I recently listened to an inspiring NPR session about StoryCorps, an initiative started to compel social change through the power of storytelling. The idea is simple yet powerful: honor, create, and preserve the stories of humans for understanding and change.
I promptly downloaded the app on my phone – useful for recording interviews – but then decided to move in a different direction. Oration is an important part of the storytelling process, absolutely – but so is the tangible documentation of those stories. In turn, documentation creates ownership of those stories, which allows a personal efficacy that as humans, we should all have access to.
Yet, try telling your story. It can be hard. It’s challenging. Capturing small, intimate, yet formative moments often requires a listening ear, and sometimes even, the right questions. And so, in the spirit of communal story-telling, I had the opportunity to sit down with my grandmother, Mary Lou, to hear her story. That’s right, her life story.
We sat with warm tea, sunshine, and my laptop on a Saturday afternoon on my patio. At first grandma wasn’t sure she would have much to share – three hours later, it was clear there was far more complexity and insight in her nearly 75 years than she may have originally thought.
She said wonderfully insightful things like,
“I’m just trying to make my world the best it can be.”
“…children are a joy…but grandchildren are like strawberries and cream.”
Currently, she’s looking through the initial notes (nearly 28 pages!) and adding any additional happenings, people, or anecdotes she wants to include. After, I’m going to help her draft a prose-form story of her life. It’s intimidating – how do you fully write someone’s story..? – but I’m absolutely excited and awed by this challenge. Grandma has lived a full life – with roots in Uppsala, Sweden, and a story filled with different kinds of work, relationship upheaval, children, life in a small town, and a commitment to friendship. I’m honored to be a part of that process.
The following week, I celebrated Peace Corps Week (celebrating 55 years since inception) by attending International Storytelling Night in Denver at the Deer Pile.
The concept was simple: bring your stories of Peace Corps adventures, travel, and cross-culture interactions and share them on stage. As I entered the red-painted room with odd hipster wall decorations, I put my name in the hat. I thought to myself, if my name is drawn, great, I’ll do it. If not, oh well. I tried.
“Heather” was the first name drawn. Of course. I grabbed a luke-warm PBR and hopped on the wooden-black stage. I read a story I wrote recently called “bird songs” based on the African proverb: Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs.
I was nervous. Sweaty. Unsure if this was the right story to share. But it was. It was not only the right story, but the right time to share it as well. The story delves into the tensions of relationship – that much of what we experience in life is actually quite undefinable, which in turn, makes it beautiful. It was a story that extended well beyond the confines of the “Peace Corps Experience” and I believe that resonated with the audience listening.
Reading your writing is an act of vulnerability. Though I have been blogging for years, reading a story aloud (with others!) brings a presence and authenticity with a story that you couldn’t find otherwise. It reminded me what I had already been learning with my grandmother: storytelling is a creative process because it involves both the act of writing and the commitment of sharing what happened in the first place.
Keep sharing, y’all. It’s important.