Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Storytelling tips and tricks: Ritual

The first storytelling venue I ever attended, and the one that launched me into this work, was run by the amazing Brother Blue and Ruth Hill. A couple dozen storytellers crammed together in the cafe of a small, basement-level bookstore. It was great. This was before storytelling had taken off, before The Moth, before "storytelling" was a buzzword. We gathered because we loved to hear and tell stories, and Brother Blue was a master who fostered that love in others. If you don't know him, take a look at the video below. If you do, take a look anyway. It's worth it. I'll wait.

Brother Blue was very much his own person. He encouraged us to be "fools for story" just as he was. One of the things he did to make this safe was to start each storytelling gathering with a ritual, wherein he would call upon the muse to help us climb the mountain towards great storytelling. He would declare breath sacred and invite the storytelling to begin. It was great. It was also, to the uninitiated, strange. Why ask for help from the muses? Why do this weird ritual?

We asked for help because any creative act cannot be done in a vacuum. We need help, whether it's from friends and colleagues or from some iteration of then divine. We did the ritual because it mattered to Brother Blue and, over time, it mattered to us. It helped us to shift into the mindset of listening, of doing our best. It helped us understand that the time to tell stories was sacred.

I have become a believer in ritual. Maybe nothing as elaborate as what Brother Blue did, but I know there is real power in setting an intention and then leaning into it. I do this through small rituals. For example, each morning when I start my work day I light a candle and take in five deep, slow breaths. This gives me a chance to come fully into the day, consider what needs to be done and how I should prioritize it. I then review my to-do lists, set some goals and get to work. Another example is in performance. When I was a newer storyteller I would sometimes feel very nervous before I went on stage. I developed the habit of taking a few deep breaths before I stepped out, then looking at the audience and greeting them, saying good morning or good evening, whatever was appropriate. By so doing I acknowledged them, I started a relationship with them politely, and I had a ritual to give myself a moment on the stage before I launched into the story. I still take a few deep breaths and greet the audience in some way.

My rituals have changed over time. None of them are as elaborate as Brother Blue calling the muse, but they serve a role in my creative and working life. They give me a chance to ground myself and a way to remember that the work I do is meaningful, bigger than I am.

Ritual helps us see ourselves as part of a continuum of work. It helps us state our role in the web of the world. It helps us remember why we do what we do. It helps us set aside the time we need for something we might otherwise consider foolish. It doesn't matter where you're telling stories - the classroom, stage or boardroom - what matters is that you take a moment to remind yourself that this is real, this is meaningful, this matters. It can be as subtle as a breath or as broad as calling out to the muse.

What rituals might you use or are you using? I'd love to know.

brother blue: Boston's griot from joshua bee alafia on Vimeo.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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