An Interview With Kevin Kling

- By Sean McSteen -

kevinklingHaving had the opportunity in past issues to travel the state and explore different communities, cultures and histories of Minnesota towns was amazing and insightful. And not to say we will not ever return to our mini adventures, but I would like to take a deeper look into what makes a strong community and hear from specific voices of the community from all over the state. We as a diverse, yet forever intertwined community are at our best when we are bonded together through the sharing of education and culture; the engrained presence of empathy and consideration of those around us; and the recollection that we are all one people living on this Earth. Our insights of the world only expand when knowledge is shared. There is only growth when we lift each other up. And when we come together, as a vast array of different communities but as one state, we can find that we all often share far more similarities than differences.

That is why, for this issue, we wanted to highlight the words and thoughts of one of Minnesota’s most unique and authentic storytellers, Kevin Kling, and get his perspective on community and storytelling and how the two are woven together. From reading his work and seeing him perform live many times, one thing—one of many—that amazes me about Kling’s storytelling is his ability to tell a story about his own life, while simultaneously weaving in larger and deeper themes and ideas that reach out from the page, or through a crowd and settle in the hearts and minds of so many different people. Kling truly sees the beauty in the world and carries his appreciation for life into his storytelling. In this way, I believe he is the perfect voice to represent the Local issue and open our exploration of what makes a strong community.

What have you learned from the creative community in Minnesota? My creativity is fed here. Home is where we belong; ‘belong’ is one of my favorite words. To ‘be’, and to ‘long’, you are someplace and you dream of being another. The ability to risk is a safe haven. A paradox, something we humans are good at.

Also when you live in Minnesota, you live here on purpose. It’s not the most hospitable of environments, in fact quite the opposite.

Artists are part of the community—as valuable sometimes as plumbers. Resiliency is defined as maintaining one’s shape. Community, family, and faith make us resilient.

I’m also a big fan of the Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and it is in our state constitution that we support the arts. I love that it’s attached to the natural resources, for what is an artist if not a natural resource?

What is the feeling of reaching so many different people from so many different backgrounds and lifestyles through your own personal stories and the lessons you find in them? Over the years I found we all pretty much want the same thing—to be loved, to grow, family, to have purpose. So it doesn’t matter specifically where you are from. I remember telling ice fishing stories in the outback of Australia, where the temperature never got lower than 90° the whole time I was there. People were laughing like Minnesotans and afterword someone told me, “That’s because our weather can kill us too, only from the other end of the thermometer.” It fostered the same sense of humor.

What does transformation mean to you? Have your own personal transformations helped you handle transformations that take place on a national or global scale? I was in a serious motorcycle accident in 2001, and was left with brain injury and the loss of the use of my right arm.

This really gave my work focus and a trajectory. Inside this tragedy I have really found why I’m on this planet. We give our lives meaning through our struggles, and this becomes our story.

Trauma is trauma whether it’s a person, a community, a planet—and a very similar system of healing needs to take place whether it’s personal, cultural, or environmentally.

You have an incredible ability to speak personally while at the same time reaching out to the public in such a fluid and meaningful way that I imagine there must be a lot that goes into creating the entire experience that we as the listeners may not always fully grasp. If this true in any way, are you able to speak that a bit? Stories work with invisible threads, so they don’t rely as much on words as imagery and momentum. The ancient Greeks said a story worked like a loom; vertically runs the metaphor, horizontally runs the sequence, and where they come together, one weaves the invisible threads for their cloak of immortality.

If you were to deconstruct every element that goes into building a strong community, what would be one or two elements that stand out in your head as being most important? Build from success, what already works. Build from our strengths and where we connect. Find out what’s missing from our common experience and look there for our bridges.

How we define ourselves as community must include everyone. We don’t build the tent and see who fits; we build the tent that fits the people.

Do you get the sense that many of us are closed off from one another? And if so, what, in your mind, can we as a group work on to be more inclusive? It is a choice. You can talk or listen, but you can’t do both at the same time. The key to becoming a good storyteller is listening. Learn to read a situation, an audience, so you know where to take the story or evening of stories. When a kid says, “You’re almost as good as my Grampa,” I know I nailed it.

Recognition is the start; if I see me in you, then by helping you, I’m helping myself.

What challenges you within the craft of storytelling? What do you find most beautiful and/or rewarding while crafting a story?  Telling the right story at the right place and time is the hardest and most crucial element. What does the audience want, what do they need from me, sometimes those can be very different. A storyteller is inherently an interloper, even in his or her own community. Because we bring another perspective, that’s our job. Establishing trust is crucial; humor helps.

Humor is not universal—it relies on family, faith, community, so when we laugh together we know we are family.

Is there something you do or something you think of for reassurance and drive in times when you can’t help but feel pessimistic about something? Don’t lose hope; don’t despair. Put one foot in front of the other, work small and with purpose.

In this period of such divisiveness, what do you believe keeps us banded together or what must we do to maintain a strong community? Listen.

What makes you happy? Dogs.