Friday, January 12, 2018

Thoughts About Story for 2018

We made it to 2018.

More shows, more writing, more teaching.

I found myself in two conversations this week about the nature of storytelling. I thought I'd share some of the observations.

Q: What is the difference between being a storyteller and being a comedian?

My Answer:

Comedy is about laughing at the absurdity of life in common things. You can also take the common, and make it really absurd. It is also about holding up something or someone for mockery or ridicule. A comic is likely to attack an audience member if they make a comment, or do some self-deprecation to get by an awkward moment. The audience is in on the joke, but they are standing outside of the ridiculous, and laughing at it with the comic.

Storytelling is about creating community. It can be funny, absurd, deadly serious, exaggerated, or understated, but it is always about bringing us out of whatever reality we call home int a shared place where go through an experience together. Storytelling is a comment on the life we humans live, and it asks us to find ourselves and those around us in the words. Only when we understand how similar we are will we be able to break down the barriers that separate us and cause so much dissent. To know my story is to see yourself.

Q: What is the secret to being a good storyteller?

It is the same secret to being any kind of artist....practice. If someone is a virtuoso violinist, it s because you can actually feel them in the music. A brilliant painter takes you into the picture itself. A brilliant sculptor can make a static object look animate. A brilliant singer can make your soul leap right through your chest. What about a storyteller? Well, if you are good at what you do in our industry, you, as the storyteller, disappear. You fade into the tale, and the audience isn't looking at you so much as they are watching a story. The more present you are, the more you get in the way of the tale.

Q: What is it about storytelling that resonates with people?

Human beings evolved to be social creatures. We are meant to look at and respond to the verbal and physical cues of others. We have replaced much of our human interaction with screens. Kids today, and adults, spend far more time staring at screens than they do working out how to communicate with their fellow human beings. We crave this kind of interaction even when we aren't aware of it. (As an introvert, I assure you we don't always want to be alone!)
I was performing at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC a few days ago, and the education director said she'd never seen a group of kids so engaged in a show. I explained that as a minimalist, the kids have nothing to look at except me. They are not distracted by costumes, sets, lights or sound. Their focus isn't drawn all over the stage but in one place. Storytelling is as old as language. We are drawn to it. It is how we express our daily lives and share what we know with others.

I have no doubt you answer those questions in different ways.

As you go into 2018 ask yourself...

Where do I find joy in my work?

Am I doing something I find fulfilling at some point during the day?

What do I do that feeds my inner self?

What could I add or subtract that would make my time more fulfilling?

Have a happy, healthy 2018!

Happy Telling - 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Day 7 of Kwanza - Imani - Faith!

Darith lighting the Kinara - Photo by Kat Heller

Habari Gani!

Imani (i-mah'-nee) - Faith.

Last night we had a Karamu - Our celebration. Here are some more pics from that. Thanks to our neighbor Kat Heller for taking some photos!

The last day of Kwanzaa is Imani. It means we have faith in ourselves, faith in each other, and faith in our communities. 

If you are religious, this would include your religious faith.

In 2017, we had challenges as a nation and community. Most people had personal challenges as well.

What did you face down in 2017?
What did you get through?
Who helped you?

What did you do to support your community in 2017?

Since it is New Year's Day, I chose two songs. One is for the hope that 2018 will bring us closer to a more equitable world where everyone has enough, and we do not exploit others. We might not get there, but we can work to make steps in that direction.

Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise.

The second song is upbeat and joyful. It is about having hopeful energy as we move into 2018. It is from the movie SING! It also features Stevie Wonder.


A man harbored great jealousy for his neighbor. He particularly wanted the man's horse. It was beautiful, and graceful, and the second he saw it, he had to have it.

One day, as he watched his neighbor riding the horse, he got an idea. He dressed himself as a man who looked to have been waylaid and beaten.

When his neighbor saw the abused traveler by the road, he stopped, got off of his horse at once, and went to aid him 

No sooner had he got off of his horse, than the man leapt up, pushed his neighbor aside, mounted the horse and rode away laughing. 

The neighbor was stunned to see the man laughing and taunting him. He beckoned for him to come back.

The man stood well out of reach with a satisfied grin on his face.

His neighbor gave him a tight smile. "Keep the horse, but tell no one how you tricked me to get it."

"Why not?" the man taunted. "Afraid of people calling you a fool?"

"No," said the neighbor. "if you tell people what you did, it will make others wary of helping those in need. No horse is worth breaking the faith of others." He turned and walked towards his home.

The man watched his neighbor go down the road, and he burned inside. He was now angry with himself. He rode to his neighbor, threw himself off of the horse, and handed him the reins.

Many years later, the two of them were sitting at a cafe. 

The man had never forgiven his neighbor for making him feel so guilty. "Do you remember all those years ago when I tricked you out of your horse?"

"I recall something of it," said his neighbor with a small smile.

"Did you mean it? Were you really afraid of destroying people's faith?"

The neighbor's eyebrows rose and he started laughing. "That day had nothing to do with anyone but you."

"I knew it!" the man shouted! "It had nothing to do with faith! You tricked me back!"

"Oh no," said his neighbor, "it was all about faith. Despite how you hide it sometimes, I have always known you were a good man."

Keep the Nguzo Saba with you all year, and we'll break it down once more at the end of 2018!

Happy Kwanzaa!
Happy New Year!

What is Kwanzaa?
Day 1 Umoja - Unity
Day 2 Kujichagulia - Self Determination
Day 3 Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility
Day 4 Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 Nia - Purpose
Day 6 Kuumba - Creativity

Day 7: Imani - Faith