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  • Writer's pictureLoren Niemi

Losing My Luddite

Let’s just sidestep the quagmire of impassioned feelings about the election and post-election fallout. You and I both know, as Coyote says in my chapbook, Vote Coyote! that:

Someone's future, their happiness --

Depends on the right party

Winning. Then the correct policies

Will hold sway, the promises we want fulfilled

Can come to fruition…” and the corollary is that if you are on the losing side, especially in this polarized era of demonizing the others, it is a bitter pill to swallow.

The fact is that the election cycle never ends. The winners will have to begin fundraising for “next” before they are even sworn in. The losers do the same. So, hold on to those arguments for or against whatever issue or policy turns your crank, they’ll be back in vogue soon enough.

Here is what else never ends. The stories we tell that make sense of politics, religion, romance, time, place, culture, and every other thing that we have invested emotion and meaning into. In this plague year, many of us feel like we are in a kind of suspended animation. Time has slowed or like Groundhog Day seems to be repeating itself. There is no work or not enough work unless you are an essential worker. Then because you are an essential worker, and especially for medical personnel, there is too much to be done and not enough time to come to terms with the scale and cost of that work – both personal and communal. The 250,000 pandemic dead and counting are a frightening statistic until you put a name to the loss. Then the enormity of grief stands front and center,

Storytellers are essential worker, though not in the same sense as nurses, grocery cashiers or firemen. Yet, the need for stories to make sense of this plague year, to offer hope or tips for survival, to name heroes and villains, to bear witness to life in amber is great. The need to provide “escape” whether it be entertainment or education is great. Stories flood the digital landscape. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV are all offering fodder to meet that need. Grand as on-demand is for entertainment and even education, it is not quite the same as human scale storytelling. You know the kind that has minimal production values, scenery, musical soundtracks and maximum speaking to he / she who will hear.

Storytellers, like myself, who were used to being in the room with live audiences telling fairy tales, legends, personal stories, or humor, suddenly found themselves locked down and off stages. A lot of work disappeared in a blink of the eye and yet, for my own peace of mind I must tell. In that I am not alone. Between March and the present there has been a flood of digital storytelling from both individuals and organizations to individually and collectively try to continue our trade and fill the audience void.

Some of it is very good. Some not so much.

I receive invitations and announcements of storytelling converts, slams, and open mikes every day, I could watch one or more events every day. Where a year ago it was marginal, now it is the digital world we live in and it can come from and go to any part of the world having connectivity to the world wide web.

I will admit that I have been somewhat reluctant to dive headlong into these waters. Part of it is a recognition of my own performance style – a mix of dwelling in the story and improvising as I go in relation to the audience. I have a hard time reading the audience in those little Zoom boxes or worse yet, when all I see it the unblinking lens. But I am slowly warming to it as I find ways to be present even when the audience is not in the room.

Earlier this month, I did the (Washington, DC based) Grapevine series. It was fun and after many years of trying to find someone to let us do it, the wonderful Jennifer Munro and I told two versions of the classic Mr. Fox – in hers, a rather sexually self assured Mary saves herself and in mine, he owns his wickedness. Then I was one of four Minnesota tellers (with Howard Lieberman, Laura Packer, and Richard Rosseau) for a digital Tellabration! concert. It was a joy as each story referenced the others, in spirit, if not in fact. We did not plan it but it felt coherent and purposeful. It made me think, I should tell more....

In December 6th I am doing a digital concert of Leftovers with Laura Packer. Here’s the link: in which my intention is to tell “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” stories that I have not told in a very long time.

Then I’m getting the new year off to start in good company with Cooper Braun-Enos, Ann Harding and Ingrid Nixon telling versions of Hansel & Gretel on January 7th. I don’t have a link for that one yet, but really, it will be a high-quality narrative adventure.

Also coming in 2021 will be my “Illustrated Guide to Storytelling" - a six week (90-minute sessions) Zoom course that walks you through the structuring of narratives using "The New Book of Plots" and "Point of View & the Emotion Arc of Stories" as texts. It will be offered twice - Wednesdays, January 6 - February 10 and again on Thursdays, March 4 - April 8th. If you don’t have one or both of those Parkhurst Brothers books that sum up what I taught for 26 years at Metro State University, one or both will be included in the course fee. More on this next month.

I do not want to do too much, wearing out my digital welcome, but I am making an effort to shed some of my Luddite ways and come into the 21st century. Come back here for further reports, or at least a story, about how well that is going.

Until then, be well


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