I was a storyteller long before I knew I was a storyteller. At the age of 10 I was determined I would be a professional wrestler. On a summer day in Nova Scotia, I sat on a log in the middle of the woods with my brother Brian. He was 24 and the smartest person I knew, so I told him all about my plan.
Brian listened intently to my plans and acknowledged that I had thought it out all very clearly. He then looked at me and explained that wrestling was fake, phony and cheap entertainment. He stated that I should do something real like boxing. He explained the merits of boxing and even agreed to be my trainer. As I think about it now Brian may have been the smartest person I knew, but surely I knew more about boxing and wrestling than him. I had already survived 10 years with three older brothers.
We sat quietly on the log and I thought about what he was telling me. Be real, be genuine, be you. Then he looked at me and said, “Forget about boxing, you should write down all those weird stories you’re always telling. You’re kind of entertaining.” His words stuck in my mind and I never thought about being a wrestler or boxer again.
I started writing my weird little stories. Journal after journal filled my childhood until soon stories were in my soul. Much to the chagrin of my high school principal, I began speaking in story. He would look at me and say, “Just the facts Johnson. Please no story!” But I simply couldn’t help myself. Stories became my native language.
Imagine my surprise, after years of writing and speaking in story, I got a call from an event planner who wanted to hire me as a storyteller/entertainer for a banquet at a nearby resort area. At the time I did not know what a“professional storyteller” was and had never been invited anywhere to “perform.” The event planner had heard me telling stories at the local Boys & Girls Club where I volunteered and wanted to hire me. He told me what they were willing to pay, and I about passed out. It is still the best paying job offer I’ve ever had. I was stunned and immediately agreed to take the job. I had a couple of months to plan, prepare and practice; I worked hard. One week prior to the event I was feeling ready, but nervous about my first paying gig. The phone rang and it was the emcee calling to review details. He rattled on about parking, arrival procedures, time on stage, sound checks and so forth. He then stated, “and as you know clothing is optional for our performers”.
It took awhile for my brain to process the “clothing optional” comment thrown in along with parking and microphone details. Finally I snapped out of my trance, and it all came to me. “Avalon” was the nearby nudist colony. As I tried to picture my 8-month-pregnant self telling stories to a room full of naked people, I just couldn’t seem to put myself in the room. When the silence became deafening, the man on the other end of the phone said, “They forgot to mention the nudist colony part when they hired you, didn’t they? … You’re not going to be able to do this are you?” When I finally had to admit he was right, he answered, “Don’t worry, it happens all the time.”
It would have been quite a story. But probably, I’d still pass. I did get a pretty good story out of the experience though and for me that is what life is all about — the stories.
Martha Reed Johnson is a Florence, S.C. resident and member of the Story Spinners Guild, which meets in Laurinburg.