Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

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Daily Ghost Post – U is for Underworld Ghosts

Somewhere, down below our feet or beyond the horizon, lies a place where spirits dwell. Many world mythologies have stories that say that spirits go to the underworld after death. With names like Niflheim (Norse) or Xibalba (Mayan), the general underworld idea is similar across cultures. Typically, the departed pass into the underworld, sometimes undergoing tests to determine eligibility. Once they enter, they hang out in the underword, eating dirt or floating, depending on which mythology you consult. The dead are supposed to linger there for eternity. And living people are supposed to stay out.

But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

Most of us are familiar with the Greek underworld, staffed by Hades and his wife Persephone. We also know about Orpheus’ failed attempt to rescue his love Euridyce from there. Underworld stories go back farther than ancient Greece however. In Mesopotamia, Innana (also called Ishtar) went down to the underworld to dethrone her sister, Ereshkigal, from the underworld throne. Things didn’t go as planned. Innana was killed and was later released back to the land of the living when her husband took her place. What a guy!

The idea of the underworld pervades many cultures. If Wikipedia is accurate, a minimum of 44 world mythologies have an underworld. Among those cultures is at least one with a belief that the dead can be restored to life.

In a traditional Hawaiian variant of the Orpheus and Euridyce myth, Hiku went to the underworld to bring Kawelu back to life.

One day, in ancient times, Hiku of the Forest shot his arrow. It landed at the home of Kawelu of the Sea. One thing led to another and Hiku stayed there for almost a week. But their love wasn’t consummated, so Hiku left in a bit of a huff. When Kawelu went in search of him, he played hard to get. Seriously hard to get. He built a blockade of vines that kept her from him. Hurt by this rather showy rebuff, she hung herself from a vine. (I am repeatedly struck by people’s strong reactions in myths, but I digress).

Kawelu’s spirit descended to the Hawaiian underworld, ruled by Milu, the king of the ghosts. When Hiku heard about Kawelu’s death, he decided to bring her back from Milu. [To make things nice and confusing yet parallel to Greece, the Hawaiian underworld and the underworld head of state share the same name.]

After consulting with kahunas – Hawaiian shamans – Hiku learned what he had to do. He headed out to the place where the horizon and sea met and dropped a vine down into the water (third vine’s the charm). Then he climbed down and dangled, overlooking the underworld.

It didn’t look half bad.

That is because Milu, the ghost king, is more like a camp director than a grim, deathly monarch. Under his underworldly oversight, there are sports, betting, games, feasts, cliff diving, and swimming activites for ghosts to enjoy. Eternity never sounded so good.

Hiku dangled over the ghosts to entice them to swing on the vine for sport. It wasn’t long before Kawelu gave it a go. When things were just right, Hiku captured her spirit in a coconut shell, swiftly climbed up the vine, and found his way back to her dead body. He opened the shell and pushed her spirit back in through her feet, the traditional Hawaiian way to bring the dead back to life. When Kawelu felt well enough, she and Hiku tied the knot (but not with a vine).

Now for some bonus details. Hiku and Kawelu were predestined to marry. With godly parentage, they also happened to be half brother and half sister. But that is another tale for another time.

As for this one, let’s say that they lived happily ever after in life and are now happily dead in the ever after, cliff diving with other underworld ghosts.

Have you noticed that women in ghost stories frequently take their lives when they lose ther loves? What ghost stories do you know where men do this?

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Westervelt, W. D. (1916). Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods. Boston: Ellis Press.
Wikipedia – Underworld

PHOTO CREDIT: By Dave Herholz / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – Q is for Queen Anne Boleyn’s Ghost

Tower of London Scaffold

Queen Anne Boleyn was executed at the Tower of London in 1536 and has haunted England ever since. It is not clear why she comes, but I have a guess…

Anne Boleyn was the second of King Henry VIII’s luckless wives and the first to meet her end at the end of an executioner’s blade. Mother of beloved Queen Elizabeth I, she was unable to give Henry any sons in their short marriage. Henry was not patient. When he wanted something, he wanted it immediately. He was probably working on sons with soon-to-be next wife Jane Seymour when he accused his current wife, Anne Boleyn, of adultery. To make things even more juicy, she was accused of an adulterous liaison was with her brother, among others. These alleged, treasonous acts were probably malicious rumors started by her enemies. But they were incredibly convenient, so the King bought into them.

The trial was swift and her guilt was declared. Brought to the Tower of London to await her execution, Anne lived out her last days in prayer. Her death was easy, well easy as beheadings go.

Queen Anne Boleyn’s reign was significant because her marriage to King Henry VIII changed the course of English history. A very abridged version goes like this: When King Henry fell for Anne, he was already married to Catherine of Aragon. Since Cathy gave him no sons, he asked the Pope to annul his marriage.. The Pope declined. So Henry broke away from Catholicism and Rome. But while he was at it, he broke ALL of England away from Rome and started a brand new religion, the Church of England. Then his marriage to Catherine was annulled by the Church of England and he was free to marry Anne Boleyn.

Reviled by many for her liaison and marriage to Henry, Anne Boleyn was seen as a troublemaker who caused her country’s rift with the Church. Others considered her a gifted queen who forged important political connections with France. Later in history, she was viewed as a martyr. For good or ill, Queen Anne Boleyn was a powerful figure in England.

I don’t know when the first sighting of her ghost occurred, but it was seen in many places, many times. On the anniversary of her death, on May 19, Queen Anne’s ghost appears at Bickling Hall in Norfolk. She arrives in style in a carriage pulled by headless horses and driven by a headless driver. In keeping with the theme, she is also headless. She also is seen at the Tower of London. Once, a guard saw an intruder who wouldn’t stop when confronted, so he wielded his sword. Wasn’t he surprised when the weapon went right through her ghostly body. This Tower incident was not only reported by that guard, but witnessed by someone else – the ghost is thought to be Anne.

On Christmas Eve, Queen Anne Boleyn haunts Hever Castle, which was her childhood home. She also appears at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and other places of prominence.

Many cultures around the world have folklore that features women who return to haunt and sometimes harm. Typically, those ghosts were women who received poor treatment in life or died under questionable circumstances. The ones who cause harm are categorized as vengeful ghosts. The brutal historical record suggests that Anne Boleyn would fit right into that ghostly clique.

But Queen Anne’s ghost doesn’t do harm. She doesn’t toss her head and cry, “Catch!” She doesn’t even say boo. So, if she doesn’t return to avenge her death, what might she be doing instead?

I think that her specter returns to remind people about civility and justice. It strikes me as proper and right (and even a bit ironic) for someone who helped change the course of a nation’s spirituality to remind that same nation, through her spirit’s visits, about the consequences of hypocrisy and the abuse of power.

As I see it, the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn is a former head of state using her headless state for the public good.

Other famous ghosts who return to haunt…..? Comments….go!

— Jeri

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Jones, Richard and John Mason (2005). Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland. New Holland Publishers, Ltd.
Wikipedia – Anne Boleyn

PHOTO CREDIT: By August / CC BY-SA 2.0 / 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.


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.

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit:
By thebrandery (Flickr: The Brandery Winter Edition 2010) [CC BY 2.0 (, 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.
Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

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

Why We Need to Spin it Ourselves

Think about warm, fresh-out-of-the oven muffins. Tasty for sure, they can be desirable, happy, delights for carbo-gluten-dairy tolerant people. But that’s not all. Muffins have muffin tops. Torn from the muffin bottoms, their crunchy shells and feathery interiors are savored first or saved for last by hard-core muffin top lovers.

But muffin tops on human waists are not as popular. The only thing they have in common with the desirability of the cake is the desire to rip them off.

The Urban Dictionary provides yet another of its memorable hip definitions and usage examples for muffin top:

When a woman wears a pair of tight jeans that makes her flab spill out over the waistband, just like the top of a muffin sits over the edge of the paper case.

Jeez, check out the Muffin Top on that chick! *shudder

If the Urban Dictionary can be said to provide definitions of culture,” *shudder tells you about how muffin tops are perceived. And because of this, people try to exercise them away. People try to hide them under sweaters. People try not to grow them because culture frowns on pounds. Culture shudders.

But really, who exactly decides what things are desirable or shudder-worthy?

I woke to a wonderful link that reminded me how anyone can take back that power and decide these things for themselves. Anyone can choose the spin. It’s in the words we choose and the attitude we use. That’s what makes all the difference.

The link was a Youtube video by Erin Keaney, a mama who raps with pride about her muffin top. It is her badge of parenting. And her video is awesome. Writers and storytellers and anyone can learn from her example.

In her rap, Erin tells how her muffin tops came about. She raps about her fighting efforts to vanquish her opponent with Rocky style commitment. Ultimately, she gives up muffin top fighting. But not in despair! Erin turns the whole thing around and embraces her muffin top. Erin takes joy in her muffin top and her winsome, winning video gives me joy in her muffin tops too.

We don’t have to accept all the images put forth in the media. We can take control of the images in context, attitude, and in how we use our words. We can change the connotations associated with words and phrases. It’s all in how we spin it.

Sure, muffin tops can remain hidden in the cupboard of our bulky knits. Or we can shout from the rooftops and proudly shake ’em, like Erin does. As storytellers and writers, teachers and parents, we can shake anything up in the words we use and in the mood we create in the telling of our stories.

Muffin tops are a fact of life for so many people, especially for those of us in the Mama Club. Next time I look with disdain in the mirror, I think I’ll go watch Erin’s video instead.

If we carry our muffin tops with joy, we won’t create dreaded fear of muffin tops for future generations. If we teach children to shudder, they will shudder. If we reinforce the shudder, anyone, not just children, can have distaste for self and others.

Instead, choose your words carefully. Choose the way you utter them. Choose the way characters respond to them. Choose to shatter the shudder with the words you utter.


What other issues do you think you can put your own spin on? Have you already done this? Please share in the comments! I’d love to hear and will comment/visit back.


Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

The Power of the Verbal Delete Button

During a kindergarten residency at a school recently, we visited individual classrooms many times. On one visit, we noticed an injured child. It was hard NOT to notice. Laced with lacerations, one side of his face was every shade of the red spectrum, from pink to purple. Greeting us, he cocked his head to show us the palette of pain that marked his cheek.

“Did you fall on the playground?” we asked.

He shook his head.

Then his teacher approached us and gently set a hand on his shoulder.

“He was bitten by a dog,” she explained.

The boy nodded sadly.

We said something soothing and then headed over to the story corner where all of his classmates were sitting in a cozy semi-circle on the alphabet rug. Finding his place at the letter Q, he joined them and we began the session.

Our presentation carried everyone away from the plastic, primary colors of the classroom into the lush, tropical fruit colors of Southeast Asia and Indonesia. One of our stories was crafted specifically for the residency. Not only was it age appropriate, it fit our curricular goals, and it represented the culture of one of the minority students in the class. For all those reasons, it was important to tell that tale that day.

As we were telling it, we came to the moment when an old woman is threatened by a snarling, sharp-toothed wolf. We thought immediately about the injured, little boy. This was not the sort of image he needed. But there was no way around it. The woman had to be threatened by the animal or the story would no longer make sense.

Such a dilemma is exactly when in-person, live storytelling has one of its many moments of glory.

Because live storytelling is not hardcore and scripted, storytellers have freedom. Because live storytelling has improvisational aspects, it is possible to make shifts in text and image on the fly. So we changed the way we described the threat to the old woman. Instead of telling the story as we usually do (by focusing on a kindergarten-appropriate scary description of the wolf’s teeth), we dropped it completely. By “deleting” all references to the animal’s mouth, we pulled the teeth out of the image, so to speak. We kept the story integrity intact and also preserved our integrity as caring people.

While deleting phrases may sound insignificant, it is not. It is what live storytelling is all about.

Storytellers often change their work in response to their audience. It is part of the magic and allure of live performance art – it is also its brand. Instead of stiffly adhering to a script and leaving the boy with a reminder of a dark memory, we left him laughing and happy like the other kids.

Live storytelling can bring the needs of audience members into sharp focus. Take your eyes off the text and put them on those who might listen to you. You can learn a lot by watching them. Parents, teachers, and therapists are lucky because they know their audiences intimately. But even if you don’t know yours, you can ask about them before you perform. And whether you know them beforehand or not, watch them.

Could the old woman be a role model for the boy, showing him that it is possible to overcome a scary canine? Quite possibly. At the very least, we avoided salting a wound in the service of a script by invoking the verbal delete button.

If you heed your audience, you honor them. And maybe, you will offer the balm of blissful forgetting graced with healing.

Do you have moments where the power of your writing or speaking is amplified by what you don’t utter or write? Let’s have a conversation -if you comment I will respond and visit you back!


Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – Q is for Quirky

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – Q is for Quirky

Recently, we worked with a group of children at an after school program. All of the kids were sweet and lovely. Some were quite talented, most were hard working, and a couple were lightning quick. But one of them was extraordinary.

Her hair was always a little mussed. Her glasses were often a bit askew. She wandered in late but always stayed to help afterwards, sharing wildly creative, deep thoughts for a person of her age. The child asked penetrating questions. Though she seemed out of step with the rest of the children in the group, she was not out of sync with the project that we were all doing together. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that although she was with us on our river of creativity, she was riding a different current.

The child was quirky.

And good golly, was she beautiful. Not because she fit the standard recipe, but because she was quirky. Everything about her came together in such a pleasing and unusual way.

Beauty attracts. So does quirky. Great beauty is remarkable. So is quirkiness.

It’s true that there are similarities between the qualites of “quirky” and “outside the box” (which I wrote about previously for letter “O”). But for me there is one critical difference. To be outside the box means that you know where the box is and are very aware of where you stand in relation to it. There is a conscious choice to let norms fall away or to follow personal whims despite, or because, of the presence of the box. To decide to shed the box is to be free of its boundaries.

In contrast, quirkiness isn’t chosen like that. The awesome beauty of quirkiness comes because it just is. My quirky student has no idea that she is quirky. She has no idea how charming, how delightful, how attractive she is. So much of what is beautiful about her comes from the innocent and honest individuality that she possesses. I can’t wait to see how the wonders of her life unfold.

It is important to tell and write about the beauty in quirkiness for two reasons. First, it widens the lens of what is truly beautiful. The second reason is that the innocent originality of quirky beauty is often reviled by others. My quirky student was avoided by the ‘cool’ kids in our group. Not a target of bullying exactly, she was not embraced by others, which could be a bullying risk.

Make the quirky ones the beauties in your stories. Declaim their beauty with your powerful words and thoughts. Use your words to celebrate my girl and all those lucky enough to wear a quirky badge of honor.

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – I is for Inventiveness

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – I is for Inventiveness

The elegant, creative solution to a problem is simply beautiful. When all the stressful puzzle pieces fall into place and pesky problems depart, life is awash in unadulterated loveliness. “Wouldn’t it be loverly” if such a skill could be bottled and handed out as swag at every library, school, and therapist’s office?

“Give me a half pound of turkey, three pickles, some handcrafted Bruschetta, and a liter of inventiveness to go, please?”

The creative spirit – inventiveness – is beautiful. Who turns lemons into lemonade? Who transforms rags into a glamorous wardrobe? Who cause colors to spring to life on canvases? Who can invent, dream up, hatch, concoct, fabricate, make, start up, birth? The people who harbor the muse of inventiveness, that’s who! And they are beautiful.

Think about any story of any type. Tales turn on a problem, conflict or dilemma that a protagonist faces. From superheroes to princesses to angry housewives to your 7th grade teacher, if they are in a story, they have to solve or overcome something.

And there is beauty is in the solution. Maybe a completely creative, impulsive fix; perhaps it is a carefully devised, thoughtful solution. The point is that removing obstacles usually takes more than luck. It takes originality interwoven with brainpower, a teaspoon of the inspiration, which is then kneaded to perfection with experience. And the more unusual the solution, the more beautiful.

If you are writing or telling a story, any character can take a moment to reflect on the action of another. Characters can respond directly to others with compliments about another’s beauty because of a breathtakingly beautiful solution to a predicament.

When we create something new and different, people take notice. We are drawn to new things. Think about it. Don’t most people turn their heads when a baby is in the room? Though we love familiarity and ritual, we also love what is fresh and move forward with the new and the creative.

Inventiveness is a term that encompasses solutions of the mind and heart. It connotes science, humanities, and the arts. Inventive people are creative; creative people are inventive. Honor the dream weavers for the beauty they hold within.

Characters whom you tell and write about: fictional ones, real ones, true to life ones, can be described by their creative approach to the world. No matter what we look like, we are all great beauties during moments of inventiveness.

What people or characters that you know or have written/told about are beautiful for their inventiveness?

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.


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.

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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