Thursday, June 13, 2013


In this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come— Or for night to fall.” -- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Are you sure of yourself? Ever think I've got this under control, just before blundering badly? In stories, the moment everyone is sure, things go wrong. Curiously, blunders can be blessings. Blundering brought me to storytelling. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I was blind-sided by storytelling. It's a common storyteller's story, a type of “naive epiphany.” It goes like this: “I didn't know I was a storyteller until I did.”

Storytelling is a wayfinding art. Today, we cling to certainty and eschew “hypotheticals.” But storytellers deal in hypotheticals. What do I mean? Hypothetically, we try to find our way by standing, however momentarily, upon narrative suppositions, a.k.a. Stories.

Storytellers are often concerned with analyzing folktales. That is important. But, also, folktales are useful for analyzing experience. Early in my career I got by with stories sure to entertain. Given my training in performance, I could “hit the mark” fairly often. After awhile, I asked: “What do I have to say to these folks here today and why?” Then I set about answering my question one story at a time. Sometimes I blundered badly. But sometimes I found new insights, connections, community, and love. Really, love. How? I'm uncertain. It has something to do with finding my way out and then in. Out of the narrow anomalies of daily life and in to the ocean of story that evolved daily life. What does that mean? It's a forest-for-trees kind of thing. News stories need new stories. Stories of the moment. But daily stories are expressions of a larger Eco-system just as trees are expressions of forest. (I've jumped from oceans to forests, stay with me.) Like tree-huggers we cling to our news stories. That kind of makes sense, you can hug a tree more easily than you can embrace a forest. This is what I think I see in the fixation on “true” personal stories (all “narrative suppositions” IMHO.) Me too. Swinging from moment-to-moment, tree-to-tree, it is easy to think my troubles are mine alone, you wouldn't understand. But down under the trees, we find the vast biome of forest, and earth. And beneath our isolating, first-person troubles, there are collective stories. When I lost my house in the mortgage collapse, I looked down and saw Parsifal. I did not find answers. In fact Parsifal showed that things were about to get much worse before getting better. But “better” was a distinct possibility. When three women escaped that Cincinnati basement, The Giant with No Heart in his Body rumbled beneath me, telling how, needing a surrogate heart, he held a princess in thrall.

So what? This is our function as storytellers. Navigating uncertainty. Telling is our action, and telling means finding out. That's the name of the game and it starts with not knowing. When a speaker addresses me with answers, I have two options: take it or leave it. But when a speaker approaches me with questions, I become involved. We involve our community by posing questions and finding out stories underneath them. The answers, if any, come later. The uncertainty is what calls us. But I don't know...what do you think?

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