Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Notes from the Field

by Luray Gross

“I like the troll carrying her head on her arm!”

“Me too:  Butterball!”

“I like Elephant and Rabbit!”

"I like the troll carrying her head on her arm!"
My storytelling colleague Maria and I are back for another evening visit with children in transitional housing at Home Front, an amazing non-profit near Trenton, NJ.  The children’s exclamations are sweet music, for both stories the children mentioned are among those we told during our last visit, a challenging one that sent us both home exhausted. 

The children’s enthusiasm reminds me again that even when a workshop or classroom session is marked by disruption and detours, something valuable – sometimes something wonderful – is usually happening.

The difficulties that night had been due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.  Our regular room was unavailable, and the only space left was a small nursery lined with shelves of toys.  Twenty children and several adults squeezed in at the appointed time. Within seconds, kids were eagerly grabbing things from the shelves, and we were hastily stowing others as far out of reach as possible. 

But tonight we are back in a spacious room with only a circle of chairs, a clearing that will be filled with story, with listening, with questions and comments and with the hilarity of games that engage us all in moving and imagining and laughing.

Tonight our theme is Clothing, with apparel either central or at least peripheral to the action in each story we tell.  We begin with a chanted tale from England in which a lonely old woman sits spinning by her fire.  Suddenly a mysterious visitor arrives, but it arrives part by part, beginning with two big feet that set themselves down by the fire.  Undeterred throughout, the woman sits and spins.  Finally she beats it out the door, then sits to spin once more, still alone, but at least not devoured by this apparition. 
   Although this story is a stretch for our theme, we’ve begun here confident that the rhythms, and opportunities to clap and tap them out, will engage the group.  Along with a sung refrain, they surely do keep us all together.  Most delightful are the grownups in the room wholeheartedly joining in. 

A few weeks later, I’m working at a small school where I’ve been doing poetry residencies with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders for many years.  Each day I have time to offer storytelling  - simply for delight  - to one group of first or second graders.  Today I’ve come to Mrs. H’s second grade room.  The children are ready, each sitting in his or her assigned spots on the carpet.  I say hello, ask if there are any children new to the school this year and meet Ryder. 

Then a boy in the back row pipes up, “You don’t look any older than when I saw you before.”   The remark strikes me as odd, especially because last year was the first time we met.  A veteran teaching artist, I’m a bit flattered as well; at home, the mirror assures me of the passage of time.   Soon I’m launching a troll tale from Norway, the comment nearly forgotten.

Later I remember the moment, and its larger significance occurs to me:  It is not that I haven’t aged, it’s that these stories do not age. Encapsulating universal dilemmas, challenges and joys of human existence, they are timeless.  I am just lucky to still have an opportunity to share them with yet another group of listeners.

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