Friday, January 6, 2017

The story teller's story: Lorna MacDonald Czarnota

Today’s suggested topic in the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is to spotlight a person whom I admire or has helped me in my life. I am fortunate to have so many role models for my writing, my art, and for so much more. Today, I have chosen to spotlight Lorna MacDonald Czarnota. She is a storyteller, a writer, a singer, and a friend. She has given me so much support and so much encouragement, and I am very grateful to have Lorna in my world.

I spoke with Lorna today and asked her how she became a story teller. She told me that her road to storytelling was filled with twists and turns. Before she became a storyteller, she was fascinated by all things medieval and was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The Society is an organization that is devoted to studying and recreating medieval European history before the seventeenth century.

This is Lorna’s road to storytelling:

I was writing a lot of stories in the folktale and the fairy tale genre. You could call them fantasy with a folk tale and a fairy tale twist. I had written a lot of stories that addressed different issues that specific people faced. Their names and faces were disguised as character. I was sending the stories to a lot of publishers and was getting my fair share of rejections. I was very frustrated. In fact, I still haven’t published these stories.

On the day that I went to a medieval feast with the Society for Creative Anachronisms, I got a new rejection. I had a conversation with a nice young man. I told him that I was disappointed that I got rejected. He said, “Have you ever thought of telling the stories?”

It was 1985, ten years after the start of the storytelling movement in the United States. I had not heard anything of it. He said that story telling was important in the middle ages. There was the power of the spoken word. Most people could not read and were not allowed to be educated. Most were peasantry.

He recommended that I join a group called Spin a Story Tellers (a Western New York storytelling guild). I had never heard of them. That’s when I joined. In those early meetings, which were about courting new people, we were practicing our stories and honing our crafts. I was still working as an interior designer then. After my divorce, I became a teacher. But the pull of Story was so strong for me. I had a conflict. I had to commit to something. In the 1990s, I made a commitment, and became a full-time story teller. I decided to focus on the art that I believed I was called to do. I couldn’t deny it. It was that strong for me. There are very few people who are completely committed to that art.

There is power in the spoken word. Celtic folklore had the bard. The bard could make or break the king.The bard had freedom to travel.  Bards played many roles. They were teachers, news reporters,  and keepers of culture. They could walk onto the battlefield, and people would be afraid to harm them because they thought that the bards' power was magical. Bards could incite wars or bring about peace.

There is a modern day bard, too. I do many things under the umbrella of storytelling. First, the story has to be entertaining or no one will listen. Our work is important, as is the responsibility that goes with it. As a teacher, I had used stories for educational purposes and for behavior modification in middle schools and in classrooms for children with special needs. I write on the board: “I am Mrs. Czarnota, and I am a storyteller.” In 1995, when my niece ran away from home, I got into healing storytelling.

I got to a runaway shelter to tell stories for a lot of reasons. It gives the kids a moment of peace in their troubled worlds. I am always assessing what they need. They may need a story that shakes them up a bit and makes them think. They learn about issues through the characters and the characters’ choices. If I am in a program that is longer than a single visit, I give the kids a voice. They need to have their voices heard. At a girls’ transitional home, the goal was that I build each week on a curriculum for them to develop their stories. At the end, they do a presentation. Often, it is in the guise of artwork. A lot of kids can tell about their artwork. They end up by telling me about themselves. There is a wall between the adult and the youth world. This helps to break down the wall and to put a door in it. A lot of times, adults want something in return. This is given freely. I am there, simply to offer them something, without requiring anything in return.

When I went to Hopevale, I was there as a resident storyteller. I was working with kids who were receiving treatment for trauma. (Hopevale was a home for troubled teenagers in Hamburg, New York, that closed in 2010.)

I have used story for community building in the face of disaster. I haven’t done as much of it as I would like. I try to get my foot in the door to help. I wish that everyone could be healed and happy. I was brought in after the shootings at Virginia Tech (in 2007, twenty-three year old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, before taking his own life).  How does this help young children? We talked about the magic fish pond and about the creation of our world. That world can be a microcosm. It is the world that you live in and not always the world at large. We are building a world and the world is destroyed. We rise above that to create the world that we would like to see. What would you like to put into the world that you want to create? It all comes about by story.

As a storyteller, I realize the responsibility of my work and my actions. I realize that I lead by example, and that I have to be in a place between worlds to make that happen. I can’t choose sides, when I would like to. That is not my job. My job is to lead people through their lives. I realized that I never live without my work. Everything I see and do is potentially a story. That is true of everybody. We are living stories. That has helped me through difficult times that I’ve experienced on a personal level. I can take the experience and see the story structure and relate that to the stories that I know. 


Lorna MacDonald Czarnota said...

Thank you for the wonderful article Alice. You are a dear.

Nita. Beshear said...

Thank you for introducing us to Lorna, the Storyteller. It sounds like you are lucky to have her as a mentor. Every writer should be so lucky.

Alana said...

The ex-SO of a cousin in Florida, who is a storyteller and also a published children's author, will love this. I loved it, too. Now, if only there could be a modern day bard who could stand up against The Man of Orange. We are going to need storytellers more than ever. Sharing this story.

Karima Amin said...

Good job, Alice. I am blessed to know both you and Lorna. As a storyteller myself, I agree with Lorna. Stories do have tremendous power to teach and to heal.