Storytelling 101

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A jeans pocket I embroidered circa 1974

I was watching Abstract: The Art of Design, a Netflix program, when Ruth Carter, the designer for those fantastic Black Panther costumes explained that it was not a love of fashion that led her there. My ears perked up when I heard her say that her heroes were authors, poets and playwrights, like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. She considered them designers. And they inspired her. She says people think she sews, but that’s not it at all. Her work is an art form. A means of storytelling.

What?

Her Black Panther costumes apparently incorporate the history of African tribes. She selected a color palette to support the words and scenes of the script, and fabrics that mimicked the specifics of the landscape and of African traditions.

When I heard all this I felt like jumping off the couch. Because I used to sew. A lot. And I never once thought of my many hours at Mom’s Singer machine as a means of storytelling. I was supplying myself with clothes. Otherwise, my choices for what to wear included anything from my two older sister’s hand-me-downs. By the time I left home during the college years, I was splicing patterns together, custom fitting every project, and embellishing my work with embroidery, contrasting thread and button tricks.

But storytelling was not on my mind.

My work back then was literal. I sewed the straightest top-stitching around. By eye. And I measured three times before I cut once. My work was impeccable, skilled, practiced and I considered going on with it somehow. But the only idea I had was to become a tailor. I did not see the possibility of becoming even more creative in my sewing or to tell the stories I wanted to tell through this art form. So hearing Ruth Carter tell me that I could have, that she does, confirmed what I’ve learned about art in general since then.

It’s about expressing yourself and you can do it any way you want to.

So, I ended up writing a story to express my story. Being literal once again.

But the good thing about art is that the story is still the story however you tell it.

High apple pie, in the sky hopes

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Next time you’re found with your chin on the ground, There’s a lot to be learned, so look around

My chin WAS on the ground, so I looked around.

And then three girls from our local STEM high school answered my ad! My new marketing team are these media-savvy students determined to assist this local author in improving my platform.

My agent tells me that the editors she has shown my work to were interested in my story, in my writing and in me. But my lack of a platform has been a stumbling block. I need to engage with the writing community more and reach out to potential readers. So since this is not what I know how to do naturally, I have called together these smart teens to assist.

My goals include producing a book trailer that highlights the story I have available for publication, taking the time to regularly sit next to a live person who can in real time advise me on how to make “genuine connections electronically”, and learn more about the authors out there that I love for their work and their stories.

Wish me luck as I embark on this self-assignment to lead this team toward the publication of my manuscript.

I’ve got high hopes. I’ve got high apple pie in the sky hopes.

P.S. In case you are wondering, goober peas are boiled peanuts. Just saying.

I go to the farm for the smells

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CSA Two Gander Farm

My CSA was great this summer because it was like shopping in a grocery market. I was able to select what I wanted skipping the dark leafy greens in favor of beets every time!

Besides the great food, though, I use a CSA for another reason. A secret reason that no one can see as I select my squash and tomatoes, and as I tramp around the beds in the field picking flowers and cherry tomatoes or beans and fresh herbs.

I’m breathing while I am there.

I am breathing in fresh air and smells of the farm, of soil and rain and varmints. Being there, my feet sinking into the ground, makes me remember my childhood. My father was a dairy farmer, and I am not kidding, the smell of cow manure is not a bad smell to me. My CSA has no cows, but since Dad also raised vegetables, every summer my mother and I sat snapping buckets of green beans then blanching them before freezing. Stepping out to the farm once a week has its purpose for me today.

My childhood lacked important elements, but one thing it had for sure, was an abundance of contact with the earth. Sometimes you’d find fall leaves on the steps going up to the attic as if they’d wandered in and hitched a ride through the house. Or you’d hear creatures in the walls and a possum on the porch. The dirt tracked in the house from my dad’s boots and the stem he used to pick his teeth meant he’d spent the day in the fields checking on his men. And for me, the babble of the creek nearby was as hallowed as the voice of a trusted friend.

Although Two Gander Farm is my outdoor grocery store, I go there not just for the rich produce. There’s a sense of belonging I don’t feel anywhere else. The smell of leaf and seed and dirt in the cracks of the barn’s floorboards swirls around me and welcomes me in. The ladders, the post beams, the creaking of the roof as windy air whips through, or just the puddles that gather where they will as it happens, all love me just because I show up.

Being on the farm makes me remember that the earth is my friend and otherwise I don’t visit it enough.

My conversation with Mark Twain

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Mark Twain and I were chatting the other day when he said to me, “When in doubt, tell the truth,” as if I hadn’t heard THAT before.

What was he even talking about? Of course, I tell the truth, that’s the whole point of my memoir. But you can’t just tell the truth as if it is a finite thing, Mark. Nope, I’ve learned over the years, and it’s been a difficult surprise, that my truth is not necessarily your truth.

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” he explained.

Mark Twain seemed a little exasperated as he stared back, not even batting an eye. He sat still as a stone, a cold chill flying off his shoulder directly at me.

But you might consider, he continued, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Thanks for that, Mark, but I can’t stop myself, I told him.

He seemed a little testy now.

Best I can do is be as honest as possible and hope others see that’s what I’m aiming for. I want to make a point, you know. About how we try to love each other and about how it doesn’t always work out that well.

Mark softened and I thought I saw him smile. His parting words, which I chose to interpret as supportive, were all I needed to head back to my desk and hit the keyboard again, back on my way after our brief interlude.

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

Thanks, Mark. Looks like I’m ready then.

Some books get more love than others

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Look at the place of honor my childhood etiquette book has on my shelf at home, right on top of old Charlie Brown comics and even Charlotte’s Web. I’ve always loved this book, set in rhyme, because it spelled out the expectations of adults. It seemed I was always getting everything wrong as a kid and this book held hope that if I only studied the rules I could lift myself into the world of those who knew how to behave. And even though it reinforced the gender stereotypes of the day it was still a book embued with hope.

There is plenty of advice in there about not bothering one’s parents and being nice to pets, lots of ideas that helped me learn to be civilized even when the world around me seemed less so. But this page seems especially sweet. I have shelves full of dear old books that have served me well over the years speaking to me with unqualified respect every time I open them.

I love books. But some are more special than others.

Poetic gesture

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Image may contain: 2 people, including Anne Allanketner, people smiling, people standing, tree, plant and outdoorMy friend was recipient of a most romantic gesture. Her partner built and installed this beautiful poetry post. It is positioned right next to the sidewalk so passersby may read her poetry every time she puts up something new.

You never know when writing skills will come in handy

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If you’ve ever heard a student ask why they need to learn to write if they don’t plan on having a job that requires it, this opinion piece might answer that question. If you have an idea that needs conveying writing is an effective way to go.

This guy taught me how to laugh

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Jane Paffenbarger Butler – author – with the man she captured in her giant blanket

Somehow at the age of nineteen, I spotted a guy who would stay with me for the next 40 years and counting. To be fair, he spotted me and I ran the other way, and it was only because several acquaintances pointed out his obvious interest and implored me to take him seriously, that I finally noticed him as a potential partner for life. He’s been nothing but steadfast, nothing but kind, and nothing but improved with age. Thank you friends who did that.

He knew not how to plumb a bathroom when I met him. He was not a loving parent or sole breadwinner. But since then he has become all these things and more. And in addition he’s propped me up through thick and then, he’s counseled me on what I have not known and he has encouraged me and been my advocate when I didn’t know I needed it.

His winning attributes in the beginning were that he was funny and he was kind. He made me laugh and then taught me how to do it, and now, all these years later we are still laughing together.

Believe me, I had no idea what I was doing back then, but my gut reaction to this man has served me well through the years. He hasn’t changed much really. The kind, shy, funny, smart, encouraging guy I met at nineteen is still there, it’s just that all of that has morphed and matured and come along in an even better form right up to today.

This month, in Psychology Today online I tell the story of my young husband who takes me to his Aunt Maureen’s at Christmas where I discover that everyone refers to his Uncle Dave as Meathead, thus beginning my education in humor. Take a look at “Introduction to Meathead Therapy” on the Healthy Connections blog post by Maryann Karinch.

Introduction to Meathead Therapy

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This month I am featured in Psychology Today’s Healthy Connections blog by Maryann Karinch where she tells the story of what she calls my introduction to “meathead therapy.”

When my husband and I were young and first married we went to his Aunt Maureen and Uncle Meathead’s on Christmas Eve. Theirs was a modest gathering, but I loved it because the one thing that was not modest was the connection I saw between the people who came and went. Folks arrived at the door and each was welcomed like a king. They were offered a drink, some food, a seat, and all the time in the world, crowding onto the attic stairs when room at the table ran out.

The goal was to entertain, to tell funny stories even at each other’s expense, even as it exposed each other’s bullheadedness, ignorance or misery.

And I was spellbound.

These folks cared for each other. I’d go so far as to say they loved each other. My family didn’t sit around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve welcoming one another in with drinks and smiles and all the time in the world because of our handicap of taking life seriously and rejecting one another for our human foibles.

Since that night with Maureen and Meathead, and with my steadfast husband next to me, I have worked hard in psychotherapy and have learned about the healthy attitudes of accepting one another for who we are and learning to celebrate one another no matter how goofy we get.

I think the healthy connections we make are born of the dedicated showing up at each other’s kitchen tables no matter what the circumstance.

 Check out my story in Psychology Today.

 

 

Is my truth showing?

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some people get more dressed up than others to visit Times Square

I just want to put everything on the table, like this lady did. She took off all her clothes then stood on a platform in the middle of NYC while her unique outfit was painted on stroke by stoke.

In the same way, I’d like to demystify my life. Tell the truth. For me growing up, everything was such a secret. No one said how they really felt and I couldn’t get a straight answer about anything that mattered. People’s feelings and thoughts were hidden in sarcasm or blame or silence and you had to guess what was going on. Really. I had no idea if my parents even liked me there was so much intrigue in my life.

So now, I can’t help myself from just saying the truth. Revealing everything so people can see it and we can all be talking about and reacting to the same thing, without the confusion of hidden meanings and cloaked references.

That must be why people often react to my memoir by saying it is strikingly honest, or transparent. That I have been courageous in telling my story. To me it is about compulsion. I am compelled to tell you what really happened rather than hide it in stories that hint.

It is scary and daring and cold out there with no clothes on, but it feels better to reveal my truths than to hide them and hope that someone will see through it all to who I really am.