Vulnerability, an Essential Element of Good Storytelling
(Follows is the second of a series of guest blogs I’ve written for Juan Rodriguez’s Blog, Haki Storytelling, with his introduction and title.)
I said, one of the main purposes of storytelling is to tune in to people in our own personal or corporate way. Make them understand what we are and what is our position and to the world. Being vulnerable is an essential element to achieve this.
We live in a fast-paced world, and few moments we experience full consciousness, therefore, one of our duties, as storytellers, is to create narratives that force our audience to see the world differently; get to experience life more consciously.
We believe that we need to know what qualifications and credentials of a person are, but really want to know where they come from, how they have shaped the experiences through life to become what they are today.
If people know that motivates you, they know how to establish a relationship with you – Michael Margolis –
HOW I BECAME SKYWALKER STORYTELLER – PART 2
Our lives are stories we tell ourselves. Most often we are so involved in our stories, we don’t think of them as stories. “This is my life.” And it is a very serious affair. But, if we step away from our attachment to our actions and our fears of how we are seen, we will see the stories we’ve told ourselves to create who we are.
We start telling stories when we’re children. Sometimes it’s our imagination and sometimes it’s just how we see ourselves in the world. One of the stories my mother always loved to tell about me was when I was three years old. It was the mid-1950s and we lived in Mobile, Alabama.
One day we were watching a local dance school performance on TV. At that early age, I knew what I wanted to do. I turned to Mama and said, “I want to go to that dance school.”
Mama gently said, “Honey, you can’t go to that school. It’s for white girls.”
I looked at my skin and looked at the girls on TV and said, “I’m white.”
Oddly enough, that story stuck with me. I never thought of myself as white. I identify as black. But my racial identity has been questioned throughout my life. My skin is light colored. I’ve had people ask me if I was from another country or Native American. I always smile and say, “I’m black and was born in the USA.” Of course, I have a story of why I call myself black.
I met Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black female poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, several times in different cities over a span of decades. The last time I saw her speak was when she was in her eighties, giving a presentation in Denver, Colorado.
She said, “I call myself black instead of Afro-American. To be black is to be universal. Every cultural, racial, or ethnic group has its black people. Sometimes we’re actually black or dark skin colored. Other times, we’re the outcasts, the black sheep, the ones who just don’t fit in, no matter how hard we try. We are the ones who never accept the status quo, who always ask the questions no one wants to hear.”
I feel her description fits me perfectly. I’ve always felt myself an outsider. Possibly growing up in an Air Force family, I never spent more than two years in any one school, so didn’t have the opportunity to develop lasting friendships. And maybe that’s why I became a writer and storyteller.
The first story I consciously wrote was when I was in third grade. I stapled together several sheets of construction paper, wrote, and illustrated my first book. It included a story about a poor little girl coming upon the birth of Jesus and a poem about spring.
My storytelling took a theatrical turn with my sisters in our playtime. For years we were the Little Women because it was a book about four sisters I read. When we moved to Panama City, Florida and had a large backyard to play in on hot summer days, we became the Cartwright family because we liked the TV show Bonanza. We didn’t see any conflict pretending to be three brothers. The fun was being cowboys.
In fifth grade writing and storytelling blossomed for me. I read The Diary of Anne Frank and began keeping a diary. That was the beginning of my habit of writing about my deepest feelings when I didn’t feel close enough to anyone to share my thoughts and dreams.
Diary writing inspired me to write stories. One was about a little girl and boy. One day they were swimming at the beach. A strong current pulled them deep under the water. They were amazed they could breathe when they landed at the bottom of the water standing in a beautiful city.
They met the kind and friendly king and queen who invited the children to stay in the underwater city. But the little boy was afraid and wanted to return home. The underwater people told the children to come back at any time. Eventually the little girl did.
I had no friends to share my story with, no outlets to print it, no one encouraging me to keep writing stories. So, I continued to create stories at night in my mind to put myself to sleep. Not until high school did I share an original story with others.
My senior year, in the talent competition for the Junior Miss Contest, I created a story of a little girl who wanted to march in a parade. The story ended with me performing an original dance to the tune “76 Trombones “ from the musical The Music Man. I didn’t know then, years later I would share stories and dance on many stages in cities and towns across the USA.
Hey Skywalker, thank you for sharing this part of your story. Vulnerability is important in telling stories because it’s what shows our souls to our readers. And yet the American canon is filled with examples of how we as storytellers have found ways to creatively circumvent that need or shroud our vulnerability in order to maintain that comfort level, illusion of safety when exposing such deeply personal pieces of ourselves to the world, which is filled at the moment with so many people who have chosen judgement and fear. There are so many ways to try on vulnerability as a storyteller without putting ourselves at risk of deep pain when we ourselves are still feeling afraid of being judged or in some way hurt by possible response to that exposure of soul.
Thank you! This has helped me put things into perspective.
Jenn, Thank you for taking time to read this long piece. Being invited to write for a non-English speaking audience has been a wonderful opportunity. And as you said, allows me to look at my road to storytelling from another perspective – Juan’s. I’d never considered myself as sharing vulnerabilities until I read his introduction. I like writing this series and having another person with a much different background interpret my life for others. I always love hearing from you. It’s good to know someone is actually reading this and being effected.