Storytelling 105: how to remember your story

One of the many challenges for new Storytellers is how we remember our stories. I wrote previously about choosing stories that resonate with you, have particular meaning for you, that you want to share with others. We have also spoken about not memorising stories. So, how do you do it?

Once I have caught or created a story, I write it out in full, then edit edit edit, until I have encapsulated the tale within three sentences. The process of doing this begins to embed the story into my memory and highlight the sections that resonate especially for you. Then put all the writing away.

Storytelling is a visual and audial experience. It is how we tell and how we share the stories. I often draw six images that tell the story and then practice telling the story just using those images. When I have done this enough, I put the drawings away.

By this time, the story is firmly embedded in my mind and I am starting to develop the characters and embody the story through gesture and facial expressions. I will often do this in front of a mirror. This is quite confronting for some tellers, so do not feel obliged to do it. However, I want to know what my audience will be seeing. I have also videoed storytellers I have mentored so they can see what they look like when they tell. We need to put ego aside when telling a story. Being able to watch yourself tell for improvement is a good thing.

My last method is to record the story. We all know that we learn songs on the radio through repetition. When I have a story sounding and looking like I want it to be, I record it. Then every practice in front of the mirror, in the car as I drive, while I’m making dinner, embeds and embodies the story deeply into my memory. I have even mimed to my recording in front of the mirror to save my vocal chords and keep practising.

Every time we listen to our story, it embeds into our memories. I highly recommend recording your stories and re-recording until it sounds just the way you want to tell it. I have played my own stories, until I am word perfect. (Playing them in the car, with accompanying facial expressions and gestures, can attract attention from fellow drivers. I’ll tell you about the driver who followed me and my driving octopus for many kilometres another time.)

The biggest hint I can give you is practise, practise, practise; and when you have had enough, practise some more. Never tell a story you are unprepared to tell. It disrespects you, the story and your audience.

When we tell stories, the well-practised story rolls off our tongue as we interact with the audience and assess, remember, adjust and respond.

The biggest test of all is to take a deep breath and tell.

Let me know how you go.

Storytelling 101

I have been a storyteller for over forty years.

From the age of six I can remember asking my mum for stories and repeating them to myself and others. In my teens, I became the holder of family stories. In my twenties, I began to keep the stories and tell them for the young people I worked with.

As I journeyed through life, I held and told the stories of my workplaces, my family, myself, my children, my life. That is what storytellers do, we hold and tell the stories of our world. Does this make us all storytellers?

Why, yes it does. We use stories to make sense of our lives, to learn and to share. We share our experiences through stories and share stories to capitalise on our experiences.

So what makes a Storyteller different to a storyteller? It depends how far you want to take it.

By the time I was in my twenties, I found that friends were asking me to tell stories of shared experiences. By the time I was in my thirties, my colleagues were giving me stories so I could share them with new staff. As I built my storytelling business, I worked at a large chain warehouse for a few years. Staff from other sections would share incidents that occurred then ask me to re-tell those stories. I worked in the nursery and two of our favourite stories concerned customers who had come asking for unusual plants. A woman came in with her husband and child and explained that she needed a plant that would grow above a metre and half tall and would climb up the fence over a shrub she already had planted there. The plant she wanted had large white flowers and big leaves that it lost in winter and she racked her brain to think of the name. As she spoke I began mentally flicking through the climbers in our stock, when she exclaimed, “Oh! It’s a clitorus!” Surprised silence. “Oh no! That’s exactly what I didn’t want to say!” she was horrified. I laughed, “You mean Clematis?” “Yes, that’s it, a clematis!”, she agreed, red with embarrassment. She bought three. Then there was the man who came to examine olives, insisting that he wanted the one with orange centres. We didn’t laugh then and there, just explained that the one he wanted were pickled and stuffed olives that you could only buy from the supermarket.

From Paint there was the story of the hospital that called wanting to know what was in Cabot’s decking oil as someone had used it for fake tan; and the Hardware story of the irate customer who explained she had laid out the nails from the liquid nail tube but they would not harden to nail in; and on it went. Why me? I remembered the stories and told them with such relish that even those who knew them well, enjoyed hearing them again.

I worked as a travelling Storyteller for ten years, growing my business and developing it into a Storytelling agency. I sold it when life moved me in other directions. Once a Storyteller however, always a Storyteller.

I hold the stories for my children and begin to hold the stories for their children. I hold stories I have been gifted, stories I’ve read, stories I’ve heard, stories I’ve created. Many, many stories live inside my head. My developed storytelling mind lends itself to interesting connections which serves my current employment well.

How do you make the shift from storyteller to Storyteller. I’ll tell you next time.

Sorrow’s walls come tumbling down: A Jumbly Tale

Let me tell you a story

Once, the Jumbly Man was returning from washing his woes, striding along, deep in thought. It was coming close to night and he began to look about for a camp.

As the sun gave the trees ever longer shadows, he saw a she-oak that would provide shelter and fallen needles, a comfortable place to rest. As he came closer he saw a figure huddled to the side of the tree. It appeared to be a small woman, huddled in on herself. He called out a jumbly greeting, saw a flash of a face full of fear as she scrambled to her feet, trying to stumble away.

Jumbly could see she was hurt. In a few long strides, he reached her and caught her under her elbows before she tumbled. The woman whimpered and cowered away from him. He jumbled soothing sounds at her and brought her back to her position at the tree. Distressed he watched as she huddled away, her face averted, shaking in fear. In rumbly jumbly tones he told her that he would not harm her and left his canteen near her while he set about making camp.

After gathering wood for the fire, he used the she-oak leaves to make cushioning either side of the fire and placed a blanket across each. Her clothes were little more than rags. He dug into his pack and took out his long weather proof coat and laid it on the bed closest to her.

The woman had seen the canteen and was greedily gulping water, watching him from behind tangled hair and the corner of her eye. Jumbly smiled and indicated that he would get water for her to wash and make food. The woman turn her back, shaking.

Jumbly was nonplussed and shook his head, jumbling softly to himself as he tried to figure out what to do. He could see she was badly beaten, covered in bruises and swellings. The arm he could see was nearly black with bruising. He shook his head. He suspected she had not moved away because she had given up and was exhausted. That she was afraid made sense given the blood that had poured down her legs and dried there. She was injured in some way. Jumbly could help but how was he to get near her?

He returned to camp suddenly anxious that she wouldn’t be there. She was. She still had her back to him but had moved closer to the fire. Jumbly decided. He had found animals over the years, hurt, caught by snares, severe injuries, or simply exhausted beyond endurance and afraid. He decided to treat this situation as though she was a small wounded creature who needed his help.

Moving slowly about the camp site, he heated water on the fire and pulled a bowl from his sack. Sprinkling herbs from pouches into the bowl, he poured the water just before it boiled. She watched him. While it steeped, he set about making dinner. The woman’s eyes were riveted on the fire and the stew bubbling there. Jumbly scooped a cup, offered it to the woman, who reached to snatch it away. Jumbly held on to catch her eye. She scowled at him but nodded when he mimed to eat slowly. When she was done he rinsed her cup and gave her water to sip. He gave thanks and ate his own stew. The woman indicated that she wanted more food and was startled when Jumbly rumbled a laugh. Yes, there would be more if she kept down what she’d already eaten. The woman looked down at her starved, bloody, bruised body and the eyes she raised to Jumbly were haunted. She nodded, sipped her water and began to doze by the fire.

Jumbly gently moved the stew to a less hot part of the fire until later, keeping his movements slow but not silent. She hadn’t slept long before she jerked awake and looked wildly about her. Her eyes fell on Jumbly, the fire, the stew and she calmed, holding out her cup in silent entreaty. Jumbly burbled with humour and the woman tilted her head as if just now realising that she couldn’t understand his words. She took his meaning though and settled back with her second cup of stew, eating slowly, after giving thanks. When finished, Jumbly indicated the bowl of warm water and herbs with the rags he had steeped in it, for her to wash her wounds. The woman’s eyes were darkened with pain but she nodded and took the bowl, retreating from the fire for a modicum of privacy.

Jumbly could hear her soft sobs as she wiped away and cleaned the horror that had been done to her. He heated more water, slipped different herbs into her now clean cup and waited. Again, before the water boiled, he poured it into the cup and set it aside to steep. He made a drink for himself and took the chance to ready himself, his pack, the fire and campsite for the night. The woman returned. She looked exhausted. Jumbly moved slowly, took the empty bowl from her and helped her to her bed. She crumpled down and would have fallen but Jumbly caught her and handed her the brew. Sniffing, she nodded, sipped, returned the empty cup, then rolling up in her blanket, she laid down, sighed and fell asleep.

Jumbly let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, finished cleaning up, rolled into his own blanket and lay, staring into the fire as he pondered her story. Whatever it was, she was safe now. He felt a great welling of fierce protectiveness for her and rage at those who hurt her. They would pay. He sent his rage into the Light and vowing to protect her, he gave thanks and slept.

to be continued…

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

The Girl with Wings

My youngest daughter is at that age when sometimes she doesn’t like herself very much. I asked her, how do you get good self esteem? She suspected her answer of getting lots of stuff wasn’t the one I wanted because what happens when the stuff is lost, old or broken? How do you learn to love yourself? She didn’t know. Interesting, as she has lived with me since she was 31/2 and obviously has not absorbed this lesson. I feel it’s in there but needs to be spoken out aloud.

Do I like me, I asked? Yes. Do I find myself amusing? Yes. Do I love me? Yes. How come? Looking at me, how is it I love me? She didn’t know. I’ll tell you the answer I told her at the end of the story.

Let me tell you a story

There was once two parents who longed for a child. When one came to them at long last, they thought she was perfect. She lit up when they came in the room, laughed, cried, played, was joyous, sad and occasionally cranky. Just perfect.

Their family wasn’t so sure. They had noticed larger than expected shoulder blades and mentioned them to the new parents, out of concern for the child. The parents assured them that they would buy or make clothes to accommodate her. Muttering the relatives withdrew.

As the baby grew into toddler, she staggered and tumbled, laughed and cried, sang and spoke her first words to her parents’ delight. The neighbours and friends noticed that the child’s pronounced shoulder blades appeared to be developing a covering of what looked like downy feathers. As good friends they felt duty bound to point this out and suggested depilatory creams for the removal of the offending feathers. The parents laughed and said they were soft to touch and exactly where their child could be stroked into sleep.

The child grew and the blades grew with her. First at kindergarten, then at school, she ran and played, leapt and tumbled, sang and shouted, learnt and danced with all the other children. The downy covering slowly spread down her back and across her shoulders. Her friends often stroked the feathers that ran down her arms for their softness and comfort. The parents were approached by the teachers and the school council about covering up the feathers, demanding she wore long sleeves. The parents simply chuckled and said, in a hot country like ours, she’d be too hot.

By the time the girl was twelve her wings had unfolded. She could run and leap, tumble and dance, spin with wings outstretched. Her friends would laugh and try to catch her, running with arms wide. The children’s parents complained to each other, local businesses, the local Councillors, and the Member of Parliament. They complained until a public meeting was held and worked each other to fever pitch, making a decision to demand that the parents of the girl stop this right now! Together they formed a foaming furious posse of people and marched across town to the house of the parents of the girl with wings.

A spokes person was pushed forward to bang on the front door and the parents answered it. Their daughter squeezed past them to look at the towns people and wave at her friends. The spokes person gathered their fury and sputtered and yelled, what were they thinking of a daughter with wings? What were they doing? How could it be in her best interest? What did they have planned for her future?

The parents looked at the townspeople and across at their daughter, who smiled and spread her glorious wings. Well, said the parents, we were thinking of teaching her how to fly.

and that is the end of the story.

What was my answer to my daughter about how you love yourself? You decide. Then, you practice, until you can fly.

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My ducks in a row

My ducks in a row

I like to get my ducks in a row, whether I am organising an event, preparing an e news bulletin, writing my folk tales, organising my household and children, basically corralling my life.

Lately, one of my events has gone hay wire. Too many balls in the air and the ducklings need life vests. Just too much and when the life vest comes off one of the ducklings thought to have been safely corralled, well, keep swimming!

I shake my head sadly and get on with things. Must be a story that goes with this, let me see…

Let me tell you a story

There once was a woman who had so many children she really wasn’t sure where they all came from. One child begat another, or so it seemed. Surely she hadn’t had them all!

When meal times came around all the children would file in through the door and hand over their findings for the day. Greens from the roadside, veggies from helping a farmer, fruit (probably nicked) and always fish. Luckily they lived near a river and there was always plenty growing on or in it. The children would play and scavenge all day and at night their mother took their single contributions and somehow made a feast.

When they were fed, it was story time, the time they all liked best. Everyone would find somewhere or someone to curl up and snuggling, settle down to listen. Mrs Duck would tell tales of the Jumbly Man and his friends. How the children longed to meet him.

One day when the weather kept everyone inside longer than Mrs Duck could stand, there was a knock on the door. Mrs Duck had to swim through the excited, wondering children before giving up and asking the closest “dear” (what was his name?) to answer it.

Who should be there but the Jumbly Man? He was welcomed in and met every single one before every single child disappeared. Poor Mrs Duck was momentarily bewildered, then bustled Jumbly to a chair in front of the fire and made tea.

They had a lovely long chat. It had been so long since Mrs Duck had another adult to talk to that Jumbly’s jumbled talk was quite comforting. He managed to share news about new residents in the village and the river boat family stopping for a time before Mrs Duck began to think about a meal and wondered where the children were.

No sooner had she thought it but they were back. Each bedraggled, muddy child had gone to extra effort for Jumbly’s sake and a staggering feast was created. When everyone had eaten their fill, it was time to snuggle up for stories. In honour of Jumbly, Mrs Duck told a Jumbly Man tale, everybody’s favourite.

And that is the end of the story.

Ah, well, you see, if I just keep paddling, I guess everything will turn out as it does.

This is my space! or Kathleen’s Grandmother’s Magic Shawl.

This is my space! or Kathleen's Grandmother's Magic Shawl.

I fondly imagine that there will come a time when I am not at anyone’s beck and call. When I can suit myself. I turned 50 this year and I am suitably impressed with myself. I am now considering what I might be doing in (da-dah!) 15 years and whether this will involve leisure.

It’s quite difficult to imagine a time when I will not be working, have care of children, be looking after animals or an house. If I wasn’t doing all that, what would I be doing? Hmm, gardening, craft, more gardening, more craft, visiting friends, wandering about. I have absolutely no idea and with the state of my super (lack) I will not be retiring any time soon.

Maybe I’ll just write stories.

These thoughts remind me of one of my favourite stories that I created to hold my grandmother’s words. This then is Kathleen’s Tale.

Let me tell you a story

Every Friday afternoon after school, seven year old Kathleen would come screaming from the playground, swing around the gate, pound up the pathway, fling open the garden gate, thud onto the verandah and bang, on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house.

Then she waited, until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps. Kathleen opened the fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.
“It’s you, it’s you, I’ve been waiting for you!” and Kathleen would be enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house.

Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they would match steps down the hallway to the sitting room where lived Kathleen’s grandmother’s magic shawl. Kathleen knew the shawl was magic because in her grandmother’s magic shawl, Kathleen could be anyone at all.

When Kathleen was small that shawl had been fairy wings to flitter about, then a cape for a good witch brewing potions, a veil for a visitor from far off lands, a coat for a wizard concocting wicked plans and a simply gorgeous gown. As she got bigger her favourite was to be Red Riding Hood, but not the wussy Red who had to be saved, she was the Red who saved herself!

You know the part in the story where Red says, “Oh Grandma, what big teeth you have!” and the wolf growls, “All the better to eat you with!”? Red screams and runs out of the bedroom, down the hallway, into the kitchen, through the bathroom, back into the bedroom. She charges out of the room and down the hallway, looks over her shoulder and there’s the wolf right behind her! Arrgh! She dashes into the kitchen, sees a great big frying pan on the wall, grabs it down, holds it out and the wolf runs straight into it. Red saves the day and is Grandma’s hero. That version of Red Riding Hood.

So Kathleen knew that in her grandmother’s magic shawl, she could be anyone at all.

One Friday afternoon after school, Kathleen came screaming from the playground only to come to a screeching halt. For there, sitting in their car, with all their things packed in it, was Kathleen’s mother. Kathleen’s mother got out of the car and packed Kathleen into it.

“where are we going mum? is it a surprise mum? are we going to grandma’s mum? we’re not going to grandma’s, no. are we going to daddy’s work mum? it’s that way to daddy’s work mum! we’re not going there. where are we going mum? is it far mum? this is a very long way mum. mummy i’m hungry. mummy i need to go to the toilet. mummy … mummy i’m tired.”

In the morning a very tired and grumpy Kathleen was unpacked from the car, fed and put to bed in her aunty’s house. When she awoke her mother explained that they would be staying with her aunty for a little while. It was a very long little while. Then Kathleen got a new school uniform and went to her cousins’ school. After another long little while, Kathleen and her mother got their own place.

Kathleen grew, got older, finished school and got a job (this was in the days when you could finish school and get a job).

One Friday afternoon after work, Kathleen came home to find her mother sitting in her car with all her things packed in it. She wanted to pack Kathleen in the car but this time Kathleen was too big to pack easily. Kathleen stood in the drive and waved to her mother’s car until she could see it no longer. Then Kathleen turned and went inside her own house.

Kathleen’s house was cold and smelled of nothing.

Then Kathleen packed her own things into her own car and drove out of her driveway, down her street onto the highway. She drove through the town. She drove all night. In the morning she drove into a very familiar town and soon passed a very familiar primary school and pulled up in front of a very familiar house.

Kathleen got out of her car and closed the door. She stepped onto the footpath and walked to the garden gate. She creaked open the garden gate and trod up the pathway. Kathleen stepped onto the verandah and knocked on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house. Then she waited until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps.

Kathleen opened her grandmother’s fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.

“Oh! It’s you, it’s you! I’ve been wondering and worrying about you!” and Kathleen was enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house. Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they matched shuffles down the hallway to the sitting room, where still lived her grandmother’s magic shawl.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

And Kathleen knew that she could be anyone, anyone at all.

and that is the end of the story.

(C) CLHarper 2000