Monday, February 18, 2008

Personal stories or world folktales? Plus: What's so funny?

Sean Buvala of the storytelling blog A Quarter for a Tale has new post up called Roadblock #10: Telling Too Many Personal Stories. He writes, "In the U.S. in particular, too many professional storytellers are telling too many personal tales and further blurring the line between our art form and the work of comedians. If storytelling continues on this path of telling personal tales over the classic tales of myth, legend, tall tale and fairy tales (aka world tales), we are going to see our art form continue to slide off the radar."

Even if you are not telling stories professionally, you may find it to be an interesting post. As someone who tells primarily for children, I haven't used personal stories except as small anecdotes to frame the next folktale. However, I once attempted to tell a version of Anna Pellowski's "The Water Cup" from The Family Storytelling Handbook as if it were a personal story:

Before my grandfather died, he called for his three children; my Uncle Jim, my Auntie Jan and my mother, Jill. To Uncle Jim, Grandpa left the family farm in Nebraska. To Auntie Jan, he left the watercolor and oil paintings that he created when he taught school in Darjeeling, India. To my mother, he left this little tea-cup. (I hold the cup up for everyone to see.)

“You may think that I have given your brother and sister the better gifts,” my Grandpa said, “but this cup is a true family treasure. You see, this cup belonged to your great-great-grandmother, who gave it to your great-grandmother, who gave it to your grandfather, who gave it to me. And now, I give it to you. I would hope that you will pass this cup onto your children. But, my dear daughter, you must remember never to drink from this side of the special cup.” (I point to side farthest from me.) “Always drink from this side.” (I point to side closest to me.)

“Why is that, Dad?” my mother asked.

“Jill, just listen and pay attention to someone who is older and wiser than you. It is mandatory, imperative, important that you always drink out of this side of the cup.” (Point again to closest side.)

“But I don’t understand,” my mother said. “The two sides look exactly the same.”

“Jill, there is nothing to understand. Just never, ever, under any circumstances whatesoever drink out of this side of the cup.” (Point again to far side.)

“Dad, it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Jill, you are being very stubborn,” my Grandpa said to my mother. “Just respect my words and heed them. I will tell you one more time. When you drink out of this cup, always drink out of this side—“ (Point to closest side.) “and never out of this side.” (Point to far side.)

“But Dad, what would happen if I were to drink out of that side?”

“My foolish daughter, if you were to drink out of that side—“
(Point to far side.)
(I slowly pick up the cup and drink from the rim opposite me.)
water will spill all over you!"

I told this story for a group of children, but the problem was that it was the first time I had ever presented it for children. Previously, when I had told it to grownups, they laughed. However, when I spilled the water on myself in front of the children, they looked uncomfortable. I think they were embarrassed for me. I wanted to say, "No, no, it's funny! You can laugh at me!" but I let it go, and did not try to tell the story again. I didn't want to have a wet shirt if no one was going to laugh. Oh well. Most people are not funny. If I get laughs from a story I've told, it's because the story itself is humorous, not because I'm a cut-up.

As a tangent, here's an article on sarcasm and children: Getting Sarcastic With Kids, ScienceDaily, University of Manitoba (2007, August 9).


HipWriterMama said...

That's a cute story! Interesting how the kids didn't think it was funny. Sometimes I think kids are only amused by any talks regarding bodily functions.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

HWM: I should wave around copies of Sam Riddleburger's The Qwikpick Adventure Society and say "Poop fountain" over and over. That would be stealing Sam's thunder, though.

Lone Star Ma said...

I love hearing personal stories. I don't understand why that wouldn't be storytelling.

Sarcasm's rough.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

LSM: It's not that personal storytelling isn't storytelling, but Sean was writing about the tendency to bring in personal storytelling in a disjointed kind of way.