Word of mouth

The art and value of live, personal storytelling

Among the many ways to tell a story, the most primal is aloud and face-to-face. And among the infinite stories that can be told, perhaps the most transformative are those that are personal, and true.

Since 2017, I’ve served on the Board of Directors for Ex Fabula, a Milwaukee nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening community bonds through the art of storytelling. At the center of our efforts is an annual series of StorySlam events, where audience members of any skill level are invited to take the stage and tell a 5-minute story on the night’s theme. The catch? The story must be true and must convey the teller’s own experiences.

The power of story to bring people together – even complete strangers – is undeniable. In the stories of others, we see our own strengths and faults reflected. We relate to events and emotions that remind us of our past. We recognize the common humanity that connects us despite our beautiful differences. And when we gather in the same room to hear one another’s stories, we forge new relationships based on that shared experience. We promote a culture of listening that reinforces the worth and dignity of everyone.

Oral storytelling is an ancient art that is alive and thriving in our modern communities.

In the spirit of sharing, here is a brief story of my own, recorded to promote an upcoming Ex Fabula StorySlam. While there’s no substitute for the energy of an open stage, a live mic and a packed house, I hope you still discover something in this brief video that resonates with you.

Beginner’s Luck “mini-story”

If you feel inspired, please check out Ex Fabula for yourself.

If you live in southeast Wisconsin or northern Illinois, join us for an upcoming storytelling event.

Or if you are far from the Midwest, you can still hear our stories through the Ex Fabula radio show, a partnership with WUWM, Milwaukee’s NPR.

Header photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Freshly Pressed: two days later

Reflections on the art of storytelling and the power of community

Despite my best efforts to act like I’ve been there before, the truth is, I haven’t, so my brain is still processing the tremendous, uplifting response I’ve gotten after being Freshly Pressed for “The essay my mother wrote.”

For my family, friends and followers who haven’t seen the Freshly Pressed feature before, it is a daily portfolio of blog posts, handpicked by the WordPress editorial team to showcase great writing, interesting topics and enlightening discussion. There are half-a-million blogs in the WordPress community and millions of posts, so to be among the 5-10 posts picked on a given day is to be in rare company.

It’s kind of like having your story on the front page of a global newspaper or projected on the Jumbotron in Times Square. I am thrilled to be chosen, but it is exponentially meaningful that it was for this particular story.

I am especially grateful for the readers and bloggers who felt inspired (and continue) to share their own stories about their moms or their children or coping with loss or change. We are part of a global community, and these stories prove that we have more in common than we have differences. I will be buoyed for weeks by the positive dialogue and the heartening thoughts you’ve offered about my mom and your loved ones.

To my fellow writers who have read and commented on this post, thank you. I’m looking forward to visiting your blogs, and I will get to them all. It just might take a little while. The list is growing. The opportunity to connect with so many creative people has been an unexpected gift from this experience.

I write in the hopes of affecting others through compelling storytelling. But storytelling is a two-way street. Thanks for joining me on that road.

A love letter to libraries, including the littlest lenders on the block

Books, like all knowledge, are meant to be shared

I’ve always embraced the belief that knowledge should be shared. Access to knowledge is requisite for our enlightenment as individuals and our advancement as a society. An ivory tower is about as beneficial as a silk paperweight.

I think my admiration for libraries is rooted in this notion. It really should be a source of national pride that Americans decided long ago that books are a resource so important that they must be made widely available to all people at no direct cost. Here, the written works of authors comprising every genre under the sun co-mingle and wait for an equally diverse clientele of community members to choose their next intellectual treat.

What other product or service do we treat quite like books? What other item in this world can one borrow from a nearly limitless supply with no obligation other than the promise to return it in three weeks time? The concept is a vestige of classic values, all the more valuable for its rarity.

A trip to the library is a family activity: academics, culture, entertainment and togetherness wrapped in one paperback package. I usually can’t escape our local library without the use of a bag or wheelbarrow for my kids’ selections, and that’s after reading two or three books right on the spot. You can’t manufacture that kind of enthusiasm, but you can cultivate it among children and adults.

It also helps to have a bit of whimsy, which was my immediate thought the first time I saw a Little Free Library®. Book exchanges and hand-me-down copies are nothing new, but something about that over-sized birdhouse of a library struck a chord. And once you notice one of them, you can’t help but spot them everywhere.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

They carry an element of surprise. You never know what a given library will offer on a given day. It’s an ever-changing inventory sustained by generosity and caring for the common good. And no two libraries ever seem to look the same.

There is also some home-state pride here. Free Little Library® originated in Wisconsin through the creativity of Todd Bol of Hudson and Rick Brooks of Madison and has grown dramatically in four years. You can read their story at littlefreelibrary.org.

Most striking to me is their world map, which shows every registered Little Free Library® location. They blanket the country and have almost limitless capacity for growth.

Just a few blocks from where my family owned our very first house, in Milwaukee, Wis., a woman has a Little Free Library® in her front yard. HER FRONT YARD. In an era where people tend to be more open with strangers online than with live humans sharing the same sidewalk, this is a wonderful throwback to a simpler era. An open invitation to visit. A small touch that makes a row of houses feel like a neighborhood. A neighborhood like a community.

I love that there also is a Little Free Library® right outside the front door of my children’s school. I pass it most days and can’t help but peek at what’s inside. I wonder about who will be next to pick and book, and what stories they may have to tell. Which reminds me, I think I have a few books to share.