Saturday, March 13, 2010

Your Story - Pass It Along

By Linda Goodman ©1998

As a storyteller, I am fascinated with personal and family stories. Hearing other storytellers share personal tales is what lured me into becoming a storyteller myself.

Why is the personal or family tale so special? The reasons are many and varied.

First, they are entertaining. Who has not been to a family gathering without coming away with a treasure trove of family stories to be passed along from generation to generation? When my family gets together, storytelling is the main event. We laugh, we cry, we try to outdo one another in bringing forth obscure memories. Through these stories, I have come to feel that I know intimately relatives that I have never even met. And I have come to know different sides of relatives that I thought I knew inside and out.

Second, they are informative. Though I studied the great depression in both high school and college, none of the facts recorded in my history books bought home the devastatingly harsh realities of that period in our country’s history like my father’s stories of survival during that time. His tales of hopping freight trains, standing in soup lines, and working for the CCC made me feel like I was there. And who, over the age of forty, does not have a story to tell about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated? These stories make the listener feel the impact of that tragic event far more that a mere recitation of facts can.

Third, they interpret events. In my story, The Punishment, my father takes me into a back room, at my mother’s request, and administers a fake whipping. For many years, I thought that my father did this as a way of making a fool out of my mother. As I put the pieces of the story together, however, I came to realize that he had actually engineered a scenario that would allow me to see the compassionate side of my mother. It is this interpretation of events, and the resulting bond of respect and love that developed between my mother and me, that is the focus of my story.

Fourth, they nurture community, and this can be bad as well as good. Nazi stories about atrocities committed by Jews created a community of hate that nearly destroyed an entire race in that country. Stories about atrocities committed by whites against blacks in the segregated south created a community of shame and outrage that lead to the Civil Rights Act being passed in 1964. I have personally seen communities brought together by the compassion evoked by stories told about a person or place. In one instance, the community created by these stories saved a teacher’s job. Recently, a television show called America’s Most Wanted was saved by the community of respect created by the stories shared about criminals who had been apprehended as a result of that show.

Fifth, they possess remarkable healing powers. I must admit that I used to think the healing aspects of storytelling were pure hogwash. Then my mother died suddenly. My grief was compounded by the fact that I had never had the chance apologize for an argument that I had with her the night she passed away. A grief therapist suggested that I use my storytelling skills to help me heal. Devastated and with no where else to turn, I took her advice. I wrote The Radio, a Christmas story that illustrated my mother’s self-sacrificing and unconditional love for me. That did not help much (I never doubted my mother’s love). Then I wrote The Bobby Pins, a story about a birthday present that I had given my mother, the first birthday present she had ever received in her entire life. That story was exactly what I needed: it made me realize that my mother knew that I loved her. Our argument was just one moment in our relationship. It did not define what we felt for one another. Realizing this restored my sanity.

Sixth, and to my mind most important, family and personal stories inspire the listener to become a storyteller as well. Who has not listened to a personal tale being shared without being reminded of a similar event in his or her own life? A few summers ago, I shared some of my personal stories with students of the Storytelling Institute at Southern Connecticut State University. “We have had many fine storytellers here during this session,” one of the students confided to me, “but I did not realize that I, too, have stories to share until I heard you tell your personal stories.” A storyteller was born that day. Indeed, it was listening to Linda Marchisio tell her personal stories at the first annual Tellabration in 1988 that made me realize that I was a storyteller.

Personal and family stories are inspirational, soothing, and infectious. They can both illuminate the beauty and expose the beast among us. They give us an unequaled opportunity to examine who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Through them, we can effect changes in both ourselves and the world around us. Happy tales to you!

1 comment:

  1. Linda, I'm so glad we connected at Assabet when you taught the storytelling class there. I can safely say, without reservation, it changed my life. You're a wonderful storyteller and a great inspiring teacher. Love you!