Category Archives: story coaching for artists

Toxic Stories: Stories That Cause Harm

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The story is the most powerful form of communication. This idea not only applies to verbal and written communications but other types of human expression as well.  If a story can be infused into other forms of communication such as  the music, visual art, and dance, they will be more accessible and memorable.

The story structure with its beginning, middle, and end is sticky and approachable. As children, we are drawn to story. When we grow old, we remember and find purpose through our stories. During every stage of our development stories wait for us and we search them out to be entertained, to understand, and to be understood. Stories connect us as individuals, communities, and societies.  Stories allow us to form identities on many levels.

Yep, stories are powerful…

But that doesn’t mean they are always good.

This very powerful form of expression and communication can be used for good and for bad—no, not just bad, some stories can be downright evil.  In my last series of articles, I wrote about junk stories: these stories fill you up like junk food, and if over consumed can affect your mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.  This new series will focus on toxic tales: stories that can cause harm.

We can often look back in time and identify stories in history, literature,writing, and folklore that generated hate, self-loathing, and confusion, but when they are presented as popular culture or “the next big thing,” it’s often difficult for the target audience to understand how toxic a tale can be.

I’m not suggesting that stories, movies, books, or shows should be banned.  Banned content often becomes more popular, besides, poisonous prose is often embraced.  The best way to protect yourself from toxic tales is to learn how to identify it and then refrain from creating, consuming, and/or promoting it.

I will focus on one form of toxic tales at a time focusing on my experience storytelling and story coaching.  Please send me your thoughts about different types of toxic tales…and I encourage you to list specific movies, stories, shows, and books.

 

Next: Toxic Tale #1-Promoting Hate through Discrimination

Recipes for a Whole Story Lifestyle

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Consciously choosing to live a balanced and rich life requires us to choose to listen, read, and tell a rich variety of stories. In this final article in this Junk Story series we will explore the elements necessary to build and maintain a Whole Story Lifestyle.

Let’s go back one more time to our food analogy to understand what is needed in each healthy story we consume as well as our overall story diet. Although there are tens of thousands of recipes for any given food type, each recipe will share basic elements. So, let’s say you want to bake bread. The recipe will require a leavening agent such as yeast, sour dough starter, baking powder, etc. You’ll also need one or more grains like wheat flour, rye, cornmeal, millet, and so on.  We can’t forget a liquid; it can be as basic as water or we could add milk, orange juice, beer, or something else. Include seasoning and/or flavor and the bread is ready to be made, baked, and eaten.   The types of ingredients will vary for different types of foods, so basic ingredients for a soup or a salad will be different than the ingredients for a bread.   Obvious, right?

Same applies to the stories we consume.  Ask yourself, are you enjoying stories from different groups and do they have the basic elements.

Each type of story requires basic elements. Stories need a beginning, middle, and end. Stories that jump to the middle are confusing. Endless stories are unsettling and can lurk in your memory without resolution. Historic stories need accuracy not only in general facts but also in details. News stories and stories with philosophical concepts need balance. Folklore and mythic tales need to honor their core.

Remember to consume a variety of stories.  If you are stuck in one area, consciously add different types of stories and media forms. Limit the amount of junk stories you take in every week.

Share stories by becoming a listener, talking about the shows, books, movies, and tales you enjoy.  Become part of the chain of stories by telling and passing down family traditions, experiences, and ideas through oral stories.

As a story coach I not only help you find and create your stories, but I also make suggestions and guide you in your exploration of stories in all forms.

Finally, become aware of toxic stories and avoid them.  Since stories are the stickiest form of communication, when we take in toxic content, it lingers in our brain and causes harm.

Living a whole story lifestyle has a dynamic impact on all aspects of your life. Opportunities and awareness will increase as well as your general feeling of well-being when you actively vary and choose the stories you consume.

 

New Series: Toxic Tales

 

The Risks of Living on a Junk Story Diet

By Rivka Willick

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We process and store the stories we hear and read just as surely as we ingest and process the food we eat. Stories, just like food, offer a wide range of benefits and risks. The best tales will challenge the mind, generate courage and hope to the heart, and inspire the spirit. Toxic stories, and yes there are many that act like poison, can generate fear, mistrust, hatred, hopelessness, cruelty, and confusion. During this month’s exploration, we will look at the stories that are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  I call them Junk Stories.  Enjoying Junk Stories in moderation is OK, but if you fill up on Junk your mind, heart, and spirit will suffer.

Let’s take a closer look at the negative effects of consuming too many junk stories.

Dumbing Down – Stories can fill us up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  When the content is challenging, curious, or inspiring we grow and flourish. However, if the content is pleasant or titillating but lacks substance, we can spend our mental and emotional energy with little in return. That’s OK in moderation, just as a handful of potato chips are also OK.  Problems arise when we take more than just a handful. Remember the old Lays Potato Chip slogan, “bet you can’t eat just one!” Focusing on just one type of story or binging for hours or days on a series are serious signs of a JUNK STORY DIET. Remember, there are structures used purposefully to ‘hook you’ and keep you coming back. The story in and of itself is OK, dependency isn’t.

Lack of Empathy & Narcissism – Stories are bridges and often become connectors between people, cultures, and different ways of life, but they can also act like a funhouse mirror reflecting how we see ourselves, often in a distorted way.  We’ve all met the guy at a party who monopolizes the conversation with self-aggrandizing tales; people will walk away or try to change the topic but he just doesn’t stop. Personal stories are now one of the hottest trends, but when these tales are solely focused on just the teller, often jumping from one gory or shocking event to another, narcissism has fertile soil to grow.  A diet of shocking stories can also reduce your ability to empathize.

Isolation – Some stories expand the world and others insulate the reader creating a bubble for the reader or listener to escape into. Vacations are good, imprisonment is bad.  If you feel entrapped by media, addictive novels, or your own stories, you need to turn those off and find stories that connect you to others.

Dependency – An exciting movie, novel, or performance can produce an adrenal rush. That heightened emotional state is thrilling and fun, but it can also become addictive. I remember a commercial featuring a zombie-like woman who begins to panic at the end of the last episode of a TV series. The spokesperson assured her she’d be OK if she subscribed to their service, they had lots of binge-worthy shows. The ad ends with her smiling as she sits back to zone out once again. Your natural curiosity and emotional growth can get stuck and that can lead to frustration and depression.

Spiritual Disconnection – Every religion and spiritual practice uses stories as a conduit to understand complicated and challenging ideas. Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist who did ground breaking work understanding the stories in folklore and comparative religion showed just how powerful the narrative format can be.  The opposite is also true.  Just as stories can connect us to higher truths and lead us to deeper meanings in life, other stories can desensitize us.  Junk stories can stifle our desire to stretch and push ourselves.  The easy story often fills us up making us reluctant to tackle challenging stuff.

Miscommunication & Lies – This category is closer to Toxic than Junk, but I decided to include it because dishonest stories often mascaraed as important or essential stuff even though it’s just junk.  Propaganda campaigns seek out stories which evokes emotional responses and appear to be true.  Once you ingest one of these “true” but dishonest tales it can get stuck in your mind as truth.  This form of junk is often delivered at political and sales events.  They also flourish all over the internet.

Do you have other ideas about the risks of junk stories? Leave a comment below.  If you’d like to explore the power of story, drop me a note.  I do one-on-one coaching, workshops, and performances.

Next Blog: How to Identify Junk Stories.

When Stories Herald Reality

The stories we see and tell sometimes mirror the reality we live. It’s usually easy to shrug it off and call it a coincident, or maybe you’re reading too much into it, but there are times when the storyteller and the fortune teller seem to be one in the same.  Our stories often predict the future and tell us truths about the present even if we don’t want to see or admit it.

China Syndrome  Manchurian-Candidate mocking jay

On March 16th, 1970 The China Syndrome was released in the USA. You might remember the movie starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon, and Michael Douglas about a cover-up and near disaster at a nuclear power plant.  12 days later radios and television stations across the country delivered dramatic reports about a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor located outside of Middletown, PA.  This was, (and still is), the most serious accident to occur in an American commercial nuclear power plant.  A malfunctioning valve caused the problem and the nation waited for days to learn if there were disastrous consequences.

I went to see The China Syndrome on March 27th,   just one day before Three Mile Island incident.  I went back two days later on March 29th in a state of disbelief and amazement.  I wonder what affect the movie had on the collective consciousness; a million people experienced the fear of a nuclear meltdown in a power plant by watching a movie and then it happened for real.

Here are the two taglines that promoted The China Syndrome:

“Today, only a handful of people know what it means…Soon you will know.”

“People who know the meaning of “The China Syndrome” are scared.  Soon-you-will-know.”

 

There were no fatalities or major injuries, but the event was the catalyst for major changes in regulations and standards for nuclear power plants.

 

Frank Sinatra starred in The Manchurian Candidate, a movie about a prisoner of war who is brainwashed and then becomes an assassin. The film was released in October 1962.  President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed November 1963, just a little over a year later.  Back in the sixties movies circulated for a year or two after their release so when The Manchurian Candidate naturally finished its run, the rumor spread that it was yanked because of the assassination. People saw the connection between the story and reality and jumped to their own conclusion.  We search for (and create) stories to help us make sense of life events that are often too difficult to embrace head-on.

 

Last night my 18-year-old daughter, Chaya, and I went out to see The Mocking Jay, Part One.  It’s the third movie in the Hunger Games series.  We both read the books and liked the first two movies, so we were excited to see the third. The Hunger Games is about a futuristic society.  The wealthy and powerful Capital controls and oppresses the poorer districts by forcing them to sacrifice a few young people each year to a televised fight with only one victor.  The third movie is about the rebellion.

About 15 or 20 minutes into the movies we see a few of the poorer districts (filled with people of color) forced to watch public executions. A few minutes later we see them fight back.  My daughter turned to me and said “Oh my gosh, it’s just like Ferguson.”  As the movie continued the connection became even clearer.

The Mocking Jay Part 1 came out November 21st and three days later on November 24th the Grand Jury Announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charge in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Riots and protests followed.

Once again story became the herald of our reality.

Natural Tellers

George is the one with the white hair.

George is the one with the white hair.

Everybody is filled with stories, and just about every has at least one or two good stories they enjoy telling, however there are a few folks who I like to call natural tellers. They might tell tales as they sit on the front porch or at the kitchen table, or they spin them as they do surgery or sell products. They love to tell and they seem to have an endless supply spellbinding stories, and most natural tellers seem to be very successful in one or more aspects of their lives.

Qualities of a natural teller:

• They have interesting/exciting lives and/or they come from interesting and exciting families.
• They use their stories as a way to communicate
• They willingly share their stories and allow others to pass them on.
• They are good listeners.

Now let’s meet a natural teller: George W. Appenzeller
George runs a llama farm in Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He’s in his seventies, has a head of pure white hair, and a smile that conveys a bushel load of encouragement. He takes small groups of kids on treks through the mountains and allows them to discover their inner strength. Challenge Adventures is a non-profit that focuses on kids who have faced trauma, abuse, poverty, and other challenges. He also does a few programs with scouts and other youth groups. I spent a week at the llama farm and in the mountains with a group of girls from Camp CADI, an arts and adventure camp for survivors of sexual abuse.

Caring for llamas and leading wilderness adventures seems to fit the first quality of natural tellers–interesting lives, but for George that’s just the tip of his story iceberg. He served in the military, worked in theater, got a degree in Russian history, then a master’s in social work. He and his wife have traveled the world doing environmental studies and they have a business evaluating the effectiveness of programs. Plus he has a llama farm. OK, he’s interesting.

On the second day of our llama walk in the mountains we all went on a 6 mile hike to a waterfall. After an hour or so, we took a break near a stream. George began to talk about the llamas, plants, and terrain for a couple minutes then rolled right into a story. Once he took a group of scouts with their parents hiking and they set up camp just where we were sitting. George and the other guides suggested moving the tents to higher ground, away from the river. The parents preferred the lower, flatter ground. That night it rained; George and the guides stayed dry, the scouts and their dads got soaked. George told the story with a sparkle in his eye and in a simple matter of fact style. It got a laugh and successfully demonstrated the wisdom of listening to guides (and the people in our lives that have experience and knowledge). No lecture, just a simple story. George uses his stories to communicate.

I got into North Carolina ahead of my group, so I had time to meet and chat with his staff. Natural storytellers are usually very generous with their stories and will tell for hours with no end in sight. I asked permission to tell a couple of George’s stories and he said yes right away. He’s willing to share his stories and pass them on.

Now most of the mountain paths are narrow and we each led a llama, so we walked single file. Mountain paths are rocky and I spent the majority of my time looking at my llama or the uneven path, but every now and again I’d look up and see George walking next to one of the girls, just listening. He didn’t rush people, he listened at their pace. Yep, George is a good listener.

People remember natural tellers because they tend to nourish a place in our consciousness that excites both our hearts and our minds. If you find a natural teller, clear some time in your calendar so you can just sit together and talk.

If you are a natural teller (or you know one), please take note. Natural Tellers tend to tell and not save their stories. A story coach, unlike a writing coach, will honor the spoken word process but still find a way to save these precious stories. Often told stories already have their form, but they are a bit like Jello, they wiggle a bit when you want to save them. Creating a structured time and setting goals is the best way to save stories so they can be passed on.

If you’d like to learn more about George and Challege Adventures check out his website at http://www.challengeadventures.com. I’ll be writing more about Camp CADI in my next blog. Check out this amazing program http://www.safegirlsstronggirls.org/ Both groups do amazing work and rely on donations so if you can, please donate.

 

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 4 session package.

Getting Unstuck: Taking your Art to the Next Level

We all get bogged down, stalled, blocked. Musicians, painters, writers, performers: all artists get stuck.  It often happens after a success and a burst of productivity. Other times it happens after a well deserved break or vacation. We tend to stall right at a time when we’re ready to surge forward.  That’s when things stop.

It’s a lot like driving a car and getting stuck in the mud.  You’ve been zooming along, making good time when the tires get swallowed by soft, supple mud.  It’s wet and unformed.  If it was in a farmer’s field you might call it fertile land, but it’s part of the road so now it’s a major headache.  You spin your wheels in an attempt at freedom, but you just sink deeper. Maybe you get out of the car and get the shovel from the trunk, (I always carry a shovel in my trunk) and try to dig yourself out.  Unfortunately there is a lot of mud.  Whatever mud you dig out is instantly replaced by other mud.

Finally you decide you can’t do this alone.  You need help. The first person to walk by just got their driver’s permit. They suggest gunning the motor.  Now you realize you not only need help, but you need help from somebody who knows how to get out of the mud. You look around and find somebody who lives in the area.  He tells you he’s been stuck in a similar mud hole just down the block.  He puts cardboard under the tires and tells you to gently move back and forth and then he pushes. It doesn’t happen right away, it takes some time but together you move out of the mud and return to the road.

It’s the same for artists.  We often get stuck when things are fertile and we get frustrated. Sometimes we work really hard, {spinning our wheels} and just get more stuck.  Maybe we’ll go for the shovel and logically try to move forward,but if you don’t know how to handle the mud, more will just replace it.

So, you got to find somebody to help, somebody who knows about being stuck. I suggest a story coach.  She knows how to listen and guide you through the story that’s build a wall around you.  Maybe a new story will open the door, or maybe owning the beginning or end of the story will move you forward.  A story coach will also listen to the process of your music, painting, sculpture, dance, or performance. As the story unfolds, your art will not only move forward but rise to new levels.

Story coaching can be done in person or online through Skype or Google Hangout. If you are ready to embrace your art and get back to work, please give me a call.

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  862-268-4989

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 3 session package.