The Beauty of Storytelling

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 “There is no greater agony,” wrote Maya Angelou, “than bearing an untold story inside you.” Over the past, agonizing year, more than a few of us tackled our inner agony by telling our stories. Not for fame or fortune, just for the joy of telling that untold story. 

Everybody has a story. This is an argument for storytelling, along with a few suggestions about how to tell your own.

I have just finished (you might have figured something like this was coming) a collection of stories for my children and grandchildren, thanks to the help and persistence of an interesting website called StoryWorth.com. This is a totally unpaid plug. Other sites may also be great, among them StoryCatcher, StoryCorps, Ancestry and MyHeritage.com; I just happen to have landed with StoryWorth and haven’t tried the others. Consider this anecdotal – but enthusiastic.

My enterprising daughter purchased – with my advance consent (an important detail) – a StoryWorth account for me over a year ago; that’s how long I’ve been working on this project. In the end there is now a collection of stories – as close to a family history as this family will come – about their parents and grandparents. But it is also about great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, far-flung cousins; cities and towns; quirks and foibles that inhabit the past. I would have given all my worldly goods for someone to StoryWorth my own grandparents.

How to start? The value of enrolling in a program of some sort is that the storyteller gets both guidance and a constant nudge. StoryWorth sent a weekly question such as ‘What were your grandparents like?’ or ‘How did you get your first job?’ or ‘What did you read as a child?’ When I later realized I could write my own questions I invited my children to submit their own. Surprise, they didn’t send any softballs. How about ‘What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up?’ ‘How did you handle it?’ But questions and nudges help get stories told; the challenges thing is in my collection.

Stories need not be just for families. Every cause you support, every job you’ve done or place you’ve lived weaves itself into history, just as all of us become a part of history in the process of passing through. And history is nothing but a collection of stories.

Storytelling also may just be good for the soul; what’s good for the story might be balm for the teller.

Among young people, storytelling is the great introductory ploy. It’s the way high school students break the ice, the way nonprofits build community among their supporters; in my MFA program (University of San Francisco, Class of 2000) we spent the summer session writing an autobiographical narrative – telling our stories – that launched us, both individually and as a community of writers, into the semi-rarefied atmosphere of graduate study.

In senior communities, encouraging people to tell their stories is increasingly seen as a way to bring meaning – and joy – into often lonely lives. For those not inclined to type their stories there is a growing supply of voice recorder apps, and there is the old-fashioned tape recorder which can record stories that then can be digitized. So it seems one is never too old (and seldom too young) to benefit from telling one’s story.  

Today looks like a good time to start.

10 thoughts on “The Beauty of Storytelling

  1. This is terrific, Fran.
    Just the nudge I am needing.
    StoryWorth sounds like having a buddy to do it with and hold you accountable.
    OI need to do something like this.

  2. Dear Frannie, I tried to post a comment but it said, “this comment could not be posted.” It essentially stated a comment about tape recorded correspondence between my father and my daughter 40 years ago that I had converted to cds. Priceless! Love, Terry

    >

  3. Fran, Our daughter gave Harry and I story worth accounts for Christmas and we have been trying to answer the questions. I think I will take a tip from you and make some of my own questions as there are things I want to over to them. The weekly prompt is a help.

    How are you? We are well. In Vieques staying warm and vaccinated until April 1 when we will return to Fishers Island to watch the spring arrive. Hope this finds you well. Cheers. Ellen. Parker

  4. Sweet Fran, The beauty of storytelling is that I, for one, don’t need prompts! It usually begins early in the morning having awakened to relieve my bladder and than, after a glass of water, returning to bed and having trouble getting back to sleep. My mind wanders over various items of the past several days or drifts into crevasses of my mind, bringing forth issues that need addressing or something that has happened in the past that needs closer inspection. there are the dog stories, the visit from an aunt or the time I told the kids  NOT to tell their mother of what we had just experienced. Needless to say I have an active imagination and remembrance gene in my mind that keeps giving and giving. Sweet dreams,Bob

    1. I am so proud to share the world of storytelling with you. Prompts or no prompts, let’s hear it for recording the remembrances of things past. All of them. Write on.

  5. I love this Fran. I so wish I had done this with my parents and grandparents. But I am determined to do it for my own daughter. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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