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There Be Magic In Those Red Rocks

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Sedona is a mag­i­cal place. Its breath­tak­ing beauty and artis­tic expres­sion are evi­dent at every turn. On Sep­tem­ber 20, I attended the Celtic Har­vest Fes­ti­val as a sto­ry­teller — my first out­ing as a teller that didn’t involve a class­room, school activ­ity or assign­ment. The fes­ti­val was filled with Celtic fun: from bag­pipes to Irish danc­ing, singing, red-haired lasses dressed in green, and of course, sto­ry­telling. It was a mag­i­cal.
One of my favorite pas­times is to observe peo­ple. I find them end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing and I learn about them; not only by lis­ten­ing to their words, but in watch­ing their expres­sions and body lan­guage. Shar­ing with tal­ented sto­ry­tellers helps me to dis­cover where I belong as a teller, and reaf­firms that I have cho­sen the right avo­ca­tion. I watched peo­ple walk by who stopped for a moment to see what was hap­pen­ing — and then were drawn to a seat as the words of story took them to places unknown. I watched faces light up with delight, or look con­fused with a wrin­kled brow. I saw young chil­dren cling­ing to par­ents as a story fright­ened them; then the grin of relief at a happy end­ing. Magic was hap­pen­ing. It hap­pened because sto­ries trans­port peo­ple to won­drous places that ignite imag­i­na­tion and inspire a sense of com­mu­nity with lis­ten­ers and tellers.
The most delight­ful expe­ri­ence was observ­ing my peers. I saw trans­for­ma­tion take place before my eyes as the the power of the story, the audi­ence and excel­lent telling became won­drous to behold. I saw my friends “taken” by story as never before. They came alive with the words and the visual pic­tures they painted, and the delighted response let them know what they had done was mag­i­cal. I rev­eled in their suc­cess as they were trans­ported to the worlds they cre­ated. Their suc­cess inspired my own telling. I was eager to share as I too, get lost in story — allow­ing it to take me to dif­fer­ent places and times. I sense the lis­ten­ers jour­ney­ing with me, and their energy fuels my own. It leaves me crav­ing more — more sto­ries, more telling, and more com­mu­nion with magic.


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Put the devices away — share your stories. Make up new ones. Communicate.

When words become too remote from the liv­ing voice, we risk los­ing a sense of our voice’s value.” Yashinsky

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Show No Fear — The Substitute Teacher

James Van Praugh once said, “If you want to do good in your life, do good in your life. The energy you cre­ate is the energy that the uni­verse returns to you.”

Energy … a class­room is always burst­ing with energy. The big ques­tion is, “What will that energy do to me, the teacher? Will it inspire, ter­rify, or con­sume me?” The key to energy is to attempt to har­ness it for good, but beware — energy often is as unpre­dictable as the teenagers in the room!

My #1 rule for step­ping into a class­room — espe­cially now that I am a sub­sti­tute: SHOW NO FEAR! Teenagers can smell fear. It cre­ates a nat­ural “high” in the ado­les­cent brain. This “high” trans­lates into POWER. Power can be a good thing — unless it is in the hands of the inmates. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that the adult must main­tain the power in the class­room. One must learn to ignore the sweaty palms, shak­ing knees and swirling stom­ach. 35 pairs of eyes can strike ter­ror into the heart of the bravest of men — but a middle-aged woman wear­ing a pony tail can cause those eyes to look sheep­ishly at the floor, if the power is cor­rectly applied.

My secret? Keep them off bal­ance. Keep them con­fused. Keep them won­der­ing what will come next. “Is she for real?” they often say. That’s a good thing — it means they are more inter­ested in what I am going to do than in try­ing to destroy me in the first five min­utes of class. When in doubt — fake it. “Good morn­ing, Happy Fri­day (or what­ever). It’s your lucky day because I am your sub. I get to tor­ture you today. Oh goody, this will be fun!” Eyes will roll, that’s guar­an­teed, but they’ll also be caught off guard, and they may be a lit­tle scared. Bwa­ha­ha­ha­ha­haha — POWER!

OK — I am not sadis­tic or cruel — I love what I do and I have a good time 99% of the time. The point is to be gen­uine — even when trick­ing them into think­ing you are big and bad and a lit­tle bit of a crazed nerd. Once they see that I am “for real” we get along. And we learn. And we have fun. If you are not gen­uine — all of the “big bad­ness” in the world won’t work. Just like the smell of fear, kids can spot a phony a mile away! One must be real in their weird­ness and in the sense of fun. If you can’t believ­ably shout, “Come on down” from the class­room door after the bell — then don’t do it! Seri­ously — you may be trau­ma­tized for­ever if the kids dis­cover that you are a fake — and it’s even worse if you are a fake who is scared to death.

I can do this” should become your mantra — and it will serve you well. Good luck, sub­sti­tute teacher-to-be; have a great day. Oh, and remem­ber — you are doing this because you love kids and you love to learn and to teach. If you don’t, then run … very fast and very far. Don’t look back.


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Weird is good!

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Haiku for the day!

The Sto­ry­teller
Shar­ing trea­sures from the past
Rip­ples in the magic realm
Giv­ing voice to life


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It’s all about the story: reflections on the art of storytelling

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Power and Value of Storytelling

Sto­ry­telling … the power that cre­ates syn­ergy; the magic that hap­pens when story, teller and audi­ence ignite with pos­si­bil­i­ties that are end­less; when all are engulfed in imagery, senses, and emo­tions. I have for years, known this power with dance. It is very sim­i­lar, espe­cially in that it is a tem­po­ral art form. Even a great video­g­ra­pher can not cap­ture the magic that hap­pens when one is liv­ing it, breath­ing with the visual and musi­cal images, and feed­ing off the energy, equally shared by the audi­ence and the performer/s. Sto­ry­telling, to me, is aural/oral dancing.

The expe­ri­ence of being in the moment is beyond words. Like many dancers, I have often been uncom­fort­able express­ing myself orally, espe­cially as a per­former. Learn­ing to be a sto­ry­teller, has made me real­ize that I have been paint­ing pic­tures for my stu­dents for years. It has been the key to my suc­cess as a teacher, but I wasn’t even aware of why or how it worked. I have been telling sto­ries with my body through ges­ture and expres­sion, and the words I have care­fully cho­sen. I often worked with begin­ning chore­o­g­ra­phers … teach­ing them the tools of craft­ing. Advanced stu­dents, have enough of a move­ment vocab­u­lary to cre­ate an entire dance based on cir­cles or diag­o­nal lines. Begin­ning stu­dents, who are just learn­ing to express them­selves through move­ment, are often more inspired if they can dance a story. I can’t tell you how many rit­ual sac­ri­fices to the Vol­cano God I have seen over the years, or Quincean­eras staged in a dance stu­dio. But each expe­ri­ence, has been a work of cre­ativ­ity and excite­ment for the stu­dents. Often, they wrote their own sto­ries, but at times I assigned them research projects. Native Amer­i­can Leg­ends was one … it pro­duced amaz­ing, orig­i­nal move­ment as the kids inter­preted the sto­ries. Black His­tory Month was another. These projects were filled with emo­tions and pas­sions. All inspir­ing to watch … all would have been just as inspir­ing to hear.

Every­body loves a good story. Now, how­ever, I appre­ci­ate the value that goes way beyond the enter­tain­ment ele­ment. I can “see”, “feel”, and hear the his­tory of a peo­ple, a fam­ily expe­ri­ence or a moment in time. Whether the mes­sage be rooted in ancient his­to­ries, or an event that took place last year, last week … a story, well told, is invalu­able to help­ing the lis­ten­ers con­nect to the human­ity that we all share.

Lis­ten­ing to my class­mates share their sto­ries, has given me a con­nec­tion to each of them, that I would have missed if we were in a math class. It is unfor­tu­nate, that we don’t inter­act more, in all edu­ca­tional set­tings. I think we learn and absorb so much more mate­r­ial when we find con­nec­tions … how the sub­ject is rel­e­vant to real life, how the peo­ple learn­ing can use a skill, ben­e­fit from the knowl­edge, etc. I cer­tainly know, that when work­ing with teens, a teacher who can make a sub­ject rel­e­vant to life and the future, is a teacher who has found the key to suc­cess. Again … I am aware now that I use sto­ry­telling all the time. If I have to talk about his­tory, I try to learn enough of a real life hap­pen­ing, to make it real to the stu­dents. I often ask them to “imag­ine if, then what” and it brings about lively dis­cus­sion. There is noth­ing more telling, as far as stu­dent engage­ment goes, when a room full of teenagers erupts into a hand wav­ing,” pick me” scene. Sto­ries do this … magic.

Folktale/Myth/Legend/Parable/Fable

Folk­tales and fairy­tales are the most rec­og­nized sto­ries and are found in all cul­tures. One of my favorite lines in Chap­ter 3 of the text is, “Your mind will rec­og­nize it as will your heart.” Folk­tales serve as the foun­da­tion of sto­ry­telling tra­di­tion. The sto­ries reveal truths about human con­di­tions: humor, fear, romance, excite­ment, dan­ger, a les­son learned. They often involve talk­ing ani­mals, talk­ing trees … a delight for the imag­i­na­tion, speak­ing to the child in all of us. I was thrilled to dis­cover that dif­fer­ent cul­tures had sim­i­lar sto­ries, such as the “Beauty and the Beast” theme. How fun it is to read the var­ied adap­ta­tions and to real­ize that the lessons are the same.

Myths are sto­ries that reveal the reli­gious and cul­tural val­ues of a peo­ple. They often tell about “the begin­nings” … the gods and god­desses, how the world was made, the first peo­ple, ani­mals and events. They fol­low a time­line, from cre­ation through destruc­tion. Mythic sto­ries are based on what at some time may have been per­ceived truth, or a metaphor for beliefs. Research into mythol­ogy may reveal humor­ous char­ac­ters as well as heroic; gods who inter­fere in the lives of humans and crea­tures of great wis­dom. Myths are often sacred, so the teller has a respon­si­bil­ity to honor the tra­di­tion, the cul­ture and the peo­ple who are going to be revealed in the telling. The sto­ries are a won­der­ful vehi­cle to expe­ri­ence all of human emo­tion and to under­stand­ing the human­ity of all.

Leg­ends are sto­ries about peo­ple who exist or may have existed long ago. These sto­ries also pro­vide insight to the peo­ple or cul­ture that is revealed through the leg­end. Char­ac­ters become “big­ger than life” in many cases, as the sto­ries are shared from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. The leg­end may revolve around impor­tant reli­gious fig­ures, great lead­ers and cul­tural fig­ures. They are evolv­ing even today, as the pop­u­lar cul­ture expands and new heroes are rec­og­nized. Hero sto­ries are pow­er­ful in that they reveal a pat­tern that is rec­og­niz­able to all … a jour­ney, a life chang­ing series of events and a les­son learned and shared.

Para­bles are short sto­ries with a moral or spir­i­tual mes­sage. Fables are short folk­tales. All of the story styles are rec­og­niz­able … often, dur­ing a telling, I found myself think­ing, “I know this story!” It may sound a bit dif­fer­ent, but the point is the same. I think this is the thrill of hear­ing such sto­ries … they speak to us. We may add our own twist to the telling or the lis­ten­ing, tak­ing in the mes­sage and enjoy­ing the famil­iar­ity. It is a sat­is­fy­ing, life affirm­ing experience.

Fact-Based and Per­sonal Stories

Fact-based and per­sonal sto­ries are based on real life events and peo­ple. They reveal events that really hap­pened, how the char­ac­ters responded to the sit­u­a­tions and what the out­comes were. These are sto­ries that must be care­fully cho­sen and shaped. Unlike a myth or leg­end, which has a very rec­og­niz­able pat­tern or sequence of events, a fact-based story is com­pletely crafted by the teller. There is a great respon­si­bil­ity to use the truth to tell a story that teaches, moti­vates, inspires … or to move the audi­ence in some way — emo­tion­ally, intel­lec­tu­ally or spir­i­tu­ally. These sto­ries may require per­mis­sions to tell, espe­cially if you are going to reveal facts about some­one who is liv­ing today, be it a fam­ily mem­ber or other char­ac­ter, cour­tesy dic­tates that one has per­mis­sion to tell. It is the eth­i­cal way to go. This type of story may require a lot of research in order to tell the story as it truly hap­pened, and to honor the peo­ple about whom you are speak­ing. A fact based story can enter­tain as well.

I men­tioned above that fact based sto­ries, like all sto­ries pro­vide incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties to teach rel­e­vance in edu­ca­tional set­tings. When stu­dents con­nect to the human con­di­tion … in his­tory classes, or lit­er­a­ture classes, for exam­ple, the stu­dent will relate to and retain the infor­ma­tion. Learn­ing dry facts about the holo­caust or the bat­tle at Get­tys­burg, can be bor­ing. Adding a real life char­ac­ter … be it hero or vil­lain, can bring knowl­edge to life, and has the power to change the learn­ing envi­ron­ment to one that truly inspires and pro­vides intel­lec­tual and emo­tional growth.

I chose my fact based story from a prompt, “mem­o­rable firsts.” It was a light humor story about a child­hood event. I wrote about it a year ago in a cre­ative writ­ing class, but for telling, I did a rewrite for sequence, then I added sen­sory descrip­tions. It was a sim­ple lit­tle story, but I think it had mem­o­rable moments that most adults could find relat­able. The telling was much more enjoy­able than writ­ing! I had many ideas for a per­sonal story… I have a few sto­ries brew­ing in my mind, but some are not yet ready to be revealed, espe­cially emo­tion­ally, so I chose this event as one I could craft into an enjoy­able lit­tle story with a les­son learned. As I gain more expe­ri­ence, I want to branch out to tell sto­ries of a more seri­ous nature, and I look for­ward to that challenge.

Selec­tion of Tellable Tales

I actu­ally enjoy research, so this was a great oppor­tu­nity and chal­lenge … find­ing sto­ries that may inspire me to craft and tell. I actu­ally printed out addi­tional sto­ries that I didn’t review. I started with the Sto­ry­telling Site at SMCC, then clicked on links all over the place. When I found some­thing inspir­ing, I just “googled” Aztec myths, Native Amer­i­can Leg­ends, for exam­ple, and was sur­prised at the wealth of infor­ma­tion. I wish the inter­net had been around when I was in school … it sure beats the card cat­a­log! Sto­ry­telling sites men­tioned in the text were help­ful too. I even pur­chased Ashliman’s book, Folk and Fairy Tales. I also had fun sift­ing through my own col­lec­tion of books. I have thou­sands of books on so many sub­jects, and I col­lected many, many books for my chil­dren. I have myths, folk­tales and leg­ends in many forms of children’s books, and I used one of my daughter’s favorites for my first story. I found my myth of Echo and Nar­cis­sus while research­ing a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. I now look dif­fer­ently at sto­ries that I read or shows that I watch. “How would this work if told aloud?” Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The Prepa­ra­tion and Telling of Stories

This was the craft­ing sequence that has, so far, really worked for me. I would read a story sev­eral times first. Then I would write it out in my own words. Then the sto­ry­board with all its col­ors and lit­tle stick fig­ure prompts … this was the great­est tool. I used the meth­ods of the 5 P’s (I used the 6th, the pic­ture part to visu­al­ize my set­ting and the entire story expe­ri­ence) and my favorite, The Inverted World, to form the sequence. I have a pho­to­graphic mem­ory, so the sto­ry­board was my best method for learn­ing the story thor­oughly. I avoided read­ing the “script” more than right after I wrote it, because I didn’t want the story to sound mem­o­rized. I then told the story, over and over again. I allowed nat­ural ges­tures to “just hap­pen” because move­ment is my first medium. I repeated the tellings until the ges­tures and vocal pac­ing became more com­fort­able. I worked in front of a mir­ror, though I found myself not really look­ing at my image, it was more like the per­son in the mir­ror was the audi­ence. I told the sto­ries to my 16 year old daugh­ter, and she often gave me great advice. It was weird to tell to my hus­band. The first few sto­ries didn’t get much of a response, but the per­sonal story was dif­fer­ent. Per­haps it was because he knows me pretty well, but I knew I had him when he started grin­ning and react­ing. Each time I told the story, it was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. That really makes it fun, and surprising!

The text­book pro­vided great infor­ma­tion regard­ing pac­ing, voice, use of image, etc., but for the most part I relied on my instincts. My dance expe­ri­ence was invalu­able. Danc­ing is all about breath­ing and pac­ing … and I found this worked in the use of voice and body energy when telling. It was nat­ural. It also helped me with nerves. Speak­ing in this for­mat is scary, but as I moved and the story took hold, the nerves dis­ap­peared. I also really con­nected to the audi­ence. I found their facial expres­sions and reac­tions inspi­ra­tional … they were so much a part of every story I told. So … this is syn­ergy. I like to call it magic.

I learned from the tellings … I learned to chal­lenge myself to give the story to my audi­ence. This is so dif­fer­ent than “per­form­ing” and it is a very sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence. I am always acutely aware of the peo­ple in the room, their expres­sions, their bod­ily energy. it becomes part of what I am doing … such a rush to feel that give and take … and so very dif­fer­ent than my past expe­ri­ence of being on stage. I have always felt the energy from an audi­ence, but in sto­ry­telling, the big dif­fer­ence is that I can see their faces. Wow! I also enjoyed the feed­back, the pos­i­tive response. At first, being that I am so crit­i­cal of myself, I thought I would want more cri­tique, but the pos­i­tive com­ments are encour­ag­ing and inspir­ing. A final note … I love lis­ten­ing to all of the sto­ries. I find myself being caught up in them, but I also note the faces in the audi­ence and the emo­tions that are revealed in the their expres­sions. It is amazing.

Appli­ca­tions and Use of Storytelling

I think I have already cov­ered my desire to develop my sto­ry­telling skills for the edu­ca­tional set­ting. It is such a pow­er­ful medium for teach­ing. I also see sto­ry­telling as a nat­ural part of the heal­ing process. In my coun­selor train­ing practicum, I worked with a lit­tle girl who was severely trau­ma­tized (PTSD) after a ter­ri­ble car acci­dent. She would barely speak and when she wrote, the let­ters were so tiny you could hardly see them. She had turned her­self inward. I was already a par­ent with three chil­dren and the only teacher in the pro­gram, so she was my client. She didn’t feel com­fort­able talk­ing, so I brought in a huge box of art sup­plies and asked her if she liked to tell sto­ries. I will tell you about the magic that happened.

This lit­tle child and I spent hour after hour on the floor, cut­ting, past­ing, col­or­ing and cre­at­ing. The lit­tle girl who was so dam­aged, cre­ated a cast of char­ac­ters and super-heroes who could fight any bat­tle and con­quer any chal­lenge. I fol­lowed her direc­tions. She would let me cut and shape char­ac­ters … she dic­tated the specifics. It was the most remark­able expe­ri­ence. A the end of 12 weeks of ses­sions, this child had a mobile of all her char­ac­ters that she took home to hang in her room. Through those char­ac­ters, she spoke of fear, anger and hurt. She was able to lash out at the peo­ple (the car) that caused her pain, and she found her voice. She walked out a whole per­son, laugh­ing, talk­ing and being a child again. Her exit inter­view form revealed hand­writ­ing that was bold and round. All of this hap­pened through story. I was dumb­founded by the suc­cess and every­one, includ­ing the PHD can­di­dates and the pro­fes­sor, couldn’t believe what had hap­pened. The lit­tle 2-way mir­ror room was always crowded dur­ing my ses­sions. Please don’t think this is brag­ging on my part. It was not my incred­i­ble skill … it was the magic of cre­ative expres­sion. The “experts” kept ask­ing me how did I do it, what books did I read? I didn’t do any of that … I let it unfold and trusted the process. The story dic­tated the results. It was that per­fect blend of story, cre­ativ­ity, love and com­pas­sion. I just facil­i­tated. I see this expe­ri­ence in a whole new light now. It is still just as mag­i­cal, but I see its power and the appli­ca­tion of story to the heal­ing process. I hope to find a way to work in this capac­ity again … teaching/counseling/expressive ther­apy. Story. Perfection.


next page

There Be Magic In Those Red Rocks

Sedona is a mag­i­cal place. Its breath­tak­ing beauty and artis­tic expres­sion are...
article post

Put the devices away — share your stories. Make up new ones. Communicate.

“When words become too remote from the liv­ing voice, we risk los­ing a sense of our...
article post

Show No Fear — The Substitute Teacher

James Van Praugh once said, “If you want to do good in your life, do good in your life....
article post

Weird is good!

...
article post

Haiku for the day!

The Sto­ry­teller Shar­ing trea­sures from the past Rip­ples in the magic realm Giv­ing...
article post

It’s all about the story: reflections on the art of storytelling

Power and Value of Storytelling Sto­ry­telling … the power that cre­ates syn­ergy; the...
article post