Thursday, June 09, 2005

Article: Will You Tell Me a Story?

Will You Tell Me a Story?
by Mel Edwards
Copyright April 13, 2005. All rights reserved.

Parents and baby-sitters are begged nightly for a bedtime story. The first time a child I was caring for looked up and made his plea, my heart and mind began to race. What kind of story? A good one? What will he like? I frowned and offered, “I don’t know any stories. I would be happy to read one to you. Do you have any books?” At the time, I was relieved to learn that he had a small library in his room. I had no idea how vast my options truly were.
It was not until six years ago that I, a high school English teacher, was even made aware of the world of oral storytelling as a medium to entertain, educate and reach anyone I desired. By divine grace, it seems, a workshop for using storytelling in the classroom was offered as in-service training for my district’s faculty. I thought the workshop would be a fun and easy way to rack up my required training hours, fairly certain that I’d never really use storytelling in my high school classroom. Instead of an easily-forgotten workshop, I was given an entirely new direction in life.

What is storytelling?
Storytelling has been around for centuries as a way for news to travel, friends to connect and keep in touch and to entertain. Remember, the Iliad and Odyssey were not books, but stories that bards learned and passed from listener to listener. Long before the postmodern communication age, those who knew each other well would gather in the evenings and entertain themselves with tales from lore, and whenever a stranger was in their midst, he was often asked to spin yarns from his travels and experiences.
According to Joseph Sobol, the modern storytelling revival emerged in the early 1970s in America. Many tellers of that movement had been politically active during the Vietnam era and were less than thrilled with mass media as a form of entertainment. Seeking new ways to connect with friends and strangers alike, some focused upon keeping the oral tradition alive by any means necessary, telling for impromptu audiences of in city parks or to friends over dinner. Others developed audiences in libraries, school and worked their craft in auditoriums filled with listeners. The folk tale tradition offered ample material without the constraints of copyright hurdles.
As American media has changed and the founders of the movement aged, storytelling has evolved to include rap, mime, American Sign Language and multi-lingual stories shared around the world using some of the same communications that the founders often shunned in their daily lives. Stories spring forth in ever increasingly disparate venues and are not the playroom or bedside companions some of us naively believe them to be.

Where can I hear stories?
Those curious about storytelling should begin their listener’s journey close to home. If no one in your inner circle is a gifted teller, you may want to begin with a trip to your local public library for audio recordings of stories. The Internet also is rife with streaming media and downloadable tales. Established storytellers have videos, cassette tapes and cds available for sale via personal websites.
However, if you want to know the true joy of tellers’ skills, you should seek out live performances. There are local storytelling events in every state, and a National Storytelling Festival each October in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Contact your state arts council for information on events in your vicinity. However, don’t limit yourself to the locals. You may miss out on some extraordinary artists. The National Storytelling Network (NSN), cosponsors the national festival and maintains a database of professional storytellers and links to publishers of tales.
Not all stories or storytellers are alike. Do not be disheartened if you do not find a teller whose style and choice of material fail to resonate with you. However, be forewarned, that after one live storytelling event, you may be transformed while on the listener’s journey. I never anticipated that after a single trip to Jonesborough, I would have the urge to learn to spin my own verbal yarns.

What storytelling training is available?
The type of training a student desires will depend on what type of storyteller she wants to become. If graduate school sounds exciting, East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, offers one of the only master’s degrees available in Storytelling. Your aspirations may be more humble. Great. Many colleges offer single classes or concentrations in the genre as well.
Those with more modest stores of time, energy and money for their craft can learn more specific skills directly from the professional tellers. Find a local teller whose style and personality matches yours and contact him about workshops he offers. If you do your research, you’re bound to click with someone who can not only mesmerize you as a listener but ignite your burning desire to become a skilled teller in your own right. Even if your loftiest goal is to tell merely for the joy of enthralling a toddler just once, a seminar or class still will help your reach your destination.
If you live in a remote area or your lifestyle has less flexibility, there is still hope. You may find through your local arts organizations, or via NSN, that a storytelling guild meets in your community. Publishers, such as August House, focus upon the world of story by offering tales you may learn to share, tomes on technique and tips and tricks on establishing storytelling in your community and classrooms. Web-based publishers, including, offer the bare outlines or bones of tales for storytellers to learn for far less than most seminars or workshops would cost. Texas Women’s University also hosts a storytelling list-serve where serious students of the craft may speak with active tellers and event organizers or learn about the profession while lurking in the shadows until ready to introduce step up and be recognized.
Children can be trained to become performing tellers. Many schools offer storytelling electives. Tellers such as Karen Chace, of Massachusetts, is a professional teller who coaches a youth storytelling club and does so with the blessing of the school board, parents and teachers alike. Young tellers with skill and no fear of crowds can even earn a coveted slot at the Jonesborough festival in the Youthful Voices concert.

Now, the next time someone looks to you and says, “Tell me a story,” smile, breathe and know you’ve got this request covered. Whether you pop in a recording, pick up a publication or recall a tale you have told a hundred times, remember, it is all storytelling, and there are stories are for everyone.

Baldwin, J. Bare Bones. Volumes 1-4.
Chace, K. Professional Storyteller.
National Storytelling Network.
Sobol, J. (1999.) The Storyteller’s Journey: An American Revival. University of Illinois Press: Urbana.

Article: How to Run Away -- Responsibly

Synopsis: Some days we wake up and want to run away from our lives. Most of us don’t, and live productive lives within the bounds of our discontent. Those of us with a sense of responsibility and a wild hare can still change our lives, but need to do so in a manner that fits our life goals. Though research, careful planning and execution, you can change your life, maintain your sanity and be the envy of those who are too chicken to take the plunge.

How to Run Away -- Responsibly
by Mel Edwards
Copyright April 14, 2005. All rights reserved.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda are three ugly terms that can drive a good person to the brink. If you are truly miserable or simply want something “more” out of life, you do not have to remain where you are, doing what you have been for the rest of your life - even if you have a family or a budget book packed with commitments.

Identify What You Want

Wise people know a good road map is essential to reaching your destination. With life planning, the same sentiment holds true. Don’t just pack a bag, walk out the door and hope for the best. If your irresponsibility doesn’t irk your landlord, friends and family, at some later point in life, your own conscience may turn on you.
If there is anyone else in your life who will be effected by the move, discuss it with them. If you want them to join you, ask but be prepared to find they are not mentally or emotionally willing to join in on your new adventure. If you are moving alone, make sure you have no legal ties to their well-being before you make your exit. Otherwise, your entire plan is doomed.

Why Move?

Answering this question with frankness is a must before doing something you may later regret. As the old saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If your source of discontent is your age, weight, social status, boredom etc., a move may not resolve the problem. You may be better off seeking assistance in familar surroundings. However, if you hate the weather, cannot find work in your field of expertise or want to live in a different social climate, hauling yourself out of town may be your wisest move.

Make Your Reasons List

Santa Claus wasn’t the only list keeper in history. The best way to delineate your thoughts is to write them down. Sure, by going through the first step of asking yourself mentally why you desire to move and what your want out of such a shift are ground level steps in the process, but if you haven’t written it down, you may still be in for a shock.
Grab a sheet of paper, or better yet, a small notebook, and write all the reasons you can think of for moving. Then write all the benefits you expect to reap as a result of leaving town. Don’t leave anything out. If your neighbor is a smoker and you despise the fact that you can smell it through the air vents between your apartments, write it down. If you have always lived in the same town but dream of the hustle and bustle of a metropolis, write that down too. Whatever is imporant enough to motivate your move is imporant enough to record on this list.
Before you make another move, read your list. Carefully. Cross out anything you made up in the heat of the moment that does not really matter to you. Add anything related to your personal ideals which you have forgotten when griping about your daily irksome details.

Make a Commitment

Now ask yourself, “Do I really and truly want to do this?” Let’s face it, none of us gets off this plane alive. On your death bed, will your last comment be, “I should have stayed at home?” This possiblity exists no matter what you decide, but your gut and your head should be in agreement on this point. Without agreement, you face a difficult time ahead. With it, the world can be a marvelous place.
If your resolution is to not make the move, I suggest you shred that list. It has served its purpose. Time to move on.
Yet, if your soul still cries, “Get me out of this place!” Hang on to it. You’ve got a long way to go, baby.

Decide What You Need to Know

Okay, you’ve listed your reasons, reviewed them and now is when the real fun starts. You will now create a new list. This one is for what you need to know before you can make a change that will effect every aspect of your life. Some basic questions are: Where will you live? Will you rent or buy a home? Do you need gainful employment? If so, doing what? How much do you need to make to keep up with your current bills that won’t be left in your wake?
If someone is going with you, please, have them make a list relevant to their needs. Otherwise, if only one of you has all your heart desires in your new home, realtionship struggles will surely lie ahead.


Once you have finished your list, it is time to get some answers that are reliable. If you haven’t visited your public library in a while, you may be surprised to see how many resources are available for free. Consult newspapers, magazines and phone books from the geographic regions you are most interested in. Some of these are available electronically, while others may be in hard copy format in the reference section. Don’t waste an afternoon hunting around aimlessly for answers. Begin by asking the reference librarian. He/She can save time, energy and help keep your blood pressure in check by pointing out the best solutions to your research needs.

Book stores have entire sections dedicated to travel, subdivided by region and nation. Take your time looking at what is available and try not to buy the first book you see about a region you think you might want to live in. Discretion will save a bundle in the long run.

Finally, the Internet now allows friendships to be made with people you would not have ever gotten to know without it. Log on to the web and find groups with similar interests, values and goals. Yahoo!Groups alone hosts hundreds of such forums.

Once you make a few friends, start asking the little questions which mean a good deal to your quality of life. Sometimes you can get lucky and meet a person who lives in the exact local you plan to run to. Their insider’s view may be invaluable and you may have a house-warming party planned before you lift a single box. However, keep in mind that we all have different outlooks. One man’s prison is another man’s hallowed hall of delight.

Getting it All Together

So, you know where you are going, maybe even have a job lined up and have secured a place to live. Now, the hard part comes: Moving day. Before moving, you will decide what to take with you.

I know one single, young man who filled his hatchback and moved across country paying only for the fuel to get there. He moved into a hotel that rented long and short term. He didn’t need to bring any furniture, gained maid service and a kitchenette for less than $150 a week, and he reasoned, if he didn’t love the place, there were other hotels in town which would allow him the same conveniences without the commitment of a long-term lease.

Most Americans, however, are consumers first and foremost. That leaves us with stuff to move. Your research should have told you how far you are going, when you want to be there and what your budget for the trip and life, once re-established, will be. A little more investigation will also tell you if movers will do the hauling for you or if you will rent a truck and do it yourself.

Beware of movers who seem “too good to be true” and check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints about any moving company that has not been recommended by a close friend of family member who has personally used their service. Nationally televised news programs have profiled several companies who quote rock bottom rates for the move and then hold customer’s goods hostage for an unanticipated balloon “payment” once the destination has been reached. Such companies have cost unsuspecting folks between a rock and a hard place and some have lost thousands of dollars in the legal battle to get their belongings returned.

Be Patient

When the moving day finally arrives, whether you will be directly involved with the hauling or not, anticipate minor setbacks. Inclement weather, flat tires, construction on the roads and furniture that doesn’t move quite as easily as you imagined, all can delay the packing and transportation of your worldly goods.

You should also consider that fatigue and stress will alter your plans as well. My husband and I have moved four times in less than three years. We never, ever argue about anything - until one of us has an armload of junk and is depending upon the other to make a move to assist or get out of the way on moving day. A two hour delay at the truck rental agency the day of our last move left us hot and exhausted at the time we had planned to drive across the state.

Instead of moving that night, we dug back through the truck, found pillows and blankets and slept on the floor. We used our cell phone, because our landline had been disconnected that morning, to call our new rental agency and tell them we were unexpectedly delayed a day. Luckily, the complex we were leaving had a manager who was delightful and had no qualms about us spending another evening in our apartment free of charge.

As a result of the mental and emotional hurdles from that relocation event, we have sworn that NEXT time we will pay someone to load our belongings for us - even if it costs us double what self-moving tallies would. Why? Our relationship is worth far more than a movers bill could ever be.


Whether you find yourself migrating to a new home to move up in your career path, find adventure, true love or something no one else may understand, careful planning and sound reasoning are bound to create a strong pathway for the life you desire to live. Be proud of the hard work you have done to get there. Look back at the hurdles and laugh as you recall all you have accomplished - alone or with help. Be certain that you will find all that you are looking for in your new home, and celebrate how far you’ve come to reach your goals.
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Bio of Author: Mel Edwards is a teacher, writer and storyteller. She has lived in New York, Arizona, Montana, Tennessee and South Carolina. Her love of people and practice with relocating across the continent make her the perfect author for this piece.

Poem: Dusk at the Maimed ‘Coon Cafe

Husband’s eyes exceeded his orbitals.
A three-legged derelict entered our lot.
Twisting to the right, ever-so-nonchalant,
Exclamation revealing all.
Pointless to query,
I drew Husband back to our
after-dinner chat.

Less callous dilettantes dine in Ossining,
you know.
Words easily served -
ring-tailed vagrant out of view.

If thought lightens burden,
we assisted
in securing a suitable supper,
as he hunched, stretched and
pogo-legged his way buildingward.

Nod to Husband,
“When he knocks on your breakroom door,
he’s gone too far.”

Laughter -fills our bellies.

And Guilt belches an appropriate aftertaste.

-Mel. Edwards

Backstory to “Dusk at the Maimed ‘Coon Cafe”
I had driven to my husband’s place of work to bring him dinner when this supposedly wild creature joined our view. I found myself nervous that he might be rabid, but more sickened by his physical state and need to scavenge. Yet, my fear kept me from leaving my vehicle to offer a morsel and my guilt kept trying to take my mind anywhere outside of his world - where I was willing to bet a “civilized” being had maimed him and our disgustingly unhealthy diet had polished him off - at least in function if not form.