Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Art of Procrastination: How Do You Roll?

When I have a writing deadline, my house gets really, really clean.

When I have a writing project I should be doing, I watch a ton of Netflix.

When I have a writing project that is actually kind of important to me, but I know it is going to take me a while to finish it, and it is going to require outside sources, research, and learning tons of new stuff as I go through it, Facebook becomes a really important factor in my life.

When I have a writing project that is probably important to my career, I've given myself a personal deadline of May, I really should be working on it especially since I have this week off, I know it is going to take a while to finish, it requires outside sources, lots of research, learning tons of new stuff as I go, and I already know the style, structure, and outline of the project....

I really would like to talk more about this, but I have to do the floors; hang out the wash; I'm in the middle of binge watching Crossing Lines on Netflix; and I just heard that tell tale bing that says I got a new message from the really intense discussion I'm having with somebody about a politically fraught subject on Facebook.

Maybe I'll get to that book I'm writing about language and literacy building today...maybe I won't.

See you Next Week.

Happy Procrastinating.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Words, Words, and More Words: Our Kids Need Them

Tellin' It
What a week!

Lots of storytelling. Worked in schools that educate the very privileged, all the way over to the children whose parents have little to nothing. The difference in these two groups is always stark. The similarities between these two groups is always interesting.

I've been trying to figure out what to write about this week. When the work is rich, the audiences teach you many things, the world reconfirms what you have noticed over many years, and you discover that this job has new curves and surprises you never suspected could exist, there is much material that can be discussed.
Told Rumplestilskin, got cool reactions.

Oh, then, my drive from Florida home to North Carolina. Wow, it was very Zen. I was in a great zone, chewing over all of the performances, tweaking stories, thinking about new material. The weather was perfect, and the drive was both cleansing, and lovely. Perhaps this week's blog should be about using drive time to refresh and renew?

Zen Driving

I had great interactions with teachers, administrators, and even the hotel attendants, and I got to see Carrie Sue Ayvar, one of my favorite people and acquired family. Perhaps this should be a blog about advocacy, downloading with another storyteller, sharing news and suggestions? Downloading with other tellers?

I got invited to a festival I'd never heard of, and know nothing about at all. Perhaps this could be a blog piece on how to approach this sort of situation?

Lots of things happened this week that I thought might make a decent piece, and then, when I was about five miles from home after driving for eight hundred miles, something happened that upended my entire trip, and wrecked my Zen.

I was listening to my XM radio, as I often do, and a song I'd never heard came on called On The Phone, On the Toilet sung by a man named Randy Kaplan.
Randy Kaplan

He's done some fun songs, and I do like his music. I particularly like the song, Don't Fill Up On Chips.

This one, however, floored me. Basically, it is this song about a kid whose mother is always on the phone. He thinks she is missing his whole childhood. He sings about the fact that she never talks to him. She never has conversations with him. She doesn't interact with him at all. He always feels lonely. Then, one day he looks at her phone and discovers that she is actually tweeting, blogging and face booking? about him. He feels better, and less alone.

Me? Horrified. His mother isn't interacting with him, she's interfacing with her phone. it doesn't matter if she's tweeting, blogging and whatever else with the world about him if she doesn't interact with him. Kids need our attention, our eyes, our words, our presence. It isn't enough for you to be bodily there if every other part of your world is focused on the tiny square in your hands. Study from a couple of years ago that finds that parents with smart phones tend to ignore their children. It isn't just kids in America, other countries are noticing this problem as well. Here is a piece about kids discussing how kids feel about their parent's phone obsessions.

I turned off the radio and considered all of the kids I'd seen over the last week. I considered how many teachers were on their phones right when the storytelling began. I started looking around at the other drivers and passed no fewer than eight in the last five miles who were texting and driving.

It made me consider how lucky my kids were that we didn't have a television in our kitchen. We sat at the table, had meals together, and talked. It made me consider how many hours we played language games as a family like Scattagories, Apples to Apples, and Balderdash.

It made me think of all of the research that tells us how important it is to speak to children. They can't learn language if they don't hear us speaking. They can't develop deep vocabularies if they don't hear us speaking. They won't develop conversation skills if they don't hear them modeled. They won't develop visualization skills if they only interface with screens that give them all of the images. The basis of all things literate start with speaking.

I pondered the song the rest of the way home. I pondered what kind of language the next generation of kids is going to get from their parents. I pondered, and I thought about storytelling. By the time I got home, I didn't want to write about anything else.

Happy Talking

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Day In The Life: Being a Professional Storyteller

Any day that I am planning to perform starts the night before.

First, I receive my data sheet. These are compiled by my manager husband, and they contain all the information necessary. Depending on when and where the work is to be done, I get this sheet either the night before I have to leave if it s a travel experience, or the night before the show if it is a day trip. The sheets look like this.

Top of the page:

Balance Due - (This is in green, and it tells me the amount the organization still owes, and whether or not they are going to pay me that day, have paid in full, or if there is some kind evaluation I have to fill out after the fact if it is an arts council show)

(Most of the rest of the sheet is always in black)

Friday February 12th, 2016

(What am I doing? This is listed next)

Two Storytelling Sets 10:00 am & 11:25am

(Where am I going?)

The Xavier School for Gifted Children
0000 Gendon Heights Drive
Anywhere, USA 00040
Phone: (444) - 555 - 6666

(Next, my contact person. Sometimes this person has a different phone listed, sometimes not)

Contact: Storm

A little further down the page is a rectangle. Inside the rectangle is a list of situations about product

Book/CD Sales?  Y/N (Depending on the color of the Y or N that will tell me if I can sell product)
Library/School ordering Books from Publisher? Again Y/N
Book Sale Prices Hardbacks  $    /Paperbacks   $   / CDs $

The prices in these slots will depend on whatever type of deal my manager/husband made with the school about product.

This is the cover page. Flipping beyond it there are any notes the school may want me to have, maps to the hotel if I have to stay overnight somewhere, and maps to the school(s) I will be visiting that day.

There is plenty of blank space on the cover page for me to doodle, make notes, or 'think in ink' as I am want to do.

Upon receiving my travel sheets, I go to my computer and open the Exel spreadsheet where I keep a list of all the schools I've visited, the year I was there, and the stories I told. I also make notes if anything in particular occurred. I check to see when or if I was last there.

If I discover I was never there, then I break out my first set year and make a note of it on the cover page.

Next, I look at the time I have to start performing, decide what time I have to leave my house or hotel in order to arrive half an hour before the show, and then I back that up an hour to figure out what time I really have to be out of bed.

This is the one I have. A Fender Passport System.
I check with my manager/husband about whether or not the school has a decent sound system. If they do, I don't worry about the sound system, but if they say they don't or if they aren't sure, we pack mine in the car just in case.

If I have to spend the night away from home, I drive there. Usually to a Hampton Inn. I try to get there in plenty of time to have dinner by about 5:30, because if I eat later than that on the road, I'm likely to be up really late. (Don't know why it just happens like that when I am traveling!)

Next, I do my nails, iron my outfit for the next day, and make sure I get at least eight hours of sleep.

Next morning  - Arrive at school half an hour before show. Make the necessary acquaintances, see the space, make sure the sound system works, find out about the school and the kids, find out if the school wants anything in particular. Discuss which groups I'm seeing when, and make sure there are no surprises. If there are surprises, because sometimes there are, I adjust at that point.


Today I was working with a middle school in Charlotte, NC. Middle School is my favorite group. We had a blast. After the sixth grade set, one of the teachers came up to me. "I've never seen them sit that well. You kept the attention of three hundred sixth graders!"

"Thank you. Storytelling can do that." This is my canned answer. 

"You're really good at your job!" She beamed.

"Thank you! I've been at this for 28 years. If you work at something for almost 30 years and you're not good at it, then you should consider making it a hobby." We both laughed. This is a variant of what I say when people seem surprised that I am good at my job.

The seventh grade set was also fun, and after it was over I was packing my stuff, and trying to get home since I had a three hour drive in front of me. The set started almost ten minutes late, and the teachers said they didn't care if I cut into the next class so long as the kids got the entire set. That meant they were in limbo for about fifteen minutes after the last story, and they wanted to ask me questions as I was trying to get out of there ahead of the weather.

What are you going to do? So, I stopped putting the sound system away and spent ten minutes answering questions. Then, I went back to packing. The bell sounded, they left, and some of them were very sweet. They came up and shook my hand, asked how they could find me online (I give out this information during the set, but there are always a few kids who just want to talk to me, so they ask again after the set is over), some told me I did a great job, and a few were certain I was the best storyteller in the whole world. (well, they're young)

Then, I drove three hours home.

Built a fire, opened Excel and recorded the name of the school, the month and year as well as the stories told. Then, I went into the mileage sheet in my business folder, recorded the mileage, and filed the paper contracts in the filing cabinet. After that, I filled out the arts council sheet to show I'd completed the show, evaluated the experience, and emailed that back to the ASC office.

Now, after all of that, I'm sitting here typing this blog post.

There is still laundry and dinner to get to, and my daughter has an audition for Governor's School tomorrow morning in Raleigh.

Did I mention I was pretty tired?

So, that's a typical day in the life give or take the kinds of travel, performance, or teaching needs.

I enjoy this work. I enjoy this life. Good thing, because I'm not really suited for anything else!

Happy Telling!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Feast, Famine, or Flood: Don't Spend It Unless You Have It!

Money can be an odd thing when you are a professional storyteller, or artist of any kind. Sometimes it seems like our bank accounts are very healthy, we turn around, and they are completely empty. This is typically called feast or famine.

Work is the same way. We have months and months when it is flooding, and then it dries up for a while and we are just staring at our barren calendars.

There is only so much we can do as artists. Oh, we can market like there is no tomorrow, and work as hard as we can to get work, but we can't make it show up if it isn't out there.

We can budget, and we can save, but if that dry spell gets long, things get worrisome.

So, in honor of the fact that I saw a post by Antonio Sacre lamenting the in-between moments when contracted money has yet to show up, and contracted work has not yet been completed, I thought I'd do a post about the taboo subject...Money. In our business, you can be paper rich and cash poor.

Not only that, it is tax season, so here is a post about artist finances.

First - Did you pay quarterly taxes last year? Should you pay them this year? If you are self-employed, you might need to pay quarterly taxes to reduce your tax liability. The link  is a great way to find out if you should be paying them, and how you go about doing that.

Second - Do you have an accounting system that helps you deal with your finances? There are many different ways to deal with keeping track of your expenditures and income. Here are a few I've done in the past:

1) You can throw all of your receipts into a box, and then take them to an accountant when it is tax time. Leave hastily as they open the box and begin trying to make sense of what you've given them.

2) You can put receipts from different months in different envelopes and then go through them at the end of the year, tally them, and use the numbers to fill out your taxes.

3) You can put everything in Quicken. (I recommend this one)

4) You can keep a long hand account book. (I used this until things got changed over to Quicken)

5) You can do a combination of all of the above based on how good you are with sticking with a system, or if you get overwhelmed and things start piling up until you get around to it!

Third:  Who does your taxes?

If you do them yourself, great! Make sure you are taking advantage of as many perks as you can.

-deduct the business use of your home if you don't have an outside office
-deduct your per diem (easier than keeping track of all your individual receipts for food. You'll most likely come out ahead unless you have really expensive tastes)
-deduct your mileage (Usually more beneficial than deducting your expenditure on gas)
-deduct your supplies
-deduct your postage
-deduct your performance clothes
-deduct your cabs
-deduct your hotels
-deduct your plane fare
-deduct your luggage fees and the purchase of your luggage!
-deduct your fees for anything you ship anywhere
-deduct your fees for conferences, festivals, storytelling events
-deduct your organization fees
-deduct whatever you can think to deduct
Good Luck.

If you use an accountant, it is great to get an accountant who works with artists. They are really, really good at finding things to deduct. Before we became a company, I used the same accountant as Donal Davis. Judy Crook could figure out how to deduct anything. She was fabulous!

If you discover that you owe the government money, and you can't afford to pay, here are some suggestions for dealing with that.

My last bit of information has to do with the way we artists deal with our bottom line.

As an artist, there are three kinds of money .




Ifcome: This type of money is defined as any money that might come in 'if' certain events align.

"If this grant comes through, I will make twenty thousand dollars in November."
"If this residency is fully funded, I will work the entire year."
"If this librarian can get all ten schools in the district, March will be a great month."

Do not spend this money. It is not real.

Income: This one is easy. It is contracted, and you can expect it to show up at some point, and end up in your bank account. Now, be wary of this type of money, because we all know that even if it is contracted, things can happen. The organization could take sixty days to pay you. They could lose the paperwork or invoices, and it could take even longer to get you your check. You could be snowed out and the check will be delayed. I'm sure you know the sorts of things I mean.

Don't spend this cash until it is in the account.

Wishcome: This is really imaginary money.

I wish this book was a best seller
I wish I could get a contract off Broadway
I wish this CD could win a grammy

Do not spend this money. It is pure fantasy for the most part, and utterly non-existent to boot.

Now, it seems obvious that you wouldn't spend money that is iffy, or wishy, but lots of artists do just this, and find themselves in a hole when things they were hoping for don't pan out as they thought.

Heck, we can't even spend our income about a quarter of the time because it is overdue!

Last but not least. Consider saving out money when you have it. This can either become a cushion for a future shock, or seed money to invest in something you want or need like a portable sound system, or stocks.

So, let's be smart about how we deal with the money that is coming in the door. It is hard since we always seem to need something for the business that we have been putting off forever, but making more conservative economic choices can make being a storyteller easier in the long know, unless you win some huge lottery jackpot, or write the next 'Harry Potter', then you can just do whatever you want without worrying about it.

Happy Earning!