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Story Origin: China The Lost Horse Long ago in a village in northern China, there lived a man who owned a magnificent horse.
What seems like a curse may be a blessing." Chapter One The Lost Horse Just how I came to be a storyteller is a story in itself, a tale of curses turned to blessings. In a pub at the southernmost tip of Ireland I heard a genuine seanachie, who sang the ancient ballads with such resonance that you could hear the ghosts of his ancestors singing the chorus.
In the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem I came to know a Hassidic maggid who could trace his lineage back to Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, the great eighteenth-century mystic teller of tales. And once, on the north shore of Oahu, in Hawaii, I shared the stage with a woman who had been chosen as treasurer of five thousand years' worth of her ancestors' stories. Me, I had no such credentials, and it always left me feeling a little embarrassed among other storytellers. I had grown up in the least magical place on earth, the suburbs of the suburbs to the east of Los Angeles.
Where my family lived there were no movie stars, no beaches-no water of any sort, for that matter. In fact, there was no geography at all, as far as we could tell; though we were told of purple mountains to the north, we could not see them through the smog.
It was called the San Gabriel Valley-not to be confused with "the Valley," which is so well known. Ours was "the Other Valley," a world flat and square, with relentlessly straight streets leading to freeways in every direction.
The truth is, stories take time, and my parents' time was spent trying to keep our world from crumbling, as they struggled against poverty and my father's failing health.


We belonged to the descending middle class, and my father had tumbled through a dozen careers in an effort to keep us from falling any further. He dreamed of great things for our family, and when those plans inevitably failed he would shrug off the loss with a joke or a proverb.
I suppose these might have grown into longer stories had they not been interrupted, usually by the ringing of the telephone.
He would rush to answer it, not wanting to miss that all-important call, the one that would surely make us rich, the one that would get our family off welfare, the one that never came. As for my mother, she didn't actually tell us stories, but rather referred to them as she drove us around town.
There was one about the Chelmites building their temple, carrying logs down from the top of a mountain-but I'm no storyteller," she would apologize.
We could sit and listen to him for hours." She would then trail off, leaving a picture in my mind of Grandpa Izzy, the great storyteller from the faraway city of Cleveland.
Years later, when I began telling stories, I would take his name for my own-Joel ben Izzy, Hebrew for "Joel, son of Izzy." But I did not know that at the time. We rolled up our windows to keep it out, and the station wagon became a vacuum, filled with untold stories, winding its way through the endless suburbs. It was the absence of magic that sent me looking for it, and I remember the day I found it. Though I didn't know it, she had just learned that my father would need to go to the hospital for another operation, this one for his cataracts. Taly, on the other hand, lives by the motto, "Cancer until proven otherwise." As a result, she makes frequent trips to doctors and almost always comes back with good news. How can you perform like that?" she asked later, as I was halfway out the door, my storytelling bag in one hand and an armload of Purim costumes in the other, running late to the first of three gigs.


He was a soft-spoken Arabic man, with horn-rimmed glasses, who, I saw on his diplomas, bore the name Ishmael. I've spent hours drinking mint tea and discussing philosophy with Arab merchants in the marketplace in Jerusalem, and his office reminded me of that, except instead of trinkets and rugs, it was filled with brochures on topics like "You and Your Prostate." As neither of us could figure out why I was there, he went to the computer and punched in my record number. Necks are my specialty." "Good thing you're not a proctologist!" The idea of an exam made me nervous, and I began making jokes. He paused at one spot and probed a little deeper, looking away, concentrating on what he was feeling. Like my Aunt Sophie-a papaya." But cancer was a disease for other people, older people-sick people, for God's sake.
I was thirty-seven and in good health, so it wasn't even a possibility lurking in the corners of my imagination on that hot July afternoon, my son's fifth birthday. I had placed five candles on the cake and was just putting on the sixth for good luck when the phone rang. I'd often had dreams like this, usually before a big performance, where I found myself suddenly unable to talk. I would be standing before a large audience, trying to tell a story, and no words would come out of my mouth.



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