written by Julie Pasqual
I hope I am not the only one who loves it when someone you admire, and think is talented, smart, deep, and inspiring says something that you yourself have thought? Something that you have felt to be “deeply true”, but you were never quite sure if that idea, or concept, would make sense to anyone other than you? That moment when your mouth drops open, and you bleat out, “That’s what I ALWAYS thought!!”
If it hasn’t happened to you, let me be the first to tell you that it is an AWESOME feeling, it’s like having the kid that teased you in junior high march up to you and say, “Sorry, I stuffed you into that locker, you’re actually pretty cool.” It has a sense of immense validation, a giant “I told you so” to the world, and it leaves me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I am not as crazy as I look!!
And that is how I felt the other day, when I opened up my most favorite author – Anne LaMott’s, newest book “Small Victories” If you are unfamiliar with her books – READ THEM, if you know her work – READ THEM AGAIN. Here is a woman who lives a REAL life – that is messy, joyful, funny, and tragic – and so when she speaks in her poetic yet earthy voice, she is more than worth listening to. And, so I – a storyteller, who, through the marvelous opportunities that Storytelling Arts has allowed me, tells stories in prisons - was delighted to see that one of her essays was about her experience going to San Quentin with a storyteller friend of hers.
She speaks of her fear that the prisoners will not respond to her friend’s stories, and stands ready to save the situation – but then, as I have seen it do over and over in the Morristown Youth Detention Center, the magic of storytelling, to quote Ms. LaMott “steals the show right from under her”. She writes of how this group of hardened career criminals listened to the stories, mesmerized, and when they did, she writes “they looked like family.” And why? Because, her friend, the storyteller, Neshama had shown them that “I’m human, you’re human, let me greet your humanness. Let’s be people together for a while.” And that “they had thought Neshama was going to teach them a lesson, and she instead sung them a song.”
YES!! BINGO!!! THAT’S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!!! ENOUGH SAID!!! NAILED IT!!!
I have witnessed first hand, this “song” of storytelling, and I have experienced over and over, the power a story has to create not just a relationship and bond between teller and audience, but, also, between one listener and another – one human being to another. Too often, these incarcerated young men and women have had their essences whittled down to the mistake they made that put them in that facility. But they, like all of us, are complex, multi-faceted beings. Their lives have, and will, twist, turn, then twist again – just like those of the characters in the folktales we bring to them. And because to tell a story one must listen, REALLY listen to their audience by looking at their faces, feeling their energies, feeling out the way to the tell the story at that moment, for just those people, we are given a chance to, as Ms. LaMott beautifully states – greet them at their humanness.
There is such a beauty in that – reminding someone that their transgressions do not define them, and that life is not simple, streamlined, or linear. It is big, messy, individual, and to a great extent a mystery. Stories remind of us that – with their sometimes incredible series of events, larger than not just life, but the universe’s characters, and their truths – things that resound in all of us, that sound off an alarm of AHA!! somewhere inside those that hear them, and that make us turn to the person next to us and, even if just for a second connect!