Stories for monsters

My twin nephews are 4 and I often refer to them as “monsters”, in only the most affectionate of ways.  I do believe that many monsters are good creatures and so I have no qualms about the term.

This year, for Christmas, I wanted to give them something that would strike their fancy,  would hold their attention – but not just a toy to add to the bunch.  So I wrote them stories.

A story for Ford featuring Ford as the hero.  A story for Alton where he was the hero.  Keying in on their favorite things.

(The photos are from my original pages.  You can click twice to see bigger)

I wrote the stories, selected fonts and laid out the pages.  I collaged in personal photos wherever possible to help with my limited illustration chops – and filled in the rest with illustrations.  I had everything copied on good paper and bound into books.

They loved the books.  I had already seen them pointing out pictures of themselves around the house – and they can read their names, so the pictures and their names in the books made them intensely personal.  And they had fun with the stories.

And I had fun making them.  It took a bit, but it was a really fun project and totally worth it to get to read the books in the bedtime lineup with the monsters.

There may be more adventures for these heroes down the road.  I’m actually pretty sure of it.

Welcome, 2018


I have to admit, I sometimes felt lost in 2017.

I can have a tendency to throw my whole self into various endeavors, leaving nothing to deal with anything else.  Without discipline, I ride a roller coaster of productivity – giving my all and then having to stop entirely to recover.

This is relevant to all sorts of tasks- emotional, mental, physical.

For someone who has to closely manage spoons, this is a supremely horrible approach.  I’d throw everything, use all my spoons, at certain projects – and have nothing left for others.

In 2018?  I’m focusing on balance.  And trying to do it strategically.  Habits and practices are going to be important to keeping an even keel – to avoiding the roller coaster.  As I sat thinking about what I wanted to fix, two lists stood out as important backbones for these habits.

I want to keep in mind my results from the StrenghthsFinder 2.0 test.  While I don’t normally buy in to personality tests, I thought the 5 characteristics I got from this were spot on and definitely describe how I approach my work.

  • Learner
  • Ideation
  • Individualization
  • Input
  • Maximizer

At the time I took this test, my results set me apart from everyone in the company.  And it proved out that we exist in different realms.

I’m still working on how these play in to the habits that I need to form.  I think the first step is not to neglect any of these elements in the projects that I choose.

Balance will come with a focus on the 4 types of resilience as Jane McGonigal describes in her TED talk.

  • Emotional (3 positive emotions for each negative encountered)
  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Social

Building resilience in these spaces can lengthen your life, as McGonigal details in her talk.

Wrapping these elements together, I wind up at #my3words (I didn’t think I was going to do that this year):

  • Balance
  • Resilience
  • Action (as a result of the other 2, I hope to be able to complete more projects, and get more work done on big ones)

Seth Godin posted recently about adding sprints to your marathon and I definitely see the value in that, but I have to make sure the sprints don’t prevent me from completing the race.  (Running analogies are really hard for me, as a total and absolute non-runner.)

I’m bundling myself out into the tundra with new intent and fresh focus.  Let’s see how it goes.

What’s your plan for 2018?  Are you thinking of shifting your story?

It’s been around a few months – the Storychick Storyphone

So how is it doing?
I need to get a people counter to track interactions. What I have here are clearly rough estimates.

The phone has appeared at 3 events over the last 3 months, while numbers and interactions vary, I believe it has been quite successful and I’m eager to explore further opportunities!

  • The Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival – What a great opening run!  I had the big solar booth for this event.  Hundreds of interactions (I was there for much of the time and talked a lot of it).  40 recorded Fringe Stories, 15 non-Fringe stories.  Only 3 stories cut due to inappropriate content – and a few lost because they were unintelligible.  Post-processing is underway to get the related stories back to the Fringe.


    • The Heritage Maker Fair at Cumming Nature Center – No booth for this one, just me at a table.  The few interactions I had were great and I had some people listening to all 9 stories (some twice).  No new stories that day.


    • The Rochester Mini Maker Faire – Again no booth, just me at a table.  Lots of great interactions, though.  Rough estimate – 75?  Many listeners and 3 new stories.


    The conversations and stories have been great!  We have a few things to work on – the phone can get glitchy, the booth will likely be reincarnated.  If the booth is to stand alone for any periods where crowds may visit – I need more extensive signage – as a lot has depended on me talking so far.  But the connections for future potential endeavors (phone deployments) have me quite excited.  I’m starting to follow up on them, now that I have a breather from events.

    I wrote here about the power of Voice – another big finding is the element of physicality from the phone itself.  That will come in my next post – which won’t be months in the making, more like days.

The value of voice

I’ve said it before.  Specifically in multiple conversations with Evan Dawson of WXXI’s Connections (both on air and at other events) and in my TEDxRochester talk.

As connected as we think we are in today’s world, there is a magic to finding someone willing to LISTEN.  To hear your story without judgement, without interjection or revision, with empathy.

It can be hard to find.

In my experience gathering stories at the market, this held so true. People were drawn to the opportunity to tell a tale.  The intimidation factor and imposter syndrome would make an appearance but quickly be swept away as people just started talking.  That someone cared to mark their personal experience was all the encouragement they needed.

Enter the Storybooth (pictured here in it’s beta appearance at the Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival – and available to try all hours that Spiegelgarden is open until 9/23).  The driving purpose of the Storybooth is to get stories out into the streets – to create the opportunity to stumble upon the stories of others and also leave your own.

In this environment, I figured that the value of finding a listener would be less important.  Maybe the novelty of the interface would play a bigger role.  The gaming element of Discovery might be a driving factor, placing the stories themselves second.  Yet I still hoped the stories would deliver their message of universal humanity and sow the seeds of community building.

Instead, what I’ve found after a weekend of working the booth and observing how people interact with it is that the power of voice runs both ways.  The ability to leave a story for someone, anyone, to listen to couples with the ability to hear the voices of others telling their own stories and creates something magical.

“I’m not sure about the story, but there’s something about this that is just so cool,” proclaimed one smiling teenager.  You could almost see the shiver that ran through him.  The story that he had listened to wasn’t anything incredible for him, but reaching through the recording to hear someone else describe their experience was something he’d not soon forget.

Another visitor talked of the therapeutic power of being able to leave a story for that anonymous listener.  There’s a value to getting it out, to saying the words – and understanding that someone is bound to hear.

One young lady talked about the power of the human voice.  That listening to someone’s voice alone can connect you to them – can be a beacon in the wilderness to pull you through and low points and struggles to the next adventure.

The smiles, giggles, eye-rolls, grimaces and response once the phone is hung up are also testament that the stories still have power.  If I did not feel so nervous about my own pictures, I would probably take more of people interacting with the phone.  I’ll try to get at least some before the fest is done.

I love that the concept is proving out even stronger than expected.  That the power of story, of a listener, and of hearing the voice of a fellow human is showing so strongly.  And I’m excited to see where it leads.

Fall is ripe with stories

There’s a crispness in the air.  More order to the shorter days as school gets underway.  The leaves turn and crunch underfoot.  Apple and pumpkin dominate the flavor scene, like it or not.  And nothing beats a story tied with an autumnal bow.

Ideally while cradling a steaming mug of spiced cider in chilly hands.

But potentially in a booth!  Or nestled amidst forested hills!

The Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival runs Sept 14-23 and the Storychick Storybooth will be at its heart – in the Spiegelgarden at One Fringe Place, for the duration!  Come, listen to a Fringe story, and leave one of your own!  Come back to catch new stories – I’ll be swapping new for old regularly throughout the Fringe.

I’m really excited about this concept, about Fringe, and about the potential for story discovery throughout the city!  Be sure to stop and check it out!

Never Fringed before?  You don’t know what you’re missing – this is an incredible assemblage of vast and varied talent and it’s very #ROC.

You also have the opportunity to be among the first stories heard opening weekend.  Call 585-210-0805 and leave a story (The recording will run for 3 minutes.  If you need more time, call back) about a Fringe experience! I know we live in a town of last-minute Lou-Lous, but I do need to get set up ahead of time, so please call now!


Post-Fringe blues? Craft and hone a personal story along with me at the amazing Cumming Nature Center Sept 30 at 12 and 230!  I’ll give you story tips through the day as we iteratively work in groups and on our own to craft a tale for day’s end.  Storytelling is as old as human history – it’s part of our nature – and everyone has a story worth sharing.  Let me help you find yours at the Heritage Maker Storytelling workshop!

Behind the scenes

It can be hard to make your way back to active life after a few years where most non-working hours were spent stuck in bed.

I’m sure many of you have some idea.

It’s hard, but I’m coming back.  Storychick has been up to some stuff – classes and speaking here and there in papercraft and on story.  And more is on the way.  I’ve been working on building some key relationships.  I’m really quite excited.

Throughout the last almost 2 years, one thing I have kept consistent is broadcasting ROC Soup – and now I’ll tackle my archiving backlog – so look for episodes here, on Mixcloud, or the show page at WAYO.  Updating my archives is important for you to catch up and for me to bring in more audio and video to this site.  Expect more on both fronts, including videos of me telling stories and more.

I’ve missed putting the time into writing for Storychick.  Recently, I picked up my pen again – writing in general and for my book projects.  That kicked me back into gear and I have to make sure to keep up every night I can.

The castle shuttered for the winter has been reopened to fresh summer air.  The furniture is uncovered – ghostly once-white sheets sent to the wash.  Cobwebs are being cleared and the sun is shining into the deepest corners.  It’ll be dusty for a day or so, but we are set for the adventures to begin again!

The evening took a sudden turn

Well, it’s happened again.  And, once again, I’ll share my story with you.  You can check out the previous iterations here and here (there was another episode in January 2015 that apparently I did not post about in detail on this site).

First, I have to say that 2016 has been a beast full of personal tests – not the smallest of which is continuing exhaustion and other symptoms related to PVCs.

I’ve had to take a temporary step back from Storychick – and that’s why no posts since February.

But 2016 also is a year of reckoning and not just taking back, but seizing, the reins.  I’ve gone through several second opinions to land with a physician in Boston who actually has seen my condition before.  Hopefully, and with luck, we’ll end this all soon.

Back to the story.

The other night, Joel and I were putting together a rough, late supper.  As I picked up the box of frozen pizza to open it, I felt exhaustion start to pull at my head – much like someone yoinking at a chunk of my hair above my left ear.  I told Joel I’d need to sit. He took over the pizza while I sat on the floor with my back against the gumwood doorframe.

We were talking about some political stuff I had heard on the radio while out running errands and getting the pizza.

My head started to spin, not like being dizzy after dancing in circles, but a deeper, scarier spin that I had felt before.  The last time my  response was “Not good. Not good.”. This time, all I could say to convey to Joel that danger was here, right now, at this moment as we talked politics and prepped frozen pizza, was “Oh, my god.” Three times I said it.

A chrysanthemum firework flashed at the back of my eyelids. An intense metal sound filled my ears.  As if someone was playing a really nasty chord and I was standing in front of a mega-amplifier.

Then I was in a 60’s sitcom kitchen – perfectly perfect in black & white.  The politicians we had been discussing were also there, wearing frilly, flowered half-aprons.

Just as quickly, my eyes opened.  I was now on my back on the kitchen floor – my elbows glued to my sides and my forearms finishing a flail.  I kicked a cat food bowl.  Joel stood over me, phone to ear, asking what had happened.

“How did I get here?” I thought. “Why am I on the kitchen floor? When did Joel get on the phone?  Who is he talking to?  What’s up with the pizza?”

Those first moments are so confusing.  When I passed out in the shower in January, 2015, I had to piece together where I was: “White. … Porcelain. … Bathroom. … Shower.” Much the same this time (realizing it was MY kitchen took a moment).


This is not my heart, but a bit like what I saw- an example of Toursades de Pointes – the freakout.


My heart had gone into freakout mode.  Actually, there was a bad beat, a PVC, followed by a bit of a pause, and then the freakout – 300+ non-productive beats a minute – the EKG read from my defibrillator looks like an angry scribble.  Once again, my bionic device brought me back. Saved me.

My heart tried to freak out a couple more times before I got to the Emergency Room, but each time righted itself before I passed out, before the defibrillator needed to fire.  The thing is, my battery needs replacing, and if it HAD needed to fire again – it might not have been recharged in time.

In a little over a week, I head to Boston to have multiple steps taken – another ablation to reduce or eliminate the bad beats, a new battery, and a new atrial lead – this 2nd line from my defibrillator into my heart might be able to right things in that small pause – before a freakout can occur.

I find myself spending my time trying to be supercognizant of what I’m feeling – wary of any start to the head-spinning that is the first indicator of blood not getting where it should.   And I think about those moments – from that first bit of spinning to opening my eyes confused.  I need people to understand what this is like, to hear this story and try to put themselves in this place.

Heart rhythm disorders aren’t as easy for people to identify with, to understand, as heart disease.  And after trying to find doctors who understood my PVC-triggered Ventricular Fibrillation (and were able to name it), I know how unlikely it will be to find someone in my same shoes. So I share my story.  In hopes that it can help you understand what is happening.  For you to know what it is that scares me and makes me soak in the wonder of life as much as I can.

And I wonder – have others, who have emerged from the edge themselves (even if driven there by different issues), marked these moments?

This “dream state” seemed very related to what had happened immediately before – but the last time I saw flashes of bombs and explosions and doom.  Why THOSE images?  Is that common?

I tried a search at the library.  But “near-death experiences” gives you the stories of those who technically died and came back.  And I’m not sure what to call almost dying, but not quite.

I want to explore this further – to search for such stories.  It’s something just starting, but I’m hoping a collection of these will add great perspective for those who don’t have to go through it themselves.

*I’m posting this now, and plan to tell the story on ROC Soup, in a pre-recorded broadcast for October 1st (10am), while I recover from the Boston procedures. You can listen at WAYO 104.3FM in Rochester, at, or via the Tune In app.*

Do you know anyone who has a story like this, or has been through an experience where they were lost and came back to reality? Please let me know, I’d love to talk to them – you can comment or email.