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Find Your Muse

Posted on Fri Jun 14th, 2024 @ 6:38 by Sarah Bright
Edited on on Fri Jun 14th, 2024 @ 6:41

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Library, Avalon Institute
Timeline: Thursday, December 17th, 6:30 am
2575 words - 5.2 OF Standard Post Measure

It was just another morning at the Avalon Institute as far as Sarah was concerned, yet she couldn’t help but feel a quickening of her steps as she approached the library. It was the same walk to work, at the same time, bright and early, just in case anyone needed access to the library before the start of the school day. It was more of a courtesy on her part than any requirement, but she’d long been an early riser by choice, so it wasn’t like she was putting herself in a rush or missing out on beauty sleep. As she rounded the final corner, however, she was faced with the reality that this was definitely not going to be just any other morning.

The hallway outside the library was full, with dozens of students milling about. Sarah lost count somewhere between forty and fifty.

“Whoa, okay. Here we go. Good morning everyone.” Sarah said, a bit dazedly as she thumbed through her key ring and unlocked the library. She pushed the doors open and stepped aside. “Alright! No pushing or shoving. Pick a seat, any seat. Disputes will be settled through dance-off only! Also, be sure to vote for your favorite story genre up front on the chalkboard! If you don’t see your favorite genre, write it in!” Sarah couldn’t remember having to yell in the library before, but with things completely chaotic even before unlocking the doors, there seemed to be no other recourse.

So there they all were, some forty-odd students mad dashing about the library at half-past six in the morning, with nearly a third of them still wearing their pajamas. What exactly was happening?

Miss Bright’s storytelling workshop for the Winter’s Crest Festival, of course.

There was no plan, objective or goal Sarah could think of to help get them through the next ninety minutes with the library still functionally intact, and in her mind, Head Teacher Cavendish was to blame.

‘Host a workshop!’ Claire had presented the off-hand idea a few weeks prior. ‘Get to know the students better.’ The latter had clearly been more of a suggestion than anything, but the librarian could still sense a directive in those words. There had been no follow up. Sarah had taken her time mulling the idea over, and with everything else that had happened, serious consideration and commitment had largely fallen by the wayside. It wasn’t until the final schedule was ready for approval that Sarah found herself hastily scribbling in her workshop idea into one of the last open timeslots—early Thursday morning, the day before the festival. There was an obvious reason why no other teacher had picked that slot, aside from the fact that they’d all gotten better ones. It was the day before the festival… the time to relax after a long week of planning, or the time to step up and clutch after a week of slacking off. Either way, she’d fully expected everyone to be otherwise occupied at this pre-dawn hour.

The official sign-up sheet had only held eight names, and erring on unreasonable optimism she’d prepped for three times that the night before. That accommodated only half of today’s turnout. So why was the library now full? Sarah was under no illusions that it was because the students liked her. Indeed, more than a few in present attendance had gleefully hurled spaghetti and meatballs at her only a few days before. The fact that they had the nerve to show their faces here now, combined with so many kids still wearing their pajamas, clued the librarian in to the real reason for the large turnout—they weren’t here to learn about storytelling, they were here to witness a dumpster fire. And after the disaster unfolded and ran its course in the workshop’s opening minutes, those in their pajamas would surely be the first to dip out and catch some more Z’s.

The next ten minutes of the ninety minute workshop were for the most part wasted on futile efforts to restore order. Thankfully no other adult spectators were present to witness her attempts at herding cats. Three dance-offs ensued, two to decide who would get to use the pair of computers, and a third over who would wield her calligraphy pens. A bunch of stuff got knocked over in the process, and Sarah quickly realized she probably shouldn’t have joked about that, as the students were, for the most part, following her instructions.

Though her workshop mostly centered on written physical media, Sarah had set up a variety of stations to cover as many forms of storytelling as she seemed able to accommodate. Aside from the computers she had electric and manual typewriters set on the tables, along with every kind of writing utensil and paper a kid in this day and age could imagine… her calligraphy set, plus colored pens, vintage fountain pens, even an old-school quill pen with ink well and faux parchment paper. She was going to have to watch that station like a hawk. Sarah was also prepared to bring in a braille slate and stylus, just in case one of the school’s vision-impaired students wished to participate.

The workshop was not entirely focused on written storytelling though. There were also a handful of art-oriented stations with colored pencils, markers and blank paneled comic paper. Crayons had seemed too juvenile for this crowd so she hadn’t borrowed any from Rebecca. And paint? In the library? Forget about it. There were also a few stations in the quieter corners of the library where students could sit around a tape recorder and microphone, and practice oral storytelling, either alone or in groups.

Many of the students had brought their own projects from other workshops with them, and had thankfully grouped up and found their preferred niches without much fuss. Sarah had been expecting this, but not the degree in which it played out, and for that she considered herself very lucky.

“I’m going to start by lecturing you on stuff you probably already know, but don’t worry. I’ll likely forget most of what I planned to say after the first few minutes, so please bear with me. This won’t take long.” There was no laughter, it was too early for that, and Sarah wasn’t really joking. This was probably going to be just like what some of the students were hoping it would be.

Her voice had boomed for the first few words, until she realized that the library had grown quiet. Too quiet. An awkward pause hung in the air for a moment as Sarah felt very self-conscious about where she was and what she was doing. There was no way they were this interested in what she had to say… it had to be a trap. She scrunched her toes in her sneakers, nervously awaiting the lunchboxes that were sure to come out and herald yet another food fight. But that didn’t happen. At least not yet.

“As you can see up on the chalkboard here and all around you, stories come in every shape and form.” She began her lecture in a much more composed voice. “And as you can also see, most are just as popular as any other.” She continued in a lower voice, finding the right volume and tone as she gestured to the chalkboard, where many of the genres enjoyed a near-equal distribution of votes. Romance was the winner, with the word written in flowery script and flanked by hearts. Action & Adventure came in at a near tie, with only two less votes. She’d written that with crossed swords as the capital As in both words. Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Drama were also close runners-up, with embellishments and pictograms drawn in with each. Drama having so many votes surprised her, as she’d always thought of it as a more mature genre with subtle themes. She’d included the classic Greek theater masks next to that genre, and of course one of the theater kids had erased the smiling one, adding it back in next to where he’d chalked in a separate entry for comedy. There were several other genres that students had written in, of course. Mystery, True Crime, Horror and Non-Fiction stories, to name a few. A couple of students had even voted for News stories, as well as poetry. She’d purposely left a few out, just to see what they’d come up with.

“None of these genres are new, they can be found in stories thousands of years old. Even science fiction could be far older than modern science would have us believe. Now with that said, some writers will argue that every story has already been told. Just as some musicians will say that every song has already been written. Maybe that’s true. But I can guarantee each of you that there’s a story out there that hasn’t been written by you, shaped by your own thoughts, experiences, and repertoire, and refined by your reservoir of stories told by others. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to tell a good story, and you don’t always have to be smarter than all the characters in your story either. You just have to draw from your well, spill out what you pull up, let it take shape, and keep wiping away the messy bits until you like what you see. That’s it.” Sarah paused for a moment, glancing around to see of anyone was still listening. Most were, though many appeared to be paying her only half a mind. Some had their faces scrunched in consternation as they got to work. Which was fine. She was not so vain to think that she had to be everyone’s muse. If some of the kids had already brought theirs with them, all the better.

“Now, I’m not going to stand up here and show how to tell a story. But they can.” She said, waving her hand with a flourish at the works all around them. “And I’m not going to show you what stories to tell, either, because you’ve already done that for me.” She added with a small smile as her hand ended its flourishing and pointed at the chalkboard where the students had cast their votes.

“What I can help show you, is what kind of storyteller you’d like to be. But first, consider this, who do you want to read, see or hear your story? Obviously not every storyteller speaks to everyone. First, think about the stories that speak to you.” She said, holding up a manga comic book that one student special ordered themselves and no one else seemed to read.

“Then, think about stories that speak to your friends.” She said, showing off one of the Goosebumps horror books that many of the kids read religiously, but she’d yet to see an adult borrow.

“And finally, if you dare, think about stories that speak to the ages.” She said with feigned gravitas, wielding a thick, collected works of Shakespeare.

“Start small for now. Tell a story you, or your best friend would like to hear. You’ve got plenty of time to try and outdo this guy later.” She said, setting the book down with a loud thump.

“Finally, before I forget, I mentioned showing you what kind of storyteller you’d like to be. Ignore the easy clichés, like the fast and furious page turner, or the emotional roller coaster, or the enigmatic head scratcher. Forget being just that. Stories, and their tellers don’t always fit into convenient groupings, like the cafeteria lunch table dynamics you see in school shows and movies. Are your lunch table groupings like that? Usually not. Try to recognize that your style might be more complex, and that there is no best way to tell one kind of story…” Sarah trailed off, clearly reaching the point where she was starting to forget what she’d planned to say, and was now in danger of having to wing it.

“You all know the storyteller that works best keeping things clear and simple, but that’s okay. You’re with them every step of the way, and they’ve left you plenty of space between the lines so that you can easily put yourself into their story.

“Conversely, you’ve all got a storyteller that feels just the opposite. They weave a tale so complex and challenging that sometimes you feel bogged down, like a treasure seeker hacking their way through a dense jungle. And that’s okay too. You’re left just enough breadcrumbs to find your way to their lost city of gold, and when you do get there, it’ll feel like you’ve done it all on your own.” Sarah nodded, and pointed to some of the others who were nodding too, as if to say ‘amirite?’

“Maybe you’re the storyteller that goes all-in on the little stuff… the way a character talks, the places they frequent, how they spend their free time. You’ve done your research, and got us fooled into believing you’ve actually been there, have done those things. That you have fifty different hats in your closet, and that surely you were born wearing each one. But which one really? Or maybe you wear only one hat, but you wear it really well. Enough so that you can find a way to wear it with everything. And that's fine with us too."

Sarah nearly threw up her hands at that, clearly nearing the end of her line of BS. Thankfully it looked more like a dismissive shrug.

“Or, you may find that despite your best efforts and intentions, everything story you tell ends up a hot mess. That’s ok too. People will watch anything burn down, even if they feel they ought to look away. And if you’re lucky, you might even get them to pay for the privilege.” Sarah favored many of the kids with a knowing smile after that, especially the ones still in the PJs.

“Moral of story? Be any kind of storyteller you want. Whatever gets the story told. Well, almost any kind.” Sarah scrunched her nose, and tapped at her lip thoughtfully as she searched for an example of what not to do. “Maybe not the kind that can’t go a chapter without reminding you what kind of shoes their character wears. Don’t do that.” She warned between pursed lips.

“Anyway, that’s it. I forgot the rest. You can all work on your stories now. There will be a test after.” Sarah muttered, very much wanting to sit at her desk and bang her head against it until tomorrow came.

A couple of kids clapped. Some smiled and looked thoughtful. Others rolled their eyes and got to work. A few smirked toward their friends. One voiced a single word aloud. “YAWN.” The girl said with dramatic exasperation.

“You and me, in the parking lot, after school.” Sarah pointed in the general direction of the smart-ass, not bothering to look their way.

“OOOoooOOOO.” A few kids predictably chanted in instigatory tones, before they too lowered their heads and got to work.


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