Friday, 31 October 2014

Stories about Storytelling

The first story is about an outstanding teacher, one whom I hired in 1994 to teach language arts to 6th and 7th graders.  Gwynn Spencer was a unique personality for many reasons, not the least of which was her passion for storytelling.  She had a great friend in Joe Hayes, an award winning author and teacher of storytelling.  Joe taught storytelling at the University of New Mexico and his influence extended through Gwynn to her students and beyond.  Have a look at Joe’s video “The Gum Chewing Rattler” or his book called A Spoon for Every Bite and you’ll get an idea of Gwynn’s mentor and model for storytelling.  She inspired more than a few of her students in the art of writing and telling stories.
One day, Gwynn hung a sign on her door that opened to the hallway and it read, “The Universe is Made Up of Stories.”  Down the hall at the other end, another teacher opened his door and tacked up a sign that read, “The Universe is Made Up of Atoms.”  The dialogue between arts and science had begun and the students took great joy in participating.  Gwynn’s final posting on her door was “Yes, Stories About Atoms.”  Gwynn was also a lover of books and for awhile owned and ran a bookstore in Albuquerque. In her latter years she published a monthly newsletter from Mancos, Coloardo called “The Cosmic Raccoon.”  It was filled with wonderful stories, most of them real.
Everyone has a life story or many stories that tell the tale of who we are, how we came to be where we are and what makes us both the same and different.  I have just finished reading The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown. In addition to Dan’s being a great story teller, the story itself has its own power because of the range of human emotions expressed by the characters in the story.  Many of them emanate from Joe Rantz, one of the nine young men from the University of Washington’s crew who made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  The book begins with Dan’s interviewing Joe as he is dying and the story begins with Joe’s early life, his countless struggles and all that happens in Joe’s lifetime.  It’s an amazing story, told with engaging details and components one might not expect from a book that sounds like it could be about rowing.  Rowing, like running, fishing, sailing, or any competitive sport, becomes a metaphor for finding out what’s required for the highest and deepest levels of excellence.
The last story about telling a story, at least for now, has to do with my own story of some 77 years and still going.  I chronicled some of it last year with the publication of Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir.  (River House Press 2013)   That is a short collection of watershed learning experiences or stories that helped to shape and influence who I am and how I got to be where I am.  From my point of view, there was nothing magical or extraordinary in my story and few of us have the capacity to look at ourselves with any degree of objectivity.  Our stories are about the choices we have made that took us in one direction as opposed to another.  It is perhaps best summed up with this famous Robert Frost poem.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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