I’ve spent a good chunk of my life telling stories in one form or another. What time I didn’t spend telling stories was spent reading them. I could consume good books at a rate that would have bankrupted my parents if I didn’t know where the library was! David likes the story of my 8 year old self declaring I was going to read the entire children’s library in my town of Belmont. I smile now, but I’m also proud of the fact I made it through the A’s and had made headway into the B’s before I realized I’d bitten off more than I could choose. Go ahead, ask me about Aardvarks, Ants, or the Appalachian Mountains.

These days I’m spending my days weaving different kinds of stories. We started a company recently called Visual Creatives, and it’s based on using “story” to communicate better, clarify what it is we are trying to say. It turns out story writing is sometimes called “branding” in the adult world. Who knew.

Stories have a lot of value, too. Jesus was a pro at knowing what kinds of stories would tug on heartstrings, or perhaps reveal a flawed and decaying heart. He knew how to hone his message down into a few simple words that pierced to the soul. Above all, Jesus always knew who his audience was, and who he was talking to.

That’s what we are doing for the Visual Creatives clients. We’re helping them see themselves clearly so that the stories they tell (their brand) are authentic and honest and have a purpose.

When I was a little girl reading those books in the back of the library, I didn’t realize I was setting the course of my life through high school, college, homeschooling and beyond. I didn’t realize that I was steeping myself in the dreams and forms I would need for my life. I did know, however, that I loved a good story.

I still do.

Lessons from Pixar: The Pixar Touch by David A. Price

Toy Story: revival of classic storytelling

It’s been awhile since I have done a book review, and this isn’t one either. Not really. But I recently read The Pixar Touch by David A. Price.

I picked up the book a week or two ago…but wait…that isn’t true. Sitting in my QEpiphany conference I realized I wanted to read more about Pixar. After all, we were deconstructing Toy Story 2 and learning the backstory of the process. I wanted to know more. So I grabbed my iPad, searched Amazon Kindle and downloaded what looked like the most appropriate book. I have never held the book in my hands.

A perfect illustration of the first lesson I learned from both the book and from Pixar: technology disrupts. It makes the “good old boys nervous.” Some people will tell you that the technology is ruining the integrity of what came before. What would animation be without hand drawn cels? It would be different. But equally amazing. And that gets people’s feathers ruffled.

Lesson: When you are going to venture into a whole new world, be prepared to spend some time bringing others along and smoothing down their feathers.

The second lesson quickly follows the first: yesterday’s skill set may not be enough to meet today’s challenge, but it will probably provide the foundation for the skills that will meet the challenge. Without the skilled hand animators, Pixar would never have been able to hit the right balance in their computer generated characters. It required the eye, the deep background and the artistic sense that only animators possessed.

Lesson: Don’t despise the skill sets of yesterday. Figure out what they knew. It may be crucial to you today.

Finally (because research tells me your attention has already waned)…

Lesson: Nothing — repeat — NOTHING beats a good story, well written.

Great book...with some interesting background on Steve Jobs' time at Pixar.

Your Christmas Story

“When up on the roof there arose such a clatter…”

It’s a line from one of my favorite stories of all time, the poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. As a little girl I would reach for my picture book copy of this poem over and over, and not just at Christmas. Several years ago I was thrilled to find a reprint of my original book, and it now sits on my coffee table at this time of year.

I’m thinking about this story because of a line I read a quote in the book Community by Peter Block.

We need to distinguish between stories that give meaning to our lives and help us find our voice, and those that limit our possibility.

The stories that are useful and fulfilling are the ones that are metaphors, signposts, parables, and inspiration for the fullest expression of our humanity. … Theater, movies, song, literature and art are storytelling of the highest order. These are the mediums for building an individual sense of what it means to be a human being and a community.

The stories that we tell ourselves and others matter. They matter more than we might imagine! I learned today, for example, that Clement C. Moore’s little poem is actually responsible for shaping the way our nation views Santa Clause and Christmas. Before this poem Santa never traveled with a pack of reindeer. Imagine a world without Dasher and Dancer! (I’m sure you realize that Rudolph was an add on…a delightful one, however).In addition, Moore was so shy and unassuming that a family friend actually sent the poem into the newspaper in 1823 in order to get it published. Moore didn’t think his little poem was a story worth telling, but it has put sugarplum sparkles in children’s eyes for 175 years.

What about your story?

This time of year we tell ourselves our personal stories over and over, even when we don’t realize it. We build expectations built on our childhood Christmases. We bake Grandma’s special recipe; we put the same kinds of items in our Christmas stockings; we avoid the same fruitcakes, and we bake the same dishes for our Christmas table.

Some of us don’t like the story of Christmas in our lives. I’m not speaking about THE Christmas story, of course, but the story we have written about our own Christmas holiday. Or any holidays. We have accumulated the pain of past tragedies and circumstances and attached them to our present holidays. Ouch.

The beauty is that we can send the book back to the Author and request a new book, a new story, at any time. That’s what faith can do for us if we allow it. We can turn a fresh page and begin again. New books are written one experience, one holiday, one Christmas candle at a time.

This Christmas I am going to thank God for the beautiful memories he has allowed me to write in my book of history. But I am also going to work hard at providing and creating some transformational memories for people I care about, people who are bound by limiting stories. This is a simple gift that we can give the people around us. Here are some of the possibilities I have thought about this year.

  • A carol sing and cookie party for some of the older folks I know who miss those old songs of their past.
  • A commitment to watch out for people whose current holidays are not playing out the way they would dream.
  • I’d love to pull off some inexpensive random acts of kindness this season. Last year I tipped the woman cleaning the tables in the mall food court — a thankless job if there ever was one. I got a hug in return. Not a bad return on investment.
  • At least one portion of my day on Christmas is going to be open to any and all to come and fellowship. There are so many friends who are adrift on this family holiday. I want to make sure we are family for them.

Not life changing, these ideas, and not extensive. They are just a start at helping a friend write a new story.