On Tuesday night, I drove to the Indy Fringe building in downtown Indianapolis to hear local, leading journalists tell their stories about writers’ block at the first “Jabberwocky” event. It was sponsored by Indy Fringe and Storytelling Arts of Indiana. Last weekend when I was interviewing Bill Harley, he told me that this is part of a new trend in storytelling: arranging for ordinary people to tell their stories in a structured way in public. He mentioned “The Moth” events in New York, I think, as part of this trend. I would like to learn more about this.
In the meantime, I was at “Jabberwocky” simply because I wanted to hear the five journalists speak (my heroes!), and because I had agreed to be a plant during the open microphone portion of the event. I wasn’t planning to review the evening for Indy Theatre Habit, but I find myself wanting to record and share a few thoughts about it.
It was a real treat.
None of the speakers were performance storytellers per se. However, each had put some thought into what he (or she) was going to say and how he was going to say it. Their individual stories were each a pleasure to listen to and, taken all together, they made a great mix of stories. Also, they led the way for a lot of other people – who couldn’t all have been plants! – to stand up and share their stories about writer’s block or other stories related to the writing life.
The five journalists included Jim Poyser from Nuvo. He was the MC. He told us he was not interested in receiving feedback on his MC-ing because “It’s not a career choice!” But just between you and me, he did very well at the tricky job of MC-ing: he had funny transitions ready that tied the program together; he introduced each speaker without putting them down; and he didn’t go on and on.
Shari Finnell from Indianapolis Woman shared how she had been surprised by writer’s block when going through her divorce several years ago. She didn’t go into details about the divorce, but rather shared that it had been difficult to write about other topics during that time. I have never been divorced (or married, for that matter) but I empathized with her.
David Zivan from Indianapolis Monthly had brought some “dog poems” to illustrate his advice, based on his own experiences, on how to cope with writer’s block. He made us laugh, and I know I was not the only one who was touched by his selecting and reading of the poems.
Dennis Ryerson from the Indianapolis Star calmly (and therefore paradoxically) conveyed a passion about journalism that I’m ashamed to say surprised me. I confess that my stereotype of the Star is that there is no one left over there that cares about reporting – or reading or writing of any kind – only about making money. Hearing this editor speak about how he coaches reporters and how he is saddened by the loss of magazines that do in-depth, context pieces, woke me up a little and made me want to try reading the Star with a little more compassion. Maybe the people who own the Star now are greedy, short-sighted, illiterate monsters (I don’t know, I’m just speculating) but that doesn’t mean that everyone who works there is.
Lou Harry from the Indianapolis Business Journal spoke last. He made us laugh, too, as he shared stories of being a young writer growing up in New Jersey. He also shared tips from his Creative Block book. (I was dumfounded when I looked him up on Amazon.com to get the citation and saw just how many books and book-related products he has produced. Good heavens, Lou!)
Then it was time for anyone who wanted to to stand up and tell a story about writer’s block. Several people did, including philanthropist and arts supporter (and author) Frank Basile, humorist Erik Deckers, and food writer Renee’ Wilmeth.
And me. I got up and babbled for a while, including a stupid comment about bloggers not being in competition with mainstream journalists. Of course we are in competition with each other for readers. What I meant to say was that hobby bloggers like myself are no substitute for trained, experienced, professional, paid journalists, and I hope I will always be able to read their work.
Then I told a story that was not the story I had intended to tell, but the previous stories had led me to tell it. It is not a story “about writing,” but I thought it fit the evening. I regret to report how I ended it…well, let me tell it to you first. It goes something like this:
Once there was a man being chased by a tiger. He was running as fast as he could, but he could sense the tiger gaining on him.
Up ahead he saw – oh, no! – that the land fell away into a cliff. A rounded cliff, so there was no escaping to either side.
He did the only thing he could think of: he jumped off the cliff.
On the way down, he was able to grab hold of a vine that was growing on the side of the cliff. He jerked to a halt and hung there, swinging gently.
He looked up and saw the tiger peering at him over the edge of the cliff, saliva dripping from its fangs.
The man looked down and saw, far, far below him, a dry river bed filled with jagged rocks…and another tiger, staring up at him and licking its whiskers!
And THEN the man saw a mouse crawl out of a crack in the side of the cliff, just out of reach above him. The mouse began to GNAW on the man’s vine!
The man whimpered: tiger above, tiger below, mouse gnawing on the vine…
But then the man noticed that growing out of the side of the cliff was a strawberry plant. And on that plant there was one perfect, juicy-looking red strawberry.
He plucked it, and put it in his mouth.
I think I told it pretty well, if I do say so myself, even though I could see a red light go on at the back of the room and a part of me got distracted into thinking, “What the f—?! I didn’t give anyone permission to record me! Stop that! If not for me, then for your own sake! You’re missing the moment, not recording it. Turn off your camera or your phone or whatever it is and be HERE. Be here NOW. Be here now WITH ME.”
I told it pretty well, but at the end I said, “And that’s my story about deadlines.”
Cardinal rule of storytelling: don’t tell your audience what the story is about. Let them have the pleasure of discovering it for themselves.
Another cardinal rule of storytelling: don’t say a story is yours if it isn’t. If I had it to do over, I would have prefaced my telling by saying something like, “The stories tonight have reminded me of a story that I first read in a collection by Heather Forest. I think it was her book called Wisdom Tales from Around the World.”
Ah, well. Next time.
Speaking of next times, I don’t know when the next “Jabberwocky” will be, but I heard that this was only the first in a series. I hope so! It was a wonderful, wonderful evening.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
Also follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com for at-the-theatre observations.
(P.S. – Photo above is called “Detritus of the Day” by psyberartist on Flicker.com.)