Friday, February 8, 2008

Paper Memories

I confess, I hate clutter but that doesn't stop it from piling up from time to time. Today I awoke with a sense of purpose, I would tackle those household jobs that seem to be swept aside all too easily as the days turn into weeks, then months, and sometimes years. I would conquer and clean my office today!

It has gone through a number of transitions through the years and the time is long overdo for another makeover. I vowed to weed through all of the piles of paperwork, cull my overflowing files of old articles, emails, notes and photos. It was time for Operation ODP! (Organize, Dust and Polish)

But you know the old saying when it comes to cleaning, "It will get worse before it gets better." So here I sit, after hours of attempted paper purging surrounded by even more piles of files. What has taken me so long you might ask? Well, you see, as I weeded through all the clutter, bits of tangible, tactile memories began to float to the surface, whispering "Stop and remember."

There was the bookmark my storytelling mentor and friend, Leanne Johnson gave to me. A stunning graphic of her graces the front; she is smiling, waving, urging us to come, sit, listen and share. I place it in a new book I just bought, she will be safe there.

In another pile I found the silly business card she made for me. We were joking one day about what we should place on our business cards and I said, very definitively, "I want mine to read, The all knowing goddess of light and love, ruler of the planets, stars and outer galaxies." Always ready for a good laugh Leanne quickly printed up a set of cards on her home computer and mailed them straight away to me. Just holding them makes me smile.

To the right of my desk, in back of some notepads were photos taken at the National Festival in Jonesboro through the years. Groups of us laughing, huddling close, wearing heavy coats, hats and gloves because it was so cold. The next shows us all sporting short sleeves and sandals, beaming in the warm sunshine; Indian Summer weather to be sure. The photos make me wistful for friends I haven't seen in a long time and those I will probably never see again.

To the left, tucked between two folders is a birthday card from my dear friend Meg. In this fast paced world of emails and e-cards, Meg took the time to author a lovely handwritten note. Her words filled me with joy then, and do now. I keep this card to read again and again, reminding me how lucky I am to have friends such as her. No, this definitely won't find its way into the wastebasket.

Ahhh, tucked away in one of my many file drawers I discover colorful crayon pictures drawn by some children who came to one of my storytelling shows. I can't let them go either; their happiness jumps right off the page, filled with the irresistible charm of youth. I will scan them and one day place them up on my website for others to enjoy.

I finally find something that I am ready to toss into the wastebasket, a storytelling newsletter from England, circa 2001. Oh but wait, as I sit cross-legged on the floor, I can't resist flipping through the pages one last time. There, on page 16 sits a lovely story, one I have never read before and it shouts, "Keep me, learn me, tell me!" I make myself a note about the tale so it will not languish any longer in limbo, and back into the file it goes.

Among the Coppermine Eskimos, Cree and Ojibwa, there is no word for goodbye; I can relate. Yes, it seems that today I kept many more things than I let go, but each is important and holds a place in my heart. So I will sweep as many cobwebs away as I can, rearrange the books on my shelves, clear a spot for me to set my tea down, and begin anew tomorrow.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year! 2008 is the Year of the Rat. Every Chinese New Year is associated with one of the 12 animals found in the Chinese zodiac: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

According to Chinese legend the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.

All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.

All of the animals in the Chinese zodiac represents some positive trait except the rat. For example:

Oxen - Industriousness
Tiger - Power
Rabbits - Smartness
Dragons - Dignity
Horses - Vigor
Sheep - Gentleness
Monkeys - Cleverness
Roosters - Faithfulness
Dogs - Loyalty
Snakes - Flexibility
Pigs - Fortune

But the poor rat is nowhere to be found. So why is this wayward rodent given the honor or representing the Chinese New Year from time to time? Some say it is because rats made three great contributions to humanity.

1) Rats have created the universe. In Chinese folk tales, the sky and the earth were originally not separated. One day, a little rat ran out, saw the confusion, and gave a big bite to the entanglement of the sky and the earth, which separated the sky and the earth finally. So, people consider the little rat the hero that has created a new era.

2) Rats bring about light to humanity. It is said that after the rat separated the sky and the earth, a big black cloud blocked out the sun. Neither people nor animals could see in such darkness. So, the little rat and its friends set out to steal the sunlight and light up the earth.

3) Rats stole seeds of grains to feed humanity. From that time people on the earth began to farm and feed themselves.

Interested in reading more about our furry friend and the Chinese New Year?
Go to

There are many wonderful myths, folktales and legends from China. Here is one book published in 1848 that is now in the public domain. You can even download a copy for free for your own files.
Chinese Legends or The Porcelain Tower by Thomas Henry Sealy

For more story links on China visit my Storytelling Links page on my website.

And in case your wondering, my Chinese Zodiac sign is the sheep, as was Mark Twain's, not bad company at all! So my friends, in the venacular of the
1970's "What's your sign?"