Monday, December 16, 2013

Repost: The stories we need

This was originally posted on December 12, 2012.

I am in the midst of a season of one-year anniversaries, mostly related to moving and other personal adventures, some related to world events. In the spirit of reflection, I'm reposting this essay from just over a year ago, with a few small edits, including three video links and one embedded story. Thanks to Bob Tryanski for reminding me that reposting isn't evil.

This post still holds true. We tell the stories we need.

Just over a year ago I had the honor of being the featured storyteller at Massmouth's Bring Back the Light traditional story slam. A traditional story slam is a storytelling event focused on myths, folk and fairy tales, as opposed to the true, personal stories usually told at slams. Like any slam, traditional story slams have themes and this one, appropriate for the date, was Bring Back the Light.

It was a lovely evening. The open telling was really good, each teller stretching to give the audience something wonderful. The room was full of good cheer. Each story was more or less on theme. One teller, Bruce Marcus, prefaced his story by reminding us that there are many ways of bringing back the light; one way is to stand up to bullies. The air in the room shifted when he said that. The theme, Bring Back the Light, suddenly became so much bigger. Sandy Hook was in the room with us.

And then Bruce told his story, about an old woman who, through luck and habit, keeps robbers from her door. We laughed together, creating more light and warmth. The unspeakable had been named and we survived.

My set was after the slam. I told four stories, three short and one long. The first three concerned the sun, moon and stars (you can see videos of these tellings by clicking on the links). Lovely stories and meaningful, I was in the flow and the set was going well. When I started my last story I could feel something shift inside me. I wasn't surprised.

I think many storytellers have a few pieces that are protean, that change shape more than the others. I'm not talking about the usual way that stories change shape, based on the moment and time constraints, but stories that reshape themselves in deep and fundamental ways based on the needs of the teller and listeners. Stories that possess a kind of magic. I have a few of these, mostly ancient tales and mostly stories I tell infrequently.

This is one of them.

I've always loved the Greek myths, in large part because they are so human. The ancient texts tell of heroes weeping, gods raging, moments of passion and doldrum. They are deeply relatable stories. And the perfect Greek myth for this time of year, for the dark and bringing back the light, is Demeter and Persephone (the video is embedded below).

My telling is from Demeter's point of view. How much she loves her daughter and how her heart breaks when she is stolen away. Her grief and the lengths to which she will go to restore her to the land of the living. All of this is from the text, I have only given it modern form and shape.

But as I was telling it, oh, I realized that right now we are collectively Demeter, collectively grieving lost children, collectively wondering if we would starve the world, go to hell and back to rescue our lost loved ones and knowing the answer is yes. As I told, I realized I was telling an ancient story of this modern moment. The story wrapped itself around me and I honestly can't tell you what I said. I became an oracle and let the words we needed spill out of me. Sure, the story had the structure I've used every time (the Greeks gave that to me) but the story became something more, in this moment, this telling, this world.

Stories can do that sometimes.

Brother Blue talked about how we tell stories to heal this broken world. And Elizabeth Ellis says that storytelling is a way to give someone else a roadmap through hell. Sometimes we tell stories so we can think about the unthinkable, in a collective moment. We realize we are not alone. They become what we need, not just what we want to tell or hear.

It was not my intent to tell this story for those reason last night. I am so glad that the story was wiser than I was.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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