Just wanted to say, that tonight I’ll be storytelling over at this place. It’s a free event. I’ll be telling a story that’s not part of a book or anything, nor will I be talking about my top secret new project. The story I’ll be telling is like, you know, in the monologuist tradition of the late great Spaulding Gray. I’d wear a flannel shirt if I had one and if it wasn’t so humid. You are all welcome to come. But get there early. They’ll be music and bigger headliners and it may be hard to get a seat.
Tag Archives: storytelling
How I got to tell that story….
So almost a year ago, I’m listening to the WBAI – my local Pacifica station or as the better-half refers to it – Commie Radio. It’s The Next Hour, a Sunday arts show, and there are these two men talking about their theater piece which is called Two Men Talking . These two men who had met in a private Jewish day school in South Africa when they were twelve, tell stories about their evolving friendship and their lives. The show though it always features certain core stories is always different. I liked what I was hearing. Plus it was, as it often is on BAI, a pledge drive and for $200, you could get two tickets to the show and one admission to their all day storytelling workshop and learn a little about how to do what they do.
I pay my $200. Go to see the show which the better-half and I both found very moving although to say much more would be to spoil it. Then came the workshop.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, sunny, the sky was clear and it wasn’t too hot. I got to the building – a large studio complex in Greenwich Village where there was the smell of smoke and several entrances closed due to a fire that morning. The gathering crowd, the sense of “What the hell is going on?”, the weather, and the lower Manhattan locale all combined to remind me of that thing that happened a few years ago…. And if you were in the City when it did, you know what I’m talking about.
But we did manage to find our way to a spacious studio with a rooftop patio that with river views. The workshop was spectacular. Filled with really good storytellers, but the technique was challenging. Tell what happened. Sounds simple but when that means you can’t rely on your shtick, you can’t give an opinion or even tell how you felt, it’s tough. But the result was stories that flowed like conversation and allowed the listener to have his or her own experience. It reminded me of something I’d heard once about acting. It doesn’t matter if you can cry on a stage. The point is to make the audience cry.
I signed up for the 4-week advanced series. By the end, I felt like I had a handle on it and a few good memoir stories to tell and write. Then I got THE CALL. The two men were going back on WBAI and this time they were bringing some of their storytellers and I was invited. And so I got to tell a story on the radio. (I’ll upload it when I can find it and figure out how to do it. In the meantime, go here to see a written version.) All of the storytellers were radio virgins, we were sitting in a circle and it felt intimate and safe like the workshop.
After my story, Janet Coleman the host, asked Murry Nossel one of the Two Men, “How could she have screwed that up?”
Murray replied, “She could have told us how she felt.”
And that was the whole point of telling “what happened”. It’s a bit like saying “trust the reader” if you’re a fiction writer. If you tell how YOU felt, than you are telling the listener how to feel instead of allowing them to have their own feelings.
A couple of months later, I hear from Jerome Deroy who runs the business end of the workshops. He tells me that they are going to film some storytellers for the website and I’m again invited. I chose a more upbeat one than the one I’d told on the radio. It’s more upbeat than the radio story and a good one for aspiring writers and other aspirants to hear. Check it out!
I’m turning 50 and still an aspiring writer which is like running around in a string bikini with a belly ring. At 50 even if you’re Madonna, it’s kinda sad.
Last summer, I enter the 3 Day Novel Contest – it’s Canadian. You start and complete a novel over the labor day weekend. On the honor system. Oh Canada.
The winner gets published. The rest of us shmucks are out 50 bucks.
Now it’s late January and I’m awaiting the results as though it were a biopsy, obsessively monitoring contest updates for hints about when they’ll announce, and meanwhile the brain won’t stop thinking about how my life will change if I win, how I’m destined never to win anything, how the producers of Who Wants to Be Millionaire sense my loserliness and I’ll never sit in the hot seat across from Meredith, how I showed early promise once, but let it slip away and ti-i-i-ime is not on my side, and maybe HRT would be worth it, even with the cancer risk…
And so I turn to the internets for distraction. It’s not surfing. It’s driving. It’s aimless driving with free gas on a highway with infinite exits, attractive rest stops and no reason to hurry home. I type my name, I type Pogo (the name of a story I’d written over 20 years ago – my entire published oeuvre) and I type The Quarterly (the name of the literary journal in which it appeared).
I get the usual: find Marion Stein, irrelevant links. Somewhere on the second or third screen there’s something in a language that’s not English. I click. It’s a course description in Danish with enough English words – titles and names of units for me to get the gist. The authors include Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and William Shakespeare. And there in a unit called Man vs Nature: Marion Stein, Pogo, The Quarterly. There’s my story. All grown up and living in Europe.
It’s a secondary school.
I find my way to the school’s website. There’s a thumbnail of the teacher – graying curly hair, forties at least. I close my eyes and see her young, maybe during her gap year. In Chiang Mai, she stays at a backpackers hotel run by a German – don’t talk about the war – and his unstereotypicaly assertive Thai wife. Her friends are out hiking, but she’s getting over the effects of some bad Ecstasy. There’s a rooftop patio with comfy chairs and an astounding mountain view. Books left by fellow travelers mostly English but she majored in English. She picks up a weather beaten copy of The Quarterly, Issue 9. There are a couple of pieces she likes, so she holds onto it. Years later she’s working on the curriculum, has an idea and remembers reading something that would fit. Where was it again? She goes to her shelf and picks through several Grantas, a couple of Paris Reviews and oh there it is! Oh yes, that will do.
I email the teacher. A week later, I hear back. She first read Pogo in a class she took at the Southern Danish University and has been using it for years as an example of a “postmodern” text.
Okay, this isn’t exactly lunch at Balthazar with Scorcese discussing my screenplay. It’s not winning the 3 Day – which I found out today I’m not even shortlisted for . It’s not getting my shot on Millionaire, but somewhere out there, this story was floating like a note in a bottle and it was found, and miraculously, I found out that it was found, and in a moment of everyday despair, of hopelessness, Denmark sent me a lifeline.
God bless the internets.
God save Queen Margarette..