Chaos Attraction

National Storytelling Summit 2019--Day 2

2019-07-26, 12:31 p.m.

They had a free breakfast this morning. I hung out with the other Jennifer (Munro) at the conference and asked her if she had similar name issues. To which she said no, she was born in 1951 on the East Coast, so the popularity wasn’t an issue for her. She also said that if you tell at Jonesboro, they pay you.

The first workshop I went to was “The Magic of Words: Storytelling Performance and Composition Skills” by Heather Forest. She’s a folktale person, but I got some good tips out of it even though I am not a folktale person.

“Stories are transformational. They make people change.” She told a story about a peddler having a dream that told him to go stand on London Bridge and he’d hear good news. “I know it’s not common sense, but sometimes common sense makes no sense at all.” So while the dude is standing on the bridge, he hears another guy bitching that he dreamed that he’d find a treasure buried at a peddler’s cottage, but he wasn’t going to do that. So the peddler went back home and dug it up.

Stories are metaphors. If you’re trying to grow in any way, follow the path. “Find stories that are vehicles for the things you want to say in the world.” It’s easier to remember information if it’s told in stories (rather than facts/statistics) because that uses a different area of the brain and embeds information. She asked the class, “What was the bridge made of?” and most people (but not me because I cared not) said stone, and she was all, I barely mentioned that but you remembered it.

It’s only in our strange culture that we’re supposed to be young forever. Everything ripens over time.

Presence---storytelling requires that stage presence. Be in the moment to fulfill your task at hand. Irony is negative imagination. As artists we make choices. Storytelling is a long path.

“I do believe in creative theft.” Something you see inspires you to add it to your repertoire. That’s not theft, it’s cross colonization! She notes that people picked up ideas during the GDG workshop.

Style/taste-- you have to know what you like. “Trust your wince factor.” She tells healing stories to herself.

Polygenesis--similar stories are told in different cultures/locations. There’s an underground consciousness that touches everyone everywhere.

Raw material as plot. Your instruments are voice, body, imagination.

Words: search, select, sequence, share, shape, set, rehearse, reflect.
Know how long your stories are for the social graces of our community.

5 languages: words, sound of words, facial expressions, body language, gesture.

She said that when she got married, her husband wanted her to travel less, so she should record stories instead. She said that didn’t work because she lost three languages. If you write down the story, you lose a fourth language. Clearly speech came before writring “or they would not have invented quotation marks.” She had to add stage directions.

“Without imagination, you cannot make a plan. Without a plan, you cannot be safe. Imagination is a survival tool.” GOOD POINT.

She talked about the musicality of the sound of language. Even if you try not to put drama into something, it goes there because of human nature. (Story of my life and this website.)
Storytellers have to listen to themselves like singers--they have the potential to make a choice. Recognition and surprise don’t happen unless you wait. If you’re doing a really good job you disappear and they only see the world. Stage fright is egotistical.

We practiced saying words/sentences with different intentions.

Verisimillitude = it seems real.
You’re not acting, you’re imagining.
True power is having someone do something of their own free will.
Folklore makes you think of personal experiences.

In the middle morning slot, we had a keynote speech by Charlotte Blake Alston, called “The Middle of the Middle of Us.” My notes from this are sketchier, I think.

She talked about a guy who called himself “Brother Blue” that sounded interesting, as “the voice inside his head compelled him to do what he wanted.”

Mirror of our human journey, container of accumulated wisdom.

Three storytelling models/cultural motifs:

1. The trickster--unpredictable. Potentially dangerous, intelligent but can be foolish, usually male but some shapechange. Direct defiance of the natural order and rules of conventional behavior. Can be complete liars.

2. Orphan--Hero’s Journey. Child on a solo journey, a deceased ancestor shows up to help.

3. I have down “dilemma tale” about freeing voices, multiple perspectives...I have less notes for this as I got confused.

4. Stories of US History. The worst of it reappears/repeats, so it’s a map/guide to the future. “You can tell the story of Emmett Till. It’s YOUR history.” We have a big bad wolf story to warn young girls.

Storyteller is connection between people and history.

For lunch, I went to the pho place and ordered “fried chicken soup.” I was really curious as to how they were going to do that. They gave me some actual fried chicken on the side and I think there were small fried chicken bits in the soup. It was good, though. I wish I had kind of gone two days in a row. I read a book called The Power of Moments that was on the table and liked it.

After lunch I attempted to go to an “intensive workshop” (i.e. 3 hours rather than 1.5, all afternoon) on “Micro Majors: Finding Success as a Medium Fish in a Small Pond.” Boy, did this turn out to be Not For Me because it was all about pimping yourself on social media, something I neither particularly want to do or CAN do now that you-know-who who likes to stalk people will follow me around if I’m doing that. I was Very Uncomfortable in there and did NOT want to discuss with my “partner” (no offense meant to her, she was nice, but I was wigging) and left halfway through before he forced me to film a video and upload it.

Here’s the notes from this, for what that’s worth:

For your clients, you name is really not that important. Artists serve the world with art. Get over yourself.
10,000 Russians hacked his website (
What you bring and how you bring is more important that your name
Contemporary forms, how the world is today
What you come to a workshop for is opinion
Money and business--it’s ok to be paid. You are a product. Teaching you how to be a successful working artist, not a “storytelling celebrity.” You want to be a medium fish in a small pond that you are good at.
Who are you talking to? Where are they online? What is your plan to reach them?
Get focused on one niche at a time. Stop “storytelling for all.” Give up the “invisible” schtick, see your work as service. Engage your audience with video. Video is the “there is no choice” now.
Intentional marketing
“Technology is going to kill us all.”
Who’s your audience? Create the avatar. Age, gender, career, family, income, relationships, likes/dislikes, needs/problems, wants, hobbies, frustrations, vices.
(I basically did Loretta.)
Where are they online? Are they old enough to enter into a contract with you? Schools DO have money, the administration should know where that money is. Title 1 has money for special needs, that’s use it or lose it money.
Is what you offer viable?
Is there an audience out there who wants what you want?
You don’t have to do it full time.
Your art solves a problem.
Study social media really carefully for your people. Where are they online?
Old school: mail, print ads, cassettes/CD’s, email, website, audio on web.
Video on web is modern publishing.
YouTube--18-34-year-olds. Video should be between 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Concise, to the point, with captions. People are 64% more likely to buy anything after watching a video online.
80% will watch a video, whereas only (?) will read anything at all.
50% more likely to be on the first page of search results if you include video. People quit searching after 2 pages.
9 out of 10 millennials say the optimal video is 2 minutes or less
Generational stuff: millennials are 20-40-they book you, they want to find you on video.
Customers prefer video over long text. People take action after watching video. Video works to make sales and drive traffic.
They need to be fast, to the point, and professional in context.
You’re not marketing to you.
His audience is Instagram. Not as into Facebook but does it anyway.
Being competent counts. Know what you’re doing. Be seen as an expert--publish a book. Print is on its way back. Ask the client what they want. You have to have a diversity.

Not that it’s not good points, it just...ugh, made me uncomfortable.

For the second half of the afternoon I went to “Creating Stories That Matter” with the other Jennifer and really enjoyed the hell out of that one and was glad I went to it. She had lists of situations, characters, people and places on the wall.

“Once you start creating, it rises up to meet you.”
Human foibles/weaknesses/heroics
Stories make you feel warm, laugh, cry, form memories.
Memories are a treasure trove you are mining. Creating a photograph.

She talked about her Auntie Lily, who was A Character. Lily’s the sort to accidentally lose her underwear and be totally casual about picking it up off the street. Later she talked about how her glamorous aunt started removing stuff like her hair, her teeth, and her EYE.... “oooh, what I wouldn’t have given for a fake leg at that moment,” she said to Jennifer’s mom later. What is the message? Lily had no fear of being socially unacceptable. And of course she had a pet monkey.

Every story hangs on a moment when we learn something about ourselves/others/life/world. Beginnings should pose a question.

We did some brainstorming and I came up with an idea for a piece on doing active shooter training...yeah, fun topic there, eh?

“The cashier’s office has bulletproof windows. That’s crucial to mention because I had been placed in that office for our active shooter training at work. It also had a safety/panic room of sorts on the far right side that one could shelter themselves in in the event of emergency. Of course, my own eventual office would have none of these things when we moved into this building, when we eventually become the targets of someone’s wrath. It almost made me want to work in a money field after all to get to have those protections from people who want to kill me.”

Story endings-if you have your 5 second moment (Jennifer Munro knows Matthew Dicks and has performed with/taken a workshop with him), you know where to begin and end. She mentioned Homework for Life (which I am totally behind on because I started doing goddamned extensive journal entries instead....good lord).

My 5 second moment for this: I don’t want to be in this business any more, but I have to stay in it in order to stay alive, while risking being shot at.

Cross out anything that doesn’t serve to bring the story to its greatest clarity possible.

I have down the quote “You’ve survived the sausage machine.” No context whatsoever.

“It’s a really good idea to know what your story is about.”

She then did something experimental by telling us the end of a story first--”No more pets,” about the death of her dog. As far as she’s concerned, the moment of that story is that her husband, who’s an engineer, was being tender towards her when he found out. (Note: every time I hear something like this about being married to an engineer, I feel very sad for their wives. Could not take that shit.) She copied the rhythm of the beginning for the end. Her beginning was that her husband was holding her face in his hands, and he’s not given to be emotive, saying, “Read my lips, Jen, no more pets.” Then they get pets. It surprised her that it was about her husband coming to the reality of having children, but there’s no need to state that directly when it’s obvious.

The nighttime show was some awards ceremony I knew nothing about and did not feel like paying extra to go to, so I had more sushi for dinner and enjoyed some fabulous rolls. Delicious.

After all of whatever was going on there, they had the “fringe” shows going on late at night. Either they had qualifying slams (I decided to skip night 2 since I’d already done mine) or “fringe” shows that I guess folks applied for by making up a title and names were drawn out of a hat or something to do a one person show. Something I would love to do someday if I was more experienced, which I am not yet.

Most of them actually looked really depressing, but I enjoyed “Diggin In Their Heels,” a show about how women got the vote, by Sally Perkins. Her concept for this was to reimagine the long ass process by updating it with modern technological references and what celebrities to compare the suffragettes to. “Just think of how long the Louisiana Purchase would have been with PayPal. And if Amelia Earhart had GPS.” So she’s comparing Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Sherlock Holmes, Lucretia Mott to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth to Whoopi Goldberg, and making cracks about a horse-drawn Tesla. When the suffragettes divide into two leagues, she turns it into rooting for baseball teams. She made it pretty suspenseful. It was fun for those who attended.

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