Thursday, April 27, 2017

Listening With Love: A Fun TBT Post About Communicating

This was originally posted in July of 2014.

The Casa Rosada.  Eva Peron's old home

I had a great tour through Argentina.  Though I was there for storytelling, I got a chance to see some neat stuff and learn some cool things.

The cemetery at Recoleta.  Eva Peron's current home

I saw Eva Peron's old house, The Casa Rosada, and I went to see where she was buried. 

I have been obsessed with this woman's life since my best friend, Melanie, introduced me to the Musical Evita when I was an undergrad at Northwestern. Walking these streets was so much fun!


Patti Lupone singing Evita from the original broadcast recording.

I spent almost an entire day at La Recoleta Cemetery where the dead are entombed in elaborate little houses, shrines, and some exotic looking little cathedrals. It was a city of the dead.

I saw my first ever Patagonian Mara.
Looks sort of like a cross between a rabbit and a small pig.  Wildest looking rodent ever.

Almost every street corner in Recoleta looks like something out of an art book!

I some amazing architecture.

Spent about thirty minutes in a small museum completely dedicated to toilets.

Here is one of the houses of the dead in La Recoleta. They are just fantastic!

Of course, most of my time was spent telling stories!

I spent hours with audiences who displayed various levels of English from proficient to non-existent.  Each and every show brought its own challenges and triumphs.

I enjoyed talking to the kids afterward as they attempted to be brave enough to chance a question in English.  I ventured a few words in Spanish, and I learned that the Argentines have different words than what I’d learned in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

All in all, it was a great learning experience and a great deal of fun.

The biggest problems I had when it came to communication did not come from the Argentines, but from my translator who was from New Zealand. 

Frank was a great tour manager

I always expect that I will understand him since we mostly speak the same language, but those New Zealanders have a very negligent relationship with consonant sounds, and they - or at least Frank - run towards the nasally. 

What this means is that occasionally Frank would say something and I would be lost as to what it was.  It was particularly bad if the word was at the end of a sentence.  I would wait a moment and try to guess what he’d said by using context.  Once, when he'd had a long morning, and I'd just finished two shows, he told me we had time to stop at a stawus if we liked.  Baffled, I turned that over in my head and requested he tell me again what we should do, (thinking he had perhaps lapsed into Spanish).  He said it again, stawus.  When I still couldn't figure it out, he put on his fake American accent and said this.

He was always overly amused at my lack of ability to work out his mutterings.

My favorite example of confusion had nothing to do with my inability to understand him.  In fact, I heard him just fine and still, communication didn’t happen.

We were having breakfast my first Friday in country, and discussing a party we’d gone to the night before.  I'd met the staff of DreamOn Storytelling Productions, the company that hired me to come to Argentina. 

Frank was talking about one of the women with whom I’d spent a good deal of the evening. 

He said, “Sylvia sells China.”

My brain latched onto that phrase and created an entire universe of images that assaulted me with their randomness as I tried to fit them into what I knew of the quiet woman I’d met eleven hours earlier.

It was a bizarre non-sequitur in the midst of our conversation about the dinner.  Why would he say such an odd thing, why do I care if she has a side job, and how does he even know this useless bit of information?  I suddenly saw Sylvia with a valise wherein she had lots of pictures of porcelain plates, saucers, and cups. 

I recalled that I'd bought a tea set when we were together in Hong Kong. Maybe that's why he told me this.  

I had a wild notion that he thought I might be in the market for more dishes.  This all took place in a matter of seconds because his next sentence was…

“Kiki sells Korea.”

Ah, then I got it.  Sylvia spends her day phoning schools in China and convincing them to book a DreamOn artist into their school.   

He means this:

Not this:

So, here I am, sitting in a Spanish speaking country in the midst of a café where I'm not doing such a terrible job reading the menu despite it being in a different language, and the only person I can’t seem to comprehend is the fellow sitting across from me who is speaking a brand of the English language that’s not too different from my own.

Communication is hard.  Misunderstandings are common.  Patience is necessary.

Is it any wonder people who disagree can’t find common ground?  Is it any wonder people who have been traditional enemies hear insults where none exist?  Is it any wonder a fighting couple always assumes their partner is picking at them?  The list of communication problems that we build between us could go on forever!

We only hear what we think we hear, not necessarily what somebody said.

I guess it all depends on the story you find yourself in with the person at hand.  Perhaps we should try to hear with more care and listen with more love.  

Yes, that sounds good, but I'll bet it won't help me understand Frank the next time he asks me if I want some awtha.

Happy Communicating!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stone Soup Festival - April 21 - 23rd 2017!

Once, three soldiers were coming back from the war.

They stopped in a small town. The people in the little village were quite selfish. They saw these soldiers and they came out of their homes and told them to move along because there was nothing at all to eat in the whole village.

The soldiers called all of the people to the village square and told them that they felt bad that the entire village was starving so they would make food for them.

The villagers were interested.

The soldiers dug a small pit in the ground, put wood in it and asked for a large cauldron filled with water. They lit a fire under the huge pot.

"When we didn't have enough to eat," said one of the soldiers, "our lieutenant would make stone soup."

One of the soldiers produced a large stone and dropped it into the pot. The people were very excited. They watched the water boil.

"Stone soup is delicious, but it would be better with some carrots."

"I might have some carrots," said one woman.

As she went to get the carrots another person offered potatoes.

Well, you know how this story goes. Everyone thought of something they could add to the soup, and soon a delicious fragrance filled the square.

Everyone brought bowls, and they ate until every soul was satisfied and every stomach was full.

The soldiers left after being given warm beds for the night, and an ample breakfast in payment for the delicious meal they'd prepared the night before.

As they moved away from the town they searched around until they found another large stone.

This weekend, Woodruff, SC will host the Stone Soup Festival.

Each teller will bring a little something to the feast, and hopefully, by Sunday night, every soul will be amply filled.

See you this weekend!

Happy Telling -

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dealing with Fear by Mike Lockett

A twelve-year-old student was in my storytelling class in Taichung Taiwan.  

“Do you have any questions?” I asked the class.

The girl meekly raised her hand and asked, “How can I stop being afraid?  I am scared to get up in front of a group.”

I told the class a story.

Lion was hunting for something to eat when he spied Brother Goat standing on top of a big rock.  Brother Goat was chewing grass that grew between the stones.  He chewed and chewed.  His jaws worked up and down.  Lion came closer to Brother Goat.

Brother Goat saw Lion coming and knew he had no chance to get away.  Goat thought, “I can run away.  But, Lion will catch me and eat me.  I can play dead.  But, Lion will still eat me.  I think I just need to pretend to be brave.”  So, he stayed on top of the rock and kept chewing.  He chewed and chewed and chewed.

Lion came closer.  "What are you eating, Brother Goat," asked Lion.
Brother Goat was scared.  But, he did not let Lion know it.  "I am chewing this rock in order to sharpen my teeth," he said.  "Then I am going to eat you."
Now it was Lion's turn to be afraid.  If Brother Goat was strong enough to chew up and eat a rock, he might be able to eat a lion."  Lion’s heart beat faster.  

He thought, “I can run away.  But, Goat might catch me and eat me.  I can play dead.  But, Goat still might eat me.”  The Lion decided that the only thing to do was to walk away slowly and hope Goat did not see how afraid he was.

"Enjoy your dinner," said Lion.  Then Lion turned.  He walked slowly at first, watching Goat over his shoulder.  As he got further away from Goat, Lion began to run.
Brother Goat just kept chewing as he watched Lion leave.  He shook in fear as he saw Lion run into the woods.  Brother Goat had escaped death.  Then he remembered that sometimes it pays to act brave when you are really afraid.

“What did you learn from the story?” I asked the class and looked right at the girl.
“That it is okay to be afraid, but you can pretend to be brave?” she questioned.
I smiled as all the rest of the students shook their heads up and down in agreement.  

That young girl was one of the first to volunteer to tell a story to the group.  She was afraid, but she pretended to be brave.  She told her story well and took a great step that day on her path to becoming a storyteller.

This story was adapted by Dr. Mike Lockett from an early American story, 'Buh Goat Eats Rock' by C. Jones on Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast, 1888. 

Dr. Mike Lockett has been sharing stories with audiences for over forty years. He lives in Normal, Illinois, and because of that, he is called the Normal Storyteller. Dr. Lockett has worked in every single facet of education you can imagine. He's done everything from office work to principal.His life has been spent in education.
These days he travels all over the United States and Asia performing for intergenerational audiences.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mike Lockett Is On Deck!

Dr. Mike Lockett has been sharing stories with audiences for over forty years.

He lives in Normal, Illinois, and because of that, he is called the Normal Storyteller.

Dr. Lockett has worked in every single facet of education you can imagine. He's done everything from office work to principal.

His life has been spent in education.

These days he travels all over the United States and Asia performing for intergenerational audiences.

He uses stories to entertain and inspire.

Dr. Lockett is also an author.

This is his book entitled The Basics of Storytelling.

It is in Mandarin.

Mary Had A Little Lamb

Hickory Dickory Dock

The Normal Storyteller has received over twenty-four awards for his recordings and books.

Here he is telling an original piece called "Teddy Bear, Teddy"

He also writes his own blog which you can check out here!

He'll be in the blogging seat next week with a traditional tale about facing your fears.

Happy Telling!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stories In The Dark: Teen Suicide

A few days before I was scheduled to do a show, I got a call from the principal of the elementary school.

Principal - "We're looking forward to your visit."

Me - "Great! I can't wait to be there!"

Principal  - "Oh, there is something you should know. On Monday, we had a tragedy."

Me - "I'm sorry to hear that."

Principal - "Yes, one of our sixth graders at the middle school committed suicide. I know you are seeing them the same day. I thought I would let you know. I don't know more than that, you will have to ask the other principal when you get here."

That stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't for the life of me imagine a sixth grader committing suicide. My brain began to try to find reasons a kid that young would do such a thing.

"Bullying" came to mind at once.

"Problems at home" was my next thought.

I was left sitting with thoughts about this situation.

I went to the school and told to the k - 2 and 3 - 5. We had a great time.

I went to lunch, returned, and met the principal of the middle school. I asked about this student who had taken their life. I did this because lots of my stories for sixth grade are gory, and they are about the challenges of dealing with peer pressure. There are also ghost stories.

I gave the principal a run down of the stories I was planning. I was told not to do the ghost stories, and we decided we'd go with the Greek set.

Then, I got some background on the child. Apparently, this person was well liked, was a fine student, and everyone got along with the child. I also found out that this person had attempted suicide fourth grade.

That also shocked me. What kind of kid tries to commit suicide in fourth grade? Clearly, this was an unusual situation.

Absolutely nobody knew the child was planning to do this. The person was chipper, spoke to everyone as if nothing was going on at all. The parent left the kid home and ran out to pick up pizza for dinner, only to return to find the body.

The parent is distraught, and the shock and grief are apparently being compounded because other parents are trying to figure out what this person "did" or "didn't" do that contributed to the death of their child.

When the sixth graders arrived, I asked what they wanted to hear. Well, they'd been online and they had been watching me tell for a couple of days. They wanted The Monkey's Heart. They also wanted Tongue Twisters. Then, they asked if I would do a scary story.

I looked over and the principal started laughing, "You called it! Go for it!"

So, I told the Boo Hag.

I finished up with Argos of the Thousand Eyes.

Telling during dark times is a thing that every teller has to face.

I was in schools after 9/11. I was in schools in Illinois after the arrest of Jeffery Dahmer. I was in schools after Katrina.

There are a number of things I've learned about going into schools when there is some tragedy or darkness going on internationally, nationally, or communally.

1 - I always speak to the administrators and find out what their comfort level is.

- The comfort level of the children and the grown-ups usually have nothing to do with each other. Still, the grown-ups are paying me so....

2 - I always offer the administrators an array of options for storytelling and bridging pieces so that the material can be used by the classroom teacher or counselors later if need be. I let the administration decide what they think their kids can handle. They know their kids better than I do.

3 - I make sure I'm talking to the kids informally and setting the mood before I get into the telling. I create the space we are going to tell in by the choices I make. That is my job, and I try to make the space where we can find each other and create some community.

I left the school after sharing tales, and everyone had a good time. The principal was pleased, the educators were pleased, and the kids told me, as they often do, that I was the best storyteller in the whole world. (I fully expect they tell every single storyteller they encounter this exact same thing.)

After this telling, I started doing research on teen suicide. I learned a great deal about this subject. I learned so many things that I realized I didn't know much of anything useful or true about this topic.

My assumptions were so erroneous as to be sad. I went to some of the websites that talked about adults and suicide and discovered that some of what they were saying didn't jibe with what I was reading about in children.

So, this is a short list of the reading and information I got in the last couple of weeks that made me rethink what I thought I knew about children and suicide.

Youth Suicide Stats

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2015 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12.

Most teens who commit suicide begin thinking about it around the ages of eight or nine. Many have failed attempts before actually committing suicide.

So, my being really shocked at the young person attempting suicide in fourth grade stemmed from my immense ignorance, not because it was out of the ordinary.

Thoughts of Suicide Start Young

Here is the website for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Here is the number: 1-800-273-8255  It operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week

Here is the website for The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Here is a link to a national suicide prevention campaign called You Are Not Alone for teenagers.

There are articles about signs that your teenager might be contemplating suicide.  Here is one that offered seven ideas for parents facing a suicidal child.

And of course, I could not leave this subject without posting some warning signs.

Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs.
Warning Signs of suicidal ideation include, but are not limited, to the following:
  • Talking about suicide
  • Making statements about feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • A deepening depression
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Taking unnecessary risks or exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Out of character behavior
  • A loss of interest in the things one cares about
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about
  • Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order
  • Giving prized possessions away
Along with these warning signs, there are certain Risk Factors that can elevate the possibility of suicidal ideation.
  • Perfectionist personalities
  • Gay and Lesbian youth
  • Learning disabled youth
  • Loners
  • Youth with low self- esteem
  • Depressed youth
  • Students in serious trouble
  • Abused, Molested or Neglected Youth
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Parental history of violence, substance abuse, or divorce

You may be the first and last person to see these signs in a young person.

After reading that list, I was really depressed. Lots of teenagers fall into these categories. It does not mean they are all suicidal. I guess you just have to keep the lines of communication open as best you can and watch for variations in behavior...which, as far as I can tell is par for the course for teenagers.

I would like to reiterate that the child who took their life at the school I visited exhibited no signs at all that anybody noticed.

If you have lost a child, friend, or loved one to suicide, it does not mean that you are at fault or that you did anything to cause it. It does not mean that you could have stopped it if only....

I wasn't sure I was going to write about this at all, but after visiting this school and doing some intense reading I heard about another young person who took their life earlier this week in my community, and a friend of mine has a teenager who is struggling with this demon.

It is common. Far too common, and there is no reason NOT to write about it, share stories, and try to learn all we can.

Stories find you when you need them. I know that is a cheesy thing to say, but sometimes it is true. About a week before all of this broke loose, I got a facebook chat from an artist who I only know virtually. She sent me this link, and right in the middle of it was an inspirational story that had to do with suicide.

Over the last couple of weeks, this video keeps coming back to me. I keep thinking about how stories changed someone's life.

I think about the suicide hotline and what those people do twenty-four hours a day.

I think about all of the teen programs that focus on helping kids overcome suicidal ideation, and there is one thing they have in common...

Every single one of these organizations is working as hard as they can to change the story playing on a loop in the dark. They are trying to reframe the tale. They are trying to turn on the lights and reframe the person as the hero of their own story. The words that I am seeing that these organizations are trying to imbue in the stories of young people sing in my heart, and I wish I could make them part of everyone's story.

You Are Not Replaceable
You Are Loved
You Are Needed
You Are Wanted
You Are Worthwhile
You Are Strong
You Are Beautiful
You Are Amazing

We need your stories. We want to be part of the stories you will write in this world.

We need you to help us dream of the future. You are valuable.

You Are Not Alone

Yours In Story -