Call for Stories

I dragged my lazy carcass out of the house today, in the hopes that change of scenery would help me focus on goals rather than on the meaningless call of mindless computer games. I cashed a check given to me a week and a half ago (I told you I was lazy) and, money in my hand, decided to treat myself to a few things:

  • a package of three moleskin journals to help organize my thoughts on my various projects
  • a warm bowl of french onion soup
  • a hot chai latte

As I munched away on my delicious lunch, I had an internal dialogue with The Storyteller in hopes of narrowing down what exactly my Simultaneous Stories project might be about (you know, the one I announced the other day).

Together the storyteller and I began brainstorming about types of stories we might want to include and we came up with a long list of possibilities. This is where you come in. Below you will find this list. Now obviously I will have to narrow down more, but I’m casting my net out wide to see what I bring back.

If you have a favorite post or two that fits one (or more) of these categories please share the link in the comments. I’m looking for everything: serious, funny, picture posts, poetry, fiction, non-fiction. All I ask is that you limit your submissions to only a few. Think of this as you submitting your best posts for possible publication. There is no way I can include every post I’ve ever loved in this collection, but I hope to be able to include a couple of posts from several different bloggers.  If you link below I will read and hopefully begin to figure out what this project is really about.

So here is the overly long list:

  • stories about (and from) different ages of life
  • stories about what it means to be “Other”
  • stories about acceptance
  • stories about letting go of jealousy, resentment, frustration
  • stories of hope
  • stories about finding perspective
  • stories about a specific day in the life . . .
  • fantasy stories
  • stories of female power
  • stories of nature and respecting nature
  • stories of sisterhood and brotherhood
  • stories of purpose
  • stories that link us; stories about connection
  • common stories told across cultures
  • campfire stories (could include ghost stories)
  • stories told in picture form
  • stories about being a parent
  • stories about war
  • stories of childhood
  • stories of misunderstandings
  • stories about magic

As you can see, this list is way too long, but its a beginning. Now, look over old posts, or if something inspires you, write something new. Then link it here in comments and I will get busy.

Thanks in advance. Join me at the campfire and let’s share stories.

Nathan's puppets tell a story of the summer, Okoboji 2011

Important Request: If you suggest a post and do not use your real name on your blog, please either mention your name in the comment or e-mail me with the information. If I use your writing, I want to do it correctly (with formal permission and correct information). Thank you!

The Gift of Magic

This fabulous photo inspired the following.

“Hush!” the wizened old woman whispered to the excited child next to her. “It will happen soon, but we must be cautious or they will not welcome you.”

Theresa almost vibrated as she tried to contain her excitement, which would normally come out in bursts of giggles and songs. She knew that she would never be given another chance if she ruined this opportunity, as Wise Mother chose  her apprentices with care, and dismissed them quickly if they proved unable to handle the Magic. Theresa had dreamed of learning more about the Magic from the first moment she watched as Wise Mother shared a story in the village center, including images drawn in the sky that showed the adventure to all. Theresa stared at the images  and wished she knew how to create such beauty.

“Theresa, look,” Wise Mother whispered as quietly as possible, her breath tickling Theresa’s ear with each word. “They are here.”

Theresa watched in awe as the fairy ring of mushrooms began to glow, a light that emanated in many colors from the heart of the mushrooms. She lost any urge to sing or move as a faint hum filled the air, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Later Theresa would try to remember the tune so that she could sing it, but it eluded her with the complex beauty of nature singing. Wise Mother explained that it was indeed nature, the grass, the trees, the mushrooms and the earth sang with the joy of the coming meeting.

Eventually Theresa noticed that a variety of small beings had appeared in the glowing circle. Each one was indescribably beautiful and unique. She recognized them only from the lore and stories handed down at the village story circle. Fairies representing every color of the rainbow, and some colors with no names. Tiny gnomes, their wrinkled faces sparkling with joy. Brownies, whose stick-like bodies almost blended in with the color of the earth. There were other creatures as well, that Theresa could not identify.

Suddenly a silence fell, at the appearance of the largest of the fairies whose beauty and glow surpassed all the others. Her wings seemed to shine with flowing colors that sometimes looked like water shimmering, and sometimes like the twinkle of stars. All the tiny creatures bowed their heads toward her, and even the Wise Woman shifted and kneeled, pulling Theresa down.

The Fairy Queen spoke with a voice like butterfly wings, that seemed to enter straight into Theresa’s head bypassing her ears.

“Who have you brought, my young friend?”

At first Theresa was confused, as Wise Mother was anything but young. She was older than the oldest grandfather in the village, and he remembered her as being old even when he was a child. Her wisdom showed in every crinkle of her face and her eyes were hidden by the deep folds of age. But, Theresa realized, compared to these creatures who seemed to be simultaneously ancient and youthful, Wise Mother might indeed be young.

“I have brought someone to be blessed by you,” Wise Mother answered. “I think she is the next person to protect your gift.”

“Are you sure?” The Fairy Queen asked.

“I am sure,” Wise Mother replied. I have tested her, and she has passed each one with strength.

“Then we shall bless her.”

With that the humming began again and grew as all the creatures moved toward Theresa, in a way that startled her.

“Do not be afraid,” Wise Mother whispered, looking deeply into Theresa’s eyes.

The fairies who could fly surrounded her head and her shoulders. The others reached up and touched as high as they could.

With each touch, Theresa felt a sense of warmth move through her body, toward her heart and her mind. Suddenly, the world seemed to shift, and the woods surrounding them took on a sharper appearance. The hum became words, that she could understand. She felt at peace and the urge to lie down and sleep.

When she awoke on the forest floor the creatures were gone and the mushrooms were simple mushrooms again. Wise Mother sat next to her, looking down with tears in her eye and a smile on her face.

“You now have the Magic too. You are, indeed, my heir.”

And so Theresa’s story began . . .

Stories of Laughter and of Tears

On the return drive from taking Nathan to the airport (for a trip related to the mysterious possibilities that I am still not talking about) I listened to NPR shows that he had downloaded for the drive. As usual, I laughed, I got frustrated and I cried.

But this time the tears came from a hurt deep inside.

It all started with This American Life as I tuned into Alison Silverman’s report on the 1950’s television show This Is Your Life.  I know that I watched reruns of that show as a child, or at least saw clips. I vaguely recall creating our own versions of the show when we decided to create our own radio/television shows. Somewhere in the collection of memorabilia at my parents house lies an old orange-labeled cassette tape containing a radio show filled with childish lisps, lame jokes, bad accents, sound effects and giggles. If I had the power, I would share a clip with you here.

But this isn’t about those childhood memories. This is about my focus on sharing stories. Silverman’s report brought to life the dual sided gift of sharing someone’s life story in a public venue. The first story to make me sob was that of a Holocaust survivor, Hanna Bloch Kohner.  Her initial reaction to the words, “This is Your Life Hanna Bloch Kohner!” was a somewhat agonized (or at least it sounded that way to me) “Oh, no.”   During the half hour show, she was reunited with a fellow survivor who moved from camp to camp with her and was reminded of the death of her parents and her husband.  She had to talk about her 7 years of horror, including being handed a bar of soap and not knowing whether the shower she entered would be one of water or of gas.

That story over, I thought my tears would diminish. But no, next Silverman shares another This is Your Life about a Japanese man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and was travelling around the United States to raise money for reconstructive surgery for some young female survivors. He meets his past in as dramatic a way as possible; they brought the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on to shake his hand.

“How could they be so cruel?” I said out loud through my tears (appreciating the fact that I was alone in the car). I thought it was cruelty to both men; one who had to confront the enemy who destroyed his city with a bomb, and one who had to confront the reality of what that bomb did to human beings.

Why would we find entertainment in reminding people of true evil or about the most horrific times of their lives? I thought to myself. Why are so many people fascinated by “reality” television?

As I worked my way through my tears and the agony of my thoughts, I began to glimpse the answer in Silverman’s words:

Even in its heyday, ThisisYourLife raised hackles. Time magazine called Ralph Edwards a spiritual prosecutor to his guests. And Jack Gould at the New York Timesaccused the show and others like it of exploiting the raw and private emotions of the unfortunate. But the unfortunate, they liked it. ThisisYourLife might have exploited your story, but it also told you your story, gave it to you, and once you had it you could do whatever you wanted with it.

Hanna’s daughter, Julie Kohner, told me that her mother spent the year after the show traveling around the country with a copy of her episode raising money for United Jewish Appeal. On Passover, the Kohner family would play it on the gift projector they got on ThisisYourLife. Years later, Hanna and her husband, Walter, even published a joint autobiography, HannaandWalter:a Love Story.

And as brutal as his episode seems today, Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto had fond memories of his appearance. His daughter, Koko Kondo, who was on the telecast as a 10-year-old told me when English speaking guests would visit, Tanimoto would play them the episode on his gift projector. He wasn’t horrified by meeting Captain Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay. In fact, the two of them started writing each other after the show. And Koko Kondo says Captain Lewis changed her whole attitude about the old enemy. Seeing him tear up on stage at the El Capitan, she stopped hating American soldiers. (Silverman)

You see, it all comes back to the importance of STORY. When we share stories of horror, of sadness, and of pain, it allows us to heal. When we share stories full of laughter and joy, it allows us to celebrate. Through our stories, even through the ridiculousness of reality television, we come one step closer to recognizing the things that bind us together as humans.

For the truth is,  the only thing we have completely in common is that we all have a story.

____________________________________

Today’s Quote: 

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
Washington Irving

Sharing Chapter 1 of “Giving Up the Ghosts”

Candle wick burning.

Image via Wikipedia

Since I decided to take the plunge and self publish, and today is Fiction Friday over at the Domestic Fringe, and I am trying to get on the road quickly so I shouldn’t stop to write, I thought I would share the first chapter of the book for middle-grade readers. Enjoy!

CHAPTER 1:
SECRETS REVEALED

 

T

he finished basement took on an eerie silence as Andie watched Brittany strike a match to begin the séance. Sleeping bags, pillows, and ten young bodies cast strange shadows on the walls in the flickering candlelight. Several of the girls shifted and giggled as the air started to feel heavier.

“Quiet,”Brittanyordered. “We have to be serious.”

Accustomed to following Brittany’s every word, the girls settled down with nervous glances at one another. Andie wondered if any of the girls really believed in ghosts. Andie was sure that Brittany didn’t believe in anything supernatural or anything that involved the imagination. Andie and Brittany played together all the time when they were little girls. They often held tea parties with “imaginary” friends. What Brittany didn’t know, however, was that the friends were not imaginary—at least not to Andie. There were always one or two ghosts hanging around with the girls that only Andie could see. The ghosts played games, sang songs, asked questions and pretended they were as alive as the two little girls. Andie told Brittany stories of whatever the ghosts were doing, but Brittany always thought it was just Andie’s great imagination.

When they turned twelve, Brittany decided that playing with invisible playmates was no longer cool, and that boys were much more interesting.

“You are like a little baby playing with imaginary friends,” she told Andie one day. “I have more important things to think about. I think Steven is so cute.”

Andie had no interest in boys at that point. Brittany drifted away and went on to form a new group of friends. This group, known as The Circle, eventually led the school. Andie soon had nobody but her ghosts.

Andie had not been invited to one of Brittany’s beginning-of-school sleepovers since Brittany had become so popular. For some reason, Brittany had decided it was time to give Andie another chance. Every year Brittany tested one girl to see if she was worthy of joining The Circle. It was hard to pass the test. Andie was determined to succeed because popularity would make her sophomore year in high school much better, and she was tired of only having incorporeal friends.

So here Andie was, sitting at a séance, watching a ghost form in the corner and wondering if she dared to say anything to the other girls. They’ll just think I’m still playing with imaginary friends, she thought, so I’m not going to tell them the truth. I don’t want to screw this up.

Using her spookiest voice, Brittany began, “Eeef theeeere is anyone heeere who wants to talk to uuuusssss, please give us a siiiign.”

Nothing happened. At least nobody but Andie realized what was happening. She watched as the silvery shape she had noticed earlier took form in the darkest corner of the room. At first a dim blob, it finally emerged as the image of a girl about Andie’s age, wearing an old-fashioned, floor-length nightgown.  Andie sneaked glances at the other girls to see if they noticed the ghost. As usual, she seemed to be the only one who was able to see anything otherworldly.

“Is there aaaanyone heeeere who wishes to speak to uuus?” Brittanyasked.

The ghost wandered over to stand behind Courtney and said, “Hello, I’m here.”

Andie heard the statement clearly, or as clearly as one can when a ghost is talking, which sounds like an echo from a deep well. Courtney, sitting next toBrittany, started giggling and asked, “Did you just blow in my ear?”

“It’s windy outside. You probably felt a draft through the window,” Brittany said, “Everyone should ask a question. Maybe a ghost will respond to someone else.”

Obedient as always, the other girls took turns seeking some connection with the spirit world. Andie had to bite her lip to keep from laughing as the playful girl ghost responded in ways that the other girls could almost hear or feel, but decided to pass off as imagination. The spirit wandered from girl to girl, whispering, playing with their hair, touching their arms. The girls twitched and itched, but couldn’t seem to recognize the signs of a ghost.

“If you are here, knock on the wall,” Courtney suggested.

The ghost knocked, startling everyone.

“My stupid brother must be spying on us,” Brittany said, jumping up to open the door leading upstairs. Of course nobody was there. “Leave us alone, dork!”Brittanyyelled, “Stay away from this room!”

The teenage ghost started being even more mischievous, blowing on necks, causing goose bumps, and pinching arms and cheeks. She stood behind Brittany and made strange faces. Andie pushed her nails into her palm and hid her face behind her thick mane of unruly reddish-brown hair to hide her smile. She pretended to cough to hide her laugh.

“Is something funny, Andrea?”Brittanyasked, annoyed at the interruption to her serious ceremony.

“Sorry . . . um, I just had something in my throat. And . . . I wish you would call me Andie. You know nobody calls me Andrea.” Andie answered quietly.

“We don’t use nicknames in our group,”Brittanysaid, “It’s your turn to ask a question.”

“Um . . . I’d rather not.”

“If you want to hang out with us, you have to do as I say,”Brittanysaid. The other girls responded in agreement.

Courtney said, “You should ask the ghost to do something.”

“OK, let me think a minute,” Andie said, closing her eyes. What do I do? She thought. I don’t really want the ghost to answer me, but I can’t get out of this. Andie remembered that ghosts required a lot of energy to move objects, so often they wouldn’t do it when asked. Usually they just said “No.”  Please just say no, Andie prayed silently.

“If you are here,” she whispered so quietly that the other girls leaned forward to hear her, “please lift the candle in the air.”

The ghostly girl looked thoughtful and headed toward the candle. Andie held her breath as the spirit tried to grab it. The candle flames flickered more brightly as the ghost focused energy in that area. Someone whispered, “Did you see that?”

“Shh!” Brittany said. “You are imagining things.”

Andie held her breathe. The ghost made two more unsuccessful attempts at moving the candle. When she gave up, a look of frustration reflected on her pale features, Andie released air in a rush.

“Well, that was useless,” Brittany snapped and blew out the candle. “I’m getting bored, let’s do makeovers now.”  She looked over at Andie, “Some of us really need help. You should start wearing makeup Andrea.”

Andie blushed, but stood up, relieved that the séance was over with no harm done. She’d even tolerate a makeover, although her mother didn’t want her to wear makeup. She’d do anything to keep her secret safe.

All the girls rushed over to grab hairbrushes and makeup cases. Brittany ordered Andie to sit in front of her and started experimenting with purple eye shadow so Andie was not able to see what the ghost girl was doing.

Brittanyhad just finished one of Andie’s eyes when somebody screamed, “Look at that!” A mirror dropped with a loud crash.

Everyone looked toward the center of the room, where they had left the candle. To most of the girls, it seemed as if the candle was floating several feet above the ground. Andie saw a hand that looked almost solid, and the faint image of the figure of the ghost girl.

Forgetting where she was, Andie said to the ghost “You should probably stop that. You might fade away completely.”  The ghost responded by walking over to Andie and handing the candle to her.

Suddenly Andie realized that all eyes in the room were on her as the girls backed away.

“How did you do that?” Brittanydemanded.

“Do what?”  Andie answered, trying to hide the candle behind her.

“Make that candle float.”

“I didn’t do it. I think you really have a ghost,” Andie said, and then giggled nervously trying to pretend she was making a joke.

“And who were you talking to?” one of the other girls asked.

“Uh . . .” Andie looked at the girls who were all staring at her with shocked, terrified or mocking expressions. She realized she wouldn’t be able to fib her way out of this situation. For the first time she decided to reveal her secret. She took a deep breath and began. “I can see ghosts. There’s a girl standing over there.”  Heads swiveled to where Andie was pointing, but of course nobody could see anything.

Brittanysnorted with scorn. “You’re such a freak. You still haven’t grown up and left your imaginary friends behind. I’m going to call you Ghost Girl from now on!  Girls, isn’t that a great name for her?”

Brittany’s entourage agreed.

“It’s time to play Truth or Dare,” Brittanyordered. “But I don’t want you playing, Ghost Girl.”

Andie winced at the new nickname. She was never going to be part of this group.

Brittany continued. “Why don’t you go upstairs and help my mother with the pizza.”

For the rest of the evening, Andie did whatever Brittany ordered her to do, but was otherwise ignored. Occasionally, she caught the other girls whispering and giving her odd looks. Andie finally remembered to wipe off the purple eye shadow haunting one eye, but the funny looks didn’t stop. If anything, they got worse. The words “ghost girl” followed her around. The real ghost followed her as well. The faded teen wanted to communicate and get the attention of everyone in the room. Whenever she thought she no one was looking, Andie whispered to the ghost, trying to convince the spirit to leave for a while. This only added to the strange looks from everyone else.

Finally, it was time for bed. “I think you should sleep over there,” Brittany told Andie, pointing to the far corner of the room—the corner where the ghost first made her appearance. “That way you can talk to your ghost friends without disturbing the normal people in the room. Goodnight, Ghost Girl.”

The other girls giggled, saying “Goodnight, Ghost Girl” as Andie grabbed her sleeping bag while trying to stifle a sob. She slowly set it up in the far corner of the room.

I guess I won’t be joining The Circle now that my secret is out, she thought.

Andie had a difficult time falling asleep. She tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable on a hard floor with a tear-damp pillow. She continued to hear whispered conversations from across the room, including the words “Ghost Girl.”  The spirit girl tried to start a conversation with Andie, but Andie was in no mood to oblige. Eventually, the ghostly teen faded away with a look of disappointment.

Unable to sleep, Andie thought about the first time she had ever seen a ghost.

All Stories Have Value

I spent yesterday in a car, driving Nathan up to Okoboji, IA for the summer. Well, he did all the actual driving, I just watched the scenery go by along with the intimidating clouds and lightning strikes. It took us about 9 1/2 hours, including stops to walk the dogs and a quick trip to Trader Joe’s in Omaha.

On the way we listened to downloaded NPR shows including “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “This American Life,” and “The Moth.”

I heard stories. Stories big and stories small. Stories that affect the world, and stories that affected only individuals. And I realized, all stories have value. My story has value.

I want to be a storyteller, because through stories life gains value.

The trip hasn’t been without a little angst. I bring Nathan to a place that wants him, values him, but doesn’t really want or value me. I don’t really belong here, despite the fact that I have a lot to offer this place.

Last summer in Okoboji

But, I now realize that is part of my story. My story involves me learning to let go of jealousy, resentment, frustration. My story involves learning from the journey and learning from others.

My story is all that I have to offer you. In exchange, I hope you will share your story with me. Together our stories have power, beauty, and life.

A Walk in the Cemetery


Anger, frustration, stress, sadness, and loneliness all bubbled out of me this morning, making me snap at everyone and feel like I couldn’t breath. It led to the ranting post this morning. It led to a desire to scream.

I decided to go for a walk.

My initial plan was to walk in the zoo, but then I thought of the cemetery instead. It is near the zoo and a popular place to walk for this community. It’s huge and open and beautiful.

So I walked.

I heard the call of birds and the occasional animal cry from the zoo. I felt the sun and the cool breeze. I listened to the rhythm of my footsteps and my heartbeats.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings, but as my inner turmoil calmed I looked around. The sea of granite and marble structures leaves few clues about the people buried here, but a lot of information about the families that buried them. For the most part, square slabs of granite or marble reveal simply the family name of the deceased. In some areas you can see that every member of the family has been buried near each other, not surprising in a community of people who grow up and die in their family homes. Monuments stand up in grandeur, scattered between the square slabs. Here and there lies a lone grave, a lonely grave in the midst of colorful flowers both real and plastic. Here and there ostentatious displays of love and grandeur lie next to a simple slab of a life long-lost.

In the midst of all of this granite and marble I found this marker that stopped me in my tracks.

The powerful story told in this metal sculpture brought tears and warmth to my heart. I don’t know who the Whitlows were, but I picture a strong man sharing the stories of his glory days as a firefighter with his grandchildren. I smell cinnamon, sugar, Christmas trees and cookies coming from the kitchen of a woman wearing her hair in a bun, a hand-stitched apron over her dress, and a warm smile on her face. I hear the family sitting on the porch on a summer evening, singing to the strumming of a guitar.
Then I looked at the markers of their individual graves.
Cecil was born on my birthday, 70 years before I was born. Mary died the year I graduated from college, 29 years after her husband had passed. These are people’s whose lives were complete before my life really began. And their family marked their memories with a story full of warmth and love, by showing the world even in a small way who that  Cecil and Mary lived.
From there I wandered into the zoo, which oddly enough was only partially open. The only real exhibit to see was Monkey Island, where the monkeys were especially active. I watched two of them have a confrontation with a peacock as the ducks cheered them on. One of the swans noticed me and swooshed over with a flurry of wings and a splash of water, demanding my attention and I assume wanting food. He (I assume it was a he, I don’t really know) stretched his neck over the rock wall and looked directly at me as if to say “Am I handsome? What are you going to give me in exchange for watching my beauty?” He snapped at the stones in an attempt to reach me as I apologized, “I’m sorry. You are a beautiful bird but I have nothing to give you except my admiration.”
Eventually he gave up, but he followed me as I walked away.
I lied to that swan. I have something else to give to him, the monkeys, the peacock, the ducks and Mary and Cecil Whitlow. I owe them thanks for the reminder that life is about one thing and one thing only, living and loving with joy.

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