I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed of myself. I just bought a new television for the first time in my life. To put this in proper context, I’m one of those guys who tell kids… “When I was your age, I had to walk all the way…across the living room to change the channel on the T.V.” Think rabbit ears, tin foil, and Howdy Doody.
So here it sits, our 43 inch 4k smart television. If I was smarter, I’d already know just how smart it is, but I’m still struggling to program it and take advantage of features still unknown to me. But I do know this. When the internet goes down or the power goes out, this T.V. is as dumb as a brick. With monsoon season here in New Mexico, we’ve been getting some powerful lightning storms. When the gap between a thunderbolt and the thunder get down to a couple of seconds we unplug the modem to avoid a power surge. We lost power for about an hour a few days ago. We couldn’t help thinking about the power being out for 9 months in some parts of Puerto Rico.
I also can’t help but think of a story that I first heard long ago by Métis storyteller Ron Evans.
A Peace Corps volunteer in Africa was in a village when satellite television first came to the village he was working in. At first, life almost came to a halt as people gathered wide-eyed and slack-jawed around the one screen. Then slowly, things began to return to normal. The volunteer was curious why people were not watching the tube as much. “We have our storyteller.” “I understand that,” said the volunteer “But your storyteller knows maybe a hundred stories, the television knows thousands.” With a gleam in his eye, the village man quickly responded. “That might be true, but the storyteller knows me!”
This really resonated with me, because in the early 1970’s I happened to be spending a few days in a small village on the Yukon River on the very day satellite T.V. arrived there. That day it was me who was wide-eyed and slack-jawed as I watched a documentary about the Kilcher Family Homestead in Homer Alaska. You may know of it if you are a fan of the Discovery Channel’s reality show where the Kilcher’s Alaska life is featured. But what I was watching, all those years ago, was a homemade documentary that the patriarch Yule Kilcher had made with footage of his life there in the 1940s. The reason I was watching in such astonishment is that the previous winter, I had been the caretaker for the homestead, while Yule was touring with the film in Europe. I knew that storyteller, and he knew me!
But beyond that amazing serendipity and synchronicity of this small world experience lies an important truth. It’s not uncommon after I’ve performed at a family-themed storytelling event for a parent or grandparent to approach me, tell me how wonderful the stories were and then ‘confess’ that they aren’t really ‘good’ storytellers themselves. When that happens, I tell them, you need to hear one more story. Then I tell them the story of the first television in the African village.
“Listen,” I say. “Yes, your kids enjoyed the stories today. But a month from now, a year from now, ten years from now, they will have completely forgotten them. But what they won’t forget is that you were with them once long ago, sitting side by side listening to stories. You have a great advantage over me as a storyteller and it doesn’t matter one bit whether your stories are polished or not. When you tell your stories, especially the stories of your life, your kids are going to remember them for the rest o their life. Why? Because, “the Storyteller, knows me!”
A few weeks ago in this column, I offered up The Endangered Stories Act to encourage folks to ask for and tell personal and family stories. ConsiderThe Storyteller Knows Me as further encouragement. Of course, I can already hear some of you kvetching that it’s just too hard to fight that battle and get the kids away from the television. A huge subject, I know. There is a way however of short-cutting the discussion. I’m not ashamed to suggest it.
Do you know where the fuse box is in your house? Maybe for some unexplained reason, there will be a very localized power outage in your neighborhood. Be prepared, with a candle, a blanket, a story, or a book, and ready to create another memory that will last a lifetime.
Now, will someone please explain to me what Motion Rate means on my smart television? I don’t have cable. Is that how long it takes me to get from the couch to the rabbit ears that I’m still using, to tune into the local news?