I recently heard an illuminating reflection on the core work of telling a story from your own life. One of the biggest differences between telling a traditional story and telling a true one from your own life is that when you tell a traditional story, a lot of time is spent imagining the landscape, the characters, the sounds, textures and smells so that you can inhabit the world of the story as fully as possible. However, with a biographical story the opposite is true – you already know everything about the story, right down to what you were eating and wearing and even what happened next, so the work is in discerning what to leave out. This paring away process is essential to the art, otherwise the story is in danger of being rambling, boring and ultimately losing it’s impact. This is not easy. The storyteller may have a favourite detail but feedback from the listeners says it’s distracting, irrelevent or even misleading, what do you do? How easy is it to let go of parts of your story? How easy is it to let go of parts of your life? In my experience, the answer is a resounding, NOT EASY!
One summer day recently in Cape Town on the 3 week Personal Storytelling Intensive we were having a conversation about this process when one of the participants, Pam Sykes, said thoughtfully, “it’s like the story is inside what happened, just like the statue of David was inside Michelangelo’s block of marble. All we have to do is chisel everything unnecessary away until the beauty of the story is revealed.”
Imagine if we could all learn how to chisel away at our stories, letting go of everything extraneous, until at last the beauty and perhaps even the meaning is revealed. How might the way we live our lives change in the process?