This was the first email I read on Storytell when I returned home. I thought it summed up my journey to the Northern lands of Illinois.
Where there is pain, I wish you peace and mercy.
>Where there is self-doubting, I wish you a renewed confidence in your
>ability to work through it.
>Where there is tiredness, or exhaustion, I wish you understanding,
>patience, and renewed strength.
>Where there is fear, I wish you love, and courage.
Story 1. The NSN Conference – Reality Show At Its Best by Marilyn Kinsella
One of the first things I look for as I arrive at the conference are the faces. Sometimes the faces are ones I know and others are new and will reappear time and time again. The first face I encountered was at a rest stop along I-55. I drove the 5 ½ hours and it was raining cats and dogs. Cars pulled off the interstate. There was huge black line drawn across the sky with a “funny” dip that looked as if it could be a tornado. Finally, I decided to get off at an obscure rest area. I stopped the car and just sat there. I saw a black man running for his car and I thought…hmmm…that looks like Bobby Norfolk. When he lifted the umbrella to get in the car next to mine…it was Bobby Norfolk! He offered me his umbrella, but I told him I was just waiting out the rain. We hugged the storyteller hug and went on our way dodging through roadblocks and road construction. I guess we were pretty lucky though. There were some people who came by plane and O’Hare was closed. Some got there 12 hours later than expected.
Storytell faces came flooding in. It was so great to see everyone. My roommate was Sandy Pomerantz. I knew Sandy from the old conferences at Washington College in J’boro – only I didn’t know that the Sandy P from online was the same Sandy from the old conference days until the Storytell gathering at the last J’boro festival. I still remember her telling “Horton Hatches an Egg” and singing-telling the bullfrog from the yankety-yank that jumped from the bankety-bank just because he had nothing fer to do.. We had a great time getting to know each other. Besides storytelling, we discovered we had a great love of clothes! Sandy and Lyn (other roommate/not on Storytell) proved to be indispensable friends. More on that later.
WORKSHOPS: The workshops that I attended were all superb. Dan Keding gave us tips on how to choose stories for an audience or how to fit the story to the audience. One thing he said was that he became agitated when he saw tellers looking over the story right before they perform – not professional. He also reminded us that when you are in an olio, it’s only polite to stay and listen to the other performers. I can verify to the fact that Dan does as he preaches. He has gone out of his way to support other performers. He also emphasized the importance of knowing many one-minute tales to supplement one’s program.
I first met Tom McCabe at Northlands and immediately made plans to do an all day workshop with him at Fox Valley. He has great methods for eliciting stories. I was concerned that it would be the same workshop, but it wasn’t. He had us take a look at our stories that we already tell and find out new things about them. But, an hour and a half was just not enough time to do the exercises. Then he had a way to get everyone’s attention by going “Sh! Sh! Sh!” By the third “Sh!” he wanted it quiet. That would have been a good ploy, but he did it far too many times. Just when we got a conversation going with our partner he interrupted. But, that was minor to his workshop. It was excellent. And you can take it home and continue to do it.
On Friday, I went to Nancy Donaval’s intensive called “Laughter in the Dark: Using Humor to Turn Private Pain into Public Story.” She told a highly personal, difficult, well-crafted story that was infused with dark wit called “Attack of the Killer What-ifs.” The story was awesome. We got a late start waiting for chairs, et al. The story was over an hour long. She laid the groundwork for her story carefully leaving the listener knowing something was going to happen but not sure what. The universal story was a story that we all do…what if this or that had happened. How would things be different? But, that was a “door” that allowed her to tell the story of her “stolen virginity.” It was difficult for some women when she finally said “The Word”…rape. I thought the story was masterful. We broke and went to lunch. When we got back a couple of people challenged her on telling such a personal, explosive subject, then leaving “for lunch” like it was nothing. (some did not return) She explained that the last 15 minutes were for a “diffusing” conversation, but because it didn’t start on time, all she got to do was to show phone numbers for rape crisis. This took a good 20 minutes of assertive conversation before she could go on with the workshop. She wanted us to see how a universal story can make a tragic story more acceptable to the general audience. She said it didn’t have to have humor, but she thought that humor made it safe. She talked a lot about making things safe for the audience. From my understanding she meant that the audience needed to know that although she had this happen to her that she was all right and that humor was the thing she used to let her audience know it. We talked a bit about how she foreshadowed the event and her use of metaphor. I have admired Nancy’s work in the past and would not hesitate to do more workshops with her.
After this workshop, I needed something less intense. I went to a swap called “Wild and Wacky Tales.” Our own Lois is one Wild and Wacky Woman as she hosted the event. It was just what I needed… to relax and listen.
Later that evening we got on buses and headed into the Windy City. Everyone came back with stories about the event they attended. Everyone just seemed to think that they went to the best. I went to the Chicago Historical So. Museum. Unfortunately there was a snafu and we were not allowed to tour the museum. But, we made the most of it. We found a bar in Old Town and raised a toast…or two, or three. The stories I heard at the museum all had Chicago playing a big part in the story. This was the venue that I submitted a story for and did not make the cut. Now, I can see that they were looking for stories with Chicago in them. Oh well. The tellers were great!
On Saturday, I went to Tim Sheppard’s workshop on using some creative exercises to let the imagination soar so one can tell in the moment. It was in the afternoon and it was a good choice – lots of movement to keep me going. If you ever have a chance to have Tim come to your area, be sure to move mountains to go see him. I particularly liked how he stressed no wrong way of doing something and allowing the participants to “pass” if they wanted to. It made the spirit less inhibited knowing it was okay to be stumped.
My last workshop was with Priscilla Howe and her entourage of puppets. She told us about host puppets that get to know the audience and intro a story, then. The puppets sit down. There are also lead puppets that are a major part of a told story. She had hand-made peepers for everyone and she showed how to hold one’s hand to have the puppet look at the audience. Then, she gave us hints on how to make it speak more effectively. I finally let my gorilla puppet, Samantha, come to a workshop. She got a little rowdy at one point so she was relegated to a chair. Priscilla was careful to differentiate between puppet shows and using puppets during storytelling.
SWAPS – The first night I hosted the 22 Storytell-ers came with their 5-minute stories. Since we didn’t have a times keeper, everyone was on their honor to stop. Some stories were much less than 5, some were on the money and just a couple went over. It was really a highlight of the weekend to actually put not only faces to –ers, but also voices. I was so consumed that I didn’t even take down the titles of the stories. All I can say is that we had a great swap.
Friday night I went to “Women’s Voices” with Beth Horner hosting. We were all women and we felt free to tell some stories that might not otherwise surface in a mixed group. I told “Middle Woman” by Orson Scott Card and then segued into it being a metaphor for my own life.
KEYNOTES. Studs Turkel interviewed an Afro-Am gentleman named Timuel Black. He talked about his vast experiences at D-Day and marching on Washington with MLK. Studs would interject some humor or aside. These two elders kept our attention riveted.
On Thursday, David Hernandez, a poet, told a story interspersed with some of his poignant poems. Then, Sue O’Halloran gave an impassioned plea for storytellers to find their voice in social justice. Both were excellent.
Syd Lieberman has long been one of my favorite tellers – he is a Harvard man, after all (inside joke). He used the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for this crazy journey we are on. His use of humor had us laughing all the way down the yellow brick road.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Naomi Shihab Nye. I had never heard of her. She too is a poet, but her poems are stories. She spoke to our hearts through her words and had our mouths watering for a taste of a mint snowball. Like all the other keynotes, we were up on our feet at the end.
OTHER events included the membership meeting. NSN seems to be in good shape financially and they are talking about investing in a foundation for future use of our money. Not bad for only being in existence for four years. I walked out of the meeting again proud to be a member. The organization is really trying to reach out to new groups to make it an organization for and by the membership. New SIGS and discussion groups are opening up.
The ORACLE awards ceremony was nice. They tried to keep it moving, but I felt it lacked some humor. The only fun part was watching the Scarlet Hats rise up to honor their nominee/winner and Dianne Ferlatte’s intro and Linda Goss’s acceptance. I was getting a bit antsy during the majority of the presentations.
Evening soirées – Friday night was a blast with an Afro-Cuban band. If you weren’t up and on your toes…you must have been catatonic from the day’s workshops. There was one group of wild women who took their beautiful, ruana shawls and neckerchiefs and started an undulating dance – very primal! On Saturday, we were entertained with the county music/blue grass sounds of the Jim Kanas Trio. How much fun when Dan Keding joined them with his spoons!
Stories. Oh, there were stories. So many I can’t even recall them all. One in particular was so well-crafted and performed that I must single it out. Beth Horner told about searching for truth through story and song. It was soooooooo good. The perfect story to end the conference!
Were there problems? Oh sure. Most dealt with the hotel. But they were minor – the breakfasts were disappointing, I got tired of chicken, my room was hot, the bathroom was weird. And, what was that funky smell? I have to say though that the beds were great.
The weekend was perfect. I decided to go down early and put my things in my car when the proverbial fly in the ointment made a dive bomb for me in the parking lot. I went to get my car keys…no car keys. I don’t want to bother you with what happened between 9:00 and 4:30. It was a comedy of terrors. All I want to say is that my Storytell buds were there to give me support. I can’t thank Sandy Pomerantz enough. She not only let me use her cell phone, she waited with me at the front desk while I was on hold with the Saturn dealership trying (unsuccessfully) to get a locksmith. She missed the wonderful, glorious closing ceremony to stay with me!!!!! I will always be indebted to her and to our other roommate Lyn. Lesson learned from this experience. 1. Get over it, and get a cell phone. 2. listen to your husband when he shows you where he hides the extra key. 3. Always bring extra underwear and socks for emergency overnight stays. 4. Keep cell phone numbers of family in my purse.
Now, that was the lemon, but the lemonade was this. Bobby Norfolk (you remember our meeting at the rest stop at the beginning of this?) He came to my rescue. He walked up to me at about 4:00 and said, “Come on Kinsella. We’re going to find your keys.” So we went to the car where I had previously spent 20 minutes on the ground feeling for the spare key. He said, “If Larry said it was here…it’s here.” But it had rained and now the ground was wet. Like the good fairy, Princess Vanita appeared bearing gifts. She miraculously produced a red blanket and a flashlight from her carriage – parked (get this) right next to mine!. Bobby was down under the car for five minutes and when he returned – TA-DA! There was the spare key. I did the Bobby-dance right there and all the way inside the hotel. He is now an official member of my champion list!
By this time, I had already made arrangements with another new inductee, Dianna Waite, to share her room for one extra night. I didn’t think I could drive that distance home, after spending 7 hours in a cold sweat running up and down endless stairs and searching through every pocket, purse, and lost and found. The cherry in the lemonade was the extra night. Dianna and Jane Krause (sometime lurker – hi Jane) went to Yanni’s, a Greek restaurant where I consumed a half a bottle of Zin. Oh, yeah….ooompah! Later we went to the sports bar at the hotel where…well, some things are best left to the imagination!
The next morning we were up bright and early and I took Dianna and Vickie D to O’Hare. It really wasn’t too bad. I got home by 12:00 on Monday. Thanks to every face that made this trip so memorable. I’ll look forward to seeing them once again as I travel the yellow brick road.
Now for the real story….
This is the fractured version of my trip to the NSN Conference. It draws upon fairy and folk tales with a dash of Harry Potter. Images float in and out of reality and dreams….
The Conference – A Fractured Journey Cake, Ho!
They called her Middle Woman for she lived in the middle of her country. She was neither rich nor poor; young nor old; famous nor infamous. She had middle of the road politics, and, after all, she had grown considerably around the middle. She was Middle Woman. Every year Middle Woman went on a journey either to the East, the West, the North or the South in the search for the key to Truth. This year she made the journey North. She put her bundles on her back and started out in early morning following the stars of the Dipper.
Soon the yellow brick road she traveled had unexpected twists and turns. Winds and rain buffeted her way. She unfolded a blanket to keep off the rain. Others had stopped to rest and so she too decided it was time. As she prepared to sit down on an old tree stump, she saw an old man dressed in rags sitting close by. His face was old and lined with the ages of time, but his eyes danced and his smile brightened even the darkest day. He had no shelter but seemed to enjoy the rain lapping his skin. “Here share my blanket,” said Middle Woman as she covered the old man’s head. “I don’t have much food. But please take some bread and drink some tea.”
“Thank you for your kindness.” He gladly accepted the shelter and the food. Soon they were two strangers caught in the middle of a storm trading stories back and forth. Then, he said something that Middle Woman would never forget. “Remember that this road we travel is paved with a 1000 things that will go right for you. Don’t get caught up in the one thing that goes awry. Stay true. Your journey is long.” His voice was deep and melodic. She could have listened to his stories all day, but the rain stopped and it was time to continue on.
She traveled until it was well past noonday. She came to the Crossroads: A place where magic is afoot; where life takes a sudden turn; where storytelling comes together. Lo and behold, the sun burst through the clouds and lit upon the inn. It rose tall and majestic against the cloudy sky. It beckoned her to come in…to sit by the fire. There at the table she met others who came to seek the truth. Soon the stories flowed back and forth about their own adventures.
But where was the key to truth? She had to be in-the-moment or precious time would pass and she’d miss it. Was it with the Distinguished Roundtable of SIGS or was it with the Order of the Scarlet Hat? Was it with the Divine Ruana Sisterhood or was it with the Mighty Male Archetypes? Perhaps, it was with the strange, faceless, voiceless cyberhood known simply as the “-Ers.” Where did she belong? Middle woman watched and listened.
She walked the long hallways and saw scrolls of parchment with strange writings – “found your keys,” they said. Could it be the keys she sought? She ran up and down the moveable staircases that led only to dead ends and more dead ends. Perhaps, the Circle of Excellence could help, but just as she reached out it disappeared in the mist. She even dared approach the god, Saturn, but his advice had her running around in his proverbial rings.
Then, she heard whisperings – at first like butterfly wings then louder and louder like the wings of thunder…the Black Knight had arrived! Middle Woman had only heard stories of the Black Knight. He was said to be bold, and brave, and he was a loyal member of the Seekers of Truth. If only she could meet him, she, too would know her own true self. But the Black Knight lurked amongst the shadows and would only show himself to one who had the truest heart.
Night drew its dark blanket upon the earth. Middle Woman could not sleep so she walked into the garden where a full moon cast deep shadows. The night wind carried the distant strands of music as she walked. She felt at once elated for all the help others gave her and at the same time a deep abiding loss. Truth was elusive and truth was not hers to find. Perhaps, she couldn’t handle the truth. Then she heard it – a voice, deep and melodic that echoed across the garden wall. A voice she instinctively knew, but, where…how?
“Middle Woman, have you found that for which you seek?”
And then she saw him – tall and handsome. It was the Black Knight – Sir Robert of Norfolk, Seeker of Truth. His eyes how they danced and his smile lit up the darkest of nights.
“It was you,” Middle Woman stammered. “It was you I saw when I rested upon the way.”
“Yes, Middle Woman, it was I. Every year I travel the road to the inn, and every year I seek out one true of heart. When you shared your shelter and food with me, I knew you were the one. You are in search of the key and I will show you where you can find it.”
Middle Woman followed the Black Knight to a cave. “Inside there is a sleeping dragon. Put this stone in your mouth and do not speak or make a sound.” Together they entered the cave. The only sounds were the heavy, steady sounds of dragon dreams. Sir Robert reached for the key hanging around the dragon’s neck and placed it in Middle Woman’s hand. They left the cave as quietly as they came.
Middle Woman looked down at the golden key. It glistened in the moonlight.
“Tell me then Middle Woman. What have you learned?”
“Well, I learned that what we seek are the journeys themselves. There is no beginning or end, just…just the middle.”
“Good, and what else?”
“I learned that those who sing my song are there to help and guide me.”
“And those who are not, make me a stronger teller of tales.”
“Now that you have this key, Middle Woman, there is one other truth. The Moral of the Story….”
“Yes, the moral of the story is…I have no further to look than myself, to my own self be true, to know the truth.”
“You have the Truth now, Middle Woman. Use it to help others on their journeys.”
And with that the Black Knight disappeared.
Middle Woman went back inside the inn with a smile on her lips and great joy in her heart. She hugged her champions one last time. And, as she walked through the threshold one last time to continue on her quest, she said proudly, “I am Middle Woman!”