WICA hosts WOW! Stories conference

Jill Johnson

Diana Lindsay holds a strong conviction that within each Whidbey woman lies a story waiting to be told.

Every year, Lindsay gathers with her Seriously Fun Productions cohorts Rene Neff, Lynn Willeford, Debora Valis, Shannon Arndt and Heather Racicot to provide a platform for remarkable Whidbey women to share their unique tales.

Each presenter of the WOW! Stories conference speaks for 5-12 minutes, similar in structure to the popular TED Talks. Though hundreds of women are nominated, only a handful are selected.

“I think it’s harder to get into WOW! than it is to get into Harvard,” Lindsay joked.

This year, the conference will span two days and will take place from 7-10 p.m. Friday, March 13 and from 11-2 p.m. Saturday, March 14. As in years past, the event has already sold out.

Presenters vary in age as they do in expertise and interests. Among this year’s group of speakers are artists, adventurers, professors, inventors, entrepreneurs, singers, musicians, students, a farmer, a restauranteur, a physical anthropologist, a storyteller, an ecologically conscious funeral director, a poet, a theologian, a bodyworker and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent.

Friday will feature talks and performances by Sharon Betcher, Sharon Daloz Parks, Kathy Fox, Lucinda Herring, Annie Jesperson, Joanne Keefe, Deborah Koff-Chopin, Haley McConnaughey, Rainey, Shannon Stalpaert and Debora Valis.

Saturday’s event will feature Judith Adams, Sarah Boin, The Carolina Parrots, Julie Gersten, Marion Henny, Jill Johnson, Jenn Jurriaans, Hannah McConnaughey, Mary K. Sanford, Jean Shaw, Aleah Stacey and jazz musicians from South Whidbey High School.

Lucinda Herring, ordained minister, certified death midwife and licensed funeral director, will give a talk entitled “Threshold Tales.” Contributed photo | Lucinda Herring, a licensed funeral director, ordained minister and death midwife, will be presenting a talk entitled “Threshold Tales,” at the fourth annual WOW! Stories conference this weekend.

Herring said that, for her, the opportunity has been empowering.

“I love that women can support each other to stand up and be brave,” she said. “It’s hard to be true to what you feel is important to do even though the rest of the world doesn’t recognize it.”

Herring works part-time as a director at Sacred Moment funeral home, a provider of natural, “green” funeral services. She also works as a home funeral and green burial consultant on Whidbey.

In a green funeral, natural techniques are employed such as the use of pine caskets or shrouds, and embalming is avoided whenever possible.

A section of the Langley-Woodmen Cemetery is reserved for green burials.

Herring said she works to empower families to go through life’s thresholds as well-equipped as possible. This includes helping grieving individuals to bid farewell to the deceased in a more personal manner.

Tasks which are most often delegated to funeral homes may be taken care of at home if a family desires to do so.

“I never thought I would become a funeral director in my 60s, but I have seen how much healing, beauty and even joy happens when people creatively participate when someone dies, and not feel so powerless,” Herring said.

When not helping families to handle the “last frontier,” Herring helps children and families to celebrate festivals and other landmark events, such as marriages and baptisms.

“For me, it is important to work with more natural ways of doing things, to take more time and intention when life brings us these different thresholds, these different passages, to work together with friends and community during these times of transition,” Herring said.

Another WOW! speaker, Jill Johnson, has held six careers throughout her life. For the past 18 years, she has worked as a professional storyteller.

Johnson has received critical acclaim for her telling of the tales of two famous Whidbey women, Rebecca Ebey and Berta Olson, one of Coupeville’s first settlers and Puget Sound’s first female ferry boat captain, respectively. Johnson also shares her craft at festivals, workshops and schools.

“I realized, looking back through my working life and all of those careers, that I always was a storyteller and I just didn’t know it,” said Johnson.

Some of Johnson’s stories are personal, while others are fables, historical pieces or myths.

“I love the way a story well told can create a community between people,” said Johnson. “It can be temporary, but it can be very strong.”

Each tale, she said, holds a grain of truth, though it is up to the listener to find it.

“We think and breathe in story,” Johnson said. “The best way that information can be communicated from one person to the other, and the most historical way, the ancient way is through a story, narration.”

She added that storytelling is “narration with a purpose,” though the purpose is as varied as the storyteller and the circumstance in which the story is told. Stories can be told to expose corruption, to explore universal truths or to delve into personal experiences.

“I used to think you had to do something exotic or exciting to be worthy of being part of a story, but I have learned over the years that is not true at all,” Johnson said. Whenever someone tells Johnson that their life is too boring for a story, she informs them that, although they don’t realize it, they are very wrong.

As a storyteller, Johnson said, it is very exciting to discover the powerful story within each individual.

For Lindsay, too, the most exciting part of the WOW! Stories conference is hearing the stories of fellow island residents.

“It’s a profound and invigorating process for all of the speakers and we love being witness to it,” Lindsay said.