Thursday, January 8, 2015

Normal Never Sounds Exotic: Being a Professional Storyteller

I always feel a bit out of kilter before I do my first set after an extended break.  My first school show after a summer of libraries seems odd.  My first library after months of school shows seems impossible.  Sending out another round of manuscripts after I haven't done it in a while seems scary.  Going back to an old piece I put down so that I can take up the writing seems overwhelming.

Some might ask, 'If it is that hard to get yourself going, why don't you get a regular type of job?'

I am not much of a creature of habits, and I grow easily bored with routine.  I don't play well with others over long periods of time, and I do not do well when it comes to following strict guidelines for days upon end.  Rubrics make me unhappy, and pushing myself beyond the limit should be my choice and nobody else's.  The only person I really like competing against is myself, and I do not take well to being compared one on one with other people.  That's why I don't go get a regular job. I am not well suited for such a thing.

Today, one of the boys in fifth grade raised his hand during the Q&A at the end of the session and asked, "What is it like to travel all over the world?"

photo credit

I get this question a great deal from children.  I give all sorts of answers, but possibly, because it was my first show of 2015, I didn't remember my stock answer.  I just looked up and answered honestly.

"I've been traveling the world since I was about three years old.  I don't remember a time when I wasn't traveling.  So, the answer is that traveling around the world is normal.  It is normal for me to meet people from different places.  It is normal to speak, eat and share with those people.  It is normal to see the way other people live, and respect those differences.  It is normal to hear people speaking a language you can't understand.  It is normal to encounter different customs and clothes."

His question made me think of the other question I am often asked.  "What is it like to be a storyteller?"

Click here to see what you get if you search in google images for pictures of storytelling

As sometimes happens when I utter an unexplored truth, a number of things hit me at once.

I've been an itinerant storyteller, and professional writer for twenty-seven years.  I've never had another type of job since I've been an adult.  For me, what I do, the places I go, the choices I make, the fights I have to fight, the hurdles I have to jump, and anything else that goes with the job is normal.

What does that mean?

Standing up in front of people is normal.
Making odd sounds is normal.
Making bizarre faces is normal.
Putting 45,000 miles on my car in a year is normal.
Writing books is normal.
Writing articles is normal.
Writing thirty or more drafts of a single document is normal.
Flying in planes is normal.
Working with interpreters, sign language or other is normal.
Seeing my name on books in a bookstore is normal.  (It is always fun, but it is still normal)
Being recognized by people I don't remember or know is normal.
Insomnia after a bizarre travel schedule is normal.
Bizarre travel schedules are normal.
Kids saying incredibly odd, funny, sad, interesting, mind blowing things to me is normal.
Adults making odd, off hand, sometimes racist, strange, or brilliant comments to me is normal.
Reading literature meant for kids, middle grade readers, or teenagers is normal.
Speaking in public is normal.

There are so many things that are just part of the landscape of being a storyteller, that I never think about what I do as exotic.  I know it is different, but when you boil everything out of it, storytelling is a job.  You can love it, and it can make your soul sing, but if you are doing it for a living, it is still a job.

Told this story today

Today was my first show after three week break.  Perfect audience, nice teachers, lovely administrators, wonderful space, excited doesn't get better than that your first day back.

I'm glad today brought me an easy, fun, relaxed show.  It was a good way to begin 2015.  The hinges are oiled, the rust is rubbed to nothing, and the panels are polished.  Am I ready for the full frontal assault that is February?  No, but I've still got a few weeks to get my rhythm back, and my mojo groovin'.

I don't expect all of the shows to be as easy and perfect as the one today, but that's all right because if the situation is nothing else, it will be normal.

Happy Telling!

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