Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

Hello all!
My name is Anneliese Kamola, and I am an undergraduate student at Western Washington University. I am beginning the process of building my own major around the healing/therapeutic qualities of storytelling. I am looking to broaden my perspectives on HOW story is consciously used within the United States because (and please correct me if I'm incorrect), I feel like there is a general void within the public consciousness about the uses of storytelling and what individuals can learn from identifying with stories about their individual rich heritages. Storytelling (and I'm being perhaps overly broad here) seems to reside mostly within families, around the proverbial water cooler, in the "American Dream," and in our media (for better or for worse). Are there living folklore, myth, hero tales, creation stories, etc. alive and prospering here in the United States that are good examples of influencing others for the better? Are there figures that show up in our oral traditions time and time again? If so, are these the same figures that show up throughout the ages, or are these figures new as the times change? Is it possible to have such stories in a country that is such a patchwork of cultural heritage and identity?
I'm new to the art of telling my own stories, and I am jumping in from the perspective of academia. I am feeling a bit short-sighted being so new to these ideas, perspectives, as well as being young and surrounded by the college-kid mentality. So, I am looking to all of you for examples of how YOU use stories in your lives, either professionally (therapy, working with corporate businesses, teaching, etc.) or informally (with children, family, the grocery store clerk). If anyone has responses/perspectives on any of or more questions that I pose, I would appreciate your reply! And if anyone has international experiences, I would love to read how cultures/traditions/countries differ to the United States.
Thanks for your feedback and constructive criticism!

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Replies to This Discussion

I am from England, not America so I do not know for sure whether my story experinece would match that of an American. One of the things that really surprised me when I became involved with storytelling was how quickly I seemed to come across stories either overheard in story sessions or in story books (I find children's books are best). Once the hunger to tell is there you soon find the stories that want to come out, perticularly if you find local story groups and spend time with storytellers. For me, it is my relationship to the story that governs whether and how I might use it in relation to other people. I have to be utterly comfortable with the story before I can tell it effectively and, of course, it is never the same because each re-telling is affected by all the surrounding circumstances. Dare I say, in this very public forum, that unless I am able to tell with love, it will mean nothing to my audience, whatever its size. I have used stories on many occasions to help, educate, inspire or heal but it was some years into my story experience before I felt that I was ready to do so. May I suggest that you relish the opportunities that this interest in stories brings you but that you do not hurry too much to start applying stories. Maybe let them work on you first. Enjoy. Martin.
Thanks Martin!
"unless I am able to tell with love, it will mean nothing to my audience, whatever its size"

I sure feel that way too! Thanks for puting that into words.
"My I suggest that you relish the oportunities that this interest in stories brings you but that you do not hurry too much to start applying stories. Mybe let them work on you first..." always remembering of course that if they are working on you/us they are applied because they will be working on whomever needs to hear them. Especially if we are telling them with love. Gaye Sutton
Although I started out doing storytelling primarily as entertainment (in schools, in theaters, and at festivals), I've lately been teaching it in business settings as a tool for connection. I call it "StorySelling." Despite the negative connotation selling holds for many people, at its root it is an interaction, a communication between two people. I help salespeople see that sharing their personal stories is a way to connect, human to human, and build trust. Stories also offer a teaching tool, if they're trying to demonstrate the value of a particular product or service they're selling.

As an example, I was recently speaking to an association of insurance agents, and one guy told a tale he tells when he hears a sales objection like "I don't want to make my wife rich when I die." He told of someone who had only a $10,000 life insurance policy, despite the salesman's repeated attempts to get the man to buy more. The customer died on a camping trip with his wife. It cost around $12,000 just to get the body home and buried. The wife was disabled and couldn't work, so the son had to quit college and come home to take care of his mom and high-school-aged sister.

As you can see, I'm focusing on getting people to tell personal anecdotes, rather than something folkloric. It's storytelling with a very practical bent. Hope that helps...

Bruce Hale
Great! Thanks Bruce. -A
Perhaps a bit of a tangent--however, I just returned from the Going Deep: The Long Traditional Story retreat, where we experienced performances and workshops based on three classic tales. Liz Warren shared "The Story of The Grail," Marilyn Omifunke Torres presented "The Paths of Osun," and David Novak dramatized "Gilgamesh." The format of the retreat included experiencing the performance in the evening, and all the next morning engaging in a workshop/discussion prompted by the performance. Afternoons were available for individual or smaller group processing. But to the point; I found that experiencing these classic, profoundly culturallly rooted, and epic tales reminded us all that we have these wonderful aspects of our heritage. Yet it was in the guided discussion that followed and the building of discussion over the three days, and the ritualizing of themes, that we all found the very important learning about facing death, wrestling with gender and sexuality in different contexts, struggling with the issues of power in our world today, understanding the deep connections with have the natural environment, etc., etc. In other words, the most important dynamics of life's journey were met face on and the implications for living in our world were made clearer.

The retreat was a potent spiritual renewal, but I have been thinking again how often we experience the stories around us, but do not take the time to unpack them. It is intentional debriefing, connecting, and concluding that we do not do enough or well enough. The stories we hear in our everyday lives (or in exceptional performances) all have the power to enlighten and motivate us for productive behavior, if we stop long enough to seriously reflect, and probably necessarily do it with a partner or a group. It is the reflection that makes for learning (and change of behavior), not just being impressed with the story. As I am all too often reminded in the classroom--it is not the lecture, however great it may be, but it is the disciplined connections that are made by students that turn the encounter into learning. We have plenty of opportunities to sit (or stand) and listen, be impacted, but do not share in the "so what?"
Thanks for your great response. I think you've hit the nail on the head when you talk about needing to intentionally debrief, connect, and draw conclusions from stories in order to understand the story's deeper meanings. I'm curious if these three stories that you worked with at your retreat will inspire new thoughts or actions for you in the upcoming months. Have you ever found yourself pulling those deeper meanings from other stories in 'aha!' moments? Do you have a community (outside of the retreat) with which you do this process with? I'm trying to think of where connecting with stories is done in everyday life...perhaps on Washington Week in Review or other TV shows that dissect the week's political actions. Or post-lecture discussions (I'm very familiar with them these college days!). Another big 'dissection time' for me was around the dinner table with my family while growing up. Do you (and I invite others to answer this question, too!) have any other places where these connections are made? The retreat sounds like an idyllic experience because it was an intentional gathering with an intentional purpose to discuss 'classics' which is so rarely done in our everyday lives, instead of discussing news or gossip--our everyday story forms. I look forward to further musings. Thanks so much for providing this information! Anneliese
There are times, but not every meeting, in which our local guild works with a particular teller on his or her story in process, when we can do the intentional discussion. I have participated in several movie discussion groups over the years--where we saw a series of movies over a period of a few weeks, seeing it together, over a meal, and discussing afterwards. We would choose theme and then select a set of movies on that theme (e.g. afterlife/ghosts, dealing with handicapping conditions, socio-economic justice, race relations, etc.). This makes me think that a group could be put together to hear a set of stories and do the same; or do it on-line. But as for "everday life" people do it with political speeches, sermons, and to some degree with the call in radio shows, etc. Yes, mealtimes with family has been important in the past, but maybe this is an arena that needs to be recovered outside the academic brownbag seminars that do happen. Larry
Hi Anneliese. You've started such a wonderful discussion. Thank you! I too am looking at this issue from the academic side. I am doing my master's studies in storytelling at ETSU with my thesis focusing on stories and values. I'm doing my research in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Also, I received the 2007-8 NSN Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling because of the Bhutan work. Already preliminary results are showing a direct correlation between the two.

. Here is the abstract:


Cultures are dynamic and are always in flux. What happens, however, when cultural changes are not good – when there is evidence of an eroding values system? Can a particular culture’s worldview intentionally and substantially change? It is unarguable that one’s worldview, culture and values are entrenched and to influence the alteration of these is difficult. However, the idea that affecting one’s worldview, culture and values to the point of change is not impossible. What this article proposes is that worldviews, cultures, and values can indeed be changed, resulting in not only the transformation of an individual’s life, but an entire culture as well. Storytelling in particular is a catalyst that can bring about substantial changes in worldview, culture and values.

I you or any others would like a copy of the paper, let me know and I can post it here.

I look forward to reading more discussion! Best wishes to you. STEVE
Steve-- Your paper sounds interesting and right along the lines of my question. Would you be willing to post a link to your paper? I would love to read it, but I'm afraid that posting an entire paper here would break the flow of discussion and I really want to encourage as many people to add their ideas and input. Thanks! A
I've posted the paper for download. You should find it in our list of discussions. All the best. STEVE




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