Claiming myself as a storyteller
I was working at the local community college setting up short term job training for folks on public assistance, so I occasionally worked with the office staff of the various deans. The Dean of Instruction’s secretary had worked there forever and knew everything, so she was the one to ask if one wanted to get things done. However, she was not easily approachable and I found ways to get things done without her unless it was absolutely necessary. One day, she said something to me that not only changed our relationship, soon after it completely changed my life.
I came to work that day with a burn mark on my upper cheek. She noticed it and asked about it. So I said to her, “I had this big freckle on my cheek and I’d noticed that it was getting bigger over the last few years. The last time I asked a dermatologist about it, he said to ignore it, especially since removal usually left a scar that was even more noticeable than the freckle. Now that I have a new doctor, I asked again. He sent me to a dermatologist who said that I should get rid of it right away because these things tend to change into skin cancer. Before I could even ask him about a scar, he came at me with this blowtorch-looking thing and said he would remove it right now. So he went at me with the blowtorch and just burned it right off! (Demonstration and sound effects included.) Then he told me how to treat the wound and that was that. Now it just looks like a burn from a curling iron and it should heal soon and not leave a scar.”
The secretary chuckled at my story and commented that I was one of those persons who instead of just saying “I had a freckle removed” had to tell a whole dramatic story when answering a question. I had heard this about myself a few times and was aware of this trait but wasn’t sure how much it bothered people. I knew that sometimes I would still be talking and the listeners would have gone onto something else. I knew that often it took me a long time to explain things. On the other hand, I knew that when I had been an instructor this technique (or bad habit) worked well for illustrating concepts to learners. So I asked her what she thought about this tendency. Was it okay or was it something that bothered people? She answered, “We need people like you. We need people who can tell a story and make everyday life sound more interesting than it really is. My husband does the same thing.” That’s all she said, but it stuck with me. After that, I didn’t avoid her quite so much and I stopped feeling so self-conscious about how I explained things.
Within the year I had to leave that job to take care of my ailing parents. After my mother passed away I had some free time so I checked out the local storytelling guild and found a new calling. I was amazed – and still am amazed – that there is a place for people who answer questions with a story; that people actually want to hear me tell stories about everyday life; and that I can dig into the stories that I like to tell over and over again, find the kernel of Truth in them, and share that meaning with others. Now I’m telling my stories and writing my memoirs, I’m telling the stories of people who are gone or who can’t tell their own stories, and I’m helping seniors remember and tell their stories. All because I can’t answer a question without telling a story, and I finally claimed that as good.