Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “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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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

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.

Jeri

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.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – Z is for Zest

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 – Z is for Zest

I struggled with what to choose for my Z word – zeal, zealous, and zest were the contenders. According to Thesaurus.com, zest is a synonym for zeal. That is good, because zeal rhymes with veal and zealous rhymes with jealous and in Autocorrect style, my ear and eye replace the Z’s with the other letters every time. Since I don’t care to associate beauty with jealousy or baby animals on plates, I am going with zest.

Besides, ZEST makes a great acrostic.

Zing
Excitement
Strength
Truth

I know an educational leader who overflows with zing – she is also strong and truthful about what excites her. Her heart beats with the heritage of her nation. A female Atlas, she carries her country’s culture on her shoulders and broadcasts it joyfully to everyone. Her pride is strong, her manner is electrified with purpose and panache. Anyone near feels her passion and is inspired to explore her culture and/or their own. A grand dame of beauty, she is zest incarnate.

We all know people like this. Their zesty fire is invigorating. We also know story characters with passion coursing through them. Zest and passion beautifies people and story characters. It changes their skin and eyes and the way they carry themselves. They glow. They shine. They electrify.

Young people launching into their lives often carry such a zesty beauty – they are full of hope and optimism and have the verve and nerve to make it so. But that kind of beauty is not reserved for the young and able-bodied. Anyone of any age or bearing can be beautiful for their zest! The woman I spoke of earlier is a grandmother who is close to retirement. And she is gloriously beautiful.

As we think about what it means to be beautiful and what attracts others, let’s remember this quality. Zesty souls breathe color and piquancy into the landscape of the world. You can describe the zesty as the beauties in your stories, adding zest to the hearts and minds of readers and listeners. Remember the educational leader who carries her culture on her shoulders like Atlas? Be zesty like her and shake up the world – you will make a world of difference for those who hear or read your stories.

I hope you will use the power of your words to Reimagine Beauty.

The A to Z Challenge has been a delight and privilege to participate in. I have one more post though, as I am ever just outside the box and a bit beyond the rules. Not a 27th letter though! See, as a writer/storyteller, I like literary balance. Since the first A to Z post came prior to the letter A with the Great Theme Reveal – I want to bookend this by sharing one more post, after the letter Z, a mini-epilogue of sorts. Look out for that soon. Thanks for reading and stay in touch.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – Y is for YES!

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 – Y is for YES!

My friend Meg suffers from cancer. Thankfully, she will be fine, but to get to that state she must make a dramatic journey through the trials of chemo, invasive surgery, and recuperation.

In spite of her suffering, her outlook is positive, happy, bright, and optimistic. She makes sunshine dim.

You see, each and every step of her journey has been punctuated with a resounding “YES!”

YES! We caught it in time.

YES! My friends and family love me.

YES! I have complaints and fears (who wouldn’t?) but I talk about them so I can clear the decks and bring my YES! on.

YES! I can withstand this.

YES! I have confidence in my doctors.

YES! I will survive.

With all her hardships, she remembers her blessings. She blogs about gratitude on CaringBridge. Though her course of treatment makes daily blogging impossible, she remembers the good and shouts it out in cyberspace.

YES and yowza, she is beautiful.

YES people, as Barbara Fredrickson’s research is now confirming, are more likely to be healthier than their pessimistic counterparts. In their recent reviews of research, both James Clear of the Huffington Post and Emily Esfahani Smith of the Atlantic Monthly agree that optimism yields actual benefits to brain and body. In my view, this suggests that the power of positive thinking is a good and beautiful thing.

There are many ways that people sparkle with the beauty of optimism. When they challenge themselves, try new things, start, take risks, and look for the promise of roses instead of shadows around the next corner, they are doing the YES thing. Maybe they meditate, maybe they write, but whenever they are optimistic and effervescent, they nourish themselves and are inspiring to others.

Say YES! to a more inclusive definition of beauty. Say YES! to people who might not feel beautiful because popular culture defines and proliferates a limited range of images of beauty. Give everyone models of gorgeous optimism in stories, writings, and in what you say.

Say YES! to beautiful, positive thinking so that negative thoughts about beauty can fly away just like Meg’s illness will.

What do you think? Is optimism a beautiful thing?
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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – X is for eXpressive

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 – X is for eXpressive

Okay, I cheated a little with this letter and the notation of the word. I imagine that other A to Z bloggers did too…:)

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Thanks to Mrs. Friefeld, my 6th grade teacher, I endured a lot of spelling tests. The word “expressive” was on none of them.

She did, however, teach me how to spell “wheelbarrow.” She also spoke avidly about writing vividly. With over 56 million hits on my browser for the search term “vivid writing,” the web seems to concur with her.

Vivid language is expressive. Writers use it to evoke images and to beautify writing. Storytellers compose vivid text which they bring to life with expressive performance techniques. So, vivid text and vivid expression combine to make the art of storytelling beautiful.

And what does this have to do with the beauty of people?

Everything.

If expressiveness in written and spoken stories is beautiful, then expressiveness in people is too.

Wonderfully kaleidoscopic, expressive faces can evince every tint, form, and nuance of the human experience. Recognizing love, happiness, joy, warmth, mischief, laughter, sadness – we read expressions as easily as we read books, blogs, movies, and memes. Talk about images in action!

One of my friends is a visual artist with a very quiet personality. Typically pensive and serious, her everyday face is a motionless pond on a hot, summer day. But when she experiences joy or moments of inspiration, her face flickers, then morphs completely into an open flower. Her eyes and mouth widen, the edges of her lips curl upward in a secret-holding smile. It is not only how she looks after she sheds the pond for the flower, but the entire process of the transformation that defines her eye-grabbing beauty.

We are naturally drawn to expressive people. Actors attract us for a reason. Not because they look a certain way, but because they can make us look at them or issues in a certain way. Human transformers, they can be any character in any mood. If they are good at their art, we believe them. That is the kind of beauty I wish our culture more actively promoted about celebrities and actors.

But as writers and storytellers and conversationalists, we can promote that kind of beauty in the words we use to create images. We can include anyone in such depictions of beauty! It is not the precise features on a face that fit a formula. It is not skin color or complexion. That kind of reductionism strip mines beauty. A beautiful face is expressive because all of its parts belong together.

I challenge you to be beautifully expressive about the beauty in the expressive. Describe it vividly so that others can see it. And don’t forget how to spell “wheelbarrow.”

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Copyright 2014. The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – W is for Wisdom

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 – W is for Wisdom

When people think of The Good Witch of the North, they immediately think of a glamorous witch called Glinda. But there is no such character in the book from whence she came – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

There is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. Dorothy visits her at the end of the book. The woman who Dorothy encounters early on in the story, in Munchkinland, is called The Witch of the North. Her name is not Glinda, and she is not a bubble-riding glam girl. The Witch of the North is described as an ancient and wrinkled old woman.

Does this surprise you? It surprised me, growing up as I did on the movie version of the story.

Since I love to parody and fracture familiar stories, I wrote an offbeat rap of the book (puns always intended). My Witch of the North is old and wrinkly, as Baum wrote her. But I carry his idea few steps further. I describe her as an old and wise crone – and Dorothy finds her beautiful.

In my version, Dorothy recognizes the true beauty of the wonderful helper who can light her way on the path back home. That is because older eyes are beacons of understanding. Wrinkles are a road map of someone’s experience. It is a beautiful ‘ah’ moment when we encounter someone who can help us navigate a crisis. Showered with answers, we feel immense comfort and relief. Dorothy landed in the strange land of Oz and met a wisdom-bearer. Like an oracle, she was Dorothy’s salvation because she had an answer.

Wisdom is a great boon. Those who have it are fountains of sagacity. Even trickles of their wisdom can help individuals, society, and posterity. When we acknowledge the beauty in wisdom, especially in our youth-focused culture, we recognize beautiful people who are typically excluded from membership in the beauty club.

Elderhood is not the only qualification to be a wisdom-bearer. People of any age who study and practice skills can be wise about their specialties. People of any age who live with disabilities, suffer discrimination, experience hardships or wonders have knowledge that others can learn from. People of any age can have the experience and knowledge that adds up to wisdom.

Let’s be wise and remember to acknowledge beauty that is wrought from wisdom. Our mentors, our friends, our parents, our elders, our children, our teachers, and everyone carrying this beautiful and world-changing quality deserve to be recognized for their beauty.

Somewhat related – Perhaps you have seen this viral video. It shows an 80 year old woman dancing like someone one quarter her age. She does it beautifully, partly because it just is and partly because of her age. Who are the beautiful wisdom bearers you have come across in life and literature?

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – V is for Voice

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 – V is for Voice

At a farmer’s market last summer, I was talking to the seller about the eggplants when a little girl beside me sucked in her breath. Flashing me a “Santa’s Here!” smile, she was shook excitedly as she told me about her day. The thing was, I never saw her before in all my life. Noticing all the flies congregating in my wide open mouth, the girl’s mother told me that her daughter listens to my storytelling CD’s. The little girl recognized the sound of my voice, and through my familiar voice, I was an old friend.

The voice cultivates powerful connections.

Recent research confirms that babies listen, in utero, to their mother’s voice. Other research suggests that newborns prefer their mother’s voice over others. Not only do babies learn language from their mothers, listening to a mother’s voice may help a baby develop a loving bond with her.

Familiar voices are beautiful in their familiarity. Even unfamiliar ones can be aural sources of beauty. Whether spoken or sung, a voice can be comforting, sensual, pretty, and so much more.

The voice isn’t only an instrument of speech. Everyone has a voice in the way they write words or formulate their spoken lexicon. That kind of voice can also be beautiful.

There is also inherent beauty in the way people give voice to their own personalities. Whether it is physical, political, the way we decorate our homes, or the causes we stand up for, when we give voice to ourselves, it can be beautiful.

Be a voice for broadening the way we portray beauty. Depict characters in stories with beautiful voices in the many ways that voices can be beautiful. Allow your characters to fall in love at first sound. Write about them, tell about them, give your audiences an earful of the myriad possibilities in the beauty of the voice.

What voices in your life are beautiful? Can you think of any voices in literature that are beautiful? Have you ever connected to someone because of something in the sound or tone of voice? Are there voices that call up memories or inspire feelings of a coming home? I’d love to hear from you.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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