As a mother, I am finding that often I will feel an internal push towards a new way of being, just before my daughter begins to need it from me. Sometimes this results in a steep learning curve solely focused on my biggest shortcomings….such as when I decided to tackle my inner tension, just as she began the transition to toddlerhood. I had to cultivate self acceptance and patience FAST during those months in tantrum town. Motherhood can feel like bootcamp for the soul. Mostly I am thankful for the bright illumination that brings all my shadows into sharp relief. At least, as long as my inner critic doesn’t get involved. In those times, the whole experience can be utter misery. It has been a surprising relief then, for the most recent push to show up in the most ancient of forms. Storytelling.
When I began to read Gary Snyder a month or so ago, I was stopped in my tracks by his fresh description of the oral storytelling tradition. The home hearth in the evening was a point of eternal return and reminding, as each day was woven through words into the loom, joining the weave of the days before. A child would grow up supported by a cradle of stories, each one connecting him to tribe, place and land. As Snyder says, the story of that tree, of that rock, of that mountain. I know the stories, both ancient and new, of the territory where I grew up, but even after living in the Bay Area for 15 years, I feel disconnected from some of the landmarks. At least, I don’t know their stories in my bones, but rather hold them in my mind, filed away and not always present. It jolted me to attention when I realized that the oral storytelling tradition is now occupied in my modern life by internet video viewing. For most folks it is in the form of prime time television. And for my daughter, the stories she hears dance across the pages of a book and have very little to do with the immediate nature around her.
Our sunroom bookshelf gets a lot of play. Right now the theme is “animals”.
Fern is read up to 15 books a day, but I had yet to tell her a story that I made up on the spot. The kind that found me, and was allowed to flow through, a transmission from terra firma. I realized that the time to begin oral storytelling is now, since it is one of the building blocks for home-preschooling. I felt my own overwhelm arise at the very thought of having to tell a good story. I can write well enough, but that’s without the pressure of timing and of someone listening. Immediately, some other stories popped forward…some very old and not useful stories. Ones that sound like, “I’m not creative enough.”. “I’m not a good storyteller.”. “I don’t know how to make them unique enough, or subtextual enough, or just…enough.”. “There’s a trick to story telling, to getting the message across, and I don’t know what it is. I haven’t been trained. Maybe I need to read a book about it, or take a class.”. “I don’t have the time to take a class. That’s it, forget it, Fern will not grow up with real stories…”. This type of inner response has been enough to stop many of my ideas cold in their tracks. The gift of motherhood is that self-doubt is not a luxury I get to have anymore. Too much is at stake.
So I began. I just started doing it. Rather than being a frustrating or frightening process, I had the experience of re-membering, as if the very act of “Once upon a time” woke up my slumbering cells. I immediately discovered that storytelling is like any creative process. Completely natural and easy, as long as you get out of your own way. It requires spaciousness and slowing down and trust. There is a wide river accessible the moment I open myself to it, and if I can get Huck Finnish enough, the current will take me, and the story, where we need to go. The very instant I start to “try” or think I need to make the story more than what it is, the whole thing capsizes.
Trust and let go.
The best part is, Fern is very forgiving, as I suspect all children are. She doesn’t need Shakespeare. She has her own brilliant imagination to fill the gaps I leave, and as long as I drop bread crumbs, she follows along. I watch her become transfixed, as she is transported into the world that unfolds before her. I always expect her to squirm or wander away or to go get one of her “real” stories, but she doesn’t. She listens. Wide-eyed and hungry. And then, to my surprise and delight, I get to witness her own storyteller awakening.
Yesterday we were at Koshland Park, and I noticed the clouds. The blanket of overcast had broken into lines, with the blue peeking through. I pointed them out to Fern, and she lay on the play structure, gazing upwards. Suddenly she gestured to the sky and said,
Me: The sky looks like the sea?
Fern: Yeah. Go plop plop splash. Want go there now.
Me: You want to go swimming in the sky?
Fern: Yeah. Go there hawk. Whoosh whoosh.
Me: Birds swim in the sky and you could be a bird.
Fern: Flap flap in sky. I eat the sun! I want to eat the sun!
Me: You want to eat the sun? What would the sun taste like?
Fern: Tastes like cone, and cookies, and cone and….tea! I eat the sun! Yummy!
So I get it now. We were born to swim in the sky and eat the sun and to travel to Narnia and a thousand leagues under the sea and to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of another and relate to all that IS. I don’t need to become a storyteller. I already am a storyteller.
And so are you.