Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our storytelling nature

bottleOften, when you ask someone for a story, they will insist they have no stories to tell.  But if you tell them a story -- and it can pretty much be of just about anything, you will almost as often get an interesting "that reminds me of ..." story in response. Seriously, it's like uncorking a bottle. 

This evening, I sat with a group of young women as they shifted from “I can’t think of a single thing to share” to “Well, there was this time …”

I have always enjoyed observing this.  But sometimes I forget just how much I enjoy being part of it.  There is something compelling about listening stories out of a person, and even better, helping that person reconnect to their innate storytelling nature in the process.




Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Forget to delight your future self

Hone your natural talent for forgetting things and put it to good use.

I don't know about you, but my memory is sometimes a little flaky.  Instead of lamenting over my inability to remember things, I usually make ready use of tools (e.g. a notebook, my PDA, a friend's memory) to make up for this fact.  But not always.  Sometimes I actually set my PDA aside and make a point of forgetting.

stored_jacket_tilt The first cold day of my second winter at college, I found a $20 bill in my winter coat!  Obviously I hadn’t done a good job at checking my pockets before storing away my cold-weather wear the previous spring.  But that didn’t matter – the extra cash in my coat was an unexpected treat.  I thought it was the coolest thing.

Winter ended and this time, when I was setting aside my winter clothes for storage, I remembered to empty all my pockets.  However, before I placed my coat into its storage bin, an idea hit me -- I pulled out my wallet, fished out a $20 bill, and tucked it into one of the pockets.  I assumed that, even though I would know to expect it, the $20 would still be a treat come winter.

Although it wasn’t intentional, I actually managed to forget that I did this.  Which means that on the first cold day of my third winter at college, I was surprised when I found a $20 bill in my winter coat!  Of course, finding the $20 jogged my memory but I was delighted nonetheless.

When you’re feeling especially good, write yourself a letter.  Aim to delight yourself, or bring yourself a little cheer.  Address it, stamp it, and hand it to someone reliable who can mail it to you in a month, or a year, or a couple of years.

Is there a poem you especially like?  Make a copy of it and place it into a book or nook that you access once in a blue moon. 

Order flowers for yourself, months and months in advance.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to forget. 


Monday, October 26, 2009

Story Slam Tonight @ Kennedy's Midtown in Boston

WooTaingandNorahDooley7If you've ever heard me in conversation, you know that I obviously don't mind repeating myself.  So here goes: Tonight is MASSMOUTH's first story slam.

Click here to read what I previously wrote about the then upcoming story slam.  Let your eyes track downward to read a few logistics about the now imminent story slam.  (And make sure to check in in the future to read what I will write about how awesome it all was.)

The story slam is taking place at Kennedy’s Midtown in Boston.  This means “bring your ID”.  There is a $5 cover (1 drink minimum) and there is a discount for students.  This also means “bring your ID”.

Doors will open by 6:30pm.  Stories should start by 7pm!

StoryQuote1The address

42 Province St
Boston, MA
Getting there via public transportation
Kennedy's Midtown is easily accessible via public transportation.  Take the Red Line to the Park Street T stop, and walk a couple of blocks:
  1. Head northeast on Tremont St for 413 ft. 
    (northeast = standing on Tremont St with the park on your left)
  2. Take a right onto Bromfield St and walk 322 ft.
  3. Turn left at Province St for about 70 ftKennedy’s Midtown will be on your right.
StoryQuote2Notes about parking
You may be able to find on-street parking after 5 or 6PM, though you should pay careful attention to when the meters stop running.
There are a number of parking garages near by, including:
Pi Alley Parking @ 275 Washington St
Laz Parking @ 45 Province St (Valet Parking only)
33 Arch Street Garage @ 33 Arch St

StoryQuote3 Stories told this evening will be based on the theme "scared to death".  Anyone can put their name in the hat, but only 10 tellers will be selected at random to tell their story.  Judgers will judge and winners will win according to the following criteria:
  • Telling -- How well was the story told?
  • Construction --How well was the story constructed?
  • Time limit -- How well did the storyteller honor the time limit?
  • Theme -- How well did the story relate to the theme?

Prizes will be awarded to the 3 highest-scoring tellers.  They will also be given the opportunity to perform at the "the big mouthoff" for which I hear the grand prize could knock even your boots off your feet.

It should be a great time.  If you find me there and make reference to this blog post, I promise to introduce you to real, live, professional storyteller! 

I hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's the fuss all about?

gas_pumps Sometime back I overheard a woman asking her friend what the big deal was about the rising price of gas.  "It's constantly in the news", she complained.  "But it doesn't impact me at all."

I couldn't hear her friend's response, but my guess is that she looked dubious.  The woman went on to explain her secret.

"I don't fill up.

Whenever I go the pump, I buy $20 worth of gas.  That's how much I spent at the pump before the price increases, and that's how much I'm spending now.

It's simple."

I was able to stick around only long enough to hear her comment on the lack of common sense these days.  Due to her friend’s soft-spoken nature, or shyness developed from the realization that a stranger was eavesdropping, I’ll never know what was said in response.

Part of me feels guilty that I didn’t interrupt the conversation with a back of the napkin algebraic formula.  After all, it’s not difficult to demonstrate that at a fixed total cost, the number of gallons purchased goes down when the price per gallon goes up.  But then again, how do you go about doing such a thing without coming across like a total jerk?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday fiction

Halloween was her favorite holiday.

When she was a kid, her costumes revolved around veils. If her parents had ever complimented her, they might have bragged about how creative she was this time of year. From “mysterious gypsy”, to “magical genie”, to “beautiful, but very, very shy bride” she was never at a loss for ideas. By their execution, you could see she took this holiday seriously – the seams were perfect and the accessories so credible, it was hard to believe you were looking at someone’s Halloween get up.

She loved trick-or-treating. Where other children looked forward to the candy that would be tossed into their plastic jack-o-lanterns or orange pillow cases, she eagerly anticipated something else entirely.

“Oh, don’t you look beautiful”

“What a darling little girl”

“Well, aren’t you precious?”

It was a delight when the stranger at the door was so impressed that they would invite other admirers to join them on the front porch. “Grandma, come out here”, they would call out.  “You have to see this!”

She collected these compliments, tucking them into the vast recesses of her psyche.  On rare occasions, she would pull one out and allow it to bolster her ego for a moment or two.  More commonly, these little remarks of praise would jump out on their own, defending her against especially nasty insults.

If she was lucky, she had enough to last her the whole year.

Her needs changed as the years went by, and Halloween followed suit.   The veil was set aside and she no longer focused on “pretty”.  Instead, the ideas she brought to fruition balanced somewhere between kind of gruesome and interestingly weird. 

Meticulous as ever, she spent weeks making sure every detail was executed with precision.  More importantly, she scoured bulletin boards and social networking sites to find a Halloween party she could crash.  For her evening to go as planned, it was important that no one would recognize her.

The butterflies in her stomach would have been unbearable when readying herself to crash a complete stranger’s party had she not been completely confident in her costume.  Looking in the mirror before such an event usually calmed her.  After some moisturizer and lip gloss, she was ready to greet whatever this Halloween had to offer.

She had learned to not knock.  Walking in unannounced gave her a chance to examine the layout of the place.  Was there a low-lit, unoccupied loveseat somewhere? 

Once she found her seat, she made herself known somehow.  After a slightly too-loud laugh, or a quick compliment to someone else’s attempt at dressing up, all she had to do was wait.

“Where did you get that?”

“Wow!  That costume is something else!”

How did you ever think that up?”

After the initial barrage of compliments there was a bit more waiting to be done.  And then.  Sure enough. 

“Mind if I sit down?”

The conversation was always such a treat.  She was well read and interesting, but other times of year people didn’t seem to notice.  The butterflies would often return at this point, but they were of an entirely different sort.  Anticipation.  She knew she could count on curiosity. 

“How did you get the makeup so perfect?”

Much like someone expecting a goodnight kiss, she closed her eyes as her couch companion’s hand reached toward her face.  The warmth of him soaked into her and she hoped he could feel how soft her skin was.

She knew what to expect upon opening her eyes.  His expression would change – moving somewhere from curiosity to understanding.  And then to pity.

Sometimes the conversation had been gripping enough that they were both held in place for the rest of the evening.  In fact, some of her closest friends had been made on Halloween.  Other times she was just as eager as her sofa-mate to make an excuse and get up.

Regardless of how the evening turned, she would leave the party with her virtual plastic jack-o-lantern full.  That look – the one of understanding – was always exactly enough to carry her through to the next Halloween.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bringing your context to a job interview

When folks are stressed about the job market, putting themselves out there in a way that might “turn off”  a potential employer is probably the last thing they would want to consider.

I maintain that if there is something about one’s context that does not jive with a job opening, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later.  “But I’m desperate” or “I'll take anything” are not good excuses for hiding behind what you think an interviewer wants to hear.  Instead, your situation should guide how much context you bring to the table.

Think about it in terms of dating.  If you meet someone that seems absolutely perfect at first meeting, there is probably no need to immediately share that you snore, sometimes have bad breath, or want to settle down RIGHT NOW.  But there may be things you should ask or put out there to make sure going on a few dates would even make sense.  Do you have any interests in common?  Are there any fundamental deal breakers that would make a long term relationship impossible?

Wasting your time with the wrong person could keep you from finding someone who is actually a good match.  Worse, it can leave you with some serious emotional baggage that you’ll have to carry around from that point on.

Similarly, walking into a wrong job can keep you from being available to find a job for which you are well suited.  And, depending on how things turn out, it can lead to a blemish on your career history that could make you less hirable in the future.

At an interview a number of years ago, I was asked:

Are you a hard worker?

The question surprised me.  (During interview training this sort of closed, non behavior based question would have been graded poorly.)  I asked him to clarify and he augmented it with, “You know – are you willing to work extra hours?  Are you willing to do what needs to be done to get a job done?

Trying my best to answer the question accurately without sounding like a jerk, I came up with the following answer:

It depends.

Uh oh.  The look on the interviewers face let me know I was far from being in the clear.  I opted to share some of my context:

If the people I work with do their best to put together sane schedules and estimates, then my answer is yes.  If something unexpected comes up, I will do what I need to see my projects to completion.

However, if my quality of life is consistently ignored when plans are prepared, then the answer is no.”

The pause was about 8 months pregnant.  To my relief, it was followed with:

That was a good answer.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Oooh, Scary!

Ever since an unfortunate incident involving an airborne popcorn bucket and a startling scene at a movie theatre, Christian makes a point of accompanying me to events where I am likely to get spooked.  This would be romantic if he were there for moral support or to calm my nerves.  Instead, he actually sticks around for the show -- waiting for me to cringe, recoil, yelp, or whatever other embarrassing thing Ms. Scaredy-Pants does when faced with anything surprising.

BarrettsHalloween 094We went to a haunted house with some friends this Saturday.  It was very well done – there were plenty of unexpected twists, creepy characters, and shocking lurches.  Even though I knew all the ghouls, witches, and other creatures I would come across would either be actors or mannequins I could not shake the feeling of apprehension as we made our way through the halls.  And, even though I knew to expect the actors to jump at me when I least expected it, I could not help but freak out a little each time it happened.  It was great!

I’m not sure why Christian was surprised, but I shrieked with laughter throughout the experience.  I’ve always assumed that laughing in response to anxiety or fear was normal since my family, with the exception of my father,  respond the same way.  (e.g. During a recent visit to Six Flags with one of my sisters, on any ride where others were compelled to scream, we laughed hysterically.)

To pack a little more Halloween-oriented action into the weekend, I tried my hand at following an on-line tutorial for creating a cute furry vector monster on Chris Spooner's blog.  The purple creature on the left is his example and the blue creature on the right is my rendition. 

My output after taking the tutorial

Chris uses Illustrator which has a few features that my software, Paint Shop Pro is lacking.  I was able to work around this, but my monster is not a vector like his is as a result.  (I like him anyway.)

Based on this walk-through, I would highly recommend Chris’s tutorials.  They are well put-together, easy to follow, and teach you some pretty cool stuff.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

The stories we tell ourselves

Beautiful Weeds 3I ran across an article in Psychology Today while waiting for a friend at the Medfield Public Library last weekend.  In it, author Michael Yapko discusses the social aspects of depression and alleges there are a number of factors that weigh in to the issue much more heavily than genetics.

The article was interesting – I highly recommend it.  One piece in particular hasn’t let go of my attention.

Yapko refers to one of the factors he discusses as one’s “explanatory style” and defines it as “the meaning we attach to life experiences”.   When explaining how a parent’s explanatory style can influence a child’s, he uses the following example to make his point:

"Why didn't Uncle Bob come to the picnic, Mom?" There's a world of difference between "He must be mad at me" and " I don't know, the next time we talk to Uncle Bob let's ask him."

In May, I wrote about the stories we tell ourselves in response to events for which we may never know the outcome.  Perhaps this is an aspect of explanatory style?  If this is the case, then we should probably pay more attention to the stories we tell ourselves about what has happened to us in the past and what is currently taking place.

The first story I ever told as a storyteller was titled “Beauty and the Bell Pepper”.   This story is about a time I was accidentally forced to revisit two things that were true for me as a kid only to discover they were no longer true for me as an adult.  It's obvious when you've outgrown a pair of shoes you wear every day - when you try them on one morning, they won't fit. But how can you tell if you've outgrown a belief or preference, especially if it's one you haven't tried on in a while?

If you haven’t ever done so:

  • Re-watch a movie you thought was horrendously scary as a kid
  • Sit in a grade-school desk
  • Eat a meal that would have made your childhood self turn green

And then sit with a few of the stories you tell yourself about your childhood to see if any of them have changed as a result of your empathetic, adult attention.

I carpooled with Andrea the other day on our way to a storytelling performance.  We took a wrong turn at some point, which altered our route.  Later, when we came across something cool on the road, Andrea sung praise: “We would have missed out if we hadn’t made the wrong turn.” 

A ski instructor once told me to look in the direction I wanted to be moving as my body would naturally follow.  Although I don’t know if this is true, as I never quite mastered the art of skiing, I’ll instruct you to do the same when bringing your adult sensibilities to stories about your present:  Look toward something positive.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Storytelling opportunity -- Story Slam!

imageMassMouth is hosting its first story slam on Monday, October 26th! 

Just in case you need a cue, this is EXCITING;  You should very much want to participate. 

If you’re too scared to tell, then you’re in luck: this month’s theme is “scared to death”.  (Telling is not a requirement.)  If you’re interested, you can join a judging team!  All are welcome to listen.


What is a story slam?  A story slam is a contest.  Known and undiscovered talent sign up to tell stories that will be scored by a panel of judges.  Highest score = winner.

How will this story slam work?  On the night of the slam, folks will sign up to tell a 5-minute short story on the designated theme.  The theme for October 26th is "Scared to Death”. 

Each story will be will be scored based on how well it is constructed, honors the time limit, and relates to the designated theme.

On top of applause and recognition, winners will be awarded prizes!

Here is some additional information directly from the MassMouth website:

5 minutes - 5 minutes means...5 minutes. You loose points if you use the 60 second grace period to wind up.

Real stories? - Real stories have a beginning, middle and end. And they have a point. You are clear about why the story is important to you and why you want to tell it. Retelling any folktale, myth or fable is fine. No retelling of literary works ( copyright laws apply and this it is storytelling NOT recitation). No poetry unless the poem is original, is 5 minutes long and tells a story .

Presentation - Your story presentation is important. It tells us why and how we should listen to you. Your voice and body are instruments of your art. You use voice, gesture and movement to the best of your ability in the service of your story.

Theme - Your story, not just the title or "punch line"connects in any meaningful way to the theme. This is wide open and helps you focus at the same time

Practice - - You have to practice. One tip is memorizing the beginning and the ending words of your story by heart. It helps with confidence and focus. Practicing before a mirror, into a recorder, in the car when alone, in your head before you go to sleep or before you get out of bed - all help. Do at least some of these MANY times. You will be glad you did.

Funny, Sad, Genuine - Funny is good, sad is real but all must be genuinely in service to the story. That is what makes yours a story worth listening to and sets it apart from rants, stand up and what you tell your therapist or best friend.

Please make a point of attending if you can.  For those of you who are interested in participating but are nervous – feel free to contact me via email (my email address is on the right hand side of this website) or by commenting on this post.  I will happily answer any questions you might have and encourage you to join in on the fun.

Feeling a little Blue

Blue_and_Ruth Listening_1 Listening_2 Listening_3

Last night, for the first time since June, the storytelling community got Blue.  Brother Blue and Ruth’s example and encouragement have no doubt coaxed story after story out into the world.

Seeing them reminded me -- they are here and still ready and able to listen.  To not tell is disrespectful to this gift, one that I know I should not take for granted.  I will hold onto it with both hands, like a good friend.

Which reminds me – does anyone have a venue they would like to offer?  :)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Singing for one's supper

Okay, I wasn’t actually singing.  And it wasn’t exactly for my supper.  But I did tell some stories in exchange for a wonderful afternoon with Andrea and Christian, a bag of donuts, a peck of apples, and some cider.

Due to the nature of the venue, the audience was a bit more transient than I am used to.  I have a feeling this will come up more and more as MassMouth builds momentum.

I told modified versions of Wren and Strangers in the Living Room and was relieved that I didn’t feel stuck to the page as a result of having recently written snapshots of these two stories.  I’m not sure I would have been able to remove the blindfold I refer to in “tell the whole elephant” if I hadn’t played with both stories ahead of time. 

I also told another of my favorites, The Very Foolish Man.  I was pretty sure I told a fourth story, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.

It was an absolute treat for me to see Christian tell, and Andrea delighted me with her energy and enthusiasm.  If you missed us this week, make sure to get your tush over to Shelburne Farm next week for a chance to hear Doria Hughes, Kevin Brooks, Laura Packer, Nicolette Heavey, and Cindy Rivka Marshall.
MassMouth3 ApplesShelburne Farm
October 12th, 1-3pm
Location: Shelburne Farm, Stow MA
Address: 106 West Acton Road
City, State: Stow, MA
Phone: (978) 897-9287

MassMouth has a mission to build audiences for storytelling by helping the general public get what storytelling is.  Through exposure.  Where they may or may not expect it. 

There are some exciting developments on this front.  Keep your eyes and ears open (especially your ears) to learn what they are.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Welcome to October...

October September just flew right by.  

Posting every day was an interesting challenge.  I struggled more with sticking to a given day’s theme than with sitting myself down to write.  That’s progress, I think.

This month, my goal is to write at least 3 times per week, with Thursday acting as my anchor.  In other words, no matter what happens during any 7 day period, you will be guaranteed to find something new to read every Friday morning. 

I have come up with three general themes – not so much to constrain myself, but to let you know what’s coming.

  1. Right brain.  Stories, my thoughts/experience/feelings/findings about storytelling, research or the story or stories behind a story...
  2. Left brain.  Thoughts/recommendations/experience about productivity, personal finance, project management …
  3. Whole brain.  Sharing, something positive, personal philosophy, exercises in perspective, positive ranting …

Questions?  Thoughts? Suggestions?


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