From the Unexpected

Late November I won a raffle at a local children bookstore. When I found out that I had won something, I was excited and curious. What was my prize?

To tell you the truth, I never win anything.

My family knows it, my friends know it, and even my family back in France knows it.

As a kid, I lost at almost any game. My sister and numerous cousins were always the lucky ones. All of them won when we played Monopoly, Clue, Mille Bornes, and any card game. They even won when we played Scrabble although I was a far better speller than most.

The logic behind is that all kinds of games, tests and quizzes make me nervous and that I’m not very competitive.

So the raffle thing was kind of nice.

I stopped by the bookstore to pick up my prize: a pass to attend a Storytelling festival in Mariposa, a lovely, small western town in the Sierra, not far from where I Live.

When I thanked the bookstore owners I was caught between two feelings. It was nice to win. For once. But storytelling? I really prefer written stories.

Besides, I thought, I will have a hard time to understand.

I had recently watched the movie Paperboy and had a hard time to get Matthew McConaughey with his southern accent. A really challenge for non-native speakers.

Storytellers, based on my absolute ignorance on the topic, could only come from the south and storytelling only trigger challenge, embarrassment and …boredom.

So I tried to offer my prize/gift/pass to anyone I knew. Unsuccessfully. Ah, I thought, nobody wants to go to a storytelling festival. I was right. It must be really boring.

I almost succeeded when one of my daughters hurt her foot running. I need to go visit her, I decided. She needs me to run errands now that she can’t run at all. But she phoned me and said that, really, no, she was fine and had tons of friends to help her out.

You are probably thinking that it’s no big deal to not use a gift. Tons of people re-gift -I tried – or discard a gift they don’t like.

But I’m the kind of person who has a very hard time to throw away something someone gave me. Plus, remember, I had never won anything.

I went to bed on Friday night with a bad cold and deviously thought that I would wake up with enough fever or such a bad headache that I would not be able to go to the storytelling event.

And I did wake up under the weather. Not bad enough though to gain any compassion from my family.

“You should go,” my husband said. “You are a writer for God’s sake. This is STORYtelling.”

“Yeah, Mom,” my son said. “Knowing you, you will love it. You love all kinds of STORIES.”

I suspected they had made some plans that didn’t involve wife/mother. So I went.

Sorry for getting to the point only now. That’s what storytellers do, I learned: They build the suspense before reaching the Ah moment.

And they are very good at it – better than I have been in this post.

The storytellers came from North Carolina, from Missouri  – so, yes, there was a warm southern American accent there, but I got every word – from Ohio, and even from my own California.

Of the six storytellers, two were my very favorites. Later, I Googled them – I should have earlier, so I would not have been so willing to get rid of my winning prize.

Donald Davis and David Novak, both from North Carolina, won the packed auditorium with stories from their own childhood and life, adding to humoristic and even hilarious situations the right amount of sensibility and emotion. In the end, personal stories that brought the universality of being human. People smiled, laughed out loud, but also paused and sighed when a hint of sadness touched us through the story.

In the same way a good novel or poem makes us smile, laugh, pause, and sigh, I realized.

As I drove home at night, I remembered of the ten or so people, who over lunch stepped on a smaller stage to hone their skills and told of their own stories.

Humbling and brave.

Not unlike writers who join a writing group and wait for other writers’ comments, remarks, advice, but also encouragement and the necessary nudge to keep going.

These storytellers, I thought, as I drove along spectacular highway 49, surrounded by the beauty of the Sierra, are from my family.

Besides, when I spoke with a few of them, they said, “It would be so cool for you to bring your stories alive. With your accent, you’ll win us over.”

Then I really smiled at my assumption that I would be bored and out of place.






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