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Powerful Voices February 15, 2011

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Elizabeth Bradford, one of the great figures in Marshfield, Massachusetts lived to be over a hundred. She had a deep powerful voice and I imagine it had the resource of Samuel Johnson’s.

I like to think of the unusual voices I’ve heard through my life. My mother had a ringing voice. She used the rhythms of language in an extraordinary way. She would lift up her hand and a single word would be like the beginning of an opera. My father’s voice was a charcoal voice. My dad’s handwriting was precise and elegant and he used words in the same way, but his voice was more dramatic than his writing. He was a natural actor.

I’ll never forget President Kennedy’s inaugural address. It was on a cold winter day. Kennedy looked so young and vigorous and his cut into that cold air in a thrilling way. Kennedy, like my parents, had the sense of the drama of language. As Kennedy gave the speech there was a sense that he loved doing it, he loved the drama of being President, of being in front of a great crowd. Beginning. In a sense this was his music.

I remember reading that before Kennedy’s great Berlin speech, he was saying to the general that the speech he was giving was dull. In the short time before arriving Kennedy had changed the speech. After he gave the Berlin speech he said to Kenny O’Donnell, “We’ll never have another day like this.”

Martin Luther King’s words ring out through our lives. He of course came from a tradition of black preachers. He reminded us that words can lift us up. In the case of both Kennedy and King they were in a sense political opera at its best. Both of those speeches were given out in the open. There was no opera house to contain them. Instead the ceiling was the sky, which seemed so right. Both of them calling us to go beyond the ordinary, to be daring, to laugh, to be open, to be alive.

Ah the voices that ring out through our lives.

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J. D. Salinger June 10, 2010

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I was in high school when I read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I was astonished. Holden Caulfield was saying everything I felt. I wondered how in the world Salinger knew these things.

In college a friend of mine and I went down to New York to find old Salinger stories. We went from bookstore to bookstore in search of New Yorker magazines that had Salinger’s stories about Frannie and Zoey. I loved everything Salinger did including his Nine Short Stories. They were different from anything I’d read.

And then Salinger disappeared. He was living quietly in New Hampshire and there he died a few months ago. I admire him keeping silent.

Imagine Salinger resisting the pressure to get bigger and bigger, to make and more money and to become more and more famous. He turned his back on a cultural idol.

Bravo J. D. Salinger.

Workshop on Cortes Island, British Columbia May 18, 2010

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Come to my storytelling workshop at the Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, August 14-19, 2010. Hollyhock is one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’ll have a chance to nourish your creativity in an atmosphere filled with humor and appreciations. My exercises are whimsical, deeply considered and they reveal the storyteller in everyone.

Everybody and everything has a story. In fact, we are filled with stories. These stories can be memories of events, characters, places and moments in our lives. When a memory is called forth, the storytelling is often fresh and interesting; the details are sharp, as is the sense of place, characters and the event itself. These forgotten memories are at the heart of good storytelling. I’ll draw your memories out with what I call Sparks.

The workshop is not just for storytellers. The secret is we’re all storytellers. The workshop is open to anyone: ministers, poets, an actors, a builders or students, salesmen, storytellers, educators – anyone interested in the creative process. Come! It will be a wonderful experience in your life. We will also have two writing times. They will be optional.

Songwriter and storyteller Mandi Kujawa from Banff, Canada will assist me in helping you use sound, rhythm, repetition, song, movement and imagery to tell your story.

For more information or to sign up for the workshop, visit Hollyhock’s website.

Participants’ comments after taking one of Jay’s workshops:

“After the workshop was over, I felt so alive. A part of me for which there’s little time in daily life had been given space to waken and bloom. This experience confirmed that I had an important story to give voice to and gave me confidence I had the writing skills to do it.”

-Jennifer Farley Smith, Writer and Storyteller

“. . . the laughter of people and the sound of Jay’s voice, I knew this was going to be one of those special moments that life brings. It was magical and never to be forgotten.”

-Lesley Dowding, New Zealand Storyteller

“What could be more spiritually refreshing than being in an intimate group of storytellers next to the beauty and energy of the sea? Jay is a master at setting the boundaries for a safe environment where you can feel free to explore and take chances”

– Dee Kimbrell, Storyteller, Author, Workshop Leader

“This is the place to come to grow my craft in a safe, fun community. We laugh, sing, weep a bit and share.

-Betty Kornitzer, Unitarian Universalist Minister

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood April 1, 2010

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In the New York Times on Thursday, March 18th there was a story about a bronze statue of Mr. Rogers. The statue was unveiled in October at the Old Manchester Bridge Pier in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Rogers was a gentle man and a visionary. Early on in my storytelling career I sent him a cassette of my story The Bubble and he called and said he would like me to come to Nantucket to talk. He met me at the ferry landing and I found he was even more charming than he was on television. He told me that he began his career as a puppeteer. He said he was afraid of being out in front of people, but the day came when he put the puppet away, stepped forward and that was the beginning of “Mr. Rogers”.

Mr. Rogers asked me to call him Fred but I still think of him as Mr. Rogers. He said he was going to create a week long opera for his show and the opera would begin with my story The Bubble. A few months later I flew to Pittsburgh and did the show. In Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the mailman always brought the mail and I was the package that was delivered that day to Mr. Rogers. After I told the story of The Bubble, the two of us sat down with the cameras still rolling and began to blow bubbles. One bubble came out from my little wand and the rest popped. Mr. Rogers blew and the bubbles just flowed out. I was delighted with his sense of fun and ease.

It was my only encounter but I’m so glad there’s now a statue of Mr. Rogers tying his shoes on the Old Manchester Bridge Pier in Pittsburgh.

Christa McAuliffe March 10, 2010

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On Monday, February 22, I took a break from my residency at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire to drive to nearby Blossom Cemetery to see the gravesite of Christa McAuliffe. Christa McAuliffe was NASA’s teacher in space. She died on January 28th, 1986 when the space shuttle, the Challenger, exploded. Her gravesite is high on the hill of the cemetery. I parked and walked up through the snow to the gravestone. It was silent and the sky was blue. There was a faint half moon in the sky and a single jet plane was trailing a cloud of white smoke. In the distance there were the hills of Concord.

I appreciated the silence, for the beauty seemed a tribute to that brave young woman. I drove back to St. Paul’s School and passed Concord High School where Christa McAuliffe taught American History. I wonder if I passed her house. I remember reading something one of her students wrote, that Christa was late sometimes in the morning. The students would look out and see Christa hurrying down the sidewalk. They never said a word about her being late because they appreciated her and wanted to make sure she wasn’t in trouble. As I neared St. Paul’s School I passed Concord Hospital and remembered that Christa had helped raise money for the hospital. She was a woman of the community, of the country and of the world.