As you continue your storytelling journey you will encounter questions, this is inevitable and good, since it means you're trying new things. When you do, pick up Audience to Zeal and look up whatever is puzzling you. You may not find an exact entry that addresses your concern, but I bet you'll find something related. For example, you may have an upcoming gig with elders in a memory care unit. While the forthingcoming workbook addresses exactly this scenario, Audience to Zeal does not have an entry specifically for this. 
Instead, you might read the entries for audience, interruptions, and set lists. Those three together will give you a good head start for your gig. You might be working on a presentation for your team. Again, while the forthcoming workbook will address this, Audience to Zeal does not. You could read the entries on applied storytelling, movement and gesture, anecdote, and sensory detail for a pretty good start.

  2. Read it cover-to-cover. I suspect most readers will dive right in and start reading. Each essay is both independent and interwoven with other concepts from the book. If you read it cover-to-cover you may encounter the same illustrative story used several times, but in different ways. This was intentional, because it demonstrates how very flexible stories are and how important it is to take the audience and context into account. Reading it cover-to-cover will give you a mountain of resources, ideas, and exercises to use in your storytelling practice. It will also tell you quite a bit about me and my approach to the world. Reading it this way is perhaps more like sitting and chatting than using it like a dictionary.

  3. Use it as a tool to become a better storyteller. You can think of Audience to Zeal as a kind of prompt book. Each week, or on whatever schedule works for you, open up to an entry. This could be at random or sequentially. Read it through, then spend some time working on that particular component of storytelling. Write an essay about it. Think about what you agree with or don't find useful. Try the exercises it may mention. Talk it out with a friend. See how this topic is already part of your storytelling practice, could be incorporated or may never be included. Ask yourself why.

Most of all, use the book in whatever way works best for you. I truly hope you learn something from it, maybe disagree with parts of it, gain clarity on what storytelling is for you, and that it helps you continue your journey. I'd love to hear your story about Audience to Zeal and how it affected your approach to the art and craft of storytelling.

Next week I'm going to spend some time musing on the challenges of being a working artist and tell you about some of my new projects. Thanks for coming along with me as I return to blogging.

(c)2018 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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