Photo by Ellen Blum Barish
I was struggling and close to tears with every step on a steep mountain climb in Italy – as the least physically prepared of seven adults – when I rediscovered the potency of story telling.
Our guide, Claire, gifted not only in sheer strength and selection of the perfect cafe or watering hole after a long hike, also had the gift of gab and could tell a great yarn. As a single American woman living abroad for more than a decade, she had great stories to tell.
She was quick to see that it was going to be a really long day if I couldn’t keep pace with the others. So she dropped to the back of the line and proceeded to spin a series of very extended and hilarious stories that got me up and down that immense mountain. (You can see photograph above to help set this scene.)
Her voice took me into her story and out of my own body consciousness, allowing my legs and arms to go into automatic. Stories, quite literally, got me over the mountain that day.
When I was very young, I loved hearing an animated adult read a story. My children expected them as part of the bedtime ritual. I knew I still loved reading stories, but I didn’t have any idea how much I’d still love to hear them (let alone tell them), all grown up.
That trek up the mountain brought me back to the simple beauty of storytelling (now if I could only get back to Italy!) For many years, I wrote and recorded pieces for WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio, but even those stories were higher tech, enhanced with background music and fine editing.
What’s encouraging to me, as a writer, writing coach and supporter of the arts, is how many story telling venues have surfaced, especially in Chicago. How packed these venues get. How reasonably priced they are for one’s entertainment dollar. (Some just ask for donations.) How so many of these venues give money (or instruction time) to young children in the arts. How community building it is for artists. How it gets an artist’s work out there in a new way. How much feedback it gives to the artist. How satisfying it is to hear as an audience member and how much fun they are as an evening out.
As a frequent audience member, I never once thought that I would be standing there with a microphone in hand reading one of my stories. Writing is a solitary pursuit and I was drawn to it for that. I went with with my students to encourage them, to hear what was on writer’s minds. But the more I listened to the voices telling those stories, the more I returned to that happy place – the contented, peaceful state that helped me fall asleep as a little girl, that I created by reading to my daughters, and got me over that dang mountain. This delicious feeling, plus the desire to get my work out there, work that wasn’t getting published in traditional literary publications, got me thinking about trying this form. And then I met Jill Howe.
So I’m beyond thrilled to be one of the tellers at Story Sessions this Sunday, July 21st. It’s been great to massage my print writing voice into more of a speaking writing voice. It’s been good for me and for the writing. Tickets for this show are sold out, but there will be podcasts and another show next month (and the month after that) and you can, at the very least, put on your earphones and hear a story to help you get over whatever mountain you are climbing at the moment. (Or, if you prefer, lull you to sleep.)
You can read more about the storytelling movement in Chicago in the Tribune’s story here and if any of this talk of telling appeals or inspires you, email me and we can set up a time to talk about how to get your work from the page to the stage.