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Better Than a T-Shirt – by Teresa Barch


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Better Than a T-Shirt – by Teresa Barch

Emily Paulos

Teresa Barch lives in Wisconsin, but she left a piece of her heart in Colorado. She is co-owner of Digital Story Weavers LLC.

When I decided to create a digital story about a recent Intro-to-Facilitation Training Workshop – while I was attending it – I already knew what the first and last lines would be. In fact, I had written them down in my notebook on the plane. I was that sure. The middle, though, was still a mystery. My plan was to soak up those details in between, to pay close attention to the chemical reaction that would begin the moment all sixteen of us came together.

Every public workshop starts with the same building blocks – primarily, the seven steps of digital storytelling, duffel bags full of audio/video equipment, and computer hardware and software. The outcome, though, depends on the setting, the participants, the stories they bring, and the stories they choose to leave behind.

The setting

Stonebridge Farm, near Lyons, Colorado, is a smorgasbord for the senses. Our gracious hosts, Kayann Short and John Martin, made us feel like we were home. The previous two StoryCenter Standard Workshops that I attended were amazingly powerful experiences, but they didn’t come with foothills, goats, swimming ditches, tire swings and lettuce fresh out of the garden. Of course, in downtown Chicago, I also didn’t have to worry about snakes.

The participants

We referred to them as the gurus. Daniel Weinshenker, Allison Myers and Marie Lovejoy ignited our passion for storytelling, cooked us good food and gave us the space to dance. They created a safe environment that enabled us to breathe life into our own stories. They are the catalysts for change that is sometimes so powerful it takes our breath away and at other times so imperceptible that it seeps under our skin, unnoticed.

The six facilitators-in-training arrived on Monday, most of us from various points east of Colorado. Veterans of the Standard Workshop, we were all ready, at some level, to be more deliberate about helping others find and tell their stories. We were expected to bring finished stories and practice our facilitation skills as we worked on new ones. The new story was supposed to be ancillary to the whole experience, but I was on a mission. I drank deeply the sights and sounds and smells.

The seven first-time participants arrived on Wednesday. They came with story ideas, some fully formed, others just a stubborn cobweb in some remote corner of their brain: a dog that patrolled the yard for snakes, a mom that gave up on her dreams, feeling invisible, an uncle with schizophrenia, a memorial to a deceased cousin, an ongoing battle to quit smoking, eating a banana in New Zealand.

The stories

Almost none of those stories actually got made… because something happens in those three days that changes everything. It – this chemical reaction – is simultaneously powerful and fragile. It is both fleeting and unforgettable. It can never be duplicated. Still, I needed to take some of it with me, to savor later, even if it was a just a facsimile of the original.

I was determined to capture what I could, possibly at the expense of my facilitator training. I took hundreds of still photos and shot a dozen video clips. I captured ambient sound with my iPad and asked everyone to record, and sometimes re-record, a line from their story. I operated under the guise that the finished story would be a gift to the Center and the other participants, but who was I fooling?

In the end, it turns out that I was right. The story began and ended just like I thought it would. But the middle, the sweet middle, where stories change and create endless new stories – that’s where things really get interesting.


As I stood in the airport gift shop with my snacks for the trip home, I was momentarily seized with panic at the thought that I hadn't purchased a single souvenir of my trip. I ducked out of line and rummaged through racks and stacks of Colorado-emblazoned apparel. Did I want the hoodie or the t-shirt? What size? I swung my backpack, stuffed with 30 pounds of books and storytelling gear, off my shoulders to get a better look. It dropped with a thud – right on my toe. The searing pain jolted me out of my consumerist state. I smiled and hung the sweatshirt back on its hook. I had everything I needed to remind me of this week – and it wouldn't shrink, stretch or fade.