Monday, May 18, 2009

Story Hour at the Public Library



This evening I went to story hour at the library--the grownups version. It was a reading by author John Daniel for the Northwest Voices program sponsored by The Longview Public Library and Lower Columbia College.

Daniel read snippets from several essays in the just published collection The Far Corner which he carefully noted did not have the word 'essay' anywhere on the front cover or title page because the publishers say it is a death knell for a book since apparently the very word essay sends half the potential readers running for the nearest exit and the other half to sleep. Which is a shame because so much of the best American literature is of this genre. Think Mark Twain, Emerson, Thoreau, Anne Dillard, H.L. Mencken, James Thurber, James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, Adrienne Rich, Wendell Berry, Joan Didion, David James Duncan..... Oh, I could go on and on and that's just the Americans.

As far as I'm concerned a story is a story whether it is labeled fiction, essay, poem, biography, memoir, myth, play, news, expose, gospel, novel, short, romance, drama, documentary, lyric, limerick, epic, genre, literary, ...or whatever else the literature taxidermists contrive in their endless attempts to keep story in 'its place'. But story is no more containable than a tornado, no more leashable than Coyote the Amer-Indian Trickster figure referenced by Daniel in one of the essays he read from tonight. An essay musing on the meaning of place and whether loyalty to place or rootlessness is the more to be desired.

As I've said here before in other contexts and as I sometimes signature my emails and tag my blog in the social networks: Story is my joy. Which is half the meaning of the title of my blog. The other half referring to the personal journal aspects.

Story is my joy and I don't care what you label it as long as it pulls me out of myself for long breathless and weightless moments and then gives my self back to me a little more whole than it was before, a little more faceted and a little more enlarged like yeast activated dough.

So imagine how thrilled I was when Daniels launched into an essay about the Rogue River in Oregon, the river that gives its name to the valley I live in, using the extended metaphor for the river of 'story'. The river was a teller of stories of everything thing it passed between its headwaters in south eastern Oregon to its outflow into the Pacific at Gold Beach Oregon; it was a story endless and infinite in variation that could be dipped into at any one of its bends.

Whatever else John Daniel is, (poet, memoirist, nature writer) he is a storyteller. There is no higher accolade in my lexicon.


The Far Corner
Northwestern Views on Land, Life, and Literature

"These essays include meditations and arguments on becoming a writer; on old-growth forest and the practice of clearcutting; on the fluid dynamics and biotic diversity and mythic resonance of rivers; on the writers Ken Kesey and Wallace Stegner; on the literary genre of "creative nonfiction" and its kinship with fiction; on death and dying and the consolations of death and dying; on the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001; on a stint of hot-weather solitude in the Rogue River Canyon; and on my allegiances to the places and region and country I call home."
—From the introduction to The Far Corner

More about The Far Corner

Read the reviews.

Discover some of his other works.

After the readings, Daniel autographed and sold copies of his several books and I regretted that I'd spent the last of my cash at Powell's though I couldn't think of one of the three books I bought that day I regretted buying. Maybe if I'd waited on the book easel... But then I've used it more than any of the three books in the last two weeks and wouldn't want to do without it again. So I guess I wait until I get back to Phoenix and get to the library. Surely the Jackson County Library System will have copies of some of his books. And I can put in requests for them to acquire any they don't.

Tomorrow morning, actually about six hours from now as I write this paragraph, Daniel is going to be conducting a writing workshop entitled 'Finding the Necessary Story' at Lower Columbia College across the street from the library. I am yearning to go but not quite sure how to manage it. My sister said she would be able to drive me over after breakfast and then pick me up at the library after lunch. But considering that this morning, Monday, I didn't even get to sleep until nearly 8am and then woke at noon to prepare for my afternoon social engagement with my sister-friend Jamie (which I described at length in an earlier version of this post but then moved into a draft post for Thursday) and add to that the several cups of coffee I drank with Jamie at the restaurant after the reading...

Whether to go or not to go and if so whether to sleep or not to sleep first and if not whether I would be of any use to my sister and mother Tuesday afternoon and evening when my help is the most crucial.

And whether I short myself on sleep or completely deprive myself, it means yet another day of not working on the sweet pea embroidery on Mom's sweater, a project which I managed to give only two two-hour sessions since I started it a week ago tonight. I promised my sister I would finish it before leaving. And I've promised my husband I would do my utmost to return on June 21st. I'm estimating over 50 hours of stitching.

But then where do I fit in my promise to demonstrate devotion to my calling, my bliss, my joy...story. How will I feel this time tomorrow if I let this opportunity pass? Its a ninety minute free writing workshop! Surely, even if I can't find the courage to open my mouth or put marks on a page once there, I can muster enough to walk through the door and sit down.

Besides, a little sleep deprivation has always been a catalyst for word generation for me. Witness the length of this post. Quality is not as dependable as quantity at those times but then nobody can do a thing with nothing--no mortal anyway.

0 tell me a story:

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