Storytelling (a late Poetry Friday post)

Most of you know I have been working at an international school as the creative writing teacher and the librarian. Although it’s been pretty much a perfect fit for me, so much about this job has caused me to stretch in my abilities. I do not consider myself a performer (those of you who remember me from middle and high school are laughing now, because you think of me as a drama queen) but in this job I have had to revert back to some long dormant skills of performing and entertaining. 

I have not enjoyed it. 

To be clear, it is only *that* part of the job that I haven’t enjoyed. I’ve loved the rest, but having to perform and entertain makes me insecure and it makes me realize how much I rely on external affirmation. And it’s sort of kinda a terrible thing to feel like you’re relying on others’ approval. And yet, I want to do a good job, so it’s a catch-22. 

This past Friday, for our Children’s Day celebration at school, I had to dress up as a character (cowgirl for the younger set, spooky witch for the older set) and tell stories for 15 minutes to each group. I was terrified. It is one thing to hold a book and sit in a circle and tell a story to children. It is entirely another to perform those stories for them. I barely ate anything at lunch because I was afraid I’d throw up. 

Thankfully, it went very well, though I’m not sure I’ll feel any better the next time I have to do it. (I’m still hoping there won’t be a next time!)

I spent some time this morning trying to put what I felt into poetry, my favorite way of reflecting:

Telling Stories

I told stories the other day
to children sitting patiently on blue
carpet, waiting to be entertained, wanting
me to mesmerize them. God, what pressure, I
thought and wished it were all over with –

the storytelling, not life in general, though at that moment
I wasn’t feeling picky.

I spoke of ghosts and ghouls,
cowboys, robbers and chickens, hoping the
children would laugh their wise little belly
laughs and their eyes would shine effortless.
God, I thought, I MUST be good, for children
are not easily lied to, their wide-eyed
innocence runs deep with doubt.
The crinkles in their noses say, Prove
yourself to me. Make me believe your silly
little words.

And so I spoke my silly little words, telling
tall tales as if they were truth, magicking
my own doubts into belief, trickstering
insecurity through bravado. And it worked.
The children laughed until it was all over with –

at the stories thankfully, not at me, though at that moment
I wasn’t feeling picky.

— Kristy Dempsey (2010, all rights reserved)

11 thoughts on “Storytelling (a late Poetry Friday post)

    1. If I’m honest, I probably feel similarly about book reviews and such but a performance like storytelling is so public and so dependent on the moment. There is no revision. I’m glad it’s over with!

  1. Anonymous

    Loved your poem! Feel bad we put you on the spot. Sorry.. Know how you feel because I used to feel a lot like you, don’t know exactly when I changed but it was an eye opener when I realized I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, that God made me just the way I am and that I should follow my heart, do my best and not be afraid of judment…I also stopped judging others, or at least, trying to…(I really believe that is what HE wants from us)
    Anyways… I think you did a great job! xoxo Mariana

    1. Thanks, Mariana! Please don’t feel like you put me on the spot. I *wanted* to do it and yet, I was terrified! Most of my insecurity was about pleasing the kids. I wanted it to be really special for them. 🙂 In the end, I really loved it and despite what I say, I’d be happy to do it again. Still terrified, but happy!

      I’m so happy to know you!

  2. Anonymous

    yes, yes, yes

    i think there is so much of our lives that we spend performing, out of our comfort zone and on the edge of nausea. oh, to settle into our selves so much so that our ‘belief’ in who we are overrides the need to do magic! love your poem! love you!

    1. Re: yes, yes, yes

      I’m still settling into my skin. Sometimes the magic is all I’ve got, especially as it relates to these creative endeavors of mine. At my core, I know who I am and have that unchanging bedrock to ground me in my perception of myself. But how easily that gets confused when it relates to my performance or something I create. I know what SHOULD be true, but responding in light of that is sometimes blurry.

      I love you too, dear friend. Wish we could have a snatch of time together. Is there a chance you’ll be at Heather’s wedding in November? I’ll be there. Flying in for the wedding and flying out the next day. Ridiculous, but I don’t want to miss it.

  3. Anonymous

    Love your poem! It is good for us to stretch our abilities and experience, and I’m happy it went well and you survived.

    I fantasize about doing just that sort of thing some day when I do author visits.

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