Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Encounters Make the Stories

by Josh Campbell


I went golfing today. I pulled up to my local municipal 9-hole course located in Overton Park not too far from my home in Memphis, Tn. As I unloaded my bag of clubs to begin one of my usual four rounds of golf a year, I was approached by the course ranger. He rode up in his cart wearing a course polo and a Marine Corps veteran hat.  

“Playing with us today?” he asked.

“I don’t know if you call what I do playing.” Thankfully, my teenage son had refused to come along with me today, or he would have died of embarrassment. He has heard me make that same joke four times a year every year of his life. 

“You walking or riding?” Because of Covid, the golf carts had been shelved from March to July. They only recently had allowed them to be used again. 

“I was hoping to ride.” Not a problem was his reply. 

“You waiting on someone or you on your own?” 

My son had cancelled my father- son time; I usually don't like embarrassing anyone else with my golf game, so I told him, “It’ll just be me.” 

“Are you a Gemini?” 

“Yeah, June 1st.” Why I felt the need to tell him my actual birthday, I don’t know.

“Well, that means there will be two of you out there,” he said, and with that, he rode away. I stood there slightly puzzled, and then walked to the clubhouse to pay my greens fee. I bought two beers. One for both the people in my party. 

There are questions that people ask storytellers all the time. What makes a good story? Where do you find your stories? How do I tell my story? You may be thinking to yourself, “If this guy thinks his golf story is a good one, he might not be the best person to answer these questions.” And, you might be right. 

What does a storyteller do in the time of an international pandemic? What is a storyteller without his audience? In my workshops, I tell people that storytelling is a dialogue with only one person speaking. Storytelling without a live audience is just not the same. The virtual events that I have done have been fun, and I have heard some amazing stories. I just don't know if I have told good stories. Without my audience, I am left only guessing. 

There is one other element that is missing during this time, and that is the small encounters that I have as a person that inspire my stories. My encounter with my Marine veteran astrology expert is just the type of interaction that inspires me to think about a story. It is the prompt that we all need to get us thinking about what is a story and what is not. That encounter got me thinking about stories. Golf stories, stories about being alone, stories about strange encounters, stories about my apparent split personality disorder. After my nine holes, I left the course full of ideas. A bad day for golf but a good day for stories. 

I am working on a story about these little interactions. It is one I hope to debut soon and perfect for the Florida Storytelling festival in January. A story that is a collection of vignettes that show that stories are swirling around us all the time. The stories include my encounters with a would-be drug dealer at a gas station, a bus driver who is a big fan of the movie Mulan, a mechanic who shares my love of the Ford Focus, and a rental agent who changed my outlook as a teacher while renting van. All of these people are stories, and I hope by telling their stories, I can encourage others to see the stories around them.  

That is the real plight of the storyteller in quarantine. We are shut off from our audience and shut off from the source of the very stories that are our lifeblood. Storytelling is a dialogue with only one person talking. Boy, am I ready to get the conversation going again.



Josh Campbell lives in Memphis, where he thrives on storytelling. Golf is a good                  close second. He is the creative director of SpillitMemphis, an organization that                       produces lively personal narrative events. Josh will be a featured storyteller at the 2021 Florida Storytelling Festival, January 28-31, 2021.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Telling in Isolation

by Madeline Pots


When it comes to storytelling, I have a free wielding spirit.  I tell personal narrative. From kitchen stories to bedroom tales to the drama of a big family living-room, I’ve enjoyed spilling the beans.

The result of letting the listener into my life is, I gain the comfort of knowing I am not alone. No matter how unique my situation may be, a thread of common experience always binds the audience and me together.  For example, one of my favorite stories is about the gift of a two hundred year old bread dough culture whose survival was foisted upon me. I’ve told the story at small gatherings as well as in a tent packed with 1200 listeners. After every show,  people will come up and tell me about their involvements with unsought responsibilities. And just like that, we are connected. That is the reward of storytelling. Connection.

Our art form faces new challenges during this pandemic and the isolation it has inflicted on us.  Storytelling is an interactive experience.  We tellers depend on audience reaction.  It tempers our performance . We can lean into what is being well received. How then, do we deal with telling into a dispassionate and impersonal camera, iPhone or computer screen?  How can we know if we are connecting?  

Soul searching and heart are the prerequisites for good storytelling, particularly when it comes to personal narrative. And so my message is simple. Listen to your heart and be brave enough to be honest with yourself and the audience, be it live or virtual. A tale that has the ring of truth, will always be well received because in some ways, one story is everyone’s story.

Madeline L. Pots is a former New Yorker who has made a wonderful life for herself in Florida. Whether telling folktales, or personal stories about growing up Brooklyn, she holds listeners in the palm of her hand. Madeline is also a potter and musician. You can learn more about her here http://www.madelinelpots.com