I graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington 35 years ago. Matt Groening and Linda Barry were both in my class, along with an extended circle of artists, writers, scientists and firebrands ready to head out and change the world. My Evergreen education, seminar based and centered on making art and writing fiction, continues to benefit me to this day. I learned how to learn at the college and took for granted that I would be learning for the rest of my life.
I’ve remained in touch with Evergreen and for three years, beginning in 2002, created artwork for a poster giveaway at Safeco Field that was associated with Evergreen’s Jackie Robinson Scholarship awards. I’ve read scholarship applications for years as well, a humbling activity. I have a lot of faith in the next generation, in part based on the voices in those scholarship applications.
When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated money to match newly established scholarships at Evergreen I started thinking about creating a scholarship. What would I have applied for while a student? I thought there should be something for people like me, who have broad interests and a narrative bent.
I’m proud to announce that the Evergreen Storytelling Scholarship, open to students working in the visual arts including media, and writing, fiction and nonfiction, has been established and is now open to donations. We need to raise $10,000 to meet the Gates Foundation matching minimum, which will make the scholarship sustainable. The scholarship is open to any student in any discipline who self identifies as a storyteller and demonstrates that in their work.
I am hoping this endeavor will appeal to the storytellers out there who want to help fund the next generation of people like us. I truly believe that story can help save the world, foster understanding and enlarge the human experience. To make a donation of any amount, visit the Storytelling Scholarship page on The Evergreen State College website. Thank you!
Update: The scholarship was fully funded! The Gates Foundation matched our fundraising and in a year or two we will be able to offer the Storytelling scholarship to an Evergreen student. My hope is to build the scholarship over time so that we may offer more than one grant a year. Thanks to everyone who donated!
Jack Straw Productions has just posted an interview with me about Story Chairs – it has clips of music and readings and has a lot of charm. You can listen and download on their front page and I’m posting it here as well. Stellar interviewing and production by Jennie Cecil Moore. CJ Lazenby was in the booth. Thanks, guys!
I also wanted you to know that we will have a reading for the Story Chairs authors and musicians on Friday, June 7 at 7:00 pm. It will be a fun opportunity to see and sit in the chairs as well as hear the work of some of the contributors to the project. There will be music. There may be dancing. And all of it will be recorded – come be a part of our story.
Listen to the podcast.
We turn to spring in a few days and as day equals night it seems right that the Story Chairs project should be readying for installation and my website, another long term project, should be new as well.
The Story Chairs will install at Jack Straw this weekend in their new lobby space. It was important to me that the audio have a place to live online, where others could experience a little of what I did last year as the writers came through the recording studio, adding their voices and stories to the mix. I’m thankful for everyone’s contributions.
My new presence online loses some of the custom design that made the old site so pleasing, but because it is hosted on WordPress I can easily update the site myself. I’ve also brought my blog under the same roof as my artwork and writing, where I can tell a little more clearly the story of all the things I do.
Listen to the delicious stories and music from Story Chairs. Click around the site. I am still updating portfolios but you can get a sense of the artwork I’ve done. Take a look at the letter my Grandma Violet sent me just before I turned four years old. Welcome.
Without these people much of this would not have been built: Moe Provencher who is a dream of an engineer, has a nose for story and knows how to manage a wild eyed writer; Jeffry Mitchell who helped dream up the Story Chairs; Ben Oblas who built them; Craig Marois and Michael Helland, the programming swat team; Dana Sullivan, master cat herder and graphic designer, Joan Rabinowitz and Levi Fuller at Jack Straw; all the writers and musicians who brought their work to the project and waited patiently for the installation; Jill Beaumont of Firefly Design, my web maven; and Vic Oblas who floats my boat 24/7. It’s good to have friends and family.
Come out to the opening on the 27th from 5:30-8:00 pm, Jack Straw Productions, Seattle, or drop by during business hours.
I am in Oakland for the last Christmas in the house my parents built together. It’s time for Mom to make a new home, one where she will be surrounded by friends, can walk to to the market and to see a movie, and that will be easier to maintain. All of her girls are here, in all of our unruly glory. In honor of the gathering I’m posting a piece about our lives on the mountain, the cabin in Estes Park where we spent part of most summers when we were growing up.
Ride That Bronco
Moe and I started sequencing the audio for the Story Chairs yesterday. Two hours of listening and thinking and guessing, turning to each other when we rediscovered something great and sitting quietly with a piece that didn’t quite fit with the other stories and poems, before we assigned it a home. We worked to keep too much sorrow and loss from clumping together and added sparks of joy and delicious voice as leavening to one or the other list. After the rough sort, and without the music, each of the two chairs has a little over an hour of audio. There are almost 60 pieces and they run the gamut of emotion and voice. I’m glad to have two young readers in the mix, some challenging poems and enough funny to knit it all together. Now I have to sit down and listen to all the audio again and make the play lists. This will likely happen after Christmas when I have some days off work. I look forward to those listening sessions.
I am especially grateful for the generosity of writers who recorded the work of others, those who couldn’t come to the studio because they lived out of town or couldn’t find time in their schedule. My friend Gwen Demombynes recorded a story by LK Gardner Griffie, who I know from Twitter and now her books, and gave it a life I hadn’t read on the page. Here she is reading her own story,
The Man on the Train.
I’ve been working on audio all summer, preparing to install my Story Chairs at Jack Straw. It’s been a pleasure and a reverie, to write and record these very short stories from my childhood and adult life, about my experience with animals.
As we prepare to elect our President I feel open and hopeful and also as if standing in the dark. I remember distinctly the day Reagan was elected for a second term, how the landslide shattered and disillusioned me. Then Bush 1 and Bush 2, their tenure a kaleidescope of error and obfuscation and a diminishing of what I thought America should be. This is partisan politics, I know.
Regardless of how we all felt at the time, we survived. I survived, hope intact. And so, as we step into the Great Dark of winter, as our northern days diminish and we hover in the twilight of the year, I want to share my favorite recording from the summer. In it I tried to express the hope that is springtime in the midst of winter, the unexpected beauty of the force of life as I slogged through the last days of this season we are moving into now. However the election turns out, we will endure. And good things will come.
When you make work for a lot of years – writing, artwork, anything creative – you come to know that there will be down time. Life happens and you have to deal with it, or you’ve had a period of intense activity and the creative well runs dry. You might be in the bottom of a pit and having a hard time getting out, or maybe someone you love is in trouble or gone. But sometimes you just have to have a life.
I have come to trust those times without a lot of production because they are always followed by fresh starts. It’s as if we are the garden and we need time to rest and absorb all that nourishes us before new seeds can successfully sprout and come to fruition. For me, this timing often works out in opposition to the seasons. I often complete a project or body of work in the spring, and start something new or return to works in progress in the fall. But sometimes it’s hard to pick up the threads and get back to full speed. I do best when I go into the winter fully engaged, one reason I love NaNoWriMo, for its insane November effort that provides grist for the winter months.
So I was excited to put together a few days of pure enjoyment, made up of good food, walks and bicycle rides in the cool sunshine of late September, time spent with my husband and writing pals and just the right amount of focused work. Riding through the landscape of small farms near Fall City along roads edged with blackberries, inhabiting my body, I was purely happy. The fields were turning, though still full of pumpkins ripening, purple and green cabbage and kale and late summer flowers for market. I knew I could begin again after a summer spent away from major projects, that I was looking forward to returning to the enamel panels waiting in the studio and that hard-to-finish novel on my laptop, instead of feeling guilty for my lack of progress over the summer.
This too is summer’s bounty, the turning to fall and its new beginnings.
One of the great moments in my summer was working with my Mom at Jack Straw to record her story about learning to sail. She was in the first group of storytellers to record their short pieces for the Story Chairs project. I’ve been working on the audio for the chairs since July and hope to be finished recording stories by the end of September. Then Moe Provencher and I will sequence, mix in songs and music and get the audio ready for the electronics. Hopefully the lobby at Jack Straw will be ready for the chairs before the end of the year. There will be a celebration for sure.
Mom read beautifully – a natural, as Moe said. She immediately got the knack of picking up a flubbed line and of listening to the recording and knowing what she wanted to re-do or tweak. It was a deep pleasure to share the studio with her, and to hear her read aloud again as she did every day, nap time and before bed, when we were children. Hers is the voice I often hear inside my head when I read a book, measured and nuanced and reassuring.
Recording sessions have been fun and revelatory throughout the project: matching a voice to a story by someone who can’t make it to the studio; hearing how each reader’s voice is their own, or how they sometimes read a piece differently than I might. The writing is always transformed into something else when read aloud. The experience has reminded me again of the origin of stories, in human kind and in my own life – the sure promise and music of the storyteller’s voice, and the readiness of the listener to be utterly changed by their story.
Janel Kolby submitted this poem for my Story Chairs project, very short fiction, non-fiction, poems and songs for recording. I am still actively looking for contributions.
The tapping of my foot fought the rhythm of the train.
I wasn’t in the mood to be lulled to sleep.
My boyfriend and I had just gotten in a fight, and I left.
I didn’t know where I was going, I had nowhere to go.
My anger was deafening.
And then the doors opened.
A shiny man came inside.
His suit was shiny shark skin, and his shoes were shiny polished.
He reeked of smoke and gin.
But he was a man.
His nail-bitten hands clasped the pole in front of me.
His tie had once been neat.
The train started up with a metallic squeak.
The man lurched, hanging on tight,
and hungrily tore at a bagel,
powdering crumbs onto his feet.
With his last, hard swallow,
he looked frantically about,
and wiped away cold sweat.
The lights flickered, and I caught my breath.
The train squealed around a corner,
and we held against its force.
I felt him lean against my knee,
to steady against my form.
He was warm, he was strong.
Minutes, no, seconds.
We breathed as one.
The doors re-opened,
and he was gone.