Thursday, July 28, 2005

The gig I could have skipped....

A storytelling friend from the East Coast had what she called a "storyteller's nightmare" earlier this week. She had some personal crises occur, and what with one thing and another, she spaced out a gig she had. She was completely embarrassed, called to apologize, the program was rescheduled, and went off beautifully, no surprise to those of us who know her...Karen!

My storyteller's nightmare was a bit different. I could have missed my gig, and no one would have noticed. As a member of our local storytelling guild, the Bluff Country Talespinners, I will respond to calls asking for members to tell at an event. Sometimes the guild receives payment, and if not, they sign a contract with us sharing the value of our services. This was one of the latter types of events. The event was the end of summer reading blowout, always a joyous event in the minds of the Youth Services Library staff. This event was extra-special, as a popular children's performer in our area, Hans Mayer, would be doing his last show here before moving to Orcas Island near Vancouver. Our tellers would be doing the pre- and post-show sets. I was scheduled to tell the very last story, a wonderful short story from the Mexican borderlands called "The Boy and the Devil." It's a great closer for a library program, as it features a hero who outwits the Devil by virtue of his reading skills. I couldn't wait to try it on this large and eager audience of kids. I was especially excited, as many of them were students of mine during the school year.

Only problem was, the organizer dropped the ball. Even as she announced, "there will be a couple more stories," even as the teller who serves as our contact person was reminding her, she decided to hand out raffle prizes and ice cream. Aghh! We'd discussed that the stories should precede all that, agreed to it, and perhaps the librarian was so thrilled to be done with Summer Reading that she seized the moment.

Whatever. The end result was...Hans couldn't pack up his stuff, because she was using his sound system, kids were all over with their prizes and the audience basically got up and walked to the parking lot with their ice cream. Such is the life a storyteller sometimes. I'm glad to have been able to enjoy Hans' last program here, and wish him well on his journey to the beautiful Northwest Coast. LaCrosse's loss will be Orcas Island's gain. Thanks for blessing the underwear of a generation of Coulee Region kids, Hans!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Artist's Trading Card in homage to the old sod

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Real men don't send emails

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Meanwhile, the girls shop on the street

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Overheard at Indigo Moon.....

Yesterday was one of those almost perfect days we sometimes are lucky to experience. I went to Madison for the day. That alone is usually a guarantee of a perfect day; I love Madison. What made the trip even better was the fact that we went to Madison to hook up with great friends who moved to California three years ago. I've been to visit them twice in Napa Valley since they moved. It's pretty much an annual pilgrimage. I mean, aren't they great friends? They moved to a place like Napa Valley, so it isn't exactly a sacrifice on my part to go visit.

Now, my husband has not seen them since they moved. He refuses to get on an airplane, and life has not been such that we could drive cross country to visit. In fact, it would seem that both my husband and the male half of this friendship duo hadn't really communicated all that much since their move, both thinking the other was upset and therefore, not bothering to initiate email communication--despite the urgings of at least one of the wives to "get over it." So getting together yesterday allowed them to get that aired out. Three years to come to the understanding that they were just being typical guys, I suppose that's not too horrible, is it?

You need to understand that this friendship really does cross the depths of each other's mutual stupidities and eccentricities. Our friends were in Madison because their older son has graduated college and taken a job back in the midwest. I'd already told them we don't need much excuse to make a trip to Madison, so when the call came over the weekend, we were good to go. Problem was, where would we connect? State Street, of course. I suggested a funky little coffee shop, Dancing Grounds on Gorham Street, just off State.

So, perfectly timed, we arrived. Where was Dancing Grounds? It's not there anymore! One of the "eccentricities" we own, according to our friends, is the fact we don't own a cell phone--- something that was making a lot of sense to us right then. Never fear. There was a coffee house right across the street, the "Fair Trade Coffeehouse." They would KNOW that these blue-staters stuck in a red corner of the state would naturally head to a place so-named. We were already crossing the street when Julie hollered at us. This is the kind of thing they tolerate in us, the sort of thing where you give them the name of a now-closed coffeehouse, with no means of contact in case of emergency--and they will refer to it as "charmingly eccentric," though I have no doubt he will mutter under his breath about the annoyance.

Together again, we hugged and started talking pretty much non-stop over the day, as we sipped coffee, looked in the windows of the State Street shops, sat on the patio of Memorial Union, plugged parking meters and sat once more over coffee, this time on Monroe Street. While wandering Monroe Street, of course Julie and I had to stop in at Indigo Moon, a place I visit when I'm in Madison to work with my storytelling coach, looking for bargains on cool "storytelling clothes." We talked with the owner, oohed and ahhed at the cool clothes, and at one point, I made a comment to Julie that "I can't buy anymore storytelling clothes until I get more storytelling jobs." The owner asked me what kind of storytelling. I told her, adding that there are plenty of great tellers right in Madison. She said, "I know," but still asked me for my card. I handed it to her, telling her the email is wrong. She simply said, "That's alright, I prefer to talk on the phone."

So who knows? Maybe she'll call someday, maybe she won't. Maybe I can take my pay in cool clothes, which would cut out one step in the usual process, anyway. The true joy of the day was time well spent with now-distant friends. Distant in miles, but not in heart.

***By the way, I DO have some storytelling jobs coming up. I just didn't buy any new clothes for them yesterday.

July 28, Myrick Park, LaCrosse 2:00pm--Warm up for Hans Mayer's last performance in the area
August 19, Riverside Park, LaCrosse, Sand Sculpting Festival (11am-1pm)
September 11, Halfway Creek Church, Holmen
September 15, Grounded Coffeehouse, LaCrosse (4:30)
September 16-17, 3rd Annual LaCrosse Storytelling Festival, Pettibone Park
September 18, Founders Days, West Salem

Friday, July 22, 2005

A book signing? Who? Me?

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Though I love to craft and tell stories, ALL of which contain some kernel of truth, it seems that writing fiction is not my forte. I've written extensively on the ins and outs of taking photos of sports, creating scrapbook layouts on friendship and other vagaries of the paper arts world, for both online and print publications. My one fiction piece, published by a small press called Artella, still leaves me wondering why they chose to publish it. "Hope Disguised as Story," gag me! It probably isn't nearly so awful as my inner critic tells me, but still.

So it would seem that if I'm to be accepted as a Real Writer, my writing must cover non-fiction topics intended to encourage the readers to take even more photos than they already do, or to save even more trinkets than they already have. I've had a couple opportunities to venture out of this realm and have things published that go beyond saving photos and papers, though. I still consider my best piece to be one done at the request of the owners of a scrapbooking website, Scrapsahoy. Trisha wanted me to do an article on journaling, bringing to light my approach to family storytelling. That article has seen print in a modified form in the Northlands Storytelling Network Journal, and last I heard, would be a chapter in an anthology called The Encylopedia of Storytelling. Apparently, every so often I can pull one off that while it is still non-fiction, revolves around my first love of storytelling.

Last winter, I was given another shot at such writing. The National Storytelling Network has begun publishing a series of "slim volumes" on the how-tos of storytelling. One was in the works on telling stories to children. One topic they hoped to cover was telling stories to children with special needs. Well, shoot, that's my job description! While my personnel file at the School District of LaCrosse might say "speech pathologist," I was placed into my current assignment to use my storytelling skills with the kids lacking any of their own--children with Asperger's syndrome and kids with severe language disabilities. I sent my proposed outline to Betty Lehrman, the project editor, and was given the chance to summarize 25 years of observations in 900 words or less!

Clearly, I could say a lot more on the subject, but met the goal for this book. It is to be released this October, at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough Tennessee. I'm happy to say that I will be attending the festival for the very first time this year. Imagine the thrill when I opened an email just before leaving for Europe, asking if I'd be available to do book signings at the release!

So no, I have not written the Great American Novel. Heck, I've yet to write more than a mediocre American short story. Still, I will be celebrating one of my accumulating number of birthdays, signing books like a Real Writer. Congratulations to me!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gwyn and thirty-eight teenagers in Annecy

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Stories, stories and more stories of travel

I just returned from three weeks traveling throughout Europe with thirty-eight teenagers. I can honestly say that it was mostly fun. I am telling the truth. I have three new gray hairs and they each have a name, but even at that, the things I dealt with were along the lines of impulsive thoughtless acts one might expect from teens, not anything sinister.

I looked in the "1000 Things to See Before You Die" book yesterday at Target while waiting for my husband to finish some errands. My trip through France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain added nineteen of those things to my life list. Places like the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer Cathedral, the Alhambra and Mezquita, to name but a few. I went from being chilled in the glacier at Mont Blanc Chamonix to moving slowly through the heat in Cordoba--47 degrees Celsius!

I can say that it was definitely fun and I enjoyed adding to my list, but the real joy comes from seeing these things through the eyes of youth. It seems that kids from the US have a reputation, here and abroad, of being shallow and interested in not much more than the mall and the movies. I will admit they enjoyed their chance to visit a mall in Madrid, but their observations were astute and went beyond the finding of good sales. Comments revolved around the fact that even at the mall, people here slow down, sit down and spend time talking with each other. Some kids observed that throughout our travels, the use of cell phones was far less than here. All of the kids loved the liveliness of a crowded open air market along the narrow streets of Annecy. Part of what they loved was the staggering displays of beautiful and to us, sometimes exotic, foods offered, but they loved even more the pace and sense of life and community here. No one was in a real rush to get anywhere. People would sit at the little cafes and while away the time with the person at the same table. Friends greeted each other with a hug and kiss on each cheek.

My American teenagers loved all this. They wished there were places like this back home, where throngs of people could gather, congregate and just slow the pace of life a bit.

They also noticed some clear differences in the general way life is conducted throughout Europe as compared to back home. Smart cars, Mini-Coopers and small cars were the norm. They started to keep count of the SUVs and figured that after three weeks, they'd maybe seen five, not counting service vehicles. Many, many people rode small motorbikes, bicycles or public transit, unlike here. They noticed other differences as well. Water use, in particular with respect to toilets, was a constant discussion point. I can say they all mastered the intricacies of the "short flush" and "long flush" operation as practiced in four different European countries! The high number of automatic sensor lights in public places impressed them as well. Most of the kids commented, either out loud or in their journals (which we read as part of their educational requirement) that it seems like it would not be such a big deal for the US to make similar changes to help conserve resources, and what was up with that, anyway?

Most of all, my American teenagers left a good impression wherever we traveled. We received comments from shopkeepers, from the people who organized the community service project in which they participated, from people on the streets, that the kids helped change their minds about the stereotype of Americans. That's the whole point of the People to People program, and I'm proud to say that we met that goal as a delegation. In the current atmosphere of fear and the "threat of terrorism," we fought terrorism in the best possible manner--by going out into the world instead of retreating from it, and showing a side of the States that the rest of the world doesn't get to see on Fox News. Thank you to my thirty-eight Student Ambassadors, for going out into the world and fighting terrorism on behalf of the United States, and showing how to do it peacefully, but with flair!