Reflecting on Storytelling as Healing

Thinking about storytelling and what it means to me.

Since my husband Jim died in 2012 I spend time at Arlington National Cemetery. The first weeks I sat on my canvas stool and cried. Then I began to use our time together there to remember our story and our 57 years together - until one day I fully realized that I was sitting beside Jim, yes, but that this was my grave too. When the time comes I too will move into 7424 Roosevelt Drive.

And for me -
at 77 years old it could be any time. I know - we could all die at any time - that's the life scenario - but let's face it after you enter the 7th decade death feels closer.

The day I accepted Arlington as my "forever home" I looked up and around at the field of white stones in Section 35. I was surrounded by stories and I did not know any of them. Except the names on the tombstones on either side of Jim. I recognized those two guys. They were buried in 1964 - the same week that our daughter was buried here. Jim and I often said we should find out who they were - but our lives were busy and we never did look for their stories.

Now I could. That was the place to start. And I did.

And that started me looking for stories not just in Section 35 - Arlington itself became the subject - its history, the daily workings of the place, the people who work there, the visitors - as well as the people buried there. You know all the articles on moving advise you to check out the new neighborhood before you move in -

My search for stories has been very fruitful - for finding stories and for finding my way back into living again. To set me on a path of moving forward until the day I do move in to 7424 Roosevelt Drive. Some people were surprised when I wove what I was finding into a story - a one-person show, Arlington National Cemetery, My Forever Home. I knew that Jim would not be a bit surprised and I often feel that he urges me forward on it - just as he encouraged me forward on all my storytelling work.

 But, I did not understand that making
my Arlington story would actually be part of the healing for me. Looking up and out, talking to people, and meeting new people who share my heart-connection to Arlington has broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to a wider world. I have met people I would never have met and heard stories that touch my heart and open me to a deeper appreciation of cost of the Military Service I say 'Thank You" for.

 The catch-phrase "a story is the shortest distance between two people" is often used to talk about the importance of storytelling. I use it myself - but now I am living it. Whenever I meet another family member at Arlington and say " I am visiting my husband are you visiting someone?" a story opens, a connection is made, and a bridge is built. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to know my neighborhood and to learn the stories before I move in.

 However, I have to tell you - the connections for me with Arlington are becoming quite surprising. I am working on a new one-person show which I hope to present at the 2014 Capital Fringe. It features 3 women. One is my great-grandmother, one a famous author, and the 3rd - a woman I know because 25 years ago I bought a dusty box of miscellaneous papers in a second-hand book shop in Charlotte, NC. It was filled with discards from an old woman's attic. Last month the librarians in the Carolina Room at the Charlotte Public Library helped me find some information about the woman in the letter. I felt a bit shaken when they told me she is buried with her husband in Section 3 at Arlington National Cemetery - 2 blocks from Jim (and me, eventually). Feels like a connection doesn't it?


NEW VIDEO: The Last Waltz

A story I enjoy telling. This is a Civil War tale of star-crossed lovers with a touch of a ghost story.


Catch up and a New Video

 Lately I have have been blocked off this blog by password troubles. Now back.

 For eight years I wrote something on this blog every day - just to keep in touch with myself and what was going on in my life. Well, since Jim died in 2012 I gradually lost interest in blog writing and substituted Posts on Facebook as a short cut means to keep in touch with myself and the world.  Of late, just to keep the channels open, my writing here has become a trickle of videos and fledgling "thoughts".

Part of my withdrawal has been because I find myself having to re-start my life and that goes slow. Nothing is as it was and so the blog took that hit as well. Its hard to talk about life when you are not really sure what's happening. I know there are many out there who understand this perfectly - because they have been there and done the life-redo themselves.

Facebook posts are easier  - - the medium is a social networking exercise so you put on your happy face even when that's not true at all. I do that - hoping to "fake it" until its true. Its sort of like being at Disneyland where everyone is laughing and the world is Candyland.  Facebook is a richly sugared world - nice -  I like it - but its not real. Someone said to me recently, " I read all your posts and you are doing so well - really getting over it." Hello, I am a storyteller.

Storytellers know how to give an audience what they want to hear.


I feel change happening.
Things are stirring.
Maybe change is taking hold.
So, I am back on the blog -
maybe not everyday -
hoping to notice what's happening
 and catch it -


 Adding a new video - a recent telling of an old story. I was drawn to this story about 10 years ago -


Art Pieces Can Have a Back-Story

This image has been around with me for a long time - at least a dozen years  - and I still like the look of it.

A bit of back story. When I made this collage I had just begun to fool around with digital imaging. I  mixed scans with collage - making the composition by cutting and pasting and then scanning the completed image. After that I altered the colors in the scan until they looked like I wanted them to.  It was fun. I spent hours upstairs in my office in front of the computer totally lost in the process.

Being lost in the process is what I really strive for because that is when my real creativity cuts loose.
Then, as a result, I make something that keeps me interested and happy with it for a dozen years.

I love the story on this collage because it takes me back to a printmaking studio in a VERY old building in Venice. That summer Jim and I rented an artist's apartment near the Arsenale and stayed there for a month. It was wonderful - better than we had dreamed it would be. We studied Italian everyday in classes in an old Palazzo near the Accadamia Museum. It was so hot that July that we escaped the heat by riding the vaporettos for hours every day. Before we went we had talked about taking a few days here or there away from Venice - but that never happened - except for one day trip to Padua to visit the Cathedral of Saint Anthony - Jim's patron saint.

That month was a magic time for us. We talked of going back but didn't. Things came up as they will.
But, as we often said to each other, "we have it."


And, thank God for the gift of Memory.

Video: Martha Pearl Re-dux

Tomorrow I am presenting my Flesh on Old Bones Workshop as part of the workshops line-up at the Annual Conference of the Association of Personal Historians. In that workshop I show how I use genealogy to build some of the stories I tell. For instance this story, Martha Pearl, is a story I often tell - because the exchanges between my mother and me rings bells for people. My one-woman show FINDING GUS is an example of genealogy at work as I tell the story of how I found the childhood story of my long-dead grandfather and discovered him as a family folk-hero. I will use the Martha Pearl story as a demonstration tomorrow in the workshop. Thought you might be interested in hearing it within that context.


New Video: Granny Peggy

I have always liked this story but I was surprised the day we taped it that I discovered I now understand Granny Peggy in a different way.  Life experiences opened my eyes.