Saturday, July 22, 2023

Musing 22 July or instruments

Here I am at the Kansas City Fringe, one show down with four to go, and my voice has gone out. I *think* it's allergies, but I'm not certain. Being on the road again means more exposure to covid that I've had since the pandemic began. Yes, I'll test, once I head out into the world later today.

I was going to write about how good it feels to be in front of live audiences again, how nourishing it is, etc etc, but right now I'm going to sip honey/lemon/ginger tea and hope for the best. My instrument, my voice, is currently really gravelly and quiet, and I need to talk as little as possible to not injure myself further. Good vibes welcome. Thanks.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Musing 18 July or some of the places I have told stories

Yesterday I told stories at the annual Winnebago Jamboree. My first set had about 500 people and the second about 200. It was fun, and reminded me that this lovely, strange career has taken me to some odd places.

Here are some of the places I have told stories:
  • The Winnebago National Jamboree
  • A nudist camp
  • On a boat in the middle of the ocean
  • On a hill with earthworks in the U.K.
  • From the flight attendants' station on a crowded, delayed airplane
  • Innumerable different stages, homes, festivals, events, libraries, schools, assisted living facilities, boardrooms, campfires, conferences, bars, restaurants, computers, etc.
  • Several funerals
  • A wedding at a pagan retreat center
  • A wedding in an art museum
  • Many art museums
  • On a stage in front of about 3000 people with my stories simultaneously translated into at least four different languages
  • At several deathbeds
  • Christenings/naming ceremonies
  • In various weather conditions
  • In a basement as a tornado passed nearby
  • In a major league football stadium
  • In a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant
  • On a bus
  • From a carousel
  • and more.
I am so grateful for all of this, and look forward to sharing stories in many, many other places. This career has helped me see a big world and have many unusual experiences. I am so grateful. 

I would be remiss if I didn't say that I'm always looking for new storytelling/teaching/coaching adventures, and would be happy to have adventures with you.


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Monday, July 17, 2023

Musing 17 July or in this moment, a grasshopper

I was talking with my therapist this morning about impermanence. We got there by way of discussing how hard self-forgiveness can be, and I knew there was something about impermanence tied up in it all. Without recounting the entire session (which would be dull for you and too revealing for me) I talked my way through some thoughts about how impermanence is freeing. This came from some meditations and readings I've been practicing, but boy, this morning it all hit home. If nothing is lasting then my small mistakes are unlikely to have the overwhelming impact I seem to think they will, so maybe self-forgiveness is possible. 

I know, there is a lot that can be said here, many devil's advocate positions that can be taken, but let's not.

Anyway, this has me thinking about how the only thing that I can really know is this moment. Right now, the click of the keyboard, the dog panting, the sweetness left in my mouth from my tea, this is what I know. None of this is new to either me or the world (Buddha lived and taught 2500 years ago, after all) but it feels more urgent right now.

I've always interpreted The Summer Day by Mary Oliver as a call to action, to more than the moment, but I see now there is another way to consider it, a way likely closer to her intent. All I have is the moment, my attention and care. I know, one can't fully live this way in practice. Money needs to be earned, the bills must be paid, and this dishes need washing, but perhaps I can approach those actions with more attention and less worry about what comes next. This includes the hard work of marketing, cleaning the dog, deciding what tasks need my attention first, and so on.

I've tried to live this way for many years, but perhaps my practice has slipped. I'll try it and see. It won't solve the woes of the world but maybe it will help a little in this moment and that will ripple forward. I am part of a greater whole and what I do matters, but I can only do what I can in this moment. One small step at a time.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Musing 16 July or relearning

I don't quite remember when I started, but it's been years. Most Sundays I post a list of "Things I've re/learned this week" on Facebook. I started it as a way to help me remember myself, but it has grown into something I do for myself AND others. There are other people who seem to find it valuable, not only my thoughts on what I've learned or relearned and our commonality, but a forum where they can write down their experiences for the week.

(As I write this, I am watching a fawn graze right next to a young buck resting on the ground. It's quite lovely and rather unusual, males rarely interact with the babies. Anyway.)

It's useful for me to think about both new things I have learned (this week I learned several new zucchini recipes) and the things I have learned again (this week I re/learned that having a spouse die has made me very nervous when my current spouse isn't 100%) and again and again.

Learning is so often relearning. We may have known something before, but rediscovering it is essentially a new piece of learning since we are different from who we were then. Now we bring a different self to the thing we are learning. My understanding of love, loss, cooking, animals, work habits, and and and, is all very different from the first time I may have learned about those things, as it should be. 

Sometimes there is intentional unlearning in between, when we learn that what we thought was so is, in fact, not. It's not always necessary (when I was a kid I learned to ride a bike. I relearned it as an adult. I don't think unlearning was necessary in there) but sometimes it's essential (unlearning racist patterns, for example). I try to notice what I need to unlearn and actively do so, then fill that space with new learning, more appropriate and hopefully better for the world we live in

All of this–learning, relearning, unlearning–is what keeps our minds agile and our hearts open, if we're lucky. The world's more vibrant when we are more open. I'm glad I can still learn. I may be gladder that I can relearn, unlearn, and learn again, that I am not so committed to my past ways of thinking and being that I reject learning about myself and the world over and over again. I hope I keep doing this until I am no longer in this body and maybe even beyond.


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Saturday, July 15, 2023

Musing 15 July or potatoes

Note: I mention some history here and gloss over many, many important pieces of information. If you think you know more about this than I do, you're probably right and I celebrate your superior knowledge.

There was a leftover potato looking at me this morning, almost forlorn as if wondering why it didn't get eaten last night. I felt a little sorry for it, and a little disappointed in myself that I hadn't put it away properly but let it dry out.

Before I even consciously decided, my hands were reaching for a knife, cast iron pan (the one from Kevin's grandmother so it's been in use for probably a century), an onion and some other veg. Some oil, some chopping, and hash appeared. 

I love hash. It's such an easy and delicious way to use up whatever might be lying around.

I know a lot of people who really love potatoes. I like potatoes, but I can't say they are a cornerstone of my cooking. Whenever I eat a potato I think about my grandparents, who no doubt grew and ate their own potatoes. I think about the indigenous people who have been eating them for generations. And I think about the famine walls in Ireland.

The Great Famine in Ireland was a direct result of a potato blight, made all the worse by single-crop farming as demanded by landowners. At least a million people died, and at least a million left the country. It was catastrophic to life, culture, politics, and more. In many ways, Ireland has yet to recover, and Irish people everywhere have stories of the famine, even though it was a century ago. 

Famine walls are stone walls to nowhere, built as a work aid project sponsored by the church and government as a famine relief project. People dug, lifted, carried, and placed heavy stones, forming long walls that separate fields, all for a little money so they could buy food. 

God forbid, the church and government just feed them.

All of this passed through my mind this morning as I cut up a potato for hash. Everything we eat has history, politics, stories. Sometimes I think of them and others I don't. 

The hash was delicious. Thank you, potato.

P.S. How to make hash. Grab some veggies. Ideally, you'll have a leftover potato or sweet potato, an onion, some garlic, and whatever else is on hand. Chop it all to a roughly uniform small size. Heat some oil in a pan, cast iron is bet but whatever you have will do. Let the pan get fairly hot. Toss in veggies. You can, if you want, pay attention to the sequence so the veggies that need longer to cook go in first. Cook it all, stirring regularly but letting it sit for a while too so you have some crispy bits. Season as you please, I usually use salt, pepper, smoked paprika. When it seems done it probably is. Dish it up and eat. Yum.


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Friday, July 14, 2023

Musing 14 July or mundane wonder

Some days are about the work of living and the poetry comes from action and pause, completion and setting aside. Today is a day like that. 
  • Today I picked up my car from the mechanic, and he told me about working on his cousins' dairy farm. I told him about living on a dairy farm when I was in my teens. We agreed that cows are remarkable animals.
  • I've watched the fawns resting in the shade. Today there are three of them. Yesterday there were two. I think the mama is looking after someone else's baby. Deer do that, they will adopt fawns, but I've never seen it before.
  • I'm working on a set list for an event on Monday. I'm telling campfire stories, and need to weave in easter eggs about the hiring organization. It's taking some work, some walking away, some more work. I will worry that I can't do it, but it will come together.
  • Soon my mother will stop by and we'll talk about everything and nothing because that's what life is, everything and nothing.
  • When she leaves, there are weeds to be pulled (always weeds to be pulled), squash to be picked, words to be written and read, dinner to be cooked, a dog and a guinea pig to be loved, a spouse to be appreciated.
Each one of these events seems trivial and yet each one has its own rhythm and beauty, frustration and mundanity. I wish I was someone who always saw it like that, but I'm not. I see the wonder of the every day from time to time, mostly when I stop to write about it as I am now. That's part of the wonder of writing, it helps me see more clearly. 

I hope your day is filled with mundane wonder. There is magic in those moments, even the frustrating ones. It's waiting for you and me.


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Thursday, July 13, 2023

Musing 13 July or Darmok

The problem with writing daily posts like this is figuring out what to say. Some days I think I've run out of words. When that happens, if I can listen to the universe then I might hear something.

That happened today. I had no idea what to write. I went out to run errands and, while at the printers to pick up postcards for the KC fringe, I glanced at their tv. It was one of my very favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes (what, you think having a favorite is weird?), Darmok


If you haven't seen it, it's about an encounter with an alien species that communicate through metaphor, and the extraordinary length their leader goes to help Captain Picard understand. It's about the power of shared effort, of language, and most importantly, of stories. 

There is a scene where Picard tells a very brief version of the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The first time I saw it in 1991, I wept. I wasn't sure why, but I knew it meant something important inside of me. You can see it here.


By 1991 I had met Brother Blue, taken the fateful storytelling course with him and then went on with the rest of my life. I was thinking I would be a writer or, if I was lucky, a folklorist (my degree is in folklore). I didn't yet know that my path would be a bit of both and more. That episode, that myth so briefly told, helped give me clarity that my path would be different. Even though I had known Gilgamesh for years, even though I studied with one of its translators, something about this simple telling was overwhelming. I was so moved by the story that I wanted to tell it myself.

30+ years later, here I am. I have been telling Gilgamesh for decades. For me, it's a story of friendship and survival and loss, and I tell it as such. Whenever I tell it, I always say, "Gilgamesh and Enkidu were friends," and clasp my hands. Every time, someone notices and smiles. It's not verbatim from Picard, but close enough.

I love how this ancient story–told in an adequate television series–seen by a 23 year old me–helped send me on the journey to my life's work. I love how Gilgamesh is relevant still and will be in a fictional future. I love how every time I have told this story for the last 30 years, two things happen: one, someone weeps and find their own meaning in it, and two, someone asks if I have seen Darmok. I have. 

It helped change everything. It helped me come to this moment, where you are reading my words and, I hope, feeling some connection.

Laura tells Gilgamesh, tears in her eyes, feet firm on the ground.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Musing 12 July or art and artist's dates

Content warning: Images of a rather gruesome work of Renaissance art.

In The Artist's Way Julia Cameron advises two regular practices: morning pages and artist's dates. I am inconsistent with both while I understand their importance and feel the benefits when done. I rarely manage to write first thing in the morning more than a few days (the animals! PT! tea!) and I forget to schedule regular artist's dates. In some ways, these musings are taking the place of artist pages, but I know it's not the same. 

Failings aside, yesterday I went on an artist's date and it was everything I might have hoped. I came home full of feelings and ideas. It was lovely and I wanted to share it with you. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is currently hosting Caravaggio's Judith and Holofernes. I've seen reprints and countless images online, but I wanted to see the real thing. It was worth it.

You may not know the story. It's from The Book of Judith, an Old Testament book not included in many official accountings of the bible. It tells the story of Judith, a widow. Her city is besieged by the Assyrians. She decided to take matters into her own hands, and approached the Assyrian general Holofernes. 

She approaches him and he desires her. She promises him the goods, goes to his tent with her maid, and gets him drunk. When he is insensate, she cuts off his head. The Assyrians leave and Judith brings his head back to her village to stand as a warning to any other potential invaders. 

It's a gruesome and powerful story that reminds me that I am not powerless. I hope I am never driven to cut off someone's head, but I can decide to take matters into my own hands and create meaningful change.

I've always loved Caravaggio works, and especially this one. Taking the time to see it in person is worthwhile. It's an amazing artwork and there are details I hadn't noticed in online perusal. For example, look at the intensity of their expressions:

The lines of determination on Judith's forehead and her mild disgust; the grim determination of her nurse, the shock on Holofernes face; and the tight grip the nurse has on the cloth to collect the head, those are hands that have worked. It's amazing.

If you're interested, there are other paintings on this subject. Some of my favorites are Trophime Bigot's and Artemisia Gentileschi's.

This artist's date did what I hoped. I came home invigorated and revived, not to cut off the head of an unwanted person, but to write, create, and revel in noticing details. It reminded me of myself in meaningful ways. That's what the best art (even art I don't care for or find troubling) does for me, it brings me home changed and revived, seeing the world in new ways, and eager to create, share, thrive.


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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Musing 11 July or empathy and experience

CW: mentions of racism, chronic pain, cancer. Nothing explicit. Also a little preachy :)

I try to live as an empathetic person. When I was younger this was almost crippling for three reasons: First, when I succeeded in empathy I was overwhelmed by the feelings; second, I often believed I understood more than I did and this led to some hard moments; and third, when I failed I castigated myself. I'd like to think I have more balance now, but it's an evolving practice. I'm glad I approach it intentionally, and I hope I keep learning more about empathy.

What's hard is when I realize that empathy or not, I really can't comprehend what someone is going through. For example, when Kevin was sick, he was in a lot of pain. Pancreatic cancer is terribly painful. I felt for him, I did what I could, I did my best to empathize yet I could not know what it was life. Because he bore it rather stoically, it was sometimes hard to believe it hurt as much as it did. I feel ashamed writing that, but it is what is and, frankly, so it is with all of us. We don't know and sometimes we mess up. I did the best I could, even though it never felt like enough.

In recent years I've been thinking about how hard it is to effectively empathize with someone until you've experienced something similar. This doesn't mean empathy without experience is useless, it most certainly isn't and our imaginations make it possible to empathize and care without lived experience, but there is a difference. 

For example, I will never know what it's like to be Black in America. I was married to a Black man, I grew up in a really diverse neighborhood, I have friends from across the board, but I (a white, middle class, middle aged woman) will never really know. The best I can do is empathize and believe people when they trust me with their experiences, then do what I can to work for a more equitable world.

Another example is around invisible disabilities. Let's take chronic pain. I've known people with chronic pain and have done my best to empathize but I misstepped often, forgetting that they hurt because I couldn't see it. Now I know what's it like and my empathy is different, though still flawed. I am in pain almost all of the time because of my back. Most days it's manageable, but then there are the days when shifting from standing to sitting or bending toward my cup of tea really hurts. This means if someone tells me they are in chronic pain I might, might be more able to remember, empathize, and act accordingly.

I can choose how I respond to this lived experience. 
  • I can become bitter and assume no one can possibly understand what I'm going through. I won't do that. None of us are so unique that our burdens are incomprehensible to others or beyond empathy.
  • I can accept the empathy I receive, flawed though it may be. I am doing this. Some burden of education falls to me, since I need to remind people that I hurt or can't walk so quickly anymore, but I'd rather assume forgetfulness than malice, and empathize in return. It's hard to remember sometimes and I have certainly forgotten about others issues.
  • I can use this experience to deepen my empathy for others. I try, fail, and try again.
All we can do is try. Try to empathize with experiences and lives beyond ours, try to accept the empathy we are offered as long as it doesn't become toxic (that's a whole other post), try to empathize in ways that create useful, appropriate, and meaningful change. 

Try, fail, and try again. So it goes.

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Monday, July 10, 2023

Musing 10 July or belonging

I've had some storytelling gigs in unusual places. I once told stories in a plane thousands of feet in the air from the flight attendants' P.A. on a packed, late flight. Another time I told at a nudist camp. Soon I'll be telling to a bunch of Winnebago enthusiasts. 

Yesterday was one of my favorite unusual places to tell, because I was also telling stories to my past (and maybe my future) self.

I went to my first science fiction convention when I was maybe 13 or 14. I'd been reading speculative fiction since I could read, watching Dr. Who (old school) and Star Trek (also old school) since I was ten, so it seemed like a natural things to do. I don't remember much about that first con, but I do remember finding belonging I hadn't known I missed. 

At that time, geek culture was for outsiders. It wasn't trendy or popular like now, but a bunch of bright people building a community for themselves. There I was, a bright young teen, who could talk with adults without anyone talking down to her. It was magic.

I kept going to cons through my teens and twenties. I was in my early twenties when I found the storytelling community, so gradually my attendance at cons and the like faded. I pretty much stopped going by my mid thirties. 

Yesterday, I told Becoming Baba Yaga at CONvergence, the big Minnesota sci-fi etc con. It was so much fun! Yes, geek culture is now everywhere, and quite popular, but I still felt that sense of belonging because so many different kinds of geekery were accepted. Here were smart, creative people, celebrating what they loved without any need for self-consciousness. In one corner was a woman in a TARDIS dress (she was especially excited that it had pockets), in another was a man with a long grey beard expounding on culture and scientific accuracy from a t.v. series I've never seen, and right here was a middle-aged storyteller, talking about becoming a magical, dangerous crone. 

I miss having close community. I haven't felt deeply involved in a  community since I left Boston, but I felt it again in those hallways. I don't read much speculative fiction anymore, but I could feel the same feelings I did as a child. It didn't matter how weird any of us might feel outside, here we could share my geekiness without worry.

Belonging is so important. Humans are social creatures and almost all need some kind of belonging. It was wonderful watching people belong. Kids playing games with adults. People cheering a group of taiko drummers dressed in some kind of anime costumes. So many different kinds of belonging and celebration.

Will I go back? I think so. I doubt if I'll dress up the way I did when I was younger, but I'll still have fun. Will I belong? I don't know. I struggle to feel like I belong, but for just a little bit, here and there at cons and storytelling events and elsewhere, I don't doubt my shared humanity and belonging. So yeah, I expect I will go back and celebrate everything.

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