Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Telling Life: Community and isolation

I spent this past weekend at the National Storytelling Conference. It was wonderful. It was exhausting. I spoke with, hugged and listened to more people in one weekend than I may typically do in a month. It was also vital, as it always is, full of stories, workshops and performances, but the most important part was the gathering of the tribe.

There are storytellers lucky enough to live in a community of like-minded people. I lived that way when I was in Boston; there were many storytelling venues and I could always find a colleague. When I moved to Kansas City I found myself comparatively alone and isolated; Kevin was my listening board and now that he's gone I struggle to find anyone with whom I can develop new work. I've had to learn how to continue in something of a vacuum.

It's hard. It's also powerful. I have found that all of this alone time is very important, but I need to be mindful that I still require contact.

Creativity does not easily flourish in a vacuum. I need substantial amounts of uninterrupted quiet, but I also need to be able to bounce ideas and get support when working on something new or difficult. What's more, time spent with supportive colleagues reminds me that I am not alone in this particular madness we call storytelling. Thoreau, for example, took to the woods but regularly went into town and had lively correspondences; he had isolation and contact. A need to be alone co-exists with a need for connection.

The national conference gave me a chance to connect deeply with several of my colleagues and mentors. I had meaningful conversations about art and life and the currents that run between them. It was great. I drank it all in, imagining myself a camel, storing as much as I could for the dry times. Those meaningful conversations were worth the price of admission, worth the fatigue of recovery, worth it all. I was with my tribe and we spoke the same language.

It's an interesting dichotomy: I need the alone time to process, to think, to write, to consider, to procrastinate. I also need the community for the reminder that I am not a sole lunatic, something I struggle with. I need the time with like-minded people who are passionate about similar things. I need the influence of other artists, or else my art may become stale. I need praise and intelligent critique from people I respect.

The conference gave me community at the same time that it reminded me how valuable alone time is.

We all need these things, we all have opposing needs. Art and life cannot be teased apart and human beings need contact, in varying degrees to be sure, but solitary confinement is a sure path to madness. So is too much time with others. We all need to be alone and in community. We grow more when we are supported and that support takes many different forms.

What is most vital for me in this moment as a result of the conference is the reminder that I am not alone in this journey. We all need the reminder that, even when we are isolated, we need not be alone.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. So well said.... something I continue to know as well - reaching out is important - and alonetime to work is key. So glad it was a good experience for you. I loved our talks at Pyramid, and know that at any time I'd welcome a call or an email to set one up at the convenience of both of us.

    1. Thank you! Please email me, since you wrote this comment anonymously I can't write back!

  2. It is hard to want both the solitude and the community; the control and the collaboration; the quiet and the noise; the self and the other. I struggle to find time for both, trying desperately to keep the teeter-totter balanced, and often find myself failing to gain enough of either. Thanks for sharing what I've been feeling...and yes, the conference was a tremendous energy boost for me as well.

    1. As always, wonderful to see you. Looking forward to more.

  3. Heya, totally agree with you. Our Guild is fading and my gig numbers have too--correlation? Also reinforced the Alone vs. Tribe philosophy with an overseas family trip just now...We'll talk.


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