Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica at Sunset.

Forward/Story or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Critic

Expectations and judgment stifled me for almost three years. After my wife and I had a child, I shifted focus from making art to raising our daughter. It was love beyond belief to care for this beautiful, sweet girl, but the longer I didn’t make art, the easier it was to let fear and rules prevent me from creating.

I listened to the voices: Telling me I’m not allowed to write others’ stories. Telling me I need more formal education to succeed. Telling me success is about money.

These voices weren’t others’. They were in my mind. Not literal voices. I’m not mad. But sometimes, that screaming inner critic felt like it was pushing me to madness.

Long ago, I told someone, “I want to use my powers for good.” These powers are imagination and creativity — voices spinning stories in my head. Fiction disguised as fact. I must share the tales, or they’ll eat me inside out.

Recently, I let it all go at Forward/Story, a storyteller’s retreat/lab in Nosara, Costa Rica organized by Lance Weiler and Christy Dena. It was joy and wonder. It was spiritual. It was a breakthrough. I finally found my soul again. These aren’t hyperbole. I reconnected with my powers.

On the beach, I spoke with another artist who works in a different genre than I, from another country than I, of another race and gender than I. I learned. I grew.

In a creation session with three strangers, we synchronized, bounced ideas, and fashioned a fun experience. Harmony in work. I’d forgotten it exists. I remembered.

Feeling judged. Laser eyes piercing my body and splitting it into a million pieces. Then, I remembered it’s not about me. It’s their hang-ups. The fear isn’t real. It’s a story I’m telling myself.

Jumping off the edge of a cliff and flying through the jungle on a cable the size of my finger inspired freedom. Fears and rules will bound me if I let them. Forward/Story liberated me from rules and shed my fears, which freed me to take flight.

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Stop Calling 9/11 “Patriot Day”

This past Friday, I did something I’ve never done before. I flew on September 11th. We planned to fly on this historic day several weeks earlier, but when the day came, I’d all but forgotten it was 9/11. When I woke, I made a joke on Twitter:

No one responded.

We traveled standby out of Hartford, CT, because flights out of LaGuardia were jammed because of weather delays. Our flights from Hartford to Detroit to Peoria were uneventful, save for the horrific noise from the engine, which we sat on top of for the Hartford flight. Once we arrived in my hometown of Canton, IL, we immediately ate pizza from my dad’s pizza place, Monical’s Pizza.

The lights from the high school football field bled onto my dad’s adjacent backyard. I hadn’t been to a high school football game in years, and it sounded like a fun thing to do. So my wife, my dad, and I walked over to get closer to those Friday Night Lights.

One of the first things we saw upon arrival was a section the “Student Section.” Ten rows deep and as many kids wide, high school students adorned in red, white and blue held signs: “Never Forget 9/11.” American flags painted their faces, while they waved actual flags and screamed for their home team.

Like I said, the significance of the day largely hadn’t landed on my psyche. Sure, I’d seen the usual social media remembrances of those lost during those tragic attacks. People posted shots of the Tribute in Light. And my family put out thanks that I remained safe fourteen years ago.

See, I was walking into the number One World Trade Center when the first plane hit. I was about 50 yards from the entrance of the building when it collapsed, blowing out the revolving glass doors directly in front of me. The day has significance for me. It was the day I almost died. It was the day I refocused my life and learned to heal.

But it’s not a day of patriotism. For me, it was the day my government failed me. This was America. This shit wasn’t supposed to happen here. But it did.

Then, the American government repurposed and repackaged the horrific events as instigate to invade a country that didn’t attack us. They used it as an excuse to torture people. They used it to rebrand American patriotism for a generation of children who weren’t even born on that dark day in September. It’s called “Patriot Day,” for goodness sakes.

And here I was, witnessing the culmination of it all. Children whose only memories of that day are what they’ve seen in media replays and tales from their parents donned Captain America t-shirts and flag headbands. One girl waved a Gadsden flag that read: “Don’t Tread on Me.”

I’m in Middle America where people bleed red, white and blue. 9/11 is just another excuse to tell the rest of the world how great we are and who cares if they don’t like our big guns and loud trucks. God blessed us, and your country is a piece of crap compared to ours, even though we’re ranked 29th in education.

Make no doubt about it I appreciate the significance of 9/11. It sits in my soul in ways that it doesn’t for most Americans. But I’m sick of its appropriation to pump up our collective ego. December 7th is called “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.” It’s not called “Patriot Day” or “Freedom Day” or “Screw the Japanese Day.” It commemorates those lost that fateful day. And we should treat this day in September the same.

“Patriot Day” is a throwback to an administration that cared more about invading other countries than protecting its own citizens. And it doesn’t appropriately honor those affected by those senseless attacks.

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Teaching Artist Needed for Digital Storytelling Class

In May, I taught a digital storytelling class with a fantastic organization named MIRA. We worked with students in Henry Street Settlement’s Project RISE Program. A few volunteers came through over the six-week course to help facilitate group work, and now MIRA is ready to hire a teaching artist assistant for our second round of classes in July with Henry Street’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

Check the job listing below. Hit up Hope Traficanti, if you’re in NYC for July and August and you want to make a difference in some young people’s lives.

Seeking a teaching artist to assist with a digital storytelling class for disengaged youth at Henry Street Settlement on Thursday mornings starting July 16 for five weeks. 

Skills required: editing with iMovie and Garage Band, social media storytelling, and teaching experience with this population.

10 hours over 5 weeks (1.5 hours prep, 8.5 in class)

Pay: $300

To apply, email Hope Traficanti ASAP at h.traficanti@mira-ngo.org

Got used laptops and smart phones? Donate them to MIRA!

This spring, I’m teaching a course in digital storytelling for MIRA, a great organization, and they need help. Hope Traficanti is the president and co-founder, and she says everything about the drive below. What I’ll add is this is a great group of people offering digital tools and storytelling structure to young adults seeking work and earning their high school degree equivalency. I’m proud to be working with MIRA, and your support will offer a foundation for a fledgling organization with big ideas. If you have any used electronics, please consider donating.

Thank you,
James

Turn those last-generation electronics into tax deductions 

MIRA, a 501(c)3 charitable organization I helped to found, is about to launch a training programme in digital storytelling for young men and women who did not complete formal education.

MIRA’s mission is to provide vulnerable youth with a global platform for sharing their stories with the world, and to create a more diverse global media that promotes open information exchange.

This spring’s course will enable participants in the Henry Street Settlement’s Youth Employment Programme to explore new ways of engaging their communities, potential employers and wider audiences, using storytelling as a vehicle for digital media education. 

Many in the community have already lent their very generous support to MIRA at its fall fundraiser – their support has made this initiative possible. However, we are still lacking basic tools with which to train our participants.

We are seeking donations of used:

  • iPhone 4 and 5s
  • Samsung SmartPhones
  • Macbooks
  • PC laptops
  • Digital cameras that have the ability to record video

Even heavily used equipment is appreciated as long as it is in good working condition. As a 501(c)3 organization, donations to MIRA are tax deductible, and MIRA will gratefully issue you a tax-deduction acknowledgement letter.

Get a tax deduction and reduce clutter while helping young people – a win-win!

To make donations, contact me at h.traficanti [at] mira-ngo.org, and specify the type of equipment along with its general condition. To learn more about MIRA, visit www.mira-ngo.org. Thank you!

Hope Traficanti, President and co-founder

Clichéd Dream:
Wake.
Inhale.
Scream.
Cynicism surges.
Passé, blasé.
Intensely indignant.
Garrote wishes.
Cultivate compassion.
Now…