Although I write, and what is writing if not storytelling, I do not consider myself a storyteller in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a long-standing art form that Storytellingday.net calls “quite ancient,” because “Before man learned to write, he had to rely on his memory to learn anything. For this he had to be a good listener.” Oral stories related history, taught lessons, created community, and fostered human connection.
Last week, as part of the Westport Reads program, the Westport Public Library hosted a storytelling even in conjunction with We Rise: Storytelling Collective to share stories of enchantment, since this year’s chosen title, Exit West by Moshin Hamid, is written in the magical realism style.
I have known and admired two of the founders of We Rise, Kerri Gawreluk and Will Diaz, for years through our shared yoga practice at Yoga for Everybody in Fairfield. I had attend some of their events and always admired the storytellers for their courage and expressiveness, but absolutely feared getting up in front of an audience to share mine. I find it easy to tell stories with ink and paper in the privacy of my own head, in the company of whoever else happens to be sitting, but not listening, at Starbucks. But when I saw this topic, a story came to mind, and I asked Kerri, after one of her delightful yoga classes, if I might venture using my voice for this event. She and Will were warm, encouraging, and welcoming, and that’s how I found myself on the stage of the Westport Woman’s Club the other night. Dreadful nerves agitated a stomach that food poisoning had already ravaged a bit. I was unsure if the unsteadiness and queasiness had more to do with the former or the latter, but I kept breathing and reminding myself that the audience was far from hostile – was in fact very friendly – and that no one was likely to throw rotten tomatoes at me even if they didn’t like what I had to say.
I went first, which was a good thing or I might have lost my nerve after hearing the other participants’ engaging tales.
I think I spoke clearly, and I think I remembered to include everything I’d rehearsed a hundred times to my bedroom ceiling (storytelling events typically eschew reading from paper), as I related how I found the silver ring I’ve worn on my middle finger every day for the last 10 years. Just as I did that night, I felt a strong dose of nerves the day that my family and I embarked on a white water raft trip in Colorado shortly after my divorce. And just as I felt empowered and uplifted after making it safely downriver, with a new ring that a black snake pointed out to me half buried in the sandy bank, I felt empowered and uplifted having shared the story with the roughly 40 people in the audience.
I’ve found over and over that doing new things that scare me lead to experiences that enrich my life in myriad ways. There are still certain things that I’m pretty sure I’d never be drawn to: Mount Everest holds no allure for me, for example. But I do hope to remember to not let fear get in the way of fascinating and fun experiences in the future.
Everyone has a story. Sharing them live, I learned, makes them everyone’s story, and encourages everyone to tell theirs. I thank Westport Reads, We Rise, and everyone in attendance for the opportunity and encouragement to tell mine.