The Importance of Story / The Monthly

What Was on My . . .


Jjulyuly marked the anniversary of What Was on . . . And what a year it has been! Contemplating and reveling in the creative life. Peaking into the worlds of some of Young Adult and Children’s Literature’s best and brightest. Connecting writers, illustrators, and readers from nearly 70 countries. Everywhere from Peru to Russia to Morocco to Hong Kong!

July also brought a crazy, odyssey of a summer. My daughter attended the incredible Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, and her only request of her father and me was that we stay on the same continent as her. This meant a month of nomadic existence, always remaining in North America.

Dying for the details? Read on, and all will be revealed, because here is What Was on My . . .

Itinerary: Las Vegas, where we went to meet and see the show of the wonderful and generous Shania Twain, who we know from Switzerland. (Our kids went to school together.) We got to do fun things like hang out in her Caesar’s Palace Green Room and Penthouse and meet her friends David Copperfield and Chloe Gosselin. And we also learned more about Shania’s work to help kids faced with the same challenging life-situations she grew up in. If you’re interested in learning more or finding out how you might help too, check out Shania Kids Can. Oh, and her show is fabulous and only lasts through December, so try and make it if you can.

Next stop: Michigan—Interlochen, The Cherry Hut, Mackinac Island, Birmigham, Henry Ford’s Deerfield, and Detroit (which, by the way, is getting a bad wrap. Yes, there is decay, but there is a plethora of fascinating architecture). Highlights were spending time with talented writer-friends, Jennifer Whistler and Tim Martin (who also excels in design) and getting to know another creative powerhouse, Michael Wilkinson (whose name you might recognize from the many films for which he has designed costumes—American Hustle (2013), Noah (2014), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), just to name three).

Next: Vancouver, for 36-hours packed full of museums, rainforests and nonstop culinary extravagance with artist and writer Pamela Livingston.

And, last but not least: Alaska, where we had the immense luck to see everything there is to see. Bears, bald eagles, sea lions, seals, moose, caribou, North America’s highest mountain, glaciers calving, salmon running, and most amazing of all, 13 humpback whales, hunting in a group. They call it bubble net fishing and it looks like this:

Sadly, not my picture. I was so busy making sure my daughter had all of her things for camp and her camera, I forgot to pack mine!

Most Flabbergasting Discovery of the Month: There is no—as in not a single—bookstore in Las Vegas. I know what you’re thinking. Duh. What did you expect? It’s Sin City. But wait! I’m not just talking about the Strip. I mean, there’s not a bookshop in the whole of Las Vegas. Not even in one of its endless shopping centers or malls off the Strip. But, since we desperately wanted to spend hours browsing in an English-language bookstore, and since we don’t have that chance in Switzerland, we took a taxi to—not the next town over—not even the second closest town—but to what looks to be the 5th closest. Because of the taxi fare there and back, my husband has taken to describing our pilgrimage as ‘the most expensive books ever purchased.’ But, it was worth it. Oh, it was worth it!

I-Phone Screen: Melanie Fishbane’s series on Embodying Character, where she interviews the actors of Anne & Gilbert, a musical adapted from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island, all toward the end of investigating the overlaps between acting and writing. A subject I find endlessly fascinating. For full disclosure, she also later interviewed me, since in a way I’m living proof of the overlap. Once upon a long time ago I acted, and now I’m dedicated to writing. If you’re interested, my interview is here.

Mind: The unending importance of Story.

It was July’s theme, put forward over and over by different voices. The first was David Copperfield, who says he always wanted his audience to feel, but that magic on its own only brings one emotion—the Ahhh! So he discovered intertwining magic and story, and by so doing succeeded in creating deeper, multilayered impressions to his performances. In Las Vegas, he just doesn’t make a vintage car appear out of nowhere—the Ahhh!—he tells the story of his father’s dream to own one. The yearning for a parent no longer here and the lasting message of chasing down your dreams creates the resonance David hopes for. There is connection between those who weren’t at first connected. And it’s all because of the enduring power of Story.

And then, there was Martin Itjen. In the days after the Klondike Gold Rush, when Skagway, Alaska’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 494, Martin helped put Skagway on the tourist route through the simple act of storytelling. Well, actually, through brazen and flagrant acts of storytelling. Repainting and calling his basic Ford bus the ‘Skagway Streetcar,’ when President Harding came for a visit. Chaining the ‘largest nugget of gold’ found in the gold rush (really a gold-painted boulder) to a tree and showing it off to Skagway tourists. Working his outlandish magic to tell of Skagway’s gangster-conman Soapy Smith. And it worked. Itjen’s vibrant stories have endured until today, and his tiny town now draws 750,000 tourists each year!

Next came me tripping across an article that came out 9 months ago about how Jackie Kennedy single-handedly shaped the Kennedy myth through drawing on the power of the Arthurian legend. (The Daily Beast 11.12.13) In an interview for Life Magazine a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, she quoted the title song of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, Camelot—‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot’—and then concluded, ‘There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.’ Without this link to an already resonant and emotionally powerful story, President Kennedy would have been mourned and remembered, but Jackie’s joining of his presidency with the story of Camelot added the multilayered emotion David Copperfield talks about. There is power in the storytelling and here it has soared above the less flattering disclosures about President Kennedy to create an enduring romantic myth.

But the most profound acts of storytelling I ran across on my travels were those of Canada’s Northwest First Nations. I grew up knowing their storytelling devices as totem poles. But I now prefer our docent’s description of them as story poles, created as ways to transmit history and legend and wisdom from generation to generation. What I love most is the reverence and honor the stories are given. They are, and were traditionally, considered part of a family’s wealth and so, only those within the family know the story and accompanying meaning of the poles. Those outside of the family can admire the artistry and symbolism, but can only guess at the stories themselves. It’s a different form of storytelling than Martin Itjen’s story-as-magnet, or even Jackie Kennedy’s story-as-myth-making. There is an intensity and honor to it. A sacredness. And I’m in awe of that.

 Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel

With this one-year anniversary post, I would like to thank all of you who have stopped by to join in the celebration of Young Adult and Children’s Literature, Story, and the writing life! Over the upcoming year, What Was on . . . will continue with guest posts from time to time. As for me, I’ll be taking a hiatus to indulge the muse, who is insisting that I dedicate more time to her. You can always find me on twitter at @senickel, but, honestly, I’ll mostly be in my writing room, shades down, lights dimmed, lost to the stories wanting to be told.

Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel

9 thoughts on “What Was on My . . .

  1. What a month you’ve had, Sandra!! I’m glad you’ll be giving yourself more time to write…and glad that you’ll still be posting some guest posts on this fabulous blog! I always enjoy these posts a lot.

  2. I thought what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, not put on a blog! 🙂 Seriously, loved this post and will miss your regular musings. But the good thing is we’ll have something new to read from you. Please keep us posted!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. What a fabulous summer you had! And thank you for all the examples of storytelling, especially for the ways David Copperfield and others have mined stories to wow audiences, readers, etc. Good stuff here. Very good!

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