Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 2 of 9

This is the second 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 – TODAY
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • Part 6 – June 4, 2020 – Official Day 5
  • Part 7 – June 5, 2020 – Official Day 6
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8

A Moving Tribute and Ideas that Can Change the World

No matter someone’s age, wisdom abounds. Many times people have said, “Out of the mouth of babes.” We also know that the elders of society have experienced much in life and have much to share that can benefit us all. I was floored by the combined wisdom of Ekansh Tambe, a high school student, and Elizabeth Ellis, a matriarch of American Storytelling.

Yet, it was more than the keynotes today. Everything flowed so beautifully. I felt like I was in some kind of dream world where people are open-minded and willing to listen to each other, where we can appreciate each other’s differences and rejoice in how we are the same.

Oh, when all the words escape from this divine experience, I can always remember how the day felt.

Events of May 31 and Reflections–

11:30am & Noon CDT: Opening & Keynote Addresses

Beyond Borders with Ekansh Tambe–High School student Ekansh Tambe has visited six world borders, taking photographs and telling stories. In this brief talk, he will guide us through his experiences and what he has learned.

We talk of the Mexico/United States all the time. With such a front-and-center place in the news, I never thought about other borders around the world. I was shocked at my oblivious state. Shocked and saddened.

Ekansh Tambe, as young as he was, had traveled all over the world to understand the division and strife found in North and South Korea, Peru and Colombia, Israel/Palestine/Syria, as well as the Strait of Gibraltar that keeps people from Spain and Morocco. Yet, among this turmoil, people found ways to connect with each other. Along Peru and Colombia, there is an island that people can go and enjoy swimming and wrestling without recourse. With the Israel and Syria border, there is “Shouting Hill” so people can communicate with family members while looking through binoculars.

Then, Ekansh pointed out something that does not honor borders: COVID-19. He encouraged us to reflect and said, “We can be the change we see in the world.”

And what change do we want to see?

Being that this day of the Conference landed on Sunday, I thought of a favorite hymn called, “More Holiness Give Me.” Each verse gives quite a list of what the world could use more of–

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More pride in his glory,
More hope in his word,
More tears for his sorrows,
More pain at his grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy—
More, Savior, like thee.

No matter your faith, you can replace Christian references for what you believe. If you do not connect to any faith, you still have core values. Replace those for you.

Now, of course, we must talk of Elizabeth Ellis–

Rivets and Girders: Building Storytelling for the Pandemic and Beyond with Elizabeth Ellis–Rivets and Girders: Building Storytelling for the Pandemic and Beyond Like it or not, storytelling is under renovation! First let’s examine the foundation for structural soundness. Then we can identify what can be salvaged and what should be scrapped.

To give you an idea of how much I love and respect Elizabeth Ellis, picture this–It’s an icy and bleak February in Utah. I learn that Elizabeth Ellis will be featured at the Vernal Storytelling Festival, four hours away from where I live. I grab the three kids–ages 4, 9, and 11–and we go on a road trip. We travel through a white-out blizzard four hours there and fours hours back the same night…two nights in a row. (Hey, the kids still had school.)

As for her words, I was typing so fast that my wrists cramped while attempting to keep up with the glorious insights she kept spouting.

It took me back to when I took Advanced Storytelling with her while working on my Storytelling Masters at East Tennessee State University. Every day I was exhausted after each class period because of the intensity of her words and compassion and love behind every bit of it. It was an exhaustion of excitement and potential we have as storytellers and our roles in the world.

In the background of this keynote broadcast, Elizabeth’s neighbor had renovations to their home that sounded during the broadcast stream.

This inspired Elizabeth to focus on the “Cracks in our Foundation” of our storytelling world:

  1. We’ve been too insular, short-sighted;
  2. We’ve had debates on personal storytelling versus traditional storytelling;
  3. We’ve had divisions of young tellers (feeling unwelcomed) versus older tellers (feeling disrespected);
  4. We’ve had disagreements between storytelling organizations;
  5. We’ve had grievances–justified or not–that get in the way of us progressing.

I do love our storytelling world…and we have been much too insular.

I remember going to a National Storytelling Conference–yes, live and in-person–and we had a wonderful speaker who represented the video gaming world and the importance of story. When it came to questions and such, I was embarrassed for our storytelling community in the complete rudeness and disregard for what this person’s presence meant at this event. Elizabeth Ellis, even then, stormed to the microphone and gave “The Great Chastisement” to us. She then pleaded with that person to stay around. She wanted to hear more and she, as a professional storyteller, wished to know how best to link our two worlds.

As for personal storytelling versus traditional storytelling, we still have a debate–friendly or not–that can place a wedge.

The United States is famous right now for having many venues and performers who focus on personal and true stories. Interestingly, Story Crossroads is mainly a place to celebrate folktales from around the world. Yet, we do still have the motto of “I have a story. You have a story. We all have stories.” This opens it up for traditional as well as personal and family stories.

Elizabeth’s words had me ask the “Is it I?” question. Is it I who is driving any wedges?

I am vocal in what I think. I can push it too far. If you have ever experienced this of me, please forgive me.

Then, when exploring the generations of storytellers, I tend to be on the “young” side. I will be 41 in August 2020–yet I have been in this world of storytelling for 27 years. I might be able to count as “older” in that regard.

I wrote a thesis on the American Storytelling Movement and interviewed 24 key people in that movement so I am more familiar to the storytelling scene on an organizational level than what people may think at first glance of me.

There can be the battle between young and older tellers on how to solve a problem. Elizabeth said, “Invention is wonderful, change is important. Discarding what has been held dear without learning their value is a little short-sighted.”

I hope people can trust me in how much I love the traditional side of storytelling. I worry that people hear what I dub “Random Rachel Ideas” or “RRI”s and question my loyalty. Do people picture me valuing the virtual or the tech side more so than the art itself? The thought makes me shudder.

Whenever I share ideas, there is never any malice. No ill will. Only hopeful ways to build the future of storytelling while honoring the past.

And have there been rifts between storytelling organizations? Absolutely! From the largest of them to even on a local level. Elizabeth reminded, “No matter what you think has been ‘done’ to you, think about it a little deeper.”

She then encouraged, “Somebody has to be the person to think a peaceful thought. Somebody has to be the person to do a peaceful deed. Why not be first? What do you have to lose?”

These same words apply between storytelling organization as well as between individual storytellers.

Oh, I worry that I could be causing problems. I am not a sit-back-and-be-quiet kind of person. Again, if I have wronged in any way, please forgive.

Before you think that I am despairing…I am not. I bravely move forward despite it all.

I could be in danger of being on a soap box right now. Elizabeth warned, “You can’t build a bridge out of soap boxes – can’t be done.” The way about it is to offer hope.

I see myself as an optimistic realist or a realistic optimist. Either way, Elizabeth encouraged us that despite all that happens around us in the world, it is “so important that YOU do not lose hope.”

When we transformed the live Story Crossroads Festival into Story Crossroads Spectacular, we purposely chose “Spectacular” to be that beacon of hope. We had students with cancelled field trips. Then, they had “Spectacular” as a way to connect to the world of storytelling. Some of the comments in the live-stream had students say how much they loved it and even one that said this was the best field trip ever.

Hope. We must offer hope as storytellers.

3:00 pm CDT: NSN Member Meeting–Meet the Board of Directors; Review the Organization’s Financial report for 2019; Learn about NSN’s programs and partnerships; Ask about where we are and where we are going.

This part of the conference was open and free to all. Though, the Zoom room capped at 100 people and blocked some people in joining. Thankfully, the “cap” was lifted and some people were able to join past that original 100 amount about 15 minutes later. The biggest reveal was that the National Storytelling Network needed to somehow cover $18,000 in expenses by the end of 2020. I LOVE NSN, and I cannot see this organization go down during my lifetime. Yet, the success of this virtual 9-day event gives some hope to whittle that amount down. The online auction will be coming up. If you need reasons to keep NSN around, you can see this 5-part blog series on why Story Crossroads loves National Storytelling Network.

5:00 pm CDT: Traditional Tales of Scotland with Peter Vallance, Heather Yule, David Campbell, Janis Mackay, Mairi Campbell, David Francis

I was whisked away to Scotland and yet I remained in my home of West Jordan, Utah. Every single teller was inspiring and gave a feel of their land despite being separated by a computer screen. I was so impressed that I looked up Peter Vallance and wrote a message as soon as the concert ended.

I then learned from him that Scottish teller Stanley Robertson belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like me. Peter promised it was a fascinating story with details I have yet to get. Though, he was kind to share that Stanley, though since passed on, does appear here: https://www.facebook.com/TobaranDualchaisKistoRiches/. Peter warned, “Stanley’s dialect takes a while to get used to, and he uses both Doric and Cant words that you may not understand. When he went to the States, he altered his language to be better understood.”

7:00 pm CDT: Northeast Regional Spotlight Performance with Tony Toledo (Emcee), Valerie Tutson, Jennifer Munro, Christopher Newcomb, Simon Brooks, Nicolette Nordin Heavey, and Tim Jennings

Everyone was wonderful. Most impressive for me were Valerie Tutson and Jennifer Munro.

Valerie Tutson shared a historical tale of James Forten, a 14-year-old boy who had a father who worked for a sail-maker. James played marble with the Captain’s son and made the difference later on. I will not share more…but beautifully told.

Jennifer Munro was inducted into the Circle of Excellence, ORACLE Award for 2020. She knew how to use Zoom! She was close enough and deliberate in performing to the computer screen. I felt like she was telling her story across my table.

9:00 pm CDT: The Owl Prince & Other Folktales From Asia with Kalah Rajesh, Wong Swee Yean, Simone Maria Sales, Sheila Wee, Jumaini Ariff, Ahn Sook Kim, Roger Jenkins, and Karen Lee – brought about by FEAST

The moon theme was remarkable throughout this concert. All were fantastic and traveled me throughout Asia with their tales. I was most in shock and delight with Kim Ahn Sook. She told her story for the first time in English! She was so smooth that no one would have known except that she revealed it at the end. Wow, oh wow! I felt like that made it a sacred and special moment. She proved her dedication and love of storytelling in that act alone. The delivery was moving and tears of happiness were wiped from my cheeks after this performance. May I be as dedicated. May we all.

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/.

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