Storyteller Mark Wilson passed away from cancer earlier this week in California. June 11, 2012, to be precise. He wasn’t from Indiana but I want to write about him here on Indy Theatre Habit because my blog is about live, oral tradition storytellers in general as well as about live theatre in the Indianapolis area. And because this blog is the main place I write these days.
In the late 1990s I wrote mostly on an email “listserv” called Storytell. I was incorporating live performance storytelling into my work as a children’s librarian in the Indianapolis public library system and also doing as much freelance storytelling to adults and other audiences as I could.
On Storytell, passionate storytellers and story listeners from all over the world send each other emails about storytelling: the craft of it, the business, of it, the psychology and philosophy of it. There are emails about the stories themselves, too – folktales and literary tales and personal stories and more.
Mark Wilson was one of the people I met through Storytell. I wish I still had the kind, perceptive, gently funny emails he sent me offlist. That was several computers ago, several email addresses ago, several jobs ago, and several moves ago. I’m not sure I still have any letters of any kind from the 1990s, and that makes me sad.
But what I do still have from Mark’s letters is the very special feeling of being seen and heard and valued for myself. I think he signed every letter “from yer Western pal, Mark,” but the words he wrote above his signature were always in specific, private response to something I had posted publicly to the whole list. I don’t mean that he was secretive or a game player or ashamed to be seen talking to me or anything like that. Quite the opposite: I always got the feeling that he just enjoyed writing to me and he wanted no distractions when he did it.
His letters were never about romance. They were about caring.
I talked with him in person only once, at a National Storytelling Network conference. I can’t tell you which one it was. I can tell you that he was sitting on top of a picnic table, smoking a cigarette, and he smiled when I introduced myself. He had known I was going to be at that conference and he had brought a jar of jam for me. He had made the jam from apricots that he picked from a tree in his yard.
I have never tasted more delicious jam.
I asked him if he really made his living as a prospector. (My inner Curiosity Girl has always been shameless.)
He said he did.
“Prospecting…like…panning for gold in a stream?” I asked.
“Yes,” he laughed. “Like that.”
“But…can you really make a living at that nowadays?”
He was very thin and I must have looked disbelieving and worried because Mark looked around to make sure no one was listening to our conversation and then quietly said something like, “Prospectors never brag because we don’t want anyone else looking where we have found gold and stealing our find. But just between you and me, I’m doing great.”
I sort of remember him pulling a little glass vial from his shirt pocket and showing me that it was partially filled with gold dust, but I may be getting that mixed up with some other experience.
I think he also made part of his living telling stories from the “Gold Rush” days of California history, but I believed then, and still believe, that he was as capable of finding physical gold in the earth as he was of finding gold in other people.
The other thing I remember about Mark is his love of poetry. He shared the poems he loved as naturally and easily as he shared his home-made jam.
Mark Wilson was a storyteller. He was a prospector. And he was an appreciator. I feel privileged to have been one of the people he appreciated at a certain point in his life. I am glad to have him as a lasting role model for appreciating life, too.
I pray for the repose of his soul and offer condolences to his family and other friends.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com