Monday, November 9, 2015

When Time Stops: Stories Are Forever

This fall marked my 28th year as a professional storyteller.

Every now and then I question whether or not I'm living up to the expectations I had for myself when I was 21.

The first time this happened was over a decade ago. I was in a library somewhere in the south, and this young woman came up to me with a toddler. She was beaming.

"I saw you when I was a little girl! When I saw your name I thought, 'no way, it can't be the same person! She can't still be doing this!' but here you are!" She sat down with her two year old and just grinned at me for forty-five minutes.

It was the first time I questioned whether or not I'd made a reasonable choice with my life.

When I was younger, I was a competitor. I played competitive sports. I was competitive with my GPA. I auditioned for theatre, competed in the National Forensics League, fought for scholarships, and worked hard to achieve the things I felt were important.

Then, I became a storyteller.

The only person I compete with now is myself. I spend lots of time trying to make sure that I am challenging myself. I work to learn new material, attend workshops, write, and explore the art form I've chosen to practice. Every now and then, however, I hear that well meaning, excited young woman's voice...'She can't still be doing this!'

I have no corporate ladder to climb. I have no outside person giving me a raise. How am I supposed to keep score? Is there something else I should be doing?

When I read the corporate ladder line to my husband he was amused.
"You are the CEO of your own company. What more do you want?"
I tried to tell him that wasn't the point, but he wouldn't stop laughing at me.

This last week was particularly 'Everything Old Is New Again' because I was in Evanston, Il where my adult life started.


I revisited schools I'd performed in on many occasions in the past. I was greeted by excited administrators and teachers at every venue. I encountered children who'd never seen me before, kids who'd seen me a couple of years earlier, and some who'd seen me as long as five or six years earlier and still remembered me.

The shows were easy as the audience had already been won over by the staff's enthusiasm long before I ever put a foot in the building. It is the kind of storytelling I love. You get to play with an audience who wants nothing more than to go wherever you want to take them.

Fun. Lovely. Exciting. Perfect.

I have a great list on my wall called 'My Adopted 10 Rules Of Thumb'. The tenth one is: 'If you hit the bull's eye every single time, the target is too near'

Doesn't this mean that it is time to do something else? Something meaningful? I tend to struggle with this idea until something happens to remind me why I'm a storyteller and why storytelling matters.

I had gigs in Greenwood, SC a couple of weeks ago. I actually ended up on a radio program called Meet Me At The Diner With Anne Eller.  If you are interested, the link is below.

Listen to the interview here!

Anyway, I was in a high school my last day in SC. I had three shows, and I was told there would be between 90 and 100 high schoolers in each set. The first show was just after eight am. After it was over, I had a twenty minute break. When the next group started coming in, I discovered that about twenty of them had just been in my first set. I pointed this out to them, and they said they had so much fun they decided to come again. I asked how they'd managed that, and they said the teachers just let them.

The second set was fun. We had a good time.  They filed out repeating phrases and laughing. Twenty minutes later, the third group came in. Over half of them had returned. I pointed out that this meant that some kids didn't get any stories that day. The repeat listeners were not the least bit guilty that they'd prevented others from hearing stories. I discovered that about twenty of them had spent all morning with me.

My sponsor said that she'd been bringing storytellers to that school for years, and she'd never seen that happen before. I was the recipient of kids getting fed up with only getting an hour of stories. Cool. I suspect that this will become a tradition here. Senior Story Day or some such thing.

When I was in Evanston at Field Middle school, I told a personal narrative. After it was over, the kids filed out laughing and waving at me. Several came over to talk to me as they often do, and we joked around a bit before I sent them off to class. Then, the Advanced Math teacher walked up to me and shook my hand.

"I have to tell you something." He said to me.
"All right." I smiled at him.
"You told me that story when I was in fifth grade. I didn't remember it until I heard Milton's name. Then I was like, Oh my...I remember this! It was really cool. I loved it the second time, and I got so much more out of it as an adult. Thank you."

We chatted for a bit more, and then he left.

The principal was geeking out about the whole incident. She couldn't stop grinning, and she told every single teacher we passed about it.

When you are a competitive weenie, you can forget that the storytelling isn't really about you. It is about the stories. Your job is to offer them, live in them, love them, and share them. Do that well, and time doesn't matter. Do that well, and you can do it forever.

Rule number 2 of my Adopted Rules Of Thumb is: 'It is impossible to see the entire picture when you are inside of the frame'.

Last night my daughter and I were talking about imagination, and I told her about something that happens when I tell Sody Saluradus. The little girl character closes her eyes and sways side to side when she's on her way to the store.

When I close my eyes at that point, I can see the road she is traveling, the trees, the morning sun shining through the branches, and the birds.

When I open my eyes I'm standing in front of three hundred children. No matter how many times it happens I'm always a bit startled, and disoriented.

When I start thinking about all of the amazing things I've experienced and seen in the last 28 years of my career, I turn to rule number 9 on my chart. 'Don't Get Too Serious'

The truth is, I'm only just beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to be a storyteller. It would be a shame for me to give it up before I get any good at it!

Happy Telling!

1 comment:

  1. As someone who had the great good fortune to first hear you in your National Forensic League many many years ago, and meet you when you were introduced to the art of storytelling I am thrilled that you are still sharing your talents with the world.

    And thank you for this beautiful reflection on your career path.