June 11, 2009

Guest Post: Jack Volunteers, by Sue Black

Sue Black of Naperville, Illinois, is a storyteller and teaching artist, enthusiastically sharing her passion for telling and writing stories with audiences of all ages. She has graciously given me permission to reprint the following story, which originally appeared on the Storytell list.

ONCE upon a time there was a storyteller whose name was Jack, and he lived with his fellow storytellers in a worldwide community. They were very poor – some of them, moderately successful –others, but the storytellers worked hard and made a living by spinning tales.

Jack was busy living and writing and telling and listening and following email, twitter, and facebook conversations. He thought maybe he would do nothing but bask in the sun in the hot weather, when he had a free minute or two, or maybe sit by the corner of the hearth in the winter-time. But there was always more work to be done, not just for himself but for others too, and it seemed as though free minutes were filled with thoughts of contributing to the greater good. After all, there were always calls and emails and letters and general announcements about events to support, conferences to run and record, workshops to produce, websites to host, and various other volunteer jobs that needed to be done. The community had needs and this roused Jack, and he went out and volunteered himself for the next day to a neighboring farmer; but as he was coming home he met his mother or his brother or his sister (that part of the story doesn’t really matter, I suppose). "Jack, what were ya thinking?" they asked. "You should have done it this way."

He knew there was more than one right way to get a job done and Jack was always willing to listen. "I'll do so another time," replied Jack.

On Wednesday, Jack went out again and volunteered himself to a cowkeeper. Again, as he walked home – feeling good about the work he’d done – Jack met up with some of his fellow storytellers. They admired his work, but couldn’t resist saying, "Jack, what were ya thinking? You should have done it this way."

By now Jack had a bit of experience in the matter. He felt good enough about the good work he was doing and the good of the work for the greater community, so he was able to slough off the criticism and simply say, "I'll do so another time."

So on Thursday, Jack volunteered himself again to a dairyman. Now this time Jack was paid for his services, not much, just a fine piece of cheese. In the evening Jack took the cheese and went home. By the time he got home he’d passed several storytellers who felt entitled to ask, after all Jack was getting paid, "Jack, what were ya thinking? You should have done it this way."

"I'll do so another time," sighed Jack.

On Friday, Jack again went out, and volunteered himself to a baker. When he got home there was an email waiting for him. It simply asked, "Jack, what were ya thinking? You should have done it this way."

Rather than send a reply with the words, "I'll do so another time’, Jack sat at his computer and stared in disbelief.

Ever persevering, believing he was doing what needed to be done, wanting to contribute and willing to accept some critique, on Saturday Jack volunteered himself to a butcher. By the time Jack got home it seemed as though his mother or sister or brother (that part of the story doesn’t really matter, I suppose) was this time quite out of patience with him. It seemed that way to Jack, anyway, that patience was gone and that his efforts were not appreciated. The mother or the sister or the brother was not really out of patience, but by then that part of the story didn’t really matter to Jack. And Jack knew there was a bright spot ahead, a happy ending, a princess and laughter and great riches not just for himself but to be shared with his mother and his sister and his brother and the greater storytelling community. But by then that part of the story didn’t matter anymore either. Jack was tired and discouraged and beaten down and had walked that fine line between service and greater good and needing kind words for too long.

So on Sunday Jack stopped. Rested like the good book said he should. And on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and all the days that followed, the volunteer work did not get done. Jack was not tired by the work, but exhausted by the voices that drowned out the joy of service. And I’m sorry to say this is one of those stories that just might not end happily ever after.

(Ah, but read the comments for another storyteller's response)


Tim said...

Storyteller Jeff Gere of Hawai'i replied:


Jack sat by his fire Saturday, resting, tired. The Cat came up and said, "Why the long face, Jack?'

Jack said, "I volunteered Mon tues wed thurs fri... and every time at day's end folks would tell me, 'You shoulda done it this way Jack..'"

The cat said, "So..."

"So why don't they lend a hand instead oof standing on the side advising my labors!" said Jack passionately.

"Good point," said the cat.

They were both silent for a minute.
"But who made you do thing, Jack?" asked the cat.

"I did," said Jack slowly.

"Did you do it for praise?" asked the cat.

"I did it for the group!" said Jack.

"And you helped the effort to succeed, right?" asked the cat. Jack said 'yes', smiling slightly, petting the cat's head. "And those with 'good advice' are in your group- paying audience, right?" Jack frowned and said nothing.

"Next time, when they say 'You shoulda done it this way' say 'Great idea! Would you put on an event and do that? I'd love to come'...." Jack laughed, the cat purred. "I know you're a hero" said the cat, looking up at Jack.

"Truth is, the right motive and fulfilling the challenge of a worthy labor well is a reward in itself" mumbled Jack.

"Buddha?" asked the cat.

"Aesop," said Jack. "I grow by doing this work'.

"There's always somebody sitting by the side of the road with 'good advice'," said the cat. "Walk on by, just keep walking. Walk while you can. Soon enough you won't be walking at all."

"Not right now. Today I catch my breath," said Jack.

This reply was originally posted to the Storytell list, and is copyright by Jeff Gere and reprinted here with his permission.

Jeff Gere lives and yaks on Oahu, Hawaii. He is the City & County of Honolulu's Drama Specialist, producing the annual Talk Story Conference annually. He is also the producer of NSN's Pacific Regional Talk Story Conference in Hawaii July 16-20 (and Maui after). Learn more about Jeff at www.jeffgere.com.

Tim said...

Oh, and in case you didn't get the reference to the old folk tale, Lazy Jack, here's a link to it: http://www.authorama.com/english-fairy-tales-30.html