Thoughts on Storytelling

I was sitting in the line at Starbucks this morning scratching my head to remember a quote from a James Baldwin book. My inability to remember the book title left me nostalgic for the days of academia, reading handfuls of books each week, and tucking away beautiful lines in my little sketchbook. The effort to remember the James Baldwin title reminded me of the effort it takes these days to discipline myself to read. I never want to lose sight of the importance of stories, but lately I’ve felt my love for stories slipping away. I’ve wrestled to find my  answers to this shifting dynamic, and I’ve spent time contemplating the impact of technology and social media on the storytelling landscape. Storytelling has evolved over time from oral traditions, to chapter books, to the overwhelming collection of stories housed on the web through news sites, blogs, or social media. There are stories all around us, buzzing by as fast as our fingers can click. Yet, in the midst of so many stories, I find myself jaded and growing increasingly uninterested in the stories of others and, unfortunately, my own story.

Eventually, with a little help from my pal Google, I was able to find the lost book title, Sonny’s Blues, and the quote I was searching to remember.

For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness. -James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues

Stories. Baldwin equates our “tales” to light in the darkness. I’ve always believe this to be true regardless of story context. Even tales of suffering can bring light to others perhaps wrestling in the same darkness. Stories of triumph can help snatch others from even darker places. That ability to connect with each other and to know that one is not alone is a spark of light in the darkness that surrounds us in this world. The stories are never new. We, as humans, are creatures of the same sins, the same loves, and the same desires as our ancestors. As new generations grow and change the landscape of storytelling, should we fight for older days or embrace the changes for the sake of stories?

Fear. I have no doubt that my life story should be told. I have no doubt that it would bring light into dark places of suffering. I have no doubt that my story would help others, and I bet that yours would as well. I thought on these ideas, the quote by Baldwin, and my own history as I sipped my latte and ventured into the day. I kept coming back to this concept of fear and how it relates to our ability or inability to tell stories. I reasoned that it is indeed fear that has hampered by love for storytelling and left me frozen in my tracks. I’m daily working through my tendency to balk when it comes to storytelling, standing on the mound pretending to throw the ball only to retract it back to its home in my hand. The truth is, I worry too much about the reader’s perception right now to dive deep into the stories of my life. And, while I so badly want to let my stories be known, I feel that I must wait until I can do so with confidence and without being crushed by negative feedback. On the same hand, I must also be able to do so without puffing up with pride.

So, I wait. For now I am making an effort to read books instead of constantly browsing the internet or social media. I hope to return to the simplicity of words on the pages without advertisements flashing in my face, emails popping up, and a world of comments (people say some absolutely crazy stuff) streaming down the page. The world needs stories, all of our stories, but I am yet to a place in this modern era where I am ready to dive deeper. I’m circling back to reading memoirs and even fiction books, and I am slowly feeling my heart swell once again for the stories on the pages. I’m not sure what the storytelling landscape will look like in the years to come or what my own journey with storytelling will become. What I do know is that within each of us, we must not let the joy of storytelling die and, in a way, my storytelling adventure is currently in ICU.

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