Monday, September 28, 2009
The Story of Storytelling, Part 3: Days Go By
I am lost without you I’m chained to this city You are one of the few Who made me like living --Seneca, “Sweeter than Bourbon” I was only able to spend about three hours at the Illinois Storytelling Festival on Saturday. It was quite sad, really. I would have loved to go to the Stone Soup Dinner. I would have loved to just hang out. For me the festival was far, far different than it had been two years ago when I last went. It was a flurry of conversations, accompanied by the constant realization that I know a pretty big chunk of the Illinois storytelling community. I don’t know everyone by any stretch of the imagination, but my circle has gone from no one to pretty big in the short span of the last two years. Two years ago it was just me and Her wandering about. We didn’t really interact too much with anyone, which I’m going to guess was mostly because of her. I’m not generally one to lay blame like that, but something interesting occurred on Saturday. She was there. This was not unexpected. But while I ran around and talked to anyone and everyone she remained in noticeable isolation. It’s one of the things I remember about her. She has a way of politely dismissing people who try to talk to her and getting out of conversations. There was actually a time when I knew that one of the reasons she loved me is because I wouldn’t let her dismiss me. I basically saw part of the opening olio, then I saw Jim May, then I saw Tim Tingle, then I ran some errands for Sue Black* and then I had to leave. I’m glad I saw both, though. Tim’s set was truly eye-opening in a weird way, though. He told a story that I’ve already heard him tell before. But this time I heard it knowing that she was sitting about six rows behind me and doing her level-headed best to pretend that I don’t exist and never have existed.** Tim’s story is an incredibly powerful true story which I’ve actually written about before. When he gets to the end and hits his call to look past the external on the people around us and try to find the goodness the thought, “And that’s something she’ll never get,” passed unbidden through my mind. I thought I needed her to make it as a storyteller. What I actually needed was to get away from her. What I needed to do was get rid of my audience of one and find some storytellers. Jim May did what he called a founder’s set. He got up and talked about where he got in to storytelling and the twenty-five years since he started the Illinois Storytelling Festival. He spent his time talking about Duncan Williamson, Jackie Torrance, and Gamble Rogers. These were the storytellers he looked up to, the storytellers he admires. He spoke of them in much the same way I speak of Megan Wells, Sue Black, the Deckers, Mike Speller, Tim Tingle, and Linda Gorham. He spoke of them in much the same way I speak of Jim May. He spoke of being told about storytelling and thinking that the idea was just silly, but then finding himself captivated by the world of storytelling. I suddenly understood something that I think I knew but had never really thought about. As I begin my own journey of storytelling I do so with the assistance of so many who have gone before. I can see the examples of other storytellers who have their own stories to tell and their own experiences to share. So many of those storytellers have already helped me along in my own journey and I’m sure more will as time passes. Somewhere down the line I’ll turn aside for a moment or more to help someone who is just starting out and needs help, encouragement, and maybe a bit of coaching. Honestly, that’s why I love Jim Decker. He and Karen have encouraged me from the very first time they met me and have continued to do so. I was talking to Jim and Suzie Garfield on Saturday and said that I’d have to be leaving soon. When they asked why I went through my laundry list of neurotic schnauzer, hospitalized grandmother, and crappy, crappy week that had left me exhausted. Jim looked at me and said, “Just remember, ‘This, too, shall pass.’” Suzie chimed in and said that that had kind of become her unofficial motto of the last few weeks, too. I had to laugh. “This, too, shall pass,” is the central phrase of a story I’ve been working on for a few months. It was, in fact, the phrase that got me through a couple of my worst days last week. The name of that story, by the by, is “Words of Wisdom.” It’s interesting, too. I’ve mentioned a time or two that I’m working on my first concert and that it’s a piece I call No More Fairy Tales. When I first came up with the idea I had two stories built around defying the conventions of myth and fairy tale while still using the same themes and stock characters. My plan to connect them together involved my own story of looking for love but not finding any. It was bitter. The idea of the title, then, was based on a loss of hope and a lack of belief in the “…happily ever after.” A few months ago I started working on “Words of Wisdom.” Then at the beginning of August I had a new idea for a story. When I started working on it I realized that what I actually had was an updated version of Plato’s “Simile of the Cave,” so I jokingly call my new story “The Metaphor of the Box.” I realized that “Words of Wisdom” fits in with the other two stories that were already a part of No More Fairy Tales. I also realized that “The Metaphor of the Box” worked beautifully not as one of the stories, but as the meta-narrative that holds everything in place. I also realized that I’d radically changed the complexion of No More Fairy Tales, to the point where I started to wonder if I could even call the piece by that name any more. Then it occurred to me that I had to keep the original name. The entire point of No More Fairy Tales is to attempt to break out of the ruts we have because of our stereotypical characters from myth and fairy tale. In focusing on my own disillusionment I made the story extremely bitter and negative. I think I’d intended to see if something good came along in my life so I could end on a high note, but really that wasn’t what I should have been doing at all. I needed to make sure that it wasn’t a story about me. I needed to make the personal universal. Much like focusing on the idea that I couldn’t do the storytelling thing without her got in the way of my development as a storyteller, focusing on the fallout from the end of all that garbage hindered the development of No More Fairy Tales. There’s a larger story there, one that can connect to people in interesting ways. And now I’m free to tell it. But even so, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I look up to several storytellers who I admire and respect. They, in turn, have their own influences and the tellers that they admire. And so it goes, back to the depths of time. For in storytelling I have learned to connect with the history of humanity in ways I never did while I was taking history courses. Every story holds within itself a little bit of the storytellers who passed it down from generation to generation. It’s all there, waiting to be seen, waiting to be understood. You can’t be a good storyteller if you don’t catch the occasional glimpse of that simple truth. You can’t be a good storyteller if you hate people and are willing to write them off. Contained in the story is the very essence of what it means to be human. So in order to love the story you must first love the people who give the story its life. ----------------------------- *Being, as I am, the only storyteller who is both an adult and under the age of 30, I get tasked with a lot of random jobs. It’s okay, I like helping. **There was an interesting moment right before I left. Sue sent me off to find Janice Del Negro to deliver a message. I walked in to the room where Janice was supposed to be. Janice was not there, but she was. I wandered to the front of the room to ask someone else if they’d seen Janice, then turned and walked out. The most convenient direction took me pretty much right past where she was sitting. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she tried to figure out how to look to see if I was coming over to interact with her in some way without making it obvious she was doing exactly that. Otherwise she managed to ignore me in a weirdly obvious way. Although maybe it’s the sort of thing that’s only obvious to me because that’s been her modus operandi for the last, what, year, year and a half? I mean, what am I going to do, sit down, say, “So you think I’m a gigantic asshole for reasons I really, really don’t understand and I think you’re a judgmental bitch. Let’s talk about it right here in public, then see if we can be friends!” Seriously. What the hell do I get out of ever trying to talk to her again?