Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 17

The storytelling circle I went to last night turned out to be a disappointment. That's me being diplomatic. I don't want to do a little poop on anyone's special thing, but I ended up glad I turned up late, and felt no guilt about leaving at the halfway point of the evening.

Roundtrip, I rode 120 miles for the sake of the event. Which included navigating the A46 at night –– a curvy road with no street lights. So, you'll be hopping along at 60 mph when all of a sudden: CURVE IN THE ROAD WITH NO IDEA OF HOW SHARP IT IS OR WHERE IT ENDS. 

That sort of thing is hell on a motorcycle because if you hit your brakes in a curve you put yourself at extremely high risk of going flying. On a motorcycle, handling curves involves physical interaction –– placement of weight and lean and throttle and a bunch of other tedious things that are hard to just sort of pull out of your ass. Or, at least, they're hard for me to pull out of my ass. So, when I hit one particular corner too fast my brain froze as I drifted out too much toward the oncoming lane. Those Isle of Man TT dudes probably could probably have hit the same corner at 100 mph, but I'm not them. I just got scared and didn't make adjustments as I should have. Things turned out OK –– I didn't even cross over the line –– but it's annoying to come out of a situation knowing that you handled it very poorly.

Anyhoo, that was on the way to the evening, and perhaps that put too much a weight on things. A sort of: this had better be worth risking my life for. It wasn't. 

It was an event that... Well, first of all, it was an event that resulted in my not getting to bed until 1 a.m. I had to get up for work five hours later and I have passed the age when such things are easily done. As I write this, I am looking at the clock and wanting desperately to go to bed, so I'm not sure how much I want to go into what I didn't like. 

But in short, I have a bachelors and masters degree in Welsh. The masters degree has an emphasis on creative writing. And the very keystone of Welsh literature is the Mabinogion, which is a collection centuries-old tales handed down from the oral storytelling tradition.

So, my point is: I've have read and written about and studied and listened to and even taken part in a great whopping lot of oral storytelling tradition. And last night just wasn't up to par. Not close. Because the goal is not just to recite a list of nonsensical occurrences in a falsely important and breathy voice ("And then the giant turned himself into a fork. So, the knight ate a bowl of porridge and asked the golden harp to come with him to find a pool in which dwelt many spirits"). It is to tell a story. The clue is in the name: storytelling. 

All these folk tales were at one point relevant to people. They made sense to the audience and were of interest to them. The craft of the storyteller, who was after all doing this in exchange for food and lodging, was engaging the audience. This would have meant changing and adapting the tale as needs must, to suit the mood and the atmosphere.

So, with something like Mabinogion, I am certain the stuff that is written is effectively bullet points. It is not the story. The story would have been told in the moment and may have contained all or only some of the story we see written.

Fans of the oral storytelling tradition, though, too often treat it almost as scripture: unchangeable, unadaptable. Last night was an example of that, worsened by a collection of particularly weak storytellers. It was the sort of thing that made you understand why oral storytelling died out.

Although, it didn't really. Not at all. If it had died out, it wouldn't cost so much to go see Henry Rollins. Or Jello Biafra. Or Scott Ian. Or Chris Jericho. Or anyone else who does spoken word tours. Oral storytelling has just changed, that's all.

And what I'm saying about it is rushed because I so desperately want to go to bed.

Meanwhile, today, I did some actual work toward writing a short story. As a matter of fact, I wrote it. The whole thing had come to me as I was cycling from work. I have a complete story now but it is very rough; I'll come back to it on Friday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: writing the story--Bravo! Sorry the storytelling event was not more satisfying. Today, I read an interview with photographer Nick Brandt. Asked to describe a day, or four hours trying to get a close-up shot of a lion, he said "You have to expand out from hours to weeks, because in a typical four hours, absolutely nothing happens." You know that to be there when the good stuff happens, you have to be there. So no well directed effort is really a waste. I hope you slept well since it had to be short.