Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ask the storyteller: Telling in spite of myself

This week's #askthestoryteller is an amalgam of my story life and my personal life. I was recently asked how I can keep telling stories, how I can keep performing, while at the same time experiencing deep grief. It's a good question, one I think deserves a public answer because we all will experience difficulties in our lives, yet still need to continue our work.

If you haven't been following this blog or don't know me, then you may not know that my husband Kevin Brooks died from pancreatic cancer just over a year ago. He was not just my life partner, he was also my work partner. He helped me think through stories, craft performances, hone my teaching and more. Losing him has had a significant and lasting impact on my work as well as every other facet of my life. Should you wish, you can read more about this by selecting the grief tag.

We each will experience loss. Whether it's a death, divorce, losing a job or something else, loss is a part life. We heal from these losses in fits and starts. It takes time. It takes remembering who we are beyond the pain, finding ourselves in what we hold most dear (in my case, in my work). It takes telling the story over and over again.

I tell stories because it is a basic part of what it is to be human. It is a basic part of who I am. I have discovered that even now, when my heart is aching and I feel more lost than I ever have been, that performing and connecting to the audience helps me find my feet again. What's more, 20+ years of professionalism kicks in and I want to give the audience the best I can. I do not want them to feel the need to care for me (performance storytelling is not a therapy session) so I step out of my lost and pained state. I find myself in the magical place where storytelling happens. I become more than my pain, more than my words and the way I use my body. I become a conduit for the story, a tool to move the audience beyond their own pain and cares, into the narrative where they can look at their own lives and experiences in the story mirror. I've written before about why I love storytelling; every single one of these elements is at play, even now, and more. Storytelling connects me to the best parts of myself. The wise parts. The parts that see beyond the blur. The parts that Kevin nurtured. When I tell stories I am more and that feeling lingers after the applause the lights have gone out.

When I step on the stage I find healing and solace in the work. I find healing and solace in loving the audience (as I write this All You Need is Love plays over the cafe radio). I find healing and solace in my ongoing connection with Kevin through our shared art. I find healing and solace in remembering that loss is part of the human story, that I am not alone. This is what storytelling is about at its most basic. I am not alone.

Neither are you. No matter your pain and loss you, too, can connect with others through story, through listening, beyond the darkness and into hope.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Laura, this is profoundly true. I would even suggest that the boiling energy of grief can (in ways I don't understand, and it sounds odd) drive excellent performing. I remember that when my mother was dying and I had to leave her to go to my classes and teach, I did some of my best teaching. (I haven't admitted this, thinking that it sounds heartless, but your blog helps me understand what was happening.) I am sure it is not true for everyone, but somehow the power of the emotions I was feeling about my mother made other kinds of powerful emotions stronger, better focused, including my love for my students and my delight in connecting them with what I loved to teach. Hmmm. Thank you.

    1. Yes! I am aware that my telling is better than it ever has been. I don't understand why.
      I don't think it's heartless at all. I think it's reflective of how grief can give us permission to live with more intentionality and to be closer to our own emotions, whether or not we want to.

  2. Laura - you do a good job of putting it into words. I told a story in an olio three weeks after Jim died - and although it was probably not my best telling it w as "getting back on the horse" - and Jim had counted on me to do that. He had invested a lot of his time, energy and encouraging into supporting me as a storyteller. Jim died in March and I presented a one woman show at the Fringe in July - kindly they accepted the repeat of a story I had presented two years before, I knew I was not ready to take on creation of and performing a new show. My family stepped in as a major support system during the Fringe. Jim's burial at Arlington was the day after the final show. I look back now and I am so grateful that I went ahead quickly - hard as it sometimes was to do it. - - otherwise I might not have continued. For one thing I knew Jim would want me to - and also I knew storytelling would be a life-line for me going forward. I continue. I know Jim is with me as I tell stories about him - and our life together.
    People say the same things to me as they do to you - how can you do it - its because I cannot not do it - and I hear you saying that is how it is for you too. We are so lucky to have storytelling as a center in our lives. So - I send a hug to you - Grief is what it is - - and we are finding our own way of coping. Ellouise

    1. Hugs right back to you. And yes, we find our own way of coping because to otherwise would disrespect both their memories and our own souls.


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