Storytelling is making a comeback. From This American Life to The Moth and local StorySlams, there seems to be a renewed interest in listening to strangers share their stories. Even “hard” science is getting into the action trying to explain what happens in your brain when you hear a story. But is this the same type of storytelling that Walter Benjamin and others worried would be eradicated with modernity?
The fear was that storytelling would be replaced by information and novels. Communities no longer relied on passing travelers or returning sea merchants to learn what was happening beyond the village. Local histories could be recorded rather than retold and amusing tales could be read instead of heard. But stories are fundamentally different from these other forms of communication. Stories can be adapted to their audience and can weave and meander. They have no end. They can offer an insight into a life in a way a mere biography can not.
So while I enjoy the story telling trend, it seems to me that this is not enough to proclaim the return of the ancient craft. Last night, while lingering at the bar after a local StorySlam, I found myself discussing the lack of stories in our (semi)adult lives. Anyone in their late 20s or early 30s knows that it gets harder to make close friends as you get older. The problem is well documented but I would like to offer something in the way of a solution. Part of the problem is these new friends don’t know much of the interwoven stories that make you who you are. There is too much background and, often, concerns about presentation of self that make it difficult to bring these new friends up to speed.
The friends we make it later life may have all the pertinent biographical information (where you grew up, went to school, details of major life events) but they are less likely to know the seemingly random factors and events that shaped your being. My later in life friends know where I went to school and how I met my husband but probably don’t know much about the broken hearts and misadventures that came before. They don’t know the story of mama mouse or the Mormon missionaries that led me to a Dominican brothel.
So, last night we came up with a solution to this modern problem. In addition to listening to the stories of strangers, we need to create a space for storytelling in our own lives. StorySlams in the smaller groups that make up your new community. Dinner or cocktail parties with a theme– everyone share a story of love or luck or irony, etc. This way you can be introduced to new characters in the lives of these new friends. Or get a better sense of the person they were before you met them. Everyone has a little Ted Mosby in them and I believe under the right conditions we can help revive the art of storytelling in our everyday lives. What do you think? Am I being idealistic?