Welcome to the National Storytelling Blog! Within our membership, we have people with expertise in all facets of storytelling. Here we offer their insights and highlight their stories for you to enjoy, learn, and connect.
by Heather Forest
Ancient and epic tales have migrated with people wherever people have traveled the globe. Carried in the heart rather than the hand, these ancient narratives are humanity’s heirlooms. They have been preserved over time by the tongues of tellers and have migrated into literature, captured by scribes.
In my workshop intensive at the NSN conference I will be inviting people to embark on a fascinating global journey through time, place, and culture by exploring some of the oldest plots on the planet. Along the way we will meet Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Osiris, Odysseus, Gassire, and more. Beyond the concept of “the hero’s journey,” popularized by Joseph Campbell, these timeless tales illuminate “the hero’s choices.” Teaching leadership skills, heroic epics model how both the wise and the foolish characters experience the resulting positive or negative consequences that result from the choices made along the story’s journey. Ancient tales offer listeners and readers insights into the intimate, personal work of seeking to understand the meaning of life in the face of the inevitability of death. Powerful human emotions and recurring themes of natural disaster, supernatural forces, and parallel worlds flow through the heart of these ancient narratives. Addressing universal human concerns, these stories transcend their time and place and are still compelling and relevant for modern listeners. It is comforting to see that ancient people faced the same challenging choices that we still encounter today in our modern world. Perhaps their ancient voices can guide us on our way.
Heroic quests for victory, honor, wisdom, and order have long been common connecting threads in the multicultural fabric of epic tales. In my research, I’ve noticed an enduring belief pervading ancient stories that there is more to reality than meets the eye. This underlying assumption allows narrative space for mystical, supernatural, and otherworldly elements to intertwine with the mundane logic of ordinary day-to-day life.
There is much to learn about the creative writing process from investigating the popular oral fare of ancient tellers. It is fascinating to me that the compositional structure of traditionally oral tales has been echoed by writers across the centuries and has shaped our modern sense of story construction. In researching classic epics and ancient tales to feature in my books and share in my workshops, I constantly come upon familiar literary techniques such as weaving a backstory, unfolding parallel tales, beginning in medias res, framing one story within another, and using metaphor and a cast of dramatic characters to describe complex human predicaments. Oral tradition is the bedrock of literary expression. Modern literature still employs these classic narrative devices.
I hope my workshop intensive at the NSN Conference 2017 inspires participants to explore some of the ancient classics of storytelling and helps to deepen appreciation for the roots of our art form.
Come learn more about this topic at Heather’s workshop at the 2017 National Storytelling Conference, June 28-July 2, in Kansas City, Missouri. www.storynet.org/conference/index.html
About Heather Forest
Both an award winning storyteller and author, Heather Forest is internationally celebrated for her evocative retellings of multicultural folktales.
Heather Forest’s newest book Ancient and Epic Tales from around the World , published by August House, has recently won a 2017 Storytelling World Award, a Parent’s Choice Award, a NAPPA (National Association of Parenting Publications Award) and is an INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist. She is currently offering workshops and concert performances based on the book. She is available nationally for festivals, conferences, workshops and storytelling concerts.
By Tom Sparough
There are an unlimited amount of stories that could be useful on an organizational level. But, still, the every day worker today doesn’t see the benefit of stories.
In my NSN conference workshop, entitled “Generative Organizational Story: Opening the Borders Between Us and Them,” we will explore some of the benefits of storytelling, but in a focused way.
Generative story is an illustrative story that can lead to learning, understanding and behavioral changes. One could say that this could be the outcome of any story. But in this iteration of “generative,” we tell stories that are not directly related to the teller or the listener. In other words, we are eliminating personal stories.
Personal stories are a great way to share insights and teachings on the organizational level, but when we are trying to bridge the gap between us and them, it sometimes helps to put everyone listening, and the teller as well, on the outside of the story. In this way, if the story is compelling, everyone comes to the inside together.
To get some understanding of the benefit of this kind of generative organizational storytelling, let’s consider a sales manager who wants to help motivate his staff to work harder. With a common approach, he could spotlight one of his star sales people by sharing a story of something that person did that exemplified sales excellence. At times, that is appropriate, but at other times, it could cause animosity. Perhaps you can hear people saying, “Oh, he’s your favorite. Why can’t we all be like him?” It easily can lead to “us” and “them” thinking.
On the other hand, a generative approach might be more effective. For instance, the sales manager could tell a story about a person no one knows and spotlight actions that were either positive or negative. Then the staff could have a low stakes, but high engagement, conversation about what happened in the story. High engagement naturally happens with compelling stories. It is low stakes, however, because it is not about the people in the room. This could be very valuable for a contentious staff, or when talking about a sensitive issue, such as sexual harassment.
After initial discussion, with the generative story as an illustration, one can bridge directly into the listeners’ work by using questions like, “What do we see from this story that might apply to our work place?”
But, you don’t have to get direct. People learn from stories, even without directly discussing the applications to their lives. That makes sense, because when we are engaged in a story, in a sense we live it. And without even talking about it, perhaps not even thinking about it, we are led internally to make adjustments in our lives. Sometimes all that is needed is to hear the story and a seed of deep learning begins to grow.
Other times, for instance, when policy needs to be written or revised, we bridge into direct reflection with questions like, “Based on hearing this story, what are appropriate guidelines we might consider for our work place?” In this way, we are opening ourselves to “them” so that we might more fully and inclusively become “us.”
If you get a chance, come to the workshop to further explore this technique and to add your voice to the conversation.
Tom Sparough is known as the Space Painter, because of the colorful mix of storytelling and juggling that he shares for his clients. He is a board member of the special interest group Storytelling In Organizations. Tom is currently experimenting with a series of generative ghost stories for business entitled “Managing the Dead, Ghost Stories to Keep Your Organization Alive.” Learn more and receive his monthly generative ghost story at http://SpacePainter.com.
By Lyn Ford
In his 2001 Viking Penguin publication, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Robert R. Provine stated, “… ‘ha ha’, ‘ho ho’ or ‘he he’. These ‘words’ are part of the human universal vocabulary, produced and recognized by people of all cultures… There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.”
Dr. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of Maryland Baltimore County did ten years of research before publishing his book. But most people figured out the connection between laughter and communication at birth.
Response to a first baby coo, attempt to share a smile or spoken word, or basic narrative play probably encouraged us to share more, and we may not have cared why or how it worked. Laughter connected us to the heart and communal joy of our sounds and words. We felt good about and more confident in sharing.
My personal studies took me beyond the act of communicating laughter; I needed to find some stress relief. I was too busy with my writing, storytelling work, and home life; I was dealing with some health issues that still impact my energy. I was happy, but exhausted. I found a Laughter Club, then became a Certified LY Leader.
Learning and practicing laughter exercises did more than help me relax. I found ways to energize myself in the morning and relax before bedtime. I could breathe, stretch, and laugh my way beyond many allergy symptoms…the laughs sounded like a sick bear, sometimes like a foghorn, but they worked. Very good, very good…YAY!
I also learned joy-filled activities I could share with folks whose mobility was limited, folks who, for various reasons, led mildly to severely sedentary lives that limited their socialization. This knowledge led me to develop a laughter group at an adult daycare facility. Many participants didn’t respond to questions and in conversations, but they joined together in laughter.
I realized my introverted personality’s responses to getting on and off stage were reduced, sometimes gone. BONUS!!! I wasn’t agitated before I spoke, or too tired to shake hands and chat after I’d finished my programs.
Nowadays, when I initially meet strangers, I can take a deep breath, smile a real smile and laugh a friendly laugh that doesn’t sound like somebody dropped ice down my back. And I’ve started sharing breath and laughter techniques with others who are prone to pre- and post-performance stress.
I’ve become a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, teaching others to facilitate and share laughter, a trans-cultural gift of understanding. Everyone can speak laughter.
At the 2017 National Storytelling Network’s conference in Kansas City, Missouri, I’m offering my workshop, “Laughter, Breath, Joy: Communal Communication”. With no barriers of language or cultural misunderstanding or misrepresentation, we’ll share techniques and gentle exercises that can relax us, energize us, and bring us all together.
Join us. Come and laugh, communicate, learn and play…ho ho, ha ha, very good…YAY!
About Lyn Ford
Lynette (Lyn) Ford is a fourth-generation Affrilachian storyteller, a nationally recognized workshop facilitator, and a published author. Lyn is also a Thurber House mentor to young authors, a teaching artist with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) and the Ohio State-Based Collaborative Initiative of the Kennedy Center (OSBCI), a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. Lyn’s 2015 book, Hot Wind, Boiling Rain: Scary Stories for Strong Hearts is also a creative-writing resource; Lyn’s fourth book (written with storytelling friend, Sherry Norfolk), Boo-Tickle Tales: Not-So-Scary Stories for Kids, is set for publication in the spring of 2017.
Contact Lyn Ford
By Penelope Starr
Once a week I meet up with four friends and we walk a mile along a dry-river path to a coffee shop where we sip beverages, eat bagels and gab. Our ages range from late fifties to early eighties—we have more than three hundred years of combined life stories to share.
Last week we sat at an outdoor table overlooking a parking lot next to a middle aged man in a baseball cap who was reading while he sipped his coffee. I was facing him and noticed he was staring off into space rather than burying his nose in his book. It seemed like he was deliberately trying to look like he was lost in reverie but I knew he was straining to hear our conversation.
Our usual lively exchange ranged from the latest political scandal to vaginal plastic surgery. We told each other about having a difficult mother in assisted living and an ill child. We shared snippets from our outrageous pasts. With each intimate revelation, I glanced at the listener to confirm he was, indeed, following our stories. When he got up to leave we waved and said goodbye but he didn’t respond or acknowledge his eavesdropping. We all agreed that he had gotten an earful and an education.
Our walk-talks have cemented already strong friendships into something more akin to a community. We share our truths in a safe space, listening to each other with wonder and respect.
It reminds me of a community storytelling event. Everyone has a voice and feels heard. There is no censorship, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our opinions. Our bond is the agreement to listen to each others stories.
This is what I’ve learned in the thirteen years since I created Odyssey Storytelling, a monthly community storytelling event in Tucson, Arizona. My original intention was to create an entertaining event by inviting local people to share their interesting and edifying stories with an audience. I have always loved listening to stories and I assumed that everyone else did too.
But I didn’t know how much more there was to community storytelling. Month after month I watched people gain confidence in their newly learned storytelling skills as they shared intimate details from their lives. I heard stories that bridged cultural divides. I was witness to prejudices softening and connections being made. I sensed profound and deep healing from tellers and listeners. I reveled in the pure democracy of uncensored voices. I experienced radical acceptance and deep empowerment.
My journey from story listener to story producer is a do-it-yourself tale. Enthusiasm carried me when experience was lacking. My strategy was to figure it out along the way. It worked for me but not until I suffered a few disasters and learned lessons the hard way.
I didn’t have a clear roadmap to follow so I decided to write a book to help others navigate this path. The Radical Act of Community Storytelling: Empowering Voices in Uncensored Events chronicles my journey, offering tips for success and pitfalls to avoid. But most of all, the book is about the stories I heard over the last dozen plus years that connected me to the amazing community of tellers and listeners.
Just like my walking group, community storytelling creates connections one story at a time.
Nothing in Penelope Starr’s background prepared her for her thirteen year adventure in community storytelling. Penelope taught herself how to produce a storytelling event, coach tellers, wrangle venues, make websites and market Odyssey Storytelling. Now, at seventy-one, she taught herself how to write a book about it. Look for The Radical Act of Community Storytelling: Empowering Voices in Uncensored Events, published by Parkhurst Brothers in 2017. Her next adventure is consulting with groups who want to start their own community storytelling.
You can find her on Facebook and at www.Penelopestarr.com.
By Anne Shimojima
Of all the storytelling projects I’ve been involved with in the last thirty-plus years, none has been more meaningful, more revealing, or more personally satisfying than the story of my own family’s journey from Japan to the United States and their incarceration during World War II. But it was a surprising turn for me, a teller of folk tales who came from a family that never talked about the past.
It all began with the idea to create a family photo book and the surprising discovery that my cousin had photographs and documents from our grandmother that went all the way back to Japan, some over a hundred years old. It was then that I realized it wasn’t enough to make a photo book. I had to get the story. I had only one living relative on my father’s side who had lived in a camp, my 91-year old aunt, so I broke family tradition and interviewed her. She showed no reluctance talking about what must have been painful memories and she helped me to understand what my grandparents went through as they lost the life they had spent thirty-five years building.
From there the family history project grew into slide shows of our four generations, a DVD, a notebook of historical documents, and three different photo books. But then the biggest surprise of all – I decided to develop a story for performance. I now tell this story with a slide show of photographs from my family and the National Archives because I want you to see the horse stalls, the barracks, and the guard towers. The story has become even more important in our current atmosphere of increased fear and suspicion, and I want people to understand what really happens when people are incarcerated for the crime of looking like the enemy.
Nine years ago I began to give my workshop on creating family history projects. It is not a genealogy workshop. Instead it gives ideas on how to share your own family history discoveries. I give oral history interviewing tips, show how I found historical documents, and demonstrate how I edited photos and created a photo book and video slide shows.
My current workshop is an update of the workshop I presented at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference. Since then I’ve learned about new technologies, websites, and tools to create a project that your family will treasure and that you can use to create your own story.
Learning from the past helps to ground us in the present and strengthen us for the future. May your family’s story be one that gives you insight and meaning in your own life, and may it be a gift for future generations.
Anne has been a storyteller for over thirty years, performing at such places as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Chicago History Museum, the 1st Asian American Storytelling Festival, the Stories Connect Us All Online Storytelling Festival, the Hans Christian Andersen statue in New York City, and as Teller-in-Residence at the International Storytelling Festival. In 2017 she will be a New Voice at the National Storytelling Festival. Anne delights in performing at schools, museums, libraries, gardens, senior centers, conferences, and anywhere people like to hear a good story.
The story Hidden Memory is available for audio download with a lesson plan and discussion questions at http://racebridgesstudio.com.