Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"The Unemployed Storyteller"

I am thinking today that sometimes, it’s important to take a moment to recall those people – this may be a series, who knows – whose livelihoods were abruptly cut short by some form of technological advancement. 

The proverbial buggy whip manufacturer, who went belly-up, because you don’t whip a car.  And others. 

Let’s start with what I do.  Writers don’t often think much about whom they replaced.  They think more about being replaced themselves.  But at one time, admittedly long ago, there was a group of respected specialists, who were driven out of business by an advancement in communication that, in its day, was as revolutionary as the computer.  That advancement in communication was known as…


There wasn’t always writing.  So, logically, therefore, there had to have been a time before writing.  And during period before writing, before there were written shopping lists that husbands could take to the supermarket but instead, they had to remember everything and invariably came home without something and they had to go back, the, primarily it was men, who engaged in this highly celebrated pre-writing activity were very, very big.

We take you now to the home of a renowned professional storyteller, as we look in on his difficult transition, where, what I do for a living permanently replaced what he did for a living. 

A journalist is dispatched to interview the most famous in his day storyteller and oral historian.


Go away!

I’m a reporter from the National Tablet.  I’d like to talk to you.


Please, sir.  I’m a huge fan of yours.  And I want people to know about you before...

Before what?  Before I die?  Way to cheer me up, fella!

I‘m sorry.  But there’s a new generation who are unaware of how magnificent you were.

Are.  I’m still magnificent.   I’m just magnificent in my house.

Will you please let me come in and ask you a few questions?  Who knows?  The publicity may rekindle interest in your services. 

All right.  I’m getting tired of talking to the plants, anyway.  I’m giving them gold, here.  And all they want is water.


I really appreciate this.  If I went back without a story, I was told I’d be reassigned as a war zone.  That’s very dangerous, you know?  You’d be surprised how little respect the enemy has for the press.

I have nothing for you sit on.  I had to break up the furniture to feed the fire.  Since I stopped working, I have no money to buy firewood.  Buy firewood.  They used to pay me in firewood. 


Firewood, a bottle of fermented berries, a smooth stone.  I was the most highly paid storyteller in the known world.  I sent a guy out once to find out what they were paying in the unknown world, but he never came back. 

Make yourself comfortable.  Lean on any wall you want.


That’s my wall. 

Oh, sorry. 

Any wall but mine.

Okay.  (LEANING AGAINST A DIFFERENT WALL)  Let’s start at the very beginning. 

A very good place to start. 

How did you get started in storytelling?

When I was growing up, everyone had a good memory, which, by the way, when you start writing things down, it very quickly loses its rememorative powers.

It does?

What do you need a memory for?  All the things it was essential to remember – which mushrooms to eat and which mushrooms to avoid, which animals to run after and which animals to run away from…

Everything’s written down now.  I saw this thing recently – an “address book” – it made me laugh – you “write down” where people live.  Who needed an address book?  You remembered.

Sure, once in a while, you’d flip the numbers and show up at the wrong house, but mostly, you remembered where to go, and there you were. 

Now – with these crazy “address books” and so forth – you don’t have to remember anything.  And if you don’t have to remember, sooner or later, and I’m betting on sooner, you will no longer be able. 

If you don’t use them, your memory muscles atrophy, and that’s that.  You’ll tell somebody something, and five minutes later, it’ll be, “What did you just tell me?  I forgot.”  I mean, what if it’s life and death?  What if the thing you forgot was, “Stay away from that guy; he wants to kill you.”  You go over to him and say, “How’re ya doin’?’, and he kills you. 

What happens if you lose your precious “book”?  You don’t have a memory – you forget, and you die.  (NOTICIING)  What are you doing?

Just taking a few notes.

“Writing down” in front of a storyteller?  Are you kidding me?

But if I don’t, I’m afraid I won’t be able to…

To what, remember?  You see that?  It’s starting already!

But I wasn’t trained…

What, “trained.”  We trained ourselves.  You were born with a memory, and you honed it.  Memory itself is natural.  It is one of the six senses.

I thought there were five senses.

Sure, now!  Can you believe that?  They dropped “memory” from the list!

But to do what you did, you must have had a particularly good memory.

The best!  Right from the start.  Three years old, my father would tell me a bedtime story, and I’d tell it right back to him.  Including the stuff he left out.

How did you know he left stuff out?

There were gaps in the narrative.

That’s amazing!

By the time I was a teenager, I was telling stories at birthday parties; I’d make some walking around money, and I’d get cake

I felt a little bad doing that.  Before there were Birthday Storytellers, there were these guys who would come over and paint stories on your wall.  I, and my ilk, pretty much put those wall painter guys into retirement.

And now, it’s my turn.  Reading!  And I thought it would last forever.


Would you like to take a little walk?  We can talk as we go.

A walk might be nice.  It gets depressing, sitting here, telling myself stories.  You want to stay sharp, you know.  The Written Word could be a passing fad.  They may learn that it’s bad for you.  I mean, reading can’t be great for your eyes.  Ever heard of “ear strain”?  I haven’t.

A walk it is, then.  We can stroll through the park.  Down by the river.  Oh, and I know this terrific new bookstore…

You’re taking an oral historian to a bookstore?

Oops, sorry.

You’re lucky I have a sense of humor. 

That’s good.  Because I’m pretty sure that bookstores are here to stay.

Take it from a man who’s been around.  Nothing is here to stay.

Let’s get out of here.


And if I catch you taking notes, I’m breaking your fingers.

Just a few…

Do you want to turn your brain into applesauce?  Memory is essential!  Believe me, you’ll thank me when you’re older. 


To be continued…

1 comment:

Paloma said...

hahaha I absolutely loved this!