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If I write long appreciations of those storytellers who deserve to be appreciated, I'll never get to everyone. Even with short ones I'll only get to a few.
At Doug Lipman's 50th birthday party (held just before his 51st birthday) we stood in a circle and each took one minute to appreciate Doug. Let's appreciate each other now . . . ain't much sense waiting till the funeral.
I appreciate Connie Regan-Blake's tremendous contribution to storytelling and to the National Storytelling Association. Connie and Jimmy Neil Smith watered the National Festival when it was just a sprig and now its a mighty tree.
Hooray for Laura Simms who has gone to all parts of the earth and made friends with storytellers everywhere. Her reach is truly global. My dream is that storytellers will be a worldwide family. Laura had the dream long before me. The rest of us are just catching up to her.
Kudos to John Basinger, storyteller, teacher, director, actor, interpreter for the deaf, and Professor Emeritus. The Three Rivers Community Technical College dedicated its auditorium to John and will fund an annual production to honor him.
I had the most wonderful time telling stories at the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge. The Revels celebrates the great rituals of life-light and darkness, birth and death.
This year, the Revels was about the Romani, the "Gypsies." The Rom came out of Northern India about a thousand years ago, and have traveled the earth, remaining a powerful culture. The show celebrated their dance, song, and rituals - and their passionate and beautiful music.
I came to admire the Rom, who have come through such hardships. Five hundred thousand Rom were killed in the Nazi concentration camps. But they go on.
I had such a joyous time sitting on stage, watching the Indian dancers and listening to the haunting music. I loved telling stories as part of a huge cast. The chorus had worked since September; they were splendid. Tom Pixton's Romanian band was amazing.
And then there was the Flamenco music and dancing. Flamenco music came from the rhythm of Gypsy blacksmiths. The cry of the Flamenco singer, Fernando, seemed like the cry of a whole people. Roberto, Isabel, and Faustion Rios were unforgettable.
We did 16 shows for about 18,000 people. I felt part of a big merry family.
The 25th National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee was a magical weekend.
Saturday morning was my chance to tell "The Spirit of the Great Auk." My heart was really in that story. I wanted to tell it at this festival, in the great Appalachian hills.
Once again, Doug Lipman and I sat down by the platform. Michael Parent joined us. They gave me attention and encouragement, and I don't think I've ever felt as prepared for anything in my life. Jackson Gillman masterfully handled the emcee duties in about 30 seconds - and I was off on that journey. A journey of the sea.
The laughter of the audience sounded like the waves themselves. I felt I was on the sea, and they were with me. I felt buoyed and encouraged, and able to concentrate completely.
Toward the end of the story, there's a very dramatic moment when the main character, Dick Wheeler, is exhausted and just wants the voyage to end. But he has opened up his heart to the sea, and he hears the sea speak.
I didn't realize it, but as that scene was taking place, there was a thumping sound all through the tent. My wife Linda looked at our daughter Laura and said, "That's his heartbeat!" I was wearing a clip-on microphone and it picked up my heartbeat. The heartbeat sounding through that tent was one of the great gifts I've been given. In some strange way, it was also the heartbeat of the earth.
Saturday evening I performed with Connie Regan-Blake, Diane Wolkstein , and Rangimoana Taylor of New Zealand. Connie set the tone for the evening just coming into the tent. She shone with a sense of joy and welcome, and told with that same joy. Diane told a Hindu love story; she became a flame and a cosmic egg appeared before us. Rangimoana leapt on stage, told a dramatic story, and repeated it without words. Fascinating! It was a beautiful evening of storytelling.
When the festival was over, a few of us sat in a breakfast spot and went around in a circle, saying what the festival meant to each of us: David Holt, Connie Regan-Blake, Laura Simms, Phil Blake, and my wife Linda and daughter Laura. When it got to be our daughter Laura's turn, she tried to speak but couldn't. She just cried. The festival meant so much, there were no words. I think she speaks for all of us!
Pat Schneider is one of the strongest, most wonderful women I have ever met. She is a poet, a novelist, an essayist, and a teacher. In December, for the second time, I went to one of Pat's writing workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Pat encourages the unconscious to guide the pen. So the writer is as delighted and astonished as the listeners in the group. Pat knows a secret. She knows we are all artists. She knows it so deeply, that the artist inside you cannot resist. So the artist leaps out and dances around Pat's living room!
One of the finest books I've read in years is Pat's, Wake Up Singing, a spiritual autobiography that has the swell of a symphony. For more information, call her at 413-253-3307.
My friend Connie Regan-Blake was talking about good road blocks in life. We've all experienced driving down the main road and coming to a detour. The experience can be merely annoying or a chance to see another road, some different houses, maybe children playing basketball in a driveway. Connie was thinking of those roadblocks we come on in life.
When my son Ted was about twelve he really wanted to play left field for the Red Sox. The dream continued into college. After freshman year at the University of Chicago, Ted wanted to take a year off and learn to catch a fly ball perfectly. He thought that if you could do one thing perfectly in life you would be accomplishing something important. And who knows . . . it might lead to playing left field for the Sox.
Ted wrote several Red Sox players to see if they would help him in his quest. They did not respond.
In time, Ted realized that the baseball road was blocked, so he took another road. He climbed glaciers in Chile, he went to Spain after college for a year to polish his Spanish, he went to Alaska and climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley). And now he's pursuing a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, and leading NOLS expeditions in the summer.
Ted took a different road and it opened up a world. There are times when a roadblock leads to the most wonderful adventures.
This past fall, I tried an experiment. I decided to take three minutes every day to look at a natural object.
I would often pick up an oak or a maple leaf, just after it had fallen, and pay attention. I enjoyed holding the stem and rolling it in my fingers. I noticed the smell changed as the leaf began to dry. I discovered that sometimes that three minutes spent with the leaf was the most powerful time of the day. It was a time of ease and exuberance.
Try it! You'll be surprised!