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Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling

Richard Van Camp

  1. 162 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub


Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling

Richard Van Camp

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Table of contents

About This Book

Stories are medicine. During a time of heightened isolation, bestselling author Richard Van Camp shares what he knows about the power of storytelling—and offers some of his own favourite stories from Elders, friends, and family. Gathering around a campfire, or the dinner table, we humans have always told stories. Through them, we define our identities and shape our understanding of the world.
Master storyteller and bestselling author Richard Van Camp writes of the power of storytelling and its potential to transform speakers and audiences alike.
In Gather, Van Camp shares what elements make a compelling story and offers insights into basic storytelling techniques, such as how to read a room and how to capture the attention of listeners. And he delves further into the impact storytelling can have, helping readers understand how to create community and how to banish loneliness through their tales. A member of the Tlicho Dene First Nation, Van Camp also includes stories from Elders whose wisdom influenced him.
During a time of uncertainty and disconnection, stories reach across vast distances to offer connection. Gather is a joyful reminder of this for storytellers: all of us.

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A Miracle Story
Let’s start with something really powerful and let me also tell you something about myself that is important because it helps make me a good storyteller: I believe in miracles.
I really and truly do because I’ve been a part of so many, and I’ve had the joy of recording Elders and story-tellers who’ve lived them, witnessed them, recounted them.
I love asking people, “Have you ever been a part of a miracle?”
I’m never disappointed when strangers, audience members, neighbours, and friends who I thought I knew everything about start sharing that they, in fact, have.
Miracles, to me, affirm that there is a divinity at play around us, and miracles remind me to trust the Great Mystery.
Want to read one shared by Tomson Highway in 2004? First, let me introduce you to Tomson with his short biography—in his own words!
Tomson is the son of legendary caribou hunter and world championship dogsled racer, Joe Highway. He was born in a snow bank in northern Manitoba (god’s truth!), where it meets Saskatchewan and what is now called Nunavut, in December yet! Today, he makes his living writing plays, novels, and music. His best-known works, of many, are the plays, The Rez Sisters, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, and Rose, as well as the novel Kiss of the Fur Queen, which spent some weeks on Canadian bestseller lists. He divides his year equally between a cottage on a lake in northern Ontario (Sudbury area) and an apartment in the south of France. Trained extremely well at an early age as a classical pianist, he still plays the instrument, most frequently in cabaret form (his own words and music), sometimes solo, sometimes with singer and musician friends in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
Tomson’s story is the perfect welcome to Gather.
The Time I Fell to My Death and Three Guardian Angels Flew Down from Heaven and Caught Me in Their Arms
You know, I was told by an Elder once that, from the Native point of view, there is no death, only “a going away.” Death, in other words, is only a journey, a voyage to another dimension of existence, another level of energy, if you will. When you die, that is to say, you go to another place, another position, on that great circle that is the life, and the rhythm, of the universe, a place from which you will rise again in another form at some other time, whether as a blade of grass, a leaf on a tree, a bird, or even something as simple as a ray of sunlight that falls on a naked human arm, a gust of wind, a rhythm, or a certain spark, an electrical bolt of pure energy. Which is why this Earth that we live on is, in and of itself, a miracle, a place of magic, a sacred space. Something like that. That’s where I want to start my piece …
Last August of 2004, I was at a small party at the house of dear friends (of which I have about 3,000 on six continents, thanks to my three angels; it helps, of course, to be 53, not 23). The house that hosted this party was in Toronto, a house I had been to many times before, meaning to say that I knew, quite well, the structure and design of this house (including its stairways!). I must say, however, that I had just come to this party from performing a show, a cabaret where I was the featured pianist, and I therefore had shoes on that I never otherwise wore—my “show shoes” I call them—dress shoes, in other words, that have uncharacteristically slippery soles (I bought them in Turkey some two years ago). So that was one factor—that the soles of my shoes were extremely, unusually slippery. The second factor was that it was very late at night, perhaps two in the morning. And so we, of course, had been drinking. And smoking. Factor number three was that I had just given my all at this cabaret—my own music, my own lyrics, myself at the piano—for almost two hours non-stop, me acting as mc at the same time, so I was very tired. No. I stand corrected: I was exhausted because, in part, it had been the last show of several and this, in effect, was the wind-up celebration to a highly successful undertaking.
My friends and I, that is to say, were all in an excited, overly exhausted state. And factor number four was that we were on the deck at the back from which, in order to get to the washroom, one had to walk down these stairs that were not only extremely steep (you know, one of those stairways in these renovated old houses that are so steep they look like step-ladders), stairs that were not only extremely narrow, that were not only carpeted with a rather slippery carpet (especially for the kind of shoes I was wearing) … but these stairs, on top of all this, were unlit. They were almost completely in darkness.
So at one point in the early hours of the morning, on my way down that stairway, I slipped and I fell from the top to the bottom of that stairway. I took a spectacular plunging, five-metre dive, and fell right smack on my head. It was the same kind of fall that paralyzed Superman (the actor, Christopher Reeve, that is) for life and eventually killed him. It was the same kind of fall that another man my age had that same week, a famous British literary agent based in Edinburgh, Scotland and who died on the spot, at his own home no less. And me? You know what happened to me? I walked away from that fall. Not only that, but I played another show at another theatre (from the first one where we had played) just two nights later, wearing sun-glasses to hide one huge black eye, but, it made me feel like Ray Charles sitting up on that stage banging that keyboard.
All I remember from that fall is waking up in the cat-scan machine at St. Michael’s Hospital some six hours later. For the first half-second that I was awake, I thought I was in a coffin. And I remember this white light all around me. And then I remember having my face stitched by the most gentle of doctors. At that moment, no one knew—for the four friends from the party were there with me—no one knew if I would ever move a finger again in my life.
Me? Never in my life have I felt so at peace—with myself, with the world, and with life. I think that’s what death must be like, you know, the most peaceful, beautiful feeling on Earth. I think, when you die, that you just kind of float away. And it’s over. I don’t think it’s traumatic in the least, not for the person who’s dying. Who it’s traumatic for, quite on the other hand, is those people whom one leaves behind. But for you personally? I think you just float off into a most exquisite, unutterably beautiful … well … I don’t think words exist for the concept in any human tongue. The experience, ultimately, is inexpressible.
Anyway, that fall happened back in August of 2004. It is now late February of 2005. So I’ve had time to think about it all. And I’ve thought about it a lot. And you know what I feel it was all about? I think that through some weird, unexplainable sort of synergy—some mystical exchange of energies, that is to say—that my three guardian angels flew down that stairway with me that night—my father, my mother, and my brother. And, let me tell you, these were fine, fine spirits—all three of them when they were alive, quite extraordinary, in fact. And I think that there, at the bottom of that stairway that night, they caught me. And laid me down to rest ever so gently. Because it was not time for me to go.
I didn’t break an arm, a wrist, a hand, or a finger. I know: I’m a piano player. For piano players, and musicians in general, things like fingers and hands and wrists and arms are of the essence (which is why we make such bad fighters!). I didn’t break my nose. I didn’t even break, or even scratch my glasses. It seems they just sort of went flying and landed in a nice soft place. I didn’t crack my skull. Most important of all, however, I didn’t break my neck, which I could very easily have done. All I ended up with was eight small stitches, three on the bridge of my nose. And five tiny ones in my right eyebrow so that the scar there is not even visible. And, two nights later, I walked on to the stage of that theatre. And played for almost a thousand people. My singer sang like an angel. I know, I saw and heard her from five feet away. My sax player played like one. And I? Well, I just played my best, even if I could see the keyboard of my grand piano with one eye only. And I thanked, as I played, over and over again, my three guardian angels, my wondrous trio of spirit guides, my late father, my late mother, and my late younger brother.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, I think. And that is this: how very important it is to take care of those around you while they’re still here with you. Because, after they’re gone, after they’ve travelled on to that other place on that great circle, they will take care of you.
And that’s my miracle.
Tomson Highway
Banyuls-sur-Mer, France
February 20,...

Table of contents

  1. Hello! I’ve Missed You
  3. 1.
  4. 2.
  5. 3.
  6. 4.
  7. 5.
  8. 6.
  9. 7.
  10. 8.
  11. 9.
  12. 10.
  13. 11.
  14. 12.
  15. 13.
  16. 14.
  17. 15.
  18. 16.
  19. 17.
  20. 18.
  21. 19.
  22. 20.
  23. 21.
  24. 22.
  25. 23.
  27. 24.
  28. 25.
  29. 26.
  30. 27.
  31. A Miracle War Story
  33. 28.
  34. 29.
  35. 30.
  37. 31.
  38. 32.
  39. Thank You
  40. Acknowledgements
  41. Resources
Citation styles for Gather

APA 6 Citation

Camp, R. V. (2021). Gather ([edition unavailable]). University of Regina Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

Camp, Richard Van. (2021) 2021. Gather. [Edition unavailable]. University of Regina Press.

Harvard Citation

Camp, R. V. (2021) Gather. [edition unavailable]. University of Regina Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Camp, Richard Van. Gather. [edition unavailable]. University of Regina Press, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.