Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Bard at Large

I recently completed a project proposal on storytelling as a tool for transformation. Defining the idea for others refined how this wonderful medium of pure auditory indulgence works such magic on our psyche. Who doesn't want to have a tale spun by a true wizard of storytelling?
'Raconteur Racoon' Jeffry Yeager
My own engagement with story has always been a palpable transformative experience.  When I recognized how story was a tangible force of change in me personally was not until college, and I fed my hunger for change by reading. My infatuation at the time was for Louis L'amour; quick easy reads about larger than life Mavericks in the Wild West breaking rules and saving the day.  I would read these tiny tomes of pulp fiction late into the night gobbling up the miraculous way the loner and outsider became the hero. It wasn't really until I graduated from college that I outgrew this need for Western gobbling and how it fed my own independent spirit, helped me filter through my need to break rules and absolutely fed my own perception of loving my  own MacGuyver skills in the world.

At the same time I would read what I thought were 'important' books too.  In fact, for a while I bought every copy of Anna Karenina I came across in the thrift shops because it was too big to carry with me, and I was always buying it again to pick-up where I had last left off.

But it was my literary 'indulgences' that seemed to weave together the fabric of my own transformation.  For probably 5 years in a row I would re-read 'A Room With a View" every summer.  The young romantic in me craving a wistful, coming-of-age begging for grounding in real life every time I had too much time on my hands and began to worry my life wasn't active enough for a smart young lady moving into productive life. And it was then I started writing; considering story and recognizing a growing need to tell my own .

As a transformative medium, reading can be too big an undertaking for the time or space we are willing to take for internalizing--we have been spoon fed our story for so long.  Reading can take a bit more self-awareness to strip out the bits that apply to me, integrating their meaning so I am actually aware of it. Listening to a story is different than this.  It slips in through the cracks of our self-assured or possibly protective exterior; appeals to our entertainment gene and digs right in to subvert  and maybe even convert what the subconscious is calling for. Story slips right the border of what we think we know and goes to work on the deep-within we aren't even aware of yet. 

Disney's Bard, the Rooster of Robin Hood
Most often I think we get our story from video, so prevalent, such a no-brainer to sit and watch. Here's what's tough about embracing story in this way--we often settle for the fast-food version of how this works!  Aaaarrgghhh, Now don't get me wrong, I don't mean to blaspheme the holy cow of television and even more importantly filmmaking as storytelling.  Screen story took the place of reading for me for over a decade in importance, and I still get lost in a film that works hard to engage me in that way.  But I have learned it is the video reel playing in my own head when listening to a story that starts the transformation for me--it is an action verb in the way my senses engage.  I become the casting director, the props master, the executive producer.  There is no budget limiting my vision of the story.  And I get to include an unknown element--I am not the director in these reels of story in my head--at least not consciously so.  There are so many factors my waking self doesn't know how to play.  I can't make the choice for a heroine faced with odds I have never encountered in my own life, or can I?

When I step off the page in story I get to be surprised by what my unconscious does to settle a scene.  And it is in this way--not reading, but telling, speaking out loud--that the true Bard shares her gift.  Each member of the audience, that's you and me in any given moment of listening, get's to contribute equally to the complete experience.  A raconteur sets the mood, invites us to draw back the curtains and mount the production of the story most called for from our own experience in the moment of our imagination.  The Bards of old traveled from town to town, sitting out late by the light of the fire, spinning yarns of nonsense and great import all at once. Society's controls for exposing intrigues were tightly  guarded and public sharing of info contrary to local government or the reigning monarch was punishable by death even.

Shift in gears when story engages our brain. Photo courtesy of Huffington Post
But is was the gift and hidden meaning of the stories shared by these Bards that revealed truths to those who were willing to listen. Eager minds interested in understanding the layers of what is being revealed were ripe for this pastime. So let's frame that level of intrigue in what might be hidden now in the stories that stream at us non-stop. We are practically drowned in the flood of information which society may or may approve of sharing. How do we filter through what is important to us?  Our 'storytellers' break every convention in shocking or taboo image making.  In television and film, our senses can be overstimulated and desensitized by every sight, sound and often touch (like when our seats rumble, or our seatmate grabs us frantically when the villain appears). How can I filter these inputs and settle on what moves me in a way that matters? How do I know what is important to me?
 I return to the story, I engage in every way I can find where stories are being told; in group discussion, in Ted talks, on my favorite radio program, in panel discussions where surprise questions bring phenomenal stories in response.  I notice what stories grab me, where my imagination takes me as the facts unfold and how I am drawn in or done with it in that moment. 
And I tell stories of my own, i write them, i sit with children and whisper them, 
i share them at the dinner table, over drinks and by the fireside.  
They go to work on me, they inspire my self-understanding, they transform like nothing else can.

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