Last Friday, I had planned to get out of the house bright and early. But I wanted to do two things before leaving - 1) write an entry here and 2) finish the minutes from the Voices in the Glen annual meeting. This was slightly complicated by my internet going down in the middle of the first of those. My phone had no dial tone, too, so I got out the cell phone and called Verizon's customer service. The good news is that unplugging everything and plugging it back in fixed the problem. The bad news is that the customer service representative didn't suggest that until 40 minutes into the call, around when she was telling me they couldn't get a technician out to my place until Thursday morning. (Yes, nearly a week.) Still, things were fixed and I ended up leaving the house just about two hours later than I'd planned to. (The other hour and 20 minutes is because I had underestimated how long I needed to actually finish writing those meeting minutes. Also, despite how much I travel, I still seem to end up packing last minute. And I still managed to forget something I intended to bring with me.)
Eventually I got out the door and headed west. Taking the day off had been a very good idea since the traffic was minimal and I made it to Harrisonburg in just over two hours. That gave me time to do the Volksmarch there. The walking route took in the historic downtown (pretty much like every other historic downtown in Virginia) and parts of the James Madison University campus. In particular, the campus part went to the arboretum, which was lovely except for the part when I couldn't quite figure out the directions and walked an extra kilometer or so. The weather was gorgeous and I'd have liked more time to linger over the route. As it was, I had to restrain my usual compulsive reading of historic signs.
It's just a short ways to the Massanetta Springs Conference Center, where the Virginia Storytelling Gathering was being held. On the way, I made a quick grocery stop and bought chocolate for the white elephant gift basket the Virginia Storytelling Alliance board was putting together. (My basket contribution was what I'd forgotten to stick in the car, despite having left myself two notes to do so. I blame stress.) I picked up my room key and went off for dinner with the rest of the board, the featured tellers and a few general hangers on. L'Italia serves your basic red sauce Italian menu and the eggplant parmesan I got was good enough, but Harrisonburg is not Italy, nor is it New York. The company is more important than the food, of course, and I had no complaints about that.
The Friday night concert started with an amusing story by Donna Will about Volkswagons and small towns. Then Lynn Ruehlmann told a touching story about adopting her son. Mack and Joan Swift closed the concert with a Jack tale, told in tandem. After a refreshment break, we had a story swap. I won't name everyone who told, lest I inadvertently omit someone. I told "The Secret Place," which went over well.
The morning started with a keynote speech by Michael Reno Harrell. He pretty much just talked about how he fell into storytelling. He was entertainingly funny, which is what one needs in a 9 a.m. speech. Everyone had signed up for his workshop on humor so the schedule was rearranged to put that shortly after his keynote. He started off with a truly atrocious pun about how Houdini used trap doors a lot in his early work, but it turned out he was only going through a stage. (Yes, I have repeated that pun to many people in the past week. You should know me well enough to know I can't resist the groaners.) Then he went on to say that the secret to being funny as a storyteller was to be a retired Methodist minister with a bowtie. That reference to Donald Davis got a good laugh, but it also served well to illustrate a point about context and humor. The rest of his talk had to do with how the humorous story (as compared to the comic story and the witty story) is uniquely American, with a lot of references to Mark Twain. I'm not entirely convinced, but I'm also not sure I really grasp the distinction he was trying to make. All in all, his presentation was entertaining. But I'd have preferred an interactive workshop to a lecture.
The other workshops were held after lunch and one had the opportunity to go to two of the three. For the first session, I went to Linda Goodman's showcase, "Shattered Silence." Her two stories, about women who had been abused as children, were powerful and I thought she did a good job of answering questions about how she developed the material. The other workshop I went to was Ellouise Schoettler's "Put Flesh on Old Bones," which had to do with genealogy and oral history. She had some interesting examples (e.g. from old letters) of using genealogical materials to find stories. I wish she'd had the time to go more thoroughly through a speciifc example, so we could see her entire process.
After the workshops came the VASA general meeting. I am now officially on the board for 3 years (starting in July, though I've been an acting board member since Novemberish).
The evening concert started with Ralph Chatham telling a Celtic story about a kelpie. Then Geraldine Buckley told two personal stories - a short piece about her first experience volunteering at a prison and a longer one about sangria and nuns. After a short intermission, Michael Reno Harrell told a few stories (and sang a little). His story about the things he and his siblings found in his mother's house after her death was particularly notable. And, seeing as how I describe my mother as having the largest collection of half-used rolls of contact paper in the greater New York Metropolitan Region, it definitely struck home.
We were doing a basket raffle (hence, the chocolate I mentioned above) as a fundraiser and the raffle followed the concert. I'd bought a dozen tickets and distributed them among a few of the baskets. (My general philosophy on where to place tickets at these things is that wine is a good thing and scented candles a bad thing. Baskets with some of the former and none of the latter are desirable.) I ended up winning one from the Virginia Beach folks. In addition to a bottle of wine, it had margarita mix, cans of roasted nuts, various art objects (e.g. a pin in the shape of a mask which is presumably Lynn's handiwork), aquarium tickets, etc. And no candles.
Saturday night closed with a swap, which I emceed. (Surprisingly few people know that MC really stands for Miriam of Ceremonies.) I made sure that people who had told at Friday night's swap would not tell unless everyone else who wanted to had a chance. At midnight, I gave everyone the option of continuing with the last few names or going to bed. The vote for bed was unanimous.
Sunday morning's swap gave those last few people (and some others) a chance to tell. So, overall, almost everyone who was at the gathering told a story. (There were a few who didn't want to. We encourage but don't coerce.) A session of Inspirational Stories followed. I asked permission to set the stage for our final event and told "The Tragic Tale of Benny the Bum" to start a half hour or so of atrocious puns. I have a reputation to uphold, after all. (My instructions for my funeral specifically call for there to be a 21-pun salute.)
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. Hanging out with other storytellers is always fun. The attendance was small, but that meant there was plenty of opportunity to get to know everyone there. I'd say it felt like a family reunion, but my family does not reune (and, if we did, I suspect there would be bloodshed involved).
The drive back was also reasonably quick and uncomplicated. I had time to do my grocery shopping and handle a few chores before heading into Arlington for dinner at the Mad Rose Tavern with the Flyer Talk crowd. The best story of that evening was hearing about Greg's attempts to get to South Korea, with his connecting flight scheduled to arrive in Tokyo about 45 minutes after the earthquake. He did make it, with a day's delay, but had to spend way too much money for a hotel room in Kobe - and a taxi to get to it. By the way, Mad Rose has gotten some opening buzz, but I was not impressed by either the food or the service. It's probably worth going to as just a bar, but not for dinner.
I will write about everything else that's been going on in a separate post. I hope not to take so long getting to that one.