Coming Attractions: Shape Notes, Shakespeare, and Storytelling

Kevin Griffin Moreno

Photo by Jessica Keyes

I will be giving a “lightning talk” on diversity and inclusion in organizations at the Baltimore UnWIREd unconference at Johns Hopkins on Aug. 24.

On Aug. 25, my Baltimore Shape Note colleagues and I will be leading a shape note singing workshop at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. My portion of the workshop will focus on the role of religion in the Sacred Harp tradition. The workshop will be followed by a free public singing to which all are welcome.

Speaking of shape note singing, the Baltimore Shape Note group comes back from summer hiatus Aug. 30 for singing from the 1991 Sacred Harp and the Shenandoah Harmony at the Cathedral of the Incarnation from 7-9:30 p.m. We meet every Thursday; all are welcome and no experience is needed. Stop by and sing loud a cappella harmonies with us.

Looking ahead to Sept. 19, I’ll be giving a talk about storytelling at the grand opening of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Performing Arts & Humanities Building. (As a UMBC alum, I’m quite excited about this one.)

Get your tickets now for Glass Mind Theatre’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which I play Peter Quince, Egeus, and one of Titania’s fairies. The show runs from Sept. 21 until Oct. 7 at the Load of Fun Theatre.

I’m collaborating with local photographer Kafi D’Ambrosi on a Full Circle potluck, round-robin evening of storytelling for artsy types on Sept. 25 at Kafi’s studio. The theme will be “obstacles to creativity and how you overcame them…or didn’t.” This is an invite-only event, so hit me up for details.

Finally, mark your calendar for the next public Full Circle Storytelling show, which will be Oct. 27 from 7-9:30 at Hamilton Arts Collective. This show is gonna be sick. The title is “We Think We’re Normal, But We’re Not: Stories About Living in Baltimore,” and our house musician for the evening is the amazing Letitia VanSant. More details to come.

See you around!


Jay Hargrove: “The Person I’m Going to Spend the Rest of my Life With”

Jay Hargrove

Jay Hargrove at “That One Thing.” Photo by Jessica Keyes

On April 25, Full Circle Storytelling presented stories about “That One Thing:” that one thing that nobody knows about you; that one thing that keeps you up at night; that one thing you would die before giving up. The show took place at Baltimore’s Bohemian Coffee House.

I’ve heard Jay Hargrove share tales about his past on a couple of occasions. I was struck by the way his stories revealed heights of joy, depths of pain, and his wonder and amusement at life’s absurdities.

Here Jay recounts a sweet, funny, and profane story about his closest friend. N.B. this recording contains references to sex, alcohol, and illicit drug use, mostly all at once. If that sort of thing offends you, be forewarned. The rest of you are in for a treat.

Ladies, gentlemen, and variations thereupon: Jay Hargrove.


Rare Things

Sei Shonagon in card form, by Gerald Ford. From the famous Hyakunin Isshu poetry anthology, used in Japanese card games, this is Sei Shonagaon, famous author of the Pillow Book.

‘Sei Shonagon in card form,’ by Gerald Ford.

Maria Popova, the self-described “hunter-gatherer of interestingness” behind the superlative blog Brain Pickings, recently posted a snippet from her intellectual forebear, Sei Shonagon. The 11th century Japanese courtier, whom Popova names as the “world’s first blogger,” was an inveterate diarist who chronicled everything from romantic reflections to lists of plants.

Sei’s writings were collected in a volume called The Pillow Book. Fragmentary and dreamlike, its entries inspired Peter Greenaway’s 1996 film of the same title and Chris Marker’s opus Sans Soleil.

I first wrote about my infatuation with Sei Shonagon and The Pillow Book a few years back.


[Originally published August 27, 2007]

I’m reading The Pillow Book (Makura no Soshi) of Sei Shonagon, a 10th century Japanese courtier and the contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote The Tale of Genji.

Little is known about Sei Shonagon other than what she reveals about herself in The Pillow Book.  Even her name is shrouded in mystery, as “Shonagon” is a title that designates her as a government functionary, and “Sei” is a shorthand reference to her family name, Kiyohara.  The picture that emerges from the translated pages of her only work is of an intelligent, sarcastic, incisive, haughty, compassionate, vain, vibrant person who was enchanted by the minutiae of life.

The Pillow Book itself is a collection of lists, reflections, observations, gossip, and poetry, the sort of things that a Japanese noblewoman might have jotted down on loose pages before bedtime.  Though spare, her musings offer tantalizing, hypnotically fascinating glimpses of Japan and court life during the Heian period.

Here is her entry on “winds.”

A stormy wind.  At dawn, when one is lying in bed with the lattices and panelled doors wide open, the wind suddenly blows into the room and stings one’s face – most delightful.

A cold, wintry wind.

In the Third Month the moist, gentle wind that blows in the evenings moves me greatly.

Also moving is the cool, rainy wind in the Eighth and Ninth Months. Streaks of rain are blown violently from the side, and I enjoy watching people cover their stiff robes of unlined silk with the padded coats that they put away after the summer rains.

Towards the end of the Ninth Month and the beginning of the Tenth the sky is clouded over, there is a strong wind, and the yellow leaves fall gently to the ground, especially from the cherry trees and the elms. All this produces a most pleasant sense of melancholy. In the Tenth Month I love gardens that are full of trees.

Here is Sei on “elegant things.”

A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat. Duck Eggs. Shaved Ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl. A rosary of rock crystal. Snow on wistaria or plum blossoms. A pretty child eating strawberries.

And on meeting a lover:

To meet one’s lover summer is indee the right season. True, the nights are very short, and dawn creeps up before one has had a wink of sleep. Since all the lattices have been left open, one can lie and look out at the garden in the cool morning air. There are still a few endearments to exchange before the man takes his leave, and the lovers are murmuring to each other when suddenly there is a loud noise. For a moment they are certain that they have been discovered; but it is only the caw of a crow flying past in the garden. In the winter, when it is very cold and one lies buried under the bedclothes listening to one’s lover’s endearments, it is delightful to hear the booming of a temple gong, which seems to come from the bottom of a deep well. The first cry of the birds, whose beaks are still tucked under their wings, is also strange and muffled. Then one bird after another takes up the call. How pleasant it is to lie there listening as the sounds become clearer and clearer!

Increasingly I find that creation is such an incredibly vast affair that the only way to wrap one’s mind around the enormity of it all is to pay attention to the details.  Each moment, each occurrence, each phenomenon contains so much that it seems to me a futile exercise to try and understand existence on a macro scale.  Perhaps quantum mathematicians and astrophysicists can play comfortably with notions of time, space, and infinity, but such concepts tend to elude and frustrate me.   Observing the small and mundane, on the other hand, brings me into more intimate and immediate contact with mystery.  That’s what appeals to me so strongly about The Pillow Book.

Sei Shonagon’s style is also useful for me as a lackadaisical blogger.  I’ve never mastered the art of the short, pithy entry.  My tendency is to write essays (such as this post is becoming).  Reading The Pillow Book, I am finding the inspiration to pull back, to say more with less, and hopefully to post more regularly.

Mobtownblues: “On Nearly Becoming a Secret Agent”

Kevin Griffin Moreno (@mobtownblues)

Photo by Jessica Keyes.

On April 25, Full Circle Storytelling presented stories about “That One Thing:” that one thing that nobody knows about you; that one thing that keeps you up at night; that one thing you would die before giving up. The show took place at Baltimore’s Bohemian Coffee House.

In this opening story, I talked about that one decision that completely and irrevocably altered the course of my life.

See, my dad made his living doing hush-hush things for Uncle Sam. And until the age of about 20, I could imagine no other career path for myself. Following in his footsteps was such a foregone conclusion for so many years that I’m still surprised I’m not working for one of those three-letter agencies.

One day, when I was jobless, broke, and down on my luck, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. The opportunity to fulfill my destiny. Here’s what I did with it.

Art+Justice Blog: A Profile of Community Artist/Farmer Elisa Lane

Artist and Farmer Elisa Lane

Photo courtesy Elisa Lane

Artist Elisa Lane, director of the Whitelock Community Farm in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood, says that she’s “inspired by weeds” because “they’re relentless and apologetic,” which I think is one of the most awesome quotes ever.

In my profile of her for the Baltimore Art + Justice Project blog, Elisa talks about how she went from entertaining children as a member of Clowns Without Borders, to teaching them about growing vegetables in the heart of the city.

Elisa is one of the many people who make me proud to live in Baltimore. I’m a big fan.

Angels, Visions, & Backbends: Vids from FCS Mystery/Faith Show

Shakyamuni Buddha

Shakyamuni BuddhaOne of the exhilarating and frankly somewhat nervous-making aspects of hosting Full Circle Storytelling is that I’m never 100% sure what to expect from a given group of storytellers. That was particularly true of the “Evidence of Things Unseen” show, which focused on themes of faith and mystery. The very nature of those subjects opens up opportunities for tales that are poignant, transcendent, funny, strange, or uncomfortable.

As you can see in the videos below, all of those qualities were on display on March 21 at the Village Learning Place.


I led things off with a story about how a dangerous and potentially life-threatening encounter on the side of a dusty road in Malawi led to my conviction that guardian angels actually exist…and that they drive white VW bugs.


Francine Housier is a consultant, an activist, defiantly “left of Left,” and one of the most lovely people I’ve ever met. Here she talks about repeatedly seeing a familiar face in unexpected places, and how that serendipity has influenced her outlook on life.


Baltimore social commentator Dennis McIver, aka @dennisthecynic, talks about how, even as a self-professed agnostic and skeptic, his life was shaped by the faith of his childhood.


Rev. James Thomas Sharp is the pastor of a Lutheran church in the southeast Baltimore neighborhood of Highlandtown. He recounted an affecting story about how he came to realize the truth of his creed on the verge of an automobile accident in South America.


Rev. Jai Brooks, a Baltimore-based interfaith minister and wedding officiant, told a story about dreams, visions, and precognition.


Designer, web developer, and FCS co-host Jessica Keyes, aka @prairieskygal, talked about how yoga is not necessarily the serene, placid practice that it’s cracked up to be.


Rancher, computer geek, hot sauce manufacturer, set designer, former teen paramedic, all-around renaissance man. The multifaceted Garrett Bladow, who regularly bats cleanup at FCS events, spoke about how he stays grounded through all the changes life throws at him.


Do you have a story to tell? Would you like to host an evening of storytelling? Hit us up.