I have always been a storyteller. In kindergarten, I would read the newspaper aloud to my family at the table during breakfast. As a first grader, I stood at the podium and read Bible verses at my aunts’ weddings. By the third grade I was telling stories and playing Irish folk songs with my parents at retirement homes. A favorite story was ‘Stone Soup,’ wherein a vagrant, having chosen a rock, would knock on an unsuspecting homeowners door, and convince them that this rock would, by magic, create the most delicious soup, if one only added water, some onions, and garlic, a few carrots, a turnip or two, some parsnips, meat, potatoes, a handful of herbs, beets, and anything else he might spy in their pantry, and cook them in a pot with this very special rock at the bottom. His host would invariably share some of the lovely nourishing stew, and thank him for generously gifting them his magic soup Stone. The Vagrant, hunger satisfied, would then travel on, needing only find another welcoming home with a few rocks outside when he found himself hungry again.
As an adult, I have honed my craft, at work, at parties, coffee shops, bus stops, anywhere I might find a receptive (or at least captive) audience. My ego has evolved in pace with my stories, sometimes expanding in grand hyperbole, othertimes distilled into terse, succinct poetry. I have spilled much ink and cast much noise into existence, searching for the perfect combination of exposition and condensation.
The quality of my craft grew, and along with it, my ego. “If I could just find the exact word, in the precise context, in harmonious juxtaposition,” I repeated to myself so many times, “I could change the world, AND be recognized for my skill.” I often wonder why I am not famous yet, doubted and then redoubled my effort to master the art of connecting to others through language. But mountains rose from each plateau. I always felt strangely so proud of my latest feat of word sorcery, yet so dispassionate about my past creations.
It has just occured to me this morning, through decentering myself and my ego, that deciphering the magic of storytelling is a exercise in recognizing myself as part of a greater community, not just an individual talent. Like the Vagrant, I offer little of tangible value to the world with my obtuse metaphors and flowery rhetoric. No matter how well told, a story flourishes in the very practical, very real investment of the audience’s time, presence, patience, and attention. The work, the magic, the meat and potatoes is the act of listening, reflecting, allowing someone else’s story to process and unfold through the lens of our own individual experiences. The audience’s self-awareness is the secret ingredient that connects us, not the plot or characters, not verbose exaggerations or gnomic obscurations. Nothing written is delicious until it is read. My words are not magic, just a recipe, hidden in anecdote, coalescing our seemingly distinct perspectives and unveiling our shared experiences.
So thank you, everyone who has listened to and read me, for being the true engine of my struggle to define my own beauty, and you’re welcome for me, for being the rock at the bottom of your pot. It’s the least I could do.