Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More rambling from the road

Not much focus today. I've got my 33rd and 34th performances of the month today, with three more tomorrow. This might be the most I've ever done in a month.

I'm writing this from a motel, one I chose because it had a pool. I'm not swimming, though, because I realized that this pool is within sight of the turnpike interchange. Not exactly relaxing! I was a bit alarmed when I registered, worried that I might not be able to sleep for the sound of trucks braking and revving. No need to fret, though--I've been tired enough not to notice.

Not too tired to have a good time at the performances, though. At a library in a primarily Spanish-speaking area, I told "The fleaskin drum," a Mexican story. I don't speak Spanish, but I know a few words and understand a fair amount, so I include some words in Spanish in this story. The kids giggled hysterically when I said "la pulga" (the flea), "la hormiguita" (the ant), "la cucaracha" (the cockroach) and "el ratoncito" (the mouse, though we had a discussion about whether it was mouse or rat and finally settled for small rodent).

There was a big group that came in together. When we were leaving, I commented to the couple who seemed to be in charge. The man told me that they have a bunch of rental properties, so they started a reading program for the kids there. They bring the children to the library. What a great idea!

After that evening performance, I took myself out to eat at a Mexican restaurant that is my friend Judy's favorite. Yum. I've had no pie on this trip, though I asked yesterday at a small family restaurant in Haysville. Last night I had a lovely curry at a Thai restaurant. That's one of the benefits of being in a bigger city on tour--there's a nice choice of restaurants.

Must be breakfast time. More later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Tristan and Iseult" at the JDC

Yesterday I told "Tristan and Iseult" at a Juvenile Detention Center, the same facility where I did a writing workshop in March. None of the kids I met back then were in my audience yesterday.

The kids were attentive, after they settled in to the idea of listening to a story, after they realized that I wasn't going to treat them like babies. A few of them talked to me during the intermission and afterwards, though many were reserved. Kids in this sort of situation often take a little more time to gauge the situation and the adults around them.

The ideal season and time for this particular story would be a winter evening, with the audience sitting comfortably, possibly with a mug of hot cider or some other libation.

Yesterday I began at 9:00 a.m., in the JDC gym, a stark rectangular room with a cement floor. The kids sat on blue plastic chairs, girls in front and boys behind them. There were 11 girls and about 30 boys, down 30 kids from just last week, I heard. I had my microphone set up because of the echo-ey space and the occasional interruptions of walkie-talkies. Staff came in and out. A few kids had to go to other sessions (court? counseling? who knows?) in the middle of the story.

Every time I go to the JDC, I'm struck by how regular the kids seem. I don't know and I'm not allowed to ask why they're there. I do know that they listen in the same way that other kids do, and they ask the same kinds of questions at the end. While I hope the story has a good effect on them, I also know that I'm not in charge of what they get from it. I think it went well yesterday.

On Friday, I'll tell this story again, at a public library, as a Young Adult program. I bet the listeners will look just about the same, though not in JDC uniforms (white or blue tee shirt, blue sweatpants, white sneakers). Hope they like it.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

What's a pigway?

About 300 pounds...

I've always wanted to use that joke. On Thursday I was in Pittsburg, KS telling "A dark and stormy night." This is a circular story--it never ends, so I go around and around telling it in different voices. I tell it mad, sad, with the hiccups, like a chicken, etc. I ask the kids to give me suggestions. After I told it like a--bawk--chicken--bawk, a kid in the front row asked me to tell it "the pig way." Perfect setup! "What's a pig way?" I asked, and then answered myself, "Oh, I know--about 300 pounds." Now I think I'll set it up for myself in the next shows.

This was a good week. No pie, but good performances in the libraries of southeast Kansas. My set list changes a little bit but basically is the same throughout. You'd think I'd get bored. I don't, for the most part. This is one of the things I love about telling stories: as I tell a story over and over, I learn more about it. I have the chance to get under the skin of the story and understand it in new ways. Also, as each audience is different, the story changes slightly in relation to the listeners. It's definitely not theater.

The story that fascinated me the most this week is Rapunzel. I've only recently begun telling this classic. I think it's a trance story. Even the tinies go into a very quiet interior listening place. I believe Doug Lipman talks about "front of the seat" stories and "back of the seat" stories. This one is a "back of the seat" story, where the listeners are deep inside, sitting quietly all the way back in their seats. The ghost with the one black eye is a "front of the seat story," where the listeners are laughing, joining in, sitting right up on the front edge of the seat (or occasionally standing up without even realizing it). I told Rapunzel ten times this week, shifting bits here and there, changing pace, tweaking the telling each time. My ending is not completely traditional, but it doesn't stray too far. I encourage the kids to go look for other versions in the library, in that magical Dewey Decimal section, 398.2.

That's it for today. I get a few days off before returning to the fray. Tuesday I'm telling the Medieval Romance Tristan and Iseult at the Juvenile Detention Center. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


I'm writing this from a motel in Chanute, KS. Yesterday I had performances in Garnett, Gridley and LeRoy, today I'll be at the libraries in Chanute and Parsons. I left my good harmonica in the library in Gridley, but Janet has promised to mail it back to me. Fortunately I have a spare in the car.

I like these tours, several days of performances in different places. I like visiting small towns, hanging out with kids at the libraries. Every library is decorated differently for the summer theme.

I have big chunks of time in between performances or afterward, where I'm at loose ends. I often don't know anybody in the area other than the librarians. I walk around the town, I take books to read, I always have my journal, I can play games on my Palm, and of course I can write this blog. I take myself out to eat--Mexican restaurants are often a good bet, Chinese can be iffy, a regular hamburger in the local cafe is usually just fine, especially if I can get a good piece of pie (none so far on this trip). Unless there's a fancy coffee place around, I get my breakfast coffee at McDonalds, I confess, because they have real half and half and the coffee is usually strong enough.

In the motel, I find myself fascinated by the TV, because at home I don't have cable and don't often pull the TV out of the closet. Click, another reality show, click, there are the Golden Girls again, click, intense men with twitching jaws in crime dramas, click, a woman sobbing into her pillow, click, cartoons, click, shopping galore, click, off, maybe it's time for a nap.

More later.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cake pans, pies, etc.

I haven't been on my quest for the best restaurant pie in a while, but I expect to begin the search again soon. I thought about it yesterday, as I drove through a few small towns on my way to Osage City, KS. I passed Shirley's Cafe in Overbrook, where I had a good piece of apple about six years ago. I went through Scranton, where I've told stories but haven't had any pie. I wondered if there was a place in Burlingame, a town with a main street so wide there's parking in the middle of it.

On Tuesday I go to Troy, up in Northeast Kansas, for a library performance. Maybe I'll find pie up there. Or maybe I'll have to wait for the Southeast Kansas Library System tour, beginning on the 13th.

Back to Osage City... I hadn't been there for a few years, and the last time the library hired me I told stories in a temporary space. They now have a beautiful new library, very welcoming. I got there early, in a downpour, so I had time to look around.

One of the things I noticed was that the library lends out cake pans. Not the standard 9x6 (or whatever the regular size is), but fancy shapes. I had never heard of this until I was up in Norton, KS in March giving a workshop for the Northwest Kansas Library System. They had bundt pans in the shape of a castle for the libraries in the system to borrow, to fit the "Dragons, dreams and daring deeds" theme. We had lunch at the workshop, which included castle cakes and castle-shaped jello.

I wonder if lending cake pans is widespread, or if it's a rural midwest custom. I like the idea, and if I were a cake-baker, I'd be happy to live in a place where I could borrow an unusual pan. I prefer pie, though and I've got a couple of glass pie pans that work just fine.

I don't bake pie often, but I baked two last week. One was cherry, with a homemade crust (half butter, half shortening) and the other was apple, with a store-bought crust. The apple was an afterthought. I think that's why the cherry was so much better.