The Tribe Has Spoken

For almost 70  years television has been telling us which stories to watch and which stories are relevant. Television networks built a consumer oriented identity, and like plump little babies we have wagged our tongues and let them spoon-feed us the expertly packaged goods. Without so much as a whimper, we went on autopilot and let them do the thinking for us.

But things are changing.

With the revolution of social media, people are now telling their stories, posting their stories, blogging their stories, and sharing their stories. This tsunami of social media has brought back the ancient ritual of gathering around the glow of the campfire to share the stories of the day...except now, it is by the glow of an LCD screen. A bit more isolated than the days of tribal gatherings...but no less impacting.

As we ride the steady hum of the electronic highway,  we decide what rises to the top of our tribal chatter, not the Networks. We decide which stories go viral and which are shared the most...and these tend not to match what the Networks are throwing up on our TV screens each night.

Stray dogs dragging injured companions off of busy streets, inspirational poems and sayings about strength, life and happiness, a person dancing in every country, groups of strangers breaking into song at train stations and malls, a man bringing light into darkness by using Pepsi bottles, an old married couple playing the piano and a baby laughing. Not your prime time TV...but the tribe has spoken, and we like this stuff.

Now I know what your are thinking that there is a lot of garbage online and that it is no better then television. Yes, there is a lot of garbage online. But there is also a lot of awesomeness online. Yes,  I said awesomeness.  And the beauty is that WE choose what goes viral. WE submit the stories. WE supply the content...not just a couple companies, but all of us.

Blogging, social media, and family search engines are powerful vehicles in spreading story. Our stories...not someone else's. Do not misunderstand, I realize that nothing compares to sharing and communicating face to face. But we would be foolish to ignore the impact that technology is having on story and human connection.

Next year, in March, there will be a coming together of three different tribes...each one chanting the same thing. OUR stories are important.

story@home is scheduled for March of 2012. I am thrilled to be a part of this inaugural event. story@homeis a conference that will, for the first time that I know of, bring together nationally known storytellers, genealogy giants, and blogging superheros. Three very different tribes whose lines intersect at numerous points. I hope to see you there.
story@home website

I'm Still A Beginner

I just sent off the final proofs and the master CD for my new album. I haven't even held the final product in my hands yet and I'm already thinking about what is next. I have six projects I want to do. I'm never happy. I always think I could be doing better and I know, in a very real way, that there is so much I have left to learn. As freely as the creativity flows, so does the unrest. I am constantly hot and wanting to birth something new.

I love Ira Glass, I'm a huge fan. The following is from him and reading it about once a month helps me realize that I'm not alone in this process. I think I'm on the right path.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

The Lap

When I was a little girl, I was stick thin. My daddy used to say that if I stood sideways and stuck out my tongue that I would look like a zipper.  Well, that all changed after the birth of my last daughter. My body began to change and then when I hit 45, I began to spread like unbaked cake batter. I still do some yoga and circuit training each week, but I cannot lose weight.

One evening when my oldest grandson was visiting, I pulled him onto my lap. He is 4. I cradled him and he said, “Nana, I am not a baby.”  I told him that I knew he was not a baby, but that I wanted to cradle him in my lap because soon, he would be too big.  He looked up at me with his deep brown eyes and said, “Nana, your lap is perfect.” And he settled in. 

I began to think about all of the laps that had spooned me over the years. My mother is a small, thin woman. I loved sitting on her lap…not because it was comfortable but because it was comforting. I can still close my eyes and feel her arms around me, the smell of Avon hand cream making the air thick with scent.  

My Aunt Louise was a different story.  She was a broad woman with heavy, sagging arms. Her lap was very, very comfortable. When I was pulled into it, it meant that a treat was coming; a cookie, a cheap piece of costume jewelry, or a joke! It was a good lap. 

My fathers lap was a place of conflicting feelings. It was used for two extremes. I can still hear his voice singing to me, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy….,” as he rocked me in his lap. But I can also remember being asked to bend over that lap so that a firm (and usually well deserved) swat could be administered. I preferred the first use. 

Laps are amazingly engineered pieces of living furniture. Man has tried for centuries to replicate the perfection of the lap through chairs, couches, benches and settees. They have failed. Even the most well crafted piece of furniture, no matter how deeply comfortable, cannot compete with the lap. 

In these man made attempts there is no soft childbearing pouch, no sweet low humming, no stroking of the hair, no stories whispered, no warmth from the arms, no perfectly placed pillows of rest that echo the heartbeat and never, from any chair, will you receive a kiss on the crown. The lap is perfection.

The first throne of a king is on his mothers lap. The first seat of a congressman or president is on his mothers lap. The greatest inventors, artists, and leaders were formed while sitting in someone’s lap. 

I looked down at my grandson and smiled, “That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.” And I began to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy…”

The Fate of Festivals...

On a carpet of wildflowers, revival style tents were raised in salute to the ancient art of storytelling.  As tales flowed from the stage you could, with one turn of the head, gaze out onto the mighty Mississippi. The deep drone of barges and the turn of steel tires on the track provided a memorable underscore to this annual event.

The Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival never disappoints. This is my second time being allowed to play a part in this well organized, well attended festival.  Considering it is only in its fourth year, the Cape Girardeau storytelling festival has experienced success that some festivals only dream about. It helps that the staff and volunteers put their heart into it.  Plus, they always offer a diverse and stellar teller lineup. It also helps that it takes place in a quaint town that offers an abundance of history, great shops, and quirky eateries.  But there are many other festivals that can tout the same qualities…without reaping the same attendance.

So what makes Cape Girardeau different?

I think it is the fact that they treat their festival as a business.  They care enough about the art of storytelling to handle it with professional gloves. They reach out to their main demographic using well thought out, professionally crafted marketing tools. They continually strive to pull in new people  by way of print, news, web site, emails, social networking  and radio. Their commitment to good marketing is proven in that they brought in a teller this year just to do PR in local universities and retirement communities. They think outside of the box and are always looking for new ways to reach possible audiences. They work closely with local business’ and merchants – helping them recognize the beauty of storytelling AND what it can do for the local area. They are realistic and patient, knowing it takes time to grow good stuff.
This serves as a good model for other festivals.

In these tough economic times, people have only so much ‘entertainment’ money in their pocket.  When they pull that $20 out and look at it, they have to decide where they will spend it. With this general mindset, festivals are up against a lot of competition to get a seat filled.

As a storyteller and story lover, I try very hard to help festivals and story events not just survive, but thrive. I feel it is my duty as an artist to not just take, take, take but to also give, especially in this economic climate.  If you make a living (part time or full time) as a teller, it is easy to fall into the mode of, I want paid. Where is the pay? How much is the pay? I want paid! mentality. There is nothing wrong with that, we need to survive as well, but we also need to realize that we get back what we put into our business and all festivals, events, and shows are our business. It would be terrible to wake up one day and find out the tank has run dry.

I want to encourage you, as a teller, to try some of the following:
  • Donate 10% or more of your earnings back to the place that hired you.
  • Offer a free workshop while you are there. Just an hour, to the business people in town. Have the event director set it up, they can go through the Chamber or the town. Using story in business is a hot topic and it can be a gift from the festival to the local merchants and non-profits.
  • Offer to come a day early to the event, at no charge, to do PR work. Tell stories for the Lions Club, retirement communities, to educators, etc. Ask that only your expenses are covered…but help them get the word out by telling. It works and in the end we all benefit.
  • Do your part to market the event. It is just as much our responsibility, as it is theirs, to fill the seats. Use your email marketing list and send out an e-blast, put it in your quarterly newsletter, do a Facebook filtered search and send an invite to folks who live in that area, post in your status where you are going and what is happening…believe me, people will come because of this. I had a guy and his wife come all the way from Pittsburgh to a Virginia festival because of a status update. Tickets, lodging, food, and gas helped the local commerce and seats where filled.
  • Mingle. Yes, mingle.  I know that at an event you are tired, nervous, road weary, whatever…but you must mingle. Shake hands, hug the cute old ladies, joke about the weather, whatever. If people feel welcomed by the talent they feel special. When they feel special they come back (with friends) and the event survives which means work for my friends (and hopefully me) in the future.
  • Fuel the grassroots organizations. Become a member of story organizations, donate to local guilds, give them product for giveaway at their events.  I can’t attend the functions of these groups, but I can pay the membership. Most events and festivals are held together by folks at the grassroots level. They are my hero’s. They usually cart my butt around, feed me, set up chairs, take tickets, and make sure I feel like I am at home. $25 bucks a year gives them a new member and helps their cause.

Listen, I’m not some story martyr. I have failed miserably in all of these areas at one time or another. But, no matter your belief system, we reap what we sow. By scattering a few seeds as we travel this lovely road, we leave it better then we found it. Now that’s something I can live with.

Welcome to the Year 2011 (insert space sounds here)

When I was a little girl the year 2011 seemed space ages away.  Instant food, hovering cars, and robot maids were things I thought I would never live to see. Well, here we are, 2011. Maybe things are not as advanced as they were for good old Judy Jetson, but they have definitely moved along.

Microwaves pop food out in 30 seconds, a Roomba can do your cleaning while you're at work, we can plug our cars into outlets, and video phone calls are not only a reality but they can be done  anywhere, anytime using a small hand held device called a smart phone. I pay my bills while standing in line at the pharmacy, I send pictures of my grandson to my mother (who lives 6 hours away) in 5 seconds, we move standing still on conveyors in airports, and I can transport myself anywhere on the planet just by typing www.

Amazing. And yet, in the midst of all this change and advancement several things remain constant, one being the use of and the need for story. Avatar, a groundbreaking movie in the area of special effects, would be nothing without the story. Web sites are just electronic billboards of a companies story. Facebook is just millions of people shouting, "Look at my me!".

In a recent edition of Scientific American Mind, there was an article stating that today's children are so advanced, in the use of video game hardware, that game designers are realizing they cannot create anything new that will challenge them. So, they are going back to the story of the game and making the story deeper, more complex, more meaningful, and more textured.

There is a buzz about technological advancement hurting the art of storytelling. I somewhat disagree. Yes, it's a bit harder to grab attention of the wired child/adult, but they are reachable. Watch any kid/adult sit down in front of a good storyteller and in 30 seconds they are hooked.

Humans can decorate themselves with all types of electronic gear, surround themselves with all types of cool toys, gadgets, and robots...but they are still human. And other than love, story is one of the basic elements of human survival.

Even the most extreme gamers recognize that.