Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the category “in Writing”

To Edit or Not to Edit, That is the Question

Words matter. Writers and storytellers live and love them. And when we write, we choose words carefully because we want to craft expressive phrases and images that are, to quote Goldilocks, “just right.”

Every time that sought-after “just right” word clicks into place, it’s as satisfying as popping a non-dairy chocolate chip. A really productive day is metaphorically fattening and worth every bite.

The art of writing expresses meaning, catches mood, and matches words and image. It is also about getting rid of the passive voice and all of those inefficient extra terms and bulky word orders that make phrases really awkward and that unnecessarily increase the word count.

Editing is important.

But at what point does the editing process change from editing to perseverating?

In my work, I usually stop editing when I can read the piece all the way through without a desire to alter text. Sometimes that happens quickly, and other times, well…

When do you stop editing and call it done? How do you stop yourself from spinning around on the hamster wheel of “cut and paste” and “Control-Z” and finally, finally call it a wrap?

— Jeri

Photo Credit: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

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Daily Ghost Post – Y is for You Hun Ye Gui

There once was a widow whose son, Mulian, became a Buddhist monk. But his commitment to his faith kept him from her. Over time, she grew so angry and resentful that whenever monks asked for food or alms, she refused.

When she died, she was sent to the deepest Buddhist hell because of her stinginess. Not only was she tortured with difficult work, but her neck was narrow as a needle, making it impossible to swallow food.

She was a hungry ghost.

Mulian wondered how his mother was faring after death, so he journeyed into the underworld. After facing many trials and demons, he found the ghost of his hungry mother. She was desperate to eat, but when he offered her food, it burst into flames.

After seeking advice from the Buddha, Mulian asked 10 monks to pray and fast for his mother. Ironically, through the efforts of her son and other monks whom she spurned in life, Mulian’s mother was released from her torments and allowed, at last, to eat.

HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL AND THE YOU HUN YE GUI
From that time on, a Buddhist festival has been held throughout eastern Asia. On the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, hungry ghosts are freed from Buddhist hell and fed. During the festival, How Mulian Rescued His Mother is retold in families and other venues. People leave food offerings to feed the hungry ghosts and the ghost of their ancestors. Incense is burned, monks conduct rituals, and performers provide entertainment for everyone, including the ghosts. At many events, the front row of red chairs is reserved just for the ghosts. At the end of the festival, red lotus lanterns are placed in water. When the lantern flames die out, the spirits are back home.

There are many ghosts in the Chinese folklore. For example, ghosts who seek revenge for the nasty deeds they suffered in life are the Yuah Gui. Shui Gui are ghosts who died by drowning. In death, the Shui Gui seek a fresh, living body to take over.

And then there are the You Hun Ye Gui.

The You Hun Ye Gui are wandering, lost spirits. They died when they were far from home or were lost. Because the You Hun Ye Gui are wanderers without descendants to care for their spirits, it is feared that they will attach themselves to the living. That is why people do not marry or move into a new house during the Ghost Festival. It would not be a propitious start for a marriage or a home to have the You Hun Ye Gui sticking around. No need to add bad luck to the mix, as marriage and tending house are challenging enough.

Many cultures have festivals of the dead, like the Hungry Ghost Festival, Halloween, and Day of the Dead. What are some of your fond memories of these or other “dead fests” in your neck of the woods? Do you know of other festivals like this? Do tell….!!!

— Jeri
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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Dupler, Michael (2013). Death Explained: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the Afterlife. Lulu.com
http://www.uiowa.edu/~c07p208h/ghost.html – a little of the Mulian story, some tradiitons, the lanterns
http://www.my-island-penang.com/Mu-Lian.html – more in depth version of the tale
Schirokauer, Conrad and Miranda Brown. (2013). A Brief History of Chinese Civiliation, 4th Edition. Boston: Wadsworth.
Wikipedia: List of Supernatural Beings in Chinese Foklore, Ghosts in Chinese Culture, Ghost Festival

PHOTO CREDIT: By Mike / Flicker / CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – S is for Slender Man

And now for something completely different… Monty Python.

Every culture has ghost stories, and some ghosts are similar from place to place. But there is one culture that people all over the world share in common – digital culture. And like off-screen cultures, this one has a ghost of its own.

SLENDERMAN’S ROOTS
According to internet folklore, there is a being – an entity – that suddenly appears in cyberspace, like a ghostly apparation. It shows up in pictures, on your computer screen, or makes its presence known by interrupting the operation of your device. And also, according to the legend, it kills.

The being is called Slender Man. There is no definitive agreement about its gender, but as the name is Slender Man, I will use the conventional “he” as a pronoun even if it is not exactly accurate.

Slender Man is an internet and gaming sensation with his own mythos and Wikis, Youtube series, an academic book, and more. He is a huge deal.

Slender Man represents a cross between the oldest kind of storytelling and the newest: His meteoric rise from a comment thread in 2009 to an internet sensation happened in the old fashioned way – with stories being retold and embellished, one storyteller to another – via a new fashioned medium – the speedy, mixed media internet.

Talk about cross platform word of mouth.

Details from stories, fan fiction, and photos have been gathered together and culled into a coherent mythology. And since Slender Man was the creation of “Victor Surge” (whose real name is Eric Knudsen), these tales must be fiction… or are they? There are websites devoted to tracing Slender Man characters back in time and space across many cultures. Is it possible that he is a modern manifestation of an older folk character? Or are his folkloric roots not true folklore but fakelore? The Slender Man mythos is so deep and complex it is hard to disentangle the fiction from the meta-fiction upon which his story might be based.

THE SKINNY ON SLENDERMAN
So who and what is he? Slender Man represents the unknown. A scary being of an unspecified type, one of his defining characteristics is his lack of defining characteristics – he has no facial features. He always wears a black suit and his arms hang down or extend outward (sometimes there are tentacles, but there is dispute about that). Silent and stealthy, Slender Man behaves like a predator, stalking his prey, watching his targets.

A couple of last crucial bits about Slendy. According to the mythos, he steals children. Journalists who report about the abductions also disappear. That information comes from the origin stories. But here is the kicker – Slender Man has proxies, living human beings who do his bidding.

The idea of that is frightening by itself. But it isn’t just an idea. Last year, two 12 year old girls viciously stabbed another girl in a forest. One said that she did it to impress Slender Man, the other because she thought it might prevent him from causing harm to her family and to herself.

THOUGHTS
This entity or spirit or fictional character may not be a ghost in the way we traditionally think about ghosts, but he certainly carries some of their characteristics. He is a mysterious entity that appears and disappears and scares people. Isn’t that what many ghosts do? If his presence can “cause” people to commit violence, Slender Man parlays a frightening power beyond his comment thread origins. That is what makes him not just a scary ghost story or urban legend – his long black legs give him firm standing in horror.

Is this a bizarre twist on art imitating life or life imitating art? What do you think? What have you heard about him? Thoughts?

— Jeri

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Jones, Abigail – http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/22/girls-who-tried-kill-slender-man-264218.html
http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/The_Slender_Man
http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/slender-man
http://theslenderman.wikia.com/wiki/Slender_Man
http://theslenderman.wikia.com/wiki/
Wikipedia – Slender Man

Here’s an academic book I know about and can’t wait to get hold of:
Chess, Shira and Eric Newsome (2014). Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology. Palgrave Pivot.

PHOTO CREDIT: By LuxAmber (Own work) / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Of Mannequins and Princesses

Mannequins and princesses. They have more in common than a penchant for wearing fancy duds.

Two web links were shared with me recently. And though the links are different, they are thematic mirrors of each other.

The first is a video depicting the construction of mannequins. These mannequins were designed to reflect the bodies of disabled people. With exquisite precision, models were measured and mannequins were made in their exact physical proportions. When the mannequins were completed, they were dressed in high end clothing and displayed in the window of an upscale store.

The most gripping moment in that video is when one of the disabled models passes by the mannequin created in her likeness. She stops and gazes at it from top and bottom. Then she smiles with a satisfaction that squeezes my heart every time I see the video. That woman saw herself reflected in the world.

Finally.

The second link was an article about a five year old girl with leukemia who is facing her next round of chemotherapy. Devastated at the thought of losing her hair again, the child told her mother that she won’t look like a princess anymore.

Arrangements were swiftly made with a photographer and a party planning company to do a photo shoot of the little girl. In spite of the fact that she was balding from the effects of chemo, she dressed up like a princess in a flowing, shiny dress. The model who came to the photo shoot was similarly attired in a shimmering princess gown. She was also wearing a bald cap. The little girl’s smile and delight sent tears of joy down the faces of those present, especially when the child said, “She looks like me.”

Seeing ourselves as part of the world is important to us. It is not hype or new age fluff. #Colormyshelf, for example, is a Twitter hashtag devoted to sharing children’s books that feature characters of color. Human beings want to see themselves in books, in stories, in role models, and advertising. Adults and children need this.

Not only do people hunger to see themselves reflected in the media, but able-bodied children need to see that disabled people are part of the human landscape. White folk should see way more than themselves reflected in literature and advertising. And why can’t beauty standards be inclusive of good hair days, bad hair days, and no hair days?

Writers can write with this intention. Artists can create with this intention. Our language can shift to accommodate this intention. And in the meantime, anyone who can speak can tell stories that include people of all abilities, looks, and heritages. Spoken stories allow listeners to manufacture the pictures in the stories – pictures of themselves and others. The more we do this, the less it will seem like news and the more it will become an everyday, natural part of life.

Use words and create visuals with the same impulse that sparked the creation of uniquely shaped mannequins and a family’s princess moment of glory. That is what mannequins and princesses have in common.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit:
By thebrandery (Flickr: The Brandery Winter Edition 2010) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One Reason Storytellers Do What They Do

Fans of JK Rowling’s Weasley twins will be familiar with their joke shop product called “extendable ears.” With one end of a cord held close to the listener’s ear, the other end crawls along the ground, winding around corners and sliding under doors until it reaches its destination. Then, it listens to the secrets of unsuspecting friends and enemies alike. My son desperately wished for a set to use around the time of his birthday whenever we whispered about his gifts. There are probably numerous politicians, spies, and Academy Award nominees who would love a set as well.

Old-fashioned extendable ears

So why am I discussing this intriguing fictional product here? It is because stories reach and stretch into the human heart and mind like extendable ears stretch into other rooms. When people speak of the power of stories, this is what they mean.

Stories have a seemingly magical way of touching those who need them. They sneak in the cracks and openings of heart and mind and do their work: stories heal, stories connect one to another, they teach and ignite dreams.

But the work of stories is gentle. They seep into people like a mild rain softens dry soil. The images and messages embedded in stories, like water moistening dry soil, find their ways to their destination. This is one of the biggest reasons why we do the work that we do.

Stories reach in.
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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

Anybody with stories about stories doing this work? Share them (way) down below!

How to Avoid Splashing Muck

Hello people! Nice to be back to blogging after a hiatus. I was nudged back in the saddle by a recent event that touches on the power of words even though, ironically, it’s about pictures..

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The rhetoric around the theft of celebrity nude photos has me thinking. As most of you know by now, private photos of many celebrity women, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Duntz, were hijacked from their private accounts and made public on the web. To say that there is public outrage is to put it mildly. A major violation took place, and people are horrified.

In the frenzy of commentary about this, I saw some interesting discussions. One writer, Scott Mendelson at Forbes.com, urges the media to describe this incident as a sexual assault, not a celebrity scandal. He argues that the connotations associated with the word “scandal” puts blame on the women, when in actuality, they did nothing wrong. One or more hackers ransacked their privacy, scoured through their intimate photos, and then broadcast them to the entire world without permission. Hackers were the ones who committed a crime, not the women.

Writing for Time Magazine, Charlotte Alter disagrees about calling it sexual assault. She argues that using sexual assault as an umbrella term for violations against women dilutes the meaning of the phrase. (Sexual assault encompasses a range of violent crimes whose definitions vary state by state). About the photo hacking incident, she writes:

It is not the same as being raped, or forced to perform oral sex, or molested as a child, or beaten. It’s not a question of “more or less awful,” because both scenarios are horrific examples of how women are treated in our society. But they’re different, and it’s especially important to be precise when we’re talking about violence.

Alter suggests that we call this revenge porn, a newer legal term referring to crimes where angry lovers publicize erotic photos from broken relationships.

I applaud both writers for their great contributions. And I concur that this issue needs to be carefully named. But I am not comfortable referring to this as revenge porn, and this is why. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines porn as:

Movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.

The word “porn” suggests that these photos were taken to cause sexual excitement. But that’s irrelevant. They were private photos. It is nobody’s business what their purpose was. The hacker(s) committed a pornographic act by placing those pictures in the public eye. But just as “scandal” can suggest that the celebrities did something wrong, the word “porn,” with its deeply negative connotations, could leak from the hackers (where it belongs) onto the women (where it doesn’t), shadowing them for a very long time.

Whatever we ultimately call wicked acts of this nature, we must take care to avoid splashing any more muck upon the victims. How can we do this?

1. Stop and think before we write and speak. Everyone, including the media, has the responsibility to carefully consider the meaning and connotations behind words.

2. Use alternate phrasing. Perhaps the broader term sex crime carries the story of what happened. It doesn’t dilute the term sexual assault or put the onus on the women.Sexual exploitation crime might be considered, as the word “exploitation” clearly places the responsibility on the wrongdoers, not those who were victimized. The same could be said of sexual harassment.

3. View the situation from a different angle. Indeed this crime has a sexual side, but maybe a broader view can be instructive. The hacker(s) committed an egregious violation of privacy. So I offer up another phrase for consideration in describing this kind of offense: privacy assault.

We can all agree that a serious crime was committed. Let’s ensure that our rhetoric doesn’t inadvertently victimize the victims more.

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I’d love to hear what you think! Make some comments below and let the conversation begin.

For more thoughts on this, you might be interested by this Upworthy post!

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

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