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It was a tiny room with historic wooden floors, a single bed, and summer ants that would eat holes in the crotches of my underwear. I pilfered food that wouldn’t be recognized as missing off the shelves of my landlord, and at work, stole quarters from the prospective-client-parking box to buy gas station egg salad sandwiches at lunch. I did this every day till I noticed I’d lost months of memory focusing solely on the next meal, and then the next.

On the phone with my dad, I reined in tears while he romanticized poverty, saying this life is a choice I made, and praising the fact that every successful writer has “eaten bark” to get by, eventually, refusing my just-in-case request to come home for a while if it was confirmed that, in fact, I was losing my mind.

Mirror, plate glass window, each one I walk by, I double-take at the reflection of my mother before realizing it’s me. This is me. Is this the way it’s going to be till the end? If the physical gene is this strong, surely the emotional one has some horsepower, too, and if that’s true, what will I, daughter of a mother who bolted when her kids were toddlers, face as womanhood takes hold? She is no longer nibbling at the edges of me. She’s inside.


I live under the roof of the most creatively suited mentor I could have imagined, help instigate a writers group dreams are made of, and make community with writers whose eventual films and plays call to mind the times spent creating those pieces in our living room readings. I fall in love with two kids and a dog. Family.

I’m writing an electric story. It’s characters are taking over and I long ago forgot the time.  When, suddenly, I stop. It stops. The flow of the thing. The words, the characters, the picture I’m describing freezes like a Polaroid in its frame, nostalgia-tinted. I scratch at its surface trying to get back in. But it’s an inanimate thing, and I am locked out. Each day I return, I jangle keys outside it, doorless, frozen in time. Inaccessible. I slink away. But visit often. Visit all of the stories often. Pace the tiny room. Fuzz my vision at a golden afternoon edging windows, floor. Angry as the light wanes. Another day stunted into snapshot. Why do *I* have to heal before I can write? and then I wonder where that thought came from? Heal what? It’s just writing. Anyone can write. Especially writers. Paw again at the Polaroid. Notice the dust between bare feet and the floor. Let go the picture and find the broom.


How do you know when a story matters?
You know when you don’t want to tell it.
Or when it makes you feel short of breath, or feel anything at all.
You know when time disappears while you’re telling it.
And when your audience is tearing up without noticing. When they’re silenced in wait of what’s next.
You know it matters when you have to be cajoled to tell it.
When people ask to hear it again.
When listeners and readers ask questions, and read the next one.
And when it heals.

Stories matter when they’re true. True to struggle, to human nature, true to experience.

You don’t have to tell on yourself. You don’t have to share your story if it’s too scary to reveal.
But consider this next suggestion: Tell yourself. Even if you don’t let others see it, write your stories that matter.
Let yourself feel the memory: Stark joy. Shocking fate. Painful mediocrity.
Notice the feeling of it, then write into it. What hurt? What stuck? What’s hardest to say out loud?
Say it. Let it out. Then watch it shimmer.
It has a life of its own, that experience, and its own little piece of soul—yours, shimmering in it, that you’ll never get back if you don’t first let the story out.
Stories lose luster without that piece of soul. Just words without it.
So listen. Feel. Find what catches, what makes you want to hide.
And write it. You’ll find the soul. And in finding it, repair.


I’m writing memories for a while, in exploration. Staring out the window in the mornings, letting them fall out of lit corners and dark folds, rustling leaves, blunt sunshine of spring. Join me if you please. Write yours in the comments, or link to your blog. Explore with me.



As an undergraduate, I slogged through controversial, complex geopolitical histories of the Middle East. I thought if I looked hard enough, I would find The Answer to better relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. No matter how many research papers, policy proposals, opinion articles and historical narratives I read, I could not satisfy my perpetual question: what is going on with this clash of civilizations??

Now I suspect my dissatisfaction resulted from where — and how — I sought knowledge, and it mirrors a larger problem of American short-sightedness about legitimate sources of understanding.

Connecting Dots

The extent of Islamophobia in the U.S. shocks me. I try to counteract the existing association of Islam to violence, an association that pervades mainstream media. I try to talk to my friends and family about my limited knowledge of Muslim culture, and I’m always looking for better access points for discussion with wary audiences.

One day in music class, I found an exciting possibility. I learned that in Islam the human voice is considered the best medium for understanding and preserving the word of God. Printing the Qur’an is helpful, but limited in its ability to convey the words’ highest meaning. Saying them out loud — with the proper pronunciation, lyricism, and spiritual sensitivity — illuminates their richer beauty, making the heart tremble with joy.

When I heard this, my mind lit up and my head went wild.

I’ve learned over time that my favorite ideas sound like really, really loud cymbals; the vibrations even seem to emanate from the center of my head. It feels like the sides of my skull have been struck together, for all the clanging and crashing going on up there. The opposing spheres of stubborn shell ring in clashing resonance.

Sound of A Wake-up Call

I’ve finally learned that the clash is a wake up call. An alert from the universe to keep an eye out for new ideas, to find a new path of understanding that’s somewhere close by.

So I invite you, too, to greet the clash from a new perspective. I invite you to listen. What do you hear?

I hear the intangible beauty of the human experience. I hear the yearning and longing of spiritual seeking. I hear the power of the human voice. Now there’s an entry point, a possibility for an unconventional connection.

The Value of Voice

U.S. policymakers have to realize Christian values are not universal, including values about communication methods. Western governments will not successfully communicate with Muslim governments as long as they cling to a version of world politics that’s written, written by and for imperial fantasies.

In every conflict, there’s a resolution waiting in the wings. One cause of the clash between the West and Islam is repeated miscommunication. Maybe we are trying the wrong methods, the wrong tools for connecting so we’re missing the current. Maybe — no, certainly — we need to stop asserting our values and listen to the other side.

What Does Your Brilliance Feel Like?

So let’s listen, let’s wake up. Be open to other sources, to other ways of knowing. Look out, sniff out, hear out, tongue out, feel out — whatever works for you. Go outside your world, yourself. Then bring your experiences back in to marvel, mingle with, and awaken more truths. What does your brilliance feel like? What sense do you use, and are you already aware of it?

And once you find out, please share: I love hearing others’ sources of inspiration.
For my part, I’ll keep you posted on the path through the clash, because I won’t stop looking for a better connection.


Stephanie Murphy showed up out of the clear blue and I had a feeling I had to work with her. Now she’s a sounding board, co-creatrix and executress of big ideas, pulling them out of the ether, chasing them with me around corners, and landing them with a daze, a triumph, and stars overhead. She writes more great stuff just like this, exercising her rich ideas on her blog. Take a look, and stretch that big brain you’re carrying around.

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Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

If you’re spurred by what you read, and you want to write a post in reply, email me (hi) at (storycharmer) dot (com).

Join the conversation. Leave a comment. Write a post.

Let’s wake up together.

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Our stories save lives, sometimes our own, often someone else’s.

World Pulse provides access for the voices of women journalists around the world. Grassroots journalists write, speak, develop community, and share stories from their villages and neighborhoods in networks around the world. They save themselves. They save each other. They grow from fear to fulfillment to self empowered to community-empowering. They are changing lives.


There are many videos on YouTube to choose from to get a flavor of World Pulse’s mission, reach, and successes. On their gorgeous website, you will find their ongoing journey in progress, in the shape of stories, events, community and offerings. Find your voice. Hear others. Help provide access to more. Visit And keep on waking.

World Pulse is raising money and awareness today through a sale at one of its sponsors. Go to Eileen Fisher online today, save $25, and 10% of your purchase will go to support World Pulse.

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The 7-day Wake Up has been off the charts expansive and beautiful in its results.

Join us for the weekend? 4:00 a.m. PDT. March 20-27. Wake up with us + watch your life pop open. Cost: Zero dollars and a few dawns. Reach out —> Hi [at] StoryCharmer [dot] com

Receive the Wake Up Kit. Get on the call. Or skip the call! And wake up anyway.

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Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

If you’re spurred by what you read, and you want to write a post in reply, email me (hi) at (storycharmer) dot (com).

Join the conversation. Leave a comment. Write a post.

Let’s wake up together.


A Lullaby to Convenience

March 16, 2012

Couldn’t resist this song’s edge nor it’s softness after yesterday’s post.
Delicious its complexities.

“splinter” by Ani DiFranco

somethin’ about this landscape
just don’t feel right
and lit up all night

like we just gotta see
how comfortable comfortable can get
like we can’t even bring ourselves to sweat
like we can’t even bring ourselves to sweat

sweat in the summer, shiver in the winter
just enough to know that we’re alive
watch out for that t.v., it’s full of splinters
and remember you can always go outside
really really really far outside

and some might call it conservation
some might call it common sense
and maybe it’s because i’m a libra
i say balance balance balance balance
i say balance balance balance balance

who put all this stuff in my apartment?
who put all this ice in my drink?
who put the poison in the atmosphere?
who put the poison in the way i think?

o women, won’t you be our windows
women who bleed and bleed and bleed
women who swell with the tide and change when the wind blows
show us we are not separate from everything
show us we are connected to everything

so here’s to the joys and trials of living
here’s to feeling our share of pain
yes all the way from childbirth to dying
here’s to staying connected to everything
here’s to being connected to everything

(thanks to Danah Boyd for the lyrics)

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Wake up with me for the 7-day Wake Up. March 20-27. Join us + watch your life pop open. Cost: Zero dollars and a few dawns.

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Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

If you’re spurred by what you read, and you want to write a post in reply, email me (hi) at (storycharmer) dot (com).

Join the conversation. Leave a comment. Write a post.

Let’s wake up together.


What’s scary about conversations? What razor teeth are threatening enough to chase confrontation into the dark?

Are we worried about being revealed? Worried about being wrong? Afraid that if we ARE in fact wrong, there’s no way to right ourselves to a new view? And what exactly IS confrontation? Have you heard these words cross your mind or lips?

Is something I’m saying confronting you?
Are you shutting me down because what I’m thinking out loud is making you see and feel things you don’t want to see and feel?
Am I the bad guy for saying what I see? Versus, say, recognizing the perpetrator as the bad guy?

What threatens so deeply about talking something out, without sleights of hand that detract from the point.

Hello, passion plugged in. Welcome to Waking Up.

Turned up. Shut down.

In the wake of March 1st’s post on the potential of racial bias in U.S. Congress and the country, I noticed conversation would spark, and then talk would be quickly shut down. Shut down by others as if the talker were naive for bringing it up.

Conversation over. Crickets. Setting sun. Go about your business, there’s nothing to see here.

This in turn shut me down. A week went by. I got wrapped around an obstacle.

Do people want to hear this—“this” being curiosity about the topics that keep us sleeping?
Do I have authority to talk about it?
Am I naive for bringing it up?

Don’t hold your peace. Live it.

I can thank Rush Limbaugh’s current breach of decency for showing me the way. Rush attempted to shut down critical conversation by shaming a woman for talking.

Aren’t shame and fear and control the reasons most conversations get censored and self-edited? Fear of being misheard. Fear of not being accepted. Shame for one’s belief’s in contrast to a louder voice’s beliefs. Fear of repercussion. Control of the  relationship, lest it…evolve into something different?

Speak now.

Talking is powerful action. Listening is a seat of power, and a gift of creation, collaboration. Listening is growth for both the talker and the listener.

If you cannot say a thing, think it. Write it down in private. Yell it into the woods. Let your beliefs live somewhere. Like us, they have a habit of growing, and bursting out of seams that would hem them in.

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Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

If you’re spurred by what you read, and you want to write a post in reply, email me (hi) at (storycharmer) dot (com).

Join the conversation. Leave a comment. Write a post.

Let’s wake up together.


Talking fast

My dad used to tap his toe waiting for me to get to the end of a story. He’s a very tall man. I was a small girl, maybe closer in standing distance to his big dumb foot tapping than to his face. It drove me crazy. They were amazing adventures and shocks of character I was reporting, each one riveting. I didn’t know why he had to be so impatient about it.

Eh, obviously the story meant more to me than it meant to him. After the toe-tapping, I would go off and reconsider my story. What could I cut out? (Nothing!!) Okay, then what could I tell in a different order to KEEP his attention along the way? I’d reconsider, reassemble. Okay…now that it was in a different order, maybe I didn’t have to say those two other things because the order itself gives information and shortens the point. Clearly I learned something useful, considering the career  I grew into. But before the reassembly, I talked faster and faster trying to get it all heard.

Listening slow

How often do you freeze up when it’s time to tell a story? Hold back for fear of stumbling over your words? Wish you could get them out, because you’ve got a great one to tell? And on the flip side of that freeze, how often do you feel the warm glow of being heard? Having a person or a party or an audience follow along with you and feel what you felt in the experience you’re sharing? (Those inclined might call that a moment of oneness.)

That’s what happens at the Story Charming Party. We get together, nosh and drink wine, then we pull together into a circle and tell stories. Attention gets piqued. We lean forward in our seats. Hold our breaths, and wait to find out what happened, to the simple and fantastic. We can’t help but listen. We just want to know. …There is no toe tapping.

Waking the glow

Every party is different. Every story is new. Unpracticed. Human as you are. And story by story comes that glow. All over the room. The richness of being reminded of our stories, and of getting heard. The wow of sharing and telling. The gift of hearing. In these moments, it’s not overstated to say we change each other.

There are a few more spots available in Friday’s Story Charming Party in Portland. Want the glow? The party’s invite-only, due to space limitations. Jump onto the invite list to get location details, and RSVP when the invite comes out. (If you want to know when the Story Charming Party is coming to your town, this is the list for you, too.)

In March I’m launching The Waking Up Project, heading into daily conversations about coming alert: waking, sleeping through life moments, reeling with shock, rolling in sedation, going eye-eye with growth, evolution, surprise, sweetness, sunrise. I wouldn’t be surprised if Friday’s Story Charming Party has some of that conversation swirling to the surface. Curious? Wake up and come on over.


Soy means “I am”

Cooking calms me; all its ingredients and sensual gratification organize me back into making sense, when, somehow, I’ve stopped making it. Last week, I was reading a new cook book when I remembered what I learned on the yoga mat: sometimes it’s bliss, sometimes it blows. If you can be equally as present when it blows, the bliss will find you right there and carry you.

I’d been in a surly mood for a couple of days running. Hungry for dinner, radio playing, I flipped through the book, reading snippets, and landed on a page about soy. As I began to read it, the radio announcer introduced a story about soy.

Tiny synchronicities

I love when that happens. Randomly reading about soy while just as randomly hearing it on the radio? I read a bit more till I realized there was an opportunity here. The translation of “soy” popped into my head. “I am,” I heard myself say. In Spanish, “soy” means “I am.”

I let my eyes hover over the page, its content no longer the point. “What about ‘I am’ in this moment?” I think. And immediately it reminds me that I am a part of the relationship that has been pissing me off for two days. If I materialize into it, commit to it even if it pains me (I think they call this “getting accountable”), just like on the yoga mat, then there’ll be a state change. What blows will turn blissful. I’ll be let off the hook of my anger. By seeing myself as part of the problem, part of the whole, I’m no longer out of synch. I’m flowing, stretching, seeing where I can adjust my posture, my point of view, my compassion.

Writing is listening

That was the end of the mood, and a perfect example of “Writing Is Listening.” Writing is the exercise of listening to our lives, our characters, the worlds we’re building in our stories, and assembling them into words. But if you’re tuned into the muse and listening, it’s inevitable you’ll get as much advice for your life as you do your story.

She shows up in the most curious of places. Stuck on something? Be present with the irritation, the anger, the overwhelm. Hang out with it for a while and feel it, knowing the bliss is out there in the shape of a muse who leaves answers where you least expect them.

Speaking of muses…

Our recent Story Telling Party ended with a wild and beautiful story about synchronicities between nature and death and life and magic and fear and expectation. Everyone’s stories had us perked up and listening, and settling deep into understanding of ourselves and each other in new ways. Sign up on the sidebar to receive an invite to the next Story Charming Party this February in Portland.


I watched the sun come up this morning. The sky was pink, and smooth like an eggshell. It’s possible my eyes were pink too. Knowing I wouldn’t get an ounce of sleep last night, I gave in, left the lights off, and let my senses awake. And made a video for story tellers, and lovers of the night…


And I told a story about another late night, under the moon, finding unpracticed senses and in doing so, finding new meaning to a moment, to life, to story…

What is your favorite night story?

Tell it in the comments below, or tell it in a blog post and link it here. We want to hear your stories of the night.

Video 1 in text – Night is for Writers

Waking new senses

Hi Everyone. Pema Teeter here. You ever get the hiccups and hear that the way to stop hiccups is to drink, upside down, out of the opposite rim of the glass?

It works and it makes the hiccups go away. Maybe because you’re discombobulated.

So I’m coming to you now in my pajamas because I had a kind of backwards and discombobulated day. I came home from the chiropractor at 5, I’ve been working a lot and wore myself out apparently. I laid down after the chiropractor and woke up at about 10:30.

What do I do now? I’m wide awake. It’s the middle of the night.

I’ve left the lights off except for this one here. I’ve listened to the stillness. It is so quiet. The Fremont Bridge is crossing the Willamette River outside my window and I can hear the cars on it. It’s late night. It’s about 12:45 in the morning. So there are only a few cars but just enough to make me wonder who else is up at this hour.

I will often say in my writing that writing is listening. And that story is living it. And when you do something differently than you’re used to doing, you get to have a whole different sensory experience than you are used to having. And when you have a different sensory experience, your brain and your body picks up a whole new language. It’s like having a new palette on your–a new, like, set of colors on your palette, a new mixture of paints for the story that you’re painting.

If you are stuck in something that you’re writing, or that you’re trying to express, and you are getting driven crazy because you can’t get out of it, take a nap. Wake up at like 10pm, 9pm, and let yourself feel what’s around you. Let yourself feel the nighttime, and feel the air on your skin, how it’s different from what you feel in the day when you’re rushing around and when you’re not necessarily noticing the sensation on your skin.

You can actually smell the coolness of the air.

You can let your sight be muted by the darkness.

Listen to your imagination run in these new circumstances.

It’s amazing the effect that it has on the piece that you’re writing, or on unlocking the creative flow if you’re not necessarily working on anything but you are looking for inspiration.

Just turn out the lights, let the night come, and do something differently.


Video 2 in text – Sensory Deliciousness of Night: A Story


When I was in college, it was finals week and I was living in the student housing co-op. And we would have meal nights. Shared meals together. And there were a ton of people in the apartment, we had just finished eating. The tension and the energy was high because we all had to go study for finals.

And somebody, one girl, mentioned, “Hey, let’s go down to the beach, let’s go walk on the beach.” Five of us walked down the stairs, out of the bright yellow light of our apartments into the darkness. We were in Santa Barbara and the night is this rich velvet midnight blue in the night sky. We walked into the scent of eucalyptus trees that were lining the road that got so little traffic because it was a dead end. It reached the cliff that was on the ocean.

We walked down to the cliff and we were walking along the cliff and the night was so full…in its…blueness. And the moon was full, so it was bright.

You could see our profiles like we were paper dolls clipped out and someone was moving us through the night.

And we were just, kind of after a little while, we were kind of entranced by the moment. We were walking along in silence and listening to our footfalls. And, we walked along so long in this coolness after so much heat, up in the apartment, we found ourselves walking down this little separation in the cliff onto the beach. And so it was even cooler down there a little bit closer–not a little bit, a lot closer, right there on the beach.

And then all of a moment, we all just stripped and ran in the water. We’re jumping around in the waves and dunking underneath the waves, and we’re laughing and yelling, and you know, again, after a little bit, we all just fell silent to something that was bigger than us that night.

The moon, carving us out of our existence in the middle of this beautiful ocean night, muted by the silver of the moon and the blue of the sky. We were so very little of our daylight color. We were washed in blue and silver.

We were tiny on the earth that night. And we felt it.

We could just hear it in our silence with each other. And the feel of the salt air on our skin and the water. You know, we went in with a plunge and we came out with this kind of enlivened quiet.

It was really an intensely beautiful experience that we wouldn’t have had if somebody hadn’t suddenly decided, “Screw it! Let’s put off studying for finals for 20 minutes. Let’s go into the night. Let’s change up the scene for a minute.”

What that turned into was an experience that none of us will ever forget.

So, go out into the night. Or turn your lights off and let the night come into your windows. And open the window. And feel the feel. Do something differently if just for a moment, and just on purpose, to see how it changes up your sensory experiences, and how they affect what you’re writing.



Everybody’s blogging. The people who want to sound like experts are becoming better storytellers. As words become currency, are your stories selling you? Here are five surprising tips to get you thinking like a writer.

Record a conversation, then type it word for word. Audio re-play lets you hear patterns of speech and catch nuances of meaning you may not hear in the moment. Before you know it, you’re writing your own dialogue that sounds as good as real.

Imitation is more than the highest form of flattery. It is how we learn. Read what you love…novels, articles, poems. Then practice writing in the very same way. How? Paraphrase: Start with a paragraph. Re-write it in your own words—not great big flowery words or fierce competitive diction, just write what you think it means. Repeat. This will get you thinking like the authors you read, and get you noticing their styles and techniques.

The best writing advice ever: “You’re eleven. I’m eleven.” Too many big words, too much impressing, too much explaining about what you’re explaining gets in the way. Just say what you see, as if you’re eleven and your readers are eleven. They’ll get it. And they’ll thank you for your simplicity.

Really! Singing has been proven to open wells of emotion in the brain. When you sing, you contact your inner world…the place where imagination comes from. Open your voice and then fire up your computer and clatter away. Keep the music playing to keep you on a roll when your voice has moved from your throat to your fingertips.

Don’t stop. Write pen to paper, fingers to keyboard without time to edit. Give yourself ten minutes of no-stop writing, just go, go, go. Then build up to an hour. Re-work what you’ve written only at the end. The good stuff is rarely at the top of the page. It’s buried deep, like gold and diamonds. You have to mine it, in the dark, with courage to go deep till you’ve unearthed it.