Longing for Story | Living for Story



Follow this link to to Unlucky | A Night of Storytelling event page.

Storytelling is at the root of who we are a human beings. For hundreds of years it was how we told our descendants about the world around them. Before we could read or write it was how we learned about our pasts and our religions. We told stories to teach our descendants about morality and to warn them about all the ways they could be hurt or killed. The fables warned against bad decisions and told stories of those who prospered by their actions.

We crave the act of sitting around and telling people about what has happened to us, no matter how personal or insignificant. We love sitting around a table with a glass of wine, or a fire pit with a untwisted coat hanger bending from the weight roasting marshmallow while listening to other people’s tales of adventure and misfortune.

In the South we are regarded as a society of story tellers. 
We’re known in the stories of our past as a people who sit on their front porches, no matter the temperature or mosquito density, and share stories until well after the sun has gone down. That image is so ingrained into every southern child, sitting on the front porch steps and looking up to our parents or grandparents, neighbors or uncles sitting on the porch swing as they told a story. When everyone laughed I recall thinking,  “I want to be funny like that.”

I wanted to make everyone laugh the way my dad did (and, what I didn’t realize at the time was, his humor relied heavily on the way his jokes and stories contrasted with the reserved way in which he carried himself instead of jumping at every punch line or sarcastic opportunity the way I did).

But, we’re moving away from story.
As the South has urbanized, or more accurately suburbanized, we have moved away from our shady downtown Mayberry front porches and into our sprawling neighborhoods – where we’ve built fences and moved into our backyards. We spend less time on each other’s porches, literally and metaphorically, because we leave less room for whimsy and happenstance in our day-to-day lives. There are still places where people just happen onto other people’s front porches, like in my old Downtown Tupelo neighborhood, but the practice is fading. In most neighborhoods, a raconteur would be greeted with a shotgun rather than a Tom Collins if he were to wonder onto a porch.

We still crave each others’ narratives.
I think there is a reason we invest so much time in Facebook, reality television and the blogosphere – we crave other people’s stories. We want to relate. But when you take the human element away I fear something is lost.

On reality TV we watch the train wrecks and hold those unrealistic realities at arms length so we don’t have to relate – we just feel superior. On the internet we mostly the get the highlight reels. Rarely do you see someone Instagram a picture of the microwave TV dinner they ate alone or Tweet out their marriage struggles.

Storytelling is cathartic. 
There is a lot of violence, heartbreak and loss in this world, some of which, I think, could be prevented if we lived in a community where we could honestly share with each other, share our stories and our lives, our laughs.

When I am struggling with something in my past or a decision for my future, I never get clear resolution until I talk about that struggle to someone else. Even if the other person offers no advice, verbalizing my past or my fears or the paths ahead makes the decision making process or the recovery process that much easier.

People who share are so much healthier than people who hold onto their stories and their secrets. How many powerful people have been completely undone by the things they were unable to share – things they could have shared long ago before they completely poisoned every other aspect of their life.

One of my favorite things about storytelling is knowing there is no aspect of my life at least 15 people don’t know. There will never be a moment when someone says, “Can you believe what I found out about JB,” and the other person doesn’t respond, “You didn’t know that. Yeah, everyone already knows that. He was open about it/came clean about it/wrote a song about it/wrote it narratively and posted it online.” It’s invigorating. I know sometimes my mom or my wife cringe a little when I let fly with something personal but the net result is honesty and catharsis.

Let’s turn back toward sharing.
What if we take that back? What if we were intentional about sharing our stories with each other? What if we could stand before a group of human being and just share what we’ve experienced or what we’ve struggled with, knowing someone else in the room has been through something similar.

I think a community that shares, listens and cares for each other’s stories is a stronger community and I want to help cultivate that type of community.

How often do people who share deeply personal experiences and stories turn around and commit selfish acts in other areas of their lives? I can’t give a quantitative answer but I think we’ll find it’s not very often at all.

Don’t worry without action.
We have a rule at our house – when you worry about something, you can either take action or quit worrying. The amount you actively care and the amount you worry should correlate and if they don’t one side of the scale needs to be tipped.

I complained about the decline in the act of sharing stories in our community to April, probably since we got married. I listen to a radio show called The Moth, which is a storytelling forum started in Georgia (where they told stories on the porch until the sun went down and the moths flew up to the porch lights) but moved to cities like New York and Chicago when the small towns grew disinterested in the art of storytelling. As I complained April turned my rule around on me, “Do something about it.” And then she told my friend Nathan Taylor who is amazing at making things happen. He just sends me a nice email or text message every day asking if we’ve taken the next step in creating a storytelling forum.

And we have. Friday, June 13, we are hosting a storytelling forum at the Black Box theater in the Link Centre in Tupelo. The theme is Unlucky and we’re going to have a few storytellers tell their stories of misfortune. We’re also going to open up the floor for anyone who wants to share.

We hope to see lots of different people telling lots of different stories. My hope is we have some great stories and then a few shy people stand up and tell an absolutely boring or insignificant or poorly told story. I hope we clap for them and high five them and tell them how great they did. I hope those people come back in two months and tell another story with a little more confidence.

Follow this link to to Unlucky | A Night of Storytelling event page.

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