When it comes to mid-life crisisisisisisis…..some gals get tattoos, some pierce their nose or have sexual affairs. Me? I became a professional storyteller. And by that I mean-I got paid to tell stories.
This always bothered one of my brother-in-laws…. that someone would pay me money to tell a story which is, by virtue of my southern heritage—part of my DNA. Southerners can’t help it—other folks sing lullaby’s to quiet and console-southern babies learn quickly to shut their mouths at the sound of 4 little words: Once upon a time.
When I left the south for the frozen tundra of the north (aka, Maryland), I slowly started to forget about some of the wonderful amazing parts of my birthright-until the day that a professional storyteller came to my son’s preschool class.
Professional storyteller? Why I had never heard of such. So I volunteered to help that day in the classroom and my world was slightly altered forever. The teller was an older lady (a little older than I am now) and she was FAB-U-LOUS!!! While 3 year olds fidgeted and squirmed, I was captivated into, what I later learned was called a story trance.
You know the life of a young mom of three boys under the age of six is crazy and she is desperate for escape when she gives into a story meant for a 3 year old. (Sad, but true.) One of the many reasons that I vowed to never forget the hardships of young mothers everywhere. Which is why I can be spotted in Target giving mothers of screaming toddlers pep talks and back rubs.
A couple of weeks after seeing the teller in the preschool class-the catalog for non credit classes at our local community college arrived and lo and behold, there was a beginner storytelling class being taught by the fabulous preschool teller. I really shouldn’t call her this because she was soooo accomplished. She was well known throughout our metropolitan area and highly sought after. I didn’t ask my husband if I could do it (who asks for permission to have a midlife crisis?)—I just registered and he found himself along for the ride.
He did have 2 stipulations for this new endeavor that I was embarking on:
1- I could not wear artsy fartsy storytelling clothes.
2- I had to keep my roots dyed.
He said that the first time I showed up with a long flowy skirt and gray hair the same way—storytelling would be over for me.
Don’t be haters….he really did me a favor, because I had to learn to craft stories with words, no props. An invaluable tool for a storyteller wannabe.
Which is the back story to how I became known in the Baltimore story circles as “The Eddie Bauer Storyteller”. (EBS i.e. – telling stories in classic clothing.)
There was one festival where an intervention was staged—the other tellers showed up with an artsy fartsy outfit for me to wear, to keep with the “spirit of the night”. A long flowy skirt and a peasant top—I agreed to it, but knew I looked ridiculous. I mean pleats and gathers on a chunky girl is just not a great look.
Part of storytelling 101 is the use of what is called the story triangle. (Now, if I was really good at techno stuff-this is where I would insert a cool diagram. But I can’t so work with me—in your mind imagine a triangle with 3 corners…got it?) <grin>
In an ideal storytelling situation…the teller tells a story that they know very well, have some connection to and is appropriate for that specific audience. We say a storyteller has to be:
1-True to the story
2-True to the audience
3-True to themselves.
If those 3 things line up…its magic. Really.
I had some of those moments. I also had some that flopped. Both taught me a lot about myself, the craft I was learning and about the kindness of audiences and the storytelling community. While I’d had considerable experience with public speaking, I had never been billed as an entertainer. Being identified as a part of that whole community was so out of context for my life as a stay at home, homeschooling mom that I guess it got classified as a kind of rebellion for me.
As with all midlife crisisisisisis…my days as a professional teller came to an end. I think it served, for me, the purpose that all midlife bumps do (if we don’t go too far!): they remind us that we have come a long way in our life journey and the future is uncertain. Midlife is a good time to reevaluate what’s really important along life’s way. And if we don’t like the direction we’re headed, to make some changes. Direction determines destination, right?
I had always loved stories, oral and written, that fact about me got lost along the way of becoming a wife and a mom. Like mothers everywhere, parts of my “true self” got suppressed so that I could pour my life into the little ones in my charge. I just needed to come up for air to find the me I had always known. And I found that I was still there.
I will always remember my stint as a professional storyteller fondly. The men in my family..not so much. I was constantly trying new stories out on them (a less than enthusiastic audience) and spending many evenings away from home with my storytelling world folks.
And in the end, the stories that I was learning to tell, became less important to me than the story that was happening in my home. I realized that the story triangle I loved most of all was the one I was living. The story of a young family finding their way in a world fraught with adventure and the great unknown-where love wins in the end…now what could ever compete with that?