“Take this storytelling workshop and write about your experience.”
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, sort of.
I accepted this assignment knowing it would change me. Storytelling always does. It’s an act of surrender in many ways: A surrender to the river that runs deep inside and through us, the river that connects us mythically and pulls our hearts together and apart. It’s also a kind of weaving—a weaving of fragments of memory with poetry and the parts of the psyche that have been changed over time. For me, this weaving creates a new version of an old story and helps me to see myself and life from a different perspective. It is an invaluable gift, albeit a rather grueling one.
It wasn’t all peaceful weaving at the loom, let me tell you. The stories that need to be told don’t always come to the surface with ease. Sometimes they need to be coaxed out to play a bit. In the workshop, we were prompted to think of a moment that was a turning point in our adult lives. I have a bit of road behind me and have had quite a few turning points in my life. I’m also not terribly linear by nature which makes things a bit more diffuse for me. All of this meant that my initial draft was kind of a beast that needed to be wrangled and shaped by my cohorts and our instructor.
I ultimately found grace by going deeply into a specific part of my story which became deeply informative to me. I realized that I made the original story arc huge as a way of avoiding the details that made me feel and confront the messiness of my life. The end result had me being feeling far more vulnerable than I cared to. My story was raw, honest and tender and sort of blasted my heart open in the writing and performing. This kind of truth is what happens when we’re willing to go deep and be specific. The generous and grounded coaching of our instructor helped with this excavation.
Wesley K. Andrews, the creator of The Verbalists Intensive says he is “All about captivation and catharsis through words and stories,” and catharsis is right there waiting to be experienced, not only for the storyteller but for the audience. After my performance, several audience members thanked me and told me how much they could relate to my story. There is indeed an emotional release that happens but there’s also something else—we spin a little thread that tugs at something inside others. We see our humanity reflected back and don’t feel so alone in the world. Also, we offer ourselves a beautiful gift when we see ourselves at the main character in our own Hero’s Journey.
The gifts of storytelling that this particular workshop brought were not just personal in nature; there is also a strong community element to the experience. We only met as a group a handful of times and the course only lasted three weeks but the process of sharing our stories connected our hearts and deep bonds were formed.
We want to share these stories with you so that you can be connected too, dear reader, so we will be publishing some of them here in the coming days. You won’t have the benefit of hearing the echoing laughter or seeing the tears that were cried. You won’t hear the spaces that made the music in the notes of our stories nor will you hear the electric guitar from the beautiful Dashel that helped tie our threads together at the performances. My greatest hope, however, is that you will find a part of your own story in these words and let them pull you more deeply into your own.
Maybe you might even like to tell your own story at the next Verbalists Intensive.
Either way, I hope you enjoy the stories. I would love to hear your thoughts or even your own stories. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this bit of inspiration from the Sufi poet Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky:
The warriors tame
The beast in their past
So that the night’s hoofs
Can no longer break the jeweled vision
In the heart.