Telling Tales Under the Rainbow

“When Bat came to the animals’ party, Zebra said, ‘You’re not an animal. You have wings. Go to the birds’ party!’  Bat went, but there it was the same. Eagle told Bat, ‘You’re not a bird. You’ve got fur and ears and teeth.’  Bat slunk away.  Perched on a branch, as he cried, he lost the strength to hold himself upright.  He flipped over to hang upside down, his tears dripping down to the ground.”

When the story was over, everyone in the circle applauded Allison.

“It’s sad,” said the first listener. “If it were a kid’s book, the bats would get together and have their own party. But Bat doesn’t get a happy ending.”

“That’s reality. He didn’t choose to be this way and he’s rejected for it anyway.”

“For me, this question of categorizing Bat is really important. It reminds me of going to the bathroom and choosing ‘Men’ or ‘Women.'”

“Or being bi and having everyone want to label you as either gay or straight.”

So begin our meetings at Under the Rainbow

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As the parent of gay children, Naomi Baltuck knew that few programs or public gathering places existed for LGBTQ in Edmonds, just north of Seattle.  In a climate of increasing intolerance, she wanted to use storytelling to heal, inspire, and strengthen the community.  But that connection had to be built on trust, and that trust had to be earned.

Under the auspices of the Edmonds Neighborhood Action Coalition, she partnered with a local queer-friendly game pub to launch a monthly Family Gayme Time, which drew a good crowd. Once that was established, she asked the Edmonds Library to host a monthly storytelling series called Under the Rainbow, for LGBTQ and Allies. When they agreed, she contacted the high school’s Rainbow Warrior advisor, and the Edmonds Diversity Commission.

Allison Cox, social worker and author/editor of The Healing Heart books on storytelling for healthy families and communities, lent her expertise. We needed it. Under the Rainbow was built from scratch. Should there be rules? Age limits? Time limits? Language restrictions? Could we find LGBTQ storytellers willing to work gratis, since we had no budget? We put the word out, and along came Chris Spengler, a storyteller known for her humorous and uplifting personal tales. Chris jumped on board, and we had our team.

Our vision wasn’t of polished performances, but to create a place for LGBTQ and Allies to share their own stories, to support each other and be supported. Rules proved unnecessary in a place where everyone is respected. Age limits too; we’ve had babies, elderly, and everything in between; everyone’s welcome. Our team comes prepared to tell, to get things started. Most of our lives aren’t centered around being a lesbian or bisexual or a supporter of those who are, so we also tell stories dealing with sexism or rejection for not fitting family expectations or having to suddenly pick up and start your life over…the human condition.

The first Under the Rainbow drew only four, we three storytellers and a straight friend. We reminded ourselves that storytelling can be healing, but to a person who has been disowned for coming out, it’s emotionally risky. Eventually Gayme Timers made the leap from playtime to storytime. We got school referrals, utilized social media, and the Seattle Storytellers Guild championed the program, lending non-profit status for grant-writing.

We meet at the library every Second Monday, 6:30-7:30PM. Refreshments are always served, because exchanges over cupcakes can be as momentous as those happening within the Story Circle. After each tale, participants are invited to share their reactions. Listeners opened up gradually. The first time someone volunteered to tell a personal story, we were hopeful. The next month, when a young person prepared a story ahead of time, we were elated. Now nearly everyone shares. The gay son of a Mormon bishop, a straight elderly woman who dated a gay man in Lebanon fifty years ago. We heard about being gay in Mongolia. Being homeless. At last month’s meeting, one coming out story led to another and another.

Tackety Boots (The Healing Heart ~ Families, edited by Allison Cox and David Albert) is a traditional Scottish tale about Sandy, who is kicked out of a party for having no story to tell, then takes an unexpected canoe trip across the river, changing gender in the process. He lives as a woman with another man and they have a child. Sandy finds the canoe one day and is shocked when it carries him back across the river and he becomes male again. Distraught, he bursts into the party and wins a bag of gold for telling the best story of the night. But Sandy could only whisper sadly, “Oh my child! Oh my man!”

Allison even told the children’s classic, “Going on a Bear Hunt,” by Michael Rosen, an acknowledgement of all the times in life you “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it…got to go through it!” Everyone clapped in time, grinning like a kid.  Naomi chose Tatterhood, the Norwegian story of a girl born different. No matter how hard the queen tries to mold her into a princess, she defies taming and remains true to herself, but saves the day in her own way.  While traditional stories evoke conversation, Chris’s personal stories turn listeners into tellers.

The success of this program can’t be measured in numbers, but by the impact it makes on people’s lives. Even more good things lie ahead. We’ve just received a grant from the Pride Foundation to bring in more LGBTQ storytellers for concerts. Writing Rainbow is a natural offshoot of Under the Rainbow. We meet monthly at a queer-friendly Edmonds café to write, brainstorm, and meet other LGBTQ+A writers.  A Gayme Time spinoff is LGBTQ+A Dungeons and Dragons, where gaymers roleplay a crew of gay pirates, creating their own continuing adventure story.

Here, under the rainbow, we celebrate who we are. It looks like the bats are having a party of their own after all!



Naomi Baltuck, Chris Spengler and Allison Cox are storytellers living on the shores of beautiful Puget Sound, and they invite you to come listen and share a tale at Under the Rainbow.

©2018 Naomi Baltuck, Chris Spengler, and Allison Cox

The ‘H’ Word


Many years ago my daughter came home from kindergarten and told me, “Michelle said a bad word at school today.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“The ‘S’ word.”

“Ohhhh.”  Subject matter we don’t want our kids learning in school.  “Do you know what it means?” I asked.

My five year old flashed me an I-wasn’t-born-yesterday look, and said, “It means stupid.”

I heaved a mental sigh of relief, and exercised my Superpower Poker Face to keep from laughing.  “Do the kids say any other bad words?”

My daughter solemnly nodded.  “The ‘H’ word,” she said.

“Help me remember what that stands for.”

“Hate,” she told me.

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I was a storyteller long before I had kids, and I understood the power of words. That didn’t prevent me from indulging in colorful language, mostly offstage. But after my children were born, just as I saw the world anew through my children’s wondering eyes, I listened through their innocent ears.  I saw how words loaded with negativity seep into the consciousness like toxins into groundwater.

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I determined to turn all my verbal toads and snakes into rubies and pearls.  At our house, everyone was encouraged to speak their minds, using language constructively, not to hurt or humiliate.

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When my little innocents first toyed with the word ‘hate,’ I explained that some words aren’t naughty but are powerful, and must be saved for emergencies or they lose their power.  Just like with TV violence or antibiotics, excessive use results in an unhealthy immunity.  Hate was a word rarely heard in our house.  But since the election, that and many other ‘H’ words have come into common usage all over America.

H is for Harassment.

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H is for Homophobic.

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H is for Hitler, for Holocaust, for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, that Haughty Hot-Tempered Hypocrite who is Hijacking our Homeland to Hell in a Hand-basket.

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A great man once said that a house divided cannot stand.  Inciting fear and hatred is the traditional means of dividing a people and strengthening a power base.  Every day the Republicans implement new policies legalizing the persecution and diminishing the rights of people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and socio-economic status.

H is also for heartsick, which is how the majority of US citizens feels as American ideals and constitutional rights are trampled and tossed aside.  So last January 21st, here in Seattle, in solidarity with people throughout America, and on every continent–even Antarctica–we donned our pussy hats and marched.

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It buoys the spirits to walk shoulder to shoulder with 135,000 like-hearted people…

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…in a crowd stretching farther than the eye can see.

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People protested against the Republican threat to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal justice for all.

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Even those who had never been politically active took to the streets.

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These were people who weren’t afraid to speak up and speak out.

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People who cared about the greater good.

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People for whom the ‘H’ word is Hope.

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Harmony.

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Healing.

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H is also for hero…

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…and heroine.

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H is for happening, for hookup, for hive and home and herd.

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 For heart.

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For helping hands.

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H is for holdfast.

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H is also for humanity and high ground.  And that’s why and where we’ll take our stand.


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All words and images copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck









Resistance is NOT Futile

 

All the stars and planets were aligned…Just after the election I had a birthday, which I share with my binary brother, Lewis.  In sixty years, we’ve never spent a birthday apart.  Like so many of us, he was shocked, saddened, crushed by the election results.  There was only one thing to do.  We played space age hooky, beamed him out of the office and transported ourselves to the Seattle Center.

Specifically, to the EMP, which is celebrating 50 years of Star Trek.

I hardly remember life before Star Trek. And talk about The Next Generation! My children absorbed Star Trek by osmosis in utero. As I ascended the stairs to the EMP tribute, the Star Trek theme song elicited a visceral response that only gets stronger as I get older.  I’ve lived long enough now to see many of these stories played out on my planet in real time.


The Star Trek universe was built upon a future where poverty was eliminated, equality and diversity went hand in hand, and the good of the many took precedence over the few.  Humans had learned to cooperate, and put an end to war.  All of Earth and the Federation of Planets collaborated on peaceful missions of exploration.  What a concept!  A bit rosy, but a vision worth striving for.

My brother and I arrived early and shared the floor with only a few others, including a very cute couple in Star Fleet uniforms.

We had shared a womb for nine months, and managed to both fit into a Borg Regeneration Chamber too.

Star Trek had action and adventure, but was also thoughtful and intelligent.  Writers could get away with astute critical social commentary, because it was all happening in another universe. Thinly veiled stories posed tough questions about civil rights, social disparity and racism in our own society.

Martin Luther King was marching for basic civil rights and a place at the lunch counter for African Americans when Classic Trek was filmed, featuring a black woman as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, fourth in command on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.  Her surname means ‘freedom’ in Swahili.

It wasn’t long before a woman would captain the Federation Starship Voyager.

A black man was in command of the space station, Deep Space Nine.

Julian Bashir, whose Arabic name means “bringer of good news,” was the doctor on DS9.

In the original series Lt. Hikaru Sulu was played by George Takei, who is gay.  Fifty years later, in the most recent Star Trek movie, writers gave Sulu a child and a husband, a powerful tribute to the actor who first brought Sulu to life. More importantly, it was an unwavering moral and political statement of inclusiveness that brought tears to my eyes.

For just a little while, it felt good to be in a place of Equal Opportunity bridges, and not walls.  Right now we are in the middle of our own episode, so scary it seems like science fiction, with the world we’ve worked so hard to build spinning out of control.  The incidence of hate crimes is rising dramatically.  Social security is threatened.  Fifty years of social progress is at risk as minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, those with disabilities, and the poor are in danger of being disenfranchised.  The environment is on the brink of ruin beyond recovery because in this episode The Almighty Dollar is worshipped at all costs. In this story, we don’t have other worlds to relocate to after we’ve ruined this planet. Too many episodes begin with civilizations that have self-destructed, or are ruled by uncaring masters who live in the clouds in their own decadent paradise, while the workers they exploit to maintain their carefree lifestyle live in a harsh ugly world. You probably saw “Patterns of Force,” the episode pictured below; there are people old enough to have lived through that reality, and who recognize the signs in our country today.

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If we wait until the 24th century to be rescued, or for ‘enlightenment’ to kick in, we’re going to find ourselves back in the Dark Ages wondering what happened.  Anyone who has watched Star Trek knows how difficult it is to travel back in time to change the future.   Star Trek’s writers say,  “…start by picking a resolution…then plan each step so it drives the story toward the ending you want…”

Every episode needs conflict to give a story purpose and move the plot forward.  Star Trek writers created a terrifying foe called The Borg...”individuals who have been captured and assimilated…and transformed into mindless worker drones…What’s frightening about the Borg is not their violence…They are unhampered by empathy for other beings, believing their way is perfection…The Borg are, in essence, a virus that uses civilizations as its hosts.”

Can you see where our country is headed? We will NOT be assimilated. Our story must end with a world where people of every race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation live and work together as equals, without fear of banishment, punishment or judgement simply for being who they are.  This episode must end with respect, inclusivity, and compassion for all. We must do whatever it takes to make it so. The reason Star Trek has become such a lasting legacy is because it is hopeful and empowering and delivers a message we need to hear.  The captain’s chair is ready. Let’s take our tall ship, keep an eye on that star to steer her by, and go full speed ahead, warp factor 10. Whatever happens, please remember…Resistance is NOT futile.  It is the only way we ever have or ever will make any headway, and it will be a crucial message to the next generation.

©2016 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

My Hero!

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have the time and space to look at our lives…

…and the people we share them with.  I’ve spent well over half my life with Thom.

He is such a good sport…and pretty darn cute too.

He has put up with all my quirks, neuroses and annoying habits all these years…

…which is probably a little like being married to Lucy Ricardo.

Come to think of it, he’s always quick to jump on board the family bandwagon.

But he is a calm voice on whom the kids and I can depend for a fresh perspective.

Such a gentle and compassionate soul.

He is my playmate…

…my safe harbor…

the father of my children…and it shows.

And in this world of uncertainty…

…the kids and I know he is always there to catch us should we fall.

We would follow him anywhere.

Anywhere!

 

And that means anywhere!

My friend.

My love.

 

 My prince.

Dear Thom, here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, and many more!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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Out in the World

 We went to Sighosora, Romania…

…and stayed in the Old Town.

In the passage to the courtyard we found a nest, with two baby birds huddled nearby.

There had been a fierce windstorm the previous night that must have blown the nest from its nook in the wall, our Romanian host told us when delivering the key to our flat.  My husband Thom replaced the nest, but when he tried to return the birds to the nest….

…he discovered two of their legs were tightly bound together by a long blond hair–nesting material gone terribly wrong.

We had a knife, our tiny blunt-nosed travel scissors, and a larger pair of scissors scrounged from the kitchen.  Thom and our son Eli hoped to separate the birds with a quick snip.  But the hair had been there for a long time, the legs were swollen around it, and every effort set the birds fluttering in a panic, which we feared would cause further damage.  Our host wished us good luck, and left for work.

We felt helpless.  We were there for only one night.  To whom could we hand off these birds? We could return them to the nest and let nature take its course–a slow and painful death by starvation and infection.  Or should we put them out of their misery?  The only other possible solution was harsh.  If we did nothing, both birds would surely die.  By amputating one leg, one bird would likely die, but the other might have a fighting chance.  One delicate leg was unresponsive to the touch, probably already broken.  Eli braced himself and severed the mangled leg, cutting through the hair.  Immediately both birds were free and fluttered off.

The one-legged bird landed on the ground nearby.

The stronger one fluttered all the way to the far side of the courtyard.

We heard a cackling overhead.  Even without the family resemblance, we recognized an anxious mother, calling to her babies from the rooftop.  We felt a glimmer of hope–their mother might yet take them back under her wing!

But our presence made her nervous, so we watched from inside, then left to explore the area.

By suppertime, the stronger bird had flown up to a perch in the courtyard…

…high enough to be safe from hungry cats.

The other remained quietly earthbound.  We wondered what the morning would bring.

The next day, the stronger of the two was gone, as was its mother.  The injured bird remained, probably abandoned as a lost cause by its family.  We checked back only moments later to discover the one-legged bird was now gone without a trace.  In a laundry room off the courtyard were two domestic workers.  Could they have removed the bird like a piece of litter?  Or perhaps a crow had carried it off to feed to its babies.

Out in the world, we often catch glimpses of a story, or a life.  Sometimes they are as sweet as a single drop of honey.

Others are stories of sorrow and want.

Too many will be lived out in the shadows in quiet desperation.

As with the baby birds, sometimes we are helpless to help, sometimes we can offer only a bandaid, and most times we will never know how the story ends.

What makes the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy?  Survival of the fittest?  An accident of birth?  An ill wind, perhaps.  But sometimes it falls into our power to make a difference.  When that happens, even for one tiny being, it can make all the difference in the world.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Wind.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Inspiration.

Just Around the Corner

Dear friends, I have been away so long.  A lifetime.  You might say I’ve been in another state.

I went to Detroit to say goodbye to my Aunt Loena.

They say for everything there is a season, but how can one ever be prepared for the last goodbye?

At her funeral we connected with cousins we hadn’t seen for ages, and did what we could to help Loena’s kids, who’d generously shared their mom with us over the years.

I fulfilled a promise I’d made to my aunt, to help her clean out her craft room.  We brought baskets of ornaments she’d sewn for friends to take home as keepsakes, which would’ve pleased her.

Aunt Millie brought notebooks and pens, and encouraged people to share their stories of Loena for her kids to read and treasure, perhaps when their hearts are not so sore.

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.” I still cry when I think of her, which is often.  Everything I might say or write feels trivial, so I’ve said and written very little.

If you’re the praying sort, as she was, please say one for her.  Better yet, an act of kindness would be the most appropriate way to honor a compassionate woman, who devoted her life to the care and service of others.

Thank you for your patience.  When I find my center once again, I’ll stop by to see what all my blogging buddies have been up to.  For now, here are some stories about my loving, funny, good-natured Aunt Loena, my other mother, who always had room in her heart for everyone.

Unique New York

As You Like It: Reflections Upon Life and the Art of Aging.

 Painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1822, The Lamplight Portrait.

All words and images, except where stated, copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season.

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The Most Noble Story

There was once a widow who had three sons, Alberto, Eduardo, and Ernesto. She had spent a lifetime trying to teach them the meaning of charity and compassion.

The day came when she knew she was dying, and would no longer be there to guide them. She called her sons to her bedside.

“My sons, the only thing of value I have to leave you is my diamond ring. It was given to me by my mother, who had it from her mother, whose mother handed it down to her. It cannot be divided and it must not be sold, for one day, it shall go to one of your daughters. Now I must decide which of you is most worthy of this treasure. Go, my sons, and do good in the world. Come back in one week’s time and tell me your stories. The one who has performed the most noble deed shall inherit the diamond.”

By the time the three young men gathered again at her bedside, their poor mother was near death.

She said to her firstborn, “Alberto, tell me your story.” “Well, Mother,” said the eldest, “after much thought, I gave half of everything I owned to the poor.” “My son,” said the old woman, “no one can tell you that you haven’t performed a good deed. But it is not a noble deed, for have I not taught you that it is everyone’s responsibility to care for the needy?” She said to her secondborn son, “Eduardo, tell me your story.” He said, “Mama, I was passing the river when I saw a small child swept away in the current. I can hardly swim, but I jumped into the water and pulled the child out to safety. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t drown myself.” “My son, you too have performed a good deed, but not a noble deed. Have I not taught you that everyone should be willing to lay down his life for that of a helpless child?” The old woman said to her youngest son, “Eduardo, come tell me your story.” Ernesto hesitated before taking her hand. “Mamacita,” he confessed, “I haven’t much to tell. As you know, I’ve no earthly goods, and I cannot swim a stroke. But I’ll tell you something that happened to me this week. Very early one morning I was walking in the mountains. I came upon a man sleeping at the edge of a cliff. If he were to stir in his sleep, he would surely fall to his death on the rocks below. I determined to prevent this tragedy. I crept over, so as not to startle him awake. Then I saw that it was my bitter enemy, Juan Miguel. At first, I thought to leave him there, for the last time we met, Juan Miguel threatened to kill me if he ever got the chance. But I knew what I had to do.  As I put my arms around him, Juan awoke and I could see the fear in his eyes as he recognized me. “’Don’t be afraid,’ I told him. I quickly rolled him away from the precipice to safety, and helped him to his feet. When Juan Miguel came toward me, I was sure he meant to kill me. But then he threw open his arms to embrace me. Juan said, ‘Last night darkness fell before I could get home. Rather than chance a misstep in the dark, I decided to spend the night where I was. I had no idea I was so close to the cliff edge. You saved my life, Ernesto, and after I treated you so poorly!’  To make a long story short, Mamacita, Juan and I are no longer enemies, but have sworn to be friends forever.” The old woman shed tears of joy. “My son, I have taught you well. That was truly a noble deed, and you are a noble man, for you risked your life to save a man sworn to kill you. With one act of kindness, you have transformed hatred into love and made the world a better place.” With her dying breath she told her sons, “The diamond shall go to Ernesto, but you must all remember that with each noble deed you perform, you shall add to the treasure that awaits you in Heaven.”

All three sons married and had children of their own. They, like their mother, taught their children the meaning of charity and compassion. When the time came, Ernesto left his mother’s diamond to one of his daughters. But Alberto and Eduardo left their children a gem worth as much as any diamond, for their children held in their hearts their grandmother’s precious legacy, the story of the most noble story.

All photos copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Enlightenment.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Forces of Nature.

The Most Noble Story is from Apples From Heaven, copyright 1995 Naomi Baltuck, and retold from a folk tale of Mexico.

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK  is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE .   She is also a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller at The Bardo Group.