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A Sobering Sight

June 2, 2009 | 6 Comments

Post to the Host:
How on earth did you get into writing what you do and A Prairie Home Companion? I am a writer (young-ish and unproduced). Recently, I left New York City for the farm. In the city I wrote of lofty themes to please myself. But on the farm, my aim is to entertain my fellow farmhands or be scorned. While at grad school I learned writing, on the farm I learned the more difficult and humble art of story telling. I was curious as to how you started out and do you think of yourself as a story teller?

Stella Ragsdale
Edgartown MA

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I'm not a storyteller, Stella, but I impersonate one and that is almost as good. Storytelling is an intimate art, practiced between people who know each other well, and I've known some great ones, a sculptor named Joe O'Connell and my great-uncle Lew Powell and the late Chet Atkins. Chet was a true storyteller. He blanched at the thought of doing it onstage, but when he drove you around in his pickup truck, he'd tell a whole string of stories, some of them ribald, about Nashville stars and he'd imitated their voices beautifully and he embroidered the stories beautifully and, listening to him, I just sat and laughed and wished we'd drive forever. I don't have that gift. What I do have is chutzpah, to stand up in front of an audience and take them into my confidence and try to tell a story, which often as not turns into an essay instead. But sometimes it hits on all two cylinders. I started out, as you did, writing lofty things and then, out of curiosity, got started as a performer, and that, as you know, is a whole other game. The difference between high lit and performance is that high-lit writers can imagine that their readers are as fascinated as they are. In performance, you can see the audience and that is a sobering sight. There is nothing so scary as seeing an audience look off toward the wings, hoping that someone else comes out soon and does something interesting.


6 Comments


If you're interested in storytelling, especially by those on stage, you should go to see guitarist, Leo Kottke, in concert. Not only is he just about the best guitar-player in the world, his stories are personal and funny. You should check his schedule because I think he'll be in Massachusetts next week.


i never really liked or enjoyed writing or public speaking. but once i figured out finally that they couldn't eat me or beat me and gained a little self confidence then it all happened i was finally able to write a journal and relate funny stories about dogs and people and truly enjoy the wonderful gifts that we are given. just cut loose and let it fly and let it land where it may. a journal helped me the most!


gee Stella,i didn't know that they had a bracero program in mass. very interesting to know that because i was thinking of re-locating my stud frog farm to that environ. my frog farm operation is somewhat labor intensive as we do have frog escapes periodically. frogs are more prone to hopping long distances etc. so braceros: being fleet of foot are more suited for this type of works far as catching the little critters. i did have some bad experiences with the hired hands (labor) during the world soccer match's as the hired help saw fit to kick the little critters around a bit! but the neighbors didn't complain too much! they really didnT care for someone shouting "GOAL" at odd intervals. maybe they were soccer fans; or maybe their frogs were losing. Are there any tracts of land near you that might be used as a stud frog ranch facility? would greatly appreciate your input! thank you.


gee Stella,i didn't know that they had a bracero program in mass. very interesting to know that because i was thinking of re-locating my stud frog farm to that environ. my frog farm operation is somewhat labor intensive as we do have frog escapes periodically. frogs are more prone to hopping long distances etc. so braceros: being fleet of foot are more suited for this type of works far as catching the little critters. i did have some bad experiences with the hired hands (labor) during the world soccer match's as the hired help saw fit to kick the little critters around a bit! but the neighbors didn't complain too much! they really didnT care for someone shouting "GOAL" at odd intervals. maybe they were soccer fans; or maybe their frogs were losing. Are there any tracts of land near you that might be used as a stud frog ranch facility? would greatly appreciate your input! thank you.


I heard that you were asking for stories for Father's Day. Here's what I told in my eulogy for my father.

My father was obsessive to the point of obnoxious in his continuous correction of my language and grammar. One of his more typical: "what is the antecedent of 'it'?" he would ask, when I apparently had made a rather vague reference. "What, in God's name," I would ask myself, "is the point of these pedantic lessons?" Fast forward some ten to twelve years: I find myself in the final oral exams of my Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy where one professor on the panel asks me a long winded question about some feature of the economic integration of Europe that I knew I could never answer, and finally concluded with, "And what, Mr. Atkinson, was the reason for that?" I reached back for the only response I could find: "What, sir, is the antecedent of 'that?'" "Damned if I can remember," he said, "forget the question."

I passed the exam.


Garrison-
Since we are allowed to comment here, I will submit my opinion which is that there are possibly a number of different types of storytellers, and you are most definitely one of them. We appreciate the show of humility though. And Dave, great story!

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