Laura Packer on “The Telling Life: I Am the Wicked Queen, the Cursing Fairy”

11219390_10153734314100879_7028738415293992874_nMaking a living through the arts is a way to, among living your passion, bump right against whatever doubts and fears you have about what you’re doing, how you get to earn your livelihood (or not), and the whole shebang of living your calling. Thanks to Laura Packer for writing about something we don’t often talk about in her new blog post, “The Telling Life: I Am the Wicked Queen, the Cursing Fairy.” Laura writes,

I know I’m not the only storyteller artist human being to feel this way. The old stories tell me that, because there are so many characters who struggle with feeling left behind or worthless. But the old stories don’t offer me a roadmap of a way out of these feelings; they tell me only that acting on them is evil. I remind myself that I still have worth even if I feel petty things. I do my best to not stifle others as I was stifled. I work to remain generous with my time, my mentorship, my leadership, my talent. But some days it’s not easy and all I want is to have my mirror tell me that yes, I am still fair.

Read more here, and check out Laura’s life-giving blog to any of us in transformative language arts.

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Dramatherapy as a Lifeline in Transforming Trauma by Amy Oestreicher

Trauma affects every individual differently.   In the face of adversity, drama therapy makes healing possible for all, re-anchoring us in our soul’s dream.

For me, that dream was musical theatre.

Let me rephrase that. I grew up assuming my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.

I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.

Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…

…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!” (These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason. Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.

Amy Oestreicher, Gutless & GratefulMy one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.
With no formal diagnosis, roadmap, or reason to have hope at all, creativity became my lifeline and what allowed me to thrive. Devising theatre from within helped me find words for the loss, grief, and frustration I felt, and words led to gratitude.  To cope with not being able to eat or drink for years, I typed thousands of journal entries to to prove that I was still alive, kicking, and breathing – isolated from the entire world and from my entire former life, but still here, and still desperate to live some kind of substantial, meaningful life.

I called it my “world in a binder”.   My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!

I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.

My show dared to explore a very personal topic – what could have been a tragedy – in a comedic, yet poignant musical –  the culmination of years of struggling in the dark, and the spark in me that refused to die.  Although my circumstances were unexpected, a nuisance, difficult, hard to grapple with, and frustrating, by reenacting my story for others, I rewrote my own narrative.

We are instinctively creative beings.  Through the transformative power of dramatherapy, we gain adaptability and create a positive, empowered attitude toward obstacles, physical or mental struggles, hardships, and trauma.  Our vision is a world where “detours” in life are everyday blessings.

As we enter the new millennium, the world is faced with massive challenges as well as opportunities to solve them.  Communication is a very powerful tool. Words have the power to engage, to move ideas from the fuzzy margins to the focused center of our attention, and to inspire us to think in new ways. Theatre, arts, expressive communication, language, and learning can move us to the center of life’s stage.  Gutless & Grateful empowered me to move forward and spark a sense of rejuvenation, renewal, and hope from within.

When I started sharing my own story, I realized that I wasn’t alone.  Other people were struggling with what I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage people to start speaking up, and bring marginalized voices into the spotlight. I traveled to theatres, hospitals, classrooms, old friends and leaped at any opportunity to speak my truth and feel it resonate within my body, reintegrating the pre-coma and post-coma halves of myself, and reuniting them with aliveness. When I realized how combining theatre with powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too. Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day.  I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle.

Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. Theatre has re-anchored me in that passion. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.


If you want to see Gutless & Grateful, there are upcoming shows!
Boston, February 29
New York, March 11


Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking.  As the writer, director and star of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres across the country, earning rave reviews and accolades since it’s BroadwayWorld Award-nominated NYC debut.

As a visual artist, her works have been featured in esteemed galleries and solo exhibitions, and her mixed media  workshops emphasize creativity as an essential mindset.

Amy’s “beautiful detour” inspired her to create the #LoveMyDetour movement, a campaign inspiring people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges.  As the Eastern Regional Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award, Amy has spoken to hundreds of WOCN nurses on behalf of ostomates nationwide.  She is a regular lifestyle, wellness, and arts contributor for several notable online and print publications, and has written for over 50 online magazines and blogs.  on Her story has appeared on the TODAY Show, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, among others. 

Amy’s passion for the arts as a means of healing and expression led her to devise storytelling workshops for the Transformative Language Arts Network National Conference, the Eating Recovery Center Foundation, and The League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. 

Determined to bridge the gap of communication between wellness resources on college campuses and students, Amy is currently touring college campuses with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre.

More info at amyoes.com

Look Who Came Up the Beanstalk by Doug Lipman

When I saw her in the 6th grade classroom, I was surprised.

It was the first day after spring vacation. After eight weeks “in residence,” I thought I knew every child in the school. But there she was, an unfamiliar face in the third row.

I said, “Hi! I’m Doug. I’m the storyteller. What’s your name?”

No answer.

The boy in the right front desk said, “She doesn’t speak; she’s French.”

Calling on my two semesters of college French, I said to the new girl, “Bonjour! Je m’appelle Doug.”

Framed in her shoulder-length, dark hair, her face lit up. She returned the greeting in French.

I would have added the French words for “I’m the storyteller,” but I didn’t know them. True, I’d had two semesters of French—but they were both first-semester French. I could only make a few simple statements in the present tense.

My stomach sank. I had a new student who didn’t understand a word of English—and six storytelling sessions to go. But I had been hired by this well-to-do suburban school to use storytelling as a tool to teach the subject of diversity. I wasn’t going to shirk from the added challenge of telling to a more-diverse class.

That day, I told my story largely to the French student. I exaggerated my tone of voice and used as much body language as I could. I looked at her after each line of the story to see if she understood. When she did, she rewarded me with a golden smile. When she didn’t understand, her face showed her puzzlement—and I tried again with added pantomime for her along with a new set of words for the rest of the class. When all else failed, I tried to use a French word as an additional clue for her.

Telling to the One Who Doesn’t Understand

By the third session, I appreciated what an extraordinary listener she was. Her face was a perfect mirror for my story. Now I looked at her as much as possible while I told, not just for her, but for my pleasure in a supremely alert, encouraging listener.

In this session, I got stuck making her understand a crucial part of the story. Mime failed me, as did my minuscule French vocabulary. Then I had an idea. “Would someone look that word up for me in the French dictionary?”

Silence. The teacher’s look seemed to tell me of too many demands on her, of helplessness at being saddled with this disadvantaged student so late in the year, and of resentment that I should expect her to have a special dictionary for an inconvenient, late-entering student who didn’t even speak English.

The boy in the right front desk said, “We don’t have one.” I stopped in shock, feeling the enthusiasm drain out of my body.

I had been proud of this school, which had chosen storytelling as its art form for the year and diversity as its theme. But now a breathing piece of diversity had flown across the ocean and landed in this classroom, and the school couldn’t be bothered to have a French dictionary!

The next time I showed up to tell stories, the boy in the right front desk held up a French dictionary. “Look,” he said. “I got it from the library. But it’s hard to find the words fast enough.”

I said, “Thank you. You are a good friend.”

That day, I had prepared “Jack and the Bean Tree,” an Appalachian variant of the familiar English classic “Bean Stalk” folktale.

The telling went well. All the children were with Jack and me as we explored the world in the clouds. At the end, they applauded.

Then the French girl raised her hand.

Five Words That Changed Us All

I was so surprised to see her hand go up that I didn’t say a word. She had never initiated communication with me.

I called on her. Slowly, she said several words in French, the longest phrase she had so far tried out on me. I repeated what I heard. She said it again, correcting my mispronunciation.

I hadn’t understood any of it the first time. But having spoken it, I caught the first word, “Jacques,” and wrote it on the blackboard. Trying to involve the rest of the class in my decoding process, I said aloud, Like the song, ‘Frere Jacque.

As I said it, I recognized the last word, too. “Magique?” I asked. She nodded. This sounded like French for “magic.” I wrote “Magique” on the board.

What were the words in the middle? I said to her, “Jacques, hmmm-mm, hmmm-mm-mm, magique.” She repeated the whole phrase. It sounded to me like “et le” (“and the”) followed by an unfamiliar word that started with a “Z” sound. I wrote “et le Z” between the other two words.

She shook her head bemusedly and gestured toward the board. With my nodded permission, she went to the board, erased the “Z” and wrote “s H-a-r-i-c-o-t.”

At that moment, I thanked the stars for my interest in the folk musics of North America. One kind of music I had been drawn to was the French Louisiana style called Zydeco. Long ago, I had read that “Zydeco” was a misspelling of the first two words of an early song in that style, “Les Haricots (“The Beans...”)

Trying to hold the interest of the rest of the class, I pronounced the entire phrase aloud, “Jacque et les Haricots Magiques.”

Stories Sew Us Together

Immediately after understanding what I had just said, I spoke the English equivalent. My voice caught as I said, “Jack and the Magic Beans.” I just stood there, facing the board.

There was silence in the room behind me. It was that special silence that only falls when an entire group grasps something, all in the same instant. It took my breath away.

All at once, we understood that “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a story with a secret life in other worlds. We understood that the Appalachian “Bean Tree” shares something with people who didn’t seem to have any stories, with people in some place called France, who ‘don’t speak.

These people, we realized together, also fear for simple heroes facing terrible giants. They somehow have magic beans in their imaginations, just like we have in ours.

We understood, deep in our bellies, how stories are stitches that hold humanity together.

I don’t know if my other lessons that year had any effect. I don’t know if the other classes in that school ever made a connection between my folktales and their lives.

But that one day, in that one class, I know that—without any intention on my part—multiculturalism actually climbed the thick-trunked vine of story and emerged, dazed and breathless, into the far-away castle of our classroom.

The blog editor asked Doug about his work. He said,
In 1970, I was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. I had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, I found myself telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, I have pursued the power of storytelling.
Over the decades, I have coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. I am the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of my own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach” (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).
A professional storyteller since 1976, I have performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars.  My ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers and an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills.

Greetings from the New Blog Editor!

Dear TLA friends,

With the new year, I joined the TLA Network Council as the Blog Editor. Wait….Oh, my. Has it really been a month already? I kept telling myself I would make a proper introduction, and then … well, life would happen.

That’s the way it goes, isn’t it? We get so wrapped up in the work we do out in the world, and in expressing our passion and profession with language, that we forget to stop and collect our thoughts. So let me first say that I love the dedication of this community. Every post and question exudes a profound love and joy for language and its powerful role for humanity.

As for me, my name is Caleb Winebrenner, and I am a storyteller. I’m also a literature tCaleb Headshot 2013eacher, an adjunct professor, and an amateur mythologist — but at the end of the day, “storyteller” captures it all. I love a good, performed story the way a musician loves her instrument or a baker his breads. They are my spiritual sustenance, my intellectual joy, and — thankfully — increasingly how I earn my living in the world. I’ve come to see that many things I’ve explored in my life, whether academically, artistically, socially, or whichever, take storytelling as a lodestone. Stories give me my bearings, and point to a true north — to the best in human learning, growth, understanding, and wisdom.

That’s the orientation I hope to bring to my time stewarding the TLA Blog. No matter the particular art form, our words offer us maps of the world. The poet navigates her world with a unique grace, as does the musician, the actor, the writer, and the storyteller. I pledge to make this a fertile space for the growth and cross-pollination of our ideas and practices.

In many cultures, the traditional storyteller was on par with the shaman. The keeper of songs, stories, and poems had the power to guide, heal, and change the world. Let’s go do that.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, or write for the blog, write to blog (at) tlanetwork (dot) org.

Cheers,
Caleb Winebrenner
2016 Blog Editor

Watch “Hush in the Room,” Regi Carpenter’s Tedx Talk

Storyteller Regi Carpenter speaking at TEDxChemungRiver 2015 in Corning, New York talks about what she’s learned through work with sick and dying children and the power of our stories. Watch her Tedx Talk here.

Check out Regi’s upcoming class for the TLA Network — Living Out Loud: Healing Through Storytelling and Writing — here. This online class allows you to explore writing, storytelling and healing on your own time in a support community. Scroll down for a recent interview with Regi to learn more.

Living Out Loud: An Interview with Regi Carpenter

964428_472055702879249_308558429_oRegi Carpenter is soon to teach an online class for the TLA Network called “Living Out Loud: Healing Through Writing and Storytelling.” The class will take participants on a journey through writing and storytelling toward greater gifts in finding and keeping our true voices. Here’s a short interview Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg did with Regi about the class:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): What catalyzed you to design this online class? 

Regi Carpenter (RC)IMG_0946: I taught another online class for TLAN last year and absolutely loved it. IN fact, several of the people from that class have become friends and co-collaborators. So when the opportunity to do another class came around, I was eager to do it. This time I want to create a class that allows people to hear, speak and listen to the power of their inner voice and their speaking voice. As a storyteller I know how powerful the spoken word can be. I want to help other artists discover their power  when they give they give voice to their creativity.

CMG: What can participants expect in this class?

We can all expect to grow, to share, to experiment, to take risks and to learn how to witness other people’s creativity in a fun, stimulating and supportive environment.We can also expect to learn how to listen to and voice our creative works out loud.

CMG: How did you learn more about finding the courage to live out loud, and what does living out loud look like in your life?

RC: This is a good question. Although I have been a performer since my twenties I think I used performing as a way of shielding myself from true intimacy and sharing. I used it as a way to be LOUD!!! Over the last decade I have been focusing on removing the affectations of performing in order to truly share myself with my listeners or readers. I am most interested in being present, being aware and available to my creativity and to the creativity of others. Now the Living Out Loud means being willing to share and speak who I am and what I yearn and long for and celebrate out loud rather than hiding behind a piece of paper, a costume or a mask.

CMG: What do you see as the connection between personal courage and callings, and how we interface (or could interface) with our communities, justice, and larger social change?

RC: I believe living according to one’s convictions is a powerful and liberating place to experience life. When we have the courage to truly be ourselves and serve others through our work we can change our lives and the lives of others. I believe it also allows us to connect with others who are unlike ourselves and see compassionately into their lives and experiences. In this way, we set aside socially constructed barriers and create authentic communities and friendships and families that serve all rather than some.

CMG: How does someone find and keep the courage to live out loud?

RC: I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ book “Horton Hears a Who.” Cindy Lou Who shouts out, “I am here. I am here. I am here. I am here,” and ” A person’s a person no matter how small.”We get the courage to be ourselves one step, one word, one sentence, one choice, one moment at a time. Living out loud isn’t a faucet that suddenly spouts water powerful. It begins as a trickle that grow into a stream and finally a steady river with a course and a power all its own. We get courage by being ourselves and sharing that self with others no matter how weird, funny or painful that may be.

Regi Carpenter is an internationally known spoken word artist, author and educator. She has been performing her stories of small town life in northern New York for over twenty years. A featured teller at many festivals throughout the United States she conducts workshops and classes fro people of all ages who want to learn to write and tell stories from their own lives. Her book, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood will be published by Familius Publishing in Sept. 2016. Regi also teaches storytelling at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.

 

Imagine Yourself a Place of Unsurpassed Beauty: The Power of Words Conference on the Coast of Maine

img_13241-cropped-belownav-cropped-photoDeb Hensley and Martin Swinger, the dynamic duo co-chairing the Power of Words conference, Aug. 12-14 at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, share this invitation to our 13th annual conference. Read on, and register by Nov. 15 to catch the super early bird rate. Find out more and register here.

Imagine yourself a place. Imagine a chair on a wide porch next to a beach where you bask in the afternoon sun. Imagine a morning walk through a grove of sunlit trees. Imagine joining brilliant vocal improvisation sessions under a bright moon, filling yourself with poetry, storytelling around a campfire and choosing from 25 workshops on the transformative 3058162_origpower of the written, spoken and sung word.

Imagine a loving community of people, healthy, delicious food, good coffee, lots of music, time for reflection and an after dinner frolic in the surf. Imagine Ferry Beach on the coast of Maine at the Power of Words Conference, August 12-14, 2016.

I don’t know which excites me more, this fabulous conference we’re putting together or the amazing place where we are holding it. With world renowned Vocal Improv Artist and Activist, Rhiannon, Award 8117810_origwinning Poet and Author Seema Reza, Afrilacian Storyteller Lyn Ford and Quaker Minister, author and educator Callid Keefe-Perry as our keynoters, this conference promises to embody spontaneity, humor, comfort and joy. And what could be more a more gorgeous location to gather singers, poets, authors, activists, and a host of other transformative language artists than a coastal paradise only 20 minutes from the Portland International Jetport?

Ferry Beach is a retreat community with 900 feet of beachfront in Saco, Maine offering respite away from the everyday world. It is a collection of meeting spaces, wide porches, an art and pottery studio, an outdoor chapel, a performance space, many gathering places and a wonderful dining hall.2459481_orig

It is a place of unsurpassed beauty where you will experience the joy of community, challenge assumptions, celebrate, reimagine, and commit your own language artistry to nothing less than global transformation. It is a place for renewal and rejuvenation where a small but mighty group of all ages and races, for one glorious weekend in August of 2016, will lovingly and boldly explore the Power of Words. I’ll be there! You?

See more about Ferry Beach right here.

 

Along the Learning Edge: A Personal Journey

by Caleb Winebrenner

WordItOut-word-cloud-950849 Once a mentor of mine put forth a question “What is your learning edge?” By this, she meant the boundary line between all of our knowledge up until now, and our current experience in the moment. It’s the place where you are feeling the most discomfort, and hopefully, the most excitement about how you are growing and stretching beyond what you previously knew to be true. I find “the learning edge” a useful concept, intellectually. On a personal level, I find that learning edges are places of deep vulnerability.

A few months ago, I came face-to-face with a learning edge that I didn’t even know existed for me. A friend and fellow storyteller asked,”Why don’t you ever talk about your own wisdom journey?”

I tell wisdom stories. I love the parables, the folktales, the dilemma stories. I love what they teach us. Instead of lecturing about deep and profound human truths, I try to find the stories that demonstrate those truths, and demonstrate the power of the human mind and spirit to grow and overcome challenges. I do this, as my friend pointed out, while saying nothing of my own. Facing that incongruity has prompted learning and healing in new directions, and a profound reorientation with my work as a storyteller.

Integrity

Walking along this learning edge, I am discovering that the inner journey of the storyteller directly influences the storymaking. As a young teller, I have mostly concerned myself with questions of talent, ability, and technique. I’ve focused on developing a “style” or “voice” to my storytelling. But here, at the learning edge, I am not concerned with those questions. I am concerned with a deeper question of my own healing: in a word, integrity.

In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer writes that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” By this he means that the talents, abilities, and styles of teaching that most directly serve the strengths of a teacher are those rooted in his or her integrity as a person. Much like good teaching comes from the integrity of the teacher, good storytelling comes from the integrity of the storyteller. In being aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, I have discovered and learned from stories that speak more to my own experience and growth than to some abstract “truth.”

Love

There is a word for the stories that speak deeply to experience. They are the stories we love . M. Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Travelled , “I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I have adopted his definition, and applied it to stories. In other words, the stories we love, in the deepest way, are the ones that extend us out into the world or deep into ourselves, in order to nurture our own or another’s spiritual growth. As a part of my journey along the learning edge, I have parted ways with stories I like and respect, to give more room instead to the stories I love (such as the one I share below). If the stories I tell cannot nurture my own growth, then they are not authentically mine to tell. I have no heartfelt relationship with them. Given this, then stories I do not love certainly cannot nurture growth in others, which is why I began to tell wisdom stories in the first place.

Wisdom

M. Scott Peck also wrote that “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom.” The problem of not sharing my own wisdom journey is itself the place where my wisdom can be created at least if I let it. Looking deeply at my own life, and the painful, shadowy, and difficult facing of my problems, is the root of any sincere claim I can make to having wisdom.

In other words, the most profound shift in my storytelling has not come in choosing, “I will tell wisdom stories,” but rather in choosing, “I will pursue wisdom as a part of my life and healing.” Only when wisdom is in my life can it be in my stories. On my best days, the stories I tell are the most sublime expression of who I am. On my worst days (and any of the days in between), they serve, like a mindfulness bell, as reminders of who I hope to be.

This has meant facing moments where I feel I have no integrity, no love, and no  wisdom. For example, how can I tell a story of overcoming anger when it is such a frequent struggle? This is the story I tell, a Zen parable:

A samurai goes to a monastery and says, “I want to know about heaven and hell.” A monk, undisturbed in his meditation by the ferocious samurai, says “Such knowing requires discipline, friend.”

The samurai grows cross. “Of course I have discipline! I am a samurai!”

“Alright. Such knowing requires patience, my friend,” replies the monk.

“I am patient! I — I have waited for days to seize a castle or fight an opponent!”

“Alright. Such knowing requires integrity, my friend,” replies the monk.

“Integrity! I am a Samurai! A master of honor!” And he grows furious, even drawing his sword over his head.

The monks still sits calmly. He says, “See that feeling? That is hell.”

The samurai breathes, deeply, and puts his sword away. He breathes again, and smiles.

“See that feeling, friend? That… that is heaven.”

In this story, when I tell it, I am both the monk and the samurai not just in my miming, voices, or any of the other tools of technique but in my visceral, in-the-moment living of the story. I know from experience the heat of anger, and I know from practicing meditation the coolness of the monk’s calm.

In pursuing certain kinds of stories, my life has to live those themes for the story to be authentic. The monk and samurai story, at first, had something to teach me. I told it because I needed to experience that lesson for myself. Sharing that vulnerability with students and audiences gave me the resolve to know my anger better, and pursue the monk’s equanimity. It became a story I love, because it holds space for my learning edge.

Admittedly, I still have far to go in life before I master my darker places or lay any claim to “being wise.” But, stories like that one I can now tell from a place of empathetic awareness and experience. In the story, I honor my integrity, love, and wisdom. In honoring that in myself, I can then share all that, in abundance, with others.

Recommended reading

  • The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life , by Parker J.
    Palmer
  • The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual
    Growth

Caleb Headshot 2013Caleb Winebrenner is a storyteller and teaching artist based in Tempe, Arizona. His unique performances craft world folklore and wisdom tales into warm, engaging events. Trained as an actor, mime, and teacher, his performances and workshops draw out the natural warmth, intelligence, curiosity, and wisdom of all present. He especially loves the opportunity to engage with young people around the issues that matter to them, often through the lens of a parable or story. As Paulo Coelho once said, “The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gap where everything else has crumbled.” Find him on Facebook and Twitter @storytellrcaleb.

Tell Your Story on Intentional Radio

The-Courage-to-Change-300x99In 2006 my husband ended our seven-year partnership over the phone. From another country. We’d been living in Qatar, where I remained for another year, too flattened to move forward, but well aware I had to. For one thing, in that conservative Muslim country, dating is illegal. (Yes, even for the expats.) Yet moving on required a kind of courage I only got from other people, sharing their stories of moving past trauma. So I wrote a book, Hello American Lady Creature (Greenpoint Press, May 31, 2014), and started doing a radio show to help others — like you! — share their stories.
Every week I host “The Courage to Change with Lisa Kirchner,” a half-hour show broadcast on Intention Radio that harnesses the power of storytelling to help people find the courage to keep moving on. I’ve had guests ranging from Tosha Silver (author of Outrageous Openness) to Ophira Eisenberg (author of Screw Everyone and NPR host), to regular “average” folks, all sharing their stories to inspire listeners, help make the load a little lighter.
Have you got a personal story you’d like to share?
You’re here because you tell stories. I’d love to feature you as a guest. It’s a fact: storytellers make the best guests! To see if we have a fit, I need your 100-word or less bio, and three sentence outline of your transformation story. What you were like before, what happened, and what you are like now. Specifics are better than observations. “I hated everyone at work, now I love them,” I get. But, “I was called into HR to be fired. I started long distance running and learned how to put my obsessive energies into other things. Now I run the team.” is better! Email me at info@lisalkirchner.com, use the subject line “Courage to Change Interview Pitch.”
During the half-hour, you’ll get a five-minute block to tell your story. I’ll also need a pic before we schedule our interview. The show is pre-recorded “live” over Skype, no takes! But also, audio only. No fuss with hair and makeup.
I ask guests to participate in a live Twitter chat after the show airs to engage audiences in their story.

“The Courage to Change with Lisa Kirchner” is a weekly half-hour show,  When you schedule I’ll need the short bio (one paragraph) you’d like me to read and use for promo, an ebook version of your book, and your picture. In the 1/2 hour you get a 5-minute block to read something you’ve written that’s tied to your story. I’ll need that, too.

We “pre-record live” (no takes) over Skype voice.

I can’t wait to hear your story, so email me already!
~ Lisa L. Kirchner
t: @lisakirchner