Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meeting a Storyteller and Mentor

It is nice to know that Peggy Melanson and I both remember the moment when the light bulb went on for me the same way. I can still feel the excitement as I was listening to Peggy tell me the stories of the books she wanted to publish and I realized what a master storyteller she was.  Her first  public story performance knocked the socks off many people. She is one of my favorite storytellers. It is hard to pick favorites but a story about a crystal bowl from her  Buddha on The Bus©  collection is a tale that stuck with me and one of the first stories I heard.  Here she is a guest blogger.  I really hope  she comes out east and we get to hear her soon.  - Norah Dooley

Meeting a Storyteller and Mentor   

by Peggy Melanson

   I’ve discovered that quite a few people visualize “Storytelling” as a child sitting on a parent’s lap while Mom or Dad read stories from children’s books.  For a long time, I was one of these people.

            Until I met Norah Dooley -

Peggy Melanson
     While sitting in the waiting room of a new primary physician’s office, I noticed several large posters on the wall.  One particular poster caught my eye. It was a pastel watercolor painting of a lovely neighborhood with the title, “EverybodyBakes Bread, by Norah Dooley.  It was one of many children’s stories that the author had written. Looking closely at the poster, I noticed that she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

     Since I lived in Somerville, the next town to Cambridge, I thought to look her up. At the time, I had no idea how brazen that idea was.

     When I arrived home, I called information and was surprised to find that Norah was listed.  Assuming that she would have a secretary, I planned to leave a message. I was very surprised when she answered the phone personally.

      I told her about noticing the poster and asked if she might advise me on how to get my brother’s Christmas Wishing Apple story published. I did not know that the process was very difficult.

     Many well-meaning non-writers say things like, “That’s a wonderful story, and you should get it published! Or, you should send that to Reader’s Digest.”  They have no idea what it entails.  Most people think all you have to do is call a publisher and they’ll rush to your door.

    I was astounded when she invited me to meet her for coffee at a local Cambridge coffee house.  We sat and talked for two hours.  It was wonderful to be with someone who understood my stories.

Love to mentor but really I just "connected" Peggy and she did the rest -NAD
 Suddenly Norah sat back in her chair and looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “My god, you are a storyteller.”  Visions of children on laps danced in my mind. “I responded, “What do you mean?”  Instead of explaining, she asked me what I was doing the following Tuesday evening. And, suggested we go to Foozles Book Store in Porter Square Cambridge to see Master Storyteller, Brother Blue. I was dubious about attending a children’s storytelling event. I was in for a very big surprise.

          When we arrived, I was astounded to see about twenty grownups and no kids in the bookstore. We got there early so that she could show me the process.  Brother Blue’s wife, Ruth Hill was in charge of the timing for people telling stories.  People wishing to tell a story, placed their name on a piece of paper that was placed in a basket. Names were randomly chosen and each teller had five minutes to tell any kind of story.  A featured teller was allowed thirty minutes at the end of the group performances.  When tellers reached about four minutes, Ruth would nod her head at the speakers to remind them they had only one minute left.  At five minutes, Ruth rang a ceramic bell to end the performance.  Later, I realized that those rules would be substantial in the timing of my stories, told and written.

                                                My First “Told” story

 I cannot find the exact words to describe that first experience.  “Stunned, mesmerized and enchanted to be in the presence of this wonderful couple.” Later I discovered that the group was (and still is) called, The League for New England Storytelling” L.A.N.E.S. I’m still a member today

        For some reason, I felt absolutely comfortable standing up to tell the true story, “Teenage Buddha.” As I will mention later, Brother Blue and Ruth made me feel that my story was the most important in the world.  The people that attended congratulated me.  And, Norah, kept saying, “I told you that you are a storyteller. “Now, do you know what I mean?”  It took a while for it to sink in.

         Soon after that evening, Foozles bookstore closed and “Storytelling Night” would be held for many years every Tuesday evening at Sherrill Hall Library at Harvard University.  I attended every event and it was wonderful getting to know other people with like minds. And, Norah still helps me with advise

        In early 2000, Robert Smyth, Publisher of Yellow Moon Press sent out a call for stories about Brother Blue and Ruth.  I was honored to have my story, “Seeds of the Universe,” chosen and it was published as, “Brother Blue-Golden Comet in 2001.

My first “Fantasy style” Story follows:

                                                Seeds of The Universe

   While driving alone, just before the rain, down a dark and winding road in Arlington, Massachusetts, a falling star caught my attention. Shooting across the heavens, it seemed to come straight at me.  A little bit frightened and filled with awe, I drove faster to get out of its path.  When I turned to look back, I saw a jagged burst of lightning pierce the night sky.  The brilliant flash of light streaked low and over the tall trees behind me. It was then, that I remembered who Brother Blue was and how we were connected.

         Pulling my car over to the side of the road, I wrote this story on odd bits of paper found in the car, while the rain pummeled the roof and the thunder and lightning crashed around me.

         It was a millennium ago while slumbering in my ancient soul that a golden comet streaking through the heavens awakened me. The splendid brilliance raced through earth’s atmosphere, weaving and dancing amidst a stand of trees.  As if searching, it moved and then suddenly struck a colossal tree, setting it ablaze. Glowing and split in half, though still attached at the roots, the tree thundered to the ground. Sparks from one half of the burning wood flew like fireflies, imbedding themselves within the tall timber of the surrounding forest.  Deep, deep, deep they burrowed, to slumber within the wood, waiting to be awakened when the time was right. Thus Brother Blue was born to seed the world with stories.

         Spiraling shafts of light from the other half of the felled tree sprang up and raced to spin protectively and embrace the trees that the sparks had entered.

         It was then that Ruth was released to preserve and shield Blue’s brilliant seeds. Born together out of the unity of the universe and brought to earth from the light of life, Brother Blue and Ruth prepared the world for their children - stories!

         Many years passed before fire was discovered and wood was used as its fuel.  As people came to sit around the fires, Blue’s sparkling stories awoke from within the pieces of burning timber. They began to snap and touch the cave dwellers who sat for warmth.  Slowly at first, with hesitancy and care, the act of sharing stories gave birth to other sparks that entered other people and stories spread throughout the centuries.

         My primordial soul came to life again, one day when a storyteller, Norah Dooley walked me into a cave of books where Ruth and Blue’s children lived.

         I saw my ancient Father and Mother and my brothers and sisters in all the pages made from the wood of those spark filled trees.

        Many people were there, drawn to Brother Blue’s light and Ruth’s glowing kindness because fireflies of memory danced in their minds.

         Blue stood before them, dressed in a rainbow of butterflies, arms raised, eyes cast towards the heavens, perhaps seeing his own comet’s light and pronouncing wonders.  When he took my hand and proclaimed that my first told story was perfect and wonderful...I believed him.  When I saw the smile and flash of agreement in Ruth’s eyes, I felt the rolling of the old thunder.

         On that day, the world hesitated in it’s turning to allow my ancient soul to be awakened once more by the power of Brother Blue’s ageless, universal spirit. My own spark was set free to fly around the campfires of the world, telling, telling, and telling. And I’m home again!
SIDEBAR:” Teaching and inspiring others" won Peggy Melanson the opportunity to be a Torchbearer for the 2002 Olympics. She was also awarded "Cool Woman of America" by American Movie Classics Television Network and selected, “Ms Congeniality” by the Golden Girls Pageant. Peggy is a writer and storyteller, Mixed media and Zentangle She also is a” One Woman Comedy show” presenter. As a freelance writer she has written columns for several New England magazines and newspapers. Peggy is presently working on "Dancing on the Roof,” a Memoir.