FROM MY INNER TEACHER TO YOUR INNER TELLER ...
We all know that the images in our heads are the cores of the stories we tell. There are those of us who are also madly in love with words.
When I am working on a story (often by looking at the images in my head and muttering to myself) I sometimes up up with the perfect phrase -- an absolute string of pearls!
I used to try and remember that perfect phrase so that I could use it when I was actually telling a story but that never worked out.
What's a teller to do when that perfect phrase turns elusive?
It helps me to remember that I am not in the business of creating strings of pearls. When I am going around muttering about my story, I am in the business of digging a well -- a well full of every possible way to describe that picture in my head. That string of pearls will be in there somewhere, along with a whole lot of other phrases. What comes out when I actually tell? That's up to the audience, the circumstances, and the story itself. If I've done my work and created a nice well full of possibilities, that string of pearls actually might emerge on its own.
NOTE: While I had planned to do a telling tip and a story reflection in each blog post, it has occured to me that my strategy will make for really long posts. So I'm going to alternate. Today it's a FMITTYIT telling tip. Next time I'll tell you about the old man from New Mexico.
The picture in the blog header is of the labyrinth in the courtyard at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish, Tempe Arizona. For me, walking a labyrinth is the physical manifestation of my journey as a storyteller. My first post recounted the very beginning that journey, when I first stood at the entrance to the labyrinth. From here on out, I’ll start with a “Tip of the Week” (the value of the word “week” may be variable) and then share a reflection from my life as a teller.
FROM MY INNER TEACHER TO YOUR INNER TELLER:
After a certain amount of practice the story you love suddenly turns b-o-r-i-n-g! You’ve worked out every possible variation of phrase, you’ve made faces, you’ve worked on gestures, you know the inner life of everybody in the story – now what? Well it does often help to give the story a short rest but here’s another suggestion.
Try taking a tip from classical musicians who must perform long complex works from memory in a way that is absolutely accurate as well as emotionally gripping. Practice backwards. Go to the last scene in the story and work on that. Then back up to the penultimate scene. Tell it and then the last scene. After that, start with the antepenultimate scene. You get the picture. This strategy not only helps with boredom, it strengthens the end of the story, and it’s very comforting to start with a strong grip on the end. (Thanks to The Limelighters song “Have Some Maderia, My Dear” for reminding me of the existence of the word “antepeunultimate.)
Today’s reflection looks at where I am now, even though I can’t say exactly which corner I have turned. Is this a road of trials or is it more accurately a road of joys?
As I reflect on the five days – from Wednesday morning when I first walked into the NSN Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Mesa until yesterday evening when I staggered out those same doors – I find myself almost drowning in a wave of memories and impressions.
The color scheme in the hotel itself added to the conference theme of “Fire and Light.” Rarely have I spent so much time in a golden, orange, yellow, and brown place. The vast amount of information that came my way began to feel like drinking like a fire hose. I could only keep scribbling notes that I now must decipher.
Then there was the joy of being with my kind of people. I reconnected with a friend and mentor from years ago and we happily shared how we have brought story into our lives and those of others since that long-ago time when I was her biology student. I was vastly impressed by the number of people who took the time to not only congratulate me on my NSN member grant but ask me would I would be doing and to listen to my enthusiastic babbling on the subject.
Then there were the number of people whose names I knew from my reading. It was hard not to turn into a total fangirl almost every time I rode the elevator.
This could go on forever (I never expected to see/hear a juggler tell a story about juggling while juggling!) but I’m going to turn to what I learned when I was a student at the Storytelling Institute: Doug Lipman’s Most Important Thing.
For me the MIT came in two parts. First, I realized how far my life has come as a storyteller since that long-ago Mesa Storytelling Festival. This encourages me to keep helping students, youth, friends all find their inner storytellers. Second I realize how much more I have to learn and do as a storyteller.
Can you remember a time when you reflected and grew, all at the same time?
It was October, 2003. I stared around the huge white tent near the Mesa Amphitheater at what seemed to be thousands of squirming fourth graders. My white plastic folding chair creaked and one leg sank into the damp grass, throwing me off-balance.
What was I doing here? What was this “storytelling” thing I had decided to see? Or hear? I, who had showed up almost on a whim in response to being a frustrated novelist, wasn’t even sure what one did at an event like this. It certainly didn’t seem to be like any other concert I had ever attended.
Then a woman, an older woman with flowing hair appeared in front of the microphone: “Once upon a time, there was an ugly princess.” That was all she said but her soft unhurried voice, the twinkle in her eye, the joy in her face pulled me right in. I saw that princess! I wanted to know what happened to that princess. Did she have adventures? Did she win a prince?
Alas, my questions went unanswered. Elizabeth Ellis was merely doing a sound check.
David Novak told the first actual story I ever heard. It was “Jack and the Beanstalk,” totally unlike anything I had ever read. He was making the story come alive through string figures. Later on he told Little Red Riding Hood with a red bandana.
What was this storytelling? Beside magic? I forgot that I was armpit-deep in children. They forgot they were armpit-deep in each other. We all sat silent in what I came to know later as a storytelling trance. When I emerged from that trance I knew three things: I wanted to do what I had seen and heard. I could do what I had seen and heard. I was going to learn how to do what I had seen and heard.
This began my journey.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.