Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I always seem to be talking about my love/hate relationship with the news. It is a struggle for me, because, while I like, and feel it is responsible to be informed, I sometimes hate the way knowing all that information makes me feel!! On the CNN morning show I watch several mornings a week, they always end with "the good stuff", some little piece about someone somewhere doing performing some act of kindness or compassion. This piece is usually the shortest of the show, and comes after two hours or wars, shootings, and/or natural disasters. "Why," I always wail. "Is it at the end, and why so little of this good stuff???" And so I found myself horrified when I did the actually the same thing with my last blog post, the first of my posts from China, where I am on a storytelling tour. After a week of performances, workshops, and experiences, I chose to report on the ONE dark cloud, in what has been, a sky full of blue!!! And so, while I won't deny what I was feeling and processing during my last post, I am going to spend more time reporting on "the good stuff" - which has been so plentiful and abundant, that today, on a day off, as I was strolling through a temple of 10,000 Buddhas (and they meant it, there were Buddhas everywhere) I nearly cried in gratitude. Here are just a few things that have been truly amazing about this trip so far… One of the many wonderful things about this tour is that I am getting to teach workshops – both for students and for teachers, and so far, those have given me some of my fondest moments here in China. At one “Storytelling 101” workshop for a group of 10th graders, I gave the assignment that each group of about 5-6 students should look at a picture I had given them, decide what the story was in that picture, and then one of the members of the group would “tell” what they had come up with. Now, let’s remember I am in China, where the students can be brilliant, multi-lingual, but also EXTREMEMLY shy. While performing here, it is totally not uncommon to see kids hold their hands in front of their mouths, so as not to be seen laughing. So, with that – while I knew they had enjoyed the process up until that point, I did not expect much more than one student explaining, head down, mumbling, and with as little energy as they could possibly muster, what the group imagined. WAS I WRONG!! While I was happy to see how everyone in the group was collaborating during the creation of the story, and seemed to be sharing opinions equally, I was not at all prepared for the way the “spokesperson” for the first group got up, and not only “reported” what the group had created – but gave a full on performance of a story – with voices, physical gestures, and a bit of improvisation audience participation!! It was MASTERFUL, and it set the tone for the other groups to follow ( I found out later, he is the student council president – so the Story Gods led me to pick a guy who is used to taking the lead!!), who each came up with tales that were creative, and utterly their own. One girl, after her group had gone, said she had another idea, and told that tale by herself, while the last group of extremely shy girls, presented theirs as a movement piece, with one narrator, and all the others in the group acting out the various characters. I kept asking if any of them had ever told a story before, and each time the answer was no. “You should.” I said. And, I hope they will, it was a wonderful moment for me, and for their teachers, who later expressed how surprised they were at the level or participation and engagement. At another workshop with drama students who had seen me perform, I observed one shy young lady working up her courage before stepping into the center of the circle and moonwalking – yes, 1980s Michael Jackson moonwalking, when I had given the task of her embodying a dancer. BEAUTIFUL! In that same workshop, a gorgeous young girl, strutted across the room as movie star, and then immediately covered her mouth to hide a smile that clearly was saying “ I can’t believe I just did that!!!” At the end of the workshop she grabbed me, and pulled me in for a hug. It was in that same workshop that a student who had been VERY attentive and creative asked me, “What has been my greatest struggle.” It’s interesting to answer questions like these – one wants to be profound, truthful, and ultimately, I think, REAL. And so, with just a moment of a pause, where I gave thanks to the Universe, once again, that the “struggles” I have had in this life are as small as a drop of water in a vast ocean, and that luck and good fortune has followed me all the days of my life, I told them of how my parents had absolutely not understood why I wanted a career as a performer. I tried, and I pray that I was successful to convey the fact that that “struggle” led only to growth, character, and lessons that could not possibly have been learned any other way, and that I am thankful for every bit of the journey that has led me to where I am today. I tried to speak as I wish someone had spoken to me when I was 17 years old, and about to buck my parent’s wishes, because something in my gut told me that even though it made no earthly sense AT ALL, I knew what my path was, and that I had to take it. It filled my heart to watch their faces watch me with so much attention I almost had to look away, because I could see they were absorbing my intention. But, of course, my favorite workshops so far have been the ones I have done for the hardest working people in the world, the heroes of our planet – TEACHERS!!! Teachers EVERYWHERE work harder than they can ever be compensated for, and they all do it not for the money, but for their commitment to give, to ensure that the future of this world – our children, have the tools they need to start their journey into life. Teachers floor me time and time again with their commitment and their passion, and I am humbled to be asked to present anything in front of them. I mean, I barely finished those 12 years of schooling that was my formal education, how dare I deem to teach them anything??? So, I offer, I offer what I do know – folktales – those mystical nuggets of knowledge, wisdom, and entertainment, and the ways I have found to share them with the world. To see teachers come in on a Saturday – yes, a Saturday, and be willing to moo like a cow, walk like a king, and listen to tales appropriate for four year olds, is thrilling to me. And I cannot express how gratifying it is to have a teacher tell me “You have made me look at things a different way.” Or even better “I can really use what we did today in my work!!” YAY!!!!!!!! At this teacher’s workshop, one of these amazing heroes told me of how she was tutoring a young boy who had seen one of my storytelling shows the day before. She said he came in sullen, and wanting to play outside after a long day of school, and not do more studying (I hear you, kid!!) She asked him if he had heard a story that day. “Yes, “ he said, not looking at her. “Tell me about it.” And so, this teacher told me later, he did. At first with head down, and voice low, but then with actions, movements, and mimicking the phrase I use over and over again in the story. By the end, the teacher had written down the story for him so he could share it with his parents. DOUBLE YAY – storytelling had helped both teacher and student!!! And I say storytelling, and not me, because I am clear on the fact that I – as cheesy as this sounds – am the funnel – those stories, someone else created, imagined, gave birth to – I’m just the carrier. And on this tour I am being inspired to carry my precious cargo with even more love and care than I have already been doing. And one more good thing – and this is a summary, folks, because there is so much more that I can, and will write – the warmness of the kids and staff, the marvelous opportunity to go deep with stories that I am telling over and over again. The laughter, hugs, smiles of kids that live half the world away from me, but are as close as a heartbeat, because we share this gift of the human experience. But the good thing I want to close with is my friend, and employer here, Sonia, and her company Pana Wakke. She chose me to be the first storyteller she booked, when she started this enterprise a year and a half ago, and every day treats me with more respect than I will ever feel worthy of. She is an educator to the core, and as such she is one of those heroes that I wrote of earlier. Her passion is like a fireworks display that streaks gorgeously across he sky, and leaves all in it’s wake going “OOOH! AHHHH!” The good news is that she has given me this opportunity to see the land of China in this exciting way, and the really good news is that I am inspired to give – to give to her, the kids, the teachers, the world my very best. And giving is what it’s about, so that I am motivated to do so is the very best news there could be!!

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