Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who do we think we are?

I posted this at the storyteller's listserv - a question From Slash Coleman's blog:

"Oftentimes, others can pinpoint the theme of your work much easier than you can. This week, I suggest you interview others to begin to narrow your brand. What are you trying to say with your artwork? You may not know. So, this week, bite the bullet and ask 3-5 friends what they think the underlying theme is in your art form. You may be surprised at their feedback. "

A few responses below:

"Ten or fifteen years ago I was informed by different trusted friends on several different occasions that the basic theme of the stories I wrote & told was “dealing with loss.” Hearing this was a disappointment to me. “Loss” is not a particularly funny topic and I had designed my stories to be funny. They made people laugh. Therefore, I had assumed that I was a humorist. These stories were more complicated in their construction than, say, a long joke. I knew that they’d bomb at a comedy club (in fact I’m pretty sure they did once.) But given the right listening venues, people laughed in recognition of seeing themselves in my stories, so how was it possible that at the center of my material was the sad little core of loss?

Time passed. Things changed. I grew older and gained more life experience. I now understand that the basic theme of my stories is . . . loss. Yep, some things may change with time, but not the core of my stories. Perhaps I should gather 3–5 unbiased friends to ask again what THEY think is my main theme. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear something other than “dealing with loss.” I doubt that my friends will come up with something different. But I might as well ask. Hey, what have I got to lose?" from Pat Spaulding

And then this reply:
"The thing about our art is that it is not art unless we come from a specific vantage point/know why we we are sharing a story. This knowledge, though it helps us to shape a coherent piece often means zip to the listener, as you have no idea what is going on in their life, where they will attach to the tale, and what meaning they will draw from it. It's glorious. We must own it, then give it away." from Judith Black

And another from Marni Gillard:
Pat, your post made me smile. I too VERY often tell tales of loss. I had one huge loss and a whole lot of disappointment in my young childhood and without realizing it at first, I became a teller who both tells and elicits from others tales of loss. People carry such tales unconsciously (or consciously) and resonate with such tales when they hear them. Mine, at moments are also full of humor and with luck and some surrender on my part, I do bring us all home to a place of safety when I conclude them. Loss is big part of everyone’s life. Yet, we tend to AVOID it as a subject, so I feel that my stories (and my work helping others free their hidden tales) are helping the world go to that place where they want to go but also resist.

Having said that, I know that stories are heard and told on MANY levels. While being about loss my tales are also about courage, foolishness, stuborness, joy, yearning, and often about the error of inattention. Stories ultimately – in my thinking - are always about knowing ourselves and loving ourselves (whether foolish, jealous, greedy, inattentive or deeply sorrowful).

Good for you for gathering buddies or unbiased friends (is there such a thing?) to listen to your tales with the ears and eyes to reflect what they hear. For years I’ve gathered new and experienced tellers at my home to share tales. We support each other in awakening to what our stories are REALLY about and how to relax into those themes. I say BRAVO if you dare to tell tales of loss. The world needs them.

My repsonse:
Yes, and...very true and I think what you said is also true of paintings and plays and novels and poems - well, art itself, no? Another question is, on a more base and very practical level - How do we present what we each of us do as storytellers? When we speak of ourselves to prospective clients? Are we representing what we ACTUALLY seem to be doing most ( a la - Pat Spaulding? tx Pat )- or Are we representing best hopes and our intentions? Do we say in answer to the question, What is your "brand" a litany? I am your Italian- Irish-NYC born-American, tragi-comical personal tale teller,picture book writing, early 18th century female pirate, various historical character presenting, storyteller ?

Or will we,nay, should we say:

" I am an "artiste" dammit - what I do is, tell stories. Every kind, length, shape and size of story known to human kind. Deal, all you branders and marketers out there - I do not do 'niche'. Do not look for an exact 'fit', story fits everywhere" Both are typical responses from me to that Q. What does it matter? I can think of time when it will matter very much and other situations where a rat's behind is approx value I place on "who thinks what "

Interesting twist on this idea that Slash Coleman had was for us to ask other people what THEY think we are doing?

So, I am curious - what do people tell you? What would people tell me? tell me if you find this idea interesting or just annoying ?