Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Where I am, now...

Wow! This is my first blog of 2016. It has been a crazy 6 months since I last wrote. Since October I have published a new picture book. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, and ace illustrator Alex GerasevMy Bad Bad Dog will be available in book stores starting in May.

This year I have been freelancing for Young Audiences and teaching three classes this semester as an adjunct professor at Lesley and Tufts University. I am now a Union Steward for the adjunct faculty union I helped to start last year. At Lesley U, Faculty Forward, SEIU 509 I feel I can contribute towards concrete social change. has morphed and is developing into a new entity. I have joined Fractured Atlas and along with artist-educator storytelling colleagues we are in an exciting 6th season. All great projects and very rewarding.  And this blog truly was lost in the shuffle.

 So, picking up from where I am now...
"Construction of self" is the overarching theme at Suffolk U

Here is an interview I did about an exciting event I am involved in on this Friday,  “Where I Am From” Story Slam  April 22, 2016 | 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm | $10  Suffolk University students and GrubStreet writers join together to tell compelling personal narratives on the theme “Where I Am From.” Our story-tellers navigate the all-too human stories of self and identity. Like memoir, story slams have become a unique yet popular way of telling true stories that offer individual insight into universal experience.  CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS! Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students/seniors. Free admission to members of GrubStreet and Suffolk University community. I will be the emcee. Read about the slam and storytelling, below.

What is your role in the upcoming "Where I am From" event?

I will be the emcee and slam coordinator with Professor, Amy Monticello. Additionally my role is to inspire and coach the Suffolk team. I just gave an introductory presentation on the art of storytelling to students in Prof. Monticello's, "Creativity and Innovation: Literary Citizenship," which is a 100-level course in Suffolk's core curriculum designed to teach students how to solve problems using creative processes. I spoke from the perspective of an artist, event producer, educator and gave a brief survey of the neurology of storytelling - which is fascinating.

Will you be sharing a story at the event? if so can you share the topic/subject?
As emcee, I may share a short story in between performers. Mainly I try to keep out of the way and make the evening work for performers and audience. If there is time I'd like to tell the story about my great-grandfather (Where I am From) and how shameful it was that I had an anxiety disorder around driving which I overcame. In the end I had a surprising boost that seemed to come from the very place of "where I am from."

As an author/story-teller, can you share the value, for you, that getting up in front of a live audience offers you (that perhaps a printed book does not)?

Telling a story is a full body/mind experience. The art of storytelling is a performance art and exists in the moments of live transmission of story - a collaboration between both the energy and imaginations of  storyteller and listeners. The listener and teller co-create a kind of "theater of the mind" from the low tech but hard-wired cues of the vocalization, posture, facial expressions and words and images of the storyteller.

Why do you think story slams have become so popular in recent times? is it about memoir? 

Well, yes and no. The need to connect with each other is hard-wired in humans. I guess you could say that the recent interest in memoir is one expression of that need to connect. "We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say-and to feel- ‘Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel it.’ You’re not as alone as you thought." —John Steinbeck  And I believe "It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story." —Native American saying. All literature and stories are about what we are doing here, in this life, on this earth, and how we make meaning of it.

We don't say so explicitly but we do believe that "If you keep telling the same sad small story, you will keep living the same sad small life." —Jean Houston. So storytelling has an intrinsic therapeutic value, even when taught and practiced as an art form.  Like novelist Ben Okri,  I also see that "A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation… Ben Okri also said and I often quote him: "Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger." The stories we tell and hear have civic and social impacts, whether we acknowledge it or not.

What are the challenges to a story-teller to get up and share your story live on stage? The first challenge is that we need to know what our experience means to us. We need to know our story. Then we need to believe that our lives have meaning for others. The next challenge is to remember that the performance it is not about you but about your story.

Has there been a moment either telling your own story or hearing some other one, that has taken you a-back? if so, please share.
I have heard hundreds of stories that have simply floored me. We have heard so many wonderful stories doing story slams -funny, poignant, tragic and transcendent. Stories from taxi drivers, electricians, teachers, students, short order cooks and Holocaust survivors.  And I have heard many stories from high schools students that absolutely blew me away. One girl survived the aftermath of a coup in Haiti that was brutally violent. She stepped over dead bodies walking to school and that was just one part of her odyssey. When she finally moved to Boston she was cruelly teased and bullied. Her response to her bullies when she responded with stoicism and they were surprised enough to question her, was - "I have seen much worse. " There are tons more stories where that came from. Come to Club Passim on May 7th to hear this year's students.

What "coaching" advice would you offer a new / potential slam story teller about to get on stage for his/her first time?

My best note is to be present in the memory of your experience. Do not speak from a text or script. And if you can speak from that experience, you will find that the images, facial expressions, vocal variety and elements of effective performance will follow from your engagement. And huge part of successful storytelling is in sounding as if you are telling your friend what happened even if you have told it one hundred times.