Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Night I met an Influence, Re-ignited a fire, and Learned a Lesson

             Living in Savannah has afforded me many opportunities that I somehow was missed back in the Atlanta days. I actually get to teach in the same county where I reside, I met my soul mate who also had to move to Savannah too for this happen, and I have gotten to meet three of my top five authors. Last was number two, Neil Gaiman.

             I first mentioned Mr. Gaiman's impact waaaay back in a previous blog. A very old friend who would quite literally run away and join the circus first introduced me to him back in 1989 with a comic called The Sandman. The well paced story telling combined with smart writing quickly made this my favorite read every month. Soon, Mr. Gaiman would expand to writing books which I read voraciously. Neverwhere, American Gods, and Stardust are just a few of his works that I was willing to shell out 20 bucks or so which was a lot for just graduated college student. Needless to say, big fan here.

            Last night, Gaiman was here in Savannah performing on a story telling tour called Unchained with several other very interesting people. Kim and I bought our tickets last month for the chance to see Gaiman. He was amazing. I even go to meet him and shake his hand. We spoke for a few brief moments. It’s always nice to see someone whom I admire turn out to be a nice guy.

            We had tweeted back and forth a few times over the week. I am teaching Brit Lit with my esteemed colleague, Paul Sidney. (Check out Paul’s blog. It rocks) Gaiman wrote the screenplay to Beowulf and we had hoped to get him in to speak to the kids. Gaiman tried but his schedule just didn’t match up.

            At one point, Gaiman even tweeted back when I mentioned several kids in my class wanted to come but were underage. He replied that I was 18 and over advisory. I am proud to say three of my students were front row and to the right. Melissa, a huge Gaiman fan, even sat about five feet from the Brit author at one point but she never knew because she was mesmerized by all the other storytellers who performed.

That is how the night went for us. Several of us where there because Gaiman was speaking. About every fourth or fifth person in the rows was holding a Sandman comic or Neil Gaiman related item. Gaiman did well. He is a skillful storyteller or raconteur as they liked to be called. Yet, I found myself enjoying the other raconteurs just as much and in some ways, even a little more.

So much in fact, I was moved to start writing this blog at three in the AM when all of this came together. See way back before Kim and the kids, I started writing The Tide to work on storytelling skills. It’s my dream to be a published author and professional storyteller but life keeps happening and I put this dream to the side.

I sat mesmerized by hearing these performers spin their craft and was a little jealous too. They were good. Really good. Dawn Frasier told a story about her twin with Down syndrome and how he displayed the ultimate act of sportsmanship and kindness at the Special Olympics. It made me cry, dammit.

Edgar Oliver, a Savannah native but now Ney York transplant, had the most unique voice I have heard while he shared a hilarious account of his days as an officer at Benedictine Military School.

 It started out as a tale about getting down and dirty with his girlfriend, yet somehow Peter Aquero masterfully made it a beautiful account of what love is.

This was all put together by another Savannah native, George Dawes Green. He has authored several books and started up NPR’s The Moth which promotes the art of storytelling. He changed it up a bit and actually preached a sermon about the evils of the internet which I hate to admit was right on target. “Switch it off he said, and open a book especially one bought from a local book store.” I ‘m paraphrasing but you get the idea which is quite a valid one in a time where kindles and I-pads rule.

Then Neil took the stage. Peter Aquero Emceed the event and I loved his introduction. Mr. Aquero simply stated how Neil Gaiman is “just a guy.” Oh, and he wrote a book about some sand.” The audience erupted with laughter. But he was right. Mr. Gaiman came out quite unassuming then shared a beautiful story linking how circus elephants are taught to embrace their chains rather realizing they can fight them and how he carried his own chains which prevented him from being happy.

I came for Neil but somehow found so much more last night. It is my honest belief in which everyone has a story to share. Last night I watched five people not only do that but also openly express to the audience something very personal, at times humorous, and even a little dangerous. It was a pretty brave thing to do and I walked away hungry to figure out this art form.

 I am already scheduled to some storytelling at Oatland Island for their Harvest Fest on Nov 10th. Please mark on your calendars and come out to this. It’s awesome but more about in a later post. I think I am ready to get back to working on my craft, if I may steal line from Robbie Rankin, my old theatre director. And I will.

It was also a powerful night in another respect. I knew I’d be writing about this night before it even happened. My assumption was I’d be talking about the lovely chat Neil Gaiman and I had. (We did and it was AWESOME!) Something else happened and I have to share because it moved as much as the raconteur fire which was lit inside of me.

You know all about the tweets between Neil where I invited him to teach Beowulf. When my turn in line came this was the approach I took.

“Hey man, I am the teacher who has been tweeting you all week. Thanks for considering visiting us even though it didn’t work. We all got a kick out it., “I said with a shaky voice.

Mr. Gaiman smiled and said in a lovely British accent, “Ahhh yes, the teacher doing Beowulf. Sorry about that but wish you luck.” We shook hands. Coolness for me.

I had a moment and seized it. “Mr. Gaiman, I want to introduce you to my students. This is Melissa, Jordan, and Holiday. Also very big fans and thank you again for coming to Savannah. It’s been amazing to hear you and your fellow artists.

Neil Gaiman continued being a delightful individual and spent a few moments with my students. All three looked like those girls form the news footage of the teeny boppers watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

Our moment was over and Mr. Gaiman moved on to the throng of fans waiting for their moment too. I was on Cloud Nine and even spent a few moments with that Peter Aquero fellow asking ways to get into racontuering. He hugged me when I complimented on his velvet burgundy jacket. He was a big guy but I can respect when a large man like me is willing to show emotion so I happily hugged back. Neat guy. He talked like the northern version of my good friend and mentor, Tony Daniels. Just that alone, makes Mr. Aquero cool in my book.

Kim and I mingled. We said some hellos to our various friends from all our circles. Kim even got in line to have Mr. Gaiman sign my old copy of Stardust which I gave Roni back in the early dating days. I watched the proceedings from a far and wasn’t the least bit jealous when Neil Gaiman gave Kim a big smooch on the cheek. Ok, maybe a little bit.

Kim and I walked out into a one of those evenings in downtown Savannah where the humidity was fighting with the oncoming Fall chill. We were passing Mellow Mushroom as I got lost in my thoughts about those days of being a ghost tour guide when we came up on Holiday and Melissa. I asked if they needed a ride but they said they were fine.

Matter of fact, Holiday had to come over and show me the Neil Gaiman book she bought from the Blue bus (Please click onthis link. Gaiman talks about their bus and it's very cool) which transports the Unchained players and a Salvador Dali book she bought for one of my school’s art teachers. They started talking to Kim and I got distracted by a group of SCAD kids.

It was a pack of about five-six students and they definitely had that “I’m here for Gaiman Punkish Goth look. One of the guys who sported a variety of face piercings came up to and asked very politely,” Excuse me, sir, are you a professor?”

I almost burst out laughing. Robby the professor? I visualized myself in front of an Oxford style classroom wearing that fancy corduroy jacket with the little patches on the elbows. More stifles of laugher. Then the notion of getting some round gold glasses where I’d look like Professor Indiana Jones. I began to realize I could get used to that notion. Whip crack!
"Dr. Richardson?"

We shook hands as I replied, “Sorry to disappoint, guys. Just a high school sped teacher.”

A young lady with alternating shaved designs and dyed teal places on her head spoke up. “It doesn’t matter. Either way what you did was an inspiration.”

“What?” It was the only word in my head. Rather than vocalize, my face said it for me.

The first guy goes on. “We watched you take the time to make sure your kids got to meet Neil Gaiman. It’s not many teachers who’d bring their students to something like this and make sure they met their hero. Man, we need more teachers like you out there.”

I am always amazed at our abilities at how we humans can be so destructive to each other yet so uplifting at the same time. This pack of crazy looking Punk rock Goth kids said the very words I needed to hear to remind what it is that I do and why I put up with the fucking bullshit to to do it.

See, I have fallen out of love with teaching. It has become mired down in the stupidity our elected officials have instituted to get re-elected (This is not a conservative v. liberal issue. They are all guilty) piled with some many jobs that I rarely get to actually have the opportunity to connect with a student in an academic manner. I could give examples but it would just take away from the point these wild looking SCAD students reminded me.

I love teaching and I love my students. It’s OK to hate the outside forces that reign down on me to make my job all the harder. This is where I am supposed to be right now. I helped three very awesome and unique kids have an experience that might be the catalyst which gives the world the next great author, artist, or something great. I did what a teacher is supposed to do.  I showed those kids the world was little bit bigger last night the same way Mrs. Clark and Mr. Oliver did for me back at Union County High School in 1986.

I dream daily of being in front of an audience where I regale all with  my anecdotes of being that hopelessly dorky kid growing up in the mountains of North Georgia the marshes of Savannah with his unique family. I’ve had some amazing shit happen to me in my lifetime and the best part is I am finally finding my voice where it all ties together to make a good story. I dream of putting all this on paper and this is also slowly forming.
"You've got big dreams......"

At the same time, I recognize I may have hit a point where I can respect and appreciate the moment I am living in. It may not consist on hearing the applause I dream of but, thanks to a motley group of SCAD kids, I have been reminded that I did take a stand made a mark. I believe this is the best thing we can achieve as human beings.

I’ll get there. I am hungry for it but at the same time I have a responsibility to some kids over at Jenkins High School.
           And that alone will make a pretty good story


  1. I was doing good reading this, until I got to the part about teaching and then you made me cry. You reminded me of why I became a teacher and I thank you for bringing that back to me. I am so thankful that your students have you. I seriously doubt if you realize what an impact you are making every day in their lives. I know it sounds funny coming from me but I am so proud of you.

  2. Found this via Neil Gaiman's Twitter acct. As a parent of a pre teen girl who loves to read and write all of the time...I hope she finds teachers like you to inspire and expand her world! Thank you and I think your storytelling career has a lot of promise based on this blog!


  3. I never did say thank you. I was in a rush to leave with my ride anxiously awaiting near 11 o'clock at night, which is late for 65+ people..... Just saying. But thank you. I may have been one of the first to get Neil Gaiman's autograph, but with so many people push their way through, I feel like I didn't get a true meeting, just a kind smile and the signature. Don't get me wrong! That wasn't bad! I was glad for such an opportunity, but the mindless horde pushing its way through, lessened that.
    Then you come along and introduce Holli, Melissa, and I to him. Let me just say, that even though his autograph brought on a myriad of fangirl giggles, actually having him pause and greet us without worrying about those trying to hove their way through, left me speechless and so incredibly happy. So I just wanted to say thank you and that I am so happy to have had you as a teacher and now as a friend.

  4. Good job, man. Keep it up, and you're a good writer too.