We Are Storytellers

The weather continues wet. Every few days the sun comes out, abet briefly, and we find ourselves momentarily disoriented by the light. The tree frogs have taken refuge in the topmost branches of the maples, and folks have traded in their skies and snowshoes for kayaks as preferred transportation to work or school.

Sunday our downstairs, and much used, toilet clogged and refused to be opened. Then our smoke detectors went off and refused to reset, resulting in a visit from our neighbors who were making sure we were OK. All this eventually resulted in our neighbors and ourselves watching from our front porch as a small parade of firetrucks gingerly advanced up our narrow street. After the alarms ceased to howl and the firemen had gone away, we found a malfunctioning detector. Was that the culprit? Only time will tell.

We are storytelling animals, that’s just what we  are. We share stories all the time, often amending them to suit our needs. Sometimes we exaggerate and our stories become tall tales. Other times we bend the arc of the narrative so much our stories get branded as lies.

For most of us the storytelling never stops; our minds are constantly creating stories about our experiences and narrating our lives. Today’s stories are built on yesterday’s, stories heaped on stories.

Some of these stories are told from others’ points of view, for good or ill. Such stories may build on rich family traditions and much love, or be highly judgemental or degrading, drenching us in shame. It can be useful to notice whose point of view is represented in the narrative, to realize that we have internalized some else’s stories about us and the world, and to decide whether to embrace, or discard, those versions of who we may be.

When we experience major traumas our stories may become interrupted, preventing us from making sense of the world; our experience may become fragmented, making it impossible for us to construct a cohesive narrative. The task then becomes one of mining the shambles of our lives for the few golden nuggets that might change the arc of our trauma narrative, might offer hope and a path forward.

Trauma stories are demanding, requiring repetition ala the Ancient Mariner. Yet repetition is insufficient for healing; somehow we must free meaning from the clutches of trauma and form a story that incorporates trauma into our lives without placing it at the center of who we are. This is often a very challenging task, so much so that we may regard stories of healing as tall tales, or even lies. Sometimes the very offer of hope seems a cruel hoax.

So we tell stories to our children, friends, clients, and ourselves, stories of courage, perseverance, and creativity in the face of impossible hardship. Such stories inoculate us against some of the impacts of trauma, and offer a bit of hope and solace when trauma occurs. Stories that have humor as well as pathos seem to be most effective, and a bit of romance may help as well. Even tall tales may point the way to unexpected solutions to seemingly impossible dilemmas and problems.

Go ahead, swap a story with a friend or stranger, offer up a glimmer of joy and hope. Don’t over think it, trust that your unconscious and spirit can work together to tell the right story at the right time. Share a moment of connection and know that something innately human is at work in the sharing, that the stories we tell each other are bigger, juicier, and just possibly, more healing than they may seem.

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26 thoughts on “We Are Storytellers

  1. As an animal with a big brain that engages with past, present and future and has a preference for chronology and meaning, stories seem to be what we do with our biological gifts. Elephants sweep their trunks over the world. We sweep our brains.

  2. That’s exactly why I starting to blog, to tell my story of life. I love to have documentation of what I’ve experienced so one day I can remember where I was and what I will become from it. I think you did an amazing job explaining how our mind works when telling stories. I’ve had a troubled childhood and I’m writing to let my husband understand where I coming from.

  3. Wow. Really like your thoughts. I am an introvert and the only way I can express myself is either through writing or paintings. But it was all in my diary and notebook. Once a friend read my articles and suggested blogging. That’s how I have started sharing.

  4. My comments on your storytelling post are a bit belated, Michael, but I thought you might be interested in a project I’ve been working on with two friends. It’s a readers’ theater project about the history of Indian boarding schools based on a script one of my partners wrote. He and his partner have led the performance with others in tribal settings, an incredibly powerful experience resulting in too many requests for performances, including universities that want to videotape it. They asked me help put together a proposal to meet the demand while keeping both Native ownership and the integrity of readers’ theater intact. It’s a work in progress, but a fascinating project.

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