When I think of storytelling, a familiar image creeps into my mind: an elder with the strength of several generations. Eyes covered with glasses slightly tilted off the nose, he or she nodding slowly to the beat of a rocking chair. Their hands or knees are stiff with arthritis so it is rubbed continuously as the history of whatever crawls out of their mouth. And when it does, the ears jump with excitement, wondering how a single individual can be so vivid with detail. The story is told from somewhere down south under the roof of an inherited home, one passed down from generation to generation. A place where even the oldest relative once had his/her diapers changed, a place to always come back to and to always call home. This is a house on the countryside or perhaps a peaceful place in the city. Storytelling has been around since forever. It predates writing and has proven to be one of the most oldest and most effective ways to relay a message. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education, cultural preservation, entertainment, and instilling moral values.
One of the characteristics of storytelling that makes it so powerful is the colorful expression as showcased by the orator. The tone of voice, gestures, creativity, and point of view of the speaker. I always enjoy a good sit down with the elderly in that I may relive moments to which I had not existed. Even in my mind, as I pass an elder on the street, I cannot help but fathom what today’s world must look like through their eyes. It is a silent and private game between me and that person. Quickly and excitedly I create a background for them. Did that old black lady experience Jim Crow? What was it like for her? Did that old white lady experience the first integration of schools? What was it like for her? As I remember it, I was one day standing under a foyer at the Veterans Hospital waiting for my husband. It was raining out so I was careful to keep under the hood of the building. An elderly white man came walking out of the building. His back slightly hunched as he glided from one step to the next. “Is it still raining?” he asked, more so to the air than anyone in particular. “Yep”, I said looking into the sky. As he walked away, muttering a phrase under his breath I’d never heard but cannot remember accurately enough to share, I wondered about his youth and about how he would compare today’s world to the one he grew up in. Did he think the direction of things had bettered or worsened? I wondered, as I do always.
Perhaps Storytelling is so impactful because of its ability to both educate and entertain at the same time. Spoken Word Poetry, Theater, Photography, and writing in general, for example, is built from the foundation of the orator. It is in its basic form, Storytelling. While we may add the glitter and gold of our own poetic technique, it is the expert story teller who catches the peoples attention. It is the person who can design for us not just a collection of good-sounding words, not just a picture, but a reality. A stepping forth into someone elses world. Maybe we will enjoy our stay, maybe we will not. But whether or not we like it here is of no relevance, the whole point is to be taken there. The author has taken you there and you must then decide if you really want to continue to be a part of this persons world. If you believe you can extract from them some portion of themselves that may be of benefit to your own life. What can I learn from the history and the experiences of this individual, whether character or real live personnel. In short, Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are great teaching tools because, like love, it is a universal language. Universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic, and age-related divides. Although my image of the storyteller is that of an elder, Storytelling can actually be adaptive for all ages, and can be used as a method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences. Books and organized / structured schooling is one way to acquire information, but experience has taught us that social environment and contact physically with others is of great benefit to learning. It provides real life examples about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories then function as a tool to pass on knowledge in a social context.
In the end, stories exist to create a visual example of word in the mind of the listener / reader. To take the creative skill and the imagination and express them in a way that can literally be seen. And since Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture), Storytelling is also a form of art, producing stories to be appreciated primarily for its emotional power and for the beauty in which it is told.