Thursday, May 07, 2009


Cousin Trudy wrote from Calgary to tell me about her latest passion—a virtual farm on Facebook. ”I have crops, livestock, orchards and buddies and daily responsibilities to keep it all running smoothly. No manure and I let the livestock run amok all over the section. Well until yesterday when I painstakingly laid down a white rail fence perimeter including the barn and then clicked each cow, pig, donkey and horse into the pen. They seemed
confused and some walked right out through the fence in a phantom-like manner.
Checking the farm this morning (like any good farmer would) it was pleasing
to see that all of them were in the pen except for one pig and maybe I missed him in the first place.”
The moment I read that email I loved the idea. A virtual farm! How interesting is that? Then, the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I became. There’s really no accounting for the things that interest us. I sat back, pondered that escaped pig, contemplated the anticipated chore of rounding him up on the screen, read again about the farm and asked myself, ”Why would anybody spend valuable time doing that?” A reasonable question I’d say, but then, look who’s asking!
I may not be spending much time rounding up virtual livestock for fun, but I do have to admit that I too have a bit of a passion problem. Storytelling has been consuming quite a few hours I never intended to give it. Take, for example, the current story, a work in progress, a cluttered little collection of ideas that will ultimately have to be sorted, measured and snapped together like Lego blocks. I started thinking about it in September. It’s due for a telling in June. I know it has already had far more attention than it deserves, so why is the call to tinker with it so compelling?
Trudy says, “We never know what, who, why, when we will discover a passion.” I would add to that,”we never know in advance just how much time it will actually take.” It’s a good thing too, or we might never start anything that has the unlikely potential to thrill us. Take the dragon story, for example, a story on a topic that never interested me much—dragons. I wouldn’t be telling a dragon story if I had not signed up for the June story café (the theme for that café is Here Be Dragons.) I wouldn’t have signed up for June if the story café did not usually conflict with choir practice (choir is probably also a passion, but in a pinch it can be justified as a service performed for the betterment of the congregation.) We are past the choir practice season by June. Dragons it had to be, so I embraced the Internet in a quest for dragons.
I found plenty of dragon stories, but none interested me much until I came upon a legend, the legend of the dragon boat. The story concerns a river suicide and a failed rescue by fishermen. That happened in 300 B.C. But it did connect to my current life.
If you stand in our driveway on warm summer nights—cold ones too—you can hear the throbbing drum beats that synchronize the strokes of the dragon boat paddlers. These are the racing enthusiasts who ply the river half a block away. Legend has it that The races and festivals of today are extensions of the ceremonies that commemorated the failed rescue.
Once I got to thinking about connections, one thing began to lead to another. Breast cancer survivors often race in dragon boat festivals. Before long I was reading the history of breast cancer treatment and searching libraries for references to a phenomenon I once read about in a novel—surgery races involving really fast surgeons. (It happened in the era before the advent of anesthetic, when surgeons brought along several hefty men to hold you down.) Speed was everything in those days. I didn’t find the information I was looking for, so I sent out a call for help to the wise storytellers who monitor the messages of the Healing Story Alliance. Nobody on the network responded with the information I was seeking, but some unnamed soul passed my request along to Liz Towill, a dragon boat racing breast cancer survivor in Vancouver. Liz didn’t have the information either, but she did direct my attention to a recent story about an almost-suicide-victim who was pulled from a river and then rehabilitated by a boatful of breast cancer survivors who were practicing for a race.
Now it’s May. Just one more month to settle this story into something that can be confined to fifteen minutes. It won’t be easy. Like all passions it will take a lot of time. The thing about stories I think I might tell is that they have a tendency to wander in and out of the fences, like virtual livestock on a fantasy farm. ”Why do we bother?” I ask Trudy.
Trudy gives no opinion on the storytelling issue, but she says a fantasy farm gets more respect than a Barbie collection. Then she adds that for the people who ask "why" in their blank expressions we have only to shoot back a defensive "why not!"

No comments: