7: A Storyteller Is Born

7: A Storyteller Is Born

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

A Storyteller Is Born

Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.

~Robin Moore

One hundred pairs of eyes are fixed on me as I stand on stage performing a humorous story. Waves of laughter from the audience wash over me. I am halfway through when the story pictures in my head that roll out the plot suddenly stop. My mental screen is devastatingly void of content. Empty!

Fear rises from my gut. I have seen other beginner storytellers succumb to that fear and leave the stage humiliated and defeated. I am, for the first time in my very short career, experiencing the dreaded nightmare of “The Blank-Out,” the bane of all actors who perform live and without notes.

Looking away from the audience, I take a deep breath and let the silence settle into my bones. Then, like magic, the rest of my story suddenly reappears. I smile triumphantly and pick up where I left off. An almost imperceptible breeze flows over my face as one hundred people heave a great, collective sigh of relief. Their storyteller is back on track!

The spinning wheel of my story begins again. My yarn stretches out and winds around every person, pulling them together into a unity of delight. The room once more rings out with laughter, a sound that is music to my ears.

***

My story really began in October 2015. My husband and I had retired and moved to the scenic, seaside city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where I was looking forward to quiet, creative activities like writing and painting. Prior to this, I had led a fairly sheltered life and was quite shy. In every social occasion, my outgoing husband took the lead, striking up conversations with strangers.

We heard about an upcoming storytelling event and decided to attend. As the storytellers on stage wove their magic, the audience laughed and wept and sang. Like everyone else, I fell under their spell. Somewhere in the middle of the third story, a brilliant rocket of excitement exploded inside me. I had an epiphany. “I love stories! These are my kind of people! I want to be a storyteller!”

No matter that storytelling necessitated getting up on a stage under bright lights and addressing strangers. Storytelling also required using a microphone and tons of memorization. Let’s not forget self-confidence and the ability to act that were also needed! Where was I going to get the talent, memory, and courage needed to become a storyteller?

Next to dying, public speaking was my greatest fear. I must be out of my mind! I thought to myself. My memory isn’t that great. What if I get up there and forget my story? I don’t want to fail! But negative self-talk had no effect on me. I had never felt so alive before that moment.

So when they announced there would be a storytelling workshop in a few months, I registered and persuaded my husband to sign up as well. I needed his support, as I was too shy to enter a roomful of strangers by myself.

I also signed up to tell a story on stage a month after the workshop because I wanted to push myself to jump into this new world before I lost my nerve.

The main reason motivating me to do this utterly out-of-character, crazy thing was that I was sixty-six years old, and already my memory was starting to slip. My late mother had dementia, and I had read that one of the ways to help prevent memory loss was to keep the brain active by learning new things.

I detested memorization, but the opportunity to give the gift of laughter or touch people’s hearts with heartwarming stories meant more to me than the pain of self discipline it would require to become a storyteller. All I had to do was grab myself by the neck and march forward through my wall of fears.

The first night I was scheduled to go on stage, I felt like I was being led to the guillotine. My stomach was churning, my hands were icy cold, and my knees trembled as I walked down the steps to our car. Nothing improved once I was in the hall. I had imprinted my twenty-minute story into my memory through a month of hard, focused studying. Once on stage, I fell easily into my story, describing the scenes without stumbling or faltering. I finished to a thundering wall of applause, and later hearty congratulations from the other storytellers and several audience members. A thrill of exhilaration (and relief) blasted through me. I was hooked!

And so my adventure began. I started to tell stories every month, sometimes on stage and sometimes in my living room. With my newly found self-confidence, I started a story circle for beginners, and we shared stories and the learning process together.

Eventually, I even made friends with the microphone, an object that terrified me in the beginning. Within a few months of beginning to tell stories, my memory started to improve noticeably. It was remarkable.

Strangers began coming up to me in the street, telling me how much they enjoyed my storytelling. At first, I was shocked that anybody would remember me and I was shy about accepting their praise. Recognition was not common in my life before this. My self-esteem began to rise, and I became more comfortable talking with new people.

Overcoming my fears made me stronger and gave me a lusty appetite for trying even more new, fun activities. I started playing the ukulele and even tried Zumba exercise classes. I joined three choirs and took up pickleball, badminton, carpet bowling and kayaking.

Everywhere I went, people were friendly and welcoming. Over time, my shyness just faded away. To my happy surprise, I found that I was good at each new thing I tried, and my self-confidence continued to grow.

Today, I am a different woman from the timid one who moved to this city two years ago.

All these wonderful changes in my life came about when I listened to my heart and ploughed through my fears. And the Blank-Out? I learned it happens to all storytellers once in a while, even the professionals, so I’m taking my blank-out in stride and won’t worry if it happens again.

I’m already looking forward with excitement to my next new pursuit, which starts up in a few weeks. Bollywood dancing anyone?

~Christine Clarke-Johnsen

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