Friday, September 22, 2006

The nicest thing a person could say to a storyteller

I had a wonderful gig last week. Wonderful, because it took me away from my world of troubles for a day. Wonderful, because while being whisked away from worldly concerns for a moment, one of the members of my audience told me something that is truly the nicest thing a storyteller could hear from her audience.

My gig had been arranged last spring, when Julie Kryshak of the Wausau YWCA contacted me through the Wisconsin Humanities Council Speakers Bureau program. She was looking for someone for the fall kick-off luncheon, and thought my "Women of Substance" program meshed well with their motto of "Eliminating Racism-Empowering Women." Sounded like a great gig to me, and on top of everything else, Wausau is where I student taught, eons ago.

Off I went, driving through the cranberry bog country on a crisp fall day. Wausau has changed just a wee bit since I was there. I circled the block a few times but still managed to arrive in plenty of time for the event. I chatted with some of the women who were already there, enjoying the elegant setting of this older building. Though the coffee smelled heavenly, I kept my pipes smooth with infusions of water.

I enjoy these kinds of audiences; all women, all roughly in my age bracket, all open and unpretentious. During lunch, my tablemates regaled me with stories of the trials and tribulations of getting back into the dating scene in mid-life. We could have developed an entire program around some of their stories!

When the meal was over, I took my spot. I'd planned the program from among several stories in my repertoire that portrayed strong, independent women. Some chose marriage, but on their terms. Others didn't require the status of a husband. And one was content well into her years with everything being "just right," no matter how it worked out.

The Squire's Bride, a tale from Norway, in which the young lady tricks the old man into marriage to a horse.

Three Strong Women, a tall tale from Japan in which three generations of women help strengthen the "weak" sumo wrestler Forever Mountain.

Tatterhood, another Norwegian story, often a favorite of my middle school audiences, about a young lady who does things her own way.

Just Right, about an older woman whose fortune turns to a stone, and it's always "just right," hopefully like the stories just told today.

The audience was great. I saw those listeners who watched me intently, as well as those who were taking their mind on an imaginary journey. After the program, one of those second types of listeners approached me, asking if any of the stories were illustrated. I told her I'd seen a children's picture book of Three Strong Women, but like any storyteller, created my own version.

"Oh, well I thought sure they must have been picture books, because you told them so well, I could see those pictures in my mind."

Storytellers will tell you---what she said was the ultimate compliment to my ability as a teller. She didn't notice my gypsy-style dress, but saw pictures in her mind.

Someone at the event took photos, and said she'd send me some. So far, I haven't received any to share here. Until that happens, you'll have to picture it in your mind!