Monday, August 12, 2019

Advocating for Peace: Supporting activists in shaping their stories
by Noa Baum
Image result for noa Baum
I am sitting in a small room of a modest apartment on the upper west side of New York City, listening to Israelis and Palestinians. The accents are heavy, speech often halting as the teller searches for the correct English phrase or word. 

A young Palestinian woman tells about being 9 years old, seeing her beloved friend lying on the ground with a red stain of blood spreading on his blue school uniform. He is 12 years old, and the pride of the school, shot by Israeli soldiers. Filled with rage and grief, she picks up a stone and throws it at the soldiers. She is terrified and confused, “I’m a good girl. I don’t throw stones”.
Why is this happening? Why did they kill her friend?

A young Israeli man, who grew up like me, proud to serve and defend his homeland, tells about being 19 years old in his active army service. He has orders to “extract” a man from his house and bring him in for interrogation. It is well after midnight, he is carrying a large gun and feels powerful, but his heart is pounding with fear. After banging on the door with his gun, a woman opens it and starts crying. He is pointing his gun and sees the terror in her eyes. He completes his mission, drops the man at the detention center but never finds out if he was returned to his wife. The terror stricken eyes haunt him. He is tormented and confused. He was raised to believe he is the good guy. Why is he feeling like the bad guy? 

These are just snippets of the stories I hear in that room from five members of Combatants for Peace (, a grassroots group of people who grew up amidst the violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They all saw family members and friends die. They were soldiers and stone throwers, they spent time being tortured or torturing, been in jail or guarded prisoners, they were freedom fighters and protectors of their homeland.
But one-by-one renounced violence put their weapons down and chose to work together, Israelis and Palestinians, to end the cycle of violence and occupation. Today they tell their stories to build bridges of hope, understanding and peace.

My job is to help them shape their stories for advocacy and get comfortable presenting them to American audiences. 

I share my own story: growing up an Israeli Jew in Jerusalem, my friendship with a Palestinian woman and journey of discovering “the other” through the power of story, and how I use storytelling to build bridges of understanding and compassion with a live performance and a memoir I wroteA Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace. 

I ask them to identify what makes an oral story compelling and we discuss the components of spoken language, I spend the rest of the day working individually with each one of the five members.

I am faced with many challenges:
How to help trauma survivors tell trauma-laden stories without re-triggering the trauma?

How to choose from dozens of experiences those that can be shaped into a coherent story arc?

How to be truthful to the pain and violence of the stories, convey the message and capture the heart, without alienating or overwhelming listeners? 

How to create a message of hope about an ongoing conflict when a peace resolution seems farther away than it’s ever been?

There is no formula and I don’t own the “Your Advocacy Story in Five Easy Steps” magic manual. I approach each individual story as a journey of exploration.

One teller needs to figure out how to talk without crying. Another needs to figure out how to put emotion in his voice when his instinct is to protect himself from the pain by talking in monotone.
And for everyone, the challenge is to learn the language of images: 
Can listeners see/imagine my story? Am I showing: describing the scene with sensual details? Using dialogue to give information and/or help bring each character to life? Or am summarizing?

There are sound principals to the art of Storytelling but Coaching is not an exact science. I tread carefully, ask lots of questions, and offer examples and suggestions. I worry that it’s too hard for them.
But then, one of them retells his story after the morning suggestions. We invite our host, the apartment owner, to listen.
I watch the magic of teller energized by listener. I hear the emotion in his voice but he’s in charge, not collapsing. The story comes alive, our host is clearly moved and confesses that as an American Jew she had never heard this perspective.

It can be difficult to see the relevance of storytelling in the face of the growing conflicts, divisions and hateful rhetoric, the plight of refugees and the collapse of climate stability. 

Pete Seeger said, “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” 
The stories of the courageous people who are caught in conflict and suffer but choose to reach out to each other, hold that optimism for me.

Poet Wislawa Szymborska, writes, 
Four billion people on this earth,
But my imagination is as it was.
It doesn’t cope well with big numbers.
It’s still moved by singularity.

We need the stories. Let’s help people tell them.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Courage to Claim Our Callings

written by Rose van der Berg

My mouth was so dry my lips stuck together. I felt dizzy. I was next on stage at a story slam.

I wasn’t afraid to tell. I was afraid to tell what I brought. It was a story about healing shame that called me to craft and voice it.

I expected fear of vulnerability. I was unprepared for fear of being the participant who disappointed by poking a hole in the balloon of laughter generated by six funny tales before me.

I frantically searched my brain for a jolly yarn to offer. Self-doubt

Then I remembered words from a talk given by a peace activist named Peace Pilgrim: “trust in your own inner voice…become acquainted with the things you fear”.

I whispered those words as I walked to the mic – and told the story I came to share.
Instead of falling short, my telling was well-received. People came to me and related their experiences with reclaiming self-worth.

The response reminded me of more wisdom from Peace Pilgrim: “…there’s something greater than you going on when you are urged from inside to create and express, or do, what is out of the ordinary…have faith things will work out if you follow where you feel led.”

Peace Pilgrim was an incredible example of daring to honor inner guidance to do something unusual. She stepped out in faith when she felt a calling to go on a pilgrimage for peace in 1952. She crisscrossed the U.S. on foot seven times from 1953 until her death in 1981. She influenced thousands of people with talks at schools and churches. She had no possessions or money. She was provided with food and shelter during 28 years of walking by those who were moved by her message.
You can learn about her at:

Watch the 60-minute documentary on YouTube:

“Peace”, as many called her, used stories to illustrate actions we can take to grow into our full potential to help make a more peaceful world.

The art of storytelling fosters peace by creating connection.

Here are 3 ways we can grow into our full potential as story artists from Peace Pilgrim:
  1. Spend time in receptive silence. Take breaks from mental noise and distractions to connect with, listen to, and strengthen our authentic self.
  2. Believe in instincts that call us beyond what’s safe and familiar. They’re summoning us to bless others with a gift only we can give.
  3. Make friends with fear of how the world might meet what we’re inspired to do. The forces of life will arise to meet us when we say yes to inner promptings.

Rose van der Berg is a professional storyteller and founder/director of Bridges Storytelling ™, an inclusive community arts program promoting peace by empowering people to craft and exchange personal stories.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Storytelling ~ A Quest for Peace

written by Claire Chandler

Storytelling has a ‘voice of it’s own.’  I have told stories of fantasy, humor, wonder and even fright to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.  But, it wasn’t until I told ‘The What If’ story that I realized the power of storytelling in influencing change and creating a path for world peace.

In September 2016, I was selected to be one of the tellers for a ‘Sacred Story Concert’ at the White Mountain Storytelling Festival in New Hampshire.  It was then I wrote and told ‘The What If’ -- a poem-story for world peace.  I knew then, that this was just the beginning of my journey with this story.  I planned to have it videotaped and shared on social media.

After many unexpected life ‘turns and twists,’ I was able to have this poem-story produced on video. I even shared with my church congregation, and I was surprised to receive a standing ovation.

This story spurred me to create a new peace initiative that I call “Walk with me on a gentle path to peace.” Nineteen people attended the first meeting. Together we embarked on the path to peace.

Join me on this ‘quest for peace’ by sharing your stories with me on my new Facebook site. You can also watch my video post of ‘The What If' story-poem. I invite you all to ‘Walk with me on a gentle Path to Peace’...


Send me your ideas and inspirations:

As storytellers, let us become change-makers in this world and get our message out there.

Claire Chandler
Professional Storyteller, Peace Advocate

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Telling Stories to Young Children ~ Mij Byram

written by Mij Byram
"A person’s a person no matter how small." ~ Dr. Seuss
Those of us who work with young children are aware of the unique skill set needed to reach an audience with limited life experience and cognitive range but infinite curiosity and willingness to believe what you say.

TIP: Maintain Focus, Awareness and a Calm Demeanor - Not everyone can stay focused while watching a little one wiggle and jiggle because they are so deep in their own imagery that they are unwilling to acknowledge or tend to their immediate bodily needs. If you can relax and stay in the story, so will the child. There may be a wet spot on the carpet after they leave, but in the meantime, they have traveled with you through a universe of stories. And in the big picture a change of clothes is no big deal for a super hero.

TIP: Consider Point Of View - I don’t mean first person, second or third person. The actual point of view of a child sitting on the floor will determine what they see. If you are close to the children get down on their level so they are not looking at your toes or up your nose. Are you are standing or sitting far enough away to make it easy to see your face without neck strain? Be thoughtful and adjust when needed.

TIP: Consider Adults - When working with children, consider teachers and parents as part of the audience. It’s nice to be able to offer something of interest to them as well. Layered stories can please both child and adult. What would keep you interested in a children’s story?

TIP: Listen with your eyes to see what they are telling you with their bodies.
I often feel I’m holding a golden secret. A secret about how to make the world a better place. Through storytelling we have the opportunity and responsibility to add more kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, courage and justice to the lives of our listeners. This should NOT be a secret.

Mij Byram
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not." ~ Dr. Seuss

Contact info
Mij Byram

Bio: Mij is a highly respected, sought-after Early Childhood innovator with over 20 years of experience using stories to plant the seeds of literacy and love of language. Her workshops and play-shops have trained teachers, librarians, parents, and storytellers from Maine to Florida how to build character and promote literacy through story. Mij has been a staff member of the National Storytelling Network, a board member of the Florida Storytelling Association and president of the Palm Beach County Storytelling Guild. Mij is the founder and publisher of the monthly newsletter South Florida Storytelling News since 2005.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

To Slam or Not to Slam?

Article by Madeline Pots, award-winning Storyteller and Slam Artist.

Why I Slam.

The room was packed.  It was the first event of the newly formed Orlando Story Club and my first slam.  I put my name in the hat and hoped I would be called.  I had practiced my story.  I had condensed it from a longer story, isolating just what I thought was truly important.  I was ready. 

Ten names were pulled.  Some of the tellers were obviously experienced.  Others were new to any genre of public speaking,  but they all had a story.  And the audience listened.  They intuitively recognized sincerity.  They responded to honesty.  They laughed at what was genuinely funny.  They forgave the stammering starts and stops and showed support for the speaker. The stories had heart, and so did the audience. 
As it turned out, it was an experienced storyteller who walked away with the honors that evening.  That was because her story was real and bravely told.  It set an example that has characterized the quality of this long-lasting event, now five years old and going strong.

A story slam is a level playing field.  Anyone can slam.  The tellers are randomly picked.  The stories are often like uncut gems, rare and valuable even though unpolished.   Other times the stories are crafted, poetic and powerful.  For sure, there are the occasional stories that ramble, but that does not negate the open-hearted reception of the slam audience.  It is a supportive community that values the candor of the teller.  It’s a community I love.

I no longer try to condense my longer stories into mini versions of themselves.  I prefer to start fresh with a beginner’s eye.  I know that a glib turn of words will not do it for a slam audience.  They respond to content.  It makes me dig deep for message, while keeping within that infamous five-minute limit.

Slams are contests, and it is certainly nice to walk away with the honors.  But the biggest prize is being part of a community that accepts all equally.  The best reward is the experience, from both sides of the stage.  That is why I slam.

 Madeline Pots is a storyteller and musician living in Winter Park, FL. She has performed on the National Storytelling Festival's Exchange Place stage, Tallahassee's Stories At Blue, the Cracker Storytelling Festival and Stone Soup Storytelling Festival. She leads FSA's Youthful Voices.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Ready to Learn by Sheila Arnold

Ready to Learn

I love coaching.  I love being coached.  I appreciate hard specific feedback just as much, and sometimes more than, compliments and platitudes about my stories.  Because of these “loves” and “appreciation” in my life, this is what I try to give to others when I am coaching. 
I have been asked to coach performers (not just storytellers) for quite some time, and I think it is important for me to approach each coaching session in a similar way.  The first thing I do is listen – all the way through.  I don’t interrupt the first time around unless I really don’t understand something and I have to get clarity in order to get the full story.  Then we take a moment to let the story breathe between me – the coach – and the storyteller.  This is a vulnerable time; storytellers can get afraid of what I am going to say.  They are already beating themselves up about the missed word, phrase or, in their mind, awful storytelling technique.  I need a moment to soak in what I have heard and to review the notes that I take.  Then step 3 – I give feedback and make sure my feedback is specific, with a reminder that this is my opinion, not required to be accepted.  I also try to speak without interrupting; I learned that by watching Connie Regan-Blake give feedback to Charlotte Blake-Alston; very powerful and a great lesson.  If there are others in the coaching with me, which I actually like, then I ask for other feedback, and if I see unkindness, I point it.  Vulnerability needs to be handled with care and compassion and needs to know it has a safe community to succeed, fail, make mistakes and keep trying.  Finally, we make a decision.  Do we have enough time to listen again?  Do we need to just breathe in the feedback?  Do we need to schedule another coaching time?  What is next for the story and the storyteller?
I come to each coaching session with the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I also come to each coaching session with the lessons, compassion, care and challenges given to me from amazing storytellers:  Diane Ferlatte, Donna Washington, Charlotte Blake-Alston, Donald Davis, Bil Lepp, Minton Sparks, Syd Lieberman, Susan Klein, Milbre Burch, Clare Murphy, and a close-knit group of friends called “The Storytelling Girlfriends”.  There is a community that has helped and continues to help me grow, and I want to make sure that each person I coach leaves knowing they have a community that lifts and holds them up.  Finally, I leave each session having learned things about storytelling, about people and about stories, and I grow! 
I love coaching.  I love being coached.

Sheila Arnold, 12/11/18

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Story - Music - Words

When I Was One And Twenty
The Things a Storyteller Can Unlock by Chasing a Great Piece of Music

I’m one of those guys who came to a storytelling career from a songwriting career. I still bring a lot of my life as a songwriter to my work as a storyteller. And when I was invited to write this article (an invitation by which I felt very much honored), I gathered my Dylan quotes and my Stephen Foster tunes and my Tom Waits lyrics, and set out to write an article about all of the doors that a great piece of music can unlock for a storyteller.

And then something happened: a great piece of music unlocked some doors for me. And I decided to ditch everything else and tell you about it:

In the run-up to Veteran’s Day, I got to produce a recording session for radio. The session featured pianist Scott Holden and baritone Robert Brandt, performing pieces by composers from the era of World War I. The music included a handful of George Butterworth settings of A. E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad” poems – heartbreaking pieces about the golden generation that went to fight in The Great War (the poems were written, actually, almost two decades before the war, but together with the Butterworth musical settings they’re often associated with World War I. Butterworth himself was killed in the war, though Housman survived).

Scott and Robert ripped through “With Rue My Heart is Laden” and “Is my Team Ploughing,” and the lovely, melancholy “The Lads In Their Hundreds” (…The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair/There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold/The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there/And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old…).

The session filled my heart, right from the first few notes. And about midway through, we recorded Butterworth’s “When I Was One and Twenty,” that little piece in the voice of the young man who, warned against falling in love, falls in love anyway:

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue."
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

It’s just a little love-sorrow poem set to music, and some would say there’s not much there – that it was the least of the pieces we recorded that day. But not me. I was arrested. That song had done what songs do: It had chased up a memory, and I began to follow it.

In the memory, I’m fifteen. I’m a brand-new high school student, and I’m spending a lot of time hanging out at the house of my pal, Dave. Living at Dave’s house, in addition to his folks and his siblings, is a cadaverous old great-uncle – Ralph Badley. Ralph is in the very last chapter of his life, and much of him is gone already. His ancient voice sounds like Dick Van Dyke’s bank president from Mary Poppins.

What’s more, every chat with Ralph winds up featuring, at some point, a recitation of “When I Was One and Twenty,” forced out through his whining old larynx.  Ralph thinks that a couple of high school guys like Dave and me – both teetering on the edge of falling in love with a different person every other week – should perceive the poem as especially wise. And of course it’s totally lost on us. We’re listening to Depeche Mode and Talking Heads records, and for us, Ralph is…

Well, to us, he’s hilarious. We’d as soon listen to Ralph recite Housman as go downstairs and watch Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, and for the same reasons. In the high school cafeteria, one or the other of us will sometimes wheeze out “But I was one and twenty, no use to talk to me!” just to make the other one choke on his milk.

In the memory given to me by the song in the recording session, I can see it. To us, at fifteen, Ralph is a laugh riot. He is, in fact, something like the family joke.

Ralph has been gone now for about thirty years. I hadn’t thought about him in nearly that long. But when Robert Brandt, in the recording studio, sang, “But I was one and twenty, no use to talk to me…” I saw Ralph again. I saw him like I’ve never seen him: Ralph was a child in a time that saw the beautiful hope of the world – its shining young men – used up in the machinery of a war that changed everything forever. Though I only ever knew him in a kind of baffled dotage, Ralph was, in another time, part of that radiant generation. The Great War left sixteen million dead, and then, in the very brief years that followed, more than 50 million more, killed by regional genocides and flu. The world would never be young again. And those Housman poems at which Dave and I tittered in high school were an enormously beautiful, melancholy expression of that time. Ralph’s heart was so full of them that they spilled out of his mouth every time he opened it.

A great piece of music had kicked in the door to a memory, and I had followed the memory through to a change in the things I thought and believed. And that might have been enough. But there was more to do (and I’ve come to feel strongly about this): I needed to talk to the other people in my memory.  

So after the session, I shot a text message off to Dave. Our conversation looked like this:

Me: “Can you talk?”
Dave: “I’m in a meeting. But it’s boring. I can text.”
Me: “Okay. I just recorded ‘When I was One and Twenty.’”
Dave: “What’s…oh, wait! That! Ralph Badley’s poem? You’re kidding.”
Me: “Nope. Not kidding. And I’ve been lost in thoughts of our own naiveté – yours and mine – in those days when Ralph was, for us, mostly comic relief.”
Dave: “He was pretty funny.”

And then, in a long text message, I tell him what happened in the recording session – about Ralph coming back to me on the wings of that Butterworth song, and giving me a new way to see him. It takes a long time.

Dave: “I’m sorry to make you text all that.”
Me: “No problem. I’ve been thinking about Ralph, and how lightly I took him, and about the weight of beauty and longing and sorrow and loss that his generation carried with it. You and I, in our time, have never seen its like.”

Long pause.

Dave: “Most of us took him lightly.”

The screen was still for a long time. Then, from Dave:

“I hope there’s a heaven. I can’t wait to meet the real Ralph Badley.”

I guess a storyteller always hopes that one’s process might lead to such a place. I get there, when I do, through a process that often includes a great piece of music opening me up to a memory, and then handing me off to explore what’s there (with the other people in the memory, if I can find them). In this case, the process led to two old friends, caught together in a moment of…well…“repentance” is the word that comes first to mind; we were caught in a moment of mutual reflection and greater awareness – an admission of folly and a resolve to be better men. It was a moment of greater and more meaningful communion with someone we had lost.

That’s how it works sometimes – a great piece of music can open doors for storytellers, to places worth going. I’m happy Ralph and Dave and Scott and Robert came to me to help me tell you about it. It’s what I would have said with Dylan quotes and Stephen Foster tunes and Tom Waits lyrics. Ask me about those, too. They’re cool.

Sam Payne, a 2019 Florida Storytelling Festival featured teller, has brought his stories and songs to halls in Canada, Bulgaria, Tokyo, and from coast to coast in the United States.

His workshop, That's What the Music's For, will be offered during the festival.