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The Storyteller as a Shaman Questionnaire

from Storytell Listserv - answers by Papa Joe


Date: Thursday, May 30, 1996 10:03 AM

> What is/was your personal motivation to become a storyteller? Few storytellers make a lot of money, why do you keep at it?

I was never motivated to become a storyteller. I wanted to be a healer. Felt I had the tools to do the job. Tried to follow society's path for certification as a therapist. It didn't take long to realize I could not work with 'unhealthy' populations full time without becoming unhealthy myself. So I turned towards education in hopes of reducing the number of unhealthy adults by increasing the communication tools available to children. I believe the better provided a child is, the healthier an adult they will become. But as soon as I started working on it, I start started to get calls that pretty much went like this:

"Are you the storyteller, Papa Joe?" Well, that's what the children call me.

"Will you come tell stories at our school (library, fair, etc.)? We'll pay..."

I tried to quit. Every summer for four years. But how do you tell someone that you refuse to share the stories with them. Plus, people began giving me the things I needed and couldn't afford. So finally I gave up trying to quit and accepted storytelling as my calling. Now I know that I'm a healer (more lower down).

>How old were you, or what stage of life were you in when you began storytelling? Personal use of storytelling? Professionally storytelling?

>Did you have a previous career or do you have a "day job?"

My first memories of my telling stories begin around 8 or 9. It's rather hard to date it. I know I slept in the big bed in the middle room with my little brother, David. He was about 3. He wiggled around a lot before he went to sleep. That kept me awake, so I made up tales to get him settled. My family says I always told stories from the time I started talking. I don't remember that and I think they have a vested interest in my current status, so take it with a grain of salt (or maybe an ounce).

I was 28 when I told my first story and received a check for my troubles. I've averaged 350 programs a year since.

I was raised in the construction field. Started working on little jobs as soon as I could hold a shovel. We were very poor by societies standards. I didn't know that then. My parents were very good at using the resources available including sending of teams of their 10 children to shovel snow, cut grass, etc. We always had good food, clean clothes, and time to play. At 12 I started working for real. Caretaking at grave yards and roofing mostly. By 14 we weren't poor any longer and my parents paid me for my labor. When I had time, I supplemented my income by hiring out to local farms.

At 17 I joined the Army as a Chapel Activities Specialist. Started my education in counselling and began travelling on the side. At 22, I travelled more and worked less. At 24 I was a father and did what I had to to support my family, including working in a warehouse for a couple of years. At 27 I went back to school and...

> When you are drawn to a particular story, do you ponder on why you are drawn to it?

Not really. The story tells me the whys after it's mastered. Of the thirty odd stories that I tell regularly, I can see the personal connections. It's a wonderful feeling when my awareness reaches the level of understanding why I was drawn to it.

> How do you imagine your story when preparing it for telling?

I don't prepare stories for telling. I have close to 50 schools waiting for me to bring green stories for polishing. In the telling the story evolves.

> How do you prepare a story - i.e. researching, writing, taping, practicing?

Sometimes I research cultures. Hearing and reading their stories is part of the research. I rarely practice stories. And I only write them down when I've told them so often they flow into the computer. I do practice the wording of riddles, rhymes, and things like that.

> How do you handle distractions when you are working?

I don't have distractions. It's more input.

> Are you ever drawn toward fairytales/folktales, tales of spirits/spiritual, the sun/moon/stars, elements/environment, animals/birds/plants/stones, etc.?

I'm a folkteller. I'm always drawn to these types.

> Tales from particular cultures? Why? Are they cultures from your known heritage?

Yes. I don't know how to answer this one. Maybe I feel linked. I grew up on Joseph Jacob's Tales. The largest group of my tales are from my childhood. My family is historically ethnically Acadian, but we were raised U.S. American. We were not raised with those stories. I love them, but only tell one.

> Do you have a special "cubby hole" in your house, bedroom, or office for reading or thinking? A favorite spot out-of-doors?

No one place. Maybe that's why I travel. There are so many places in this world that speak to me.

> Do you have any type of a personal routine that you go through when preparing mentally for a telling? Is there any particular attention you give to the day before? Evening before? Morning or day of?

No. None at all. I tell almost every day. So it is my personal routine.

> Do you have a "style" of dressing?

Yes. My clothing are all gifts. People buy or make things that they think I should have/wear. I accept their vision. Papa Joe is their storyteller.

> Do you use some kind of prop regularly, like a talking/story stick, a "good luck" piece or talisman, puppets, masks, etc.?


> Do you ever use any type of a musical instrument: stringed, wind, drum, rattle, rainstick, thumb piano, etc.?

I fill in time playing the tenor recorder. Not during shows, but sometimes before and/or after them.

> Do you experience any sense of "shyness" when not telling, possibly before or after telling?

I don't think I do much anymore. I become Papa Joe when I'm in 'public'. He's not shy. But coming back to being me after being Papa Joe is not always comfortable. There are physical problems. Body waking up. Needing to use a bathroom. Headaches. I try not to eat as Papa Joe. His stomach doesn't seem to digest food.

> What are you like-what goes through you head-just before you tell?

Before I tell, I am talking to the audience, trying to find out who they are and what they want.

> Do you enjoy people watching? Where is your favorite or most memorable spot for people watching?

When there are interesting people, I watch.

> Have you other creative interests outside of storytelling?


> Have you ever had the experience of "loosing track" of the time while engaged in creative endeavors?


> Do you have any personal habits or practices, such as a physical activity or some sort of exercises, quiet time or meditation? Do you think this has any affect on the way you tell? How?

I do both. Yes. Helps me see connections.

> Have you ever had sudden "inspired" thoughts, or a gut feeling about a story? An audience of listeners?

Often, to all.

> What role does your community's needs or social issues play in your life as a storyteller?

I tell the stories I believe the audience needs in a way they can hear. What they do with it is their business.

> Do you think/feel that storytelling can bring a sense of balance to one's life? How? To a community?

Thinking and communicating, that's what stories inspire. That's what brings a sense of balance to one's life. A community is just a larger body.

> The shaman has often been described as the "wounded healer." Other tellers have spoken of various reasons of being drawn to storytelling. Jackie Torrance speaks of overcoming a lisp she had as a child; Bobby Norfolk tells of having stuttered. On this list over the months I have read of others: having had an illness, of having been sickly as children; of being/feeling isolated-either by geographic location, by lack of sibling or peers, by family dynamics or some emotional turmoil. Have you had any such experiences?

I do not think this relevant. We all have wounds. I do believe our life choices are made to add growth (assuming we are following a path instead of being pushed down it).

> Have you worked on or let go of any fears, self-imposed limitations or

past negative expectations since becoming a storyteller.

Have, Am, Will continue to.

> Have you had experiences as a storyteller in some sort of "healing setting." Telling at a hospital, for a social agency, a prison, etc.


> Have you received feedback from someone in the audience, parent or educator, that has told you how effective or healing one of you stories were?

Many. Mostly as a vehicle of communication. It seems to me that the problems people have are less about behaviors than expression. I often say: Secrets are dangerous. An example might be: A child is molested. If they tell about the incidence right away and there is no sigma attached to them, for them the problem is over for that incidence. The longer the story is suppressed, the more problems the child has. I think the feelings of guilt melt when exposed. Storytelling inspires such expressions.

With the undisciplined, storytelling helps them learn control. The immediate feedback of an audience is great for learning acceptable behaviors. In my shows, everyone has opportunities to be the storyteller in a safe and comfortable way. Once they feel the rewards, they want more.

> I know this is A LOT!!! Hopefully, all will find it interesting! THANK YOU!!!

Yes. Yes. You're welcome.


Pax & Amicitia,

Papa Joe

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