4/11/2007

Wednesday Tellers


  • Once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month, I do a half hour Telling at a local nursing home.

    See, performance storytelling is done by Tellers and what they do is Tell, so yeah... I Tell stories to the residents once a month.

    I got the gig when I was shadowing another local Teller, learning what I could about the craft. Oddly, although many Tellers are terrific at spinning tales, the ones I've met haven't been very good at explaining how Telling is done. And I guess that's because like any art, it's really up to the artist. There are a few books out there about the craft, but by far more compilations of stories and every once in a while a good commentary about Telling. So, like the old days, the best way to learn is to Tell and watch Tellers Tell.

    The gig became solo when the nursing home wanted Storytelling twice a month, so the other Teller Tells on the fourth Weds and I get the second Weds.

    The first time I went to the nursing home I felt pangs of memory, remembrances of when my Lola was at Mount Saint Vincent, a resident there to keep her safe during the last stages of her Alzheimer's. The scent there is the same, part sanitizer, part White Shoulders perfume, part vinyl and lanolin. All the residents ride in wheelchairs, some simple affairs of chrome and rubber, wheeled by patient, jaded yet hopeful aides. Others have more permanent looking motorized chairs - once, during a story, I watched out of the corner of my eye, one resident do a slow, power assisted wheelie with her chair. Totally cool. Totally distracting. Really loved it.

    When my Lola was at MSV I visited her rarely. I was living across the state and visited Seattle only a few times a year. I watched her shrink slowly over the years - I have two clear memories of her last days...once she bit my finger thinking it was a cookie I was offering her. The other time, I wheeled her out into the sunshine the day her husband died, realizing that there was no way we could explain to her that he was gone and not coming back to visit her, no matter how often she asked.

    I Tell at the nursing home because I'm learning my craft, but I'm also, I know, trying to somehow take back that lost time with her. She's been gone ten years now...

    When I started Telling, I decided that I would only Tell Filipino tales. I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was actually Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-Noh-Tec who had suggested it... "There aren't any Filipino tellers out there," he said. "At least none we've seen." And considering their career, I have little reason to doubt, although I hope to find FilAm Tellers, even as I have found FilAm writers.

    So I research Filipino stories and Tell them at various events. The oddest Teller/Telling combination yet was me trying to render a solo version of Seven Silly Fellows at the local Scottish Festival last year. I preface each telling with how the story I'm about to tell comes from the Philippines or from the place my parents came from. I'm still working out the whole "US born Filipino American, I really don't have time to explain my ambivalent relationship with my culture, but here's a cool story anyway" thing.

    At the nursing home, they're as likely to fall asleep as to follow the tales I unravel, and I often wonder if they understand where my stories come from. Tonight I had a lively group, though. Instead of the usual dining room venue, we were stationed in a small alcove known as the TV room (meaning - there's the widescreen TV and here's a few chairs). My audience was lined up three rows deep, perhaps the biggest yet, and my stage was about the size of an average dining room table surface.

    Two stories - one about an honest woodsman who meets a diwata and one about (as usual) three princes in search of a princess (and a kingdom to rule).

    I try to find original sources when I can, conscious that every storyteller and researcher has an agenda, no matter how benign. They both needed work to be Tellable, but the second more so than the first... They both came through decently enough and I think by the time I retell them this weekend at the Public Market, they'll be solid stories for my story bag.

    Anyway, after I finished an elderly gentleman (because really, he was sweet and not an 'old man' in any way) asked if the stories I told were ones I had heard growing up. When I told him no, he seemed disappointed, but pressed me further. What stories /did/ you grow up with? And I gave him the litany that any Disney-raised child would give - Snow White, Cinderella, Jungle Book... Little Red Riding Hood... at which point, I was given a request by another resident to Tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears on my next visit (I wonder if there's a PI version?)

    You should tell stories from your heritage, he told me and I smiled. The two I told tonight were from my heritage, I replied. And that pleased him very much. He shook my hand and thanked me.

    I hope he's there again next month. There are so many more stories to learn and Tell.

    ****

    Speaking of Lolas...

    Evelina writes:

    Dear Friends and Colleagues and Family,

    The petition to support House Resolution 121 is one month old today and carries 1416 international signatures. We have two more weeks to push the numbers beyond 2000. Abe arrives on the 26th of April.

    When the petition began House Res had 42 co-sponsors in Congress. Today 77 Representatives are co-sponsoring this resolution. We need 100 for the resolution to pass.

    If you are a US Citizen and signed the petition, please take a moment to email your Congressperson ( http://www.house.gov/Welcome.shtml). Tell him or her you live in his/her district and you signed the petition. Cut and paste the petition link: http://www.gopetition.com/online/11466.html . Tell your Congressperson House Resolution is important to you and to support it.

    We have the support of so many international citizens — especially Japanese citizens. Let’s move the petition to a new level.

    With gratitude,

    M. Evelina Galang
  • 5 comments:

    Snickering Corpses said...

    I'm not quite sure if you know who this is yet, incidentally. Do you?

    A very well expressed post. I'll email you some thoughts.

    Snickering Corpses said...

    Posting this here after the email, per your request :>

    Just some thoughts, somewhat stream of consciousness, some parts edited, after reading your latest blog post.

    Someday, God willing, you'll get the chance to hear me do the tailor story in person. I think you'd like it. The chicken seller would interest you too, I think, but I need some more work before I know it well enough. As if I didn't have enough to do, now you're inspiring me to learn some more stories, sister.

    There are times I wish I could just sit down with you and talk about some of the things you struggle with regarding the Fil-Am aspect, and your relationship with the Fil side of your culture. I recognize there's a difference for you in two respects. You're closer to it than I am...American born, but with immediate family born overseas. I'm several generations American. The second is that you really only have one primary nationality in your bloodline. I have at least six. If you asked me what culture I felt, I'd tell you American first, Scottish second. The bagpipes stir my blood, and I'd love to visit Scotland someday. But while I can *identify* with the Scots, my *identity* is still totally American. Your identity, on the other hand, seems to be split, which is not unusual when you grow up with a culture that's transplanted to another culture. But it's something I can only relate to so far, due to lack of experience. My imagination can bring me a fair ways in recreating how other people think and feel, but only with sufficient input. Which brings us back, I suppose, to my original statement that I sometimes wish we had opportunity just to sit and talk for long periods.

    I have grown up an outsider, but not in the same ways and for the same reasons. Sometimes I feel like I come across too clinical at times. You’re a very expressive person, and I’m an odd dichotomy of expressive emotion and dispassionate analysis. With someone like you, whom I know to be a thinker and ponderer, I’m more likely to respond with analysis except when you’re bringing for a problem that carries a heart ache with it. You and I built our friendship on questions and answers, really. We’ve both learned things from each other along the way.

    A pondering. Does it bother you, encourage you, or both to think that one day your descendants will be like me, aware of their heritage but having their identity as Americans? There is of course one most important identity, that both your descendants and mine will hopefully have as long as the world remains. First and foremost as Christians and children of God. But on a human level, what do you want their identity to be? There’s a difference between heritage and identity. I imagine it’s difficult to find that dividing line when you’re in a transitional generation, especially with a culture that’s fought to preserve itself against others taking over it, including the very nation you’ve grown up as part of. I’m not even certain whether you’d agree with the statement that there is a difference.

    Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

    Hey, SC!

    Didn't know you were a Teller too! *chuckle* Glad to know it now, though and can't wait to hear you tell someday.

    There's always so many stories to learn and perform, eh?

    I hear what you're saying about singular vs. plural heritage. Many of the Tellers in my area are multi-heritage, often choosing one part of their heritage to identify with. The president of our Guild draws from as many parts of his heritage though and just yesterday he told an Irish story then followed with a Masai story, both parts of his heritage.

    I like the way you differentiate between *identity* and *heritage* - that comes, I imagine, from having a family history that's rooted in place (in your case the US). Being bicultural, but only one generation removed from the Philippines, does present many challenges with regard to identity.

    It's definitely the backdrop of all my artistic pursuits.

    You asked: Does it bother you, encourage you, or both to think that one day your descendants will be like me, aware of their heritage but having their identity as Americans?

    You make a good point about *bothering* and *encouraging* being two sides of the same coin. And to answer simply, Yes.

    I think we as Americans tend to forget our heritages overseas, forget what our ancestors went through to get us to where we are today.

    I think it's a relatively new sort of narcissism, meaning something that's developed in our country over the last 50ish years.

    The resurgence of Storytelling in the last 30 years has been about reconnecting people to where they came from in order to ensure a more connected future. Perhaps too, to stem the increase in racism and intolerance that we face in the US these days.

    Anyway, that's the long around answer, but basically, like I said, Yes, I research stories from the Philippines to Tell them, to give other people of Filipino heritage a chance to experience a bit of what they never remembered, and to help non-Filipinos recognize that FilAms exist and have a rich heritage.

    As for how I want my children's identity to be? That's pretty complex and I think far out of my bailiwick ultimately. I do, though, make choices of their activities to be sure they gain as broad a range of exposure to their different heritage strains as possible.

    June is a big month for us, with Filipino heritage events and Scottish heritage events happening almost every weekend. Sometime we're also going to need to throw in some Norwegian events (there's something local I know, since there's a good sized Dutch population to the North).

    If you ever get a chance, you might be interested in what Edward Said wrote in his essay "Yeats and Decolonization" - it's really fascinating and a good illustration of how a culture that's been colonized negotiates the transition between realizing the effects of colonialism and what the colonized person does to reverse what has been done physically and psychologically through colonization.

    Thanks so much for writing!

    Snickering Corpses said...

    You write: I think we as Americans tend to forget our heritages overseas, forget what our ancestors went through to get us to where we are today.

    I think it's a relatively new sort of narcissism, meaning something that's developed in our country over the last 50ish years.


    I'm going to challenge you on that point, and say it's actually the reverse. It's only in the last 50 years or so that people have begun to look back towards where they came from more than towards their new life as Americans. If you look at the vast majority of immigrants to the Americas in the past 400 years or so, they've come to start a new life away from the bad elements of what they once were, in a land they viewed as providing opportunities to achieve possibilities that were not possible for them where they came from. That's reflected, particularly, in the efforts to which they went to get their children to learn the language and take up the customs of Americans in order to succeed, even changing their names to more "American sounding" ones in many cases. It seems to have been their drive to see that their children became Americans, because to be an American meant a bright future in their eyes.

    Even looking as recent as WW2, when the Japanese-American community were mistreated out of fear, the overwhelming goal of so many of the Nisei was to show that they were Americans, not Japanese, and just as American and just as outraged at the attack against THEIR country as any other American.

    I would say that it's only been since roughly the 60s that you've seen an outward shift of eyes to the past. I'd point two things I see as causes, though there may be others:

    1) Anti-government feelings turned anti-Americanism during the uphevals of the new generation (who are this generation's politicians, academics, and activists) and Vietnam.
    2) The sudden emphasis of "African" roots among black Americans trying to establish a unique identity and source of pride for themselves in the same period.

    There may be other factors I'm not including, so I don't claim that to be comprehensive, but that's how things seem to me.

    A major difference between the Canadian and American visions has been that Canada views itself as a mosaic...a sort of patchwork of independent cultures. America, on the other hand, has always forwarded the melting pot concept...the idea that there was one American culture, into which all immigrants contributed the best of their countries of origin. It's even reflected in the oath of citizenship, which (unless it's been changed) requires the prospective citizen to renounce all allegiance to any foreign state or power. There seems to be an active wish in recent years to break America down from being a single distinct people group to being a location where a group of individual people groups happen to live.

    Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

    SC: Thanks for writing! I see your point, however, from what I have seen at various heritage events I have attended and performed at, culture and heritage is often viewed at a distance, something to be commodified, enjoyed as entertainment, reminisced about nostalgically, but rarely examined as having to do with what may be happening currently in socio/political arenas.

    What exactly were the political/religious/social issues/mechanisms that drove immigrants to North American shores over four centuries? How are those mechanisms still in play today? What did a particular ancestor suffer both in leaving as well as in arriving in the US and how has that affected their descendants? What was happening in the US political scene at the moment that ancestor arrived and how did that affect how their perceived 'the land of opportunity'?

    It's interesting that you mention Nisei and Vietnam - these are both closely tied to my experience and my family's experience. My grandfather served in the US Army and retired just before the Vietnam War. He served in the Philippines primarily alongside both Filipino and American soldiers fighting the Imperial Japanese invasion. At the time, the Philippines was a 'protectorate of the US' and Filipinos were considered nationals of the US. However, within less than 5 years after the surrender of Japan, the US rescinded an earlier promise to recognize Filipino soldiers as Veterans of the US. Their fight for equity goes on today.

    Vietnam, on the other hand, meant that my family separated itself as far away as it could from anything Asian. They lived in fear of being mistaken for Vietnamese and often made very clear to others, people who did not ask their nationality, but simply stared, that they were US citizens. Theirs is a story of loss because like the Nisei, they tried to shed their history and heritage in order to be accepted and somewhat protected from harm.

    You ended your comment with: There seems to be an active wish in recent years to break America down from being a single distinct people group to being a location where a group of individual people groups happen to live.

    I think it is less the desire to break America into pieces as to finally recognize that it was and has been created out of pieces, that diversity has been part of its immigrant heritage.