Monday, 21 February 2011

My declaration of decapitalised creative expression

When the tickets for The Story 2011 went on sale I didn't think twice about buying one. Last years event was one of the highlights of the year for me and I still have vivid memories of many of the stories that were shared [some were fiction, some were non-fiction, some were somewhere inbetween]

The blurb for this years event read much the same as last years: "The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story." So on Friday I sat in the wonderful Conway Hall eagerly anticipating another day of captivating yarns and hoping that I would be able to control my tears more ably than I did last year. I sat all day listening to a masterfully assembled cast of wonderful speakers talking brilliantly about storytelling and I had, you know, a *good* day, but I left feeling somewhat troubled. Partly because, for me, there had been only momentary glimmers of heart-stopping storytelling (and for most of those moments I felt like I'd had to work hard to extract the marrow of the story myself) and occasionally it had felt like I'd stumbled into a project evaluation meeting or that I was picking up a timewarped broadcast of the This is Playful event from 5 months earlier. But, much more than that, I just couldn't stop wondering why so many of the speakers had started their talks by claiming that they weren't storytellers. My heart had sunk a little deeper throughout the day whenever someone announced "I'm not a storyteller..."

In his talk, Karl James asked the question "how do stories limit who someone can be?" ... in Karl's case the story he told us was that he was a 'story listener, not a story teller'. Perhaps the day was lacking in oral storytelling in the sense that there were no magical re-tellings of events, or spellbinding narration of fairytales, or poems, or any other fiction really, but the day was certainly rich in the tangle-weaved words of stories about the speakers and the stories they choose to listen to, or tell, or show, in the work they do and the anecdotes they recounted. The wise folk of Wikipedia say: "Storytelling is the art of portraying real or fictitious events in words, images, and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. ... Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view." I would argue that all of the speakers told us a story and, by extension, are storytellers whether they cared to admit it or not.

It struck me that maybe the crux of this 'I'm not a storyteller' conundrum is that the speakers were thinking of storyteller with a capital letter, i.e. 'I'm not a Storyteller' in the 'my job title isn't Storyteller' sense rather than as a denial of their instrinsic storytelling nature. I then started pondering whether this is the same problem when people say 'I'm not creative' or 'I can't draw' etc, etc.

My meandering thoughts became quite disgruntled as I pondered how anyone could claim that they're not a storyteller when we tell fragments of our own epic story every time we speak, or claim we're not a dancer when we move with our own unique rhythm as we walk and can stumble with unintended grace. As soon as I started removing the capital letter from various creative roles I could see fragments of those roles glimmering in our everyday lives: squeezing toothpaste from the tube becomes an act of sculpture, entertaining a small child in the post office queue becomes performance art.

And so I've written a manifesto of sorts as a reminder to myself and others that, whether we care to admit it or not, we are all practitioners of everyday artistry. even if what we create can sometimes lack a certain aesthetic refinement or craftmanship.

*update: speaker name snafu corrected [nothing to see here, move along]

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