I came upon sunflowers when I purchased a shirt with a large flower on it and the Emerson quote “Why on earth if not to grow?”
Then I grew through storytelling.
It began while I was a member of Toastmasters, which I am going to write about tomorrow. Where it took me was to places I didn’t expect to go.
One of my first memories of the power of storytelling was when my friend Iris and I decided to do a joint storytelling presentation at the Toastmasters club. She “became” Rosa Parks and I “became” Harriet Beecher Stowe (through words, no costumes), and we told the stories of these two legendary women. Speaking as the voice of Stowe was extraordinary and compelling. It hooked me.
I told folktales and my own personal stories. I attended storytelling conferences. Kent State University had one every fall. I would see and hear storytellers who taught me a lot about what it means to get the audience involved. Daniel Keding. Joseph Bruchac. How the story hangs on three perfectly delivered lines — the rest can be improvised. How we bring ourselves to the story.
Cleveland had a storytelling group which put on a conference in the fall as well. That is where I heard Barbara MacBride Smith who was known for taking myths and updating them with hilarious results. I learned over and over again that stories were everywhere — we just have to recognize them.
Iris and I went to a storytelling workshop in southern Ohio one weekend where we met more fabulous storytellers: Lorna Czarnota, known for using storytelling to help homeless teens. Bobby Norfolk who could make a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem come alive and grow beyond words.
Best of all, I went twice to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. That is where I heard my favorite storyteller of all time — Carmen Deedy.
In 1997 my high school alma mater had an arts festival. I participated as a storyteller, creating a program of stories about brave women, from Joan of Arc to a cancer survivor I met one morning at the park. As someone who didn’t participate in much in high school, this was a huge move.
Storytelling took me into the classroom on more than one occasion. I wrote grants with a middle school teacher to do a program with her 7th graders, writing and performing their own stories. When I moved to Florida, I did a storytelling unit with the 6th graders at Sanibel School.
I thought storytelling would be a mainstay in my Language Arts classroom. But I have learned that a teacher has so many things on her plate, it is hard to find time to write and practice a story. I have hope, though, that I will do it. This could be the year.
What I have learned since the early days of my storytelling life is that everything is about story. History, science, even math, has a story. I do encourage my students to seek the story, the narrative, in everything they do. It is a hard concept to get across for sure. But I am a storyteller at heart. It is what I do. It is what I will keep doing.