WHEN YOU’RE THE messenger bearing another person’s story, you perform a sacred act. It begins, of course, with listening. And listening some more, with heart wide open.
Then comes the hard part. Holding all of this input together in your mind’s mixing bowl, you shape it into a round loaf of bread, with beginning, a middle and an end that circles back around.
The most nourishing part of the storytelling task: revealing, with grace, the universal truth of this person’s experience.
Alton Takiyama-Chung, the man you may have seen in a bow-and-arrow stance on the posters for the 2017 Forest Storytelling Festival in Port Angeles, is one powerful dude. He’s a storyteller, one who has walked across community lines to listen, study and reflect.
A Japanese-Korean-American who grew up in Hawaii, he tells tales from Asia, from the Hawaiian Islands — and from the Okinawan community, into which he was invited.
He was an outsider, mind you, yet he proved himself trustworthy. He gave himself over to learning about this community, devoting a year to gathering, researching and vetting the stories. He seeks the whole picture, while remaining devoted to details.
“I had an Okinawan woman record for me how to say the words … Here I am, telling the stories to a bunch of Okinawan people. I have to get their names exactly right,” Takiyama-Chung told me.
“You have to do your due diligence, doing the interviews, going the extra mile.
“You’re accepting a very precious, fragile gift,” he said.
“Make sure you are presenting it with a good heart.”
Examine yourself too, he said. Ask: “What is it that resonates with you that makes you want to tell the story?”
On the North Olympic Peninsula, we live with people from a variety of cultures. Hearing one another’s stories, tuning in to the differences and commonalities, promotes our understanding of our neighbors. When I slow down — calm down — enough to listen to another human being’s story, I can feel the gaps between us disappear.
Three words atop Takiyama-Chung’s website sum this up: Healing through story.
Fortunately for us, this man is one of five featured storytellers in Port Angeles for the festival this Friday through Sunday. In Peninsula College’s Little Theater, he’ll give performances plus a workshop Saturday: “Crossing Cultural Borders: Collecting and Telling Stories from Another Culture” will start at 9 a.m. and run around 75 minutes.
Takiyama-Chung, along with the rest of the featured performers and opening tellers, will step up to practice his art for us at 7 p.m. Friday, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday; admission to festival concerts and workshops ranges from $10 to $20. All kinds of information can be found at www.ClallamStory People.org.
But hold on — we also have two free events available to us.
Thursday at 12:35 p.m., the Story People of Clallam County, the nonprofit organization presenting the fest, will do a Studium Generale performance for the public; like the festival, that will be in the Little Theater at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd.
Sunday brings the annual free concert of inspirational stories. I’ve been a number of times, and came away with a full and grateful heart — from hearing the performers and from chatting with the person sitting next to me in the Little Theater. All five featured tellers, the stars of the festival, step up on Sunday, starting at 10 a.m.
This is the 23rd annual Forest Storytelling Festival, an event that ushers us toward the long winter ahead. May it be a winter in which we warm one another by telling and listening to stories, from inside and outside our life experience.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 1.
Reach her at [email protected]