How are you Leaping?

Inspired by Seth Godin, I am burying my disappointment with February and turning my thoughts to leaping through wonder and the exciting road ahead.

It’s not just Leap Day – an extension to  the brutal month of February.  It’s Leap Year and it can celebrate those great steps towards innovation and new adventures.

The existing power structure wants to maintain the status quo, and is generally opposed to the concept of leaping. In fact, if you want to make change happen, if you want to give others a chance to truly make a difference and to feel alive, it’s essential that you encourage, cajole and otherwise spread the word about what it means to leap.

An opportunity to help the people around you level up. It’s an obligation, an opportunity and a chance that I hope you’ll accept. Tell the others.

Leaping is a part of what we celebrate at Icarus.  Through our repeated efforts at making art, at connecting others, at innovating in the face of today’s challenges, we are crossing the globe – leap after leap, bound after bound.  To find out more about the Icarus Sessions in Rochester, check out our Facebook page – everyone is welcome, anyone can share!


So, how am I leaping today?  I have some leaps ready – knees bent, butt wiggling like a cat ready to pounce – that I can’t discuss quite yet, but which I think will have awesome impact.  Others?

  • Rochester Stories – the FOOD show – will be April 14th at Writers & Books!  It’s a pot luck event – bring a dish, hear and share stories of food – which so shapes our lives, traditions, and relationships.
  • The story beading class went well and I hope to carry that model forward into other programs.
  • I’m working on more ways to get Storychick out into the community.  If you have a group that would like to get its message heard or learn how to better understand each other through story, let me know – I’d be happy to work something out!
  • ROC Soup radio is rolling forward with great success.  I’m having a blast matching stories and music and sharing time and stories with great guests doing good work.

I’ll be posting more on all of these leaps soon.

Now it’s your turn!  How do you plan to level up?  What innovations, what art, are you making to change your world?  How are you LEAPING?  Comment below!




This past Friday marked one year since my last episode.  One year of battling the unknown issue causing my PVCs (bad beats that are non-productive, causing exhaustion among other symptoms).

The anniversary passed in a whirlwind.  I’d just returned from a trip to Grace Bay in Turks & Caicos.  The return trip was extended and stressful thanks to Winter Storm Jonas.  I ended up with an evening to recoop before the next big adventure.


Which wasn’t enough.

But Monday am we reported in anyway to Balloon Adventure: Journey on the Genesee.  Our friends at Airigami have once again surpassed themselves.  40,000+ balloons, 75 crew members, and 4 days to produce a 5-story sculpture full of detail, vibrance, and texture. A new theme introduced 3 curious kids who have access to a balloon that lets them explore what they want – and they were exploring the Genesee’s wildlife this year.  Storychick had several roles:

  • Story stations – In relatively quiet space on the 3rd floor, we placed 5 story stations which played fables I’d recorded related to animals in the sculpture.
  • Audio tour – I put together a backstory for the kids and an audio tour, like last year, but with more real-time audio than before.  (You can find it here)
  • Stage performance – This is upcoming!  I’ll be on stage Friday night, right before the start of First Friday, telling stories!  Some old tales, some new, some new twists on ones you thought you knew….

I love working with Kelly & Larry’s designs, then building a story that incorporates great audio clips from throughout the week of the build.  It’s a great story endeavor.


And there’s more!  I have some other projects starting – more on those soon!  But other things to watch for this week include:

  • Story beads at the Brainery!  Learn to make regular, rolled round & S, and origami water bomb beads – and build your stories into them.  Include parts and pieces, words and symbols, in your beading.  Tell your story to the piece you create and share with the class, if you’re cool with that.  It’s a great way to heal, vent, and commemorate while also getting in the meditative handwork of craft.
  • Saturday on ROC Soup – January was Human Trafficking Awareness month but we didn’t quite get this show together while I was gone.  It’s an important topic, so we’re having a bit of January in February.  My guests will be from the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking – Lauren Van Cott (of Angels of Mercy) and Melanie Blow.

Story is more than meets the eye

The Storychick approach to storytelling is not just about how to spin a yarn – it’s more than writing or telling stories.

It’s about LISTENING.

There’s a magic to it, when you open your ears, heart, and mind.  And an art.

When you are building and strengthening a community, listen to those with stories to tell.  Listen to those whose voices are not often heard.  Listen indiscriminately.  Set bias aside and listen without judgement.

When you are talking to customers, listen to what they need, what they’re struggling with.  Listen to how they approach problems and questions, to the language they use.

In order to share YOUR story – you need to know where your audience is coming from, what moves them, what will resonate with them.  This is learned when you listen.

But wait …. there’s more!

Listening shows that you care.  It builds a bond between you and the teller, you and your audience.  It satisfies, encourages, and thrills your audience before you even start.

As I’ve said before, it’s about getting someone ready to share talking to someone willing to listen.  THAT’S where the magic happens.


BTW, this week on ROC Soup, a tale of coyote and badger, the Farmer’s Tavern & Inn, and more.

What would you do with $100,000? The Chase Mission Main St Grant explained

Perhaps you’ve noticed the sidebar.  Perhaps not.  I have joined the contest for one of 20 $100,000 grants from Chase.  I’ve submitted my answers to their questions and now need to pass the next phase.  That’s where you come in.  I need 250 votes in order to make it to the judging round.


Why should you vote for me?  What are you supporting?  I thought I’d share some of my application responses here so that you can get an idea of what I’m trying to do with all of this.


As with good stories, three events inspired my business.

  1. In 2008, I had a potentially fatal heart episode. It changed my perspective on life. I realized how important every moment can be and the tragedy that is corporate zombiedom. I knew that I needed more than just a job.
  2. A few years later, I was asked to map my career path and I realized that my passions are about perspective – and that is understood through story. I knew I needed to make story the center of my efforts.
  3. Finally, I read Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Start-Up – which made it clear that I didn’t need investors and corporate governance to get started. I knew I could take action.

Storychick today is about building community through stories. I am a storyteller focused on story gathering and sharing.  I gather stories from everyday people all over our city and share them in performances and on an upcoming radio show. I teach people about telling and gathering stories – both adults and youth. I offer story services, such as gathering stories from event speakers and story-based tours to assist the visually impaired. I also create story-related papercrafts – artwork designed to inspire story telling and sharing.

While businesses continue to sprout up around story, many focus on business storytelling. My focus on using story to connect people is, I believe, rare. I have seen a few scattered small businesses across the country that talk in similar terms. These primarily work in disenfranchised communities or schools.

Each year of Storychick’s business has seen more visibility, more success, and more excitement – spurring new programs and opportunities. There are a lot of great efforts underway right now to celebrate our city and to solve our problems. I pride myself in leading such an effort and building our community story by story.

In the short term, I plan to expand my audience and visibility. This will be through the launch of the radio show, expanding the number of live performances, and increasing educational and consulting efforts. This also will include efforts to publish – both guest posts online and in online/print journals and magazines.

Further out, I will start to offer content for sale – starting with ebooks and toolkits, as well as traditional books (I have 3 in the works currently). This content will range from story instruction to collected stories to a memoir and a novel. I plan to become a local expert in story gathering and sharing, someone people reference and turn to regularly, and this will create new opportunities, as well.

After becoming a local expert and setting story fully in motion in Rochester, NY, I plan to focus on other markets – implementing similar programs through training, toolkits, and in-person consulting.

The grant would shorten the timeframe to achieve these goals – in part by allowing me the time to write, gather, and create and also through the networking and visibility afforded by the training and advertising budgets.


Feel free to ask questions.  Feel free to share this post or just tell people to go vote. ; )  I hope that I’ve earned your interest, at least, and that you’ll stick around to see how this all comes together.  It’s a grand adventure, this life, and I love sharing it through story.


Art <3 Stories – THE YARDS

Walking into the space at THE YARDS in late January was like being transported into a forest dream.  The medium – cardboard, colors,artists/players, dancers, and food all came together to create a fairy glen.  I heard several jaws hit the floor.  I, myself, toured the room like a little kid – getting excited at each new intricate detail that I spotted.

THE YARDS is an art collective cofounded by Sarah Rutherford and Lea Rizzo, located above Cure at the Rochester Public Market.  The show was Boys vs Girls 2 – the second annual team battle of cardboard creations between THE YARDS and 1975.

Every time I go to THE YARDS, though, something similar happens.  Everything comes together.  Whether it’s a sale among several artists, a special event for the collective, a gathering for dancing or poetry or anything, Sarah and Lea wrap everything together into a seamless theme.  It was these themed experiences – which create the perfect environment and stimulus for stories – that brought me to them as the third profile in the Art ❤ Stories project.

Sarah: Lea and I met over 5 years ago when we did Erich Lehman’s first show with 1975 Gallery at Surface Salon. I remember going to Erich’s house and seeing his crazy collection of art – and Lea’s piece was my favorite. I met her one night at the bar.“Oh, that’s Lea!”

Lea: Same thing. I saw her Wonder Woman series. Yeah, “We met at a bar.” It’s kinda funny. Erich has been such a huge support for both of us to get us out there. “All these great, talented people. I need to bring them together and get them out there.” It started with him really, our relationship.

Sarah: And after that show, we realized we had a kindred spirit for wanting to be more than what we were doing. We were really interested in pushing this idea of installation and creating experiences, vs just paintings. We’re both traditionally 2D trained but we were interested in seeing how far we could push that.

Lea: Which a lot of people think is crazy. “How are you going to make money off of that?”

Sarah: Yeah, it’s not practical.

Lea: It’s not always about that. It’s about sharing. And it also – to me it seems that some of that stuff is so pretentious – you’re not going to get it on the level where people are going to feel comfortable. Not everyone’s going to go into a gallery. Something like, where you just come in, you’re not expecting what you see, and it makes it easy. There aren’t these huge price tags on things. The idea of the visceral experience, I guess.

Sarah: One of my favorite artists is Swoon. She’s a street artist. I had recently come across this video of her doing this crazy collaboration with, I think it was 15 people, up in Maine. I remember watching this video. I remember watching and just being in awe. “I want that.” I didn’t really understand it. Now, I do. I didn’t understand the logistics and the pain and the hardship but then the beauty and the reward… any of it, but I saw it and thought: “I want that.”

Lea: And then you think: “I’m sure somebody else would, too.”

Sarah: I thought of Lea: “Well, man, she wants to explore this sort of installation element.” I saw the video at the same time that we came together. We were looking for a space to do something in, just a raw space. I had a studio in the Hungerford and I found a space in that building. But it was huge – it was 2,000 square feet. We were going to rent it for a month. “We can’t do a show in 2,000 square feet by ourselves.” So, we talked to Erich and he recom­mended St Monci, who also had a studio in the same building. And St Monci brought on Mr Prvrt – and that was how Sweet Meat Co. was born, which is our collective, and we did our first show in the Hungerford building in 2011.

Lea: And blew minds!

Sarah: Right. And again, we came together not really understanding what we were doing.

Lea: And we didn’t even know St Monci or Mr Prvrt.

Sarah: We didn’t know each other at all. It was just crazy. It was this crazy intense thing and we were really proud of it. A lot of people didn’t know what to make of it, because it was different. It was kind of our debut, as well, onto the Rochester scene. St Monci had only moved here two years before.

Lea: And Mr Prvrt was new to town, too.

Sarah: Yeah, he’d just come from Albany. So it was us truly coming together and getting out there in this different way.

Fast forward a year and a half. We were all doing our own things and cultivating a better relationship with each other. We did little, separate collaborations then said: “It’s time to come together and do another Sweet Meat Co. show.” I was working at Good Luck restaurant at the time and I talked to Mike Calabrese, who owns both that building and this one. So I asked him: “What’s going on up there?” The bakery was maybe moving in at the time, nothing else was down on the other side, and upstairs was completely empty.

Lea: And raw.

Sarah: It was dirty. There was stuff everywhere. It didn’t have electricity.

Lea: It didn’t have the walls.

Sarah: It was a beautiful space, still, but it was raw. Basically, they just ripped out all the in-between walls. Mike said: “Yeah, do whatever you want.” He gave it to us for the summer. We built this installation in the center of it and we had a show here. Mike loved the energy behind it. We had the upstairs open, someone else was doing something downstairs, the bakery was open. He loved that the building finally had vibrancy to it. He approached us after. “You should keep doing this.” So we said, “Alright, we could move our studio over here.”

Lea and I had already been talking about doing more, sharing more of a studio space. This came up and we said: “We don’t know what this means, but we’re going to jump on this because we can’t pass this space up.”

Lea: It’s totally backwards to a business kind of approach. It was: “Here’s the space, what do we do with it?” Michael could have easily rented the space out to lawyers and people who just made offices. Instead, I always say the heartbeat happened here. That wouldn’t have happened if it was just some paper-pushing…

Sarah: He wanted artists up here. There’s two other studios on the second floor. He wanted it to be food downstairs, art upstairs. That was his vision for the building, so I think it made him happy, as well. They’ve been huge supporters of ours, that family. That is another main reason why we are doing this, still.

So then, we thought: “What do we want to do?” We knew we wanted it to be a collaborative space. We didn’t know who we wanted to collaborate with or how it was going to work. We knew we didn’t want to open a gallery space. We weren’t Erich. We don’t have the same skillset as him, or the interest.

We’re not really as interested in just the paintings – we’re interested in the experience. It has been kind of this backwards way of finding our way through it – and the same thing with the group of people that we’ve had to participate with us. It’s been a slow ebb and flow. People that are truly invested have stayed with us and as we’ve done more and more we’ve built a bigger team.

Lea: Each event we do, we have at least 2 to 3 people who say: “I want to do something. How can I help?” We had this guy Aaron, who came to us over the summer because of WALL\THERAPY. His email said “I’m not an artist. I crunch numbers…” something like that. “But I want to do something with you.” He literally came in here that first day and washed the dishes. Just behind the scenes, real quiet. But he launched The Yards store and it was amazing – and has so many other ideas on an end that are just out of my realm. And that’s another way for us to get out there, for people to see what we’re doing.

Sarah: That’s where the culmination comes with this show. It’s what you can build that’s bigger than yourself. And using the talents that everyone has. That’s what we’ve been doing, is trying to build a team that has a diverse enough skillset. And we still have some gaps. We’re still looking to round that out, but I think in terms of this show – the reason why we feel so good about it is that it really encapsulates that building one voice from all these many voices, all these many skills and backgrounds.

Lea: For the most part this show is all female artists, but we have our crew of guys that come in and help us on the other end. It wouldn’t be the same.

Sarah: We’ve never intended to just start a female-run space, but we’ve definitely attracted a crew of strong women. We’re not going to be exclusionary, but it is kinda funny and amazing. I love the fact that so many amazing, talented women are a part of it.

Lea: I feel very lucky. And everyone’s yearning for it. We’re going to make it stronger by being together.

Sarah: For us, the most beautiful part wasn’t the show, it was the process of making the show.


Lea: Oh, my god it was awesome!

Sarah: I wish my life could be like that all the time. In this beautiful land of imagination, and building, and everyone working. It was this fever of activity.

Lea: And it’s therapeutic. A lot of that stuff – if you’re doing it separately all the time, you don’t realized how much you really need that other person’s opinion.

Sarah: Or being pushed.

Lea: Saying “I’m comfortable here but I’m going to step out of that.” And having the support because someone is right there going “Yeah! You can do it! That’s great!”

The mornings when we leave here and the baker is making stuff at 5:30 in the morning, and the market’s opening, and the roosters … We love it so much!

Sarah: I think I was searching for everything out of Sweet Meat Co. I think what we did here I was kind of looking for in Sweet Meat Co.– but now I’ve realized, it’s different. It’s its own artist. And now The Yards is kind of its own artist – in a much broader way. What was fulfilling is thinking back to watching that video and now thinking “We just did that. And better.”

That video was great and I was in love with it. I loved a lot of the artists. But it was just a bunch of people working without a plan. The fact that we came together with a solid concept and that we’re trying to create one specific atmosphere. I feel like we made one artist who built that. That’s what I’ve always been searching for.

We try and hit all of the senses and we try and use our skills. One dance company has been a huge part of our space, so obviously they need to be part of it. We just factor that in. When we built the carousel we said: “We’re going to move it with dancers.” That was the first thing we came up with. It wasn’t an afterthought, it was integral to what we’re going to make because we want them to be a big part of it.

I think being at the market has flavored what we do. I think the space would be different if it were somewhere else. There’s something about doing these crazy things at night at the market, especially before Cure was open and we were the only thing happening. It’s like a secret.


For this show, when we were coming together with this concept, we wanted to focus on one thing, which is where we hit on the carousel – and then we just started dreaming. “Let’s not do a traditional carousel, let’s do something with a bunch of lost girls wandering in the forest and they come across this carousel with its enchanted animals. We were just trying to let our imagination and play happen.

Lea: Because it’s really not serious. I mean, we’re making stuff out of cardboard, too, so it’s got to be fun. ­ Some people didn’t even work on the carousel, but they were integral in coming up with the concept, talking about it. Some people were working on the forest. And vice versa.

Even down to the color palette. That was another thing that really made it come together – having this cohesive color palette. Everyone worked with these limited colors. But its dramatic.


Sarah: Even thinking about us, as part of the show. It’s an excuse to be a kid and dress up and play with cardboard jewelry. Fun? It really was about fun, but everyone took it so seriously that it just made it that much better. I think that’s what made the show. It’s all in fun, but we were taking it very seriously. We didn’t clean our houses. We ignored our normal jobs. We ignored our lives for two weeks. To do something fun.

We aren’t trying to tell anybody what they’re supposed to be experiencing, we’re just trying to set a stage for people to come in and experience whatever they want to experience. It’s not like we’re trying to be so restrictive in the story or in the idea. It’s really more the stage that the story can be told in. Choose your own adventure!

Lea: And it’s just amazing for people – to see people walk in with that face …

– Photos by Lisa Barker
PS – Check out Lea’s profile in the latest issue of Rochester Woman magazine!

Art <3 Stories – Jack Porcello – II

Was Jack able to save the library in Mumford with his storytelling?  Let’s find out in this second half of his storyteller’s story.

That week, we got a report back from Jackie that we’d met 200% of our goal in media that was to be taken out. So we continued. Every month I did this presentation and every month afterwords, people took out stuff and people started coming in and taking out stuff more and more. And the library is still open to this day.

In fact, I believe it was the 10th anniversary of that first presentation, they called and asked me if I’d come out and do another. And I did. The kids from the first time where teens and older and some brought their kids. We had a great time. It was a great reunion for everybody. Peg was still clerk. We had such a blast. Just knowing that that library is still in operation … fabulous.

After that I started getting more and more into that. But I also needed to do something to make a living, since my income source had dried up. I decided, after a few forays into different things, I decided to go back to MCC and take some computer classes. All that time I was still trying to finish my graduate degree in divinity, which I’d been working on a little bit at a time for a decade.

Talking to some advisory people at MCC, I got to know some people and one of them asked me if I wanted to be involved in the theatrical arm of peer counseling. So I said: “Sure.” What we’d do, at the time the Assistant Director of the Counseling Department (she went on to become the Vice President of MCC for quite some time), she and I sat down and we wrote a little introductory drama for students that were just coming in. And we would, at all the orientations, we would do this drama, she and I, and we had a couple of people that we wrote parts for that were in the faculty, as well, representing their departments. And it got me again, the bug hit again. I was really enjoying it and wanted to do more.

When I started taking classes at MCC, that was during the time of the talk groups and one of them was what became BalloonHQ. Larry Moss and I met through this discussion group. At first I didn’t know that he was the one behind it. We realized that we were both from Rochester – hey, let’s get together and get a cup of hot cocoa and talk about stuff.

I had been playing with balloons for a while before that. I had goofed around with them, I used them in church, when I was in the children’s ministry – I made balloon animals and things and I did a few programs where I developed a little gospel theme. I started working with Larry more. We started doing some stuff together out at festivals. But I wanted to do more than just being a “balloon factory” – churning out balloons and handing them to kids for $1 a pop or whatever. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to do something else. So I started developing storytelling with balloons. Not knowing that it was already out there. The first balloon story that I developed on my own was the story of the Stonecutter. I started by trying to make these really elaborate balloon sculptures that took me hours to lay the stage and then the presentation was 25 minutes and it just seemed so pointless. What I did was I toned it down. I made minimalist sculptures that really didn’t do any more than illustrate what I was trying to say. The story allowed the balloons to come to life in the minds of the people that were watching. I got the kids involved and got people involved in the story, had them represent different elements. I ended up publishing in a balloon magazine. I started doing some other stuff. I wrote a few books on balloons and storytelling – a couple of them were religious balloons and storytelling books, one was not.

For a while, I had put off the whole divinity thing completely because this computer thing was very lucrative. I was making a lot of money, but I still kept something going, I always had some sort of little fellowship group happening, much like the group we have now. It was a bit more religious. And after a while, after I’d worked at a couple of different places, I worked at one company and things went poorly – not in as much as I did a bad job there or my work wasn’t recognized as good, but I did not like the direction they were taking. There were a lot of things that I was involved with that, I told the company I was being used as a pawn, in a cutthroat fashion and I had to leave.

I came home and talked to Lorraine. “What are we going to do?” The balloon thing was starting to pick up. I was doing library and school shows. I was working a couple of restaurants. That’s when I put on a lot of weight. I got paid cash, tips, and $50 in food vouchers every night I worked at this one place. I worked every Friday and Saturday. For two people, back then, that was a lot of food. It got to be too much. I got tired of the restaurant thing. I started concentrating more on private shows. I started teaching workshops on balloons and storytelling – across the States and Canada. I did a few every year. I started developing that more.

Then I realized, maybe I need to get back into the divinity thing again. So this is what took me into my present leg of storytelling – which is telling people’s stories in a ministry-type of situation. I still have my ministry credentials, of course. At that time, I was committed to finishing my degree, so I got my graduate degree in divinity and applied pastoral care. Got that done. I was very happy, I had my degree, it was all over with….

I got a call from my sister one evening. “OK, what’s up?”

She said, “You’re going to kill me.”

“What happened?”

“Well, a friend of mine from work came in and she was so upset because she’s Catholic and her fiance is an Atheist and nobody will do their wedding for them. She wants to be married in the church and he’s OK with that, but he’s not going to convert. So nobody will do their wedding. So I told her: ‘Ah, my brother’s a minister. He’ll do it for you.’ – jokingly. And she went: ‘Oooooh, will he? Can I get his number? Could you give him my number?’”

Now my sister’s freaking out. ‘Oh, my gosh. What did I do?’

So she called me. “If you don’t want do this, I understand. BUT, would you consider it?”

I said: “Look. Give me her number. I’ve seen the church piss a lot of people off, turn a lot of people away, not do what it’s supposed to do, so maybe this is an opportunity for me to take ministry in a new direction.”

When I did that wedding, other people – professionals who were working too – said: “That was really great! Can we have your card?” I didn’t have a card. “Well, can we give people your information?”

“Sure. Certainly. OK.” And that started snowballing. At first it was a situation where I was very generic about the way I presented things and I did not like that at all. I thought: ‘How can I make this more personal?’ – Make it less about religion. Ministry should be less about religion and more about the individuals. So I worked very hard to get to know people. At first, it was a lot of effort, because I had to sit and talk with people and take notes. It was fun, too, because I got to know people. Got to know them by sitting and talking with them a lot. And because of that I felt that I was able to present their stories in an adequate fashion.

But because I was doing that and it seemed like something that was unique for the area, more and more wedding professionals started giving my name out. So I figured: ‘OK, I don’t have time to meet with anybody a dozen times before their wedding any more. What do I do?’ I developed other techniques to gather information about them and streamlined getting to know them in that way. To the point where I was doing a LOT of weddings. Quite a few weddings. In fact, the most I ever did in one year was 200.

That was the year that really killed me. But it was the year that Lorraine was finishing up her Master’s degrees, so I needed to be out of the house anyway.

I started to realize that ministry isn’t about giving anybody false hope or fantasy to believe in or hold onto. I also realized that I did not want to be a Pastor. Because I did not want to have sheep for followers. I hated that illustration, even when I was with the established church. I want people to understand what they believe. I didn’t want to present fantasy as reality. I wanted to present fantasy as a powerful tool to help define who you are and who we are as a people – a community, a society, or a tribe, whatever you want to call it. I wanted to see story used in that regard, and there were a lot of opportunities not only in the Christian religion (I did a lot of comparative religious studies.).

So that’s what caused us to take Joining Hands Ministries and Our Fellowship Gatherings in the direction where they currently are. We invite people from all faiths to come and present a respectful environment for them to share what their beliefs are and how they impact upon their lives. And all we ask is that you have the same respect for others that we have for you. That you don’t try to convert others to your way of thinking, but present it – and that you don’t ridicule others’ way of thinking.

Now I want to tell other people’s stories. I try to skate the line between emotionalism and practicality. I believe both are very important to story. You have to have that drive, that push that comes from the emotional element of it. But also the practical side, with a little comedy thrown in.

Every now and then I feel almost disappointed wondering about what would have happened if I had kept a larger congregation. I probably could have made a really good living, but I would not have been able to do it from the point of view of some way that I felt sincere. There would always be a bit of insincerity, a beguiling element. So if we’re 10-12 people for the rest of my life meeting together at a little artist’s studio downtown, I’m okay with that. I’m really happy with the way it is right now.

Life as a Book – Part 2

This past weekend, I was once again a book in the Human Library. (You can read about the first round and my story here.) This time, it was a collaborative event between U of R’s Rush Rhees Library and Rochester’s Central Library downtown.

We set up in the main hall of the Rundel building, the old part of Central, and the space was gorgeous. (All of the wood, is beautifully figured – this pic doesn’t quite do it justice.)

It was a superb time. The event was a perfect example of how sharing stories breaks down barriers and strengthens the community. It’s had great media coverage, including an article the other day in the New York Daily News that included the quotes below:

Shauna Marie O’Toole, a Human Book whose title was “You Can’t Shave in a Minimart Bathroom,” said: “I think the Human Library project is something that breaks down barriers and rips away differences from something that’s strange, unacceptable or bizarre.

“When we understand the stories, there’s more acceptance, and with more understanding, there’s a prosperous society. That’s why this project is so important. That’s why I’m so honoured to be a part of it.”


Aprille Byam, a Human Book titled “Connected Wonder Woman,” said: “It’s been great — reaffirming. Sharing my story again and seeing people’s responses to how I moved forward as a result of what happened has been cool.”

More valuable than telling my story was the interaction with my readers. Their responses helped me to see some things that I had lost sight of in the telling and retelling. They came away with grins and some more wonder of their own.

All of my readers had one shared comment about my story – they said it with caution, as they were concerned they might offend: “It really was a blessing in disguise” – and this really hit home (although I would never wish the experience again on Joel and my family). It also confirmed that my title is appropriate, as the wonder spurs the work on connections and the connections continue to grow the wonder.

There will be more Libraries in the future. I highly encourage you to come and try one – plan on a bit of time so that you can “read” a couple of the fascinating books they’ll include. Just another awesome example of storytelling’s power in our community. One I’m so glad to have been part of.

PS – Rundel is haunted, too!

Art <3 Stories – Jack Porcello – I

Our next Art ❤ Stories storyteller is Jack Porcello, also known as Roc City Roller Derby’s Sinister Minister (SinMin for short). I’ve known Jack since asking him to perform our wedding (8 years ago) and we have become close friends.  If there’s anyone for whom story permeates every facet of their career, it’s Jack.  As you will see as he tells his tale …


Part One

My first introduction to story was actually learning to read. When I was very young. I think it might have even been preschool age. There was a book of Hans Christian Anderson stories in our house. I still am a big fan of those stories. I was very young, and they were very tragic stories. It was kind of disturbing for somebody my age to learn stories this way. The thing is that, later on, when Disney redid most of those stories, I was so disappointed because of that. But between Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm and Aesop and all that… I really began to pursue story as a means to define people around me. I like to look at myself as a conduit for others. I very seldom tell my own story, in fact this is probably the first time in any sort of formal situation.

I had a very small group of friends and most of the time we were centered around things like music when we were younger. That was pretty much our introduction to the arts back then was music. And it was music as rebellion. But I would always pursue music that told a story. I would listen to the rock theater, the rock opera, you know, The Who and Genesis and all the real theatrical performers. Jethro Tull, to this day, I’m still a big fan of theirs. I really enjoy that kind of stuff. It began with that.

I turned from there to historical things. And I tried to define the circumstances around me. I came from a broken family, my Mom and Dad split up. I was the 3rd of 4 and my younger brother was 6 years younger than me, so I was the baby for a long time. It was really hard for me to get out of that. I was probably spoiled for quite some time. I had to get my head around the fact that I wasn’t spoiled any more. But from there on in I was trying to define myself. Other people were defined mainly through sports in my peer group, at school sports was a big thing. There were people that were in band. I was into music, but I didn’t want the concrete, established situation of being in a band. I was in groups, later on, but when I was younger, in school, I didn’t want to get into that.

I discovered politics fairly early on. I was drawn to politics from an ideological point of view more than anything else, so I started studying ancient politics, the origins of politics – Socrates, Plato, the establishment of Calvin as the father of democracy, which brought me into religion.

As a bit of an aside, I was also very actively involved in the church. Very actively involved in the church when I was younger. The Catholic church. I was drawn to the liturgy, the ritual, it was really exciting for me. Even though it didn’t really have a lot of establishment, to me, in anything factual. To me it was all symbolic. That was so much fun. And plus I got to skip out of school early to go and do religious things. I was able to be a bit of a rude little boy – I was always called to come and do the early morning masses and part of the Catholic ritual was that the altar boy would ring the bell whenever you stood or sat or knelt. I would always throw in an extra ring once in a while to confuse people. I’d get really wicked looks from the priest. I got to know the priest very well. We actually had a talk about me going into the priesthood. We had a very long, frank talk.

Usually, when I tell this story to people, and they ask, I say that it was a situation where the priest discovered that I didn’t like the whole idea of celibacy, that that was the reason….. well, it went beyond that. That was part of it, but it also had a lot to do with the fact that I felt that a minister’s position was more of a service thing and the ritual and rite and liturgy and all that was really symbolic, there was nothing historically factual about that. In an aside to me he said, “You know, a majority of people in the Catholic church believe that. A majority of people involved in ministry believe that as well, but we don’t let it on. And if it’s something that you can’t keep to yourself, then it’s probably a good idea for you to look into something else.” Which I began to pursue.

I ended up getting into a really weird situation with a very conservative, very literalist approach. A group that I was able to get involved in because it was very easy and open to get in. I got involved as a minister within this organization, but my presentation from the pulpit was always from the point-of-view of stories. This story from the bible. I would always introduce each of my sermons as “Today, we’re going to look at the story from the bible about this …”. I would try to be as honest as possible, as I consider these to be stories – nothing but stories, nothing but allegory. The symbolism that they represented, in a lot of cases, was very powerful. I was involved in a very powerful church within this denomination for a long time – so I kept a very low profile. I started to minister to the youth, the children, because in that case basically you have to tell stories. That’s all you’re doing is telling stories. Most of the kids that I had were of the age where it was Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Jesus. Eventually you start to learn that these things really aren’t real, but for a while it’s hard for you to differentiate between the fantasy and the reality, because you’re younger and you grow into that. I felt okay telling stories to kids who accept fantasy.

I got an opportunity to take a church further out – on the fringes of the territory that the denomination covered, out in Caledonia. I was there for 5 years and I had a great time. It was really more along the lines of me doing what I wanted to do and anybody was welcome. I was very welcoming towards the gay community, that sort of thing, even though, well gosh, no way was it acceptable for this ministry. People who were living together and not married, that was cool with me, once again a conflict of interest.

I went on vacation and I invited a friend of mine from one of the other churches to come and fill in one Sunday. What I found out afterwords is that this guy was sent to find out what I was doing, and he reported back on me. I was recalled to the other church. Someone else was sent out to the Caledonia church – within a year that church failed. The guy they sent out was very very conservative, very strict, very literalist about the bible, and of course it fell apart. They actually called me back, had a meeting to figure out what to do with the church. Because I was still on probation, the lead minister of the church I was at said “Tell them all just to come back here.” I didn’t want to tell them that, but my situation was tenuous with this ministry so maybe I should just play along for awhile. I did and some people came back, some didn’t. Relationships were seriously damaged.

It bummed me out. It really bothered me to no end. So, I figured: “OK, I”m done.” I told people over at the church that I was done, gave my notice that I was leaving. I had been reinstated as Children’s minister, so I had to leave that.

For a while, I just spent my time getting involved in other projects. One of the projects that came up at the time was at the Mumford library. This was a defining period for me as far as storytelling, outside of either the pulpit or any political situations. The Mumford library was right across the street from where I lived. A cute little library, it was a branch of the Scottsville Free Library – run by a small advisory board. The Mumford library was not getting much circulation. It was open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and one Saturday a month. On Friday nights, what I used to really love about this place, is Friday nights everybody from Mumford, a lot of people, I shouldn’t say everybody from Mumford, but quite a few because it’s a very small hamlet – would come and sit at this roundtable in the common area and just chew the fat. It was like a General Store sort of thing. People would come knitting and they’d talk about what they were doing and share stories. I’d talk about fishing – I was fishing a lot then, I was right on Spring Creek, so I’d talk about fishing stories, which is always important. While we were talking one day, Peg, the clerk there was talking about how that might be the last night, they were talking about closing the library.

“Oh, really?”

“Well, circulation is down.”

“OK, well, what can we do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s talk with Jackie.” (the director at the time) So Jackie and Peg and I got together and talked about what we could do to keep this place open.

“We have to pick up circulation.”

“How can we do that?”

“How about I do a storytelling program once a month? The first Friday evening of every month. And if I can get people to take out books because they’re themed around the stories I’m telling.”

“If you can bring circulation up to this target level, then we can keep the library alive.”

“OK, great.”

I did a combination of puppets, story, and music. It was amazing! There was a HUGE turnout. There was easily 40 kids in this common room – in the hamlet of Mumford that’s huge. The common area in the library itself, where we used to hang out and chat, was packed parents. They were hanging out, we were in there with their kids and we were having a blast. I was playing the dulcimer, and I was playing with puppets, and talking with them and getting them involved in doing interactive stuff. And then told them: “Here’s a list of the books that the library has, and I want you to take out books. And I want you to get your parents and send them in here, too.”

Somebody went and got everybody’s parents, and I said: “This was a great program. I love doing it here, the kids really seem to enjoy it.”

“Yeah, it was great,” they said. “We heard them laughing from the other room, it sounded like they were having fun.”

“If we don’t do something drastic about the circulation here at this library, they’re going to close it. So I want you to go out there, and I want you to take out books, DVDs (actually at the time it was VHS tapes), whatever you can take out. Just take out media and keep doing it. Come here and use the library – because if you do that, they’ll keep it open.”

How did he do?  Watch for Part Two to find out!  (Gotta love stories with cliffhangers!)

Art <3 Stories – a new project from Storychick: Arleen Hodge

It dawned on me after November’s Icarus session, so many people making great art are telling stories. Their media may differ, as may their subjects and the ultimate aims, but there is a TON of storytelling happening.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, as readers know that one of my strong arguments is that we are all storytellers in our own rights. Still, it struck me and I wanted to do something to build a community with the artist-storytellers. So I’ve set out to gather the stories of the storytellers. I’m hoping to build this into something else, but for now the project will materialize as a  posts here on the blog – under the category “Art ❤ Stories”.

The first story comes from Arlene Hodge. A documentary photographer, Arleen crafts the stories of the real lives of those on the margins of society, without the need for a single piece of text…

I typically start telling my story by mentioning that I’m twice divorced, a mom of three boys, and have a daughter who died. For a time, the pain and misfortune wrapped up in that statement colored everything I did. But now I am moving out of the darkness and into the light. The negative does not define who I am. So let me tell you a bit about myself.

I am an expert fisherperson. My Dad taught us all how to fish and I love to spend time fly fishing.

I am a certified herbalist and landscaper.

I am a fiber artist. I make civil war era penny rugs. In fact, several years ago, Early American Life magazine highlighted my work.

I have come from suffering, but it does not define me. I am moving forward back to my roots.

After I left my second marriage I spent a lot of time in Rochester and New York City walking for hours with my camera in hand. I’d see the homeless on the streets and in the parks and take their photos. I would come home with all of these photos, and not even know their names, let alone their stories.

So I decided to spend time with the homeless, to learn about them, to sleep with them, break bread with them – and to take their pictures.
I started by approaching some guys in a camp near the tracks. Here I am, a middle aged woman, asking if I can sleep alongside them and take their pictures. They embraced me, seeing my passion.

Reggie – Arleen Hodge Photography

It was Reggie who helped me understand how to tell their stories. As I was spending time with him and taking pictures, I was talking. I was telling my story and about my life. I was talking over him and taking pictures and he would just say “Arleen, could you just listen to me? Please … just … listen.” He would get very serious and I thought, … OK.

And I stopped talking and I started listening.

And when I did that, my photos changed. They just changed. It was healing, because I could look at the photos, you just know…

The thing about Reggie is that, years ago, he was a well-known basketball player here in Rochester. He used to work for Kodak and was there for a long time. During his breaks at Kodak, he would train jogging through the streets of Rochester, you know, he was always working out and working his basketball. Then his wife left him and he self-medicated, turning to drinking and drugs. And he got into that. And he didn’t care. He lives on the street. He has a club foot because he lost toes to diabetes. And that’s the way it is.

I’ve slept with the homeless – in the parking garage, at the House of Mercy, and on the streets. After nearly a year with them, I had several of their stories documented in my photos.

My work was getting noticed and local churches reached out. They wanted to show their congregations the faces of those they were helping through their charities. “We want to put a face to these marginalized folks,” they said. One night after sleeping with several homeless men at the South Wedge Mission in the church pews, I awoke, looked down upon them under the cross, the feeling was profound.

It changed my whole perspective on what I do, how I do it and why I do it.

I had more shows at more churches around town.
People saw my photos and realized that these are people on the streets – people with issues and complex stories, but real people who need and appreciate real help.

I do not see my work as street photography, but more poverty photography. And in that, instead of feeding off of the suffering of these guys on the street, I’m feeding off of the goodness inside them. Look at the smiles and the light in their faces. I still want to put a face to the suffering, to make my work humanitarian in every way. That means highlighting the whole human.

The other day, I put a photo up on Facebook of a homeless man sleeping on the concrete and captioned it with “What we need are Pillows for People”. The guys in the garage – they each have their spot and they all watch out for each, but it’s still dangerous and you don’t know what you might face each night. They don’t have homes, they don’t have places to store things. How much better would it be for them with a simple pillow? I just put it out there, not expecting any response, but several people responded right away, trying to figure out how to make it work. The guys won’t carry pillows around, a connection suggested Mylar emergency blankets, and inflatable pillows? People want to really make this happen, to give. That’s so awesome.

I’m finishing a degree in social work to become a certified drug counselor. I want to be able to understand everything the people I’m working with are dealing with. I don’t want to “fix” them, I want to do what I can to make their lives a little bit better, a little more positive – give them hope.

I can go to the parking garage tonight and find the guys and we’ll be high-fiving, and happy – despite the cold and their troubles.

There is joy to be found out there.

I’ve realized that we don’t have to wallow with one foot stuck in our past problems. We have layers to our stories, all of us. Yes, our past and our problems play a part in how we are defined, but they are not WHO we are.

I look to forward to 2014 – and plan to start it with a focus on what’s good.

One day, I want to be an old black woman, sitting on my porch and sharing my wisdom, gained from experience with life, but not without a sense of humor and still a lot of spunk and sass. I see this work as helping me take a step in that direction.

… Check out Arleen’s Facebook page and a recent piece on Rochester Subway, also. And keep an eye out around town for more in coming months!

As we close 2013 and head to 2014, I want to wish you all the best for a new year focused on the good and full of wonderful and powerful stories.  Thanks for your support of Storychick and watch here too for more!

A quick note

Just a quick post – I’m working on some cool things that will be here soon – plus I’m getting over a cold….

Here are two quotes in the meantime on stories, sharing, and a bit of wonder – with a bit of pre-Halloweenishness in there for you:

This was what we brought with us on our journey across oceans, beyond frontiers, through life: our little storehouse of anecdote and what-happened-next, our private once-upon-a-time.  We were our stories, and when we died, if we were lucky, our immortality would be in another such tale. – Fury, Salman Rushdie

Stories define us.  Sharing them is sharing a bit of ourselves – and helps us to grow closer together.


… the reality I knew was a thin layer of  icing on a great birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger. … I saw that there were patterns and gates and paths beyond the real. – The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

Take a moment, especially near All Hallow’s Eve to consider what may lie beyond what we typically see.  Absorb some of the wonder of it all.  It should put bills, traffic, and cubicle politics into a whole new light….