Thoughts from David
An Introduction to Storying
The world is made of stories.
This is not meant to be esoteric or philosophical. It’s just how things are. Stories literally help us understand the world, and have for a long time. About 30,000 years ago, humans were trying to make sense of their lives in the form of cave paintings. Today, cave paintings have become digital recordings that we listen to on supercomputers in our pockets. Why are we still drawn to storytelling after all these millennia? Scientists have now discovered that reading about experiences in books lights up the brain in the same way that physical experiences do. There’s no distinction. Regardless of how we consume stories, they do the same thing they always have: They provide meaning to our own lives and allow us to make sense of the things around us. That’s why navigating the world means navigating stories.
The language of children is storytelling.
Every parent and teacher has experienced this to be true. If you have doubts, look to the nearest child and say, “Once upon a time.” You will see that you now have their full attention, no matter what they were doing a moment before. Because you are now speaking their language.
If the language of children is storytelling and the world is made of stories, then the most powerful person in the world … is the storyteller.
On Narrative Density
What is a ‘calling’? How did Trump get elected? Why are breakfast tacos so good? What is it about the song “Take on Me”?
I think the answer has to do with Narrative Density – which, in short, means how much story is packed into any given topic or thing.
Narrative Density behaves like Physical Density - the more dense, the more gravitational pull. Denser objects have more pull - the earth has more pull than a grapefruit, so the grapefruit naturally “falls” toward the earth. The same goes with stories.
If you feel ‘called’ to leave your job as a talent agent and become a social studies teacher – then you are being pulled toward something more narratively dense. Teaching is thick with reference points and living images that have helped create your identity. Mr. Warbler, your history teacher in 8th grade had you dress up like Thomas Jefferson – including a wig – and it was awesome. Mrs. Kurcheck was totally resistant to teaching American History from a Native American point of view – and it was offensive to you. You read a book last year about the influence of the Irish in world politics. You love plaques.
Therefore teaching is more narratively dense than being a talent agent – which is also narratively dense, just not as dense for you.
I believe narrative density is at play with everything in our lives. Clearly picking a life partner is balanced on the density of your future spouse’s stories – but choice of favorite food, music, decorations, holidays, furniture, opinions on everything – all of it – is also deeply and often unconsciously motivated by narrative density.
So a potent first step in storying and storytelling, is to see our own stories more clearly. What is narratively dense for us?
Listening for the Gold
In all stories, there is what is called “The Golden Thread”. It is the through line – the tiny, almost imperceptible tether that connects a series of seemingly random events into a solid, fully formed story. Fairy tales and folk tales can get a little wandery – they have lots of tangents and don’t seem to follow the same formula. Most movies follow a rhythm and that is why most movies are predictable. Read the Grimms fairy tale “Water of Life” or the Russian fairy tale “Babooska” and you regularly find yourself wondering ‘what is going on?’ and ‘why are we here?’
But in the end, it is all pulled together – in the end, we can see the golden thread of the story.
The challenge, then, with storying – or spinning a tale on the spot – is how to find the golden thread when you don’t know where the story is going. Is this all just nonsense or is this story I am telling serving some higher purpose, tapping into some kind of truth, delivering some deep wisdom cloaked in seemingly unconnected images and events?
The way to answer that question is to ‘listen for the gold’
And gold … shines.
There are Fairies in his Voice
Martin Luther King Junior had fairies in his voice.
This is something a storyteller gets to say because we deal in metaphor and are generally excused from making sense. But in this case, I don’t know what the metaphor represents - I just know that, for me, it is true. He had fairies in his voice.
When I hear recordings of his voice, I am transported to a deeply emotional and magical place. I feel a deep sadness mixed with intense motivation and joy - its a curious combination. I also feel like he is reaching out specifically to me - across time and space - in order to give me some kind of personal message - encouragement to be the best person I can be. To be authentic. To have integrity. And to be brave.
This is a storytelling thing - to have fairies in one’s voice. It is what I practice. I intentionally invite fairies into my voice when I tell stories so that others can have that emotional and magical journey. I don’t know any other way to describe it - other than fairies. Magical beings. Forces of transformation and inspiration.
I suppose “angels” could work. Or “magic spells”. Or maybe even “hypnotic tones” - but, for me, “fairies” is the right word. They are indeed powerful, but they also don’t take themselves quite so seriously.
I don’t have much data or research to back this up, but I feel like MLK was able to be powerful without taking himself too seriously. Without making it about him. There was a serenity about him that makes me comfortable with the image of “fairies” over the other options.
So I encourage you to listen to him speak. Listen to a recording of “I have a dream” or anything really - even his conversation. And listen for the fairies. You’ll know you have found them because they will begin to live in you. You will feel the magic and the transformation and maybe you will also hear a message across time and space, encouraging you to be your best self.