This episode of the podcast features an interview with Rick White who shared his story in front of a sold-out crowd live at The Wilma on December 10, 2019. It was the last in-person Tell Us Something event before COVID struck. The theme was “Tipping Point”.
When I talked with Rick, we talked about the story that he told at The Wilma, about podcasting, his writing, his artist residency, and about storytelling.
Rick’s story, which I play after the interview, is called “Mister”.
Watch Rick talk about his artist in residency below.
Listen to Rick read one of the poems that he wrote during his artist-in-residency below.
Transcript : "Mister"
[00:00:00] Marc Moss: Welcome to the tell us something podcast. I’m your host, Mark Moss. Do you have your tickets for the next tell us something live storytelling event? You can get your tickets online at tell us something. org. Better yet though, why not pick up some limited edition printed tickets? These tickets are the same price as the online tickets and feature the beautiful artwork used on the posters.
Artwork for the Lost in Translation event was created by Bear River Studios. These special tickets are available exclusively at Rockin Rooties. Get your tickets now at Rockin Rooties or get the digital version at TellUsSomething. org.
[00:00:35] Rick White: Just way back there in the heart of the fell way, Bitterroot National Forest.
So, yeah, we were at the end of the road and… Uh, I’m off grid for, for three weeks, and it looked like me scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad and then transcribing onto a, uh, a hundred dollar typewriter that I found at the antique mall beforehand so that I could [00:01:00] translate it
into print. This week on the podcast,
[00:01:03] Marc Moss: Rick White and I chat about the story that he told live on stage at the Wilma in Missoula, Montana in December of 2019.
The theme that night was Tipping Point. We also talk about podcasting, writing, his artist residency, and storytelling. Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell Us Something to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell Us Something Storyteller alumni.
We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experiences, sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story and we always get to know them a little better. I caught up with Rick in September of 2020,
[00:01:44] Rick White: early on, and Covid got awarded a writing residency or an art residency through a local organization called Open Air. It’s been pretty cool.
[00:01:53] Marc Moss: Oh yeah, I know Stony. Yeah,
[00:01:56] Rick White: Stoney’s great. Her program’s really fantastic. So, yeah, I was fortunate I [00:02:00] got a three week residency in the Selway Bitterroot, you know, in a cabin down there, the Paradise Guard Station, um, to work on writing.
So, it was, yeah, that was the highlight of the summer for sure, right in the middle of July.
[00:02:12] Marc Moss: We are talking about a local non profit, Open Air. Open Air provides artist in residence programs for artists from all disciplines who are local, national, and international. Residencies last for four to six weeks.
Open Air believes that artists are critical to our community’s vitality and help to strengthen the creative capacity of Western Montana and foster dialogue and experiences that are culturally vibrant, healthy, and intellectually vigorous. You can visit Telesomething. org for a link to Rick’s open air talk.
So what did that look like?
[00:02:45] Rick White: That looked like my girlfriend and I and our two dogs living at the Paradise Guard Station, which was the Wanderer’s cabin attached to a campground that is where the people who float the Selway River, one of the premier… [00:03:00] rafting destinations and, and rivers in the country. The Wild and Scenic River, it’s, it’s the, the put in for that.
It’s at the end of a road about 48 miles down, uh, from Darby, Montana. Just way back there in the heart of the Selway. Bitterroot National Forest, so. Yeah, we were at the end of the road and… Uh, I’m off grid for, for three weeks, and it looked like me scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad and then transcribing onto a, uh, 100 typewriter that I found at the antique mall beforehand so that I could translate it into print.
Uh, so it was very, uh, romantic, uh, uh, uh, maybe Hemingway or Faulkner esque, uh, if you’re thinking of those pictures, but the quality of the writing, uh, not close to that, but it was, it was wonderful. Um, yeah, uh, Stoney’s program was really fantastic. [00:04:00] Um, I think, um, kind of like Tell Us Something, just local organizations just doing tremendous things for, for artists and storytellers and, and creative folks.
Um, really just, just Super impressed with what she’s doing.
[00:04:15] Marc Moss: And so, I’ve seen some of the residencies that she’s had with visual artists. How will we get to see your work?
[00:04:24] Rick White: Yeah, that’s good. Um, so, in, we donate, uh, artists donate, um, One thing to them, so she’s planning a, uh, type of display, uh, maybe a traveling exhibit, depending on COVID, I think, uh, to show off different folks work, so I’ll be donating a poem that I wrote there, uh, and maybe some other things as, as needed.
She took a lot of great photos, and, um, we have some, some different, uh, resources from the Selway Bitterroot Foundation, uh, Drink Church Foundation, so I think that, that will be how [00:05:00] she does that. I also had a… Uh, reading that I gave, uh, at the, at the conclusion of the residency about two weeks later in August.
And she recorded that, Stoney recorded that, and we’ll put it up on YouTube. Um, she’s, she’s busy finishing up the, the residency season right now, but she’s working on uploading those to YouTube and then on their website, openairmt. com. Uh, org, I believe.
Yeah, and how it’s all shifting right now and shaping,
[00:05:30] Marc Moss: Yeah, I know, FreeFlow.
[00:05:32] Rick White: Um, I’m working with them on their podcast and doing, doing interviews and stuff.
[00:05:36] Marc Moss: We talked a little bit more about writing workshops before I asked Rick about his work with the FreeFlow institute.
[00:05:42] Rick White: Chandra was, um, you know, forced to cancel a lot of those. Those riding workshops that she does on the rivers, uh, the river trips.
Uh, we, like I was scheduled to go with David James Duncan down the Salmon River, which was going to be a spectacular trip, but that got postponed until next year. But they did a similar [00:06:00] thing, um, designed a five week, uh, riding workshop. Work, excuse me, workshop, uh, called Shift. Uh, which sounds kind of like the one that you took for ten weeks.
In which it was, you know, engaging with these themes of, of shift and transition. Um, yeah, it’s just been, it’s been interesting to watch how these circumstances have, have forced, um, evolution. Um, in some ways good, in some ways, uh, like… Man, how much Zoom can you handle in a day, you know? Totally. In your life.
It’s frustrating. Yeah. At that, at that level, certainly, and I think everybody. Cause, you know, the Zoom fatigue and everything is a real, is a real thing. Um, you know, if you can, if you can step back from it, there was a real blossoming of some really interesting, creative things that would not have happened otherwise, outside of [00:07:00] this year, you know?
[00:07:01] Marc Moss: Right. And I think. Once we get a vaccine and we are, it is shaped together in person again, the Zoom will also offer a balance.
[00:07:12] Rick White: Mm hmm. Exactly. That
we probably wouldn’t have otherwise embraced. Right.
Yep. Yeah, something, it will get winnowed down into the, hopefully the best of those things will rise to, you know, rise to the top and we’ll get to continue using those.
Well, both rats and mediums, you know? Yep.
[00:07:35] Marc Moss: So, can you talk about the podcast? Yeah, the Free Flow podcast? Or, or, uh… Yeah. Yeah, the Free Flow podcast. No, the Free Flow podcast.
[00:07:45] Rick White: Sure, I’d love to. Um, so we got interrupted, um, in February. I did, did the first, uh, Chris Latre, local writer who’s done local Tell A Something Storyteller, I think, a few times, right?
Yep, he’s done it [00:08:00] at least twice. Yeah, such a great guy, and a willing guinea pig for our, for our experiment.
Um, in February on a pretty snowy day, and talked about his first book, um, One sentence journal that won the Montana Book Award and um, some High Plains Book Awards as well. So we got to talk about that and a lot of that deals with grief and loss and creativity and everything. So that was a really, that was a really wonderful thing.
The idea behind the Free Flow podcast is to do, similar to the Free Flow trips, the river trips, is to kind of simulate an experience of being outside with… With a writer, um, so I get, you know, a lot of ambient, ambient sounds and structure it. Structure them as some, as sort of mini journeys. Um, so there’s, there’s a lot of heavy editing involved, uh, on [00:09:00] the back end, on the production side.
Um, but yeah, so I interviewed Chris and, and spent quite a bit of the time in, during COVID working that. That one episode up and editing it into a kind of pilot episode to pitch to potential funders, but was interrupted with COVID and unable to continue interviewing folks and funding requests were delayed.
So we’re still looking and searching for, for some funding for that. But, um, in the last month I’ve gotten to go interview Hal Herring, an award winning outdoor journalist who’s based up in Augusta. And then Just last week I, I sat down, um, with David James Duncan, um, on the Bitterroot River and then at a, at a little farm where he rents a, rents a cabin for his workspace, um, out in Target Range, and we have some other folks lined up on the docket, um, for the rest of the month of this [00:10:00] year, uh, in hopes of releasing the game.
Uh, a handful of episodes in the springtime, in the early springtime ahead of, uh, next year’s free flow river season, fingers crossed, if COVID allows, so. Yeah. Um, it’s been a really great project. Um, it’s really fun to, to kind of peer, we center it on the themes kind of of a free flow trip, which is, uh, the conversations about, about craft, about the writing craft and the storytelling craft, about conservation and, and their, Most of our, most of our writers, uh, or storytellers are involved in some way in, um, conservation, be it public lands or…
Free flowing river, or any, any number of climate change, any number of things, who’s not, who’s not involved in that these days, you know, I think we all are kind of, our hand has been forced to be involved in that, that writing, so, conversation about, uh, craft and conservation, and then the creative [00:11:00] life, so I get to talk to them, kind of about, especially working, working writers, it’s really fascinating for me to see, you know, how they construct their, their days, and how they, you know, David James Duncan’s been, um, He’s at 1200 pages on this manuscript he’s been working on since 2007 or 2008, I believe.
So, you know, how do you, how do you… What does it look like to work on a book for 12 years on a daily, monthly, weekly basis? It’s been really, really wonderful conversations and folks have been really gracious. Many of them will lead trips, river trips next year, um, that’ll be writing workshops for people interested in what they were, you know, if they’re writing, you know, if you’re a David James Duncan fan, you’ve got access to him that you don’t get otherwise.
Um, he doesn’t really do much. Pretty, pretty fantastic organization. It’s just really, um, you know, the Missoula community, it’s just, [00:12:00] it’s wild how supportive this community is of, of passionate creatives, um, and making those things happen. It’s, even, even during trying times, it seems like it’s a, it’s a priority here.
Um, so, it’s really just a wonderful place to, to be right now. Well, and you’ve got a powerhouse
lineup in, in your podcast roster. Um, and what a great… We what a great, uh, you know, first batter, so to speak, with Chris LaTray
[00:12:32] Marc Moss: that book. Oh man. One sentence journal. I mean it, you know, if you haven’t been outdoors for a while and you read one sentence journal, you can’t help but go outside.
I mean, yeah. You know, this is what it like. Yeah. It’s like, oh God. Uh, when I read it, it was winter,
[00:12:51] Rick White: which I think is Chris’s favorite time of year.
[00:12:53] Marc Moss: Yeah, exactly.
[00:12:54] Rick White: Uhhuh, most of the books said in winter, right.
And you, and you talk about loss and [00:13:00] grief, and I think… Darla the Wonder Dog died during that time, and, and, you know, I think my cat, one of my cats died, and I was like, oh, yeah, I get it.
[00:13:11] Marc Moss: Mm hmm. Man, what a great book.
[00:13:14] Rick White: Yeah, great book. And the chance to walk around with him at a place that he was taking Darla, you know, in those, in her last days, and just to, to see him experience, be able to narrate, like, you know, this is where she would do, she would… run around, or this is her favorite place to do this, and to get choked up when he read some selections from it, and got choked up talking about her, you know?
It’s just, it’s just a pleasure, and that’s the idea. It’s just to kind of get, get those authors out there, get people like Chris out there, um, where the ideas are being generated, and where his connection to his creative practice is really, really blossoming. Yeah.
[00:13:58] Marc Moss: Unrelated, did you, have you [00:14:00] ever seen his band, American Falcon?
[00:14:03] Rick White: I haven’t. No, I talked to him a little bit about his music. He was really wanting to talk about his book, but I made him talk about it. How’s American Falcon?
[00:14:10] Marc Moss: Um, I saw them play in the VFW like four years ago. And
Travis Yost is in the band as well. And I can’t remember who else. And I
went with Ryan Bundy. You know Ryan.
[00:14:27] Rick White: Mm hmm.
[00:14:28] Marc Moss: And I was like, Ryan, you like this kind of music? And he’s like, bring your earplugs, it’s gonna be awesome. And we went, and it was like Black Sabbath meets Kiss. I mean, it was ear splittingly beautifully grungy, and it was awesome. I try not to overuse that word, but it was like, what did I just experience?
And even with the earplugs, you know, my ears were ringing for [00:15:00] days.
[00:15:07] Rick White: Come from that, that genre authentically and just love it. It’s so wonderful. I haven’t gotten in a band, but…
[00:15:14] Marc Moss: Oh, and his kid was in the band too.
[00:15:17] Rick White: That’s awesome.
[00:15:18] Marc Moss: Yeah, and it was like, the energy in the room, it was like… Henry Rollins would love this shit. You know what I mean? It was so cool.
[00:15:28] Rick White: Nice. Nice.
[00:15:30] Marc Moss: Yeah.
[00:15:31] Rick White: So, it’s fun to watch him, too, like, highlight authors that he loves. And I’ve been reading, or listening to his, uh, poetry that he does on public radio. It’s
nice. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. But, anyway. Yeah, we spent a good half hour just talking about Jim Harrison. One of our favorites, one of our mutual favorites. Mm hmm, mm hmm.
[00:15:54] Marc Moss: So, when you told your story at Tell Us Something, Um, [00:16:00] you, did you
have the whole thing written out already, or was that part of, like, the workshopping process at Tell Us Something? Was that part of, like, how you got your final piece
[00:16:15] Rick White: That’s a good question. Um, I had, um, speaking of workshops, I had engenerative workshops like you participated in.
I had, I guess it was that summer, last June, had gone down to Denver to uh, The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, um, for a week long generative workshop with, uh, Melissa Fibos, who now teaches over at Iowa. She was in, she was in New Jersey, uh, last year, but just got a job in, in Iowa. And she was doing a, an essay on the very, or a workshop on the very short essay.
So, I went down there looking to kind of learn and generate some short essays in the thousand word or less range. [00:17:00] And that was a first. piece that I produced. We had read a, she had us read Annie Dillard’s Weasel essay because it’s a famous, famous short essay on, on creative practice and singular focus.
And then, uh, Melissa, you know, gave us a prompt. And I chose to write that, that essay about teaching, um, because it was, it was a prompt about a time in your life, an experience in your life when you were singularly, Focused on one thing, um, one activity or one job. And for me, that was, it took me back to when I was teaching.
I went to high school as a first year high school teacher in a really challenging environment. Uh, high performing charter school for low income students, low income Latino students in inner city Denver. So, that came to mind and I, I pumped out a draft of that essay overnight in the first night of that workshop.
And, [00:18:00] yeah, something, something true came out of it and I got a good response. So, I kind of just held on to that. Um. And had it in my back pocket as a story that I wanted to try to publish, wanted to refine, but just kind of had it there. And I think when I pitched to tell us something, pitched a story for…
Um, for that event, I pitched another essay, uh, that, uh, about another story I had told in various formats and hadn’t really written down, um, but had told orally, and… Just did a terrible job on the pitch, just, just, I think you give a 10 minute thing and I think I rambled to 30 minutes on the phone. No, the
pitch, oh, well the pitch line is 3 minutes and then when we did the workshop, yeah, we did the first initial phone workshop, I think you did went [00:19:00] like 16 or 20 minutes long or something like that.
It felt like, it felt like a few hours.
Well, it didn’t slow the train down.
[00:19:09] Marc Moss: It sort of did feel long because the story was pretty brutal. And, and I don’t, at the time I didn’t know you at all, and I was like, how am I going to tell this guy he can’t tell this story?
Who is this guy?
[00:19:24] Rick White: Yeah, uh, it was a, you know, a story of, of slipping down a moral slope, you know?
And when, and um, uh, so, and it got necessarily brutal, and it was, yeah, I think, just um, Yeah, just not the story. Um, and learning from you, that’s one, one great lesson I’ve learned in the workshop process with you specifically, which was, you know, there’s a time and a place for certain stories, and sometimes you have to retire stories, um, [00:20:00] or just shift.
It’s not just as simple as, like, knowing your audience. Um. But just knowing, you know, what, where that’s, where certain stories, uh, belong in, in time. And it wasn’t, certainly wasn’t the right time, certainly wasn’t the right place. Uh, it had kinda, it was, the way I think I, I told it to you initially, it was still a very kind of personal inside story between people who, who kinda knew me and knew the character, knew my buddy Hayden, who was part of that story, and, um, so.
Yeah, it was, it was, that was, that was a challenging, challenging thing, but man, what a valuable experience to, to get to share it with you and have your feedback and, and kind of go through it. And then, by the time we got to, uh, workshopping it with the other storytellers, I had switched, I kind of realized that, for the theme, um, that was, [00:21:00] um, I’m blanking right now on the theme of that.
That, uh, tipping point is what it was, was that, that I, that I had that other essay in my back, my back pocket, which totally fit the theme, and that was about teaching, so, yeah, I had that to refer to, I had, so I guess I did have it written out. Um, but it wasn’t in its final form, so it allowed me to kind of keep working on that.
Um, and I, I guess since I had that script and had it all kind of written out already, it made it for easy reference. I’m kind of a visual learner, so it was nice to have that to, to sit down with and, and look through and kind of know the, the turns of the story. Um, and how to keep it going. Um, so, yeah. So I told it, told it orally for the first time without, without just reading it.
Um, to, like I did in the workshop. Um, to our, to our group over at your house. And then from there just kind of refined it. [00:22:00] And told it live on stage at the Wilmot. Yeah. Those were the days. Yeah, those were the days.
But you, it was, it was great the way you approached it because, you know, I asked you to sign a release form and you said, I will, and I want you to not publish this until after the written version is published.
Yeah, hoping that it would get published, you know.
[00:22:30] Marc Moss: Right. For sure. And I
really appreciate the way you approached that and how graceful you were with that. Um, and even if you would have said no, I don’t want you to ever publish this, that would have been fine too. Sure. I’ve worked with other authors who, after the fact, like after I had already done all the work and post production of publishing their story, then they call me and they’re like, Can you take that down?
And I’m like,
Why didn’t you [00:23:00] just tell me ahead of time, you know ?
[00:23:03] Rick White: Yeah, that’s tough. That’s tough. It’s such a, it’s such an interesting industry and I’m just on the front edge of it. Uh, hopefully, hopefully I get some, some more things published. Um, I’m in the MFA program now. I just started it this year here at Montana.
Um, so we’ll see what, what comes of that and how far I go. Just the, the early stages of this is complicated. It is really publication to publication on, you know, the first time rights and, and how, how long they get first time rights and how they get released. So, it’s just a whole, whole world to learn to navigate.
So, yeah, I was fortunate that, um, the, the spring, that story, the written version of that story, um, Got published at High Desert Journal, a really great online journal that’s doing, that’s publishing some [00:24:00] really important and really, really wonderful work from, from writers out West, writing about the West.
Um, but they published it and yeah, I’m, we’re pretty, we’re gracious in the, the thing. I think they just, they’re such a great publication, I think they want to get good work out there, and they’re not, not overly concerned with, You know, I think they, I think they’ll, they’ll love hearing a podcast version of it, you know, slightly different, of course, because it’s, I didn’t get, I, I just kind of recited a version close to it.
I think they’ll love seeing that version and, and the cross, cross genre work of audio and so, yeah.
[00:24:46] Marc Moss: I think it’ll be fun. I mean, it’ll be the first time many people will have heard the story. Um, many people who attend. Tell us something maybe weren’t there or you know, since then we’ve gotten [00:25:00] new followers So for anybody that wasn’t there This would be the first time they’ve heard the story and it’ll be certainly interesting for people who have read it to hear the difference Between a written story and a spoken
[00:25:15] Rick White: Yeah, and what a what a wild difference we were talking about that via the email Yeah It’s so interesting, I mean, to have, to, to listen to that, to any story, uh, orally, versus to read it on the page, and I’m still, I come from a tradition, I come from, from the South, I come from a, very much the, the person, my grandfather was the person I learned storytelling from, and he is.
Or was, uh, he’s since passed away in the last, last couple of years, but, um, he was just an oral storyteller, um, and certainly not illiterate, but not, not engaged with the written word in any way, um, in his storytelling. I learned, [00:26:00] I learned storytelling in, in the campfire kind of way, you know, um, but I, I just, my version of it generally is, um, I don’t know, some blend of that, that oral tradition and, And the written word, uh, that I gained later in an appreciation for, for storytelling on the page.
And I’m still trying to navigate that. I think, I don’t even know that I have to choose one or the other. It’s just really, really… It’ll be fascinating to see this in both places, you know, um, and, and who responds to it in different ways. I feel like I write in a voice, in an oral voice. I write in, in a way that is meant to be read aloud, um, rather than on the page.
And I don’t know what your experience reading it, um, reading that story on How Does It Journal versus… listening to it was, and how you responded, if that voice came through or not, but…
[00:26:59] Marc Moss: [00:27:00] Well, for me, I mean, it felt like, you know, if you see a movie before you read the book, then your reading of the book, your reading of the book is informed by how the movie was.
Sure. And so it was very similar like that for me, like… Interesting. I had seen you perform the story first, and I had seen a couple different iterations of it. Before you even performed it, and then once I got to the written word, I listened to it with my eyes, you know what I mean? Like,
I was reading it, but I was hearing your actual voice.
Yeah. So, it’d be interesting to talk to somebody who’s never heard it, after they listen to it, and see, you know, and see what’s the… What’s their experience?
[00:27:49] Rick White: Yeah. If they were like, oh man, , you could’ve done better on the page if you’d, uh, who knows? I mean, this, that, the other, who knows, right? Yeah. I mean,
[00:28:00] I, I don’t think you do have to make a choice of one or the other, and I think it’s valuable to do both.
[00:28:08] Marc Moss: And I’ve had, you know, Chris is an example of that. So is Mark, uh, Gibbons. They do readings and they have this blend of storytelling and then reading from the page and then the great banter back and forth with the participants who are there. And I think blending storytelling, oral storytelling with written, I think is key.
[00:28:39] Rick White: Yeah. My question for you would be, I mean, I know the spirit of Tell Us Something is to perform a story. You know, that’s been workshopped, uh, for basically to curate the listening experience and make sure, you know, you don’t do like I did on the, on the phone that day and, and take a 10 minute story and [00:29:00] drift to 20 or 30 and just ruin everyone’s experience.
Um. Uh, my question for you would be like, what is it, how do you feel about stories like that, that are, that are really carefully written out beforehand, and in my case, more or less just recited from memory, um, not to the word, but pretty close to the word, um, how, how do you, uh, Do other folks do that? Um, and, and, to what effect do you feel like it has, in, in, tell us something in a lineup of, say, eight, eight storytellers?
[00:29:38] Marc Moss: I would say that, um, you know, for a long time I said, avoid the temptation to write out your story. And I, I stand by that, um, because what you did is a hard thing to do. You wrote a story, and then you, you, you said just now that you recited it, but it didn’t come off that way. [00:30:00] Um, it came off fresh and like you were actually telling and sharing a story from memory.
Um, and that wasn’t, you weren’t trying to remember every comma and every pause and every word. Right. And, and that’s because you’re a writer and you’re a professional writer. And often people who aren’t writers, when they try to write out their story, then they try to memorize what they’ve written and they get up on the stage.
And they’re not sharing a story. They’re trying to remember what they wrote. So they’re not actually immersed in it anymore.
They’re, you know what I mean? And so,
[00:30:43] Rick White: it’s a tough balance. A safety blanket rather than a performance.
[00:30:48] Marc Moss: Yeah, and I can certainly see the value in writing it out ahead of time. Sure.
And so for people who are insistent on that. I try to compromise with them and [00:31:00] encourage them not to write it out like they would an essay. But instead to draw it, like make a mind map and just write, yeah, write bullet points instead. Um, so that, you know, if they forget something, they don’t get hung up on that and they can just keep going.
So, I mean, and everybody’s got a different process. Sure. Um, I’ve watched storytelling workshops by other professional storytelling organizations that say, you know, the first version of your story, you should let it out longhand. Then you should transcribe it. Then you should practice it. Then you should revise it.
And it’s always going back to the written form. And then by the time you’re done with your story, you then when you’re ready to perform it, you know it so well that you don’t need to try to remember what you’ve written. [00:32:00] And that’s a whole different way to approach it. And that’s not, you know, certainly not how I approach it.
[00:32:07] Rick White: Right. I think that’s just a very particular, particular process, um, for certain people. Uh, but I think your, I think your way is better for, for a community storytelling event. Um, that, something about that vulnerability up there on stage. Not that just, not that, not that standing up in front of 800 people and reading or reciting and like doing anything is not vulnerable, but there is some, some intimacy that’s really exchanged there when, when someone is off the cuff.
And, and true, true magic happens. I know in, in our, in our, performance there, um, there were a couple of stories that, that we had workshopped together at your house that I was, I was kind of concerned about because the story wasn’t really coming together or, um, you [00:33:00] know, it was rambling or, or whatever and then those guys and gals just crushed it on the stage and it was all these surprising little twists and turns came out and, um, yeah, you saw, you saw it.
People who were actually born performers and, and really thrived off the crowd energy. Uh, and, and responded to, to funny little asides that we hadn’t even heard in workshop. Uh, it was just, it was wonderful to see that. See that happen. You just can’t do that if you, if you write out a story ahead of time and, and it’s trying to recite it close to it, you know.
[00:33:37] Marc Moss: Yeah, I mean you, you do that. You write it out ahead of time and where you think the jokes are gonna land, sometimes they don’t land and then that throws you off or there are jokes where you didn’t expect them and then you’re thrown off and it’s like, you know, that’s one of the things like, like you say, the magic of the event, the evening.
Is the exchange that’s going on between the [00:34:00] storyteller and the crowd. Um, who I like to think of as participants in a, in a conversation or a dialogue.
[00:34:08] Rick White: And hopefully, hopefully, um, a good participant, uh, constructive. Yeah, I mean, certainly. Opposite that. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That was a wild, wild time, um, really interesting experience, but yeah, I mean, your, your vision of them as the audience, as participants is.
100% the case. There’s just so many, you know, uh, noises made, expressions of, uh, uh, that just, uh, that was one wonderful thing about telling this story on stage, was just knowing when something that I was saying was, was falling as I intended it to, and vice versa, just because you could hear people sighing, or you could hear [00:35:00] people laughing, or, or whatever it was, and it really does feel like a…
A kind of a co constructive experience of storytelling and listening and, um, Yeah, it will, it will be interesting to hear it again, and hear it when it’s on, on the Tell Us Something podcast, to hear it versus reading it, and, you know, I’ve, my parents and, have shared it with people, you know, down south, the, the written version of it, and it’s kind of made the rounds around my friends, so, I’ve, I’ve gotten feedback on the written version, but it’ll be interesting to see, um, What it feels like to listen to it again and, and to hear, hear that.
[00:35:40] Marc Moss: Yeah, I’m interested to hear what you think of it once, once we hear it again. Cause I don’t know if I, did I send you a copy of it?
[00:35:47] Rick White: You did, you did, and I listened to it back then. I think that was, that was January or something. So it’s been quite a while since I listened to it. Yeah.
[00:35:57] Marc Moss: Is there anything about your story that, uh, didn’t come out [00:36:00] either in the writing or in the performance of it that you want to share with, with our listeners?
[00:36:07] Rick White: Uh, I haven’t thought about that. I don’t think so. Um. Yeah, I, you know, that experience was, was, it defined so much of my life for, for so many years as a, being a teacher. Um, there’s so many experiences I could have written, I could write. You know, 10, 000 words just on my first day of teaching. Uh, and what it’s like to stand up in front of a group of ornery 9th graders, um, who, you know, should be, should be ornery, and, you know, stand up there with most of them not having English as their native tongue and me not speaking Spanish well enough to really know what they’re saying under their breath.[00:37:00]
I can, I can, I can write for days about that, but I feel like just trying to channel my experience as a teacher, uh, and concentrate it down. Um, I feel like I succeeded to, to a large, a large enough degree in this story. It’s something I’ll, I’ll continue writing about different facets of and different experiences.
Um, but for what, what I was going for in the, in the tipping point as far as, you know, nearing my own tipping point of, Of, of breaking and not being able to maintain whatever control of the classroom, um, or, or whatever shorthand you want for that. Um, I feel like I, I feel like I told it all, uh, in the story and wrote it all out, so.
Yeah, I don’t, I don’t think there’s anything missing from it, um, it does require context of it being Denver in, um, the early 2010s, [00:38:00] so I think that was actually 2010, September of 2010, so, yeah, um, I don’t know if the time, I, I, I think I’m in the spoken version that tells something, I, I, I located that time and place, but, Just in case.
Um, yeah, it was two thousand, two thousand ten in inner city Denver. Um, that’s where I was teaching. So, a lot has changed since then, uh, in Denver and in the world. So, yeah.
[00:38:30] Marc Moss: Well, Rick, I appreciate you spending time with me today, and I appreciate you remembering that it was today.
[00:38:37] Rick White: Absolutely.
[00:38:38] Marc Moss: COVID, it seems like time is a weird construct.
[00:38:43] Rick White: It really is.
[00:38:45] Marc Moss: If I don’t remember to write it down, it’s… That’s not going to happen, so I appreciate you picking up my slack.
[00:38:51] Rick White: Absolutely, Marc, no problem. Um, yeah, I can’t tell you how many appointments I’ve missed. I got an email last night from someone who I [00:39:00] promised to write a blog post for, and by the end of September, look at that.
Today’s the end of September. Yes, sir. Exactly. You know, so it’s just wonderful. I have faith in you. Yeah, thank you, thank you, I appreciate it. Yeah, thanks for calling and talking. It’s fun to talk about this stuff. I’m excited you got your workshop. Well,
[00:39:20] Marc Moss: I’m glad you appreciate it. And, uh, good luck with the writing today and have an awesome rest of your week.
[00:39:25] Rick White: Yeah, thanks, Marc. Yeah, enjoy the weather. It’s going to be a cool weekend. All right, Thanks, Marc.
[00:39:30] Marc Moss: All right. Thanks, Rick. Bye.
Coming up after the break.
[00:39:34] Rick White: So I had a few letters behind my name. Those letters and what they signified of what I had earned or what I thought I had earned mattered less to my students than did the name preceding them, which was not so shield.
[00:39:48] Marc Moss: Stay with us. Do you have your tickets for the next Tell Us Something live storytelling event? You can get your tickets online at tellusomething. org. Better yet though, why not pick up some limited edition printed [00:40:00] tickets? These tickets are the same price as the online tickets and feature the beautiful artwork used on the posters.
Artwork for the Lost in Translation event was created by Bear River Studios. These special tickets are available exclusively at Rockin Rooties. Get your tickets now at Rockin Rooties or get the digital version at tellussomething. org.
[00:40:26] Rick White: Much of my first year as a high school geography teacher in inner city Denver, I spent debating whether or not to pick the stapler up off the desk and throw it through the classroom window. Would the violence of intentionally shattered glass regain for my students the attention that I had lost? Would it somehow assert the authority that the professionally framed master’s degree on the wall behind my desk did not?
Or would it just get me fired and likely jailed? Was prison really that much worse than teaching 9th grade?[00:41:00]
Laughter For the first 88 days of that school year, I arrived at school at 7 a. m., left at 7 p. m., drove to Chipotle, bought a chicken burrito, ate a chicken burrito, drove home, walked my lonesome hound dog around the block, graded papers for a few hours. Wrote lesson plans until I passed out on the couch, then descended into fitful nightmares as I slept.
In my dreams, I stood in front of the same whiteboard on which I wrote neatly bullet pointed lecture notes in real life. In my dreams, I addressed the same low income Latino students who I taught in real life. In my dreams, I wore some combination of the same five dress shirts. And the same five neckties that I wore to class in real life.
All while [00:42:00] being strangulated by a half Windsor noose, and slowly dying of the embarrassment of lecturing to my students while not wearing any pants.
I was a teacher. But if my students ever thought of me as such, not once in those first three sleepless months did they ever let me know. On good days, I was bapdom, or way, dude. On bad days… I was pendejo. Asshole. Cabrón. Bastard. Sometimes even puta. I was brutal at one point. At least I was those things until I let on to my students that I knew more Spanish than they thought I did.
They whispered and muttered their names for me amongst each other at their desks. But to my face, My students always called me the same thing, [00:43:00] Mr. Not Mr. White, like I had introduced myself to them, because it was my name. Not even Mr. Rick, which I would have accepted, and might have even preferred. No, just little M.
Mr. Like they were trying to bum some change off of me. The stranger strolling down the sidewalk of their lives. . Hey, Mr. Said Fernando. One day his voice at age 14 already an octave lower than mine. At 27, Fernando carried himself with a casual confidence of a botto who’d always been big for his age. He had a good 20 pounds on me and proudly sported a Tuf to stubble on his chin, which jutted upward.
when he spoke, which was usually just to crack a joke. Hey, mister! Although I had just concluded a rivi uh, was just finishing a riveting lecture on latitude and longitude, I was surprised by Fernando that day because his voice conveyed [00:44:00] a sense of genuine curiosity. Hey, mister! Then I was concerned because curious students in my classroom were a kind of endangered species.
Or, as we in Capital E Education might call, at risk. Yes, Fernando. I said, Hey mister, who do you think is better? Messi or Ronaldo? In case you’re wondering, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were not the world’s two most famous geographers, but the world’s two most famous soccer players. Mr. White, in the classroom, with a stick.
The expectation from the school administration that year was bell to bell instruction, so bell to bell instruction was what my students got. Four page daily [00:45:00] lesson plans, exit tickets at the end of every class to prove that my students had learned what I had tried to teach them. Six formative assessments and one summative assessment every other week.
This, the study said, would close the gap. This, my principal said, would get my low income Latino students to college. This, the wealthy founders of the high performing charter school network said, would deliver my students to the promised land, that mythical paradise. Co ed dormitories, and full ride scholarships, and all you can eat cafeteria buffets.
Mythical paradise that one enters as a timid, unsophisticated freshman, and exits with a bona fide college degree, that golden ticket to the joyride of the American middle class. Signed, stamped, and guaranteed to get you the job of your dreams. That job that gives you purpose and meaning in your otherwise purposeless and meaningless [00:46:00] existence.
That job with a six figure salary and good health benefits. And a supportive work environment governed by a boss who prioritizes work life balance over all other things. Or something like that. In that world, The world of higher education, I had been something. I had recently graduated summa cum laude. In my students world, though, or at least in that intersection where our latitudes and longitudes crossed, in that world, in my classroom, I was just a rookie in a room full of hardened vets.
Whiter than a saltine cracker and greener than the left side of the Mexican flag. Yeah.
So I had a few letters behind my name. Those letters and what they signified of what I had earned, or what I thought I [00:47:00] had earned, mattered less to my students than did the name preceding them, which was not Xochitl. Name of both a Toltec queen and a feisty freshman girl with thick black eyeliner who sat in the second row of desks.
Xochitl. Girl whose name even her Spanish speaking friends had trouble pronouncing. Much less her white bread teachers, so she shortened it, she said, in the sixth grade, around the time that her cousins and uncles started getting gunned down in Mexican border towns. Casualties of the escalating drug war there.
No, my name was not Xochitl. My name was not Rogelio, either, and my father had not been deported in September for failing to signal for a left turn. My last name was not Guerrero, not Alvarez, not Trejo. And the status of my U. S. citizenship was so secure that I could not have even told you where my Social Security card was, much less would I [00:48:00] have needed to.
The name on my student, or my school, ID badge It was not Alicia Martinez. And though I did not go to the house parties that my non teacher friends invited me to each weekend, because I spent every minute of my so called free time, including weekends, grading papers, and writing lesson plans, Or dreaming about grading papers and writing lesson plans.
I could have gone to any of such house parties on any given Saturday without fear of being murdered and dismembered and stuffed into plastic garbage bags in some pendejo’s garage. I must have missed that lecture in graduate school, the one in which my professor explained the proper classroom management technique to employ on the Monday in class when every kid has just seen the picture of their friend and classmate, Alicia Martinez, on the Sunday evening news.
No. My name was not Xochitl. It was not [00:49:00] Corahelio. It was not Alicia Martinez. My name was Xochitl. Mr. What, Fernando? Mr., I’m serious.
Messi or Ronaldo?
Fernando, I said.
Your question cannot have less to do with today’s lesson on latitude and longitude. For that matter, not Lino Messi of Argentina. Not Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, not even Javier Chicharito Hernandez of Mexico. Has anything to do with the subject of geography at all. None whatsoever. But the answer to your question, sir, is messy by a mile.[00:50:00]
And if you’ll open your textbook to page 456 of the world map, and give me the coordinates of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lisbon, Portugal, Mexico City, Mexico, I’ll give you, in every other way, in class, a perfect score on today’s exit ticket. And we’ll call it good for today, how about that? And that’s when the nightmares ended.
That day in early November, just after Dia de los Muertos, the day I learned to meet my students where they’re at, the day my education began. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank
[00:50:41] Marc Moss: Richard Harrison White is a writer from Northeast Arkansas. He is the author of Can’t Go, Can’t Stay, a yet to be published memoir of the year he spent on a grief journey with his rascal of a grandfather and a taxidermied raccoon. Once upon a time, he was a school teacher. Rick produces the podcast for Free Flow [00:51:00] Institute in Missoula, Montana.
Thanks, Rick, and thank you for listening today. For a link to the Free Flow Institute podcast and to learn more about Rick White, visit TellUsSomething. org. The Tell Us Something podcast is made possible in part because of support from Missoula Broadcasting Company, including the family of ESPN Radio, The Trail 1033, Jack FM, and Missoula Source for Modern Hits.
You want to learn more at Missoula broadcasting. com thanks to float, Missoula for their support at the telesumming podcast. Learn more at float msla. com. And thanks to the team at Missoula events. net. Learn about all of the goings on in Missoula at Missoula events. net. Thanks to cash for junkers who provided the music for the podcast.
Find them at cash for junkers band. com. Do you have your tickets for the next tell us something live storytelling event. You can get your tickets online at tell us something. org. Better yet, though, why not pick up some limited edition printed tickets? These tickets are the same price as the online tickets and feature the beautiful artwork used on the [00:52:00] posters.
Artwork for the Lost in Translation event was created by Bear River Studios. These special tickets are available exclusively at Rockin Rudy’s. Get your tickets now at Rockin Rooties or get the digital version at tellussomething. org. To learn more about tele something, please visit tell us something.org.