Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Story Behind the Story

I was in my car between Bolton and Hudson, MA, listening to NPR on the local radio station when I heard a storyteller tell a story about a Jewish man who dreamt one night he died and met God.

To put it in a nutshell, he was terrified by the prospect. God asked him, “What did you do with your life”? The man went down the typical list. He had been a respectful son, faithful husband, good father, honest businessman, trustworthy friend, and an ample provider to his family. He had apparently done everything he thought was expected of him, but God kept asking.

Finally God said, “You failed to do the one thing only you could do.”

“What was that?” the man trembled as he asked.

“To be yourself”, God replied.

This struck me so profoundly I had to pull off the road and catch my breath.

As it turns out the Storyteller, Judith Black, is a professional storyteller with a national following. Her radio appearance was to promote the upcoming Three Apples Storytelling Festival in Harvard, MA.

Nearly a year later I signed up for an after hours adult education class in writing at the local Voc Tech. I sent in the form and my check only to receive a notice that the class was full and I should chose another. It was then that I stumbled on a class in Storytelling. Linda Goodman, the instructor, was a professional Storyteller from Virginia and the synopsis sounded very interesting.

After the first session I felt like I had found my creative “home”. Linda gave instructional lectures, we all took turns telling stories, and we attended storytelling events together.

A few months later "Tellabration” came around. "Tellabration” is a night of storytelling celebrated world-wide on or about the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I decided to attend. Winter had come early to Massachusetts. The weather was horrendous. Just before the show Linda came over and explained that one of the Tellers couldn't make it because of the weather and asked if I would mind telling “The Bible Story” (see post "A Different Kind of Bible Story" from November 10th, 2009).

“Do you think I'm ready?” I asked.

“You're ready,” she said.

Eventually Linda asked me to put music and sound effects to her “Daughters of the Appalachians” program. This was pure fun for me since I had been playing guitar since I was 12 and loved performing. We traveled to various venues to perform including the Mid-Atlantic Storytelling Festival, which was held in Gettysburg that year. I'll never forget the experience.

When Linda moved from Massachusetts back to Virginia I missed her dearly.

Ten years would pass before Linda and I would hook up again, this time for a performance of “Daughters” in Culpepper, VA. Thanks to a video tape of one of Linda's solo performances and an old play-list I managed to find I reconstructed the music and sounds.

The day before we were to perform I drove up to Linda's house (I had only moved to Myrtle Beach, SC the year before). We ran through the performance several times and a couple more that next day. That evening we said a quick prayer and stepped “on stage”. Afterwards people in the audience came up and remarked about how incredibly in-sync we had been. They couldn't believe it had been 10 years!

Storytelling is magic and the people who dedicate their time and lives to it are some of the most positive and upbeat people I know. And here's why – Storytellers know something we don't know.

* That stories are powerful and life changing, and have been since the first woman told the first story to her children way back when.

* That storytelling is better than TV. When a Storyteller tells stories the images aren't fed to you on the screen, they're deep in your minds eye and drawn from all the images that have ever entered there.

* That everyone is connected by the common themes that run through our stories and that those stories are anything BUT common.

* That, when a story is told, we all become children in that listening moment.

* That when the story is over we walk away with something better than material goods. We have enlarged our hearts and minds by being challenged to think differently and care about the outcome.

* That the world would be a better place if there were more positive stories being told and more people listening to them.

So, the next time the opportunity comes go listen to a professional Storyteller. You'll discover this is a true art form that's worth supporting not only for what it gives, but for what you'll receive.

© 2010