Noodle of Thoughts From My Noodle (not to be confused with the lead guitarist of Gorillaz) sent me some interview questions about storytelling, librarianship, and Brad the Gorilla. Here they are:
What made you decide to take the leap from children's librarian to storyteller?
It wasn’t so much a leap as it was a shuffle to the side. I took a storytelling class in graduate school, and started telling stories immediately with The New York Public Library. NYPL has a long, rich history of storytelling (the annual Storytelling Symposium, storytelling programs at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park, and monthly storytelling programs run by children’s librarians in the branches), and I knew that I was starting in the right place as a newly-minted librarian. However, it’s worth noting that even back then the parts of librarianship that made me come alive involved story-centered programming. In the year between college and graduate school, I worked in a daycare center for children of homeless parents as a full-time volunteer. The group of children I worked with specifically were in the 1-3 year range, and that experience was invaluable for toddler programs later on.
Do you find that you are expanding your storytelling to accommodate to older ages as your daughter grows up?
I’m actually going backwards in age. The stories I first learned were for older children and teenagers, and as the years passed, I looked for stories to appeal to younger and younger ages. Now that my daughter is four years old, I’m finally discovering the stories for babies! That said, it is now easier to practice stories with my daughter in the room.
What has been your worst experience in your storytelling career? What did you learn from it?
It was my own fault, really.
I had been working professionally as librarian for a year, and had just started a short stint at a new library branch covering for another librarian. The majority of the school visits were so much fun, and I didn’t think much of the matter when someone ran up to me after lunch with a sticky-note filled with lists of mammals and said, “There’s a teacher who wants to come in on this day and wants you to pull books off the shelf for all of these animals.”
I lost track of that sticky-note. The day came when the first grade teacher showed up with her class, and I ushered them into the story-time room. “We’re just here to research animals,” she told me. “Okay, I replied, my mind beginning to make the connection. “I’ll just tell you a couple of stories and bring you out into the children’s room. I began to tell my first story, but the adrenaline from realizing that I hadn’t planned things right kicked in too fast. The teacher interrupted me. “These are young children,” she told me, “You will have to speak more slowly.” Graciously, I stopped, then continued. After two shorts stories, I brought the children out into the room with the books, and began to pull books about specific mammals off the shelf for the children. “Did you get my message about the animals?” the teacher asked. “Yes,” I replied. Even though I embarrassed that I hadn’t been prepared, I felt cross. I thought, “Why did she even bother bringing in the children and setting up a specific class visit?”
What I learned:
1) Not everyone wants what I think they want. When I first got the message, I should have called the teacher back to find out if an official class visit was what she had really wanted rather than just a book pick-up.
2) Don’t punish the children just because I’m peeved with the adults.
Where and why did you begin your library career? How did it evolve over the years and why?
I started out as a page (i.e. shelver of books, periodicals and media materials) my junior year of college, and worked in the circulation department in graduate school (including interlibrary loans) before getting my library degree in Washington D.C. and heading out to New York. I worked 27 months at NYPL and 17 months with King County Library System. I still wonder whether or not it was the wise choice to leave my 30 hour library job in order to have a more flexible schedule and pursue creative outlets. At the time, it seemed brave (albeit scary) to leave my job, but that was with the idea that I’d become a raging success. I’ve noticed that when people make unconventional choices that do work out, everyone says, “Good job! We were behind you all the time! We always said you could do it!” but when the choices don’t work out as planned, then there are mutterings of, “Well, that certainly wasn’t the smart thing to do.”
A few weeks ago, HipWriterMama posted a link to a poem by Marge Piercy called, “For the Young Who Want To.” Here is the first stanza:
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
The last stanza hits home:
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
For “loved,” I interpret as “other people’s approval.” Unfortunately, other people’s approval is what ultimately drives getting paid for one’s work, but that’s just the way it goes, whether it’s an audition or an interview. I have kept myself awake at night thinking of all of the things I should have done. It’s most unproductive. I try to think of stories and songs instead.
And finally . . . Is Brad the Gorilla ever going to move out?
That’s a good question. He certainly isn’t contributing to the monthly mortgage payments. However, Brad does drive away the door-to-door salespeople by shouting at them and throwing overripe bananas. You just can't pay enough for that kind of service.