Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 3 of 9

This is the third 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 – TODAY
  • 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

We continued to travel the world from our own homes with performances from India to the South Central Region of the United States

I was amazed at how intimate and intense these storytelling concerts were through the screen. The storytellers from Scotland were impressive the other day, and the storytellers from India continued to keep the bar up high in the ability to connect to my emotions and excitement.

I did have a shift at the library (as my particular library opened up on May 18, 2020 to the public) and I was sad to miss two workshops. I intend to go back and delve once the Digital Library is open through the National Storytelling Network.

So onward to those invaluable moments.

Events of June 1 and Reflections–

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

I am not a morning person. I can eventually sing in the morning and have the appearance of it being “my time,” though I am active and productive at night. This was at 8:00am CDT and meant it was 7:00am for me. My three kids used to wake up towards 6:00am on their own. As they have gotten older, I delight “sleeping in” to 7:30am. Yet, I had to get up. Yes, this was not a forced meeting. BUT…I am a hallways kind-of conference goer. This would be the closest to that experience through the virtual means.

I was not on time. Throughout this virtual conference, I averaged at least 30 minutes “late” to this breakfast/social time. However, a solid 30 minutes or more of “talking story” was ever delightful. Jennifer Pahl Otto from the NSN Board led the group. Most of the time, we were “loose” and focused on a theme to kick-off storytelling. Only once was it more of a morning story swap. I preferred the conversations. I noticed that people were “shy” to use the chat box in the beginning though people were more smart in how they used the chat later on–like recommending certain storytelling books and related materials and placing direct links–as we went along.

While not a workshop or a concert, this social time opened my mind to what we could do for Story Crossroads. We already know that 2021 will likely be another year that schools will be nervous or will simply ban in-person field trips. We can offer virtual field trips again. Though, for the general pubic/adults who wish to mingle, we need a virtual social space. Maybe I could even convince Jennifer to assist. Story Crossroads is an organization member of NSN….

10:00 am CDT: Folktales of India with C. Mangalam Senthil, Deeptha Vivekanand, Jeeva Raghunath, Lopa Mudra Mohanty, Usha Venkatraman, and Vikram Sridhar, India with its numerous states and varied cultures, has folktales beyond imagination Kathai Kalatta promotes and nurtures Indian culture and heritage through stories. We will be presenting Indian folktales to give a glimpse of Mother India.

I was in the parking lot, ready to go into the building to start my shift at the library. I was able to have the Zoom app on my phone and could let it play while driving with two hands on the steering wheel. As the library did not open to the public until 10:00am MDT, I was allowed to play it from my phone as I took care of the “hold alert” for patrons. I am grateful to an understanding branch manager.

My full attention (as I will need to catch up with the whole concert later) was for “Checkmate #I am Savitri” told by Lopa Mudra Mohanty and “The Mysterious Oils” from Bengal told by Usha Venkatraman.

I delighted in Lopa’s mixture of mythology and modern ways of telling this story. I also recognized the story as I recently did a blog post through Story Crossroads about it for the 2020 A to Z Blog Challenge. Her use of hashtags of a repeating element of this story made me laugh every time. I was driving while laughing…maybe not the safest…but I was not on my phone. Only listening through my phone while both hands were on the steering wheel. I do love traditional storytelling though any time we can mix in the modern…I am a fan.

I was most moved by the story told by Usha Venkatraman of a tense relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law. She was to have oils to massage into her mother-in-law that would gradually “get rid of her.” Hmmm. This story reminds me of “The Tiger’s Whisker” or another version of “The Lion’s Whisker” or still another of “The Crescent Moon Bear.” Yet, of all those versions, THIS is my new ultimate favorite. Wow, so much wow. I also reminded myself on the symbolism of oil. A while back, I wrote a blog post on it…again, A to Z Blog Challenge but this time in 2017. Oil, with so many meanings, is mostly known for healing.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop, One World of Stories: Celebrating Diversity and Commonality Through Folktales with Heather Forest, This storytelling workshop for beginning and burgeoning storytellers offers practical insights into researching and performing multicultural folktales. Participants will explore how to shape and share folktale repertoire that respectfully reflects both the uniqueness of cultural heritage and the universality of human experience.

Oh, it pained me to miss this workshop. I happened to be working at the library near the 398.2 section of the library where Heather Forest tends to find those exact folktales and fairy tales to then perform. I was in the place to pull out books she has authored in our library…but I could not attend virtually.

When it comes to Story Crossroads, we celebrate diversity through multicultural professional story artists. Our inaugural year, we had 14 different languages spoken from stage. Yes, they were mainly spoken by people who had ancestral backgrounds to those languages.

Telling stories from other cultures is important as long as it is not for entertainment purposes only. I have heard several storytellers say this, though cannot remember all of them who have at this time. Know that this is a prominent feeling in the storytelling community. There must be respect and reverence for any story shared, especially when outside of your culture.

Despite missing this workshop, the topic is enough to have me pause and make sure that I as an individual and as a story producer can inspire others to treat stories with respect.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Welcoming the Other with Jim BrulĂ©, This workshop manifests the theme of “engagement through empathy.” It starts with a highly interactive exercise designed to evoke a strong, empathic response to being “outside” – invoking motivation to action. It then provides storytellers with the specific tools and techniques they require to adapt this method to their own issues and communities. Dialogue and collaboration are used throughout.

The fact that this was led by Jim Brulé was enough for me to be disappointed to miss it. He is so open and kind-hearted, and I look foward to working with him more. For Story Crossroads, we commissioned him to create a 5-minute Zoom Basics video for virtual workshops as well as paid him to train our Story Crossroads Board on using Zoom.

He always delivers what he promises…and then gives a little more. I know this has nothing to do with his topic, but it also informs me that this was a workshop not to be missed–and I missed it! Though, I will definitely have this on my “must see” when the Digital Library is up for the National Storytelling Network. His workshop would go nicely with the Keynote from Ekansh Tambe from the first official day of this 9-day virtual event. Let us think of border, boundaries, walls. Do we build those around ourselves? Do others build them around themselves? What can break down those barriers? Ah, I will ponder this more soon.

5:00 pm CDT: National Spotlight: Asian American Storytelling Showcase, Experience the diverse faces and stories of the Asian American diaspora. Our stories will transport you across the continent of Asia and bring you back to America for an intimate view of the Asian experience through folk, personal, and historical tales. Presented by Asian Storytellers in Unity and hosted by Joel Ying, performers are Dr. Joel Ying, Karin Amano, Eleanor Clement Glass, Roopa Mohan, Alton Takiyama-Chung

Hurrah! My library shift was over. I do still love working there–but hard when an amazing 9-day virtual event is happening. Anyway, I was able to watch this in full.

I appreciated Dr. Joel Ying’s cultural identity story. I stepped back and thought about how I unintentionally ask questions about where people come from. It’s been a while since I have been guilty of such an offense and I cringe when I hear people ask that pointed question. “Where are you from? Where are you REALLY from?” Is the “from” as important as where someone is now? Who we are becoming? Ah, I like pondering these questions better.

All the storytellers were wonderful. I wish more Asian stories were told. In fact, I noticed the great lack of representation at Story Crossroads. That must change. I have not done this on purpose. Much of our selection process is through our online application and videos that story artists submit and then are reviewed by our Story Training and Telling Committee. We need more Asian tellers submitting. More everybody, really. We have had 90+ and we are five years old…but, yes, more. Here, this makes it easy.

7:00 pm CDT: South Central Regional Spotlight Concert with Lisa Overholser (host), Priscilla Howe, Jim Two Crows Wallen, Bobby Norfolk, David Titus, Donna Ingham, and Tim Tingle, The storytellers of the South Central Region represent the diversity of their origins and cultures with a range of stories from history to tall tale, from ancient folktale to personal saga. The South Central Region of NSN is comprised of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

The line-up was already getting me excited. Plus, Tim Tingle has been to Utah to perform though it had been a while. I love how he likes to question the audience of how a Native American/Choctaw dresses. Most people think traditional garb, but he has this as a trick question. What about today? When people start saying “jeans” or “t-shirts,” we are finally on the right path.

I was not as familiar with Jim Two Crows Wallen. I know a couple Mountain Men Storytellers and have enjoyed the tall tales and the blatant lies these folks share. Have you ever pondered why we, as a society, love listening to lies? Why we love our leg being pulled? Now, think of when we want and desire the full and complete truth. Fascinating, right? Bil Lepp, if you are reading this, feel free to comment. Though, perhaps Donna Ingham will beat you to it. After all, she was one of the enthralling tellers for this concert.

As for Bobby Norfolk, I love how his energy is felt no matter if it is live or virtual. He feeds off the response of the audience so much that I worry about him–as I do for all storytellers–on how we are all mentally doing with this mindshift of doing things digitally. Meanwhile, I am grateful to all who attempt or completely master this way of performing.

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