Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stories as connective tissue

Last weekend was the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. It was a huge amount of fun, thousands of listeners hearing exquisitely told stories by some of the most skilled tellers in the nation.

Whenever I'm at an event like this, or any storytelling event really, I tend to sit in the back. This isn't from modesty or claustrophobia, but because I love watching the crowd as the teller's words touch each and every listener. They form a net that includes everyone in the room, linking them by common experience and images.

While each listener imagines different things and ultimately may remember a story differently, the shared experience of listening to a story makes the entire audience into one being. The story is the ligament that binds us. From my seat in the back I can sometimes see everyone move together, leaning forward as the teller pulls them into the tale or jumping at a scary moment. The audience moves like one animal.

Stories are connective tissue in culture and families as well. They are how we identify ourselves, how we know that I am of this group, so this is my story. If you are Jewish then you likely have some common elements of story around survival and loss and redemption. If you are African-American then you likely have common elements of story around enslavement and freedom. Family stories act as connective tissue through generations (for example, this is how we got here or this is our land) binding young to old and helping youth retain family identity through the trauma of adolescence because they know who they are by the stories they were told and in turn retell.

When we tell and listen to stories we are reminded of our common bonds, of how we are not so different from one another. We are connected by our very human natures; in narrative we have the opportunity to see the similarities and release the differences.

Once upon a time there was a family. The parents loved the children and let them go into the world to seek their fortune. Some succeeded, some failed. They told their stories so they would be remembered. And so the stories remained long after the original tellers were gone.

Stories reach across time, space and distance to give us the same narrative connection. We are human. We tell stories. Listen to me and I will listen to you.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer

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1 comment:

  1. I'm going to watch for that. Usually, I only get to watch from the back when I'm in an olio situation, and hang in the periphery waiting for my turn onstage... it's fascinating to watch the audience then, when I remember too.

    I've gotten into the habit of always sitting in the front row, to encourage others to do the same (performers hate having an empty front row), and to engage and encourage the performer by being an active listener.


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