Monday, January 23, 2012

Kindred (anonymous) spirits

I was directed to a little piece called Storytelling on the San Joaquin County Office of Education website, which begins thus:

I have been accused, anonymously no less, of not being able to make a point without telling a story. This accusation is supposedly based upon my previous Outlook articles. This is totally inaccurate and I am actually offended by the accusation.

And it then goes on to…tell a few stories. Because of course it does.

I snickered so hard I almost hurt myself. And then I wished I could call the guy up and say, “Dude. C’mon over for a beer or something. You’re my people, bro!”

Because, well. Y’all know how I am. I can’t even tell you what time it is without doing it in parable form somehow.

Mostly that would be because I like stories personally. I like to observe things around me. I like to focus in on something tiny and commonplace and make a story out of it; I like to notice the weird things, the gloriously red-headed, the magnificently out of step. I like to make of my daily life the stuff of novels – even though in point of fact, my life is only slightly less ordinary than Everybody, and a lot more ordinary than many, many others.

I like to have fun with the words, to see if I can’t paint a picture with them that recreate in the listener’s mind the thing I was seeing.

Which I also feel is a good skill to have, for someone who can’t draw a line even if given a ruler and whose most focused, dedicated attempts at art class resulted in the teacher sighing sadly and announcing that she had never, no never, had a student who could not be taught before now…(yeah, that was an awesome day at school)

Stories also can teach hard things very gently. Let’s face it, a lot of what I have to teach isn’t very fun. It’s a combination of hard work, restraint, more hard work, and how about a little extra work while we’re at it?

We don’t like that truth. I don’t like it one bit. I always want to equivocate, when these sorts of Facts are glaring at me from under the bed at night with those big, red-rimmed yellow eyeballs. Above venom-dripping fangs. And a nametag that reads, “Hi, my name is Bob! Ask me about life insurance!” {shrieks in horror}

And I will definitely start tuning it out when somebody walks up and says, “Hey, if you wanted to get X, you need to Step 1, then Step 2, and then Step 3.”

And then, having tuned them out pretty well…I’ll proceed to the forgetting stage. What was the second part again? Wait, first you…wait, what was the first part…? OH WELL.

…maybe a nice $6 latte from will help me remember what it was I was supposed to do in Step 1…

But stories on the other hand…I like to use them when I’m trying to teach things because lessons are boring prone to being a hint on the accusatory and/or bossy side. YOU should, YOU ought to, YOU need to, YOU shouldn’t, YOU mustn’t.

Stories, on the other hand, don’t generally accuse the listener of anything directly; the story may sit a little uncomfortably when it touches too close to home, granted, but at the same time…I’m not saying you should, you need to, and if you don’t, these Terrible Things™ will befall you.

Instead, here’s a story about this thing that happened to somebody. (Probably me.) (Because when it comes to stories about doin’ it all wrong, HA! I win, baby!!)

Stories lead gently down the path. They make the lesson obvious without slapping anybody upside the head with it. They have a wonderful way of sticking long after we’ve all gone our respective ways – unlike most traditional lessons, which have a way of evaporating from our brains five seconds after the final exam.

Sometimes, stories will even do this miraculous thing where, months or years later, having merely been entertained by it at the moment all that time ago and not having thought of it even once since…you suddenly have a need for that particular story’s lesson.

And then, after having hidden silently in the back of your mind for all that time, it surfaces and presents the words, the thoughts, the feelings, the light and scent of fresh air, to lead you out of the darkness.

Sometimes, my loved ones become a little (cough-cough) annoyed by my habit of answering even a simple question with something that just about begins with once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an earnest and hardworking shoemaker who had but one child…

And I frequently do have to bring myself up short in normal day to day conversations, when I catch myself about to launch into some possibly amusing but definitely way too long monologue about said shoemaker’s child (or whatever).

And yeah, I’ve even been accused of not being able to make a point without dragging a story into it.

But I humbly submit to The Tribe the following: My point was remembered for a long time afterwards by most of the people listening.

Was yours?

Checkmate, Mr. Just State The Facts. Check and mate.


Theresa said...

Your stories are actually one of the reasons I love reading your blog. Stories are fun, they give insight into life and how someone thinks. When you just give the facts you miss out on the context that is so important to understanding why the facts matter. Keep up with the stories, they are fun.

Steph B said...

Life IS a story! And if we can't have some fun narrating our own stories, what's the point?

CeltChick said...

Steph is right, life's a story--and we each get to be the lead character in ours! Your stories here are marvelous & funny and somehow inclusive (put that mirror down!).