Category Archives: story coaching for artists

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.