Creating Personal Stories: From Cloud to Lightning!

by Doug Lipman

lipmanIn January, 2013, I had a problem. My week as Teller-in-Residence at the International Storytelling Center was coming up soon, and the stories I wanted to tell there – an hour of stories about my parents – didn’t yet exist! How would I create and polish them in so short a time?

Always the optimist, I began talking to my principal storytelling coaching buddy, Jay O’Callahan, about what I wanted to communicate about my mother and father.

“Even though they’ve both been dead for years, their influence remains in everything I do,” I found myself saying. “For example, I was coming home last week in the snow. I saw how beautiful our front door looked, decorated with the snow-crowned Christmas wreath my wife Pam had chosen. Then I saw the Jewish mezuzah next to the wreath, on the doorpost; it had a crown of snow, too.” (A mezuzah, by the way, is a container for a small scroll from Deuteronomy, placed on the doorpost of many Jewish homes.)

“Suddenly, I saw the house I grew up in, near Chicago. Even though my father was Jewish, we always had a Christmas tree in one window – but this year my Christian mother had bought a tacky electric menorah and put it in the other front window. I never understood why she thought we should have a menorah. We never celebrated Hanukah.”

I paused a moment, as I remembered something. “You know,” I said, “the snow-covered mezuzah I noticed last week was a gift from my Christian minister wife. It was a significant gift, because it said to everyone who came to our house—including the members of her church—’A Jew lives here.'”

Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. I told Jay, “I just got it! My mother couldn’t articulate it, but her menorah said, ‘A Jew lives here.’ What a thoughtful gesture toward my father—and I never understood it until now.'”

Jay made some very appreciative comments, then asked me to tell him more. I told him some of my unformed memories about growing up with one Jewish and one Christian parent. Before I knew it, my mind was combining those early memories with the moment of noticing the snow-covered wreath and mezuzah. In less than a week, I had a solid draft of a new half-hour story, “My Mother and the Menorah.”

Lightning Strikes Twice. And More.

Two weeks later, I began brainstorming more memories with Jay, including the time I convinced my 91-year-old father to have a biopsy, after his chest x-ray had shown what was almost certainly cancer. After Jay gave me some appreciations, I told him a new thought: “You know, the techniques I used, to get my Dad to stop being so anxious, were really techniques I had learned from him as a boy!”

Within minutes, I had outlined a new story composed of an episode about how my Dad had taught me when I was a child, the episode about the lung cancer, and additional episodes required to get from the childhood key moment to the adult key moment.

Soon, I found myself creating story after story from memories that had just been “things that happened” and were now becoming the core of some very meaningful and entertaining stories. I ended up with two and a half hours of material – and ideas for a half-dozen more stories that I didn’t have time to develop!

What Had I Discovered?

Although the stories came quickly, the understanding about my newly discovered story-creation technique came slowly. In the fall of 2013, when I was deciding what workshop to propose for the 2014 National Storytelling Conference in Phoenix, AZ, I asked myself, “Is there something new I can teach, based on how I created all those stories so quickly?”

After some thought, an image came to me: those raw memories (e.g., of my mother and the menorah and of my father and his biopsy) were a lot like clouds: shapeless yet filled with emotional charge. There was emotional energy in them for me, but that energy was static, unable to flow from the cloud to a listener.

Once I found that second episode, though (e.g., the moment of seeing the wreath and mezuzah in the snow, or the way my Dad had taught me to listen and praise) the energy began to flow. The second episode became like a lightning rod, conducting the emotional energy, focusing the story’s meaning, and producing a clear story line.

I’ve come to call this approach to creating personal stories “From Clouds to Lightning.” I’d be interested to know if anyone else has come up with a similar approach.

© Doug Lipman – Adapted from Doug’s free email newsletters

About Doug:

Storytelling coach Doug Lipman is the creator of the acclaimed Storytelling Workshop in a Box – the one-of-a-kind, 37-lesson, comprehensive, audio-plus-print storytelling workshop that comes to you. Doug also offers free articles and other resources, listed at, to help you become a transformative artist and integrate storytelling into your work life – including how to market your teller by creating a supportive community around you. His monthly “eTips from the Storytelling Coach” has subscribers in over 60 countries. Don’t miss working with Doug live at the 2014 National Storytelling Conference, July 24-27, Phoenix/Mesa, AZ –

Contact Doug:

Phone: 1-855-LIPMAN-1 (1-855-547-6261)


Remembering Marilyn Monroe

© 2014  Kate Dudding

duddingYou remember Marilyn Monroe, right? It seemed to me that there had been so much publicity about her, that I had to know everything there is to know about her. However recently I was very surprised to read that Marilyn Monroe had changed Ella Fitzgerald’s life by making a phone call. Did any of you know that? OK – so I’ll tell you the story.

It started in 1953, as Marilyn was preparing for the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a musical. She was advised by her vocal coach: “Buy Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of Gershwin songs and listen to it a 100 times.”

Marilyn wasn’t really into jazz at that time. But she became a fan of Ella Fitzgerald’s by listening to her record, over and over.

marilynmonroeMarilyn went on to star in several other smash hits including“ The Seven Year Itch” you remember, where she wore that white halter dress and stood on top of a subway grate to get cool one hot summer night. AND Marilyn continued to buy and listen to records by Ella Fitzgerald.

Finally after two years of listening, in 1955, Marilyn just had to make that phone call. Marilyn was now 29 years old and a Hollywood superstar. Ella was 38 and, after 20 years of performing, was still singing in small, second rate jazz clubs – you know, dingy places with sticky floors where the air reeks of smoke and spilled beer at the beginning of the evening.

It was 1955 when African Americans rarely sang in the first rate jazz clubs. In fact, when traveling they had difficulties finding hotels where they could stay and restaurants where they could eat. It was 1955 when Rosa Parks sat down in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It was 1955 when 14 year old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi for speaking to and, perhaps, whistling at, a white woman.

It was 1955 when Marilyn changed Ella’s life.

Marilyn called the owner of a Hollywood nightclub, the club that Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall frequented, the one where Frank Sinatra had made his Los Angeles debut in the 1940s.

It was 1955 when Marilyn told the nightclub’s owner:

“I’ve never seen Ella Fitzgerald perform. I want you to book her for a week immediately.”        

“You know I can’t. She’s black.”

“If you do, I will take a front table every night. The press will go wild.”

“I’ll do it.”

marilynmonroe2Marilyn kept her word – she was there, at a front table, every night. The press did go wild.

Ella later said, I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her time.

As you probably know, Ella went on to have a long career – singing in all the first class venues – thanks to Marilyn.

As you probably also know, Marilyn did NOT have a long career. After 1955, she made the movies “Bus Stop”, “Some Like It Hot” in addition to several others.

In 1962, Marilyn gave her last interview, just several weeks before her death at age 36. Marilyn pleaded with the Life Magazine reporter: “End the interview with what I believe.”

He, or his editor, didn’t. Instead, the article ended with Marilyn talking about fame: “If fame goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced. But that’s not where I live.”

Here’s how Marilyn wanted that article to end – here’s what she believed:

“What the world needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.”

Did you know that was what Marilyn believed??? Me neither.

Now I wonder what else we don’t know about Marilyn Monroe.

About Kate

A storyteller and a producer of storytelling events, Kate specializes in true stories about people who made a difference. She firmly believes in this Norwegian saying:  “It is the duty of the present to convey the voices of the past to the ears of the future.” Don’t miss Kate’s workshop at the 2014 National Storytelling Conference, July 24-27 in Phoenix/Mesa, AZ: “People Who Made a Difference: Stories of Fire and Light.” This workshop will focus on how to find inspiring historical people, research their lives, and create memorable stories about them.

Contact Kate



Bringing Old Tales to Light

by Priscilla Howe

howeWhat is that? See it, down there, under ages of dust and grime, just a glint of gold? Pick it up, use your shirttail to wipe it off. Wow! What a marvel! Needs a bit of cleaning, polishing, maybe a small repair or two, but it’s all there, a new story from the depths of tradition.

I’ve found great satisfaction in bringing old stories to light, specifically (though not limited to) long-form traditional stories. I started with Tristan and Iseult, not a terribly obscure story but one that is rarely told. In a remainder bin at a bookstore, I’d found a paperback edition by Joseph Bédier. One day while casting about in my office for a new story to tell, I picked it up and read it in one gulp.

Despite an archaic quality to the written language, I fell in love with this epic tale of good luck, bad choices, giants, dragons, fools, betrayal and of course, Romance. Call me fickle, but I later fell in love with another Medieval tale, Queen Berta and King Pippin, and now have a dalliance with Amleth, better known to audiences since the 1590s as Hamlet.

Falling in love with the story, though, is only the first step. From there, we have to go farther, to create a story worth telling and worth hearing. Long-form traditional stories, generally at least an hour long and sometimes much longer, can be a rewarding challenge.

How do you tackle a long traditional story? What are the cultural considerations? How do you craft the language for modern audiences without jarring them or boring them? What do you do with conflicting versions? How do you practice the story? How do you break the work into manageable bits? How do you find the stamina for the performance? Where are the venues for stories like this? Will people really listen? What works? Those are questions we’ll consider in my workshop this summer in Phoenix/Mesa, Bringing Old Tales to Light: Long-Form Traditional Stories.

Many years ago, Liz Warren, Olga Loya and I started Going Deep, the long traditional storytelling retreat, because we wanted to tell long-form stories and play with the questions they raise. We found many storytellers who yearned to tell and hear this kind of deep story, but didn’t know where to start. We found storytellers who already tell long traditional tales and wanted a place to perform them and to talk about the process. We can’t cram an entire retreat into a workshop session, but we can at least catch a glimpse of that gold under the dust and grime. Hope to see you in Arizona!

About Priscilla

Priscilla travels the world with a headful of stories and a bagful of puppets. She has been a full-time storyteller since 1993, after five years as a storytelling librarian. Priscilla is thrilled beyond belief that she has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to do folktale research for five months in Bulgaria in 2015. Priscilla also coaches other storytellers (in person and on Skype), writes, hangs out with puppets and is on a lifelong quest for the best restaurant pie on earth (fruit, not cream).

Contact Priscilla



“My Shidech” (My Match)

told by Noa Baum

Click to listen

Noa Baum

baum“So… how did you two meet?”

For years I’d been telling the story around the dinner table about my American blind date. But it took me 20 years to craft it for telling before an audience.

Just because something happened doesn’t make it into a story worth telling. To be accessible to others, a story needs to be crafted to serve some connection to the universal. My dinner table banter was somewhat entertaining, but I couldn’t figure out the path to anything meaningful.

Then one day I was diving into the Well of Wisdom that is our storytelling community – talking with the wonderful teller Megan Wells about heroes and fools. She helped me see that when we allow ourselves to be the fool – we raise the potential of a story to offer that valuable universal wisdom that transforms an anecdote into a story.

I was stuck because I’d been telling the “how we met” story about worldly, sophisticated me vs. him, the nerd. But the minute I could laugh at myself, I was able to gain some distance from the events. When I allowed myself to be the fool, the (funnier and accessible) story fell into place.

Noa tells this story in her show “Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try – True Life Israeli Stories” that will be featured at the 2014 NSN Conference Fringe.

About Noa

Born and raised in Israel, Noa Baum performs internationally with diverse audiences ranging from the World Bank, prestigious universities and congregations, to inner city schools and detention centers. She offers a unique combination of performance art and practical workshops that focus on the power of narrative to heal across the divides of identity. She lives in the US since 1990, was recently voted by Washington Jewish Week as one of 10 most interesting local Jews, and her new recording, “Impossible To Translate But I’ll Try” won a 2014 Storytelling World Award.

Contact Noa



Giving the Games Away

by Pat Nease

neaseI spent a year in Vietnam (Aug. ’66-Aug.’67) working with the Red Cross SRAO Program.  Our job with the military was to build morale and be a touch of home, but as you can imagine we needed to interact with the troops in some sort of structured environment.  So we created portable programs of activities and games. Every day we hopped a chopper and, in pairs, flew out to remote fire bases. We’d arrive with our satchel of tricks, the guys would gather in a tent and then we’d launch our activity (how to read your palms, hand writing analysis, etc.) or play a game.  A game usually meant dividing the men into two groups (all the games were designed for large groups. In a tent. With little space for movement.) and might be based on TV shows such as Jeopardy or What’s My Line? or be a huge board game of Concentration (the one with Playboy Bunnies was very popular) or whatever we devised. We were always either learning a game or making one up.  We played games about everything: sports, geography, trivia, movies, movie stars, fish, cars, food, animals, songs, music, musicians, TV shows, history, advertisements, and fairy tales.

For just a little while we were somewhere else, involved in something besides bullets, bandages, and jungle rot.  It gave the guys something to look forward to the following week – if we could get to them.

I wish I’d been a storyteller then.  I think we’d of done a good bit of sharing and swapping.

Returning home, I spent 36 years as an educator.  I wanted to always give the students a good reason to get up in the morning and come to school.  I used games again.  Rather than rote memorization of states and capitals, get a giant outline map and make it a game.  Challenge the class across the hall.  Play multiplication baseball, applaud at the homonym bell game.  Celebrate Crazy Hat Day.  Play What’s My Question? Present The Weekly Reader News (complete with advertising and weather.). Guess the idiom. Post the weekly riddle-rhyme challenge for Hinky-Pinky.  Hey!  Who wants to find out what it’s like to eat a worm?  List three possible uses for this object. Guess what’s in the bag.

Learning, cleverly camouflaged as games, is a win-win because we learn by doing, by applying, by figuring out, jumping in and taking part.  We’re often surprised by ideas and stories triggered by our participation in something out of the ordinary.

Now days games have pretty much left the classroom. There’s no time. Everyone is on a lock-step curriculum so that no matter where you move in the USA, you can join a new class and be exactly where you were in your old class.  And free play?  No.  Kids cannot be left to their own devices. Someone might get hurt. We’ll be sued. Structured play. That’s what we need.  Line up here.  Play this.  Play it this way.


I don’t believe we ever outgrow our love of games.  Those included in this workshop were gleaned from talented tellers and story coaches including Olga Loya, Mary Hamilton, Doug Lipman, Len Cabral, Anndrena Belcher (who introduced me to my first storytelling activity) and others. They were found in books, played during workshops, adapted from commercial games, and learned at conferences.

I invite everyone to come; play again. Stretch a little, have some fun, and leave with something new to try at home.

About Pat

Pat is a three-time winner of Florida’s Liars’ Contests.  Or at least that’s what she says.  Who can believe such a liar?  In addition to her wide array of folk, family, original, and bone-chilling tales she offers a variety of workshops including “What’s So Funny?”  “Creative Soup,” and “Building a Whopper.”  Information about these and other workshops are available on her website.

She currently serves as secretary of the Florida Storytelling Association and as the NSN Florida Liaison. She is the recipient of FSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and NSN’s Oracle Award. Or so she says…

Contact Pat

Pat Nease
4435 Pratt Avenue
Panama City, FL 32404
Phone: (850) 871-0165
Cell:  (850) 814-2616