How Can We Up Our Storytelling Game

Dear Storytellers, Story-listeners, Story-lovers:

You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”
– Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m Les Schaffer, storyteller, Virginia Storytelling Alliance (VASA) Board Member, and now tasked with editing the VASA Blog in what may be the darkest times I’ve ever lived through. And I’ve lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Polio epidemic, the threats of nuclear and environmental destruction, decades of seemingly endless wars, Civil Rights good and bad times, vast and violent financial instability, and more than enough personal crises and issues.

Do you know that only two things have been proven to help survivors of the Holocaust? Massage is one. Telling their story is another. Being touched and touching. Telling your story is touching. It sets you free.”
– Francesca Lia Block, author

Right now, you and I know that, as Howard Gardner has written, “Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” And as story-people, our communities, our nation, our world needs us now more than ever. Yes, the world needs a Corona-virus vaccine, needs sensible economic recovery plans and execution. We are  needed to tell the stories of where we’ve been, how we got here, where we are going from here, how to make it safely through the dark forest.

Hopefully spaces like this blog, will provide safe spaces to work out how we story-people can find and illuminate the paths forward. How the professional tellers in our midst can be supported, sustained and protected as they struggle to survive and move forward. My hope is that this blog can help us to figure out what we need to do to nourish ourselves  and grow the next generation of story-people to carry on the work. And to share our ideas as to how to best bring our fellow community members along with us.

I invite you to send in short personal essays and other pieces that you feel will work for this blog. You are also invited to send me any comments you may have about already posted items. I will do my best to update the Blog, at least weekly. Please send any submissions to me at storyman1@comcast.net.

To help jump start our blog, fellow VASA Board member, Ruth Walkup, issues a call to arms and a practical set of suggestions to help get us going.  Ruth is an academic, an anthropologist, a former diplomat, and as an executive leadership coach; she uses, teaches, and encourages storytelling. Ruth tells stories gathered from her life and work in the US and as a ‘global nomad’. And to my mind, perhaps the thing that most personifies her, she is a veteran Triathaloner, having completed – so far – about 30 races. She is definitely someone in for the long haul.

Les Schaffer


May 2020
Dear Storytellers, Story-listeners, and all others –

These times of a global Covid-19 are strange times, both confusing and frightening as well as possibly healing and stabilizing.  Right now there are few answers about what our world will look like after this wave of the pandemic rolls through our country and the world.  One thing is certain – social connections are and will be as important and as valuable as ever – maybe even more.

As a storytelling species, we human beings need to connect with each other through telling and listening to our stories.  We need to be heard as we go through this Covid-19 experience.  We need to share our fears, our pains, our stresses.  We need to share our successes and realizations, our dreams and our plans.  And we need to listen to each other for hope and creativity, sanity, courage, and grace.

This is where you – as storytellers, story listeners, story promoters – come in.  While storytelling as an art has grown in recognition over the past few decades, never before in our lifetimes has it become so critical for us to tell and listen as a global community.  In stories, whether written, spoken, or shown visually we have a way through this puzzle of our current social lives.

So, how can we up our storytelling game now?  Here are some ways:

  • Tell a story to anyone who will listen on whatever platform you choose – in person to your roommate, partner, or kids, on the phone. And then tell another one.  See where it goes.
  • Organize a ‘gathering’ that is story-centered. On your porch, on Zoom, over the phone.
  • Develop new stories. With so much time away from other people, this may be a perfect time to develop new stories.
  • Sign up to tell stories virtually. VASA is working with libraries in Virginia to engage storytellers through out the summer. Stay tuned – and tell us how you are doing it elsewhere.
  • Listen to stories that stretch you.If you are used to listening to stories by and for adults, try listening on YouTube to stories told by school kids. Look up tellers who enter liars contests for a different look at life.  If you gravitate towards American tellers, go out on a limb and listen to tellers from India, Jamaica, Canada, South Africa, the UK, Indonesia, or Sri Lanka.  Many of them tell in English or have translators so language won’t be an issue.

VASA supports story people in whatever ways we can.  We have hosted some online sessions about getting financial help for folks who tell stories for a living.  We are planning an online Gathering.  We are connecting libraries with tellers.  Let us know what else you think we can do to help.

Finally, please send us your stories about how you are ‘doing stories’ during Covid-19.  Write us, tell us on a video, write a story-poem.  However you feel inspired.  We’re eager to hear.  Send stuff to VASANews3@gmail.com

Signing off with ‘Once upon a time . . .’
Ruth Walkup
VASA Board Member

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