Friday, January 12, 2018

Thoughts About Story for 2018

We made it to 2018.

More shows, more writing, more teaching.

I found myself in two conversations this week about the nature of storytelling. I thought I'd share some of the observations.

Q: What is the difference between being a storyteller and being a comedian?

My Answer:

Comedy is about laughing at the absurdity of life in common things. You can also take the common, and make it really absurd. It is also about holding up something or someone for mockery or ridicule. A comic is likely to attack an audience member if they make a comment, or do some self-deprecation to get by an awkward moment. The audience is in on the joke, but they are standing outside of the ridiculous, and laughing at it with the comic.

Storytelling is about creating community. It can be funny, absurd, deadly serious, exaggerated, or understated, but it is always about bringing us out of whatever reality we call home int a shared place where go through an experience together. Storytelling is a comment on the life we humans live, and it asks us to find ourselves and those around us in the words. Only when we understand how similar we are will we be able to break down the barriers that separate us and cause so much dissent. To know my story is to see yourself.

Q: What is the secret to being a good storyteller?

It is the same secret to being any kind of artist....practice. If someone is a virtuoso violinist, it s because you can actually feel them in the music. A brilliant painter takes you into the picture itself. A brilliant sculptor can make a static object look animate. A brilliant singer can make your soul leap right through your chest. What about a storyteller? Well, if you are good at what you do in our industry, you, as the storyteller, disappear. You fade into the tale, and the audience isn't looking at you so much as they are watching a story. The more present you are, the more you get in the way of the tale.

Q: What is it about storytelling that resonates with people?

Human beings evolved to be social creatures. We are meant to look at and respond to the verbal and physical cues of others. We have replaced much of our human interaction with screens. Kids today, and adults, spend far more time staring at screens than they do working out how to communicate with their fellow human beings. We crave this kind of interaction even when we aren't aware of it. (As an introvert, I assure you we don't always want to be alone!)
I was performing at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC a few days ago, and the education director said she'd never seen a group of kids so engaged in a show. I explained that as a minimalist, the kids have nothing to look at except me. They are not distracted by costumes, sets, lights or sound. Their focus isn't drawn all over the stage but in one place. Storytelling is as old as language. We are drawn to it. It is how we express our daily lives and share what we know with others.

I have no doubt you answer those questions in different ways.

As you go into 2018 ask yourself...

Where do I find joy in my work?

Am I doing something I find fulfilling at some point during the day?

What do I do that feeds my inner self?

What could I add or subtract that would make my time more fulfilling?

Have a happy, healthy 2018!

Happy Telling - 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Day 7 of Kwanza - Imani - Faith!

Darith lighting the Kinara - Photo by Kat Heller

Habari Gani!

Imani (i-mah'-nee) - Faith.

Last night we had a Karamu - Our celebration. Here are some more pics from that. Thanks to our neighbor Kat Heller for taking some photos!

The last day of Kwanzaa is Imani. It means we have faith in ourselves, faith in each other, and faith in our communities. 

If you are religious, this would include your religious faith.

In 2017, we had challenges as a nation and community. Most people had personal challenges as well.

What did you face down in 2017?
What did you get through?
Who helped you?

What did you do to support your community in 2017?

Since it is New Year's Day, I chose two songs. One is for the hope that 2018 will bring us closer to a more equitable world where everyone has enough, and we do not exploit others. We might not get there, but we can work to make steps in that direction.

Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise.

The second song is upbeat and joyful. It is about having hopeful energy as we move into 2018. It is from the movie SING! It also features Stevie Wonder.


A man harbored great jealousy for his neighbor. He particularly wanted the man's horse. It was beautiful, and graceful, and the second he saw it, he had to have it.

One day, as he watched his neighbor riding the horse, he got an idea. He dressed himself as a man who looked to have been waylaid and beaten.

When his neighbor saw the abused traveler by the road, he stopped, got off of his horse at once, and went to aid him 

No sooner had he got off of his horse, than the man leapt up, pushed his neighbor aside, mounted the horse and rode away laughing. 

The neighbor was stunned to see the man laughing and taunting him. He beckoned for him to come back.

The man stood well out of reach with a satisfied grin on his face.

His neighbor gave him a tight smile. "Keep the horse, but tell no one how you tricked me to get it."

"Why not?" the man taunted. "Afraid of people calling you a fool?"

"No," said the neighbor. "if you tell people what you did, it will make others wary of helping those in need. No horse is worth breaking the faith of others." He turned and walked towards his home.

The man watched his neighbor go down the road, and he burned inside. He was now angry with himself. He rode to his neighbor, threw himself off of the horse, and handed him the reins.

Many years later, the two of them were sitting at a cafe. 

The man had never forgiven his neighbor for making him feel so guilty. "Do you remember all those years ago when I tricked you out of your horse?"

"I recall something of it," said his neighbor with a small smile.

"Did you mean it? Were you really afraid of destroying people's faith?"

The neighbor's eyebrows rose and he started laughing. "That day had nothing to do with anyone but you."

"I knew it!" the man shouted! "It had nothing to do with faith! You tricked me back!"

"Oh no," said his neighbor, "it was all about faith. Despite how you hide it sometimes, I have always known you were a good man."

Keep the Nguzo Saba with you all year, and we'll break it down once more at the end of 2018!

Happy Kwanzaa!
Happy New Year!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity

Day 7: Imani - Faith

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 6 - Kuumba - Creativity

My daughter drew this by hand for my parents for Christmas

Habari Gani?

Kuumba! It means creativity!

We must strive to leave the world a more beautiful place than we found it by using our creative gifts.

This is my favorite day of Kwanzaa!

It is also the night of Karamu - The feast of Kwanzaa.

This year we had Hoppin John, ham, candied sweet potatoes, pot roast, mashed potatoes, cornbread, spinach, and I made a chocolate cake just because.

We talked about how we used our various skills over the last year, and talked about what we did make beauty in the world.


There was a man with three sons. He said, "I shall leave this house to whichever of you can fill it."

The first son, the brightest, knew what he would do. He bought feathers. He bought carts and carts of feathers. He filled that house with feathers until there was not a corner that did not have feathers, but after a while, the feathers settled, and the house was not full.

The second son scoffed, but the eldest said, "It is not so easy. You will see."

The second son thought he had a better idea. He got straw. He filled that house with straw. He filled it until there was not a corner that did not have straw, but after a while, the straw settled, and the house was not full.

The youngest son couldn't help but laugh. He was a merry soul who was never taken all that seriously. The older brothers shook their head. "You will see that it is not so easy."

The youngest son went to town and got some of his friends. That evening, they took out their fiddles, banjos, and drums, and played and sang. No matter where you went in that house you could hear the merry sound.

At the end of the evening, their father announced that the youngest had surely won, for he'd filled the house from cellar to attic with music and laughter.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 5 - Nia - Purpose

A Great Example of Nia!

Habari Gani!

Nia (nee'-uh) - Purpose. We must live our lives with purpose. We must have goals and aspirations. This is the only way we move forward.

This year I got one step closer to being a novelist.

This year my son started his junior year and we are supporting him as he pursues his dreams and moves one step closer to entering the real world.

This year my daughter successfully graduated high school, and we are supporting her as she pursues her dreams in college.

This year I began to make changes in my life so that I will be there to support my parents as they need more and more of my time and energy. 

What did you do this year to further the purpose in your life?

A synopsis of Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa
by Donna Washington

Little Rabbit does not like Kwanzaa, but he loves the feast of Karamu. Unfortunately, his grandmother, who always does the cooking, is not feeling well.

He decides that he will make the Kwanzaa feast himself. He goes out into his community looking for berries or something nice to decorate the house.

He runs into his neighbors, and when he explains what he is doing and why they don't really understand what Kwanzaa is, but they know his grandmother, and they are worried about her.

He spends all day searching for something to make Kwanzaa wonderful, but despite his efforts, he is the littlest rabbit. He can't find anything.

He goes back home in defeat, but he walks into a grand celebration.

All of his neighbors have come together to celebrate all of the wonderful things that Granna Rabbit does for the community, and they've brought Karamu, the feast of Kwanzaa, alive for the family.

Li'l Rabbit had a purpose and went out in search of it. His dream brought his community together.

Get Your Copy Today!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 4 - Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics.

Habari Gani?

Ujamaa (oo-jah'-mah) - Cooperative Economics.

Ujamaa means that African Americans must strive to open and maintain businesses. This also means that African Americans should patronize African and African American businesses. 

The Regulator Bookshop!
My family embraces all local small business. We patronize small bookstores, locally owned restaurants that source their ingredients within a one hundred mile radius (as a gluten free American this can be tricky sometimes!), farmer's markets (especially when I am traveling in the summer), and boutiques, hair dressers, and products (haircare for the dreads!)

Local businesses put money back into the community instead of sending it to corporate entities in other places, local youth see their friends and neighbors running businesses, there are often unique items that cannot be found in other places, and you can get to know the owners.

What are some of the locally owned businesses in your area?
When is the last time you shopped in a local business?
Have you ever been in an African American establishment?
What can you do to support local businesses in your community this year?

Reflection: The Ring

Source of Image
There was a wise and good man who had done very well for himself. He was well respected, and people came to him for advice. 

The reason he was so wise and productive was because when he was young he'd been given a magic ring. 

His three children were a willful, wasteful, brawling bunch. 

They never bothered to control themselves, because each was certain their father would pass the magic ring to them.

At his funeral, each child was given a box. When they opened them,  they discovered identical golden rings. 

Nobody could figure out who had gotten the magic ring.

An old woman astood and said, "Ah, I think I know your father's mind. Each of you must put on your ring. Whichever of you is cured of your mad ways, that is the one who has the true ring."

When the eldest son put on the ring, he saw his father's hands as they helped him up each time he failed. 

The daughter saw the ring glinting in the light as it had the numerous times she and her father had discussions. 

The youngest felt the smooth metal that had always moved across his skin when his father hugged him. He knew he would not disappoint this man he respected. 

The siblings worked together and built their father's business into a very successful enterprise. They never forgot their neighbors and friends, and helped anyone who needed it. Each was as kind and helpful to their siblings as they could be because they understood that the others had it harder because they didn't have a magic ring to smooth their path.

Nobody in the village was ever able to tell who had gotten the true ring.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity

Day 7: Imani - Faith

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Kwanzaa Day 3 - Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility

Habari Gani!

Ujima (oo-gee'-mah) - Cooperative Work and Responsibility.

We must work together to make our families and communities strong. We are responsible for ourselves and we are responsible to our communities.

What incidents of Ujima did you encounter in 2017?

- I put up a little library in my community for book sharing.             

- I work with my sister to prepare the annual, family gathering holiday meals now that my mother cannot.

- We support our local charities with donations.

-We support national political causes with our time and finances.

-I volunteer time and expertise to organizations and people locally, nationally, and internationally. 

How have you worked to improve your community?
What have you done to take responsibility in your family?


Every day a monk would take a post, put it across his shoulders and put a water jug at each end. He would carry the jugs down to the stream and fill each one. Afterwards, he would return.

Now, one of the jugs was cracked. By the time the monk returned from his trip to the stream, half of the water had leaked out of it.

In the evening, after the monks retired, the other containers would give the cracked jug a hard time.

"You are worse than useless," said the whole jug. "Our master works hard every day to bring water for the others, and you make his labor worthless."

The cracked jug felt horrible. "I will hold myself together better, I promise."

And though he promised, every single day it was the same. By the time he returned from the stream, he was half empty.

One day, in despair, when the monk put him on the pole, the cracked jug called out, "Why do you take me to the stream every day? Why not pick one of the other jugs? I am cracked and useless. Choose someone who is worthy of your labors."

"Indeed," said the whole jug "he is not worthy of your time. Why do you bother with him?"

The Monk smiled and said to both jugs. "Look down as we travel to the stream."

When they returned to the monastery, the monk asked, "What did you see?"

"The ground," replied the whole jug.

The cracked jug noted, "On the way there, I saw nothing but dry earth, but on the way back, there were beautiful flowers."

"Yes," said the monk. "When I realized you had a crack, I planted flowers all along my return journey. The water that flows from you nourishes those flowers every morning. The blooms help Brother Elgin, who is blind, find his way to the stream and back. They also feed the bees we keep,  so that we might have honey to eat and share, and candles to sell. They also bring joy to everyone who pays us a visit."

We must all do our part, and your contribution, no matter how small it seems, might be greater than you know. That is the power of Ujima.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day 2 - Kujichagulia - Self Determination!

Habari Gani!

Kujichagulia (coo'-gee-chah-goo-lee-ah) - Self-Determination.

We must strive to define ourselves, understand ourselves, make choices for ourselves, and go through the world as we choose, and not as someone else forces us to. It means to take control of your own destiny.

In 2017, there were many examples of Kujichagulia in America.

- The #metoo movement was Kujichagulia. 

- The fight to include more positive images of people of color in all media was Kujichagulia.

- Fighting for access for affordable healthcare as a right and not a privilege was Kujichagulia.

What other large scale movements did you see this year?

There were also more intimate fights for self determination this year.

What did you do in your life to define yourself?
In Relationships?


The frogs were hosting a grand concert by the pond. Everyone who was anyone was planning to attend. The dragonflies were the main attraction, and the Mayflies were doing their one and only concerto.

As everyone flew, walked, or burrowed to the concert, there was a little ant rolling a crumb up a hill. She was complaining the entire time. 

"Why do I have to do this by myself? Why won't somebody help me?" 

A grasshopper came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the grasshopper. "I am on my way to the concert."

A cricket came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the cricket. "I am on my way to a concert."

A cicada came by.

"Would you help me with this?" asked the little ant.
"Sorry," said the cicada. "I am on my way..."
"To the concert," said the little ant.
"Why yes! Everyone is going to be there. You should come."
"I will go if somebody will help me!" shouted the little ant.

"I will help you," said a roach who just happened to be passing.
"Oh," said the ant, "thank you!"

The roach walked over and took a huge bite out of the crumb.  

"Why did you do that?" the ant demanded.

"I just made it lighter," said the roach.

"It wasn't too heavy!" yelled the ant.

"I made it easier to carry," said the roach.

"It wasn't too hard to carry!" yelled the ant.

"I made it smaller," said the roach.

"I didn't want it smaller!" yelled the ant.

"What did you want?" asked the roach.

The little ant subsided. What she had wanted was for someone else to do her work for her. She picked up the tiny morsel and went on about the rest of her day.

She didn't enjoy the work, but she did it because it was her responsibility. When she took a step back and looked at the pile of food she'd accumulated, she took pride in what she'd accomplished. 

As for the concert. She didn't have time to go, but after work she went down to the nursery and entertained the little ones. They loved it.

By the time she went to bed, she reckoned she'd had a pretty good day.

Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7: Imani - Faith