Wednesday, August 31, 2011

X-tellers, assemble!

(I'm so gonna get kicked around by the geeks for that title.)*

It really is like joining the X-men, in more ways than one. There is this huge, amazing setting that is the ETSU campus, this closed world of students and sciences and creativity. Then, there are our professors, gathering us from all the corners of the USA (or, in my case, the world), to help us nurture and develop the skills we already have, and teach us new tricks of the trade. We are all gifted in one way or another; we all come from very different backgrounds, religious, ethnic, family, language, age, all those details that make the handful of storytelling students colorful and unique. And our gifts are all different too; the stories, the telling styles, the tale of how we got here and the plans of where we are going, they are all different and fascinating. And together, we make a great team, and we have a mission: keeping storytelling alive and sharing it with the rest of the world. Even if many people do not understand why we are doing this at all.
With that said: first week of classes, and I am having the time of my life. It is not always easy, being an international student in America; many times locas students are just not entirely sure what to do with us, or how to talk to us, and it gets all kinds of awkward, or even lonely. Adjusting to a new culture and a new place, far away from everything and everyone you know is not easy, and even when you do, not everyone will be nice to you. You have to keep trying to find those groups, cliques, communities that just accept you as you are.
Good thing I came here to study storytelling.
Storytellers are a wonderful bunch of people. They are open-minded, kind, fun, and completely kick down the cultural boundaries. As I said, we have a passion in common, and that washes the initial awkwardness away. When I first walked into class, I was greeted with smiles and questions and stories, and I just felt like I belonged. No matter how strange and faraway this land is across the sea, storytellers are storytellers everywhere you go, and they will be there at the end of your journey to catch you.
Romantic images aside, I really do like my classmates. They are smart and fun, and as different from each other as you can possibly be, and as far I can tell now, we work perfectly together. I haven't felt this anticipation about going to class since... um. Sophomore year in college? I think I took some awesome course back then. Yep.
Anyhow. I am here, they are here, we are going to go through these two semesters together, and I am looking forward to it!
X-tellers, assemble!



*Just so you know, I could have gotten my references straight if I wanted to.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back in Jonesborough

I have worked two years for this. Two. Years.
Actually, it might have been three.

After I returned to Hungary from my one-year trip that really, truly transformed me into a storyteller, everything I did with school and work was for making sure that I would come back here, sooner or later. Finished my degree in Archeology, graduated, applied for the Fulbright, worked my way through mountains of paperwork, found work to make money, practiced my storytelling and performed all over the place, got a job, got the Fulbright, more paperwork, administration, visa, and finally, here I am.
Of course it would not have happened without the help of a lot of amazing people who helped me thorugh all this work, and I will not thank all of them here because I don't want to sound like I am at the Oscars. They know who they are and they know how grateful I am.
Long story short: I have been accepted to the Storytelling Master's program at East Tennesse State University. More paperwork, traveling, moving in, jetlag, more jetlag, campus maps, orientations, I spent five days on the Johnson City campus and I was itching to finally break free. School is amazing, and ETSU is the best place to be; but I knew one that is even better.
On the Friday of my first week, I couldn't bear it anymore: I called for a cab (yeah, no wheels, European exchange student here) and headed straight to Jonesborough.
The driver was explaining to me she was not entirely sure where the "storytelling center" is; but when we turned the corner and I saw the Visitor's Center, I told her she could drop me off right there.
It was early afternoon; I arrived just in time for the Teller-In-Residence performance. It all felt suddenly real; three years just melted away as memories, smells, feelings came rushing back. I crossed the parking lot where the market used to be; only a few short weeks, and a huge tent will be standing there, a tent I must have shown to half the world on a photo to illustrate what a storytelling festival really is. I practically ran down the little alley between the parking lot and the main street; still cool, green, crowded with trinkets, smells of warm grass in the sun.
And then I burst into the light on the other side of the alley, and I was back in Jonesborough.
...
It felt like returning to Narnia. I can't really describe it any better than that. All the details I loved were still the same; the same shops, the same colors, the same smells. I must have looked like some crazy person, walking down the street with my eyes welling up and grinning like the Cheshire cat. My own personal little fairy tale world from three years ago was still the same. And I was back.
Arrived to the Storytelling Center just in time to say hi to everyone, pick up my ticket, and find a place in the auditorium. Then, I just sat, and let the memories wash over me.
The ISC still smells the same. When I used to work there, it had that really unique scent that probably came from some potpourri they sell at the gift shop; one whiff of the air inside was enough to take me back to the storytelling mood and the storytelling days. I sat in my seat and listened to the people murmuring around me and looked at the empty stage and remembered the evening when I was sitting up there telling Hungarain stories, feeling like the queen of the world.
And then the day's queen of the world appeared.
Dolores Hydock has been my instant favorite the moment I first heard her tell at the National Storytelling Festival; then, I met her again while I was an intern at the ISC; and now here she was in her own graceful, smiling self, and she noticed me across the room, and recognized me, and proceeded to introducing me to the audience which made me look not unlike a tomato with a sunburn and red hair, and then she hugged me. It was so good to see her again! She will be performing my two favorite stories at the Festival and I am going to be there to listen and if I have to break a leg and an arm to be there so be it.
Her performance of the day was a wonderful mixture of the life stories of a Southern lady and the story of how she collected those stories. I couldn't say which was more fascinating and more touching. All her words just in place, her face, posture and accent changing as she slipped in and out of character; her own humor and wit combined with those of the lady she was telling us about. The tales were full of references to American culture and people I don't know about; and still, even for me, the once-upon-a-time Southern lady turned into someone loveable and real.
After the performance and talking some more to the ISC staff and Jimmy Neil, I took a walk in Jonesborough. I wandered in and our of shops and up and down streets; and when I finally grew hungry, I went to the Cranberry Thistle.
Right after the ISC, the Thistle means the heart of Jonesborough to me. I used to have breakfast there, and sometimes lunch or an afternoon piece of delicious cake. I wandered in, and I felt right at home; there were no other guests, just the lovely ladies of the Thistle, so I got to sit wherever I wanted, got a big glass of lemonade, and a sandwich that could have fed an army for a week. I just sat there, listened to music, munched on my lunch, and felt completely happy.
I am back on campus now. This year will be mine, all mine, and I am going to enjoy it to the last second before they kick me out of the country. I will be in, around and all over Jonesborough; I am going to be there at ever storytelling event I can possibly reach in some way; I am going to contradance all my shoes to pieces, and I will learn as much about storytelling as I can get. I am going to drink deep from the well that is Jonesborough. And then I will be on my way again, just to beeline around and wonder back here again from time to time.
Every once in a while, one needs to return to Narnia.

(And thank God we have no mean old lion to tell us we are all grown up and cannot come back anymore! Take that, Aslan. Duh.)