Transforming our Lives: Telling our Stories

© 2013 Laura Simms

simmsOn the third day of a project, students , ages 9-15, in a school in Newark, NJ appeared restless.  The program entered its third hour. The teachers, vigilant, as if their job was to wait in ambush for someone to do something wrong, resorted to filling out forms.  Children had gathered threads of individual stories and wove them into a single tale. My attempts afterwards at a physical exercise failed.

“I think we need a story,” said a ten-year-old boy.

I began a Russian Fairytale.  They settled down on either side of a wooden table covered with sketches of monsters, lined paper, and half eaten cookies.    My instruction:  You can make sounds, comment on the story, add your own ideas or talk to anyone in the story.

“A soldier guarded a stone tower. It was locked.
From sunset to sunrise he walked back and forth. He had no idea what was in the tower.
Then, one night he heard a voice.”

Shrieking and groaning, the kids accompaniment began.   Caraid O’Brien recorded their voices.  They said, “Kill. ”  “Let me loose.”  “I hate it here.”  “I hate human beings.”  “There are ten girls buried beneath this tower kidnapped from a disco.” More sounds.  If someone walked into our room they might have seen this as the opposite of a ‘violence prevention and narrative program.”  But if they noticed eyes and the visceral sense of sharing, they would feel the increasing peace of engagement.

“I have been captured in this prison for thirty years. Let me free.
If you do I will give you everything you want.”

The soldier opened the lock.  A winged demon flew from the tower and vanished into the world.  A tremendous swishing noise arose.  The kids looked up waiting for the next installment.

“The soldier, coming to his senses, ran as quickly and as far as he could from the tower. 
‘What have I done?” he cried out.
“Not only have I lost the only job I had, but I have let evil out into the world.”

The mention of evil incited more responses. Until,

The soldier said, “If I had only left the demon in the tower!”

The demon appeared, offered him a home and a job.  If he kept his three daughters safe every night.

Scenarios about demons followed.  Even the vigilant teacher respected the potency of continuous creativity.

The daughters turned into white birds. The soldier became a yellow bird. They flew to a meadow with a golden throne and awaited a Queen named Helen, The All Wise. The birds learned wisdom. The yellow bird fell in love.

The demon gave us a gift.  Helen came to be known in our world.  They told love stories. Then retold their monster transformation tales and ended in chorus,

“They lived happily ever after.”

Their afterward wishes: safety, wealth and food for everyone; clean neighborhoods; and three-year vacations for teachers. A girl, survivor of civil wars and the death of her mother, whispered, “I love today.”

About the Story

This rendering of what took place is a teaser/summary to say the least. The entire process took place over three hours. The product was a CD made by Caraid O’Brien, that we are not legally able yet to share.  It was given to each student and to each staff member.  A more entire rendition of what took place IS the first chapter in my new book IN PRAISE OF FEAR and Wonder: Telling ghost stories to promote nonviolence.     We are including AN MP3 download of ghost tales with music, published as NIGHTWALKERS by NorthWord press (1996) and an MP3 of the accompanied story by the kids in the project.   Publication date, March 1, 2014.

About Laura Simms

Internationally acclaimed storyteller, writer and humanitarian: performances, and trainings;  initiatives for  peace, health and transformation.  Laura is a senior Shambhala  Meditation teacher.  She won the 2011 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, NSN’ Brimstone Award; 2012 ; NSN  Members-TRANSFORMING LIVES: The Stories We Tell., and  Sesame Street’s SUNSHINE AWARD for work with children worldwide.  Senior Research Fellow at Rutgers University , Newark.  Director:  Center for Engaged Storytelling, NYC. (April 1, 2014)   In Haiti since 2010 with GIRLS WRITE HAITI. Books include OUR SECRET TERRITORY: The Essence of Storytelling  and  NOURISHING THE HEARTS OF OUR CHILDREN (Wildmercywords). Laura is artistic-director of HCA Storytelling in NY.

Contact Laura

Website: www.laurasimms.com

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Exercising Independence

told by Lynn Ruehlmann

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ruehlmann

About the Story

ruehlmannIt excites me when I find the perfect connection between a classic myth and contemporary life—the connection gives both stories such a potent new focus.  So I’ve really enjoyed developing this coming-of-age story. It combines the story of getting my driver’s license with the story of watching my son get his with the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.  It’s a great delight to let the audience in on the humor lurking in my life, even as it’s paired with the pathos of this myth.  An equal delight comes after the telling when I’m talking to audience members, who always want to share their own learning-to- drive tales.

About Lynn

Lynn’s three CDs have won four national awards.  Two are stories from history:  “Spy! The Story of Civil War Spy Elizabeth Van Lew” and “It Happened in the White House.”  The third, called “Mischief!,” is original stories from her life growing up in a family of musicians.

Lynn loves traveling, whether it’s for storytelling or story creating, so she’s performed from Alaska to Massachusetts, and she’s cavorted from Tasmania to Honduras.   She’s chaffing for the next adventure!

Contact Lynn

website: www.cascadingstories.com
phone:  757-642-6813
email:  lynn@cascadingstories.com

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Patricia

told by Rivka Willick

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Willick

About the Story

willickPatricia is a true story.  It’s about people we remember and those we take for granted. It’s about people we ignore and those we will never forget. I’ve told this story many times and am usually approached after the telling.

This is a sticky story that stirs people up. About two years ago a nurse came up to me. She said she didn’t know why she ended up at the storytelling festival, not until she heard “Patricia”.  She said “there’s a young girl who came to the USA for a kidney transplant, but it didn’t work. Her family doesn’t have enough money for a second attempt and up until five minutes ago I just felt helpless. Now I feel different. I’m going to start making calls and others will join me.” The nurse walked away smiling.

Another time a fellow came up whose brother had been unemployed for months. Before the story he was fed up, after the story he decided to give him a call.

I’ve seen the power of spoken word stories, their power to inspire change and make connections continues to amaze me.  And now…allow me to introduce you to Patricia.

About Rivka

Rivka Willick is a professional storyteller, story coach and writer. She orally composes and tells healing, personal, historical, Jewish, and sci-fi fantasy tales to Adult, Teen, and Family audiences. She has performed all over New Jersey and the USA.  Her appearances include festivals, colleges, award luncheons, corporate and municipal lectures, schools, senior groups, and lots more. She also coaches people around the world in a wide range of applications in the art of story. Her clients include Entrepreneurs, professional lecturers, an Australian Rock n Roll Composer, artists, family story searchers, teens and individuals. CDs & DVDs available.

Contact Rivka

www.SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com

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The Book of Joe Bob

Told by Megan Hicks

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Hicks

photo credit: Jack Abgott

photo credit: Jack Abgott

I wrote this story about twenty years ago. It came about one full moon night when I was sitting around a fire with a bunch of other women and one of my friends said, “When Job was enduring his travails, I wonder what his wife was going through. Nobody talks about that.” I decided it was time somebody did.

The book of Job has always been a tough nut for me. It’s a story where God seems mercurial and … well … mean.

This is one of those performance pieces I call a “knee knocker.” I’m afraid I’ll deeply offend somebody … in the audience or in the firmament. So far, though, lightning hasn’t struck me. And one member of the clergy has told me he found in this story “resounding confirmation of the canon.” Confirmation or repudiation — that’s not my aim here. I just wanted to write and tell a solid, strong, true rip snorter of a tale.

About Megan

Megan Hicks’ storytelling enchants children, inner children, imaginary friends and grownups – all at the same time. A favorite of audiences and festival organizers throughout the U.S., she is also a three-time solo touring artist in Latin America with Dream On Productions. Megan is author, producer and performer of three critically acclaimed spoken word audios and two limited edition audio projects. You can read her blogs at fairytalelobby.wordpress.com and meganhicks.wordpress.com, and you can sample her storytelling at www.meganhicks.com.

Contact Megan

website: http://meganhicks.com
email: megan@meganhicks.com
phone: 540-371-6775

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The Ballad of Jake and 10-Ton Molly

told by Mike Agranoff

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agranoff

agranoffThis is a story told in the old-fashioned format of recitation, a story in rhyme, after the fashion of Robert Service or Rudyard Kipling. This form was common stage and home entertainment in the 19th Century before the advent of recordings and radio. It was regular fare in minstrel shows, vaudeville, and English Music Hall, and its better practitioners were well known and sought-after stars. The format has all but disappeared today, and people have forgotten how engaging and gripping it can be when done well.

I wrote this piece. One might say it was a “true fantasy” I had while working my first job after graduating as a Mechanical Engineer. I won’t give the story away, but suffice it to say I worked at Avco Lycoming, and I might have been one of Jake’s junior co-workers on the same project. The scene where Jake first encounters Molly in the story is real. The rest…who knows?

About Mike

Mike Agranoff comes to the Storytelling Community via the world of Folk Music. There, he’s renowned for the spoken word material he always includes in his musical performances. His signature pieces are his rivetting original recitations after the fashion of Robert Service. But his toolbox also includes true stories, serious and hilarious, poems, and, of course, numerous ballads (in the original sense of the word: songs that tell stories), all honed to performance perfection. He holds a great love of the English language, and an admiration for its skillful practioners.

Contact Mike

email: Mike@MikeAgranoff.com
website: www.MikeAgranoff.com
phone: 973-335-9489

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