Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growing Stories

A friend of mine, Marek Bennett, who is an artist, musician and teacher, wrote a blog about his forthcoming graphic (comic) travelog of his visit to Slovakia.  It gave me pause for thought about stories and how they grow. In his blog, Marek likens his book like transplanting cabbage! Read it, it is interesting.

In the vein of nothing now is truly original, and with Marek's permission, his blog inspired me to think about stories in a similar way.  Personal stories more so, because they are, well - personal.  Something happens to us, we see or hear something and a seed is planted inside us - the seed of a story.  If we ignore it, it will die and be lost.  Some stories we want to lose and forget, but sometimes those are the stories we should keep, nurture and try to explore and find meaning in.  Sometimes our hardest work is our most valuable.

So here are my thoughts on stories beginning as seeds:

1/. Choose a seed

Heirloom seeds could be considered our family stories, or historical stories.  But there are also our personal stories as mentioned above like those heard on The Moth, traditional folk and faerie stories, myths, legends, sacred stories, the list can go on forever.

2/. Seeds need to be planted in fertile soil
Our minds need to hold these stories, collect them, and store them, recall them.  We need to be creative for the stories to become strong.  We need imagination.  We need to be able to place ourselves IN the story to feel and see, hear and touch those things in the story

3/. Seeds need the right nutrients to grow
For a story to grow (and by that I do not mean add lies for embellishment) you need to work on it. Going back to school, you need to make sure that you have all the who's, what's, why's, where's, when's which's and the how's! Without these the listener might get lost, find the story confusing, not understand what is happening.  The who, what, why, when, when, which and how are the nutrients of the story and without these the story will become stilted, awkward or stunted.  Sue Black has a great resource for these nutrients on her website (which has a number of other teacher resources).

4/. Keep the seedlings indoors until chance of frost has gone
Stories can trick you and trip you, and likewise if a story is brought outdoors before it is strong enough, you could damage or kill the story.  Tell the stories; at first to yourself, to a voice recorder, a pet, a stuffy, the mirror, on a car ride!  This is keeping those seedlings safe until they have grown stronger. Then tell to a practice audience to get the real feeling of the story.  This is like bringing the plants out during the day, but back in at night.  In Laura Packer's recent blog "Eight Things I Learned From the Kansas City Fringe Festival" she says of working with a practice audience: "Because I am a storyteller and not confined to a word-for-word script, the story shifted each time. I loved hearing how some bits rose to the surface and others fell away as I danced with the audience." Personally I like to find those bits that rise in case this indicates something else I need to bring to the story, and not be surprised, although that is fun too, and how stories grow!

5/. Once frost has passed, plant outside in a steady light
Many traditional cultures say that stories are living things - something I strongly believe - and that they only live, or become alive, when told.  If you have never told a story and been In The Story you are telling, then try it.  Not reciting a story, but telling it. When you do, you will understand what I mean by stories are living things.  By now the story you have been growing and nurturing is strong enough to go outside and into the light of day.  Telling the story truly gives the story strength to grow more.  It's roots will go down deeper, the shoots will become thicker and longer, the flowers more radiant.

6/. It doesn't hurt to learn more about your plant as it grows
Long after I have been telling a tale, I have uncovered older versions, or variants, and by reading, listening or looking over these I might find things that were missing - maybe there was another who, what, why, when, when, which or how that I was unaware of and has been brought to light.  I can choose to add that nutrient to the story, or make the decision that the story is strong enough and the right shape and form, and has the right type and number of flowers for me to make it without those extra bits.

7/. Take care of your plant and: Enjoy!

The story has become itself. It has grown from a small seed, and you have nurtured it, but it is it's own being - I believe - and it will continue to grow and change.  It will stay strong if you keep telling it, and will grow weak if you leave it alone with no nourishment at all.  Just like a plant the story will need watering, take it out and tell it once in a while as you learn new stories.  You will never forget it; the story will not die if you have tended it well and look after it well.  And over time your mind will contain a beautiful garden filled with tales and stories to share.  Some will be family stories, some will be personal stories, and some will be the folk and faerie tales we all love so well.

To hear some of my stories, visit my website and go to Free Stuff! And if you are looking for other resources on my website you can find them at: Resources and in the Teacher's Room.

Marek's book is called Slovakia, Fall in the Heart of Europe and you can read some of it and see it's growth on one if his many working websites: http://marekslovakia.wordpress.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dream Tree Haus

Just playing around with ideas!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Who's dropping in for a story?

Balloons! Well, one bloody great big one!

So for the last few years, I have been privileged enough to be invited to a family camp in Vermont to tell tales.  It is a little over an hours drive away (although it was a lot closer before we moved to New London).  The 'patrons' of this camp vary.  The very first time I visited, it was for General Electric power players.  There are some groups I have told to, who are families of the Vermont Guard. Every week during the summer whilst the family camps run, I have gone up on a Sunday evening and told stories, mostly outdoors with the sun setting as I tell.  It is an amazing place.  There is an ambiance about it that is rarely found anywhere else I have gone.  It is almost a spiritual experience going there, for me, and I have heard the same from some of the families there too.

Today I journeyed north there.  I packed my gear in the car, my drum, my Irish Breakfast tea and a litre of water and off I went. I arrived and it was a beautiful evening.  The sky looking calm and dry, and the clouds were already catching some colour as I set up my apple box and tuned my drum.  People seated themselves around me after the bell was rung, with the lodge as my backdrop for the listeners, and the sky as the backdrop for me, behind them! Some people had seen me before, others had not.  This place is so great many families come back year after year. The kids were at the front on blankets, the parents, for the most part, on the Adirondack chairs and camp / lawn chairs behind the blankets.  There was some heckling from the kids, but we got underway and headed into the stories.

I began with a tale I was not planning on telling, but because we began talking about my drum and other musical instruments, I felt a musical story should be told, and it was perfect.  Although I do not tell this story often, I love it.  I first heard it told on Amy Friedman's CD Tell Me A Story 3: Women of Wonder. The story is an English story called The Cleverest Tune I did a few more other stories, ones I had planned on telling, and was into my last tale for the night: one of everyone's favourites, The Goat from the Hills and Mountains!  One of the parents pointed, from my angle, to a tree and I wondered if there was a bear up there.  We were in the woods of Vermont, here! But it turned out to be a balloon.  A hot air balloon.  With this slight distraction, I carried on, but the balloon got closer and closer and we could hear it's dragon's breath over and over and it got louder and louder!  The climax of the story was getting close as I tried to tell it between bursts of hot air.

The balloon was also getting close - very close and very low.  By now it was crashing through the trees and the pilot was calling out for someone to grab the line which he deftly dropped.  My guess was that the weather was not ideal for ballooning, being as hot as it was.  The bottom of the basket looked damp, which informed me that it might have taken a dip in the nearby lake! Although I had been trying to incorporate the balloon into the story, my formerly attentive audience was lost to the excitement of a bloody, big balloon landing on us! Children and adults alike! And the noise was more than dragon-like at this point and no one could hear except between the bursts!

One parent who had not rushed over to see the balloon pulled from the trees and sky asked me if the goat was squashed under a hot air balloon.  I laughed and said 'no'. Once the balloon was stabilized (a chaser van had arrived and the balloon was attached to it), and children were made safe from the descending basket, and bag of hot air, the kids were offered an up-and-down ride.  Whilst some were thrilled about the prospect of a free hot air balloon trip (up and down 50 feet or so), some wanted to hear what happened to the goat. So those who were interested (old and young) came into the hall where I finished the story.

I chatted a while and then packed up.  As I said my farewells to the people there (including the aeronaught), some of the adults who had snagged an elevation ride, asked about the end of the story and what had happened to the family and the Goat From the Hills and Mountains.  I suggested that their children had heard the ending and some of the adults had heard it too, and they could ask for the end to be told by the people who had moved with me, to tell them the story over breakfast.  I told them, however, that the goat, as one had suggested, was not killed by a hot air balloon!

The story, The Goat From the Hills and the Mountains can be found on my CD More Second-hand Tales or in the book where I found the story: Tales Our Abueli­tas Told by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy who gave me permission to tell the story and record it.  The book is published by Atheneum For Young Readers.  I highly recommend this book (it would be interesting too, for those interested to see how a story changes in the telling.  When I recorded the story, I thought I was being very faithful to the original.  Apparently the story took on it's own personality with my help!  (Alma said of my version: "What a wonderful retelling!" which made me very happy!)