Category Archives: storytelling

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

 

Where to Find Nutritious Stories (7 in a series of 8)

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OK, you’re ready to change your media habits and begin to consciously choose stories that nourish your mind, heart, and spirit, but what do they look like and where can they be found?  If you’ve been filling up on junk stories for a while, it might be difficult to identify healthy stories.

Let’s go back to the food analogy.  A person might reason – vegetables are healthy, potatoes are vegetables, therefore French fries are healthy…right?  Of course not.  Don’t just look at story styles or media delivery, look for stories that deliver insight, information, and inspiration.  Look for balance and honesty.  Healthy stories can also playful and fun.  Remember watermelon, strawberries, salmon, garden ripened tomatoes, and dark chocolate are all delicious and healthy.

Let’s look at a few places you can find healthy, fun, and challenging stories.

Comic Books, Super Heroes, & Graphic Novels– I thought I’d start the list with a fun source of stories that are often dismissed.  Modern comic book super hero stories are today’s myths and fairytales. Folklore provides a non-threatening format to explore and understand challenges of the human condition. All of the most frightening and confusing issues we face today are explored by DC, Marvel, and Independent comic companies.  Superman was a response to Hitler’s concept of ‘Supermen’, Batman & Jessica Jones are characters shaped by trauma who fight against their inner demons and PTSD, and Spiderman dealt with adolescent challenges.  Not all comics are great, but it’s a great area to explore modern folklore.  Take a few minutes after reading a graphic novel or seeing a superhero TV show or movie to think about it and find the issues hidden in the story.

Classic & Original Sci-Fi & Fantasy – This category might also surprise you.  Society is changing at supersonic speed and philosophical science fiction offers a platform to explore and question how humanity will cope with these changes.  Joseph Campbell helped George Lucas infuse the hero’s journey into Star Wars and it’s had a resounding effect on generations.  Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Issac Asimov, Mary Shelly, and Ray Bradbury are all fantastic writers who choose sci-fi/fantasy as their genre of choice.  NOTE-there’s a lot of junk sci-fi/fantasy too, so look for stories that offer you new perspectives.   (There’s a new website offering authors an easy way to show their stories. Futurism.media.com  I just posted one of my sci-fi short stories-check it out. https://futurism.media/authors/rivka-willick  )

That Book or Movie on Your List Recommended by Friend – We all have lists of books, movies, live shows, stories, blogs, etc. that friends have suggested and we intend to one day do it, but we haven’t yet.  Stuff on this list may be a little challenging but it’s usually pretty good once we open the cover or go to the show.  Junk usually doesn’t stay on the list-if it’s easy we do it first.  Go back to the recommended list and pick out a few nourishing stories this week.

You Know it’s Good but it Takes a Little Effort – Ken Burns documentaries fall into this category for me, I enjoy them but I have to stay focused and think.  Historic stories, documentaries, or stories from other cultures fit in this category.  Consider this the vegetables on your healthy story menu – pick the ones you like but make sure a few are consumed on a regular basis.

Classics – Stories (in all media forms) that last for generations prove themselves as great by their longevity.  Language and technological advancements may cause many classics to be a bit of a challenge, but the wisdom and mastery in these tales are worth the effort you put into them. Try to hear, see, or read a classic every now and then.  I try to take on a classic novel every couple months.  Classic short stories and movies I tend to enjoy in batches.

Both Sides of a Story – It’s human nature to seek out the stories that support your point of view, but that’s like eating carbs and skipping the protein.  This balanced approach applies to all disciplines, not just politics.

Learn to Listen to Stories Live storytelling is an essential ingredient to any healthy mind-heart-spirit story diet.  When a story is told live, the listener becomes an interactive part of the telling.  Encourage family members, friends, and co-workers to share stories.  Seek out professional storytelling performances for adults (or hire a teller for your events). Attend book lectures, plays, and comedy shows.  Support live performances, you will thrive.

 

Please help me add to this list of healthy stories.

There’s just one more article in this series-Recipes for a Whole Story Lifestyle.

Weening off Junk Stories (Article 6 in a series of 8)

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I’ve identified junk stories and their risks in earlier articles in this series.  Now it’s time to discuss ways to cut back on an over-saturated diet of junk stories. Junk stories, just like junk food are easy to consume and over indulge.  Many of us wake up and discover we are bloated in junk stories and don’t know how to stop.  Since junk stories come in different forms and we listen, read, and tell stories in different ways, let me suggest several different ways to ween off junk stories.

  1. Come out of isolation – If you are watching shows or movies alone, invite friends or family to sit and watch with you. If you are binge reading junk on line or in print, join a reading group or ask a friend to read what you’re reading.  The very act of sharing will expand the quality of your experience and often encourage exploration into other content.
  2. Investigate the other side – The 24-hour news cycle generates a lot of junk. Most so-called news outlets generate content heavily weighted to one side or the other, seasoned with generous amounts of anger, arrogance, prejudice, and righteousness.  The story format creates sticky content that easily provokes strong feelings, but the imbalanced content greatly reduces the value of stories.  Challenge yourself and seek out the other side (or sides) of the story. As you begin to question the validity of lop-sided news, individual stories will gain complexity – a storytelling equivalent to nutritional value.
  3. Try something new – Variety is said to be the spice of life, but we are often reluctant to change, even if we know the change is for our own good. Familiar might be boring, but it’s also safe and reassuring.  We crave repetition, but we don’t want to be bored so we seek out binge content so we can space out.  Make a contract with yourself to watch, read, or listen to something new for every repeat or repetitive show.
  4. Challenge yourself – Easy isn’t always good. Step out of your comfort zone and include a few stories every week or month that takes effort to understand and digest.  Just as a healthy diet must include complex carbohydrates and lean proteins, a healthy story diet should include quality content that pushes you.
  5. Don’t forget to play and have fun – Quality isn’t dull and great stories can be fun. Give yourself permission to play.

Next Blog: Where to find nutritious stories.

Building Team Dynamics through Drum Circles

 September is just a few weeks away and for most school administrators and many businesses leaders, it’s time to schedule in-services and trainings.  

These usually include lectures with some interactive elements. At some point in this process, cooperation and team building is often woven into the hours of training.

The thought of these half or full day training sessions is an inspiration to one and all…

…Then again, maybe not.  If you sit quietly, you might hear groaning.  Let’s face it, half the group dreads these sessions, and building a team through group suffering isn’t all that effective.

IMG_1427Training and ongoing education is essential for teachers and business teams, but you don’t build teams through talk, teams are built through doing.

I’ve been a storyteller and story coach for over 17 years, so I know the power of words, however not all stories are written, told, or heard. Some stories are experienced.  A few years ago, I added Drum Circle Facilitation to my skill set, and I use traditional drums to build and strengthen teams. 

I am continuously amazed when a diverse group of adults gather together in a drum circle.  Most people have never touched a drum before, a few hotshots want to show off, and a few are afraid to make a sound. 

Traditional African Drumming consists of three basic notes and can be taught in ten minutes.  Building a unified rhythm seems impossible at first, but it seems to magically evolve in less than an hour.  Everyone in the cIMG_1412ircle begins to take care of each other though eye contact, self-control, and focus. 

Adding a drum circle in the middle or end of an in-service builds excitement. Don’t talk about becoming a team.  Become a team. 

Contact me today and schedule a traditional drum circle for your next in-service or training. I serve the Mid-Atlantic States. Rivka@simplyextraordinarytales.com

How Many Junk Stories are Too Many Junk Stories? (4th in a series of 8)

 

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How many “calories” are in a procedural or trash novel?

By Rivka Willick

For most of us, an occasional ice cream cone or order of fries is OK, but a diet filled with junk food will sooner or later cause health problems.  The same applies with junk stories. For most of us watching a procedural, reading a serial romance novel, or sharing a self-absorbed story is harmless, but bingeing on stories with addictive, simplistic, or narcissistic elements will dumb you down, emotionally stunt you, and dull your spirit.

So, how do we find the right balance for a nutritious story diet? It will vary for different individuals and may be a little tough to get a grip on, since stories are so entwined in our lives.

Let’s go back to the food analogy to find our answer. Some people have a very low tolerance for sugars, fatty foods, and starches.  If you have heart disease, diabetes, or binge eating disorders, you need to limit and illuminate certain foods.  I believe there are similar conditions connected to our story intake.

  1. Media Binging- If you are obsessively watching, reading, or listening to stories for hours at a time, losing sleep, skipping work, or avoiding responsibilities consider limiting or cutting out the types of stories that you’re hooked on.
  2. Irritability and social isolation – Certain stories are structured to build dependency; these often are simplistic and repetitive. If you find yourself separating from others, consider expanding your story diet.
  3. Fatigue and a Dumbed Down Feeling (Couch Potato) – If you’re spending a lot of time reading, watching shows, or listening to stories that lulls you into a complacent or dull state of mind, consider reducing or changing your story habits.

You may not fall into any of the above categories, however a conscientious examination of the different types of stories you take in every month will help you stay balanced.  After all, you want a diverse diet of both food and stories.  If you eat nothing but greens, eventually you’ll have problems.  The same is true with your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual consumption of the world around you.  (We are focusing on stories, because stories are sticky and show up in everything). Try to take in some challenging stories, along with some inspiring tales, narratives that connect, and some playful yarns.

Also try to take in a variety of story forms.  If you mainly watch TV, add reading or listening to stories on the radio, as blogs, or audio books.  If you have a seat with your name on it at the local cinema, try to take in a play.  And don’t forget live, unscripted stories.

 

 

Next blog: When Junk Stories Become Personal

How do you handle the Junk Stories around you?  Leave a comment.

How to Identify Junk Stories (Article 3 in a series of 8)

 

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By Rivka Willick

Stories, the stickiest form of verbal communication, are as essential as food and water. Instead of nourishing our bodies, stories feed our intellect, emotions, and spirit. The quality of the stories we consume affect us in fundamental ways. Quality stories challenge our minds, guide and strengthen our emotional growth, and inspire that element we might call our unique self; whereas toxic stories cause damage on all those levels. Junk stories are somewhere in between. In the first two articles of this series we’ve explored the concept of Junk Stories and the harm they can cause when you fill up on them.

Now let’s tackle identifying categories of Junk Stories. Remember, junk stories in moderation are OK, just like a sweet for desert or an occasional fast food meal, but a steady diet of junk stories should be avoided.

Formulaic Stories – This is the narrative equivalent of comfort food. The structure never changes, the characters are usually interchangeable, and the endings are predictable.  The modern TV Procedurals are great examples. The structure = An interesting, quirky, or odd character uses his or her oddness to investigate, faces at least one risk, and then helps the police solve the crime. The structure has become so predictable, that some shows will do two or three crimes per episode, but they do that every time.  The predictability is reassuring, it makes us feel good, but if we only stay with the sure things, we’ll become complacent.

Made for Binging – There’s a lot of money to be made in media, so if you can hook the reader, listener, or watcher through an addictive structure or content, you’ll have a customer base you can count on.  I’m not talking about compelling content or great artistry; I’m talking about tricks that keep people hooked. This isn’t new.  Harlequin Romance Novels began in 1949.  Many women throughout the decades have devoured them, sometimes on a daily basis.  Binge Worthy TV Series are designed to keep viewers hooked. Let me be clear- there’s nothing wrong with getting caught up in a great story, book, or show, but if the story is designed to be addictive, you won’t have much brain or heart space for anything else.

Stories with very little middle – All stories have a beginning, middle, and an end with some sort of challenge or movement.  This contained structure is what, I believe, makes stories so sticky. When content is over simplified or minimized the story will still linger in your memory but your understanding, curiosity, and natural compassion is reduced. The Modern News Story is a great example. It begins with a headline grabbing beginning, sprinkles in a few simplistic facts, and ends often with a conclusion meant to provoke a response. If we jump from one incomplete story to another, our view of the world around us becomes distorted and we can be controlled by those creating the news. I believe this is true of all news stories, no matter how they are delivered (internet, radio, TV, newspaper, or magazine) regardless of the viewpoint. However, if you follow up on these news spurts with research or a longer, more complex exploration of the same story, the junk story will become nutritious.

The Fixed Folktale (also known as Disneyfied) I’m a storyteller (and have been a professional teller for almost 2 decades), so I’d be remiss to ignore traditional tales. Both Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly spoke about the power and importance of myth and folklore. These stories endure because they provide structures we need for personal development. When we change the story to fit commercial needs or the rules set by let’s say a school administrator or party planner, we may take away its power and relevance. This is a topic needing a longer exploration, but for now, let’s makes sure there’s room on your plate (and our children’s plates) for a few traditional tales along with the Disney versions. (BTW-comic books are great-they are today’s folklore).

Me, Myself, and I Stories – I might get some push back on this one, but here goes.  Personal stories which are self-absorbed should be spoken and listened to in small doses. If everyone but the protagonist is unappealing, consider looking at it from a different viewpoint. Remember Narcissus died looking at his own reflection.

I know I’ve missed a few categories.  Drop me a note if you’d like to add to the list.

 

Next Blog: How many junk stories are too many?