When Storytelling Fails

I am a storyteller and bear all of the hallmarks of that ancient profession.

I have a good speaking voice with emotive ability, an animated face and manner, and high energy, I am an avid reader with a huge vocabulary, and most importantly, I think chronologically.

I was born like this and it never occurred to me that other people thought differently until my husband and I started comparing our childhoods and he admitted he didn’t really have any memories that were structured that way. If he saw a picture or heard someone else tell a mutual childhood story, it sparked his memory but it was more like opening the drawer of a file cabinet and accessing the exact thing you wanted. The advantage for him in this memory system was that his mind is never cluttered. He has razor sharp focus on any topic or task and is never distracted down a rabbit hole of memory. The disadvantage is that when you ask him things about his past, sometimes he just doesn’t remember.

Life itself is a story in my mind. It is linear, chronological, in color, and most of the time it is in great detail. I have learned to use this to my advantage and often become an institutional memory resource for organizations I have worked with for a long time.

But for all its advantages, my storytelling nature can have its dark side. Continue reading

Quality of Memory – Telling Your Story

Story Circle NetworkIt seems that Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia are more prevalent than ever, as I scan the daily news.

Perhaps it is just because we are all living longer and so eventually, those with the potential to develop these things, live long enough to do so. Perhaps it is a byproduct of additives, pesticides or background radiation…Who knows?

What I do know is that memory is a vital force, a fragile thing, and something that we often undervalue.

Your memory is your story and your story is your life. Are you telling your story?

I joined an Internet-based writing circle at Story Circle Network a year or so ago, and it has been such a gift. Imagine the best book club you ever joined, or that group of people at school who read all of the same books and talked about them, or that favorite teacher who praised your writing at some point and made you feel so treasured. That, my friends, is what a good writing circle does, and SCN has many of them.

SCN encourages “women with stories to tell,” to tell them!

There are multiple outlets in the group to submit your short life stories, poetry, and longer pieces and in your individual story circle, you can write anything. If you want it, the group will constructively critique your work so that you can publish it elsewhere with confidence, but that is optional. What the group really does is to appreciate and support you in your life-writing journey.

My Internet Circle has women from all over the country and is moderated by a woman who lived in Yemen when she started with the circle. They are different ages, races, religions and levels of skill and experience, but they all have one thing in common.

They realize that they have a story to tell.

Dr. James Pennebaker, Chair of the Psychology Department at University of Texas at Austin, says this in a Harvard Health Newsletter, “Expressive writing — a technique that involves writing about thoughts and feelings that arise from a traumatic or stressful life experience — may help some people cope with the emotional fallout of such events. But it’s not a cure-all, and it won’t work for everyone. Expressive writing appears to be more effective for healthy people who have sustained an emotional blow than it is for people struggling with ongoing or severe mental health challenges, such as major depression or PTSD.”

So, caveats for severe mental health challenges aside, how can life writing help you or me?

Telling your story is cathartic. It helps you to work through complicated feelings as you recount your experiences and how you felt about them. It can be public or private…You choose. Life writing is all about choices; the choices you made and the ones you are making right now. It is your own personal version of “The Notebook,” and who knows, some day it may serve to share your life with your family in a way you no longer can.

Choose to write, and there is a community of women out there who will treasure your offerings.

Welcome to the circle.

Nana’s Love

The Story Circle Network recently asked us for harvest oriented stories with a recipe, and I couldn’t resist whipping this one up. A shorter version has been submitted to their “True Words” feature.

Feel free to try the recipe and if you are a nut about nuts, you can even add 2 C of chopped nuts…but you don’t need to. Bon Appetit!

Fall is different here in Central Texas. Trees start to change, but not to the vivid colors I remember from my Northwest Washington childhood. Muted tones seem to dominate the land with an occasional bright mesquite tree to break up the monotony.

The temperatures barely drop from summer’s highs until a front comes ripping through, usually around Thanksgiving, causing rain and winds that knock every turning leaf to the ground. Summer often metamorphoses directly into winter.

It is in the fall that I miss the Northwest the most.

I long for the oranges, reds and gold of the trees. I remember the smell of burning leaves, spicing the slowly chilling air as we bid fond goodbyes to the brief summer sun. I miss the smell of the evergreens and thick, humus topsoil under my feet.

I loved the anticipation in the air as school began and we welcomed the coming Halloween and Thanksgiving, as they led up to Christmas.

NanaI miss the taste of my Nana’s apple cake.

She did not make it very often when we were young. We were poor and it took expensive items like oil, sugar, cloves and cinnamon. We could get the apples fairly cheap…after all, it was the Northwest, but the other things could be quite dear.

When Nana decided it was time to bake an apple cake, the house would smell like fall and the holidays all day long. All of the kids were on their best behavior, and Nana only had to look thirsty to have her favorite Pepsi delivered to her by some grandchild who was particularly good at sucking up.

The rich, cinnamon smell was just a tease for the main event that was ahead, though. We waited through the day with anticipation and rushed through our dinner, barely tasting it, but salivating at the prospect of Nana’s apple cake.

It was served in small squares of brown, moist, savory deliciousness. If we were particularly flush, there would be whipped cream in a dollop beside it, but you could do without.

I remember biting into a piece and tasting the oil and small apple chunks as they burst on my taste buds. Then the cinnamon hit the middle of my tongue. It was heaven on a fork and I loved it almost as much as the angel who baked and served it to me.

It was Nana’s love, wrapped in the tastiest wrapper she could achieve.

Continue reading