Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 9 of 9

This is the ninth of nine parts to focus on each of the nine days of the National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival that occurred May 30-June 7, 2020. Enjoy biggest moments and action items as a result of the experience for Story Crossroads and on the storytelling world in general.

9-Parts for the 9 Days:

  • Part 1 – May 30, 2020 – Pre-Conferences/Preparations – REVEALED
  • Part 2 – May 31, 2020 – Official Day 1 – REVEALED
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2 – REVEALED
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3 – REVEALED
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4 – REVEALED
  • Part 6 – June 4, 2020 – Official Day 5 – REVEALED
  • Part 7 – June 5, 2020 – Official Day 6 – REVEALED
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7 – REVEALED
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8 – TODAY

All things have an end, until it means there is a beginning…

Sometimes that beginning is with yourself. I attended the self-care panel, and I came away with more than I expected. I really don’t take care of my needs. I love diving deep and putting my energies into my family and storytelling. Behind all this, there is still me. I cannot be a help to someone unless I can be a help to me.

Then, I got to explore the plight and feelings of others through the Israel concert. It felt even more sacred due to being on a Sunday. I know that Sunday is not the holy day for all faiths. Still, my bringing up affects how I view the day.

I was smiling, dancing, clapping, and singing by the closing ceremony. Oh, how I love that song–

May the circle be unbroken.

Events of June 7 and Reflections–

8:00 – 9:30 am CDT: Breakfast/Coffee Social Time with Sadika Kebbi

This was a chat that needed some deep breaths, some Kleenex, and some chocolate. Really deep and serious conversation. Thank you to Sadika Kebbi from Lebanon for leading the discussion.

Normally, these socials are light and fun, but there are always the times to delve deeper. To give you a hint of the discussion, watch Sadika in this TEDx Talk called “When Your Enemy becomes Human.” She had a shocking and saddening story. The tensions she experienced in the Middle East are humbling.

To lighten the mood, we did get to celebrate her work with youth tellers. Later, I told her that I wanted my youth tellers with Story Crossroads to meet her youth tellers. The virtual world makes this much more possible. We will be in touch.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Moving Stories: Body, Voice and More with Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang of Eth-noh-tec, Our voices tell stories, our bodies tell stories, so why not explore it all? This workshop explores the creativity between words and action, from page to stage, the creation of stories for performance storytelling. Whether a seasoned performer or just getting started, Eth-Noh-Tec will introduce the storytellers into a playful performance tool chest with creative movement, musical and rhythm approaches, drama and energy dynamics. It’s action packed, fun-filled with dramatic, musical, and creative movement processes that will help the the teller enhance their storytelling impact. Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo, aka Eth-Noh-Tec, conjure a magical blend of mythologies and folk tales in a tandem telling style that interweaves choreography, synchronized dialogue and drama. Their ancient Asian myths, folktales and Asian American stories illuminate struggles for social justice and heroic journeys, and create enchanting storytelling using body, voice and gesture.

I “snuck” in for about 15 minutes, and I felt awful for having to leave. Yet, I needed to be there for my family. You could say that my body movement was needed to be planted and before my family so we could have church at home. With my husband being a Priesthood holder as well as my 12-year-old son, we have had Sacrament in the front room of our home that has since been nicknamed “the chapel.” Many people throughout the neighborhood have been doing at-home church until we are invited back into the church buildings with proper distancing, masks, and all other safety precautions.

As we did not rush church, I had to hold onto and cherish the 15 minutes I had with Eth-Noh-Tec. Though, the short time was enough to confirm once again that Robert and Nancy are professionals and will adapt to this virtual world while still honoring any live storytelling that is possible during this time.

I recommend most tellers to be close to the screen, though Robert and Nancy prove that you can still have beautiful choreography translate well through the screen. This screen culture we are in is more visual. This workshop was a great way to enhance people’s skills in using all parts of us to express our stories.

1:45 CDT Lunch Session: Producers and Organizers (PRO) Meet & Greet

I noticed that the Producers and Organizers (PRO) did not have a Pre-Conference like the other special interest groups with the National Storytelling Network. Though, think about it, the story producers of events have had to work more than usual to adapt live events to be virtual or at least have some kind of plan in place. With so much paperwork and creative thinking, who has time to have a Pre-Conference? We at least had enough time to gather and share what we are facing.

Yes, individual professional storytellers are facing the most challenging of times. But it is usually the story producer who has to break the bad news of either a delayed event or taking away the ideal of performing live and seeing the audiences in the same space, the same room. It is just as heart-wrenching, if not more, for the event organizers.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Self-Care for Storytellers Panel Discussion, With Laura Packer, Donna Washington, Ted Parkhurst, Kristin Pedemonti & Allison Broeren, The work of storytellers is always vital, especially in times of turmoil. We are keepers of culture and bearers of hope. Many storytellers tend to prioritize the work before their health, but before we can perform, teach, heal, and serve at our best, we need to take care of ourselves. This panel will share practical ideas, exercises and tools that can help, and invites you into the conversation.

I am a late-night person by choice and usually early-morning person by necessity of being a mom. I am not the best person for doing self-care. Strangely, my greatest improvement in other areas of self-care started January 1, 2020. I committed to physical and spiritual attention with 30 minutes of walking every day and reading about a chapter of scriptures every day. When all the shutdowns and anxieties came due to COVID-19, I was more in control of myself to face the hard times. I was more hopeful though surrounded by chaos.

Having this panel explored more ideas, which is always appreciated. This panel also reminded that none of us are alone in the struggles of this time. We benefit from connecting with each other.

As this panel started, I was shaken a little by how quickly we jumped into intimate and honest conversations with Ted Parkhurst. I almost needed a warm-up to this level of openness and wished there was some kind of ease into it. As Ted publishes mainly storytelling books through Parkhurst Brothers, he must be familiar with having a hook or an attention-getter.

He focused the most on feelings and being honest with yourself. He said, “Stop telling yourself that you are not good enough. Believe you are worthy of being appreciated for that service.”

Beyond feelings, Donna Washington said to listen to your body and where you are in relation to the physical space of where you work. People are mainly at home, and she had to “re-segment [her] house” to find how to increase productivity. Though, even with those arrangements, she warned that we can feel that “even if you accomplished a lot, you feel like you accomplished nothing.” She urged not to have the computer in the same room as where you sleep.

And, now I am in trouble. I am most productive with the computer in my room. I already have insomnia though I have been able to work off of 4-5 hours of sleep for years. I love the comfort of the bed while the kids are sleeping and yet able to type away. Though, I do have “The Story Room” that has almost everything to do with Story Crossroads and my personal storytelling. That is where I need to set up camp, so to speak. I am organized, though that room has always needed some love. There is so much paperwork and projects…and I have opted for other ways to take care of storytelling needs. So…that would be a major adjustment. Donna, you still have me thinking. Usually, if I think about it enough, it becomes action. Usually.

Laura Packer spoke of a bowl of rocks. Every time she goes on Facebook, she takes out a rock. And…I would have an empty bowl.

There was a time I resisted and seemed to be the last person to get a cell phone. Then, it took a while before I exchanged it for a smartphone. And now…I have had to use social media for so much including for Story Crossroads that I check it way more than I need to…yet, I do. Most of us are addicted to social media. And with this pandemic, it is one of the main ways we connect with others besides the humans that share our living space. And sometimes we need a break every so often from the humans in our living space.

Yes, family, I still love you!

Laura spoke of being aware of what you do when stressed. The simple knowledge of it allows you to do something to bring peace and calm again. My husband has pointed out a few of my habits, and I was amazed how right he was – Irritability, Not much sleep, Pacing around kitchen island, twirling hair. Remember that I can be fine with 4-5 hours of sleep. “Not much sleep” is when I am more the 2-3 hours. That would do it.

Kristin Pedemonti expounded on squirrels in the brain. She learned from Elizabeth Ellis (back in 2012) to offer that squirrel in the brain a big juicy peach. You keep giving it peaches until the squirrel goes away. Besides the sudden need to go to a park and see an actual squirrel, this zany approach does say wonders about our ability to imagine problems as well as imagining them away.

When working out all the kinks with transforming Story Crossroads from live to virtual, I could have let the squirrels over-run my brain, throughout my body, and affecting everyone around me. Kristen warned of the “should” versus the “need” to do things. She smirked, “Please don’t ‘should’ on yourself or anyone else.” Yes, I debated on this questionable language here. Please forgive if I offended. Change “I should do this” into “I need to do this.” Ultimately, she said, “I can only do what I can do.”

Then Allison Broeren, founder of Strike Theater, delved into the Impostor Syndrome. Oh, do I have it! Any advancement we do with Story Crossroads feels like “Can we really do this?” or “People may think we are at this level when we are not there yet” and on and on. On an individual side, I feel that all the time. I have been in the art for going on 27 years. Do I really have the skills that reflect that time? Even compliments here and there are easily forgotten in the moment.

Allison said, “The only person you are competing with is yourself. You’re the only person there!” When comparing with others, she wanted us to ask, “What is the seed of that jealousy?” Is it that you “wish [you were] doing X, Y, Z?” And, “What is it that I am having an issue with?”

And, I wrote a lot more on this self-care panel than I intended. Whoops! Obviously, I need to ponder this more. I hope it helps you, too.

5:00 pm CST: International Spotlight: Multi-Cultural Stories from Israel, A potpourri of folk tales and personal stories, reflecting the multiple cultural backgrounds that characterize our society. Some stories will sound familiar to listeners in other countries- so it is when stories wander from land to land. Presented by Israel Storytellers Association. ISA was founded in 2008 with the purpose of gaining recognition and government support for storytelling as a unique art form- complementing but separate from other performing arts. ISA offers its members enrichment workshops and courses, led by local and visiting storytellers. We also sponsor public performances and festivals all around the country. Featuring Rinah Sheleff-Emcee/Host, Sephie Shochat-Beeri, Yoel Shalom Perez, Sharon Aviv, Doron Kaynar Kissinger, Hanan Abo Zlaf, Oshik Achinoam, Na’ama Tel-Tsur, Guy “Zandy” Zandman

Sephie Shochat-Beeri gave an ode to her mother who passed on four months previous. This already made the moment special combined with the fact that she is a teacher and broadcasting from her classroom. It had been a while since I had seen a classroom due to quarantine. What a strange comfort mixed with sadness to see a classroom.

Oshik Achinoam delved into his educational survival course teaching experience. About an hour of Tel-Aviv, he led youth–or adults–every week in forest for four hours. They cooked, built shelters, gathered plants. This time, his moment was of a time he got sick. No, not COVID. Yet, Oshik admitted that he “tries to tell stories when ill to make himself feel better.” He “[wears] the story like an animal skin, telling the story from the inside and then cleaned [himself] from the disease.”

I was mesmerized by Dr. Yoel Shalom Perez. He is one of the Keeper of the Stories in connection with Flora Cohen, who was one of the prime relaters of Jewish Stories in all of Israel for the Israel Folktale Archives. He is a keeper of over 4,000 stories! The story “Abu-Katrina the Lazy” was hilarious and had a moment when he laid on the floor with a shroud to think he was dead. Now, you need to know what led to that, right? Here is a hint – Abu-Katrina was an excellent, simple worker who decided not to work one more day in his life.

I delighted in a youth teller named Hanan Abo Zlaf who shared from the Arabic culture. I was unsure of her age, though young compared to me. She was fun though full of nerves. And the rooster she did? Hilarious! The rooster was threatening anytime he said, “Where’s my ______? (wheat, bread, etc.) Or will make big, big, big noise!” No one wanted that! That is power.

Doron Kaynar Kissinger shared such a moving story. We begin with youth and hopes. We end…well, not there. This story tells of Germans, Templars, and the rise of Hitler in 1933. This must give you enough to understand.

As this took us to a darker place, it was smart of the entire Israel teller ensemble to have a song to uplift. Thus, we heard a song from Guy “Zandy” Zandman. The song was about a troubadour who told and regaled stories to the king. The troubadour sought new stories to tell to kings.

The most amazing words were spoken by Na’ama Tel-Tsur who shared a story about the creation of the world while from a forest along the Northern border of Israel. When God the Creator spoke to Desert, and Desert asked if anything was left, only small and stubborn creatures remained and some thorns, sand, and a few sharp stones.

Is this all? I’ll be so lonely.

Don’t worry, Desert. I will come and I will live with you.

If you are brave enough and you have big questions about your life…you can go down to the desert and surround yourself in the big open space in the silence of the desert, you have a good chance of having a conversation with God.

Pause a little and let all this sink in. Delight in it. Meditate. Now you can read on.

The story was amazing and one I had never heard before. Other people in the chat indicated the same thing. While Dr. Yoel Shalom Perez is an official Keeper, this felt like all the listeners became keepers in another way. After hearing such a special story, what do we, as listeners, do with it? As this was a creation story, consider what does this story create within us? I will ponder this story for a long time. Thank you, Na’ama Tel-Tsur.

Sharon Aviv was the final teller. Her opening lines were mysterious–and perhaps cultural?–as she shared about the full moon in Israel and on that moon is the face of an old woman. That old woman tells everyone the story they should hear.

At this point, Sharon delved into a personal story from 16 years ago, probably 2004. She was invited to go to Belfast and tell stories. There were always conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. Being a Jew and coming from Tel-Aviv, she told the Belfast resident that they had their own conflicts. Still, the resident insisted, “Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

Sharon then shared a story to consider anytime you are worried. She learned from her grandmother wise words to whittle down the worries until it feels endless and ultimately…no worries. Her grandmother, after sharing the advice, then asked, “So why worry?”

Sharon brought back her Belfast experience. She said, “Belfast did get peace. Israel, we’re still working on it.

7:00-9:15 pm CDT: ORACLE Performances/Closing Ceremony, ASL Interpretation Provided, ORACLE Concert featuring: Jackson Gillman, Jennifer Munro, Laura Packer, Corrine Stavish, Barbara Schutzgruber, Tim Lowry

So we have come to this–the end. For the first time, we had a concert that consisted of the ORACLE recipients of regional and national levels of Circle of Excellence. And, to give a hint, I have 64 pages from the chat box alone.

No, I will not write 64-pages worth here.

We celebrated the talents of those ORACLE recipients. Tim Lowry shared a personal experience of the privilege of doing a virtual tour for a school of the Deaf within the home of Helen Keller. Wow! I was crying. Laura Packer always tugs at my heart strings and yet I feel safe to come back from it all in the end. Everyone was wonderful. I even got to see Jackson Gillman perform. I interviewed him almost 20 years ago. I really hadn’t heard much since that time so the nostalgia rushed in.

Many people were thanked with huge emphasis for Katie Knutson (hurrahed 59 times!), Erin O’Neil (about the same number as Katie), Danni and Kathy from the National Storytelling Network Office, and the NSN Board and Volunteers – and rightly so.

Cap’s off to the National Storytelling Network with the courage to brave forth in this virtual world. May the Circle be Unbroken!

Thank you for taking part in this re-awakening journey for me. Please post comments, and we can continue the discussion.

We did this 9-part Blog Series in anticipation of the Digital Library being put together by the National Storytelling Network. Whether or not you attended virtually, you can still access the recordings through pay-per-view options. More details to come soon and will be at http://www.storynet.org/virtual-conference/.

The next blog series will be a 5-part “Short & Sweet Marketing for Story Artists.” This will touch on websites to social media to other surprises.

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities with three options to watch it featuring our panelists: Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, and Brian “Fox” Ellis. We are grateful to funding from Utah Humanities.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here

If you really want to experiment with us, we have the Story Crossroads Server on Discord with text/vocal/video chat options plus resources and ideas. Click here for the direct invite/link.

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