Identity / Life

Why Storytelling Matters

My mother knew how to tell a story. She knew to choose words carefully so as not to waste any. She knew how to tailor the rhythm and pacing for maximum impact. She didn’t talk with her hands and usually sat perfectly still, which meant that every movement, facial expression, and pause was intentional. For the 40 years my mother was in my life, I listened to every story she was willing to tell me. She told me the hard ones about growing up poor, about struggling to finish high school while working, about the violence in her family. But she also told me the good ones about crazy things she’d done and mistakes she’d made, finding humor in all of them. The week before she died, I sat with her in the living room of her house and she managed to tell me some stories I’d never heard and we laughed and cried in equal measure. I didn’t know that would be our last real conversation but I’m grateful for it because it was a fitting farewell.

I believe that most of us want to be known and understood and, when we share our experiences with others, we do so with that hope. Understanding fosters compassion and, now more than ever, we could all use more of that. Stories can teach us about those who are different than us or unite us in a common experience. Beyond that, in telling our stories, we lay claim to our experiences and tell others–and even ourselves–that our lives have worth. My mother told me stories about growing up poor so that I would understand her values and where I came from so that I would appreciate the privileges I have but she also told those stories to remind herself that she survived. Stories can change the storyteller as much as the listener or reader.

I recently had the opportunity to be part of a panel on LGBT Storytelling at BlogHer along with Téresa Dowell-Vest and Mona Darling. We each had the opportunity to tell a story and I told the story of coming out to my mother. We all have hundreds of coming out stories but I realized as I prepared for the panel, that I’d never told that story completely. I’ve touched on it in some of my writing, glossing over some of the harder parts or turning them into something purely humorous, but I’d never really laid it out honestly. So, I decided that I would do just that. Deborah Goldstein captured it and I thought I’d share it here today. It is imperfect and awkward at times but that’s exactly how life is too.

“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.” ~ Charles de Lint

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5 Comments

  1. Oh boy, V. Visibility and Compassion. That you took those two things out of what must have been such a very lonely summer? It’s why you’re my spirit animal. Moved to goosebumps and so very grateful that your writing brought you into my life.

  2. I’m so grateful Deborah has it here, because I wasn’t able to be there for it live. Storytelling, you and I, love it so much.

  3. Lovely article. Thank you for being so transparent. I met you at the Mom 2.0 Summit. I really enjoy following your articles.

  4. Vikki,

    This is so powerful. “We can change the world, one person at a time.” That gave me goosebumps.

  5. Anne Marie Mead says:

    I have wondered where you went to, Vikki, after you left the county. I would so love to reconnect and catch up…if you are so inclined …and if you remember me…how could you not….we sat by each other for a bunch of your Mother Hennepin years. I am throwing caution to the wind and putting my personal email here for you and the world to see…fullofenergy2@yahoo.com. If not….I am SO proud of you for pursuing your dreams.

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