The Power of Storytelling

When I was a little girl of eight or nine, I believe, I read a book called Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, about a little girl who kept a notebook in which she wrote private observations about everyone. I don’t even know what the actual plot of the story was/is. There’s more to it than a girl and her notebook, but that was my takeaway. That was all that mattered to me. And the way I remember the my own story, which may not be true at all, is that, after I read that book, my mother bought me a black-and-white marble composition notebook. It could be that I already had the notebook or that it was in the house, but in any event, I acquired a notebook, and I wrote tidbits about everything I observed throughout the course of the day. It wasn’t a Dear Diary kind of a thing. It was more like, Kimberly looks angry today. I think she had a fight with Daniela, and No one seems to like Bill. He always looks lonely. I felt less lonely then, and it gave me a sense of purpose. Between my notebook and the many books that I read, one after the next, I recognized the power of story, early on.

I will credit my mother with many things in my stories, some good and some bad, but she always made sure that I had paper on hand. Stacks of blank and loose life paper were piled on a shelf in the linen closet in the hall near my bedroom. And when I got a little bit older, she would buy me “blank books” from the local bookstore in town or whenever we went to the mall. Some I’d fill with random lists of anything. Others were filled with observations. Some with rants. Others with poetry. Some I wrote in from the cover to cover. Some would have just a few pages written on, before I would throw them aside, usually because any upset in my life would require me to start over. It became an unwritten rule.

My notebook were, at times, a healthy outlet, and at times, a compulsion. At some point, it got to the point where they had to be neat and perfect and any mistake would mean the entire notebook had to be scraped. That went on for most of my early adulthood and into graduate school, where I eventually sought counseling for the perfectionist and compulsive behaviors . I engaged in behavior modification therapy that was effective, and I stopped doing things that made keeping a notebook stressful.

And then for a while, I would just keep a calendar and eventually went digital and stopped keeping a notebook altogether, for several years, believing that the analog era had passed and paper was a thing of the past. I unraveled. Without written narrative, it was almost as though I disappeared. Like life was meaningless. Without crafting the thread of story that runs through my life, I would vacillate between rumination and stagnation, not expanding at all. That’s a feeling like drowning.

I don’t tell the story of my childhood very often anymore because it’s the lessons that matter most to me these days and people get caught up in the details, which no longer matter to me. My entire family has grown past and beyond those stories, and I’ve let them fade into the background, so I do not hold others in a space they no longer wish to occupy. But it was storytelling that gave meaning to everything that happened and allowed me to extract the lessons that are at the core of who I am today.

Storytelling is a powerful and unique part of our humanness. I don’t think any other creature on Earth possesses the power of storytelling. These stories connect us to everything and everyone, across time and space. They connect us to former versions of ourselves and will connect us to our future selves as well.

Story is everything; it is all that we are. It is the narrative that meaning we ascribe to all existence, to our existence. It is our reality and reveals all of our life lessons to us. Our stories give life life.