Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part 2: Picking The Hard Story: Why are you telling it?

Part 1: Telling The Hard Story: What Is It?
Part 2: Picking The Hard Story: Why are you telling it?
Part 3: Crafting Intentions Into the Hard Story: No Pity Parties Allowed!

The Hard Story: (n) Any story that touches on subjects or themes that are considered socially sensitive, politically divisive, religiously difficult, or fraught with discomfort.

I decided to blog about my experience with a story that I have been workshopping for about two years. My plan was to describe it and then make some comments and post, but as I got into the writing I realized that to really work it, I would need to either write a ridiculously long blog post, or do it in parts.

The first question that I always have to answer when I am choosing a story is the "Why?". 

Why am I drawn to this story?
Why should anyone bother to listen to it?
Why should I tell it?

If you actually have a guiding philosophy about why you tell stories, this is not a difficult list to tackle. Quite some time ago I sat down with my husband and I crafted a mission statement for DLW Storyteller inc, my company, that closely mirrors my personal mission statement as a performer. These are the guidelines I use when deciding on whether or not I am going to tell a story.

DLW Storyteller Inc. strives to present performances, residencies, workshops and written materials that strengthen communication, uplift the human spirit, engage the imagination, promote literacy and uphold the values of Unitarian Universalism.

That's a pretty simple list, but it does help. Any story that I have in my repertoire has to uphold those principles.

1. Why am I drawn to this story?

The night Obama was elected the first time was a pretty strange night for me. In the cold light of day some months beyond the feelings of abject fear that gripped me because of my circumstances, I was able to laugh at my foolishness. I was struck by how the whole event affected me. I have been in some situations where I didn't really feel safe, or I was disappointed in someone for behaving badly, but I had never been in a place where I was actually afraid someone might hurt me.

In retrospect, I'm sure I couldn't really have been in that much danger, but it certainly felt like that at the time. As the years of Obama in the White House progressed, I became more and more aware of a sort of casual lack of what I always think of as courtesy or civility with certain groups of people. Somehow, having a black man in the White House made it okay to say miserable, passive aggressive, or even demeaning things to black folks you just met. I found that pretty astonishing. Striking out at me verbally as a substitute for striking out at black folks in general seemed rather odd to me, but there were folks who did it. Then, there was the whole, "we have a black president so anything I say can't really be racist" thing that I encountered. 

I had more overt racism thrown my way in the last eight years than I had in the first forty. It was kind of astonishing. The thing about it, however, was that most of it wasn't soul wounding so much as it was funny to me and a bit unbelievable. It made me realize something.

The wound of racism that poisons so many people isn't gone, it just went inside...and not that deep. There are people who are hurting people, and they feel like nobody is doing anything about it. 

Racism hasn't gone anywhere. It has just gotten really passive aggressive.

The things that people said or did were so ridiculous, I decided I wanted to put some of them together and share them with audiences. 

I'm not the only person who has experienced these things, and the people doing them aren't in isolation. Storytelling for me is a wonderful mirror where you can see not only yourself, but others. 

Then there was the piece my daughter did last summer called "White For A Black Girl" about things that are said to young black women who are excellent and brilliant. They are pretty much the same things that were said to me that I had to learn to live with. We haven't gotten very far in terms of the stereotypes kids have about color. 

Ultimately this story screams to me about "Othering".

Other - (adj. or pronoun) used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.

Othered - (verb) view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.

Othering - (verb) Actively or aggressively excluding, treating, or defining as different or alien a person or group of persons from oneself  

Racism is a form of "othering" but the effects or results will be recognizable to anyone who wasn't part of the in-crowd in school, or who was part of that crowd and either actively or passively othered someone else. So, universal understanding by an audience.


2.Why Should Anyone Bother To Listen To It?

This story is about how we speak to, treat, and speak of other people. Everyone has had to deal with this. What if the person you said something negative about was standing right behind you? How would you feel? Now, imagine someone had something negative to say about you, but said it right in front of you without realizing they were saying something about you despite the fact that it was really obvious they were talking about you?

Perhaps it will make some folks think about how they talk to or about others.

So, more universal ability to relate to people.


3. Why should I tell it?

This one is the easiest. 

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like, "We need to have a national discussion about how we deal with race in this country!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this state!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this city!"

"We need to talk about how we deal with race in this community!"

"We need to talk about how they deal with race in this text book!"

Everyone keeps saying this, but I notice that this phrase seems to be the extent of what they mean. We get an article, and then everyone breathes a sigh of relief that it is over, and we just keep on doing what we've always done. 

Someone else is shot for scaring police because they are black
Someone else is puled over for driving while black.
Some else is roughed up for "looking like a criminal" just because they are walking down the street
Apparently you can even be rousted out for reading while black.

Well, as an African American, it seems to me this conversation should be a bit more extensive.

I am a storyteller. One of the things I do is introduce ideas through stories that help generate discussion. Nothing is stopping me from starting this conversation except for my not doing it.

This story should definitely make people talk.


So, now I know that I do want to tell this story despite the possibility that it will most likely spark anger, outrage, confusion, sadness, joy, hope, sorrow, disgust, empathy, thought, disbelief, and who knows what all else in the audience watching it.

I know why I want to tell it.

I think folks would be willing to hear it, and it will strike chords with them.

She's only 17. Maybe her daughter won't be told she's "white for a black girl"

Next, I need to figure out how to craft it so it does what I want...and doesn't cause unintended consequences.

I want my the way isn't she grow up in a country that is further beyond this nonsense of being in the thrall of the melanin content of people's skin than it is today. That won't happen unless we really start addressing this. I can't change the world, but I can start a conversation.

Part 3 Next Week:  Crafting Intentions Into The Hard Stories


  1. Donna, I really like your work. Thank you.

    1. I've been checking out your blog. I find what you do very interesting.