Monday, March 31, 2008

Notes from the Field (VIII)

An Unexpected Gift

Up until the last year or so, there was a tabloid called, “Weekly World News”. It was the type of paper that made the “The National Enquirer” look like a Tolstoy novel. Front cover news was frequently the exploits of Bat Boy – who was, of course, half man, half bat. Giant babies, tap dancing aliens, and a host of other unbelievable events graced it’s black and white pages. Waiting in the check out line at the Pathmark, I would flip through this “fine” publication, giggling and thinking, “How do they come up with this stuff?”

Oh, how I wish “Weekly World News” still existed – because, boy, do I ever have a story for them! A scoop more stupefyingly unbelievable than the capture and imprisonment of Bat Boy: Julie Pasqual and her sister, Valerie, go to a storytelling performance – TOGETHER! AMAZING!!!!

Now, you may think a visit from our brothers and sisters from the red planet to be an event unlikely to happen – but let me assure you, that next to what happened this month with my sister and I, having an alien over for lunch, is down right ordinary.

My family is large, especially for NYC standards. Six kids: three boys, three girls, with yours truly bringing up the rear. My mother pumped us out at fairly regular intervals, but even still, there is a considerable age gap between both my sisters (kids #1 and #2) and me. One of my few baby pictures show my two sisters, Pat (#1) and Valerie (#2) at ages twelve and ten, holding me with more than just a suggestion of disgust on their faces. One can almost see their thoughts floating above their heads in a cartoon bubble, “Oh God!!! Another one we have to look after!”

Because of the years between us, my sister, Pat, was off to grad school in Michigan before I was even in high school, and we haven’t lived in the same city since I was eleven or so. Valerie, though, was around more, and was, to her younger sister, “THE GLAMOROUS ONE”. Thin, pretty, and with an interest in shopping, makeup, and Cosmo, she made my friends gawk and say, “Oooh!” She had lots of boyfriends - frequently at the same time - and my youngest brother and I would often creep to the top of the stairs to hear her try to talk my mother out of going ballistic when she came in late.

But something seemed to happen as I entered my teen years, and she her twenties. She buckled down in college, and became a teacher. I fell in love with the thing that would define the rest of my life- dance, theatre, and performing. I won’t go into the MANY and EPIC battles I had with my parents over my choosing an arts high school over a Catholic School, or my electing to begin touring in musical theatre shows instead of going to college, or my moving out of my parent’s house, when they wanted me to stay at home. Let’s just say, a suomo wrestler in a tutu would have been prettier, and easier to watch.

Keeping my distance from my parents, though, came with an unforeseen side effect – loosing contact with my siblings as well. They were already older, so soon they were fully engrossed in their adult lives, as I was in mine. During this time, Valerie became a respected teacher, a wife, a mother, an author, and someone I didn’t know at all. Christmases, and the occasional Easter or Thanksgiving, was the extent of our communication.

That’s mostly likely how things would have remained, had my sister and her family not experienced a crisis. Maybe there is something to that “blood is thicker than water” stuff, because during this sad time, we began to talk. At first it was just about the situation at hand, and then it began to be about our parents, our family, and our lives. For the first time since I was about thirteen years old, I was actually telling someone in my family about myself. I was letting my sister in.

And this is where storytelling comes in. As I mentioned, my sister is a teacher, first grade to be exact. You’d think that with the amount of time I spend performing in schools, I would have visited Valerie’s class for a tale or two. Nope. I was too curled up in my self protective bunker to even entertain the idea. But one Christmas, two years ago, it came to me. Why not give my sister the thing that I had held back from every member of my family for decades - why not give her Me – well, for a forty five minute show, that is.

My performance, and our subsequent conversations about storytelling, gave my sister and I some common ground. I must admit, it was nice to know that someone who shared my DNA actually understood what the heck I did for a living. I came to learn that my sister had seen, and adored, the storyteller, Heather Forest, who’s books I owned, but had never seen perform. Imagine talking “shop” to a relative – MIND BLOWING!!!!!

When I saw that Heather Forest would be performing at the Provincetown Playhouse Storytelling Series (a great place to see some top shelf tellers, by the way) I marked it on my calendar, and I called my sister. Only my husband knows how huge a step that was for me. To freely, and willingly invite a family member into a part of my life that I hold extremely dear, namely storytelling, was previously a risk I wouldn’t have dared to take. But now, with the connection that storytelling had helped to forge, it felt like the only thing to do.

Heather Forest was wonderful, of course, and the audience, which was a mix of all ages of story lovers, was great to see. But the real gift that day, was sitting besides my sister. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

I have often said that I began my storytelling career as a way to combine all my artistic skills, work for myself, and have more control over my schedule, as well as my creative fate. I have gotten all that, and much, much more from the smiles, laughter of my audiences, and the deep lessons in some of the tales I tell. But, just this month, I do believe I got the best gift storytelling has yet to give me – a relationship with my sister.

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