Storytellers Matter to the World
Posted by Kate Arms-Roberts
“[T]he fact that every life counts is built into the work we do.”
Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing
I spent the morning of September 11th at the monthly breakfast meeting of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. James Dewar read an excerpt from his poem about the attacks ten years ago, but otherwise the anniversary was not on the agenda.
The featured speaker was Ian Brown, who spoke about writing The Boy in the Moon, his memoir about raising his severely disabled son, Walker. Walker suffers from cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Among other issues, Walker has extreme developmental delays, compulsions to hit himself, and an inability to speak.
Two ideas in Brown’s talk resonated deeply with me. First, he spoke of how the severity of Walker’s condition forced him to face the reality of the world rather than his hopes for the world; in return, he got ”a refuge from the survival of the fittest.” Secondly, he described the job of writers as “to celebrate the individual in the face of doltish generalities.”
Celebrating the individual and providing a refuge from the survival of the fittest for myself and others are two of the needs that drive me to tell stories, whether on stage, on paper, or at InterPlay workshops. Knowing this is crucial to my identity as a creative person.
In the face of traumatic events like the attacks of September 11th and the enormity of the damage that to the national pysche of the United States in the wake of those attacks, the question of whether storytelling is valuable pops up, uninvited and unwanted, but inevitable. And my answer is Yes.
Stories matter. Fictional stories that allow us to imagine alternatives to a world that is otherwise paralyzingly bleak. True stories that allow us to see individuals as whole people with feelings and families rather than as personifications of Otherness. Simple stories that allow us to connect with the lived experience of another human being. Mythic stories that allow us to create a moral compass. They matter. All of them.
Without these stories, we become less vibrant as individuals and we become less able to function in community. Fear and isolation run rampant in North America these days. Compassion, interdependence, and community are in short supply. Stories have the power to open our minds and our hearts, sometimes even against our wills.
To have stories in the world that can work their magic, there must be storytellers.
And so, I raise my proverbial glass to all the storytellers of the world. We are the magic makers, the meaning makers, the humanizers, and the beautifiers, and the world needs us.