Something That Happened : A Unique Performance Venue

I went to see a performance art show at a strip club.

Really anyone who goes to a strip club can say that. I can’t say that I did anything but walk through the club to get to the back room where the art show was happening.

The show was part of Boulder Art Week Shows.

These are my impressions.

  • It smelled like layers of cigarettes and perfume and something else.
  • I thought it was a misnomer to call it a gentleman’s club.
  • Everyone looks better under dim red lights. Even my tired face. Maybe I should replace the bulbs in my house.
  • When I walked in the man at the counter thought I was coming to apply for a job. When I was in college I thought about applying for a job there. I thought about doing an anonymous blog talking about my work there. I didn’t do any of that.
  • I got to peek at an empty dressing room and a sign that said Ladies: You must always be dancing on stage! Even if there is only one customer. Failure to comply: $20 fine and/or sent home. 

I totally get that. Same thing with storytelling. If there is one person stopping to listen I will tell the story.

Oh, and the show was interesting. Music by Riley Ann was fantastic.


Kittens from Japan

Google and a Story from Japan

kitsune_korinWhen I am doing research on a story Google is my best friend. I search for alternate versions, history and original sources of the story.

Once I have found out what I can about the story I then start to research parts of the story. I try gather as much information on the stories until I have an idea of the environment and characters of the story. This can often be a rabbit hole of information and it takes some effort to not get distracted by all the pretties that I come across.

An example of this is when I was preparing the story about the Young Monk and the Kitsune (magic fox from Japan)…..I knew I had read a version of it somewhere, and I knew that at one point in the story the Buddha statue had stuck out his tongue…..

Google Search: monk fox buddha tongue

Result: Asian-Pacific Folktales and Legends, By Jeannette Faurot, pages 53

There it was! I read through it and then dove into research:

Google Search: How do Japanese start their stories?

Result: Mukashi, mukashi. Roughly translated to “long, long ago”, though I would prefer to speak to a Japanese storyteller about this….

“Long ago there was an acolyte called Zuiten at a mountain temple.”

Google Search: mountain trees in japan

Result: cedar, maple and beech trees

When ever the priest went away and left Zuiten to take care of the temple alone, a fox would come to the entrance of the priests living quarters and call,  “Zuiten, Zuiten!”

Google Search: talking foxes japan

Result: History – Magic fox in Japan is called the Kitsune (keyt – su- ne), and the more magical they were the more tails they had, up to nine.  They make the sound of kon kon or gon gon. 

(this was an absolutely lovely rabbit hole of information. I am now completely in love with this creature)

This back and forth between me and Google continued until I had worked and added details that I wanted and the story came to life below.


 Young Monk and the Kitsune

Mukashi, mukashi, a young monk name Zuiten lived in Japan at a mountain temple on the rocky crags near a forest of  cedar, maple and beech trees. Zuiten was training to become a monk, and when all the other monks went into the forest to meditate and study he stayed at the temple to do chores.
He had to sweep the temple,
shine the golden statue of Buddha, 
and cook the rice the meals and for the other priests.
Often when he was alone he would hear someone calling his name at the front of the temple.
All Softly : Zui- ten! 3x (ding dong melody)
Zuiten opened the sliding door at the front of the temple and looked out, but there was nothing to be seen. He went back to his work and then heard the sound again.
All Softly : Zui- ten! 3x (ding dong melody)
Now Ziuten was a clever boy, so he closed the door and then watched from the window.
He saw from the edges of the forest a small red fox with a big fat tail sneaking around at the edge of the forest.
It looked this way, and that. It crept towards the temple and then disappeared! In its place was a beautiful red bird singing its heart out.
Then the bird became the fox again. The fox crept forward towards the temple and then disappeared! There instead was a shiny red jasper rock, laying in the green grass. It rolled around a bit and then became a fox again.
The fox crept closer and closer, then disappeared! Standing in its place was a little girl with black hair and a red dress, whistling a soft tune.
Zuiten knew what he was looking at. He knew this was a kitsune, a magic fox who wanted to trick him.
The little girl became a fox once again and crept close to the big door at the temple. Then, as Zuiten watched, the fox slid his big fat tail across the door making a “Zui” sound. It then knocked his head against the door making a “ten” sound and if he did it quickly enough it began to sound like
All Softly : Zui- ten! 3x (ding dong melody)
That is who had been calling him! But, Zuiten was a clever boy and had an idea how to catch the fox. He came close to the door and heard the fox brush is tail making the “Zui” sound and as the fox leaned forward to make the “tan”sound Zuiten opened the door and the fox came tumbling in!
Well, the fox looked at Zuiten and Zuiten looked at the fox and the great chase began. Round and round the shrine room until the fox was just a red blur and then – the fox disappeared!
Zuitan looked around and could not see the fox, but saw that instead of one Buddha sitting on the shrine there were two!
One was a fox- buddha and one was the real Buddha statue. How would Zuiten figure out which was which? And how would he explain it to the senior monks if they came back and found the two Buddhas?
But, Zuiten was a clever boy and he walked over to the shrine, but his hands together and said loudly, “The fox can’t fool me! The real Buddha statue sticks out his tongue when there is chanting, so the fox can’t fool me.”
He began to beat the drum and chant – Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”
All:  Children beat on their legs and chant along
And slowly the fox-Buddha stuck out his tongue!
(Stick out tongue, really the children find it hilarious)
Zuiten put the drum away and said loudly, “And then the real Buddha follows me down the hall to the kitchen for his bath!”
The fox-buddha got off the shrine and boldly followed Zuiten to the kitchen.
Zuiten got out a big pot and filled it with water. “I must give the real buddha a bath!”
Fox-buddha climbed in.
Zuiten put the lid on tight and put it over the fire.
The little fox-Buddha got hotter and hotter. He did not like the water and and he began to until began to scratch and tried to get out.
Now Zuiten was a clever boy, but he was also a kind boy, and just when the water was almost too hot he took the pot over to the door and took off the lid. Out popped the fox who ran into the forest of cedar, maple and beech trees and never bothered that clever boy again.
 Now in the original version the young monk cooks and eats the fox. But since I was creating the story for young American audience I thought it best to leave him alive. That is the way of stories though, they change over time and I hope I have done this one justice.
Please feel free to tell this version yourself, and let me know how it goes!


The Tale of the Phoenix

cc567d105ae120660506574ff59c1a77To hear me tell this story…. Clickity Click Here.






Death looks on us all. It seeks out the smallest ant and kisses the most powerful emperors. It cradles the field mouse to a final sleep and counts each breath of the whales in the ocean, knowing when it is the last. It looks after all of us alike. But there is one animal that death cannot look upon.

This bird is singular and solitary- it lays no eggs and has no young. It was here when the world began, it is still living today secluded in a desert oasis, and will live until the world is devoured by the sun.  It is the phoenix, the bird of fire.

It is as it was at the beginning of the world. When the gods began the spin of the world on its axis among all the birds the phoenix was the most incredible.  Larger than an eagle, with feathers of brilliant rich reds and purples the color of a deepening twilight and gold and eyes blue as sapphires.

The sun looked upon the beautiful bird, and at the beginning of the world the sun would still speak to those on the earth, and seeing the light reflected of the magnificent plumage the sun declared “Glorious Phoenix, you shall be my bird and you shall live forever!” To which the phoenix lifted its great wings and sang that it would praise the glorious sun, and would sing the songs for the sun alone.

Each morning as the sun rose the phoenix would lift it head and music would pour forth in joy at seeing the sun. There was no other bird song at that time for the other feathered creatures would sit in respectful silence for the glorious song.

All but one creature. The phoenix was so beautiful that it was not long until humans tried to capture it. Snares were set, and arrows fired. Men promised a feather for love or honor and it was not long until many hunted it. The beautiful bird was chased across countries until, weary of pursuit, it spread its beautiful wings and flew east seeking the land where the sun rose each morning. In the land it deserted, the small birds felt the silence and now each morning they sang and their songs were the prayer for the phoenix to return.

The phoenix flew across long oceans, deep green forests, lush jungles and mountains that brushed against the sky.  It flew until it found a desert where men would not come, flew until it found an oasis. There in solitude, day after day, it sang songs and praises to the sun.

Now a phoenix does not count the days, but if you and I were to count how long the phoenix was in the desert some might say it was five hundred years, and others one-thousand.  However, the phoenix only knew there was one day, after many brilliant days, it noticed how tired it felt. The song was not as strong. The flights not as high. The phoenix felt the wind blowing through its hollow bones and the sand scraping at its feathers.

So the phoenix lifted its sapphire eyes to the sun and sang a song of renewal. But day after day the sun sailed overhead without looking down or responding to the imploring cries.

Finally the phoenix lifted its beautiful wings and began to fly slowly back to where it was born.  Over seas and mountains, deep forests and grassy plains it flew, stopping many times to rest. Each time it rested it smelled the new land and the beautiful trees and the spices. The phoenix searched out the sources of beautiful new smells finding cinnamon, licorice, thyme, mint, rosemary, and basil. It tucked sprigs and branches of the spices in its plumage. It scratched from dark earth ginger and turmeric, and held them in talon and beak as it flew on to its birthplace.

When it found the place it had been born, though somewhat worn over time, it built a nest woven strong and deep at the top of a tree upon a mountain. It lined the nest with the spices and herbs until it was surrounded by rich and vibrant smells. Then it flew to a tree, dug some myrrh out of the bark and from it made a hollow egg.

The next morning, as the first rays of sun came over the edge of the world, the phoenix lifted its head and sang with the last of its strength a prayer to the sun.  The sun looked down and saw the bird, its own bird, and smiled. The rays of light shone on the feathers which grew brighter and glimmered until a spark leapt from the heart of the bird and the song soared up as the fire consumed the bird and scorched the herbs and spice, filling the air with sweet smells.

The black smoke rose like a signal in the air, and as the day progressed the smoke turned white and then drifted away.  A slivery grey ash filled the burnt nest. As the sun touched the western horizon the ash trembled and from underneath pushed a small naked chick. As the sun set the chick swiftly matured, quickly growing new plumage in reds, purples and gold. When the sun disappeared behind the horizon the renewed phoenix took the silvery ashes and placed them in the egg of myrrh.

As the sun rose the next morning the birds across the mountain were silent as the renewed phoenix lifted its head and sang the sweetest song of praises to the sun.  When it was done it lifted the egg of myrrh and began to fly and as it rose the birds around it began to fly with it as well, thousands of beating wings, racing hearts and brilliant colors, following the phoenix on a pilgrimage. The birds flew with the Phoenix to the temple that the Egyptians had built at Heliopolis, city of the sun. There the Phoenix placed the egg with the ashes inside on the sun’s altar. Then, while the other birds watched, it flew off toward the faraway desert to live in solitude and sing its praises to the sun.

The Phoenix lives there still. But every five hundred years or perhaps every thousand, when it begins to feel weak and old, it flies again to its birthplace. There it builds a fragrant nest on top of a mountain and there the sun once again burns it to ashes. And each time the Phoenix rises up from those ashes, new and young again.

Behind the Story: Crafting Snow White

rackham_snowdrop1“When Snow White was a girl, her step mother came to the castle. She brought with her a beautiful dowry; silks of every color, stones of all shapes and sizes, but the crowning piece was the mirror. It was as tall as a man with beautiful carvings around the edges, and though it was lighter than a child she had four strong men carry it to her room and place it upon her wall.”

I never thought that I would craft the story of Snow White. Everybody knows the story, and everyone knows where it is going to go. It has traveled pathways in the memory and I was not about to bore an audience with my rendition. But then, one afternoon as I was talking things over with Cooper I had a question, “What if the mirror ended up on Snow White’s wall just as we get to happily ever after?”

So began the version that I tell now.

In this version the mirror never speaks. Snow White hears her step-mother say the words “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” But I never have the mirror answer back. One could say that the mirror only speaks in the mind of the step-mother, but with many of the Grimm tales I use magic sparingly and work to find practical ways that these stories happen. Often the story is all that is needed to transport the listener. The storytelling is magic in itself and I don’t need to add anything.

As the story worked its self out I had to really tease out how Snow White ends up in a happy-ever-after situation. My first problem there was the prince. What weirdo would see a comatose girl and think “She would make a great conversation piece for my parlor…or other places in my house.” Creepy… So he had to change his approach. Thus he became a deus ex machina for the dwarves when their darling Snow White succumbs to the third murder attempt. Give that girl a Life Alert pendant! He offers the aid of his physicians, but has none with the hunting party and so they must take her to the castle.

The second problem was the death of the stepmother. How was she going to die? In the original story she is made to put on red hot slippers and dance to death in the snow. And thus we got the macarana. Kidding. Grimm humor. But the problem was either the king was the monster who murdered her, or Snow White was twisted enough to think up red hot shoes. Either one changes where I wanted Snow White to be at the end of the story. So I had to get find another way to “remove” her step-mother. When it is all said and done Cooper gave me an idea that really worked and that is something you will have to listen to the story to find out.

And so eventually I came to the end. How does the mirror end up coming back to haunt Snow White? How does any part of our childhood come back to petrify our souls? Ah, well. I cannot give away all the secrets. I recorded it and it is linked here.

“Mirror mirror, on the wall…”