Sunday, November 13, 2016

Honoring Your Storyteller

Nurturing the storyteller.  Image © Lori Gravley
In this week’s pep talk, writer Alaya Dawn Johnson says, “Telling stories can seem like not just a luxury, but an indulgence that’s shameful for you to even desire.”  I had just been thinking about a note I wanted to write to a former writing teacher explaining why it had taken me twenty-one years to send out a manuscript we had worked on together. 

My reasons for abandoning my writing for so many years are sound.  I’m not sure I could have done what I’ve done any other way, but the simple fact is, for nearly twenty years, I didn’t honor the storyteller who resides in me.  There are tears in my eyes as I say that.  The woman I was all those years ago couldn’t have made a different choice, but now that I’m able to honor my storyteller, we both feel grief for all the years when I kept her silent.  

I was afraid that if I let her speak, what she had to say would bring disastrous consequences. 

I know now that letting her speak might have been painful.  There would have been repercussions.  But we would have faced them together, and none of them would have been as dire as I once imagined. 

I know now that I honor that storyteller who lives inside of me by speaking and by silence.

And I do little things to take care of her as we work through difficult tasks together.

1.  Feed her tea and coffee.  Perhaps because I’m really tired after a long flight, but the first thing that comes to my mind about how to honor her is this. Maybe it’s because I’m a little ADD, but the judicious application of caffeine at just the right time in the process helps my storyteller get the work done.

2.  Feed her beauty.  This may be art. It may be a walk in a quiet wood. It may be reading poems to her or perfect picture books or an emotionally engaging novel or movie.   It may be stopping in the middle of a busy airport and appreciating the art installations or the architecture, but my storyteller thrives on beauty. 

Julia Cameron’s groundbreaking working, The Artist’s Way, builds in specific “artist dates” to help feed the storyteller, but for me those dates don’t even have to be specific or solo.  Visiting botanic gardens with my husband, going to concerts with my sons, or going to a gallery alone—all of those things feed beauty to my storyteller and help her thrive. 

3.  Take care of the body she lives in.  I recently saw Sharon Olds give a reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC.  When asked what advice she had for young poets, the only advice she gave was “Take care of the vessel of your art.” She explained that a failing body or a body that complained too often made it difficult to do the artists work. 

Taking care of the vessel means different things for different people. Some people can’t tolerate caffeine.  I can’t tolerate sugar, so I’m working (sporadically, for years) on limiting my intake of sugar.  My body likes to dance  and sweat.  It likes to stretch, and it likes to swim.  Those movements feed me and my storyteller. 

4.  Listen.  I started to write “Even when I wasn’t caring for my storyteller” but I think I’ll change that to, as I was beginning to care again for my storyteller, I found I needed more and more silence.  I needed space to listen.  Quaker meeting helped some, but for a couple of years I also instituted a Day of Silence during the week--a day in which I did not speak to my family or to anyone. 

This Day of Silence in my life gave me space and permission to begin to listen again to what the storyteller was trying to say.  It gave me practice in cutting out the noise and chatter that were so much a part of my daily life.  It gave my family practice in having a caretaker who could choose not to meet their needs for one day a week. 

I don’t have a dedicated day for silence anymore, but I build silence into everyday.  Out of that silence, the stories percolate into my consciousness.  The words I want to bring into the world arrive.

5.  Take time.  Because I now take time for my craft everyday, I’m able to capture many of those words that are arriving. 

6.  Find good companions.  The storyteller, like all of us, likes to know that she's not alone. That's one of the powerful things about NaNoWriMo.  All of us, writing together, seprately in our own little spaces.  It nurtures the storyteller to know that what she is doing others are doing, too.  

Six years ago, during NaNo, a friend and I began to meet at a coffee shop to work on our novel at 7 am Sunday mornings.  Now our group has doubled and we meet every Sunday, all year long.  I have another friend who I've been meeting with for nearly eight years to write deeply together.  Holding space for each other's creativity makes the storyteller in each of us feel honored.  It's powerful to have companions on this journey to support, to nurture, to challenge, to listen.  

You may have just hit a challenging point in your storytelling.  Mine came early this year, but a friend said to me just the other day.  “I don’t know why I thought this was a good story to tell.” 

That’s just the middle speaking.  Keep telling the story, take care of your storyteller, remember that the words you put on the page aren’t the final words, they are just a start.  And drink more coffee. 

All will be well.

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