Monday, March 31, 2008

What I'm reading right now

I'm a reader. No, really, I'm a READER. I don't watch TV much (no cable, no antenna), and though I occasionally watch DVDs, mostly I read. I have a leather book weight on my sink so I can read while I brush my teeth. Despite advice to the contrary, I read while I eat. I read before sleep. When the weather is nice, I read on my porch swing. When it's cold outside, I read by the woodstove.

Here's what's on my list now:

The Girls: A Novel by Lori Lansens, about conjoined twins Ruby and Rose Darlens. I started this yesterday and am completely pulled into the story already.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. I know I've written about this before, but it's a book I savor in little bites.
Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync? by Seth Godin. I'm always reading about marketing and business. I think I read a lot of this stuff because it's so hard for me to retain. Eventually some of it sticks.
What's Your Story?: Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People, and Brands by Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker. Not much new in this one in the first few chapters, but I'll skim through the rest of it before I return it to the library. It's probably good for business people.

At breakfast, I read the local newspaper. I've got a few back issues of Funny Times, This Old House, and my alumni magazines hanging around. I read those in between everything else.

I'm not including story collections on this list--at the moment, I've got the The Annotated Brothers Grimm, translated by Maria Tatar, pulled off the shelf, along with some other Grimm translations. More on that later. I'm also not including the ongoing reading of Queen Berta and King Pippin--I continue to work on my translation of the Old French.

What are you reading?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Young Authors Conference

"On your marks, get set, WRITE!" For the next three minutes, twenty fourth-graders wrote, stopping only to shake the cramp from their fingers. Then they read aloud in pairs, and then they wrote again. We talked about what makes a good story, ways to structure writing, and of course, I told a couple of stories. We were all disappointed when we ran out of time.

Yesterday was the third time I presented workshops at the Fort Osage School District Young Author's Conference. I've done other similar events in other districts. Each has its own flavor but all are marked by incredible enthusiasm of the kids and their parents. They give up Saturday morning TV and soccer games to celebrate writing. Often the students dress up for the occasion. Proud parents and grandparents attend the event. The kids' writing is displayed on the walls of the school.

For that day, and maybe forever after, they are cool because they are writers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Did you notice the new video in the sidebar?

Here it is, in case you missed it over there:

One of the things I learned in making this video was to be specific with the cameramen. In fact, I was, but the videographer directly opposite me was not really listening. I said, "Please zoom in on the puppet when she's speaking." Now I know that I need to make absolutely sure that the cameraman understands what I mean. In real life (not on camera), people don't even notice that my lips are moving, because I'm drawing the focus to the puppet. With a wider angle, I can't shift that focus. I'd also told the cameraman that I wanted him to get me mostly waist up--my legs are not a key part of the shot. Again, he wasn't listening.

Never mind. Maybe it doesn't matter. Today I was at a preschool telling stories and a kid said, "Hey, Priscilla! Remember me?!" It was my buddy Tristan, who was introduced to my stories on this DVD. One day he and his mother were in my neighborhood and noticed that I was in the car in front of them (that vanity plate works!). When I stopped, Tristan's mom called out to tell me that Tristan loved the video. I invited them in to meet Trixie and Mavis. Tristan was so excited he walked into the wall. Today, he was calmer, but still pleased to see the puppets and hear the stories.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What's your recurrent daydream?

Yesterday I was playing with my workshop for the long traditional story festival (there's still space for a few more participants, if you're interested).

A thought bubbled up in my mind about recurrent daydreams. Does everybody have them? One of mine is about being recognized in a place where I'm out of context. Not recognition like getting an award, but running into somebody from another part of my life.

It happens in real life as well as in my daydreams--once I was in Paris, in the Louvre, and I ran into a woman who lived one floor down from me in the dorm in Vermont. When I lived in Bulgaria, I was surprised to encounter Marie from Belgium, whom I'd known slightly two years earlier. She became (and still is) a very good friend.

I've had this recurring daydream since long before those events, and many times since. I think it's about being seen. I have others, and of course they shift over time. The themes of my daydreams sometimes appear in my stories (no, not all of them!).

Do you have a recurring daydream, or a series of them? Is there a theme?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stories and Preschoolers

This week I'm telling stories in area child care centers as part of a pilot pre-kindergarten program. Today I told stories to a group of kids from Head Start who regularly walk to the Lawrence Arts Center. LAC has its own arts-based preschool, and these Head Start kids benefit from the expertise of the teachers and the art supplies.

It's interesting to watch children as they listen to stories. Sometimes I can practically see the neurons firing away. Today I played with parallels. In all, I told three stories and we sang one song. Two stories had a surprise monster-y jump. One song and one story had sleep as a theme. Two stories ended with "And it never, ever came back." After the second of these, one boy called out, "That's just like that other story." They were all noticing, even if they didn't realize it.

Story listening builds pre-reading skills. Kids learn sequencing and prediction when they listen to stories. They learn story structure. They notice meaningful details. They internalize the music and rhythm of language.They have a shared experience, something they can go back to when they're out on the playground together. They learn about appropriate responses. They learn about human behavior and emotions.

Best of all, though, they relax and have fun.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Goodbye, old Corolla!

That's the last sight I had of my faithful Corolla. She served me well, running about 142,000 miles since the year 2000.

The Corolla is dead, long live the Honda!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy to have found my calling

I love what I do. I get to tell stories, play, connect, encourage people, hang out with kids, daydream, make funny faces. Yes, I also have to tend the hidden foundations of my work: mountains of paperwork involving contracts, taxes, marketing, etc. Sometimes the black dog of depression lopes into my life, sometimes I get lost in the tangled knot of story work, not sure of how to get out, but mostly, I love what I do. On my way to performances, I think, "Yippeee! I get to tell stories today!" When I'm working on stories, I think, "Whoooeee! This is my JOB!"

I had a boyfriend who was a mailman. Though he liked walking his route and meeting the people to whom he delivered mail, his comments about his job were negative. I think his dream was to own a small orchard, but he had a secure job with benefits. He will never love that job and he will never leave it, I'm guessing.

I'm so lucky to have found my calling, my vocation.

Here's a video I found of somebody else who takes great joy from what he does:

Have you found your calling?

The next DVD

I'm planning my next DVD. The first, The Bully Billy Goat and Other Stories, was filmed in the library at Sunset Hill Elementary. So far it has had good reviews, including a comment from one of the videographers the other day, who said, "If it was possible to wear out a DVD, my daughter would have done it with yours."

The next one will be in a larger venue. When I've sent the BBG to prospective bookers, they have sometimes thought that I only tell in small venues. I need to show that I'm comfortable with groups of 250-300 kids. I can do more, though in school settings, that's about as many as makes sense. My largest family audience was 1400, when I told stories to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4-H kids at the Lied Center of Lawrence in 1993. In one of the stories, an old woman character offered apple to a deer, and the entire audience held their breaths.

Back to the planning process. I like to do recordings live. Having the kids' reactions adds to the whole experience. I've got a school in mind, and they're looking forward to a free performance. I'll get release forms for the kids to be on the video. Those who don't bring the form back will be allowed to attend the performance but will sit out of view of the cameras.

This DVD will be more focused than the last (animal stories from around the world). I'm planning to tell funny-scary stories, and I'll include all four stories about the baby from The ghost with the one black eye and Chickens! I've got two or three more funny-scary stories to add to the mix. The baby puppet will come out at one point for some hilarity. Trixie may show off her Halloween costume. I'm hoping this will be a 40-minute video. We'll see if I get it done by October.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy World Storytelling Day!

Yup, not only is it Mr. Rogers' birthday (for those of you outside the US, Fred Rogers was an iconic children's television program host, a gentle man who wore sneakers and a cardigan, and who had calm discussions with children and puppets about Life), but it is World Storytelling Day.

By coincidence, I was booked to perform the program World Tour: Folktales From Around the Globe at the Lawrence Public Library. It's always fun to perform in my own town, where my groupies join in.

Here's what I told:
Cat and Mouse (Germany)
Unanana and the Elephant (South Africa)
The Ghost With the One Black Eye (US)
The Pincoya's Daughter (Chile)

We also sang Nighty Night, with antics from the baby puppet, and My Aunt Came Back, a call and response song with lots of audience participation.

As I write this, I remember that I began by having the kids pretend to pack their suitcases, and we flew to the first two places, but I completely forgot to carry that theme through to the end. Ah, well. Hope everybody made it home okay.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My new car

Isn't this flashy? Soon it will be slightly less so, when I replace the high-performance tires. It will be nice when the insurance company resolves the situation with the old car, which you can see in the picture.

Because most of my storytelling is out of town, having a reliable and efficient car is essential. I was fortunate to find this '98 Honda Civic EX the day after my accident last week (thanks, MLH). Today it's mine. It has 76,000 miles on it, so all things being equal, I should be able to keep this car for years. Keeping that in mind, I'm planning to replace the radio with a combination radio/CD player/satellite radio. My good friends J and D gave me Sirius radio for Christmas, and I'm quite addicted to about eight channels. Great for those long drives.

I had to clean out the Corolla. Oh, my. I think of my car as an extended purse. Cleaning the junk out of it was humbling. Do I really need five ice scrapers? Have I ever used that revolting blanket? Is it necessary to keep eight empty water bottles under the front seats? How many bandaids do I need in the glove compartment? How old is that sunblock, anyway?

Here are some essentials:
  • mileage log and several pens
  • small pad of paper
  • extra harmonica
  • kleenexes
  • a few bandaids
  • one, maybe two, ice scrapers
  • hairbrush (stop that snickering--I do sometimes use it!)
  • small-format local phone book
  • US Atlas (nope, I don't have a GPS)
  • Kansas City map
I'll put the blanket back in the trunk after I wash it. I'll also usually have my sound system, microphone stand and the rolling cart in the trunk.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Going Deep is a GO!

Yippee! We've just decided that Going Deep: The Long Traditional Story Festival is definitely going to happen!

Don't know about this? It's an incredible festival/retreat held in Bethlehem, IN on April 10-13, 2008. Picture this:
  • Three utterly entrancing long traditional stories,
  • Told by three storytellers (one at a time),
  • Three intense workshops about the story from the night before,
  • Afternoons free for massages, palm reading, walks, naps, music, art, relaxation,
  • Delicious family-style meals,
  • Set in a tiny town where there is no cell phone coverage and no Internet access,
  • In a lovely bed and breakfast where the lawn slopes down to the Ohio River.
What stories? Thursday night we'll revel in Olga Loya's tremendous Aztec Creation Myth. Friday will be my Medieval French story, Queen Berta and King Pippin. Saturday is Megan Wells' compelling version of Helen's Troy. Old World, New World, Medieval. What a feast!

We still have a few more spaces--this is a small-group festival, maximum 20 participants.

Need more information or want to register? E-mail Cynthia Changaris at or contact me directly.

This festival was founded by Olga Loya, Liz Warren and me. We're pleased to present it thanks to Scheherezade's Legacy, the storytelling partnership of Cynthia Changaris and Mary Hamilton. Check out Liz Warren's article on the festival in the March/April 2008 issue of Storytelling Magazine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I was hoping for 300,000 miles...

Dang. My car got rearended today. I was stopped for traffic on the bridge when a truck came up behind me, hit me and pushed me into the trailer hitch of a pickup in front of me. Crunch.
You can't tell, but the hood is jammed shut and the trunk won't latch. I was able to drive it the few blocks home, but wouldn't trust it any farther than that (apart from it having no rear lights).

I wasn't hurt, nor was anybody else, including the cat on my lap. We were on the way to the follow-up vet visit, after last week's tooth extraction. Joe Fish is on my lap as I write this, relieved to be home.

I'd been hoping to get 300k miles (482803 km) on this car. I got 232247 (373765 km), which is still nothing to sneeze at. Toyota makes good cars--this 1992 Corolla has remarkably little rust and has been a great workhorse for the almost eight years I've owned it.

It does have a few muddy cat footprints on the hood, though. Or is this art?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

P.S. on taxes

At the Outside In Storytelling Boot Camp, we heard valuable information from Alex Lowy, CPA. He highly recommended the book Lower your taxes big time by Sandy Botkin. My copy just arrived. Maybe I'll have time to skim it before my tax appointment.

Of course, that would require me to stop other stalling techniques such as blog writing...

Tax time

It's that time of year. I have an appointment with my fabulous tax advisor tomorrow. I'm not being sarcastic--she keeps me on track. I'm not quite ready. My next step is to take inventory of my recordings. There are over a thousand in a kind of loft in my office, behind the curtain (looks like a puppet stage up there). The ladder is ready and waiting.

The rest are in the kitchen cabinets. How do I get up there? I stand on a small stool, then climb up on the counter.

Then I'll find my way back to my desk to finish figuring out where and when I made money, and where and when I spent it.

I don't mind paying taxes for a few reasons:
  1. This means I actually made money,
  2. My taxes pay for things I believe are important, such as roads and schools--and hey, schools hire me, so some of my tax money comes back in that way!
  3. It's a way I participate in this democracy.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Liar, liar, pants on fire

There was an interesting and funny piece by Robert Krulwich on Morning Edition this morning, about the brains of compulsive liars. It turns out they have much more white matter than people who don't lie as much (and yes, we all lie). I wonder if storytellers, puppeteers and folks who do improv have more white matter as well. Not that we're lying--we're just making many, many connections on the fly.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Joe Fish on travel

Joe Fish clearly has an opinion about my travels. He's curled up with Mavis (the monkey) and Olivia (the ostrich).

Home from Phoenix

It's 29 degrees Fahrenheit here. I've got a fire in the woodstove and am considering moving from the cold office to the warm living room (I don't usually keep the front doors open, but it made a better picture). What a contrast with last week in Phoenix, where it was 80 degrees. Not that I'd want to live in Phoenix (think of July!), but it was wonderful to bask in the warmth for a while.

In fact, the whole trip was pretty wonderful. On Monday, I told Queen Berta and King Pippin to Liz Warren's class on long stories at South Mountain Community College. The beginning storytelling class next door came over to listen as well. What a great audience! Afterwards we had a long discussion, with lots of useful feedback. Did I get a recording of it? I thought so, but it turns out I need to reread the manual on my minidisc recorder. Grrr.

I'm so impressed with the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain. If I lived in Phoenix, I'd take classes there to keep my skills sharp. The next day, I told stories to two more beginning storytelling classes, one Liz teaches and one taught by LynnAnn Wojciechowicz, director of the institute. I gave them a mix of stories and puppets, with storytelling tips thrown in for good measure. Very fun! I've had a couple of e-mails from students in LynnAnn's class since then.

The Outside In Storytelling Bootcamp began on Wednesday. That was my original reason for going to Phoenix. LynnAnn kindly gave me a ride over to the west side of Phoenix, as she was also attending the bootcamp. That was after an entertaining morning of hanging around with Liz and her husband Mark.

OISBC is the brainchild of Sean Buvala, director of When he called me last fall to ask if I'd be interested in being a co-presenter, I agreed right away. I knew that whatever Sean planned would be well worth attending. His idea is to use a corporate training model to teach storytellers how to succeed. The session last week focused on marketing. While I did give the participants my perspective on being a full-time storyteller, I also learned a ton. Sean has broad experience with marketing and he brought in a CPA to talk about taxes for one session. (More on the bootcamp in the March/April issue of Storytelling Magazine.)

One of the key elements of OISBC was the way the attendees bonded during the three days of intense learning. It was a lovely group. I'm looking forward to being in touch with the others, as we help each other keep on track. Sean blogged about it, with plenty of pictures, most taken by his daughters.

An added bonus was getting to meet and hang out with Sean's family (Kelsey, did you learn to drive yet?).