DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Special effects of the imagination

FALL MEANS HIGH time for change. Me, I could use a change in my electronic habits. May I order a digital detox weekend?

This weekend, turns out, that very thing could fall into place. The Forest Storytelling Festival from Friday through Sunday at Peninsula College in Port Angeles promises fun without phones.

Now, I have nothing against devices, the internet, whatever your high-tech jam. Truth be told: When I’m away from it all, cravings niggle at me for a while.

Then, like stepping from a dim room into sunlight, I cross over. Formidable storytellers such as Decee Cornish, Rachel Muller and Minton Sparks — all featured at the festival — take me by the hand.

Sparks, a Tennessean who sings in places such as Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, is on the rowdy side of the table.

A former high school basketball player, she tells stories about what goes on at the back of the bus on trips to away games.

There’s also one about her mama, a gas-station operator who employed, shall we say, her attributes to charm the customers.

Up there on stage as she’ll be this weekend, Sparks has the power to round us up for a ride that blows everybody’s hair back. You know that feeling when the roller coaster starts moving? Breathe in, breathe out — and you’re away, to a place far beyond anything Google-Mapped.

Let’s look next to Cornish, an African American, a Texan and a military veteran who tells stories for children, teenagers and adults.

“I work with the best special effects system in the world: the imagination,” he said. People come to storytelling events ready to have a good time; the festival “is one of the few events where kids and their parents can sit side by side and laugh at the same things — if you do your story right.”

For the trip here, his first to Port Angeles, he’ll have 50 or 60 tales prepared.

“I’m probably going to tell some of my family stories,” including one involving John F. Kennedy. For the rest of his set, he’ll do on-site research. Upon arrival Cornish will walk around, talk to people and get a feel for what they like.

Sparks, also making her North Olympic Peninsula debut, likewise plans on bringing some kinfolk along.

“There’s a deep commonality about family stories,” she said, “because we all grew up in some sort of family configuration. We all had colorful characters somewhere in our families.”

Muller, a novelist as well as a storyteller, said her favorite pieces are born on historical research — and have some magic realism woven in there.

“They’re historical wonder tales, set on the coast of British Columbia,” she promised.

That coast isn’t so different from the stretch west of Port Angeles, added Muller, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

She too thinks of the Forest Storytelling Festival as a vacation from all things digital.

Muller, who’s been performing for about eight years now, is part of a storytelling group in Nanaimo where overflow crowds have been known to show up.

“We occasionally have to turn people away,” she said.

“People are hungry for that connection, hungry to be in the moment, to be all together.”

For details about the Forest Storytelling Festival, including Sunday’s free Inspirational Stories Concert — highly recommended — see www.Clallam StoryPeople.org.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 7.

Reach her at [email protected]

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