Some Feel Pressure to Tell Their Stories

The fifth guideline from symmentropy focuses on the many different media forms that make storytelling something for everyone with many different talents.

Fifth rule of nonlinear storytelling

Storytelling in words, pictures, dance, music and everything you can think of.

By Lee McGavin

Not long after I met my artist, we spent an afternoon in an art gallery. She talked ruefully about the difficulty of picking up a brush and knowing how to start a painting. I made a joke about the blank page syndrome hitting artists and writers the same way. She ignored the joke but asked how I got past the blank page. Answers in jest are simple. Real answers are more difficult. Storytelling shines the best light I can think of on the answer. When we have something rolling around in our brains, we want to share it with other people. Telling our stories gets us to put the first letter on the page or the first dab of paint on the canvas. I found the perfect dodge to answering her question by asking her what she wanted to say. She told me she was not sure. I suggested that when she knew, the paint would fly.

As I meet people and talk about Story Chip, I tell everyone that their stories are welcome on the website. I usually hear a sentence similar to, “I can't tell stories.” or “My stories aren't interesting.” No surprise that someone who blogs on a storytelling website rejects both of those thoughts. They restate the problem of the blank page or canvass. We all have stories to tell and we have been telling stories since we first learned to make a sentence. People have stories and other people want to hear them. We forget how important stories can be, not just to the listener or viewer, but to the storyteller as well.

Last summer, I was listening to my voice mail trying to make sense of one that came in from a marginal connection. I gave the phone to my artist to see if she could make any sense of a message that did not even include the name of the caller. As soon as she started listening, a big smile spread across her face as she recognized that a recent lunch stop had produced a call to Story Chip. Thanks to cell phones providing the number for calls coming in, I returned the call, I did not get very far before a torrent of stories exploded from my phone.

Therapeutic Storytelling

Many practioners and patients have written on the benefits of storyteller in therapy. Here are some links to get you started:

From WebMD

A playwright's view in Psychology Today

Finally from the blog Storied Mind

I listened to the story of declining health with a year or two prognosis that had led to depression. I listened to the story of being a bad writer because of dyslexia, but a good storyteller. I listened to the story of fighting to get medications approved by the available health coverage just to make life tolerable. I listened to the story of finding recommendations to help recover from depression by writing or journaling.

After a long ten minutes of listening, I heard a question, “Can I send you my stories?” I took a deep breath because I was pretty sure this would be my one chance to say anything before another tsunami of words reached my ear, before I asked, “I am sorry, I did not get your name so would you please tell me who I am talking to?” I was right about being washed away with the next wave of paragraphs, that fortunately included his name and an apology for being so excited about the opportunity to write his stories. We spent another 15 minutes talking about how to get his stories on the web site and how I could help him get them ready for readers. As we finished up, he got a little quiet and said, “Thanks, Doc, you saved my life.”

I assured him that all I did was create a web site that was a perfect fit for a storyteller looking for a platform. He stopped me with one last story. He told me that in his depression, he had a detailed “exit plan” because the pain had become intolerable. He explained that knowing that someone wanted his stories gave him a reason to be excited about tomorrow for the first time in a long time. Sometimes, life can leave you humbled in ways you never expect.

I started receiving stories in my email. I would do a little editing because they did not require much, before helping him to get the stories posted on the web site. Those emails gave way to emails asking questions about how to format or add graphic elements to the stories. We created a page for him where all of his stories were indexed and linked. I got an email about how thrilled he was when his grandson Googled him and found he was the top 4 hits in the search results. Once depression has taken hold, a small set back can wreak havoc with large victories, and this story provided that reminder as well.

Several months after that first phone call that I had trouble hearing, I saw a new story on the web site. I immediately deleted it. I did not know hat else to do with what I can only describe as a suicide note. The virtual world presents unusual problems. I had a name and a phone number, but no location of a person who wrote a good bye and posted it on my web site. My artist and I got on the phone trying our best to do some detective work with the hope of really saving a life.

Two days later, I got another phone call that I had no real opportunity to do anything but listen. After thanking me for deleting the last post, I heard the story of what had taken place. In the midst of the despair that led the last story, a long time friend had arrived to just check on how things were going. As they talked, the anger with being unable to get his expensive medications covered by insurance benefits bubbled to the surface. Then the frustration and fear that came with knowing the the meds would run out in a few days and the extreme pain that would follow. Finally the admission that he could not afford the prescription. His friend bundled him up and took him off to one of the Wal's to get the prescription filled before trying to work on finding a more permanent solution.

My storytelling friend thanked me for deleting his sad story. He was going to climb back up out of the pit and try it again. I am glad he did. He is now seeing a different doctor who predicts years of living and story telling. Insurance is helping to pay for the prescriptions and the desperation that I first heard on the phone now sounds like a man with a future and a plan for more stories.

I cannot imagine Story Chip replacing Prozac in treatment of depression, but our basic psychology demands that we turn our feelings into a form that we can share. When my artist stares at a blank canvass with brush in hand, she fights the formation of her feelings in a visual format. The days that I set with fingers poised over a keyboard with a blank screen in front of me, the same battle rages. When people tell me that they cannot tell stories, I know that another skirmish has been lost. Human nature demands that we express not just our activities but also our fears and triumphs to validate our existence.

In the months since my mother's death, I have watched the children of Peary Street finish their grieving and move away from the shared moment that was the end of her life. We have moved easily into the comforting distance that allows us to pretend the there are no stories to share. Our parent's rules locked our stories into closets where they remained stacked like a Fibber McGee booby trap. Most of us will avoid each other to protect the seal on those doors and allow us to remember our own version of the lessons of Peary Street.

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