Friday, December 19, 2014

Grief, holidays, things not to say

I've heard over and over that the first year of grief is the worst and that the holidays are particularly hard. The first year holds all of those land mine dates - the first birthday, the first memory of the illness, the first round of personal marks in the year and so on. The holidays are supposed to be a time of family festivity and so hold many reminders that the one we love most isn't here.

I can't say anything about the truth of the first year being the worst since I am still in the midst of it. I can say the holidays make everything feel more acute. Just as joy is enhanced by the accumulated weight of memories, so too is sorrow. I have many sweet memories of this time of year with Kevin. His delight in decorating, cutting down trees with the kids, bickering about what to get whom, his face as he watched us open gifts, the sacred moments of connection. I cannot tell you how much I want him here. Of course, every day has these moments regardless of the holidays. Hugging him on the staircase when he comes home from work, washing dishes together, his patient annoyance with me as I ask him to catch me up on his tv shows, the warmth beside me in bed, the sacred moments of connection. It is all there, all of this memory and loss, all of this life, held in stark contrast to where I am living now. The holidays just make it more acute. Maybe it's the media, maybe it's the zeitgeist, maybe it's just part of being alive.

Whatever it is, it sucks.

That being said, I am at least able to be grateful for the memories and for the time I will spend with those I love over the coming weeks. This gratitude doesn't mean I am grieving any less, just that I have broader vision now.

I think part of the holiday problem for those who grieve is that we stand out in stark contrast to those who have not suffered this kind of loss this year (they will eventually, and then it will be our job to walk beside them and point out land mines as they navigate the land of grief). This year I am an object lesson to remind everyone to be present in their love while they can be. This year I am the embodiment of the lack of Kevin.

Because grievers are in such contrast this time of year, I have found that over the past few weeks more people are saying things that don't help. I know it's done with the best of intent but, I assure you, I am still grieving even if I don't look like it at the moment. I've written before about what helps and what doesn't; this list still stands. My perspective has changed a little, since I am almost 9 months in, so I have some new thoughts on the matter. Here is a quick list of things to keep in mind if you are spending time with the bereaved over the holidays.

  1. Telling me how I feel doesn't help. I wrote recently about faking it. It isn't that I hurt any less. The loss is still traumatic and acute. It's that I've become better at functioning in the day-to-day. I've become better at seeing how my grief distresses you, so I don't share it with you as much. Telling me that I must be feeling better because I'm smiling suggests you have some insight into my feelings beyond my own. I know I'm smiling because it still feels unfamiliar on my face. Instead please just welcome it. Be in the moment with me and don't tell me how I'm feeling. 
  2. Grief is non-linear. There are no corners to turn, no bill boards that will announce GRIEF AHEAD or NO MORE GRIEF IN SIGHT. I may seem fine one moment and the next tear up. Laughter, tears, chattiness, quiet are all part of grieving because they are all part of life. If I start crying it's not your fault. It likely has nothing to do with you, it's just another wave of grief.
  3. Let me lead. If I'm crying I may or may not want to be touched. I know this isn't true for all grievers but I'm pretty good at asking for what I need, be it a hug or to be left alone. My life is all about the things I had no control over; let me control what I can.
  4. Don't pretend Kevin never existed. I love talking about him. I often love hearing your stories about him. Not all the time, but don't think the 15 years I spent with him have just vanished. Let him be part of the conversation.
  5. And please don't try to console me with platitudes. I'd rather you be quiet with me or tell me you don't know what to say. Telling me that Christmas is extra special this year because Kevin is with Jesus doesn't help me. If it helps you that's great, but for me all it does is accentuate his loss.

I'm not trying to be harsh with this list. I'm trying to find a way to make the holidays safer for me and for all the others who grieve. I'd love to hear what works for you and what doesn't. What you have found comforting.

Mostly I am grateful that you are here. Thank you for being on this journey with me. May the holidays and coming year bring us all ease.

(38 weeks. I love you. I hope you like the Hanukah candles.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Sourcing and appropriating traditional tales

image courtesy of child's play
Hello everyone and welcome back to Ask the Storyteller. I hope you're enjoying this series where you pose your questions and I answer them to the best of my ability. It's a place for conversation and debate. I'm having a great time and am grateful for your participation. I'm looking for new topics all the time so please send me your questions in an email entitled Ask the storyteller or post them in the comments below. Thanks!

I've had several people ask me about sourcing and appropriating traditional tales. I opened a conversation about telling traditional tales several weeks ago; today's post will delve more deeply into sourcing a story and living mythologies. As always, this answer reflects my own biases and experience.

I love traditional material. I hold a degree in folklore and mythology and have never stopped exploring the world of traditional stories. I tell many folktales and myths, though I have some criteria for the stories I choose to tell. I'll get to that shortly.

Today's question is really two questions.
1. How do I determine if a story is in the public domain and, if it is, how do I then tell it?
2. May I tell stories from other cultures if I am not of that culture?

Let's start with How do I determine if a story is in the public domain and, if it is, how do I then tell it? 
Many storytelling organizations ask their tellers to have three separate sources for the traditional stories they tell. For example, I may find a version of Snow White in one of Andrew Lang's books, in a collection by Jane Yolen and in a picture book. Each version has subtle differences of plot and phrasing. I can cite these three examples as proof that the story in it's most basic form is in the public domain.
My personal version of the story must be distinct from all three cited examples. I cannot emphasize this enough. Storytellers do not get to steal the intellectual property of other artists. If we do tell a version of a story that isn't our own creation we must have permission to do so or it must be a piece that is wholly in the public domain. I may tell Snow White word for word from Andrew Lang because it is in the public domain. What's more, I should cite my source and make sure my audience knows this version isn't original to me but was written by Mr. and Mrs. Lang. I may not tell Jane Yolen's version without her express consent. This is really a topic for another post if you're interested, but suffice it to say intellectual property theft is still theft. How would you feel if someone told one of your stories verbatim without your permission?
Once I have my sources I then play with the material. I love doing this. I think about the story from different points of view, I imagine the settings, I engage my senses, I think about what most resonates with me in the tale. I create my own version of the story. We all can do this. We may be inspired by Jane Yolen's telling, but we are all able to take the same plot elements and put our own interpretation onto it. Start with sense and what you love. Get someone to listen to you. Dream aloud.

Finding three sources is all well and good, but what if the story is specific to a culture you are not part of? This gets tricky. What follows are my personal guidelines, the steps I go through before telling a traditional story. Your mileage may vary.

  1. I get my three sources to determine that it is, in fact, a traditional story in the public domain.
  2. I do some research. Is the story a sacred tale? More importantly, is the story sacred in the culture from which it originated, whether or not I consider it sacred? If it is, I then have two choices. If I know the story is widely told in my culture I decide if I want to tell it. A good example of this might be an Anansi tale. I ask myself how I would feel if someone told a similar story I find sacred. If I decide I do want to tell it I craft it with as much cultural relevance and respect as I can. When I tell it I always give it context so the listeners hear not only the story but gain an understanding of its importance.
    If my research tells me that this story is still sacred and then either is still used in sacred ways or is not a part of the common vernacular, I stop. It isn't my story to tell. Again, consider how you might feel is someone took the stories most sacred to you (say the Christmas story since we're in the season) and told it out of context without believing it. That might make you uncomfortable.
  3. On the rare occasions that I feel deeply drawn to tell a living sacred story I contact representatives of the culture from which it comes, preferably elders, preferably storytellers. I approach them respectfully and talk with them about the story, about why I feel so strongly I want to tell it. I do the work to ensure that the story remains sacred. Sometimes I've been told yes, I may tell the story. When that happens I give it as much context as I can and I express my gratitude each time. Sometimes I've been told no. When that has happened the story leaves my repertoire. Period. It isn't mine to tell. To the best of my ability I will not engage in cultural appropriation
All of this being said, different tellers follow different rules. There are some people who believe that no one who is not of a culture should tell that culture's stories. There are others who believe all stories belong to everyone. I fall in the middle, with a set of personal guidelines to help me make my decisions. 

I have certainly made mistakes but generally speaking these guidelines work for me. I know the stories I tell are mine to tell. I know I am not stealing anyone else's work, that it is my own intellectual property and that I am being respectful of other cultures.  It's not a lot of work, when you get down to it, to make sure you aren't stealing or blaspheming. And it makes me feel better about the stories I tell.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and your questions. Are you interested in hearing more about intellectual property? How about fracturing fairy tales? What else? I'm going to tackle some of the practical aspects of being a working storyteller in the next post, I hope that is of interest to you.

I hope this season of light and dark finds you safe, warm and with those you love. Keep telling your stories.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Repost: Grief in action. Two years from Newtown.

I wrote this two years ago today. I think it still stands.

I am sitting in a cafe.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky, crying for the almost 30 people who died in Connecticut today. For the teddy bears that will wait for their child. For the many sleepless nights that will follow.

I will not talk here about gun laws; those of you who know me know my stance, those of you who disagree with me will not be swayed by my arguments.

I will not talk here about the media frenzy; those of you who know me know that I watch in awe and horror as we create modern mythologies in a moment only to tear them down a heartbeat later. By next week the media will be admiring the next new horror.

I will not talk here about my overwhelming ache at what happens now to the family of the young man who did this, my wonder at what led him there or what demons drove him.

What I want to talk about is this. How we treat each other matters. How we treat each other in the wake of something like this especially matters. We can create change and prevent tragedy only by beginning with a willingness to admit that change is necessary, tragedy is preventable and your viewpoint as well as mine may bring something valuable to the table. When we treat each other as if we are all human, as if we all have value, then we can take this collective moment and do something to prevent it from happening again. And again. And again.

If we let events like this harden us, make us more cynical, more convinced of our own rightness and their wrongness, we will never create change. We must be willing to let those we consider the opposition have a voice. What’s more, we must listen and ask the deeper questions. Why do you feel this way? What really matters here? When we ask and answer these questions we may find more common ground than we expected and, from there, we can build consensus to create change. 

We all know kids shouldn’t be shot. Let’s start with that. We all know our mental health care system has significant room for improvement. Let’s go from there. 

I have no illusions that one writer, one storyteller can individually effect the course of the world. But I do know that collectively, we are unstoppable. That if we take our collective grief and horror, if we put aside our smaller rivalries and disagreements, that we can create tremendous change. That we can together craft a new and better story that no one - not the media nor our legislators - can ignore. But we must decide to act, to use the pain we feel as fuel for passion that leads to action.

Let us tell a story of a future where we have learned from the events of today, of last week, of this year and the years prior. Let these deaths be the last time something like this happens and we remain voiceless. Let us ask what we can do that might create a world where we do more than weep, where instead we stand up and say, “No, that is not the story I will tell. That is not the world I will live in.” 

Let us act. And, in the midst of action let us be civil, let us use words as tools not as weapons. We have enough weapons already. 

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, December 12, 2014

The physicality of grief

Dear god am I tired. I thought about writing a whole post about fatigue and that alone made me weary, so I decided to give myself a little more room and write about the physical experience of grief.

Emotions live in the body. We get butterflies in our stomachs, we feel giddy with joy, we burn with anger. For me, grieving is an intensely physical process. I think it is for many of us who grieve deeply, but there is little room in our society for it. You can't really call into work saying, "I'm sorry, I can't come in today, I have a grief headache. Give me 6 months or so and it will go away."

While Kevin was sick my body performed miracles for me. I gave it far too little sleep and exercise, far too much bad food and stillness, yet it kept going. I didn't get sick all winter because I was caring for him. There was no time for me to be sick. He needed me.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Language, language

Welcome to #askthestoryteller, a weekly column where I answer your questions about storytelling, performance, craft and narrative. If you have a question you'd like me to address please comment below or email me with the heading Ask the storyteller.

This week's question comes from Ward R. It's a great question and one with several facets, so I'm going to include the whole question pretty much verbatim before getting down to business.

Been enjoying your series, Ask a Storyteller, both because of the answers you give and the discussions it sparks. A lot of the questions or things I ponder have to do with generational aspects of storytelling; here's one of those.

I cuss in a fair amount of my storytelling. Partly that's because it's authentic to who I am as a person, and storytelling is, to some extent, about relating to an audience in an authentic fashion. Partly that's because I tell stories that would be hard to tell without using profanity - the story calls for it. In all cases, I believe it's an artistically sound decision. When I take a gig, I ask for language restrictions and give the curator a solid sense of the work I do, so I also consider professional concerns around language.

Nonetheless, the most common piece of feedback I get from members of the older generation of tellers is that I ought not use profanity. Not that a particular piece of profanity was a poor choice of words, but that profanity in general ought not be featured in storytelling. I've lost friends from that community over this particular issue.

We accept the role of profanity in literally every other word-based art form. Shakespeare cussed; Ursula K. LeGuin cussed. Bukowski cussed; Sinatra cussed. The blanket statement that profanity has no place in storytelling seems baldly preposterous. What are your feelings on profanity in storytelling? What are the origins of this anti-profanity aesthetic, and why does it persist?

I love this question. Generational issue have been around since there were generations and are present in every aspect of human life. I imagine Australopithecus parents shaking their heads of the outrageous antics of their young.

As always, this answer reflects my own experience and biases.

Ward, not too long ago I was one of the young new tellers. I was frustrated that storytelling didn't seem to reflect a broad range of experience (this was before slams were prevalent) and I wanted to hear stories that included me, as we all do. So I began to tell stories that included swear words, sex (and were sometimes R rated), observations about age, race, weight and gender. I was told that I was inappropriate and was sullying the art. Like you, I was told this by older storytellers. I struggled with it, because I was telling authentically, just like you, but these were my respected elders. Ultimately I made the same decision you have; I still tell those stories (and more extreme versions sometimes) but I make sure it's appropriate to the audience. I check with the curator and I make my own decision in the moment. Kids in the audience change my content though I have been known to talk with parents when they bring children to a show that was advertised as adults-only. Every venue I have ever run has a free-speech clause, asking only that tellers let the audience know if they are including PG-13 or greater content so the audience can decide if they want to hear it.

This is my experience. This should tell you my general feelings on the matter. I think you're handling it correctly by being up front about who you are, what you tell and what your audience should expect. I assume you don't swear when telling to little kids and so on, that you have good common sense. Now, onto generational issues and what you might do about it.

You ask about my feelings on profanity in storytelling and the origins/persistence of this aesthetic. It's easier for me to think this out as a list, so here we go.

  1. Where did this aesthetic come from? Generational issues have always and will always exist. A few examples: Video games, rock n roll, stockings, brassieres, hip hop, Beethoven, Italian food in America and so on. What's more, it's not only generational. It's cultural, too. Not all older people will be offended by harsh language. Not all younger people won't be. I think it's part of being human. It's very easy to decide that we have the moral high ground and be shocked when someone disagrees with you. 
  2. It will persist because different people have differing moral senses. I am reminded of this every day on Facebook and Twitter. People I care about deeply may hold opinions I find repugnant. I'm sure I offend others regularly.
  3. Ultimately it's your audience and their reaction that matters. The older tellers who say profanity is inappropriate probably aren't telling to the same audiences you are. If they are, then the audience gets something of value from both of your styles. I would urge you to keep telling your stories in your way; we need diversity of voices. Honor the wisdom of the older tellers by listening to them, learning from them and being grateful for all that they have done. And keep in mind that some day you will be one of the older tellers and will then have the opportunity to delight in being startled by what your younger colleagues say.
  4. Let the audience self-censor. I make sure my curator and my audience know what they are in for. I absolutely believe in free speech. I also believe that everyone can choose what they are exposed to. Let your audience know you use salty language so they can decide if they want to hear it or not.
  5. Use your common sense. If you are hired to tell to pre-schoolers you might want to tell stories that don't include swear words. Give parents forewarning (as I mentioned above) if they show up at an adult oriented gig with their kids. If you're telling to 90 year old nuns mind your manners. Common sense goes a long way.
  6. Authenticity matters. If the language makes sense in the context of the story and who you are then it belongs there. I would never, ever ask a teller to be anything but authentic. 
  7. Ask yourself why the friendships ended. Was it only over a disagreement about language or was it deeper? This isn't a personal advice column (I'd recommend Dan Savage (especially if you like salty) or Ask Amy if you're looking for that) but a friendship that ends over a disagreement about swearing might have had other structural faults. Personally, I value my friendships with those whom I have radical disagreements. As long as we both can talk about it civilly and recognize there is at least personal value in the other's opinion, we learn from one another. And sometimes those disagreements make it clear that the friendship can't continue.
  8. I want to end this list by saying fk'em if they can't take a joke, only with the word spelled out. But I am choosing to censor myself because I don't know who is reading, I want to respect all my potential readers and you get the point anyway.

I hope this helps. I'd love to know what you think. I'm looking forward to answering more questions next week on #askthestoryteller.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, December 5, 2014

Faking it

Many years ago when in the midst of an episode of depression, someone told me to smile. He said that the body responds to smiling by producing the hormones we experience when we have real reason to smile, so fake smiling may help reduce stress and improve mood. "Fake it til you make it" was his recommendation.

I never found this to be particularly effective and even less now so when I am in the midst of grief. But it does raise some interesting questions about how the grieving fake feeling better to help those around them. I expect this is especially acute during the holidays because we don't want to bring those around us down.

For example, I was recently at a family gathering and genuinely felt good. The mood came and went, but I decided to behave as if I felt okay because I didn't want to upset those around me. Some of my family finds my grief distressing. I got through the event, came home and fell apart for awhile.

The grief community might argue that this was the wrong call. By suppressing my grief I was emotionally dishonest. I was doing it for others and, frankly, those of us grieving justifiably selfish about feeling what we feel when we feel. This isn't a culture that makes it easy to grieve, so there is some militancy about our need to express our feelings unapologetically. I agree with this. I think it's important that everyone can express their emotions honestly and effectively. So why did I put on a happy face?

Because I love my family. Because I didn't want to bring everyone else down. Because the work involved in honestly expressing my emotions felt as though it would be greater than just smiling for the time being. I'm not saying my choice was right or wrong. It just was.

But what if we tried something different this holiday season? Holidays are notoriously hard for the grieving. There are so many memories and holes that it's hard to understand how we can or should behave. So what if we tried something different.

What if those who love the grieving find a way for them to feel safe enough that they can express their emotions and then experience what joy they can? It would take work. Those who love us would have to ask honest questions, be willing to open the door to the sorrow as well as joy, and welcome whatever honest answer is given. It would require not flinching and not judging. Sometimes stepping back. It would require always accepting that the grief is valid, not matter how new or old.

If the grieving knew that this was possible, what if we found a way to smile, even if we have to fake it sometimes, because we know it would be safe to not smile? Would the sense of safety make it easier to relax and find what joy we could in the moment?

I don't know. I hope so. I know that the stress of faking it is immense, but there must be some way the bereaved and those who love us can work together to make this hard season easier. I think it requires honesty. Conversation. Space. And maybe a little faking it on both sides, only acknowledged and appreciated.

I know this won't sit well with a lot of you. But I think it's worth a try. A little honesty. A little gentle fakery, acknowledged and appreciated. Might be worth a try.

I don't know. But I'm trying to find out.

(36 weeks. See? I'm smiling, right?)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Traditional tales intro

I'm really enjoying #askthestoryteller and I hope you are, too. A number of you have written in with questions about telling traditional stories. That's a really big topic, so I wanted to start by reposting a slightly edited version of a piece I wrote in 2010. At the time I was posting Telling Topics, which aren't so different from #askthestoryteller, but I was coming up with the issues. I'm enjoying your questions far more.

I wrote this piece about telling fairy tales and myths. I still stand by it and it seemed like a good starting point for questions about telling traditional stories. I've edited it slightly and will explore these points further in relation to specific kinds of traditional story and what I do with them in coming posts, if you'd be interested. This post is rather generic, but a good starting point. What questions does it raise for you?

Please keep your storytelling questions coming in the comments section. I love this challenge and am looking forward to seeing what we come up with!

This was originally posted in October 2010 as part of the Telling Topics series. You can read the original post here. 

Fairy tales capture the whole range of human experience. Regardless of the culture in which they originated, they help us understand our lives and how our individual experiences are more alike than different. They give us a roadmap to use as we travel our lives. These are the stories that ripple through our lives, giving us a common language with which to understand the world. Here are some basic things to consider when telling fairy tales.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

The world through my eyes: Here and there

As you know, I've taken to carrying my camera around and watching through a lens. Here are some of the things I saw in November. Do you have a favorite?

All images copyright Laura Packer, 2014.

Make a wish

Empty chair


Sit with me



Cat pizza



Jewels in sand




World's end



(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Yesterday was Thanksgiving, the first without Kevin. It was a lovely day, full of family and food yet with a looming vacancy. That seems like such a selfish thing to say. Grief makes me selfish. There it is. 

First night sleeping without you.
First time grocery shopping only for me.
First birthday alone.

I talk with a lot of people who have lost their loves. Every single one says something different. The first year is the hardest. No, the second. No, it's the third. 

First time paying bills without you.
First movie by myself.
First Sunday night trash alone.

I don't know the truth of it, I only know this is very hard. Each new first scrapes away the scab. Makes it more real. Draws more blood. Each first is a surprise even when I'm braced. When they become seconds and thirds I find myself numb. The waves of grief are unexpected and seemingly unrelated to the first or second or third, but they still come.

First cold without you.
First home repair by myself.
First basket of laundry, mine alone.

I feel as though I should write something about gratitude, about thankfulness, because I have so much to be thankful for. I had 15 years with the love of my life. I had (and, as far as I'm concerned, have) a love of my life, that's more than many people get. I have friends and family who love me. For all of that and more I am grateful. For the hand held, the tears honored, the meals shared, the good and loving care. Thank you.

I don't have that post in me today, the celebration of how graced I am. Maybe soon. There is no reason to reserve gratitude for Thanksgiving alone, I try to practice gratitude daily. It's harder now but I still practice. I am still grateful but in this moment everything is coated with soot. I live in moments now.

First meal cooked without you.
First performance by myself.
First Thanksgiving, surrounded by people who love me, alone.

I can even be thankful for this grief, but not the loss. Never the loss. At this moment the loss is what consumes me. I am an emptiness illuminated by sparks of memory. Eventually the emptiness will fill and I can again be grateful. That, too, will be a first.

(eight months. 35 weeks. I love you. And I miss you so damned much.) 

(c) 2014 Laura Packer
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Seven things I learned from Brother Blue and Ruth (Thanksgiving edition)

Welcome back to Ask the Storyteller. Today we will wander into the personal and universal as we look at Tony T's question, What did you learn about telling a story and storytelling from Brother Blue and Ruth Hill? 

What a wonderful question, thank you Tony. I thought this was a good question to answer on Thanksgiving week. This is a more personal #askthestoryteller than usual, I promise I'll get back to more analytical stuff next week. Please post any questions in the comments below or email them to me here.

For those of you who don't know, Brother Blue was an amazing storyteller who influenced me and many others. He was instrumental in the launch of the modern storytelling movement. It was my honor to have him as a mentor and friend for almost 20 years; there are many for whom he was mentor and friend for longer. His wife Ruth Edmunds Hill was his rock, she enabled him to do what he did and so we have her to thank as well. She is amazing in her own right, a scholar and mentor to many. 

Brother Blue and Ruth ran a storytelling venue in Cambridge, MA for many years. When Blue died Kevin and I took it over for a time, then passed it onto a committee. It continues to this day and is a nurturing place for many storytellers. Brother Blue died in 2009. Ruth remains my friend.

So, what have I learned from Ruth and Blue? More than I can tell you. Here are the top seven things I have learned from them, things I hope will be useful to you. There are a lot of links in this post that I hope you'll explore. They are deeper explorations of many of the items on this list.
  1. Together we can change the world. Brother Blue always said that storytelling could save the world because how could you hurt someone else if you knew their story? Once we recognize that we all have basically the same concerns, the same hopes and fears, it becomes easier to embrace each other regardless of skin color, religion, age, economic status and so on. That's why it's important to me that I tell all kinds of stories whether personal or traditional or something else. Stories are bridges. Stories matter.
  2. It's okay to be a little crazy. Brother Blue was quite a figure. He wore blue clothing, bells and butterflies. He wasn't tightly bound to the earth. Some dismissed him because he seemed to be crazy, but he was an incredible artist, brilliant, compassionate and inspirational. I think at some point Blue decided that it would be easier for others to tell their stories if they thought he was already the most ridiculous thing in the room. It made it easier for others to risk if they knew he already had.
    When we let ourselves be a little crazy we might find art, friendship and love that we would have rejected had we been clinging too tightly to being sane.
    I've learned feeling awkward, embarrassed or silly isn't going to kill me and it might open the door to something amazing.
  3. Be kinder than necessary. Brother Blue always found something kind to say to everyone. Those who listened to him prospered under his kindness. Ruth is kind as well, in her quieter way but with no less meaning. I believe in kindness. No matter how bad your day, how rough your life, Blue would find a way to help you remember your basic goodness by being kind to you. I try to do that. We can all do it for each other. Kindness sometimes seems like a rare commodity, but we all are capable of being kind.
  4. Tell every time as if it's the most important performance of your life. Storytelling is always about more than just you. You never know who your story will move and why. So put your whole self into each telling, love the audience and the story. Brother Blue certainly did. You don't know who in your audience needed that story in that moment. Tell every single time as if it is the most important performance of your life. It might be the most important performance of someone else's.
  5. Don't go it alone. Brother Blue couldn't do what he did without Ruth's support. I couldn't do what I have done without the support of Brother Blue, Ruth, Kevin, my communities and family. The lonesome artist is a lie. Everyone needs support. So let's help each other. I run venues where new or experienced tellers can safely take risks. I coach people. I ask for help. You can too.
  6. Listening matters. I've written before about how important listening is in storytelling and in life. Brother Blue could listen the story out of a stone. His listening had an eloquence and interest that I've never seen anywhere else. Kevin came close. Doug Lipman does too. I try. When you hear a story, listen. When you are working on a piece, get someone to listen to you. 
  7. Be grateful. I am so grateful that I have had Brother Blue and Ruth in my life. I have been so very lucky. Blessed.
    Be grateful for the stories you hear. For those you tell. For the people you encounter. Each act of storytelling is a blessing. Brother Blue knew that. I do too. And so do you.
    We never know when something will end. We have so little control over the circumstances of our lives, only over what we do in response to them. Brother Blue grew up poor, went to war, to college, to the world. He changed so many people, influenced so many lives. He was grateful for the gifts he was given and shared them.
    All we can do is love one another. Be grateful and tell each other. Use our gifts in gratitude. And then begin another story. 
 Once upon a time ago, a nickel and a dime ago, there was a....

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer
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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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