Know it by heart
by Diana Ellis
“Don’t memorize your story”, said storytelling workshop facilitator Naomi Steinberg to a room full of Suzuki Elders recently, “know it by heart. “ For me, that simple comment took formality out of the storytelling process. Of course – our stories are what we already KNOW by heart – they are pieces of our everyday past and present experience.
We Elders were in the room, 26 strong, to learn about the theory, structure and fun of storytelling. It was a long day, punctuated by laughter and sharing between folks who really didn’t know one another very well then – but know more now, thanks to really listening to one another as we shared key phrases and dialogue that came to our story-searching minds.
Here’s a few of the wisdoms Naomi left with us:
- Every story has the same structure….a beginning, a middle, (the journey), and an end.
- Other core elements are plot, setting, character, repetition and dramatization.
- Most stories have a ‘chain of causality,’ i.e. “this happened” then “that happened”, punctuated by “because.”
- Most stories have a turning point – a point at which something is about to happen.
- Stories for children and adults are the same.
Around the circle we discussed what brings meaning to a story, the role of ego in telling a story, how to begin and end a story, how to move between being a character and a storyteller while telling. We practiced dialoguing, building the landscape of a story and putting a focus on the “beginning… middle…and end of my story.” Naomi guided us with these points:
- A storyteller needs to let the ‘meaning’ of a story go. Our job is to tell the story and the let the listener make their own meaning, because the meaning is found in the space between you and the listener.
- When telling a story about the past, put it in the past tense – one of the ways to universalize a personal experience is to put it in the past tense.
- If your story does not have an ending (yet), you can say that!
- A good story is not about fluffing about your own ego! We all have stories in us, and sometimes ego actually gets in the way. Let ego go!
- Be responsible in telling your story – know it by heart, remember to breathe, carry folks through to the end.
- Using the term “once upon a time” is a trust building moment that breaks open the rationality of our everyday lives.
- It is not always necessary to say “and they/we lived happily ever after!”
- In person storytelling is threatened by technology (“put it on YouTube!”) Never forget the ancient technology and “good medicine” of breath to breath stories.
- Each one of us has a sphere of influence – enter it and tell the golden stories.
Our facilitator closed by encouraging us to listen to the old tried and true stories, the “healing heart stories”, reminding us that sometimes a particular story can galvanize a community. She reminded us too, that as Suzuki Elders we often take a stand – a resistance – and it helps the listener hear us when we include “compassion in the resistance.” This took me back to the inspiring words of world famous storyteller Laura Simms, when, at the Vancouver Storytelling Festival’s spring panel on Storytelling for Social Change, she gave this considered response to someone exclaiming “my father….Stephen Harper…the right wing….they won’t listen to me/us!” Laura said “If I tell someone they are wrong, the door is closed. So…open a conversation with that person. And, ask ourselves, what is really at stake here on this matter? Is it that we do not want to be victims of that authority, and thus we remonstrate? Or, do we want change? If we want change, we have to engage in the story, the conversation.”
The Suzuki Elders will follow up on this workshop with storytelling circles where we can practice with one another. Indeed, we have stories to tell.