HeART of The Story: Bragging rights and a bottle of wine

Author sheepishly holding bottle of win
Third Prize in the Story Slam at “HeART of Story.” (2015) by the nice lady sitting next to me.

Saturday afternoon, I went to a library and came home with a free bottle of wine. Intrigued? Good.

I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up to storyteller Beth Horner‘s workshop at The HeART of the Story on Saturday afternoon. The event, sponsored by the National Storytelling Network took place at the Woodneath Library Story Center.

I first heard about the event Thursday morning while driving in my car. The local NPR station ran a story about National Storytelling Network’s move to Kansas City and mentioned the free event at the library. As soon as I was back at a computer, I signed up. While I’ve certainly told stories before – to my friends, to my campers, to my students – I’d never been to a storytelling workshop with professional storytellers.

Getting there was a little bit of a challenge. Woodneath Library is located in Kansas City, MO, but in Kansas City, MO North of the River. There’s a psychological barrier to venturing North of the River, a sense of uneasiness that makes me feel like I’m a character in “Oregon Trail.” In addition, the building is also both so old (the original structure dates to 1850) and so new (the library opened in 2013) that the address didn’t show up on my GPS.

I finally figured out directions, and was only a couple of minutes late sneaking into the 1pm workshop. Beth, the instructor, immediately jumped into getting us to participate. She led us through the interruption game (changing the course of the story based on interrupters suggested words), “write 3 lines” and other interactive exercises where we had to practice with a partner. I didn’t know anyone there, but strangely felt among friends as I meandered my way throughout the crowd, telling my story snippets. Hmmm, I thought, have I found my people?

After the workshop, I signed up for the “story slam” by putting my name on a slip of paper in a basket. I even wrote out the phonetic pronunciation (because my name can be kind of intimidating). A story slam is like Moth Radio Hour – participants stand up in front of a mike on stage with no notes and have 5 minutes to tell their story. I waited as the MC pulled names out of the basket and called each storyteller to the stage, wondering if my name was going to be called out next. At some point, I stopped composing my story in my head and managed to just listen. It was awesome!

There were all kind of stories: Funny personal stories and stories about family and tall tales. Most of the storytellers seemed to know each other, and take great delight in listening to and retelling the stories with one another. It reminded me of meetings of the Philolexian Society, my beloved college literary society (except without the ceremonial robes and random references to “Metaphysical Maryland.”)

Then the MC called my name (only slightly mangling it. I could still tell it was me!) and I sheepishly walked up to the stage. I think they knew I was a newbie, so they applauded my chutzpah. I just had come up with a really good opening line and really, really wanted to share it. I approached the mike (which had been thoughtfully lowered to my face level.) I began, “The smell of peanut butter still makes me nervous.”

I went on, telling the story of my college internship with the nutrition department at the Bronx Zoo, whose idea of a good time was, “Let’s kill it and figure out its nutritional content!” (Note: you can read a retelling of the story here.) I explained my own challenges with my assignment in determining the Vitamin A content of zoo mice and wild mice. “And that,” I ended, “is why I went to law school.”

(I didn’t drop the mic, because I hadn’t taken it out of the holder.) The applause and cheers felt super-amazing.

There were several storytellers who went after me. I continued laugh and be grossed out and sigh along with the rest of the audience. There is this intense sense of community around telling stories, probably hardwired into us from back when we first sat around a campfire. I was tired and hungry, but I almost didn’t want it to end.

Finally, they announced the winners. They called out third prize which was … me! I walked up and accepted my prize (which was a bottle of wine) and sat back down. I didn’t even hear who the 2nd and 1st place winners were.

Afterwards, I received many congratulations and atta-girls. The newbie who showed up with chutzpah and a kind of gross story. (I guess it helped that I’ve told it several times before in casual conversation, but this was the first time with a sense of character, pacing and structure that I learned about in the workshop.) The lady sitting next to me took a photo of me with my phone, so I have a record of my achievement. When I got back in the car, I thought, “My parents are never going to believe that I went to the library and came home with a bottle of wine.” Ha!

Tangent for this post:

More Kansas City Area storytelling events via River & Prairie Storyweavers (RAPS).

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