Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for friends and family; the risks of having a storyteller in your life.

The A-Z Blogging Challenge continues.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

My husband and storytelling partner-in-crime Kevin Brooks told personal stories long before it was fashionable. Twenty years ago he was mining his own life for material and crafting stories that were funny, poignant and meaningful. He often said that God had given him a crazy family as material for storytelling. He didn't hesitate.

I was amazed. At the time I couldn't imagine telling stories about my own life, let alone the lives of my friends and family. It seemed too revealing, too personal. I preferred to tell truths masked in metaphor. We had many long conversations about the ethics of telling stories in which other people's truth are revealed. He was adamant that 1) these stories were important, that people needed to hear them; 2) that no one was harmed even if he told something embarrassing; and 3) that I should tell personal stories, too. Kevin insisted that this was one of the risks of having a storyteller in the family; nothing was sacred and everything could be revealed.

It took awhile, but eventually I did begin to tell personal stories, tales that involve my friends and family. I struggled with what to reveal and what to conceal. I still do.

Personal storytelling is everywhere now, it's the dominant form of performance storytelling. Programs like The Moth have helped bring thousands of people to this art form. I think personal telling is so powerful (at least in part) because it reminds us that we are not alone. None of us is entirely unique in the universe and when we hear someone tell a story about an experience that echoes our own, no matter how strange or traumatic, we connect.

As a performing storyteller I must have personal stories in my repertoire, but it's important to me that I respect the people who appear in them. I don't want to insult or betray my friends and family if I tell stories about them that are less than complimentary, yet those are the stories I sometimes need to tell.

I manage this by asking them when I can, by shaving off serial numbers (changing names and other identifying details) or, every once in awhile if the story is important enough, forging ahead with it but being careful about where I tell it. I know I am more sensitive to this than many. In general I have found people are delighted when I tell stories about them.

Kevin once gave his mother a stack of stories he'd written about her. She read them for a long time, staying in one place, each page slowly moving from the unread stack to the read. He was nervous; buried in there was a story about an old family secret in which she took revenge on an unfaithful suitor. He waited. And waited. After awhile it was clear she had passed that story. He was about to ask her what she thought when he noticed her shoulders were shaking. She looked up and tears were streaming down her face. She was laughing so hard she could make no noise and her eyes were watering.

When she finally caught her breath she reached out to him and choked out, "It's all true! It's all true!"

I think this may be the secret to telling stories about our friends and family.
Tell the truth.
Maybe wait a little while until the rawness has healed.
Remember that we storytellers are speakers of the truth.
We build connection.
We drive away shadows.
One story at a time, we heal the world.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. i like it couched in metaphor still :) you have to be around people who can laugh when they see the truth :) As storytellers we also know enough stories about the nature of truth and the dangers of telling it to people who are not fready for the truth.

  2. i like it couched in metaphor still :) you have to be around people who can laugh when they see the truth :) As storytellers we also know enough stories about the nature of truth and the dangers of telling it to people who are not fready for the truth.

  3. I've taken the plunge and done a few "memoirs" for the challenge this year. I changed a few names, descriptions, and other identifying features to protect the (sort of) innocent. But I've been very careful to leave out those who specifically asked to never be mentioned in my blog or in published stories. When in doubt, it's probably safest to ask first.

  4. I just started telling personal stories when I came to the US. I don't think I'll ever perform them as a whole, apart from slam settings, but they make great tie-in material between other kinds of stories I tell :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary


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