Thursday, November 4, 2021

Things I Forgot....

I love my gorgeous silver hair!

I lost track of lots of things over the last year and a half.

- I forgot that the world is really big

- I forgot how much fun it is to "play" with people in person.

- I forgot that hearing a room full of adults who have no connection to storytelling not only fall in love with it, but be transported by it is like jumping over the moon.

- I forgot that I really, desperately need to have physical contact with other storytellers. 

- I forgot that I really, desperately need to have physical contact with other writers.

Stenciled on the crosswalks!

- I forgot how much this work is like my blood. Without it...

- I have missed being transported while I sit with others

- I have missed being with people who work in story who are not storytellers!

- I have missed being...well...plugged into life.

I'm in Florida  at the NCSL - The National Conference of State Legislatures

I was on a panel with Dr. Ben Sawyer

I don't remember the world being this big.

I don't remember the world being this small.

I don't remember ever wanting to weep simply at the fullness of being alive.

I Ubered for the first time.

I spoke to legislators about the power of story.

The room turned out not to be big enough!

The world is still spinning and we still have a chance to make it a place we can all share.

Today, I spent an hour with Republicans and Democrats who came to listen to Ben Sawyer and I talk about stories. 

I told a roomful of lawmakers they better not think about cutting funds to libraries.

I told a roomful of lawmakers that I wasn't less of an American because I like fancy cheese.

We laughed, listened, and shared ourselves for an hour and nobody have a damn where we were from, what our history was or how we got there. We were all Americans and we were all there to find ways to go forward. 

I love stories. At least I didn't forget that.

I also love trying fancy new food at shishi restaurants! I didn't forget that either!

Scallops and Shrimp from Anchor and Brine. This was soo good!

Happy Living to Tell -

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Touring Post Covid - Part 2 I Forgot How Hard Touring Is On The Body!


As the world opens, and we all start moving cautiously back towards our touring lives, I would like to offer some thoughts:

1. I have lost my touring callouses!

Over the last almost two years, my commute has been very simple. I've gotten my power cord, my mac, and headed upstairs to what has become my studio.

I plug in my laptop, go into the closet and change into a performance shirt, and take my place in front of a camera. Check to see if I need to touch up my nail polish, and make sure I have any material I need for whatever meeting or presentation I have to attend.

Then, I sign off, put my t-shirt or whatever back on, go downstairs and make a cup of tea. Very simple.

I am no longer as prepared as I once was to leave my house 24 hours ahead of time to be somewhere.

What used to be a pretty easy day trip - eight hours - seems like an extremely long drive!

2 - I have forgotten how to pack efficiently.

I have a go bag. It lives in my closet. When I have to go on tour, I grab it, a few outfits and I'm out the door. 

Apparently, over the last almost two years, I have had occasion to go into my go bag, and get things. Mouthwash, toothpaste, melatonin here and there, and all sorts of random things. I've also changed most of my electronics, and I don't have backup cords for most of them.

When I set off to Toledo, I got there and discovered I was woefully underprepared to be anywhere! I need to rethink my travel bag, but my motivation to do so is very low. For starters, I only have a couple more out-of-town shows coming up over the next couple of months. Second, who knows how many I will have over the spring, and there is no telling if we will be in full swing next summer.

So, procrastination has set in.

3 - To mask or not to mask???

I am pretty far from most of my audiences, so I don't mask. When I taught, I was masked in the classroom. I don't know how effective I am as a storyteller with a mask on my face. So much of what I do is expressions. 

So far, I've performed without the mas, and sign books and teach with one on. I also bump elbows...but since I've always done that in flu season, that's not all that different.

4 - The idea of touring is both tiring and exciting.

I forgot that when I tour, I am not bothered by dishes, sweeping, and all of the things that require upkeep! I'm also gluten-free. I have forgotten how hard it can be to find food in some communities. Sigh.

5. Oh, and I seem to have forgotten that I am prone to insomnia when I disrupt my sleep cycle, do a lot of driving, or have shows late in the evening!

Note to self! Remember you need to have your routine aromatherapy in your go-bag so you can use them to trigger your sleep cycle...

6. I'm kinda loving all of these virtual and pre-recorded shows!!!!

7. I miss live audiences!!!

8. All of this is so exhausting and STRESSFUL! πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

In other words, it might take some people a little bit of practice to get back into touring, and that's okay.

Some people may be loving it! That's great.

Some people might decide it isn't worth it anymore. That fine.

As we move into the next stage of whatever this is, be kind to yourself. Go at your own pace. Nobody's journey is yours.

Enjoy the ride. 

Happy telling!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Touring Post Covid Part 1 - COVID Left A Mark On Kids


I just did my first multiple-day tour. of 2021. It included three days of residency work at The Toledo School for the Arts

It is a pretty amazing school. I had a great time touring the school, getting to know some of the kids, and staff.

I performed my creepy fracturings of Hansel and Gretel - I Am Gretel and Hungry - for the high school creative writing track, and I did Through Their Own Eyes - the history program where I talk about American history through the folklore and stories of African Americans - for the eleventh grade.

I was in class with sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders.

I got home last night...I'm tired! I need my touring chops back right now! Ahhhhh!

I'm writing this in two parts because each of the things I want to say about this process deserves its own post 

The educators at TSA were wonderful. They shared observations with me about the kids, and I shared what I noticed. Between us, I came away with a better appreciation of working with kids who have been out of school in one way or another for almost two years.

I saw a post on FB that put the whole COVID school situation in perspective - 

Depending on the grade - This is the last year a child had a potential "normal" school experience

Kindergarten - Never

1st - Never

2nd - Preschool

3rd - Kindergarten

4th - 1st Grade

5th - 2nd Grade

6th - 3rd Grade 

7th - 4th Grade

8th - 5th Grade

9th - 6th Grade

10th - 7th Grade

11th - 8th Grade

12 - 9th Grade

Thinking about it this way makes some of what I saw in the middle school classroom make way more sense.

1 Almost all of the students struggled with using descriptive language. - 

We played rock, paper scissors anything in all of the classes. Sometimes, the students would embody something that the other participants in their groups did not recognize. When that happens, you have to explain what you are and what you do. The first choice almost all of them made when their peers couldn't understand something was to reach for an iPad or a phone so they could show them a picture. I stopped then and told them they had to describe it. The first time it happened in every single class, the students looked at me in absolute disbelief. 

We had fun in the classes, but they struggled with descriptive language, and some of them got very frustrated. They enjoyed the game, however, and by the end, they were settling into having to pull on their own vocabularies. A few of them did try to sneak their phones into the game, but their teammates helped put a stop to it!


2. They were having trouble socializing -

Some of the behavior I expect when I am working with elementary school students materialized in the classroom. They couldn't find partners easily because they were hesitant to work with people they didn't feel they knew well. They were still worried about working with someone of a different external gender, they were closed off and wary of people.

Some of the behavior you expect from fourth or fifth graders where groups of girls or boys shut out people who were not their friends was still happening in certain situations. They were much less tolerant of students who were a little more eccentric - which is not typical of arts schools - and the eccentric kids weren't necessarily trying to work with anyone - something else atypical of arts schools. The administrators had noticed this as well.

3. One of the administrators told me the students were doing destructive TikTok challenges like "Vandalize your School Bathroom". They had never done things like this before at TSA. They've spent far too much time absorbing social media uninterrupted for over a year.

4. Physically, they were much less sure of themselves - 

Usually, at performing arts schools, by the time you get to year 2, the students who want to perform have chosen their tracks, and they are eager to perform and learn new techniques. I was surprised at how 
Masks Mounted as Trophies!

tentative the second years were. I had to scale back my plans after the first day.

5. Once We Got Into It They Were Really Happy

The beginning of this residency was tricky, but once we got settled, we had a wonderful time. It was great. The kids enjoyed the exercises, the teachers enjoyed the exercises, the kids got into it and brought their own twist into the exercises, and storytelling and interactive play as well as lovely bouts of improvisation that had us all laughing and applauding broke out all over the place.

I am not one for teaching. It is my kryptonite at times, but I left on Wednesday wishing I could have stayed until Friday.

The teachers have already decided they are going to continue to use the exercises I showed them and work on the stories. 

It was a great experience. I don't have any more teaching on the schedule this least, I don't think I do, but if I end up in a classroom again, I will be interested to see how far the students have come after this wild ride Covid created.

Happy Teaching!

Friday, September 24, 2021

Imposter Syndrome and the Independent Artist

Have you ever been performing and had a random thought go through your head? Something along the lines of "I can't believe this is my life! This is my job! I get paid to do THIS!:

Those are moments filled with gratitude and disbelief. It is one of those "I am so lucky!" moments.

Yes, I said lucky. 

How many people take that leap, throw caution to the wind, cut the ties that bind you to the settled, the expected, the routine, and hurl their bodies, economic well-being, and future into the abyss that is the gig economy? Now, how many of them are successful after doing so?

Successful? What does that mean?

Maybe success means you work really hard to identify a market, create content for that market, market to that market, perform at a level necessary to continue to work in that market, make contacts in that market, and work really hard over many years to develop a reputation in that market.

Maybe it means you spend years working on your craft as a writer, submitting work, and continue to come up with pieces that sometimes get published.

Maybe it means spending years honing your craft, working your art form, and finding the work rewarding.

Wait a minute...does any of that sound like luck?

That is some serious hard work and dedication.

Superstar Status is something different. Superstar status is often due to luck and timing, but that isn't the same thing as being successful or good at your work as an artist.

So, for the rest of this post, we are going to dispense with the word luck in the sense of whim, or accident, or just happenstance. 

My mother explained luck to me like this -

Luck and Opportunity are 99% preparation.

The example she gave to shore up this statement?

- Imagine if the philharmonic called me and said, "Miss Gwen, the first chair cellist has broken her arm and we need someone to fill in. We will pay you a million dollars to step into this role and tour through Europe for the next six months. Say yes, and the ticket is on the way." You know what I would say? I

Photo by Henry Dick on Unsplash

would say, "Wow, thank you, but I can't do this. I don't know how to play the cello." That would be a great opportunity, and I would be lucky to be asked, but because of my lack of preparation, I could not take advantage of that opportunity. - Thanks mom

Now, let's get into the Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome happens when others see you as successful, knowledgeable, competent, and able - but you don't see yourself that way.  You often think of your success as undeserved or just dumb luck. You are convinced that any moment the rest of the world is going to look at you and see you as you fear you are.

You might have experienced Imposter Syndrome If:

You undersell yourself because it feels uncomfortable or unworthy to own or articulate your accomplishments. Maybe they aren't all that impressive.

You are convinced that someone is going to show up and say, "Ha! You are not as good or accomplished or able as you thought!"

Your mistakes consume you and seem to be huge, while your accomplishments are written off as something anyone could do.

Imposter syndrome can make you work harder and feel less accomplished at the same time!

Do you recognize yourself in any of that? Do you see yourself dismissing the things you've done?

Jimmy Breslin

 Imposter Syndrome has all sorts of physical and emotional effects on a person. 

1. Stress

2. Anxiety

3. Helplessness

4. Burn Out

5. Isolation

I wonder if Imposter Syndrome is just a thing many artists have to face at some point or other. The very nature of what we do lends to the whole "Do you like me? Am I doing a good job? What can I do to get better? Do I have enough work?" and that can cycle into doubt and worry. 

Do we measure up? Which brings up the whom? Who are we measuring up to? We are all individuals. My career is not yours, and yours is not and can't be mine. 

Comparing ourselves to other artists and what they are doing is not a way to really know how you are doing in this business. 

Compare yourself to where you started and where you are. Consider where you want to go. Yeah, I know, that's not always easy.

My favorite line from Evita is 

- Sometimes it's very difficult to keep momentum if it's you that you are following -

As independent artists, we are holding the ladder as well as climbing it. This can make everything feel a bit unstable at times.

So, some helpful tips when Imposter Syndrome hits!

1. Sit down and write out all of the things important to you that you have accomplished with your art without comment about how you feel about them. Now, check out the list. YOU did that.

2. Talk to a friend or colleague about how you feel. 

3. Journal about how you feel, or record it on your phone and listen back to it. When you hear yourself talking yourself down or questioning what you have accomplished, defend yourself.

4. Remind yourself why you chose to become an artist and list the things you love about what you do.

5. Give Yourself a Break! We're all human. We all have moments. Don't be embarrassed about feeling sad, or inadequate, or anything else. You are not alone. Go back to suggestion #2.

6. Forgive Yourself. Artists are nothing if they aren't hard on themselves. Being human is messy, but there is no other alternative.

7. Life gives you opportunities to learn things. That's what happens when you make a mistake. Learn from it and go back to number 6.

8. Tell yourself you are brilliant. Go ahead. Do it right now. OUT LOUD!

9. Tell yourself you are talented. Again. OUT LOUD!

10. Tell yourself you have more to share and more to learn. 

Be gentle with yourself if you spiral into Imposter Syndrome. It can sneak up on you. Don't keep it inside and let it brew. You may be an independent artist, but you are not alone. 

If you are interested in joining a group of artists that meet every Monday to discuss the ins and outs of choosing to be a gig artist of any kind, Artists Standing Strong Together is a great community resource. 

I highly recommend checking them out. Well, check us out. I co-founded the group with the amazing
Sheila Arnold
Sheila Arnold

So, stick out your chess, take a deep breath, and be who you are without apology!

Happy Gigging!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Wanna Make Money In Your Sleep? Keep Dreaming!


At some point last week, I was chatting with someone about storytelling. I have no idea who it was because I chat with lots of people about storytelling.

The person in question said something in passing that didn't strike me until days later, which is why I can't remember who said it. It might have been my daughter.

"If your business isn't taking advantage of the digital angle of work, you are just leaving money on the table."

At the beginning of 2020, I would have shrugged that off and thought about how we are storytellers and our work is in person.

From Peachtree Press

I would have been justified in saying that, except for one thing: I am a huge fan of making money in my sleep!

I define that as having projects out in the world that continue to bring in cash without you having to monitor them all of the time. 

For me these income streams include:

1. Books 

Which reminds me - I have a new book that dropped on September 1st!

2. MP3 Tracks

But that was pretty much it.

Then, March of 2020 hit. I wouldn't say I discovered Youtube, but let's just say I spent more time watching videos than I ever had. 

I watched videos about things I never even had any interest in. 

I fell in love with everything from Flat Earth Debunking videos to Reptile Keepers. I got hooked on several Youtubers who are all about Brexit, and I watched themed channels about anything my little heart desired.

I had a great time. Now I have a Youtube habit I need to curb. Sigh.

Anyway, some years ago I had this idea for a Youtube series that I never bothered to pursue. I realized that even as I was putting my ideas together I didn't have the capability to do it without some serious help. I had some vague ideas about getting my family members to help, but it never really got off the ground.

Here, in the fall of 2021, I have discovered that not only do I possess the required skills there isn't any reason not to shoot it and put it online.

Except for the fact that when it comes to diving into projects like this I am a huge procrastinator.

So, the other night I called my son and asked him if he would compose a lullaby for me. This is what he sent me.  

It is perfect for the little series I want to do! Then, I started thinking of the possibilities of what I could do with the series, and who might want to listen to it, and then...well, I figured the sky was just the beginning.

So, I told The David what I was thinking about doing, and he did one of those "Wait a Minute! Do you have a plan for this, or were you just going to throw it up on Youtube and see what happens?"

Well, yeah.

I mean, I have some ideas, some basic plans, tons of potential content, and a lullaby. What else do I need? 

In case you don't know, this is what happens when you live with your business manager. 

So, I did some thinking about what I am willing to do and what I have time to do. How to connect it to the people who might most enjoy it, how to do the initial spreading of the word, and how to monetize it effectively.

Then I thought about all of the ways I might start getting a following by using some of my more traditional marketing techniques, thinking about how many episodes I would have to upload, the schedule of release, the editing, possibly offering Patreon activities, and on, and on, and on....the whole thing became overwhelming because I can honestly say I have no interest in monitoring a Youtube channel.

I mean, I am not looking to add another element to my calendar that drains time out of my schedule. Why even begin something that will require this much tending? It isn't like I'm not busy!

I got myself worked up and then I just stopped and started laughing at myself. 

What am I so worried about?

You do a thing on youtube and you see what happens.

I know someone will watch it because that's the nature of Youtube, but it isn't like this is going to become my main source of income or anything like that! 

So, I am just going to go for it and enjoy the process. 

Will this new series turn into another source of income? Ummm, possibly, but I will definitely learn something, and on the other side of it, I will free up space in my brain for another project. (Originally I had written "probably not" but when I read it to The David he suggested turning probably not into possibly. That guy even believes in me when my syntax doesn't!")

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have breakfast, go to the gym, vacuum the house, clean the bathrooms, and all of the other things I can think of rather than start recording for what I know will probably take me three weeks of solid shooting before I have the whole series done.

I am nothing if not a procrastinator!

Still, I have a timetable now, and that's more than I had two days ago.

So, thanks to The David, and Devin, I am one step closer to making that sweet, sweet Patreon Youtube money in my sleep...someday. πŸ€£πŸ€£πŸ€£

Happy Dreaming!

Friday, September 10, 2021

When Life Imitates Teaching - The Process In the Pudding!


I had my first live show of the 2021 - 2022 season at a community event!

It was part of the Lollipop series at Carrboro Parks and Rec!

I was not as prepared as I usually am. I could feel the rust.

I walked out of the house and realized I'd forgotten to paint my toenails. Of course, I had. When is the last time an audience saw my toes?

I painted my nails on the way there as The David drove.

six people came to the show not counting The David and the organizer.

All six members of the public sat right in the front row.

There were two women who knew each other and their daughters who seemed to be about three came in holding hands. There was also a dad and his daughter. She was four.

It took me about thirty seconds to realize that the two ladies and their daughters didn't speak English.

Welcome back to live telling!

I told a story called Silly Annabelle which is highly participatory with sound and movement. There is lots of repetition, and once you learn the patterns, you can figure out what happens next.

The four-year-old and her father who were able to follow the tale were very participatory. They beautifully modeled the way to interact with the storyteller. 

The non-English speakers participated as well. They waved their hands in the air, danced with the dragon, shook the trees, clapped, considered, and made all of the right sounds. They even learned most of the refrains by the end and said them more or less as they clapped, or danced around.

The David and the organizer were in the back of the room. They could only see the back of the six participants. 

When the show was over, and the six people were packing to go, I thanked everyone for coming, and I spent a few moments communicating with the two ladies. They were from Japan. That was all they could tell me. 

The organizer came over to speak to everyone and that is when she found out they couldn't speak much English. She was shocked because of how participatory they were.

As we left the venue, I told The David that it was interesting that my first show back - just for kicks - most of my audience had no idea what I was saying. 

He looked at me quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"The two ladies and their children didn't speak any English."

"Are you sure?" he asked. "They were participating really well."

"I spoke to them. I know they weren't completely sure what I was saying."

He raised his eyebrows. "You couldn't tell that from the back. They participated with everything!"

It was only after the fact, that I realized I'd just exemplified the workshop I'd given the weekend before.

I was speaking with English teachers from all over the world who were teaching English to children in Tunisia. They are working in a program called American Corner Tunis.

I sent them an hour-long pre-recorded workshop, and I joined the workshop at the end for a Q&A. The students enjoyed the workshop, and they were very excited about working on their new skills and using more storytelling in the classroom.

Not one of them questioned whether or not it would be a useful tool, and all of them appreciated how storytelling could both inform and shape how they worked with their students from the little ones all the way up to high school.

I have done a number of workshops about using storytelling with audiences who might not speak English. We learn from each other how to make a story work across cultural and language divides. (I am going to stop using the word barriers when I think about how we communicate with people who have different life experiences from us.) When I was putting the workshop for Tunisia together I had a moment. It has been a while since I was telling in person. Zoom doesn't give you the same kind of feeling with an audience.

I was concerned that I would be very rusty in person, and in some ways I am. Still, the process I have lived with for thirty years on how to deal with various audiences and find ways to meet them where they are and communicate is still part of me.

The temperature is dropping.

Schools are making their arrangements.

Bookstores are calling for appearances

Conferences are tentatively trying in-person gatherings.

Me? I'm getting ready to socially distance embrace audiences. 

This season is going to be amazing - No matter what happens!

Happy Telling!

For a bit of fun, here is another blog I did about communicating across the language divide.

Monday, August 30, 2021

What is your 2021 - 2022 COVID Performance Plan?

Nobody would accuse me of being a technophile. I am not computer savvy. Nobody would have accused me of being a videographer either. 

In fact, there are many things I am not...or perhaps I should say "was" not before the 2020 - 2021 performance season.

Then, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! A new vaccine made with old research that got new funding unfurled before us! 


 We were saved! All we had to do was innoculate the world! This is what we'd been waiting for, right?

Apparently, only some of us were waiting for it. 

Either way, the world is open before us once more. Everyone wants the old normalcy to begin. Let's go back into schools, play festivals, and other types of venues all over the country.

The David and I are facing the exact same question we had last year.

Is it safe?

Apparently, that depends on who you ask.

So, how much are you gambling? What is the difference between hope and preparation? Does anything we do matter? Can we keep ourselves and our audiences safe? What is our part in any of this? 

Regardless of what the venues do, what are you doing?

Have you put any policies in place for your business? 

What are the circumstances under which you mean to go into venues? 

Do you have some plans for practice and procedures? 

Are you building those into your contracts?

The David and I are putting together our 2021 policies. I suspect they will change as more and more people contact us for in-person work. So far this fall we have been asked to participate in the following types of work:

1. In-person shows in schools - I would be performing for hundreds of people at once

2. In-person shows at conferences. I would be running a one hour workshop with about sixty people

3. In person residency - Three days of hands-on contact with about one hundred middle and high school students for four hours each day

4. In-person shows at small venues

5. Live-Virtual and Pre-recorded shows.

Our Plan?

1. Whenever possible, weather permitting, we are encouraging school assemblies to be done outside. That many people squeezed into a multipurpose room or gym in a system where vaccination is optional and most of the people in the room aren't even eligible to be vaccinated does not seem like a good idea to me. I will bring my sound system, so we will need access to electricity.

2. I am not sure I will be flying this year. We are going to have to make that decision soon, however.

3. All of the venues we've book who have asked for in-person shows understand that there is a caveat for me being there. It will depend on what their personal COVID situation looks like. If by the time the show comes up on the calendar, half the school is out with COVID, then we might have to pass on that venue. So far, everyone has been understanding.

My biggest fear this year is not me getting COVID - I am vaccinated, my husband is vaccinated, all of my family and friends are vaccinated, and I will be in line for that booster shot.

My concern is that I could be a major disease vector.

Bee with full pollen sacs

Think about it like bees visiting flowers. I could end up with a mild or a-symptomatic case of COViD. If that happens, every single time I go into a school, I could be a problem.

If I ever even once thought a teacher or a child ended up in a hospital or a morgue because of me.... 

That doesn't change the fact that I still have to make a living -

This is how we mean to proceed:

1. I will be masked until I perform...maybe even as I perform, if it doesn't interfere with my mic, which I will check soon, I may remain masked as I perform.

2. I will continue to do the elbow bumping, though, in my defense, I have always done that during flu season. People have always thought it was weird, but now, the times have caught up with me.

3. We will continue to monitor my own health circumstances even as we keep an eye on the counties and schools I will be visiting.

That's where we are now.

What about you?

What are your performance, teaching, audience plans and procedures for 2021?