Monday, January 23, 2006

Retreat to advance

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Having returned from one of those "mountaintop" experiences, I'm now facing the return to my daily grind. I spent the weekend at a remote resort in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, holed up in this cabin with six other storytellers, no phone, no television, no internet....and we never even turned on the radio. It wasn't necessary. We're storytellers!

My friend Kevin Strauss, storyteller from Ely, has organized his Northwoods Storytelling Retreat for the past six years. As he tells it, he first started it simply so he could go to a storytelling event and not have to travel. For me, though it was a long haul, the distance and remoteness of the setting was part of the magic. As I headed up into the boreal forest of my natal state, I realized I was being transported into another world. For one thing, they have snow up there! The night skies were filled with millions of twinkling lights and nothing else. I could see the Milky Way here. Though I didn't hear any wolves or owls, I also didn't hear anything else. Complete and utter silence prevailed.

Kevin started us off making our own stone soup, playing ice-breaker games, and that's all it took. We didn't know each other, any of us. By weekend's end, these strangers had become friends. The heart of our weekend involved working on whatever we wanted, each in turn. Everyone had complete and focused listening from the rest of us. I heard stories of elegance, some punctuated with whimsical poetry, others with wonderful drama, all unique.

I worked on my own story, one I've held as just a kernel of an idea since last summer. At my first turn, I just shared that kernel and asked for ideas for developing it. By my last session, I'd begun to tell it. I felt safe in falling flat in front of my new friends...but I didn't. Like the Red-Winged Blackbird in my original story, I not only didn't fall flat, I soared. The story still needs plenty of telling and refining, but in this setting, totally dedicated to my art, it finally began the transformation from vague idea to story told. In between all this, I enjoyed closing out our concert to an all-adult audience at the incredible facility of the International Wolf Center. By joining this retreat from the world, I have advanced my art and look forward to growing my story of How Blackbird Got His Red Shoulders. I wish to thank Kevin and my five new storytelling friends for helping me plant the seed.


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