What’s your story? How do you tell it? Why is storytelling so important?
If there’s one thing that sets humanity apart from the other creatures of the earth it’s our ability to build narratives and tell stories. Our power to live ‘not just in this moment’ is a double-edged sword. We strive to stay present, yet with an awareness of past and future.
Life as you know it is a temporal balancing act. You’ve always got the present moment to deal with, and yet that present moment is often consumed by telling some story about the past or forecasting of the future in one way or another.
Look, stories must be important, otherwise, why would we keep inventing new ways to tell them? Once-upon-a-time it was all verbal — you had to summon the bard in you and sing the refrains of ancient poems to pass the tales of your elders on down to your progeny.
Then along came the written word and for many generations, the manuscript was the main way to immortalize your words. At first, books were laboriously written by hand and were only owned by royals and clergy. Then Gutenberg got clever and we started building bookshelves.
Ways to tell your story multiply with every forward lurch of technology. Imagine how excited the first filmmakers were when they had the tools in hand to tell tales on the screen! Then along came audio recordings, records and tapes, and soon after our old friend the T.V.
Prior to the PC, all publishing was centralized. Any output for public consumption had to go through the gatekeepers of editors, publishers, and program directors. Personal Computing changed all that and has been accelerating the opportunities ever since.
And wow, what a head-spinner! In one generation we’ve gone from email and the basic blog to social media, podcasts, and viral videos. My old pal Timothy Leary who was still kicking as the PC revolution began raved about our newfound ability to ‘push back’ on the screen.
Have we become better at storytelling as ways to do it proliferate? Each iteration allows for more shorthand, case in point, any teen’s texts. Mom: “Will you be home for lunch?” Son: “No, C U 2nyt” Emojis have shortened the distance between question and answer even further.
But for all this brevity and impermanence and convenience that technology has bestowed upon us, the question remains: Why is it so important to tell your stories at all? Besides the obvious benefits of the cautionary tale, the reasons for narrative are many.
One that is easy to overlook until you’ve actually done it is to just get that junk out of your head! Even if it’s just a journal there’s a certain comfort to putting something to rest. You free up space inside once something is put down on paper or posted up in pixels.
What might seem trivial to you may be endlessly fascinating to your heirs. Everything from old recipes to glimpses inside your creative process will prove valuable to those who want to understand you and their connection to you later. Stories strengthen the chain.
What about making a living, seeking success, or building a business? As a wise person once said, “At the end of the day, all marketing is storytelling.” The simplest story is that someone has a need, they can see the solution, and that you are the bridge to get there.
Storytellers loom large in our culture. How many movies have you seen where the protagonist was a writer of some sort? From Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets to Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, writers are interesting people.
And then there’s Hamilton. Recently brought to the online stream, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic achievement raises the bar for storytelling. I saw the stage production in San Francisco a couple of years ago, but the close-up view from the camera revealed so much more.
From the nosebleed seats at The Orpheum, it was more about the overall texture and spectacle of the production. Seeing it on screen with a stage-eye view brought the story into focus in an entirely new way. Rarely has history been brought to life in the present so dynamically.
Egged on by my daughter, we sat down to the Hamilton stream last night and went to bed inspired. That Miranda could conceive such an epic production after reading Ron Chernow’s biography, writing the script, music, and lyrics as well as playing the lead is phenomenal.
Aside from the boon for youth culture, history teachers, and aspiring playwrights everywhere, seeing Hamilton puts into perspective the concept of storytelling writ large. The idea of a newsletter or personal memoir is a piece-of-cake next to such an achievement.
Whether you’re working on The Great American Novel, telling your story on TikTok, or simply keeping a private journal, know that your narrative counts. When you set your stories free from the confines of your mind you’re bringing balance to the presence within.
With love and light till next week!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine