This is the full article I wrote, though a condensed version was published in the January/February 2008 Storytelling Magazine, with the theme "It Is The Right Time for Mentoring".
Out of over 13 years, eight of those years I walked the storytelling path alone. This was was choice. I did not mind being alone. In many ways I thrived on it. When I was ready, I turned to others.
Storytellers have always surrounded me--whether by fellow classmates competing in the storytelling category during high school or whether by peers in storytelling guilds. With constant inspiration, all have earned the name "friend" though only a couple people in my life have earned the title "mentor".
Each one of these special people followed what I call Freedom-Based Mentoring with these levels:
- Freedom to Start
- Freedom to Trust
- Freedom to Dream
- Freedom to Stop
Meet Doris Sexton
My first story was a failure. I was a sophomore in high school and my coach from Forensics, an organization of public-speaking contests, made no comment as how to improve my story except, "sign up for more practices." Rather than be mentored, I secretly practiced in the shower, the basement, or in the shed. I could not face Coach Sexton despite my high respect for her skills.
After the first storytelling tournament, I climbed on the bus with the other students. Sexton called out my name and strongly asked to hear my story again. My scores were not good enough for any trophies though good enough for a first-timer at a major event.
I took a deep breath and told for Sexton. She smiled and said, "Ahhhhhhhh, much better." From then on, I met with her every week. Each tournament I improved and by the end of my senior year I received 5th in State for Storytelling.
Despite initial reluctance, I honor Sexton as my catalyst into storytelling.
Meet Don Doyle
I was nervous meeting Don because I never had complete attention for storytelling except for eight years back with Sexton. Until receiving the J.J. Reneaux Mentorship Grant, my only knowledge of Don Doyle was of his stirring speech on connecting the generations of storytellers at the 2004 National Storytelling Conference. In September 2006, I jumped on the plane from Salt Lake City, Utah to Mesa, Arizona for a week-long one-on-one gathering.
When I reached out to shake Don's hand, he ignored it and gave me a hug instead. That action reflected what would occur in the next few days.
Don chose to break the ice by talking about storytelling interests over lunch. By the time we turned to experimenting or "playing" with techniques, Don knew my goals. He wrote them down and referred to them often.
With Don's strong theatrical background, I could receive feedback on how to piece an epic tale. I desired to create a one-hour Greek myth with the gods Hephaestus, Zeus and Hera in regards to child abuse. I knew the techniques needed for this story could be applied to other story creations. I continue to learn from him.
Freedom to Start
Whether with Sexton or with Doyle, I was the one who initiated contact.
Sexton gave me the space I needed though she still voiced that she was interested in what I had to say. Doyle reflected the same openness as he allowed me to set the pace in the techniques we explored together. Even the act of flying to Arizona versus having Don fly to Utah made a difference in my psychological need for freedom. After the first gathering, the place would not be so crucial.
Freedom to Trust
Despite Sexton's illustrious "Coach of the State" award, I depended upon classmates' impressions. I knew she was tough and often intimidating yet the ideas of the students came first.
Out of the week that I spent in Mesa with Don, at least a half-day was dedicated to understanding each other's backgrounds. This reassured myself that Don really had the best of intentions for me.
Freedom to Dream
Never did Sexton cram a story in my face and say, "You should tell this one." If she had, I would have screamed, most likely never to return. She let me decide whether a story was or was not working.
At one point, Don suggested that due to the type of story I wanted to pursue, we invite Liz Warren, who had a Greek myth background. He could have steered me away to a different story I wanted to work on. Instead, he recognized that he could focus on the techniques while also modestly stepping aside when others could guide in different areas. I was allowed to dream the types of dreams I wanted at the moment.
Freedom to Stop
Ideally the mentoree initiates as well as stops the mentoring. This idea could apply to individual sessions and to the relationship itself. A true mentorship will last the ages, even if little contact is made. As for Sexton, I update her on my storytelling through Christmas letters and visit whenever I travel to Wisconsin to see family. Don and I still email and call each other. We strive to connect whenever we are at the same storytelling conferences or festivals.
I no longer choose to walk the storyteller path alone.
Until we tell again,
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
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