When you think of “story” in the classical sense everything from Beowulf to Little Red Riding Hood comes to mind. These are the tales filled with archetypes representing the ways of the world and deep moral lessons for growing. We have heard them. There are however other tales whose vibrations linger just as long, penetrate as deeply, and are already in your heart and mind to share. These are the stories of your life!
Though my mother never read to her four children (we were raised by the television!) her memories of growing up made the liveliest, most humanizing tales you could imagine. Family favorites depicted my nearly perfect mother getting in trouble.
It was Yom Kippur. We were, of course, supposed to fast…not eat a single thing. Oh, I was such a good little girl, and it didn’t seem fair. Why did I have to fast in order to repent my sins? I had no sins to repent, until then that is.
That afternoon I heard my mother calling. She had on her business voice….her ‘middle name’ voice. She had found them, prune pits, my prune pits, the prune pits I had spit out behind the sofa. How did she know they were mine? ‘Helen Edith Gruskin!’she boomed. I hung my head low and along with prunes, tasted my first sin.
A simple tale. As a child I asked for it a million times. Only now do I understand why. To children we are gods and goddesses, manipulating this world. Simple stories about our foibles makes us human, thus more accessible to the children we work with. They also identify feelings, vulnerable and real, as palatable to the children we work with as they were to us some (20-40) years ago. They take students out of the isolation that strong emotions can create and open the door for them to share their inner most thoughts. They also provide a model. You,despite these horrific experiences are still here, alive, bright, and loving! This simple tales empower our students.
To create a story out of thin air can be intimidating, but shaping a family story/experience is a wonderful way to break through any block you might have about originality. These are your stories. Plus, most storytelling technique (using your voice, body, and emotions to accent and heighten the tale) will come naturally as you have already lived out the excitement, fear, tension or joy that the story communicates.
To begin this process simply think over your life. Please none of the the actions comes organically when you are living in the images that are already in your ‘hard drive.’
Nothing exciting ever happens to me!” stuff. It is in the detail of the memory rather than the ‘James Bond’ level of excitement that a story succeeds. If holidays are coming think about your own experiences anticipating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or the holiday of your particular heritage! Was there a time that you were particularly anxious, disappointed, hopeful, or overwhelmed? We tend to think our experiences are idiosyncratic and unique. They are in their detail, but not in their emotional content which can be shared and appreciated.
-Think back over your experience.
– Ask yourself ‘Why was this important to me.’ Be honest.
-Conduct a guided imagery of the experience. That is, close your eyes, relax and try to create in your imagination the first picture/episode of your experience. Then let your imagination play through the whole story. You will discover details, actions, and feelings that could not be conjured through a pure cognitive exercise.
-Try telling your story, choosing details from your guided imagery that reflect and support your ‘why.’
I teach a class every summer in my home, Telling Stories to Children (www.tellingstoriestochildren.com) and we have discovered again and again that these tales, despite your honest feelings of vulnerability, truly enhance both the home and classroom. Try it!