Why do we tell what we tell? While there are probably as many answers to that question as there are storytellers, I believe there is a common thread to the answer: we tell what we need to tell. On a conscious or unconscious level stories mirror our lives, help us move through them, heal, and grow.
I have several examples of this reality from my own story selections.
Some time ago I was drawn to tell Dame Ragnell, also known as Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, a King Arthur tale. I had heard Donna Washington’s phenomenal version and Gwenda Ledbetter’s classic rendition, and I felt this pull, this undeniable, unquenchable desire to learn this story. I was in love with it!
At the time, I didn’t think about “why” I wanted to tell it so badly, I just knew I loved it. I began to research the story, and after reading many, many versions, I crafted my own. What was this mirroring in my life?
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a long, slow, heartbreaking journey.
I moved her in with my family, so I could care for her. This was as difficult a time in my life as I have ever had, and at every turn I felt imprisoned - by a disease, by helplessness, by caregiving - I was feeling a desperate need for ‘my own way’; for control over the circumstances of my life. So… I told that story over and over, and through it I found my voice during this hard, time.
I tell a story called Courageous Clare. It is based on an old folktale. Initially I was drawn to it because it has a tree as one of the characters. I love trees. I started talking the story through, and it morphed into my own creation, which I told at every opportunity.
During the time when I was crafting this story, I was starting to face adult audiences more often. I feel at ease in schools and library youth programs because that is my background, but I find that my nerves rise to a high tempo when I am performing for adults. I was in need of courage as I branched out and left my comfort zone. Courageous Clare was giving me that courage, urging me to do what I am called to do.
A long time ago I learned Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story, Sealskin, Soulskin. It is an exquisite tale about the selkie fairy folk who can remove their sealskins, and walk as humans. If their sealskin is taken, they must remain a human. They lose an essential part of who they are.
In the story a woman selkie has her sealskin stolen, and grows sick when it is not returned after seven years. Only when it is returned to her, and she has gone back to the sea, does she get well. Recently I decided I wanted to create my own version of this story, so, again, I researched, finding lots of versions to read and information to study. I began to imagine the story I wanted to tell, and to talk it into my being.
All the while the story, which I call “Isla’s Love” was telling me, “You must follow your heart, and you must be your authentic self. That’s the only way to succeed.” This at a time of transition for me, of coming to the end of homeschooling my daughter, and moving toward… something that is a continuation of what is authentic for me: my own storytelling business.
I am currently working on two stories: one, a personal piece called Kisses Remembered, inspired by a workshop with Regi Carpenter, and a folktale called, The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew, from a collection by Daniel Morden called Dark Tales from the Woods.
With my new eye for why I am telling a story, I can see that both of these stories are about my mom and her continued journey through Alzheimer's. “Kisses Remembered is a tribute to my mom as well as a journey through my life in the form of memorable kisses. “The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew” is about the magic of having someone help you remember who you are, which is my job now with my mom. These stories comfort and inspire me. They give me hope.
I don’t think I will ever look at stories the same way again. There is no way for me to not know that every story I tell connects with my life in some way, so I embrace this knowledge and use it to inform my work.
When I am drawn to a new story, when I fall in love with a character, and when I find myself telling a piece over and over, I surrender to the pull, open my eyes and see why I tell what I tell.
So… why do you tell what you tell?
So… why do you tell what you tell?
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