In the 4th grade, we did our home-state project (New Jersey, in my case) with oak-tag charts and diagrams. In fifth grade, we were assigned one of the other 49 states (Arkansas, in my case). I don’t remember the big projects in sixth or seventh grades, but I clearly remember dreading eighth grade’s Storytelling Contest.
The challenge: to memorize a story about five minutes long and deliver it to the class. Semi-finalists would present to the whole school. I finished one of five finalists for the evening round in front of family and friends. And when it was my turn that March night, I stepped up to the microphone and began: “Doc Marlow by James Thurber…”
Sadly, that is also where the story ended. But that is not the end of the story.
I became a storyteller, but only by tapping a keyboard. Until a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me to a local storytelling guild’s cabaret. At the end of the formal performances, guests were invited to the mic to tell a “five-minute tale” – three words that sounded way too much like “threeeee-hour tour.” My stomach lurched. My hair was sweating. There I was, facing my humiliated middle-school self. My husband gently elbowed me. Nope. Nah. No way. But as I watched people from the audience line up to sign up over the break, I shifted into “Bring It!” gear, printed my name in space #5, then pulled a prompt: A vivid childhood vacation.
Fortunately, I had time to prepare in my head. Unfortunately, I followed Guitar Guy, who brought down the house with a ditty about a visit to Heaven. (I’m hoping his prompt was a fantasy trip.) I would not be deterred! At first, a couple of stumbles, but soon I was smoothly reminiscing about the last family vacation we took to Belmar the summer before my oldest brother left for college. How it rained every day… How my mom and I played cards on the porch while my brothers and father did something… How on that last stormy afternoon, we all went to see “The Sound of Music” at the Asbury Park Convention Hall then walked with arms around one another on the slick boardwalk under the beach umbrella my dad had brought to protect us…
The emcee was holding up a red card. Time to bring it to a close. Whoa… Five minutes had passed! I had fun! So I’ve made this deal with myself. Before saying no to something I may end up enjoying, I vow to take give it one full sentence. Like taking one first step. Except, perhaps, out of an airplane.