Thursday, September 17, 2009
The Story of Storytelling, Part 2: The End of the Road
I suppose it’s long past time to tell the story of storytelling. Storytelling is, after all, the counterweight to the story in which I’ve so immersed myself on this blog. It was the thing that expanded to fill the vacuum left by my retreating religiosity. The story, just in case y’all were wondering, begins with Her. So you don’t get off so easily just yet… In fact, it technically began that day the two of us were on the University of Chicago campus and I somehow managed to not take a picture. “Tell me a story,” she said while we were sitting on the sill of that gothic arch. So I did. It was a stupid story I made up as I went along, but she liked it. A couple months later I was back at school and she came out to visit. We went out to Lake Argyle State Park and sat on what I called “my rock.” “Tell me a story,” she said. I did. Again, it was a story I made up, this time about a princess whose father’s kingdom was taken over and who lead an army to take it back. Some time after I came home for good – possibly December of ’06, possibly January of ’07 – she told me that one of the people she knew from her sign language interpretation program would be interpreting at some sort of storytelling thing. She asked if I wanted to go. I said sure. It ended up being up at this wonderful Irish pub in Evanston called the Celtic Knot. Of course I saw a storyteller there, said, “This is totally what I want to do with my life,” and that’s the end of that. Well, not really. Not at all, in fact. Meanwhile, I’m having a hard time actually writing this, which kind of surprises me. I’ve wandered off to check Facebook and watched a couple episodes of Mr. Deity since I started. I just can’t focus. And it’s not because She’s involved. It’s because I can’t figure out a non-boring way to tell the story of storytelling. Which is just weird, really. This part, at least, is a fairly conventional narrative. And I don’t find conventional narrative particularly interesting at the moment. Too much Weschler and Hockney, I suppose. Well, there’s that and the fact that I honestly can’t do the threads justice in this one. See, this entire thing is intertwined with that story of leaving Christianity. And there’s a reason that She functions as the fulcrum of both the end of my religion and the beginning of storytelling. When I started out in storytelling she was the only thing I had. When I came to the end of religion she was the only reason I tried to stick around. As such she is the focal point of the end of one tale and the beginning of the other. We went to the Celtic Knot every month. It was tough at first, since we were going to a church service on Sunday evenings that ended after we would have to be headed to Evanston. Many nights I’d be sitting in church fidgeting and checking my watch -- ready to get going -- while she’d be holding on until the last possible moment before she had to leave. Eventually I stopped going to that service and I’d simply swing past the church to pick her up. It was, by then, our only real touchpoint. Most of the rest of our already tattered relationship was spent in argument and accusation. So we’d go. We’d eat dinner at the Celtic Knot afterwards. Then we’d drive home. More often than not she’d sleep on my shoulder. Eventually she told me the reason she was sleeping so much wasn’t because she was tired, but because it meant we didn’t have to talk. Some time before I knew that I told her that I didn’t think I could figure out the storytelling thing without her. I thought I needed her support. I thought she wanted to be there for me. During one of those Sunday night visits I met Jim May and started talking to him. It would have been late summer of 2007, before I started going to the Fox Valley guild. He told me about the Illinois Storytelling Festival and this new thing he was starting on Halloween: Ray Bradbury Theatre in Waukegan. She made herself scarce and later told me that she didn’t want to intrude. One other night we ended up sitting next to a table full of storytellers. I wanted to be at the next table over talking about stories. She said she wanted to listen, but would be afraid to be involved. The Illinois Storytelling Festival came soon after that night I met Jim. I went with her and we ended up at a story swap where I (poorly, I’d assume) told a bit of Norse myth I’d picked up. It was hosted by an older couple. One particular member of the audience seemed somewhat impressed with my willingness to try. I didn’t recall her name at the time. She remembered me, though, and has been quite kind every time I’ve run in to her. This, for the record, is a thread that runs through storytelling. I’ve met some odd storytellers and some highly opinionated storytellers but I’ve never met a mean storyteller. I think there’s something to the mentality that makes storytellers get along even when they’re of all different beliefs and backgrounds. The following month I decided to give the Fox Valley Storytellers Guild a shot. When I walked in I immediately recognized two of the people sitting in the circle and they remembered me. It was the couple who had been running the story swap at the Festival: Jim and Karen Decker, known as the Double Deckers. The Guild, for the record, was more than happy to have me there. It wasn’t because of me, but because of that general storyteller thing. I mean, I get that they’re human and I’ve been around long enough to know that there are issues just like in any group, but for someone just coming out of church the storytellers I met had the sort of acceptance and kindness that churches think they have without any of the bait and switch when you find out they’re only being nice to get you to buy in to their system. It was quite wonderful. Halloween rolled around and I went to Jim’s Ray Bradbury Theatre with her. Megan Wells was there doing the first chapter of Bram Stocker’s Dracula. It was beyond amazing. Jon Spellman did Frankenstein, which was pretty neat, too. But Megan’s performance pretty much instantly made her my favorite storyteller. We went to the Hyde Park Guild’s Tellabration that November but it was one of the last times we did much of anything together. She was going to hone her interpreting skills. I was going because Fox Valley was doing their Tellabration in a nursing home and I’m pretty much incapable of functioning properly in nursing homes (no, really, it goes back to when I was really young and I’d have to visit my grandparents in the nursing home. There’s a specific smell to nursing homes that I simply cannot handle). Meanwhile, the Hyde Park Guild used to meet in a synagogue right down the street from Barack Obama’s Chicago house. Security was making life difficult, so they started to look for other places to meet. I, meanwhile, have now moved much closer to the south side of Chicago, so I’ve been thinking of picking up the Hyde Park meetings, since they’re on the third Tuesday of the month and FV meets on the fourth Tuesday. I hadn’t gotten around to doing it, but now have further impetus to follow through. This week’s meeting was the first one in their new digs: the Oriental Institute.* Just about the only way that could be awesomer is if they were allowed to meet in the actual galleries, thereby allowing me to tell stories in front of Khorsabad’s winged bull. I couldn’t make it on Tuesday due to the continued influence of the feces flinging monkeys who have taken up seemingly permanent residence in my universe, but I plan to be there next month. Anyway, some time after November of 2007 she was gone. I knew about storytelling because of her and I’d thought I couldn’t make it without her. I was about as wrong as I could have possibly been. Which is pretty damn sweet. Also, my life has been affected in the tiniest possible way by proximity to the POTUS. That’s also pretty damn sweet. I mean, I’m guessing it actually kind of sucks for people who live in about a two-block radius of Obama’s Hyde Park home and the congregants at the synagogue, but it’s pretty damn sweet to me, since, y’know, storytelling…Oriental Institute…giggity. ------------------------------- *Meanwhile, the reason we were at the University of Chicago way back that first time I told her a story was because I kept telling her that the Oriental Institute was my most favoritest museum of all time and she kept insisting that I take her there. Oh, I also might have gotten her hooked on Lawrence Weschler, although that’s not really related. And, in a thing that’s less related than the former but more related than the latter of my previous two sentences, the church that we were both attending until I quit the religion thing? Yeah, that was the church I grew up in. I’m just sayin’… Also, it’s the sort of thing where the Oriental Institute was involved then and suddenly (kinda) re-involved now that allow a sort of narrative to get tied together. Of course there is no actual overall narrative there and nothing’s coming full circle. The Hyde Park Guild could just as easily have moved to some other place. We could have just as easily have decided to go to the Art Institute that day. More importantly, the fact that there was that thing that happened three years ago and there’s this thing that’s happening right now have fuck-all to do with each other. The only connection between the events is the one that’s currently occurring between my ears and which I’m writing for this blog entry. Meanwhile, that particular line of thought is why I no longer entertain the idea of an interventionist god with some sort of plan. Conversely, it’s also why I’m naturally capable of doing the storytelling thing.