By Gerry Leader
March 13, 2008
Jay O'Callahan, whose stories and storytelling extol the wonderment of life, has been my mentor for over thirteen years. No one has had a greater effect on developing my hidden talents than Jay. Any gift I have for witnessing and writing narrative can be attributed to his awe-inspiring model, subtle guidance, and repeated affirmations of my stories. He opened windows in me that I didn’t know existed. It was inevitable that I would fall under Jay’s spell. My home in Brookline was previously owned by a couple, now deceased, who were real-life inspirations for characters in a number of Jay’s Pill Hill stories. The 200+ year old, 6 story high copper beach that shelters our backyard tea garden is another prominent character in his stories, persistently testing Jay’s youthful climbing ability and providing sanctuary high in its branches. Jay grew up in the 20-room Victorian mansion next door that dwarfs our petite Indo-Japanese modern. Our neighborhood is the palette for Jay’s stories. His verbal pictures are scenes from his childhood filled with hilarity, pathos, and our neighborhood’s most unforgettable characters. Having heard several of Jay’s High Street stories on cassette tape, I was primed to meet the golden-tongued author in 1997 at a weekend workshop he gave on “Creativity Through Storytelling.” I wasn’t disappointed. The group was diverse in age, gender, and occupation, and we couldn’t let go of Jay on the Sunday evening of our departure. We have been meeting with Jay twice a year for four-day weekends for the last thirteen years. With Jay’s prompts and participation, we write and tell stories, perform improvisational theater, and create mini-operas out of our collective subconscious and questionable musical talents. It’s legitimized adult play at its best. After each creation, Jay calls for performance “appreciations,” never critiques. He has trained us to be keen observers, if not connoisseurs, of the tactile, auditory, visual, visceral, and verbal subtleties.
Early on, Jay gave us a precious gift: we didn’t need others’ criticism or suggestions. Appreciation of how we were touched by a story or performance respected the integrity of the creator and primed a continuous bubbling of imagination. Jay’s mentorship spawned the “Creative Monsters,” as we call ourselves. All of us, including Jay, have been beneficiaries of this life-giving and life-affirming community. I would never have had the audacity or courage to write a book of stories for a professional audience if it weren’t for Jay and my “Creative Monsters.”