Professional Storyteller

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How to fill your back pocket with little stories

A few months ago I attended a Year 12 parent teacher interview for my son,  Sam.    I quite enjoy these outings as it gives me a chance to engage with my beautiful, introverted and semi verbal 17 year old. 

The first interview was with his maths teacher Jake, who is also his home group teacher. I'd met him at the two or three previous parent teachers interviews. 

Because this is year 12 there is quite a bit of talk about maintaining work levels, support and preparing for what comes next.  Jake told me about the career options seminar that would be happening later in the year, and said he would give Sam a notice to bring home.

Jake then addressed Sam and said ‘I’ll give you one for your Dad, he might want to come along too.’

Sam and I froze as Jake kept talking.  My mind was trying to decide whether to let it go through to the keeper or to say something.  I decided to speak so it didn’t happen again.

“You’ll probably remember this, but Sam’s Dad died 18 months ago’.

Jake looked at me stock still, and I could almost see his brain whirring into action.  Finally, he slowly said  ‘You’re right, I did know that, I’m so sorry.’ 

It was an awkward moment.  His hands came up and covered his face and his head slumped towards the table. I raced to think of something to say to soothe his embarrassment and I immediately thought of the time I had put my foot in my mouth with a client.  
So I said 
 ‘I once had this client and I was interviewing him on the phone in relation to the murder of his parents and I asked him where they lived.’

Talk about bewilder and befuddle.  Jake was still trying to find the mental door out of the classroom, let alone take in the idea that I had spoken to someone who had killed their parents and how this related to the failure feelings he had in his gut.

And I realised immediately what I had done wrong, it is something I do often when an experience comes to mind in the course of a conversation that is relevant and I want to share: I went straight to the moment.

I scrambled around for a back track to explain the situation and why and how it was relevant to what we were talking about, but it was a mess, it was klutzy on top of awkward for a little while, until we eventually got back to talking about Sam and his future.

But I did not forget the lesson in storytelling, and why I can still feel like a dunce at the thing I teach. 

It is all in the set up part of the story, there needs orientation to who, where and when.   If we don’t lay that ground work in our story, much as a gardener prepares the soil, the rest of our story are like seeds thrown into the air; there is nothing for the story to grow in, to attach to, 

I needed to slow the moment down, to begin with:

‘Years ago I was working at the mental health legal centre and part of my role as a lawyer was to prepare cases for review before the Supreme Court, of people who had committed crimes, usually murder, when they were insane.  These people had often been under court orders for decades. 

I would interview the person and draft an affidavit for them to sign about  what was happening in their life now.   One time I was interviewing this guy who was already living in the community, he lived out of Melbourne so I was talking to him on the phone.  Talk about put my foot in it. I asked a few questions about his current situation and then asked “And what about your family? Where are your parents living?”  There was a blank space in time as I remembered that he had killed his parents.' 

Now this would have taken a little longer, but no longer than the time I spent trying to explain what I meant after my botched first version.  

I needed to hone the scene setting so it was quick, and the story was ready for moments like this.  

The more we live, play, practice and tell stories the more we can call on them in the moment.

One day I’ll create a workshop where we source and craft a back pocket full of useful little stories, ready for telling. 

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