Ira Glass on Storytelling

I discovered This American Life right about the time I started Telling. I'm not a regular NPR listener but when a friend mentioned a story about The Rubber Room, I had to hunt the program down. I was intrigued not only about the story of suspended teachers held in limbo by the New York City Board of Education, but by the way the piece was put together, that unique combination of storytelling and interviews. There's a particular style to Ira Glass's pieces that makes them easy to get into and think about - the mastery of Telling.

So when Hubby mentioned that he had done vidcasts talking about Storytelling, I had to track them down. What he says about finding and telling stories, crafting and moving through the process of creativity, and ultimately being tenacious about one's art were all things I needed to hear tonight.

Although he says there are only two building blocks to good storytelling, he actually identifies three - sequence of actions, an unanswered but answerable question, and a moment of reflection. All three make up good narrative whether for broadcast, literature, or performance storytelling.

In part 2, he emphasizes that finding and creating a story will take as much or perhaps more time than the actual production of the story. This makes sense, but I often get caught up in the production of a piece before I really know and have the story sunk into me.

In part 3, Glass reminds creatives that our vision and our execution are often gapped, especially at the beginning, and that that gap is when most people quit. Of course he says, Don't Quit.

In part 4, he encourages us to be ourselves, to not try to be the people we admire who are doing the thing we want to be doing, but to also remember that stories are best told when they show how relationships affects the narrator.

A terrific group of vids I'm glad Hubby found. I've got lots of thought and soul food for the journey.


Slam Poetry and Saltlines

One of the beauties of symposia and conferences is how it creates an immediate sense of community, of kapwa, in the sense of a shared experience and the sense of identification with the other participants. We all care deeply about women of color, care for each other, and care for our own experiences. We all moved to both support each other's work but to also express our experiences as succinctly and creatively as possible.

The four workshops gave participants a chance to learn and practice new skills. I wish I'd been able to see everyone's workshop! Mako Fitts of Seattle University provided a workshop on Organizing and Activism. Iolanda Palmer of the WSU Fine Arts department provided a workshop on Feminist Art. Hisami Yoshida of the Washington State Department of Corrections provided a workshop on Advocacy and Social Change. I had a few students in each of my workshops which gave me a chance to interact more closely with each participant and learned as much as I hope I gave.

Friday night of the symposium featured a poetry slam by WSU's GLBTA, mc'd by Alex Stefanova, founder of Q-Poetry. The slam was high energy and diverse, exactly what I'd hoped for a first slam poetry experience. The memorization amazed me. Long stanzas, repeated refrains, and emotive storytelling all wrapped up into incredible performances. The slam wound late into the night and I left before I got a chance to see Andrea Gibson's solo performance. Thankfully she and the others from Saltlines returned the next day and gave a performance and poetry workshop. From the exercise, I wrote this:

the old man and the young girl dressed in cloth beaten
from palm fronds strung White Privilege up on a clothesline
to hang damp and writing in the East wind

wind whipped across the plantation, brushed against
his uniform, lifting him hapless and helpless while
the people gathered to celebrate

celebrate the end of he with the cigarette whip,
he who paced on lion's paws, teeth gleaming
in moonlight, he who thundered like a thousand
brass gongs, holding one hand out to give
the measure of their oppression
holding one hand back tight as a fist, sharp bolo
knife to divide father from son from kinsman

he did not think he would be strung up so
tendrilled by telecom lines, game show lights,
and the relentless advertisements for things
untenable when work is measured
in centavos, or dollars paid beneath the table

he roars and gongs and flaps in the wind
but these are whispers, a distant drone
beneath the oralist's chant, the call
to remember that gathers the people into
a healing embrace

Flexing my on-the-spot writing muscles caused no small amount of brain-sprain, but it was good to workout again. I tried to remember my workshop exercises and the Slinky that helps me remember how connected all things are in our experiences.

Alex was the host of Saltline's workshop and filled in while the group was getting themselves coordinated. She introduced me to poet Staceyann Chin, a Jamaica immigrant whose use of haiku drills deeply into her heritage and complex family history.

Poetry eludes me still. It resonates with my sense of lyric memoir, but the discipline slips through my fingertips too easily. Slam poetry is incredibly powerful and political, slicing through social conventions to the heart of complex issues. I could not help but be inspired by Saltline's risk-taking and Alex's drive to express her art.