Storytelling, live literature, oral histories, whatever you want to call it. I’ve been completely hooked on this for a few years now.
I fell in love with the format immediately because it reminded me of hanging around my family when aunts, uncles and cousins would share hilarious stories from long ago. Like the time my cousin inadvertently caught a snake in his mouth or when my sister tried to fly.
All great stories that tightened the bonds of our family. A storytelling event is similar in that people tell true stories from their lives and they can be funny, poignant, in fact they can capture all of the emotions. And the beautiful part of it for me is the connectivity you feel with one another, whether it’s the person on stage or the stranger sharing a laugh next to you.
Not to get all warm and fuzzy, but I feel it tightens the bonds of humanity. At least for that moment, in that room.
The storytelling community is very robust in Chicago and I was really getting into it shortly before we left. A few months after we arrived in Portland, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the close-knit storytelling community here. I was infatuated with these artistic wonders and was inspired by their storytelling.
In October, I went to support one of these gems, named Lesley Harper, as she was storytelling at Tad’s Chicken n’ Dumplings. We were sitting at a table with other storytellers and when Martha Grover (who produces the show called Tad’s Talks) opened up the mic, a couple of them prodded me. It was peer pressure, I couldn’t say no.
So up I went, and told a story about my pet snake and the difficulties we had. Midway through the tale I began to wish I had chosen another story since I was before this Portland crowd of artsy, granola, tree-hugging animal lovers. There’s a tragic death in the story and when I got to that part I was hoping they didn’t whip out their pitchforks, or whatever it is mobs carry these days. But they laughed so it was all good. If you’re curious, here’s a link to the sordid tale.
After that night in October, Martha asked me to come back to share a story, which is what I did on Monday. It was my first real storytelling gig in Portland and I was stoked. I was also nervous. The place is 40 minutes from my house, and I knew no one in my neighborhood would venture to come with me, plus my husband is traveling in Europe. I was on my own.
That drive alone to Tad’s felt much longer than usual. I was sitting between a couple of my writer/storytelling friends, which was great especially because they understood that I didn’t feel much like talking and they let me be. None of that “You’ll do great!” or “Everything will be fine!” crap. They just let me sit and be. What a perfect gift.
All too soon Martha was introducing me. I couldn’t wait to get to the mic. It’s because once I’m there, my fears and insecurities melt away. The mic is in front and I’m just free to be me. It’s nice.
The audience was great, almost all storytelling ones are though, they’re rooting for you and you can see it in their smiles and head nods. You feel supported, you feel loved.
It’s crazy because now I’ve got two more storytelling gigs. My biggest audience yet is a performance on Feb. 3 at the Alberta Rose Theatre. (Tickets are on sale here.)
And I have another one in March that I’ll post more about later.
Naturally, I’m already worried about the Feb. 3 show and my nerves will only get worse as we get closer to the date. That is, until I open my eyes and I’m standing before the mic.