A storyteller, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a:
a. a relater of anecdotes
b: a reciter of tales (as in a children’s library)
c. liar, fibber
d: a writer of stories
I’m a bit aghast as I read the definitions.
I talk to the dictionary webpage “That’s all you have to say about storytellers? A relater of anecdotes? A reciter of tales – as in a children’s library? A fibber? A writer of stories?”
Yes, I know they are — technically — definitions of storytellers. But, in my humble opinion — with all due respect to G&C Merriam and Noah Webster — they are such pedestrian, dry, uninspiring, and perhaps even, incomplete definitions.
What is a storyteller according to me, you ask? So glad you’re wondering.
A storyteller, is:
a. a wielder of power
b. a connector of seemingly unconnected things
c. one who deals in possibility, magic, truth, inspiration, hope.
d. a teller of stories — written, spoken, shown, lived — to children and adults.
e. me, and you
Are you suprised by my definitions? Are you thinking, “I’m not a storyteller. Storytelling isn’t my thing, I’m a teacher, a doctor, a parent, a crossing guard — I’m just me, I don’t tell stories.”
Ah, but it is your thing. Storytelling is our thing as humans. We are all storytellers. We craft our own stories, and we help others craft theirs.
Maybe in the place of the definition, the dictionary should just have a mirror, or the instructions: To discover what a storyteller is, find your nearest mirror and peer inside.
Still not convinced? Read on.
As you read, listen for the stories being encouraged and told.
I’m in for an MRI. I’m feeling all the classic nervous symptoms, but I’m, doing my best to use positive self-talk, prayer, and my breath as anchors to peace and hope.
I’m greeted at the door with hand sanitizer and a scanning thermometer. “Any cough, fever, recent loss of taste or smell?” “No,” I reply, adding, “Woo hoo and praise God! Have a good day.” She looks at me as though not quite sure how to respond. We make eye contact during her brief moment of hesitation. Finally she says “You, too.” before turning to the next person who has come through the door.
Arriving at imagining I’m handed paperwork to fill out. It includes a laundry list of “have you ever …” Except for the fact that I’m able to answer no to many of the questions, this doesn’t do much to assuage my anxiety. Now I wait. The only noise is the TV which fills the silence of the waiting room with less than positive banter of some news broadcast.
My name is called and the tech takes my paperwork. Looking at the paperwork rather than me, she asks me some questions as she walks quickly — ahead of me — down the hall. She points to where I am required to change out of the clothes I specifically chose to increase my sense of personal power, courage, and fantabulousness, into a significantly less than attractive, dull, hospital gown that seems to mock me by incessantly whispering “you are most certainly not well.” I quiet its voice with my new baby Yoda hat and mask. They speak to me with the optimism of the child who gifted them to me. “Keep breathing. You can do it, Ms. James. You ARE fantabulous.”
As I walk into the MRI room, my tech matter-of-factly hands me the panic button, as I lie down on the machine. She says, quite casually, “it’s going to take 35-40 minutes.” I do my best to control my voice so as not to yell at her as she disappears behind a door. “THIRTY TO FORTY MINUTES?!?!!!”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath as the table slides inside the remarkably small tube. I remind myself of my dad’s words as I left the house “Remember, even though it’s small, there’s plenty of room for some angels in there with you.” My tech’s voice, as though from some far off land, jolts me from that space of safety. “Ok, the first one’s going to be about 3 minutes.”
My oncologist’s office and infusion room is on the second floor. No matter how tired I am, I eschew the elevator, and head to the stairs. Today is no different.
As I start up the stairs, I unzip my coat. My eyes fall upon the hot pink superman emblem on my tech-shirt. With each step, I focus on my breathing, and repeatedly run through a set of affirmations. “I am safe. I am sound. I am well. I am whole. My body is working for optimal health. Life is good. I am good. God is greater.”
I refrain from even thinking “I’m nervous or anxious.” I’m feeling nervous and anxious – but they are most certainly not what I am. As I open the door at the top of the stairs, I borrow an affirmation from my kindergartners “I am peace.” My hand closes on the rosary in my pocket as I walk down the hall from the elevator. In the office, I laugh as I’m greeted “Good golly, Miss Molly! How are you today?”
I’m holding a plethora of cardboard tubes as some of my young Kindergarten architects and builders work to secure them with duct tape. They decided our classroom supermarket needed a door, and after studying a few, they have enlisted me — and my hands — to help with the construction.
The room is buzzing with voices and bodies, as Kindergartners do their best to move without knocking into anything, or anyone. In the corner I see two builders in some sort of power struggle. One face is angry, the other timid. Unkind words come from the angry one’s mouth. Unable to extricate myself from the door, I raise my voice to get the angry one to stop.
When my task with the door creators is done, I go check on the formerly angry and timid builders. We chat for a bit and settle the dispute that had precipitated the problem.
I then ask the owner of the formerly angry face if I might chat with her.
We find a quiet spot and sit together. I ask her if she understands why I raised my voice. “I was being mean.” she says. “Yes,” I reply, “You were.” She didn’t completely meet my gaze. I asked if she would please look at me. She did.
I proceed. “How did I sound when I spoke to you?” “Mad,” she whispers. “Yes,” I say in agreement, “and maybe even a little mean, right?” Now she is really looking at me. “I was right to ask you to stop.” I explain. “I wasn’t right to be mean when I did it. I’m sorry.”
I finally finished zipping the remarkably long zipper on my comforter-like winter coat as I walk out the door for recess. As I slip on my mittens, I notice my boots have come untied. “Drat!” I say to myself, or perhaps even out loud. I take a breath and remind myself it will only take a minute to tie them, no worries.
Out of nowhere two Kindergartners appear — eyes wide, faces glowing — “Do you want us to tie your shoes for your Ms. James? We can tie them!”
I chuckle and refrain from saying “No, that’s ok. I can do it!” Instead I smile and say “Thanks! That would be fantabulous!”
Did you notice the stories that were being told in each scenario? Not just the events themselves, but the stories being told. What stories did I tell? What stories did others tell me? What stories did I help others to hear, and hopefully, to tell? What stories did others encourage me to tell?
We tell stories by the things we think and say, the way we speak, our body language, the clothes we wear, the things we have in our spaces, the way we do or do not look at one another, the background noise we have in our environment, the relationships we encourage, and so much more. We tell stories with each little piece of our everyday lives.
Sometimes the stories we tell are very purposeful and intentional. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes we tell stories without thinking about the stories we’re telling. Sometimes — as in the case of Doug Dietz designer of MRI – we tell stories that we never intended to tell. If Doug is any example, and I think he’s a great one, that’s ok. We always have the opportunity to be intentional, and to change the stories into the ones we want to tell.
So my fellow humans, my fellow fantabulous storytellers, remember, we always tell a story. And, others always listen.
Let’s be intentional. Let’s tell the best stories possible. And, let’s help others hear, tell, believe, and live, their best stories too.
Any time I have had an MRI I tell myself stories as I lie there, hearing that “bonging, bonking, drumming” sound. It soothes me. When anyone shows terror at getting an MRI, I tell them to tell themselves a story and it will all be okay. It looks like you have already figured out how to do that.
Yeah! It helps.
If you have a moment, give the Doug Dietz link a look. It’s about how the redesigned the MRI experience for kids. And it’s all about the stories they help the kids experience!
I love your definition of storyteller – I tend to think of myself as that vs. “writer.” I haven’t seen this e.e. cummings quote before although I have read and love his poetry. Such amazing encouragement you’ve offered here – I wrote once that our stories knit us together by our heartstrings. You illustrate that here, powerfully.
Oh I love that, Fran – our stories knit us together by our heartstrings!
I found the quote in my collage box 😁 I’ve challenged myself to have each of my inspirational calendar journal entries this week be centered around something I cut out of a magazine. Was happy to find it as I think it’s a great quote and made for a strong ending take away.
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Your definitions of storyteller are much richer than the original ones. You show beautifully how storyteller is “one who deals in possibility, magic, truth, inspiration, hope.”
Aw, thanks, Terje! 😁
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My grandmother was a great storyteller like you. We all miss her everyday, tales of her life in Puerto Rico and as a new immigrant in NYC, settling her family into the NE. Thanks for widening the definition from the dictionary. The great story tellers immerse you in their life and culture.
Those must be fantabulous stories. Glad you got to experience them, Grace!
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Beautiful, powerful, inspiring–all the things I always see from you! I love this: “Sometimes the stories we tell are very purposeful and intentional. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes we tell stories without thinking about the stories we’re telling.” Brene Brown talks about a similar idea. I remind myself of this whenever I start to assume negative things from others to remind myself that I don’t always know the whole story.
Thanks, Julie!!! That means a lot!
Yes amazing how sometimes we don’t know the whole story, or the other person is only telling us the story they’ve been told. You are good to be able to pause and remind yourself!
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You are a fantabulous storyteller and a great listener, which is equally as important. You inspire me to be brave and tell my stories, as you have many of our kindergarten friends – who still remember your kind encouragement. I am so proud to call you – friend!
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Aw, thanks, Jojo. That means a lot to me, my friend!!!
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