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The Live Art and the Power of Words

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Reimagining Beauty – D is for Determination

Blogging A to Z

Reimagining Beauty – D is for Determination

I admit it, reimagining beauty as determination may seem a bit counterintuitive at first. It might conjure an image of someone’s nose on a grindstone (seriously, I mean, ouch!). The idea of a stony-faced, focused, sweaty person who might even be grunting as she or he labors toward a goal is not exactly attractive. And yet, what athlete who was in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics didn’t have moments of just that?

Determination produces a person who conceives goals and then has the “stick-to-it-iveness” to achieve them.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall.”

Often attributed to Confucius, this phrase embodies and emboldens determination. Achieving such glory is a beautiful indeed. Yet wanting it is only part of the equation. The path to glory is rife with challenges; those who stumble or crumble and then rise out of the ashes to try again are determined people. Pounding through in spite of the obstacles – climbing, trying a new path, pushing, whatever it takes – determination is the fuel that helps us manifest our hopes and dreams.

Not only is it an admirable quality, but determination is beautiful when seen. There is a moment when a person turns his head, sets her mouth firmly, then trains the eyes in the direction of a goal. The moment of resolve, that instant of physical and mental commitment is an incandescent, bell-ringing moment of inner and outer beauty, in full sync.

Determination is the cornerstone of achievement. Hardworking artists striving to ‘make it’ and students attempting to get high grades to get into college are determined. They are determined in the service of long term goals.

But determination is a hallmark of those living with challenges, like people with disabilities, people with illness, and those facing hardship. People who live life to its fullest despite illness and disability are determined. Those who strive against the tide and in face of hardship, are beautiful indeed.

Writers and storytellers have the opportunity to share all the qualities that make people beautiful. Determination is surely one of them. Tell about such people, write about them, help the world know the beauty of their wonderful, beautiful efforts. If we are determined, we can reimagine beauty.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – C is for Confidence

Blogging A to Z

Here we are, day three in April, letter C. Thanks for reading, liking, commenting, sharing, and all of that stuff!

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C is for Confidence

Last month I saw an online science news video that I can’t get out of my mind. Like an eye worm, it plays and replays again and again in my head. I do not remember the story or where I found it. What is etched in my mind’s eye is the reporter. She wasn’t at all like all those classic cookie cutter news anchors with coiffed blond hair and perfectly pressed clothes. Though she had a different look than them, it wasn’t her hair or clothes or shape that made her memorable.

She exuded pure confidence. Comfortable and centered in who she was, her self-assurance spiraled through cyberspace into my laptop. It was she, not the screen, that cast a glow in my livingroom.

Confidence is riveting. Being in the presence of true, authentic, confidence is like drinking a powerful infusion of vitamins from a glass of freshly juiced greens.

It wasn’t her ego. She didn’t purvey an ounce of conceit. She was filled with an abundance of joy and comfort in who she was. It was beautiful, it was stunning.

In describing beautiful folk – whether you are conversing with friends or crafting language for a story that you write or tell – don’t forget about this quality. It is a quality that anyone can possess, regardless of their looks, their genetic code, or background. It is a quality that anyone can find beautiful in anyone.

And the best thing? Try being in a room with a confident person. It is contagious.

So, can one come across beauteous confidence in real life people? Certainly, I just told you all about a real life newscaster. Can a protagonist in a story be attracted to another because of her or his confidence? Of course. Just tell about it confidently, describe it winningly, and you will depict a character who is attractive as a friend, as a lover, and as a role model for the people in your audiences and personal lives. By doing so, you will remind people that when they tap into and trust their sense of self, that is much more beautiful than what can be coiffed in a mirror.

Who are the confident beauties who you know in life and literature? I would love to hear about them!

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – B is for Brilliance

Blogging A to Z

Hey it’s Letter B! This blog challenge has been a blast (b is also for blast). In addition to the A to Z posts, I am working on expanding the reach of the blog beyond its current scope. I really need to add RSS stuff… any WordPressers out there who are willing to share suggestions, I’d appreciate it! You can contact me here or through my website, http://www.storycrafters.com. Many thanks 🙂

But first, I hope you read the B post!!

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B is for Brilliance

I once had a crush on a college professor. His brilliance filled me with wonder. When his eyes flashed with understanding, it was invigorating. Seeing his facial expression shift while his mind hurtled forward through a zany analytical roller coaster was one of the most exhilarating things I witnessed during a slogging educational dip in my life. As I sat there in his classroom I learned that a brilliant mind is a seriously beautiful thing.

That Eureka moment, when an idea explodes to life in someone’s brain, can be read on that someone’s face. It is like flicking the light on in a darkened room and, at the same time, experiencing immense joy at opening a long anticipated gift. Brilliant moments like that are beautiful to behold.

Life informs stories and stories inform life. In retelling an old story with a plot that hinges on a man and a woman coming together, I decided to make a shift in that plot point. I rejected the idea that her physical appearance was the thing about her that caught fire for him. Instead of noticing her outward appearance, my protagonist was jazzed by her inward intelligence. She stood out from a host of many other young women when he recognized her cleverness.

In his view, she was a brilliant young woman. Her beauty was all about her quickness of mind. He was not threatened by it; he welcomed it and applauded it.

That’s how we chose to tell the story.

So when you choose to tell your stories, remember this quality. Remember it when you think about people you know in life, recall it about characters you know in literature, consider it when you write or when you tell your friends and family about someone who is beautiful.

Anyone, of any age or background, can have Eureka moments and be invigoratingly beautiful to themselves and to others.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – A is for Actions

Blogging A to Z

April 1st is Letter A Day! Welcome to my first A to Z Blogging Challenge post. I am very excited to be doing this and I look forward to meeting many folk along the way.

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There is a story in our repertoire about a young woman is who ravishingly beautiful. Every character in the tale recognizes her beauty. Audiences who hear the story know that she embodies beauty in all its fullness.

Yet we never once say what she looks like.

Instead, we paint pictures about how she acts in her world. Compassion runs through her like a vein of golden ore; it shines up her every gesture. Other characters in the story take note of the beauty of what she does and how she acts. They say she is beautiful, through and through.

Like her nasty sister, she has choices. But unlike her nasty sister, who chooses ugly actions, our protagonist chooses to carve a path of beauty through life. She cares for her ill mother, helps those in need, brings comfort and beauty to everyone she meets. By touching her world with beauty, she shows that she is beautiful.

Characters in stories have choices in how they live and how to behave in relation to others. How they act can be beautiful. Characters in life are no different. Mother Teresa was a beautiful person who is remembered not so much for what she looked like, but for the great good that she did in the world. And she is remembered as a beautiful person.

So, when you write or tell any story or anecdote, remember that you have the power to describe beautiful characters not by how they look, but by what they do. When characters meet in stories, show them recognizing beauty in each other’s actions. One doesn’t have to look a certain way or weigh a certain amount to achieve that kind of beauty. By depicting beauty in actions, you will help others to reimagine and value beauty in a new way. That will make it possible for everyone to be beautiful to ourselves and others.

Take a beautiful action yourself. When you write or tell any kind of story, describe your beautiful character by what she or he does. That way, you encourage those who read or hear your story to see that beauty is as beauty does, and that anyone can be beautiful in what they do.

Looking forward to the letter B!

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters All rights reserved.

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

Blogging A to Z

Hey, I’m doing something neat next month! A group of bloggers (nearly 1500 as I write this post) will blog every day in April, except Sundays. Starting on April 1 with the letter A and going forward to the end of the month with the letter Z at the end of April 30, bloggers will write daily posts on the same letter. Over the month it will be like savoring alphabet soup, one noodle at a time. People say it is great fun, so I’m raring to go.

You can read more about it here.

Many bloggers who do this challenge orient their blogs to a theme. And today is the big Theme Reveal.

My theme is Reimagining Beauty.

One of the most beautiful children I have ever seen is a little girl. She was born with a genetic syndrome that among other things, alters the way she looks. It got me to thinking about the images of beauty that she will encounter in her life. Will she feel excluded? My recent blog posts have touched on this and other related issues, and there are more to come.

But when the A to Z Challenge came my way, I thought that it would be great opportunity to really dig down into this issue. So I decided to focus on how anyone – storytellers, writers, people in everyday conversation, parents – anyone has the power to describe beauty inclusively, regardless of cultural background, body type, age, abilities, or what their physical appearance has or “lacks” in terms of media driven imagery. Because that stuff is not what matters or makes one beautiful. At least that’s my take on it.

Storytellers know that words have great power to change mood and mind. My blog series on Reimagining Beauty will focus on the words we can choose to redefine and reimagine beauty in ways that are inclusive of anyone.

It will be one fun roller-coaster ride through the month of April.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters All rights reserved

Be the Superhero

In my last post, I wrote about how the power of visual images can marginalize children with disabilities. Here is a case in point.

Anthony Smith is a young fan of superhero comics. Born deaf as a result of a genetic syndrome, he refused to wear his hearing aid because the superheroes in comics didn’t wear hearing aids.

Children notice many things about the images that come, and that don’t come their way.

However, storymakers can be as powerful as superheroes. According to the Huffington Post and Wikipedia, when Anthony’s mom wrote a letter asking for help, the folks at Marvel Comics acted like their characters and came to the rescue. They created a new character who wears a hearing aid. His name is Blue Ear.

Upon seeing the character, great delight came to Anthony. Great delight came to his parents too because Anthony started using his hearing aid.

Anthony is a lucky boy. He has caring parents who took action. Their letter landed into editor Bill Rosemann’s activist hands. Then, a corporation approved a brand new idea and made it happen quickly. Wow.

Wonderful as all this is, it is unlikely that publishers can or will modify the entire literary canon to reflect the extraordinary diversity of children in the world. Though we too can write letters to educate publishers and wait for changes to happen over time, we can also do something right now.

If there are children in your universe who don’t see themselves in visual depictions of characters in books and other media, remember that you – parent, teacher, therapist, child care worker of any kind – have the power to be a superhero storymaker. You can tell stories that describe characters in ways that are inclusive of children with disabilities. Take it another step too, for stories can be inclusive of children from any cultural heritage, of any shape and size, and on and on.

By telling stories, you can be as marvelous for the children around you as Marvel Comics was for Anthony Smith.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Conquering the Ugliness in Beauty

Social media is buzzing about how distorted images of women create unnatural, unattainable representations of ‘beauty.’ And this reminds me of an important, related issue.

A friend recently told me that as a kid, he hated reading certain stories because they were about characters he could never be like or look like. My friend has a disability. Whenever he read about beautiful people in books, he felt awful about himself.

There can be great ugliness in beauty.

A mom I know struggles with teaching her kids about beauty, wishing for more stories that reflect her kids’ Asian heritage. And then there is my friend whose daughter has a rare, genetic syndrome. In addition to having a unique appearance, the child uses a wheelchair. There aren’t many beloved story characters who conquer kingdoms in assisted devices or who have asymmetrical body shapes. Finding stories that don’t marginalize such children can be more challenging than conquering storybook kingdoms.

My friends are not alone. Many parents wrestle with this. We comb bookshelves to find stories with illustrations that depict beauty in ways we feel are appropriate for our children. But many of those images are picture book perfect or culturally biased; they don’t reflect our reality. So images in books can become subliminal, insidious reminders of how we “should” look. Most of us fail.

Because pictures send a thousand messages, some parents carefully screen the images their kids see. They don’t want their children receiving messages that might cause them to undervalue their own unique beauty, heritage, or gifts. They don’t want their kids to feel like they don’t measure up. They don’t want to teach them to aspire to impossible ideals.

There can be great ugliness in beauty.

Rigorous screening of media is one way to offer images of beauty to kids. But you can also do something else to give children stories and images that reflect them and which can build self-esteem.

Tell them stories.

When stories are told, words are chosen by the storyteller. Pictures are imagined by the storyteller and the listener(s). Thus, beauty is in the imagination of the beholder.

You can make up a story, adapt a traditional one, or retell one from a book. In so doing, you can define beauty in all the ways that make sense to you. A beautiful character can be from any culture, can have any disability, can mirror any child. Listeners can imagine themselves riding wheelchairs to glory.

Best of all, the potent images from a child’s imagination can stay with a child for life.

Beauty does not equate to blond hair, white skin, two straight arms, a certain weight range or a particular ability. Beauty is not just appearance alone. Beauty can be described in all the ways that humans perceive it. Most importantly, when you tell a story, your beautiful characters can have the beautiful traits that your child possesses.

Inspire children to find themselves beautiful. Inspire “typical” children to see beauty in those who have disabilities. Tell them stories.

The little girl I mentioned earlier, the one with the genetic syndrome, is one of the most beautiful children I have ever met. Not because she looks like everyone else, but because she looks like herself. Her heart popping smile is riveting, her glance has the power to light up the dark. I fall over myself when she smiles at me because her infectious, gorgeous glance kisses my heart. She radiates pure joy. What is more beautiful than that?

Every person deserves the chance to feel beautiful. Reclaim beauty for yourself and for the children around you. Beauty does not have to call up the beast of failed hopes; when stories are told personally, when beauty is described consciously, then stories become more beautiful. And that is when they can bring joy, possibility, and peace to parents and children.

Beauty does not have to be ugly.

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters All rights reserved

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In an upcoming post – soon I hope – will outline ways to describe beauty in inclusive ways in the stories you tell. Follow for more on this and other stuff.

A Vietnamese New Year’s Legend

Long ago in Vietnam, there was a prince named An-Tiem. He lived his life by dancing to his own heartbeat. At first, his stern father valued this quality in his son. But as An-Tiem grew older, the king was angered by his child’s singular way of living. The tides of favor finally turned against the young man when he violated one of his father’s decrees. An-Tiem was banished from his homeland.

The prince was sent to live all alone on a deserted island. He was given nothing for his survival except for crude tools.

Surrounded by sea and solitude, his spirit wasn’t dampened. He built a shelter. He found a freshwater spring for water. An-Tiem hunted and fished. Somehow, he survived the first season of exile.

But when the hot season came, the tides once again turned against him. The freshwater spring ran to a trickle. He was careful to drink only a little everyday so that the animals on the island might also survive.

One sweltering day, he came upon a great, green object on a vine. It was a plant he had never seen before. Ever curious, An-Tiem broke it in two. When he saw what was inside, he instinctively dropped it and jumped back. The flesh of the wet fruit was bright red. Red meant anger. Red meant poison.

But the sun’s heat pressed hard upon him. The spring was almost dry. An-Tiem’s heart and mind whispered, “You are not likely to survive the season, what can you lose?” So he picked up one half of the fruit and bit into it.

The wonderful fruit was sweeter than any he had ever tasted. Juice ran down his chin and moistened his parched throat. For the first time in his life, An-Tiem tasted watermelon.

He found other plants just like it. All through that season, he ate the fruit and planted its seeds. He survived.

In time, fisherman found his island. They traded with him for the strange, new fruit. Soon, his watermelons were sold on other islands. The fruit grew in popularity in his home country. By farming watermelons and trading with fishermen, An-Tiem began to prosper.

One day, An-Tiem carved his name into a watermelon and tossed it out to sea. It washed up in Vietnam and was immediately brought to the King.

The King had grown to love the sweetness of the strange fruit. So singular. So unique. So like his lost son. As he gazed at the name in the carved melon, he learned that his son was a young man with the heart and wits to not only survive, but to thrive.

This knowledge changed the King’s heart. He welcomed An-Tiem back home and immediately passed the crown to him. That is how An-Tiem became King Hung Vuong VI. It is said that he ruled Vietnam with the sweetness and resolve that comes from following both heart and mind.

Ever since that time, the watermelon has been considered a good luck symbol in Vietnam and is often given as a New Year’s gift. Please accept this watermelon story as my New Year’s gift: May your new year be filled with sweetness, luck, and the resolve to live your life while dancing to your own heartbeat.

A Periodic Table for the Narrative Arts

It was love at first sight this morning. While sipping tea and checking my social media, I happened upon an infographic and fell in love.

This love affair was stimulated because I have been thinking a great deal about storytelling and electronics. As technological innovation continues its amazing growth spurt, I have been reminded of the vinegar and baking soda experiments that my son’s home school group did every spring. Students made one clay volcano. Then on the appointed day, they inserted some baking soda deep within the volcano. Families gathered round at a distance and watched as one volunteer poured some vinegar into the top of the volcano. Everyone jumped backwards in anticipation. It wasn’t long before the chemical reaction of those two substances produced a frothy and sometimes fire hose worthy burst of fuzzy ‘lava.’

Technology. Storytelling. Chemistry. They all come together when I happened upon that infographic – The Periodic Table of Storytelling.

What a collection of ideas to tickle a brain! What a useful visual for writing tips! I am still exploring this table. I hope you get a chance to take a look and comment, right here. It has relevance to writers and narrative artist of all kinds and for all platforms. But the part that solidified my loving bond with the infographic was this: The Fourth Wall Subtropes. On the bottom right, it discusses the whole connection with audience, indicating stories must give focus to the audience, and isn’t that one thing that this blog is all about?

True, I am in love, but I also have a beef. Who doesn’t have a beef sometimes with those one loves? Peruse it, tell me what you think, and see if you can guess my beef. It will surely come up in future posts. Looking forward to your thoughts!

What to Do About Those Disney Princesses

In improvisational acting, one big rule is that when another actor does something, you say “Yes! And…” This means that you embrace the prompt that the actor gives you : Yes! Then, collaborate by adding something of your own to it: And….

Joy Martin-Malone from the MamaPop blog wrote a piece that appeared in the Huffington Post. To this I say “Yes! And…”

I love her article and urge you to give it a read. I love it so much that it is preventing me from doing my sacred exercise ritual because I have to write this post NOW.

Her article is about the striking parallel between Disney princesses and drag queens (big hair, fancy gowns, dressing up). It is also about the author’s discomfort as a parent of young girls who adore Disney princesses and their glitzy paraphernalia, princesses who share perfect looks and wait around for rescue from princes and their assorted ilk. She says that where drag queens revel in humor, Disney princesses wait and worry; at other times they wake up singing with animals. But unlike drag queens, they lack spunk. Martin-Malone worries how that imagery affects her children. About such princesses, she writes that “[t]hey are a perpetuation of the stereotype of the weak, dumb woman who obediently waits for a man to come along and make her valuable. Between the two I’ll always promote the big-wigged man crooning “I’m Every Woman.”

Yes! And….

Much of the imagery that Martin-Malone disdains is borne of visuals. Movies and accompanying products like dolls and princess apparel are examples. Because they are visual, these images get FIXED in the minds of those who view them: the princess must look or dress a certain way, sometimes she must even behave the way we saw her behave. The power of the picture is very strong indeed.

So what can you do about it?

Tell the stories yourself.

If the stories are told in person, face to face, by parent to child at home, in live storytelling performances, by librarians or teachers without picture book accompaniments – if visual representations of the princesses in a story are NOT physically shown to a child, then that princess can look and act like anything the imagination can conjure.

Together, the storyteller and the listener can fashion the princess into anyone. A princess can look like Mommy, she can look like the child, a friend, a relative, a babysitter, a drag queen, anyone! Princesses can be from any cultural background and they can have spunk, compassion, drive, or whatever your parental heart desires. Stories contain powerful role models; you don’t have to let Disney be the main storyteller in children’s lives! Take back that power and draw princesses with your own lips.

As professional storytellers, Barry and I take this responsibility seriously. We carefully craft our stories to describe princesses (and all characters actually) in broad enough terms so listeners can thrust themselves or others they know into the role. A broad description opens the door for them to do this while hearing the story and later in imaginative play. It also allows listeners to be creative and morph their princesses in future play sessions or when they tell the story to others.

An upcoming blog post will share ideas for how to describe such characters in broad terms. Be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, tell stories to the young ones around you. Later, when you look at the pictures in books and movies, you and your children can talk about how each visual representation of a princess is only one representation out of the limitless human imagination.

Copyright 2013 The Storycrafters

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