Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Scattered Brain, part 2

*This is a parsing of an article that originally appeared in Storytelling World magazine in 1997

A Gentle Reminder 
I have just finished a story program for a family night at a local school.  The occasion is a combination of book fair and turn-off-the- tube week.  During the program I presented some cats cradle figures and used them to tell Jack & The Beanstalk (see Storytelling World vol. 2, no. 1, Winter/Spring 1993.)  Children come up to me, chiming the giant's refrain and asking how they can learn more about string figures.  Adults come up to me with a slightly different response.  For the children, this is new information.  For the adults, this is old information that was lost until they were reminded of it.  I will call these two responses: minding and reminding.
First of all, minding.  The telling experience brings a wealth of stimulation to the young listener in the form of images, rhythms, patterns, sequences, emotions, and ideas.  The aural stroking between real-time-and-place teller and real- time-and-place listener is something that our sciences have begun to verify as essential to brain growth in early childhood.  The recognition of this importance is bringing a new validation to the storytelling art in a culture obsessed with technology. 

4/18/97  AP-Washington - In a day of "talking about baby talk" and how brains grow, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton offered parents simple child-rearing advice: Songs and storytelling fire up infants' brainpower. 

When we tell stories to children we are truly minding them. 
Next, reminding.  Adult listeners at storytelling events are often surprised by the recognition that storytelling evokes.  Listeners tell us, "Gee, I haven't thought about that in ages..."  "I'd forgotten what it was like to..."  "I remember when..." and so on.  A wealth of dormant memories and experiences are invited up from the deep past to the surface of our present minds.  Such storytelling reminds us, literally re-minding: giving us back our minds.  It is as though we have lost cognizance of who we are amidst our scatter-brained lives. 
What's going on?  Why are people having little epiphanies in the company of storytellers?  I believe that there is something missing in our modern media saturation that the storytelling revival is providing us.  Something primary to who we are.  Something that our daily distraction has lead us away from. 
In a prophetic essay for Harper's in 1938, E. B. White wrote: 
"Clearly the race today is between loud speaking and soft, between things that are and the things that seem to be, between the chemist of RCA and the angel of God.  Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound "effects" are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself.  Television will enormously enlarge the eye's range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere.  Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote.  More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images - distant and concocted.  In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar than their originals." 
These days we are enchanted by the Elsewhere and attend to matters "distant and concocted" at every turning.  Admittedly, storytelling itself advertises the Elsewhere: "Once upon a time, long ago and far away." But there is a difference.  The medium is the message and the very medium of the told story carries a message distinct from other media. There is a different kind of Elsewhere being advertised by storytelling. We are urged to look away from that which distracts us to that which has become the most remote: the primary and the near. 
(continued in part 3)

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