What makes a great storyteller? This week I am preparing for a workshop on storytelling and finding it hard to articulate. Practicing yoga was something I started as an adult so teaching it in a way is easier. Trying to explain something I grew up doing is HARD. Storytelling speaks to the non-analytical part of the brain, that is its power, it runs deep. A great storyteller needs to let go of all rules and run with creative instinct, take risks, fly by the seat of their pants and keep one beat ahead of everyone else in the room. Once a story is started they are ravished by a fire which won’t die until they are finished with their tale.
My father is one of the greatest storytellers I know. He is half Irish and it is definitely in his bones. When we were little he used to tell tales about lions and bears weaving in morals and truths from his life. My sister and I used to beg for his stories and we never knew what was true or not. (The first time my husband met my dad I told him to disbelieve 90% of what he said to be safe). I still love hearing my dad’s stories, I ask him to retell me ones he has told me many times before. He is like a storytelling jukebox. Each time he tells it like I have never heard it, with new twists and turns. On the surface he is a bit shy but as soon as he is in the grips of a good yarn he is absolutely riveting. I have never ever seen anyone interrupt him mid-tale. My dad has lived many lives and taken many journeys. He is strong-willed (read stubborn) - from growing up in a dodgy suburb outside of Jo-burg to working in a marble-floored office in London takes some determination. And in his spare time he has run various ultra marathons, become a national rowing champion, got in bar-fights, ridden wild donkeys, killed pigs, been a pacifist, hitchhiked, chased by the police, been on yoga retreats, cycled to Paris, torn down and built houses, always fearlessly supporting his tribe through thick and thin, weird and wonderful.
Today he wears a suit but I know deep down this man is a wild storyteller most comfortable in his running shorts and a woolly hat. His stories are a special magic, each one taking you on a journey, with a clear beginning, middle and end. You never know or care what is factually real, that isn’t the point, you hurtle through the story time after time waiting for the final moment suspended pause or big belly laugh to mark the end. I have never fallen asleep in one of my dad’s stories unless he deliberately made it one for me to fall asleep to. I have laughed, cried and realised things listening to him. I have seen all the animals, lakes, rivers, countries, bar fights and journeys he has described. I have learnt the art of storytelling from him.
And I hope that my stories might one day be almost as good as his.
(Cue his big belly laugh.)
Who are the great storytellers in your life? Seek them out, sit at their feet and listen to them. Do not let their stories slip away. Let’s not lose this ancient craft of sharing wisdom and truth.