Essay about the nature of storytelling
| The Story of Us
By Lakin Ariel Wolf
“Tell me The Story of Us,” my little brother would say. He was four or five I guess, wide-eyed, his hand in the Spiderman position against his face, his two middle fingers stuck in his mouth. The Story of Us was a saga in instalments, a simplified, clarified version of my family’s life, a debriefing for a little boy confused by the headlong plunge of events. In a very big and very complicated world, The Story of Us made sense. When I was a kid, I thought it was just a story for children younger and more naïve than I was. Suddenly, I realize that it’s the only story there is.
The Story of Us is the taproot of literature. And society? No, in an act as intimate as storytelling there is no society, there is only the common denominator of all human beings. So often we can’t see the trees for the forest; when there are too many faces in the crowd, we begin to ignore the identity of each one of them. Yet by the enchantment of storytelling each person is met on home ground, confronted, haunted, inspired, or transported to the fringe of epiphany.
The sand shifts; the chaff flies; the dust settles; the sparks rise. And all too often we are left in the ashes with tears in our eyes asking why, grappling with irrefutable yet irreconcilable facts, waiting for someone, for something. For a storyteller. For a story. For catharsis. For logic. For escape.
The storyteller’s prime directive is to decode the human experience and relay it back to us organized and molded into a cohesive and communicative whole so we can make sense of it. The names have been changed to protect the evident. But we recognize ourselves just the same, because in every soul is a secret chord, identical and endemic. Without it, understanding between individuals could not exist, and storytelling would fall like snow into the sea, mute and met with blindness. But the chord is there, and so we feel each other. And language is formed by common emotion, and story born of mutual joy and kindred pain.
Story allows us to reach the point of catharsis, of crisis. What percent of tears cried over literature, over story in all its forms- film, sculpture, music, painting and all the rest- is shed for the fictional, the mythical, the imaginary? What percent is drawn like poison from wounds? Our own wounds? That drawing out is catharsis. That deep breath, that moment of release, that transcendent anguish reaching its dew point and raining down amidst the thunderbolts and leaving us to heal.
Story assures us that we are not alone. The insurrection of our souls; the insurgency of doubt, of anguish; the unspoken word; the illusive belief, palpable yet intangible, are encountered in stories told by strangers and yet belonging to us. Story assures us that we are unique and yet compatible.
Sometimes the mind needs to understand; sometimes the soul just has to fly. Hardship and tension fall away, and reality is not left behind but recreated. We call this fantasy. Sometimes the soul spits into the shadow of death. We call this comedy. Sometimes the soul writes under a pseudonym. We call it fiction. And sometimes the soul lets down the seventh veil and walks vulnerable in the battlespace. This we call poetry, the venerated lord paramount barefoot on broken glass.
Over the course of traumatic millennia, the form of story has evolved from rock painting and oral folklore to digital format, moving pictures in glorious HD and video games in which you can vicariously live, die, become heroes and be resurrected. Genres and forms, traditions and technology girdle storytelling and sometimes obscure just how basic the story is. In telling someone else’s story, we tell our own. By telling our own story, we hold a mirror to the face of humanity and say “Look. Listen. I’m going to tell you The Story of Us.”