Saturday, July 28, 2007

Finally Posting about Yashinsky's Furniture and Tea

I have been meaning all week to respond to Barnabus’s entry about the last chapter in Suddenly They Heard Footsteps. I finished this chapter last weekend while at home slathering another layer of emotional cement on the frayed nerves and strong spirit of my family. I was not so impressed by the moving furniture part of the chapter. I didn’t particularly like the moving furniture part of the class practice from our first week either. I think that is the theatre person in me. It bothers me that the stage is not set before the audience ever enters the house. I understand the logic in what he is saying, but it doesn’t fit with my personal value system. I’m of the opinion that the stage should be set and the actors/storyteller warmed up and ready to shine. When I moved the chair out of my way in class I didn’t feel like I was saying, “I’m in command – this is my space.” I felt like I was saying, “Crap – I forgot to move the chair out of the way.”

Enough about furniture – it’s tea time. I worked my way through college doing several different jobs, but my main job was working for a radio station. I started out doing clerical work and moved quickly into sales, writing copy, external PR, and working as a DJ. The station worked around my school schedule so that some semesters I worked sales 2-3 days a week, wrote commercials at odd times, and worked on the air several hours a day. Some semesters I worked on the air on weekends and did little else. The thing is even when I wasn’t really doing sales and such, there were certain clients that I still had to take care of. I might only see them once a month, but I had to be the one to go visit – another salesperson wouldn’t do

One of our florists would listen to any sales pitch I had, but I had to be helping him fix funeral flowers the whole time I was there. He taught me how to tie different bows and use this little machine to put spikes on the end of artificial flowers; he taught me how to bring balance to an asymmetric wreath and write personal messages on wide ribbon (called 40). He almost always greeted me with, “Come on back here – you’ll never believe what I’ve been into.” We would laugh and carry on and work for hours sometimes. I always made a sell and I always had a good time. Other people could go see him, but it just wasn’t the same for him and he would ask for me. One client was the most annoying cuss in town. He liked to pontificate on the state of the universe and he loved to make you come back again and again and again to finish something that should have taken 10 – 15 minutes. He handled the advertisement for the pharmacy which he co-owned and the card shop that belonged to his partner’s wife. My boss wouldn’t go see him. She said the aggravation wasn’t worth it for her. I enjoyed the challenge. It positively hung him up that I could remember things he’d said months or years before. I used to think the man needed to control the sales relationship. I think it was his way of having a captive audience. I listened to him and learned so much about patience. The lady who owned the bridal registry and Wilton supply store became a second grandmother to me. In all honesty, several of us loved Mrs. Lee and we would bargain to see who got to go sell to her. I would visit with her on my day off or if it was snowy and the station manager told us to stay in town and just do follow-ups. Long after I left the station, I would stop by to see how she was or how many baby birds she had. She was in her seventies and loved to reminisce.

While it’s true I have brought donuts or drinks or homemade Christmas candy to these and many other “mentors”, I think the greatest thing I have given is time to stop and really listen. Now I teach and I have been blessed by a cluster of students who take vacation days from there work to return year after year to help with the spring musical. I am equally in awe of those who just pop by to see if they can do anything for me. Many come to my door with a diet soda in there hand, some bring white cake with white icing remembering it a favorite of mine, even more bring chocolate. One student came to see me a couple of years after graduating. She was just getting back in the country and had came to Sparta to see her parents. She had brought me Romanian chocolate and stories of playing the theatre games I'd taught her with the children she had met. I am one of those teachers that you either love or hate. I love my students and I am still amazed at how they support and love me. When my sister was hit head-on a year and a half ago, I came home from the hospital in Chattanooga for the funeral. So many past students and presents students came to hug me and tell me they loved me and ask if there was anything they could do to help. There were a couple of students that I would have sworn fell into that “hating me” category that came by and held me close and said they remembered how I spoke of my family and they knew my heart was breaking so they wanted to tell me they were praying for me and my whole family. I had text messages every day from students who got my number from some of my past students who help with the musical. Prayer after prayer after prayer. It was almost a year later that a group of student and I were talking and one of them said to me that everywhere he went he told my story. I didn’t understand at first. He explained that he had been amazed that I had asked the same thing of everyone who asked me if they could do anything. I had asked each one to pray for my sister and Ryan. Evidently this had surprised several of my students. They knew I loved my sisters and seeing one of them so close to death was unbearable. They knew I would want them to pray for my family. He said he knew what a Christian was when I asked them to pray for Ryan – the boy who fell asleep at the wheel and hit my sister that November afternoon. If I only get to be one story for one person – that story is enough.


Barnabus said...

Sandy, I believe that what Yashinsky was saying about arriving early, moving furniture, the mike and other objects, was that it lets the teller get in touch with the hearers and environment.

The metaphor would be volunteering to pick up trash off one mile of a roadway. Passersby see you working to clean up where they are looking. They then look with admiration at a person on a stage rather than a movie screen.

I share your understanding and approach to working with your mentors. My old job had a mentor program and it was set up such that the mentor met with the aspiring worker in his/her office once a week, or over the internet. On occassion the aspirer might drop by and ask the gatekeeper if his/her mentor had a minute.

I discovered that the greatest good was done for the aspiror and the mentor when the meeting was over lunch or talking together while taking an INFORMAL walking tour of a facility. Both of you then knew that each of you were listening, rather than listening for the phone to ring, or a knock at the door.

Bottomline: It's all about the personal relationship.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

I understand the need to set-up the space before you see the audience.

When I have a performance, I arrive at least an hour early. Depending on the venue, I have a portable backdrop that consists of two 6' by 6' panels of black fleece and PVC pipes. The two panels connect in about a 90 degree angle. If I am telling without the backdrop, then I arrive at least 45 minutes before the performance.

I never like to be rushed; I want to be in tune as possible for the audience.

Sometimes "moving furniture" is not needed except to possibly adjust the mike. Having a strong and confident presence could be enough to claim the space as "yours".

I usually carry a water bottle with me for a program, though rarely do I drink from it. This is another small way to make the space "mine". I also like to look at everyone from the stage level, or at least soak in the setting, before I begin telling stories.

By arriving early, I am able to observe and/or chat with the audience. Then, I feel like I'm telling to friends.

I recently received an email to confirm a performance on August 20th. Due to construction of the library, I was unable to see the general set-up of the stage area. I will request digital pictures to be emailed to me, if possible, so that I can connect with the place before I arrive on performance day. Then, I could determine if the backdrop would be appropriate or give suggestions on how they could place the stairs.

I discover that I receive more respect this way.

Until we tell again,
Rachel Hedman