Thursday, September 21, 2017

30 Years As A Storyteller!

My season is in full swing. I've only been visiting my home for the last few weeks as I drive all around the eastern United States.

The work has been fun and interesting.

The workshops have been successful.

The kids have been great.

The educators and parents have been great.

I have been having the time of my life.

I've also been mixing it up a bit.

After thirty years, I feel like I know what works and what doesn't. I feel like I have a good handle on my material and what I want out of it. I feel like I'm pretty good at selecting stories and composing story sets.

What I am discovering is that I seem to have moved into one of those periods where things are bubbling up to the top. Just as I get comfortable, I begin rearranging the room. I'm starting to dare myself about the work just to see what happens.

I am trotting out new material and reworking old material just trying to see how it hits an audience . I'm learning new introductions, and different ways to work folktales and personal narrative together so they speak to various populations. I'm finding nuances, connections, and coming up against ideas that have never occurred to me.

Peter Cook
I'm going to be in Chicago in October at University of Chicago on a panel about using gesture and body in storytelling. Leeny is going to be there as well! I will get to see the healing Megan Wells, and the wonderful Janice Del Negro.

I'll be out in California on my birthday, and in the schools. I don't know if I'll get a chance to visit....but I might.

I also managed to secure a literary agent, and I am now deep in edits for my first novel. Somehow, I overcame my unwillingness to admit that I really want to be writing more for a living, and someone out there said they'd give me a chance.

I'm equal parts terrified, excited, and still in disbelief as I try to reshape a novel for the real world and not my own enjoyment.

Heathwood Hall
I'm sitting in a Hampton Inn in Columbia, SC this afternoon after spending the entire day at Heathwood Hall teaching and telling.

The last few weeks have been quite a wild ride.

One of my adopted ten rules of thumb for the artist is, "If you keep hitting the target you are probably too close."

It is hard to move that target because you might miss...but if you don't move it, you don't get anywhere as an artist.


Today I'd planned to write about being honest with yourself about booking shows so that your first set is as crisp as your last. What is the largest and smallest number of sets you can do in a day and deliver the best quality and why?

I will blog about that next week, but I am feeling pretty transformed about the work I'm doing, and I am finding it hard to be practical!

So, I will continue to throw pasta agains the wall and see what sticks, and hope I come out of it better able to do my job.

I wonder if this has something to do with turning fifty this year?
My kids both in college?
Feeling like I just hit a new phase in my life?
Watching my nieces and nephews get older?
Celebrating my thirtieth year as a professional storyteller?

Who knows?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I moved the target. I mean to spend a decade or more trying to perfect my shot.

Happy Experimenting!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Final Day of Teller In Residence - Thoughts on Day 5








My last day in Jonesborough at the International Storytelling center was wonderful. I taught a two hour workshop about literacy and storytelling.

I got a chance to visit the farmer's market.


It was strange to be in the town without the streets blocked, the crowds roaming everywhere, and the shops so full I couldn't enter. I'm glad I got to see Jonesborough as it is every other week of the year!


I had a great conversation with Susan O'connor. Drop her a line if you can. She had a burst pipe and a flooded kitchen when she got home from visiting her grandchildren. Send her some good energy.

Kiran was hanging out at a diner and I just happened to run into him. He was, as usual, hip deep in social activism - finding beds and shelter for people affected by Hurricane Harvey.




I met Krystal Hawkins who has stepped into Becky Brunson's massive shoes and is acquitting herself well.

I am both humbled and energized by my time as Teller-In-Residence.


The story of the rise of storytelling as a profession in our country is one that fills me with gratitude.


I am proud to be part of this continuum. I am honored to be a member of this community.

After my last show, a young man named Jay came up to me.

Jay: "Do you know Rives Collins?"

Me: "Yes! He is the reason I am a storyteller."

Jay: "Really? The reason why I'm here is because I had to see a professional storyteller and write a paper about it."

Me: "Cool! He's amazing."

Jay: "Not only that, you say you live in Durham, NC, right?"

Me: "Yes."

Jay: "I was born in Durham, NC."

Me: "Really?"

Jay: "Yeah."

Me: "Durham Regional Hospital, right?"

Jay: "Yeah!"

Me: "My husband used to work there, and my daughter was born there."

Jay: "Wow. You know. I keep getting signs from the universe that maybe I should be a storyteller."

(He explained to me that he and Rives have the same middle name. It is an unconventional one!)

Me: "Do you want to be a storyteller?"

Jay: "Yeah. I think I do."

Me: "Well, let me tell you, this is a possible career. You can make a living at this."

Jay: "I'm thinking that this might be the way I want to go."

Me: "Good luck."

The story continues......


Happy Telling!






Friday, September 8, 2017

Teller In Residence - Reflections on Day 4








Home Sweet Home For The Week!











They came for the show this afternoon, and then bought me ice cream at JJ's Eatery and Ice Cream.


They were visiting from outside of Knoxville!









I bumped into this guy....





















Dropped into the Lollipop Shop on Main Street










I stand up when I tell stories, but this cool, custom made storytelling chair they have at the center is enough to make me wish I sat!




Having an Amazing Time!










Happy Telling!



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Teller In Residence - Thoughts from Day 3

Jackie Torrence

If you asked me which storyteller had the most influence on how I tell, I would definitely say it was Jackie Torrence.


Jackie's style of telling, the way she used expression, and hand gesture were my models.

It is always a joy to me when someone asks me if I knew her, because every now and then I do something that reminds them of her.


Walking around this tiny little town, I am reminded of Jackie's last performance. I stood right in the front of that tent with tears streaming down my face shouting for her at the top of my lungs.





My third day here in Jonesborough, TN has been lovely. The rain stopped, the temperature was pleasant, and I got to walk around downtown.

Today I told stores from my 'Relationships Gone Sideways' program. It is a great deal of fun.

Boone Street Market
Afterwards, I stopped at the Boone Street Market and got lovely gluten free cookies some excellent



cheese and some beautiful purple grapes.



The Corner Cup gave me a free latte seen' as I'm a teller and all, and I popped into a few other places.





Davey from Downtown Sweet! He makes the chocolate and such!
I bought truffles for The David (don't tell him) at a new chocolatier on Main Street called Downtown Sweet who makes some incredible pralines.

One of the audience members left me a lovely little bouquet of flowers.

Yesterday, after the telling, I asked if anyone had any questions they wanted to ask me.

One woman raised a hand. "I don't want to be rude or anything, but did you used to be a really big woman? you know, really big?" and she made a large gesture.

I grinned at her. You're thinking of Jackie Torrence. She snapped her fingers. "That's right! I'm sorry."

"Don't be," I said, "I'm honored that I called her to your mind. She was one of my favorite tellers. She was one of my mentors."













 I love being here in Jonesborough.

Happy Telling!


Teller In Residence - Thoughts From Day 2


Started my second morning with a fun hour and a half laugh riot discussion with Pamela Miller from the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild at The Corner Cup!

Caramel Latte and a gluten free tart!

For seven years, Pam has been driven by a dream to create a space in Jonesborough that is dedicated to the history of the resurgence of storytelling through books, costumes, puppets, writings, and anything that storytellers want to contribute. It would house all of the early history and recordings of the National festivals, and any CDs people wanted to send. The bottom floor would hold books and such, and the upper floors would have listening and viewing rooms.



Pam's dream is that it would be "A National And International Resource For Storytelling Research, Collections, and Artifacts"Laura Simms, and and Liz Weir are also engaged in this work.

Their long, tireless effort has finally begun to bear fruit!

They've found a space. The City has granted them a 20 year lease.

They have been given permission by the family to call it The Kathryn Tucker Windham Center.

If you are interested in finding out more about this organization, what it will do specifically, or wish to get involved with this project as it gets off the ground...CLICK HERE!







As for me,

My cat and I
I did a set called Witchy Women yesterday afternoon. These are tales about love, cleverness, resilience, hope, and facing the dark with determination and love. They are some of my favorite types of stories.

I love witches in general. Considering what I look like without my make-up.....


Really enjoying this quiet time to write and edit.

If you are in Irma's path, stay dry. If you are in the path of the wildfires raging out west stay clear.

Be well!

Happy Telling.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Teller In Residence - Thoughts From Day 1

I love Folktales. I have loved them since I was a tot. Whatever else you can expect of me if you see me perform, you can be sure that if at all possible, I will work folktales into everything...my personal narratives included.


As the world of storytelling is more and more defined by the personal narrative, it often gives those of us who tell folktales pause.





(Personal Narrative (PN) is a prose narrative relating personal experience usually told in first person; its content is nontraditional.[1] Personal refers to a story from your life or your own experiences. Nontraditional refers to literature that does not fit the typical criteria of a narrative.


Cinderella
Is there a market for folktales amongst adults?        


How do adults deal with folktales?


How do people react to them?


Do we really need to hear these stories again?

This week, in Jonesborough, all of the sets I plan to present have folklore in them somewhere. Some, like today, have an introduction that is definitely personal, but the meat of the set is folklore.

The answer is...grown people will listen to folklore.

Adults enjoy it when it is done wholeheartedly and they react to it in some ways like children react to it.

Click here to watch Marilyn Tell The Juniper Tree
When I was out in California, I heard the wonderful Marilyn McPhie throw down some amazing folktales.


Adults are often mortified or shocked or interested in different elements than the children, but they react with the same gusto. I'm always pleased when I get audible gasps from the grown folk.

Storytelling audiences will play with you.



I've done my first turn as an almost straight up folklorist here as a Teller In Residence, and the response was positive.

One woman said to me afterwards, "I don't tend to like folklore, I'm tired of hearing the Cinderella story or whatever, but that was creative and interesting. I liked that!"

Tell what you tell with enthusiasm and genuine love. That is what is required of us as storytellers.




Happy Telling.









Monday, September 4, 2017

Teller In Residence at Jonesborough, TN

I'm in residence at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN




I'll try to write a little about it every day so I won't be stuck trying to remember what happened next week.



My first public concert is tomorrow at 2 pm at the Center Theatre here in Jonesborough.


Happy Telling!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gearing Up For A New Season: Fall Is Coming


Summer Days Are Dwindling!

Do you know what your marketing cycles are?

We have two big ones.
Summer for the fall and winter
Winter for the spring and summer

When do you start marketing for a season?
August and January are our big push months

How long does it take to reap that market?
After the cycle starts, most of the booking happens in the next three to four weeks for established markets.

How do you reach the people you'd like to contact you?

Email
Phone
Showcases
Most of it is word of mouth or familiarity


No, I am not going to write another long marketing series!

source
It is just that these questions come up with us every fall. No matter how long we've been at this, the amount of effort expended to make the season profitable doesn't get any less.

If anything, it gets more intense as people try to bargain for specific dates, parts of the year, or blocks of time.

My job in all of this is to design the workshops The David claims I can teach and put together presentations and key notes for organizations he swears I can address.



The leaves change. The world moves. Business waits for nobody. We just hired a firm to redesign our outdated website.

This year is going to be tricky because I have to edit a novel for a February deadline while I flit all over the country.

I tell myself that there are worse problems to have and then I take a deep breath and try not to freak myself out about how much is on the plate.

Meanwhile, I try to do all of the things that are difficult when I am traveling:

I sleep,

Relax,

Baking got way more interesting since I went Gluten Free
Eat healthy,

Write,

Cook,

Bake,

Play with the cats,

Not stress out over politics,

Deal with the Empty Nest,

and gear up for the year ahead.

Self Care is a huge part of this time of year. Be well and be safe.


In closing, I would like to say a sad farewell to a woman who had so much more to give us....


The Storytelling World lost Dianne de Las Casas. She was only forty-seven.  If you knew her and want to support the family, here is a way to do it.

Dianne was a bright light in the storytelling world as well as being a prolific writer. She taught workshops on marketing, storytelling, and writing, and she touched the lives of many hundreds of thousands of children and adults.

Dianne, you are missed.




All of us have so much to give.

Give all you can.

Have a happy and healthy Fall.





Thursday, August 3, 2017

Part 3: Crafting Intention Into the Hard Story: No Pity Parties Allowed!



Part 1: Telling The Hard Story: What Is It?

Part 2: Picking The Hard Story: Why are you telling it?

Part 3: Crafting Intentions Into the Hard Story: No Pity Parties Allowed! 

The Hard Story: (n) Any story that touches on subjects or themes that are considered socially sensitive, politically divisive, religiously difficult, or fraught with discomfort.





I don't tend to tell hard stories for a number of reasons. The biggest one is this: 

I don't want the audience to walk out of the set worried about me, depressed, or full of unfocused despair or anger. 


I think of the storyteller as a tour guide. I'm going to take you through something, and at the end of it, I am going to deliver you back at the station in one piece. On the journey we are going to see lots of things, and you might be changed by the experience, but when you leave this tour, you aren't going to walk out the door and want to punch the first person you see.

The stories I like to tell aren't just for the sake of telling a story. I like to choose tales that have an actual point. So, before I even begin....I like to to know what the point of the tale might be.


For starters: The point of the tale and what the story is about might not actually be the same thing at first blush.


Question: What is Election Night about?

Answer: Episodes of racism that made me feel othered in my own country.

Question: What Is The Point of Election Night?

Answer: Each of us has the power to either "other" or "unother" people. Are you aware or brave enough to stand with someone when they need it?



This is what I want from the audience:


I want people to leave that set with the desire to unother somebody. I want them to want to find somebody to unother. I want them to be seeking an othered person just so they can unother them.


I want people to go back through their lives and say, "I unothered this person. I stood up for the kid at lunch. I made a positive difference in this person's life. I have a friend nobody else will talk to and nobody knows how I do it. I AM AN UNOTHERER!"

I also want people to think..."Good Lord...have I othered someone? Have I been on the giving end? How do I feel about that?"

I also want people to say, "I have been there. I've let someone "other" me. I fought it. I ached about it. I cried about it. I've moved on, but it still burns. I am not alone. I'm still being othered, but I don't have to treat others the same way. I'm going to survive this."

I want people to think, "You know, now that I think of it, I've been othered! I never thought about it like that. It was an eye opening experience. Cool."

And I want people to talk about their own experiences with others or me after the set is over and the story is told.



I don't want this:

I am so sorry that this happened to you in particular, and now I feel like I need to protect you but nothing you've said extrapolates out into anyone else in the world.

source
I wish I had been there to protect you from all of these terrible things because clearly this is a problem you have

I feel so sorry for you and I am so sad that only you have dealt with these horrible things

I bet you just hate white people because of all of the terrible things they've done to you

I bet you think white people hate you because of the things you talk about in this story

I bet you hate conservatives because of what happened

I really hate white people and you have given me leave to do so

You do know that all white people aren't like that, right?

You must be so scared all of the time based on the way you talk about these events.



I realize I might get this:


Clearly you spend too much time focused on race so all of the things you are talking about exist in your own mind since racism isn't really a problem any more

This story is all about politics so I am not required to consider what you had to say because you are clearly a lefty

 You are too sensitive and a snowflake and you should just get over it

Nobody is responsible for your feelings but yourself and if you were scared, worried, or whatever, you need to take personal responsibility for your weakness

There is no such word as "Othered" anyway, and I didn't pay good money to come here to be accused of racism or called a racist!

Why don't you focus on all of the good stuff white people do? Why do you have to tell some story that makes white people out to be bad guys?


I cannot control what the audience will walk away with after the tale, but I can craft as many of my intentions into the tale as possible when I am putting it together.

What are the techniques I can use?

Humor

Building humor into the hard story gives the audience a chance to release the pressure. Election Night is full of really uncomfortable situations, and I don't pull punches or let the pressure release very often, but I do have moments when I say something that is genuinely funny and allows the audience to laugh with me as opposed to uncomfortable tense laughter. Laughing allows the audience to take that deep cleansing breath and lower the level of their fear even as my fear is still real. It gives them the chance to know that I am all right.






Familiar Context

I try to make sure that there is enough context around each event so that the audience doesn't have this idea that my entire life is one long series of horrible events or that I am nervous every single time I talk to someone. The context allows the audience to walk in with me, understand what happened,  and strap in for the event. For example: 

I was staying with a couple in Arizona and the first words out of the husband's mouth when he sees me are not, "Hello" or "welcome to our home" but "I'm a Tea Party Patriot and I bet I know who you voted for in the last election". There was no doubt in my mind this was going to be a really long week.

After I introduce this event, I add that we've all been in those situations where we've walked into something and we knew we were politely stuck and there was nothing to do but get through it. 

Relating this event back to the audience's own experiences means they know exactly how I feel because they have been there and done that. It helps them keep their own feelings about their situation in their bodies as I relate mine. We are sharing a common feeling, they are not trying to imagine how I felt because they know.


Historical Social Cues

Since racism has a long standing place in our culture and societal structure, it is easy to put my various encounters into the background of our history. In the midst of an event I can break out of the main through line of the story and reference how African Americans used Brer Rabbit stories "in company" or when they were with "others" when I talk about this event that happened when a wealthy white man standing with his peers and me happened to say, "Well, if I come back again I hope I come back as a minority because that's clearly the way to go these days."






His peers were shocked because they realized he didn't even notice he'd said this in front of a minority. It was only after I responded that he figured out that he had used an "inside the group" comment out loud in what could reasonably be called "public". Open mouth, insert foot, wiggle toes.




So, what does that structure look like in practice?


- Introduce Event or Episode
-Familiar Context
-Humor
-Historical Context
-Event
-Tension rising
-Humor
-Event
-Humor

Transitions - 

Move on to the next event

I've been doing this so long, I don't really think about the structure of how these things are set, but this is how I do it.

Sometimes the transitions are funny, and sometimes they are dark or serious. Depending on the event, how the historical context is inserted and when we need familiar context might vary, but all of that is front loaded so that the event can unfold in a way that is cohesive.

In workshop mode, I try to find the places where the story doesn't work, or creates the disempowering kinds of tensions I don't want.

The biggest thing I try to avoid is the pity party.













So, I'll be telling Election Night out and about over the next couple of years.

Can't wait to see how it goes!


Happy Telling!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part 2: Picking The Hard Story: Why are you telling it?

Part 1: Telling The Hard Story: What Is It?
Part 2: Picking The Hard Story: Why are you telling it?
Part 3: Crafting Intentions Into the Hard Story: No Pity Parties Allowed!



The Hard Story: (n) Any story that touches on subjects or themes that are considered socially sensitive, politically divisive, religiously difficult, or fraught with discomfort.

I decided to blog about my experience with a story that I have been workshopping for about two years. My plan was to describe it and then make some comments and post, but as I got into the writing I realized that to really work it, I would need to either write a ridiculously long blog post, or do it in parts.




The first question that I always have to answer when I am choosing a story is the "Why?". 

Why am I drawn to this story?
Why should anyone bother to listen to it?
Why should I tell it?

If you actually have a guiding philosophy about why you tell stories, this is not a difficult list to tackle. Quite some time ago I sat down with my husband and I crafted a mission statement for DLW Storyteller inc, my company, that closely mirrors my personal mission statement as a performer. These are the guidelines I use when deciding on whether or not I am going to tell a story.

DLW Storyteller Inc. strives to present performances, residencies, workshops and written materials that strengthen communication, uplift the human spirit, engage the imagination, promote literacy and uphold the values of Unitarian Universalism.



That's a pretty simple list, but it does help. Any story that I have in my repertoire has to uphold those principles.

1. Why am I drawn to this story?

The night Obama was elected the first time was a pretty strange night for me. In the cold light of day some months beyond the feelings of abject fear that gripped me because of my circumstances, I was able to laugh at my foolishness. I was struck by how the whole event affected me. I have been in some situations where I didn't really feel safe, or I was disappointed in someone for behaving badly, but I had never been in a place where I was actually afraid someone might hurt me.

In retrospect, I'm sure I couldn't really have been in that much danger, but it certainly felt like that at the time. As the years of Obama in the White House progressed, I became more and more aware of a sort of casual lack of what I always think of as courtesy or civility with certain groups of people. Somehow, having a black man in the White House made it okay to say miserable, passive aggressive, or even demeaning things to black folks you just met. I found that pretty astonishing. Striking out at me verbally as a substitute for striking out at black folks in general seemed rather odd to me, but there were folks who did it. Then, there was the whole, "we have a black president so anything I say can't really be racist" thing that I encountered. 

I had more overt racism thrown my way in the last eight years than I had in the first forty. It was kind of astonishing. The thing about it, however, was that most of it wasn't soul wounding so much as it was funny to me and a bit unbelievable. It made me realize something.

The wound of racism that poisons so many people isn't gone, it just went inside...and not that deep. There are people who are hurting because...black people, and they feel like nobody is doing anything about it. 

Racism hasn't gone anywhere. It has just gotten really passive aggressive.

The things that people said or did were so ridiculous, I decided I wanted to put some of them together and share them with audiences. 

I'm not the only person who has experienced these things, and the people doing them aren't in isolation. Storytelling for me is a wonderful mirror where you can see not only yourself, but others. 

Then there was the piece my daughter did last summer called "White For A Black Girl" about things that are said to young black women who are excellent and brilliant. They are pretty much the same things that were said to me that I had to learn to live with. We haven't gotten very far in terms of the stereotypes kids have about color. 

Ultimately this story screams to me about "Othering".

Other - (adj. or pronoun) used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.

Othered - (verb) view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.

Othering - (verb) Actively or aggressively excluding, treating, or defining as different or alien a person or group of persons from oneself  


Racism is a form of "othering" but the effects or results will be recognizable to anyone who wasn't part of the in-crowd in school, or who was part of that crowd and either actively or passively othered someone else. So, universal understanding by an audience.

Check.


2.Why Should Anyone Bother To Listen To It?

This story is about how we speak to, treat, and speak of other people. Everyone has had to deal with this. What if the person you said something negative about was standing right behind you? How would you feel? Now, imagine someone had something negative to say about you, but said it right in front of you without realizing they were saying something about you despite the fact that it was really obvious they were talking about you?

Perhaps it will make some folks think about how they talk to or about others.


So, more universal ability to relate to people.

Check.

3. Why should I tell it?

This one is the easiest. 

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like, "We need to have a national discussion about how we deal with race in this country!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this state!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this city!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this community!"

"We need to talk about how they deal with race in this text book!"

Everyone keeps saying this, but I notice that this phrase seems to be the extent of what they mean. We get an article, and then everyone breathes a sigh of relief that it is over, and we just keep on doing what we've always done. 

Someone else is shot for scaring police because they are black
Someone else is puled over for driving while black.
Some else is roughed up for "looking like a criminal" just because they are walking down the street
Apparently you can even be rousted out for reading while black.

Well, as an African American, it seems to me this conversation should be a bit more extensive.

I am a storyteller. One of the things I do is introduce ideas through stories that help generate discussion. Nothing is stopping me from starting this conversation except for my not doing it.

This story should definitely make people talk.

Check.

So, now I know that I do want to tell this story despite the possibility that it will most likely spark anger, outrage, confusion, sadness, joy, hope, sorrow, disgust, empathy, thought, disbelief, and who knows what all else in the audience watching it.

I know why I want to tell it.

I think folks would be willing to hear it, and it will strike chords with them.


She's only 17. Maybe her daughter won't be told she's "white for a black girl"



Next, I need to figure out how to craft it so it does what I want...and doesn't cause unintended consequences.

I want my daughter...by the way isn't she fabulous...to grow up in a country that is further beyond this nonsense of being in the thrall of the melanin content of people's skin than it is today. That won't happen unless we really start addressing this. I can't change the world, but I can start a conversation.







Part 3 Next Week:  Crafting Intentions Into The Hard Stories

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Part 1: Telling The Hard Story: What Is It?



Part 1: Telling The Hard Story: What Is It?

Part 2: Picking the Hard Story: Why Are You Telling It? 

Part 3: Crafting Intentions into the Hard Story: No Pity Parties Allowed!


The Hard Story: (n) Any story that touches on subjects or themes that are considered socially sensitive, politically divisive, religiously difficult, or fraught with discomfort.

I decided to blog about my experience with a story that I have been workshopping for about two years. My plan was to describe it and then make some comments and post, but as I got into the writing I realized that to really work it, I would need to either write a ridiculously long blog post, or do it in parts.

I don't know how many parts I will end up with at the end. Maybe only three...if I'm lucky.








I am spending the week in beautiful Little Switzerland, NC at the Wildacres Retreat.

I am enjoying a week of relaxation, enjoyment, writing, reflecting, and working with some wonderful storytellers on various pieces. It is lovely to spend a week wallowing in story with other people who live with this art form.

Last night I shared one of the pieces I have been working over the course of the last couple of years. It is called Election Night, and it is about some of the situations in which I found myself after President Obama was elected in our "post racial" world.

It starts with an experience in the week leading up to the election through four very difficult situations in which I found myself over the course of those eight years.

I deal with the following subjects:

A Break From Life At Wildacres
Domestic Terrorism: I was in a community where someone was burning crosses on the lawns of black residents in a small town right before election day.

Racism masquerading as "allowable political speech" - After the second election I was in a community where people were "lynching" chairs in the trees after Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair at Mitt Romney's convention pretending President Obama was sitting in it.

Absent Minded Racism: I was in a number of situations where someone made a truly heinous comment without realizing they'd just made a derogatory statement about black people in general...of course they didn't mean Me....

Stereotyping: I had to confront my own bias after spending a week with a family after being told that the husband of my host was a Tea Party Patriot.

Othering: What is it to feel like to feel like you don't belong ?
Writing in beautiful surroundings

Structural Racism: When the narratives we have about racism prevent us from seeing it


Mostly, however, the story is about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as Americans.


Last night I shared an abridged version of this story with my retreat group. It sparked a great deal of discussion. One of the participants said that my willingness to tell the story was "brave".

I had no way to respond to that last night. I've been cogitating about it all morning.

I didn't vocalize it, but I disagreed with her. People tell stories about things that happen to them all of the time. That's the whole point of personal narrative. Why is my telling this brave?

Perhaps I am brave because there will be blowback from telling this tale and facing it will take bravery.

No, probably not.

I've been talking about race in America all of my life...not by choice. If you are a person of color, you have no choice because people are always starting conversations with -

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

There is no telling where that question is heading, but my response to it is, "Sure, you can always ask."

Wildacres Retreat
The truth, however, is that I have tended to shy away from these types of stories since I make a living working in schools, and I am not looking to have people consider me a "political" storyteller.

I am also not someone who does a great deal of personal telling.

Perhaps I'm brave to put my foot into this hornet's nest?

We'll have to see.



As I sat down to try to explain why I am working on this story and what I hope to accomplish by telling it I realized I needed more space to discuss this.

So, over the next few weeks I will be going into my motivation, my hopes, and why I am sharing this tale.

Some things I want to say up front...

I am not a crusader. I am not advocating everybody in the world tell The Hard Story.
I am not suggesting you use an audience for therapy or sympathy.
I am not suggesting that every hard story is palatable for every audience.

Every Now And Then You Need Some Mountain





I will however, discuss Election Night, the structure of the tale, why I made the decisions I made in presenting it, how I chose the language, and what I am hoping to achieve.

This is going to be an interesting ride.


Happy Cogitating!