Ode to Storytelling
By Lucy Wormald (she/her)
Lifestyle and Culture Editor Lucy muses about the power of telling stories, and her own love of storytelling and its ability to transform, reveal, and nourish.
What is writing if not the holding up of an enchanted mirror? That which witnesses and asks for witnessing. A way to give voice to your own astonishment, says Annie Dillard. A way to know. The writing of a story makes clear what I think, what I see, what I know, what it means. To use language to reflect a reality, to chronicle a shard of being, is surely a form of magic.
But not only a reflection of reality, storytelling holds the ability to shift and mould it. Dangerous, boundless and regenerative like a deep and dark soil, storytelling is an inherently human act. Since the beginning of humanity, we have given shape to experience by constructing myth, fairy tale, parable, history. Our cultures are built on these narratives. Stories both reflect and shape what we know about ourselves. A force on loop, story feeds reality while simultaneously revealing its nature. And this, as with all human deeds, has become a domain for negotiating power. It is how we endow and transfer power between our structures and our knowledge. We give voice to some things, paying no heed to others. We spin narratives so insidious, it is forgotten they are merely interpretations of the world, becoming instead sanctified truth. Consider: gender is a story, progress is a story, religion is story.
The responsibility of storytelling, of conducting this power, is not to be belittled. Think, the stories in the Bible alone may have caused more death, brutality, and oppression, and more love, charity and redemption, than any other collection of stories in human history. And we have all read things which have had an impact on us. We have glimpsed a moment in a film, or listened to a story uttered late one night, which may have shifted something inexplicable inside of us.
As I have grown, I have realised the responsibility that comes with telling a story. The power of storytelling is neither good nor bad, rather it depends on what we intend to do with it. And so as I write, I consider how might I best interact with this power? How to step with integrity onto my small platform, plugging in my megaphone to speak? And what do I have to say? What should I say? What to do, with a poised pen, knowing that the telling of a story may have, albeit tiny, an influence?
I have always been in love with storytelling. The bravado of it, the romance. It's humble, it's sweet, it's possibilities. It has always been the most natural way for me to receive and react to the world around me. On account of a love of reading instilled in me by my mother, and a reverence for myth taught by my father, I find grace in language’s ability to conjure something thought to be out of reach of articulation. To make real with words an abstract moment, is wherein my interaction with this power lies.
And so I realise the potential of storytelling is two-fold. What I say engages this cycle of power, of creating and reflecting reality. But the mere act of saying is one of power as well. When I started writing it didn’t properly occur to me that my pieces would be read, or even perhaps enjoyed. This made for a feeling that I was writing in secret. With no prying eyes, or looming judgement, I was able to write without guard.
According to narrative theory, stories often convey a sense of purpose – or perhaps a lack thereof – on behalf of the narrator. The nature of the story, the delivery, the hollow carved out in the heart or the mind from consuming it, provides an understanding of one of the ways the world is being experienced. Meeting my own voice through print, I have written to know myself. And I have written to let things be known. In this way I am both writer and written. This act has said I am here, mapping my experience of the world, and locating myself within it. There is power, existing both for oneself, and noumenally, to be found by throwing a pebble into the void, speaking into the silence. I can hear its small sound. And perhaps others too will hear its reverberation. Maybe some will recognise it. And what comes from it, we shall see.