Storytelling: A Lost Art

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

-Anaïs Nin

For as long as history allows, there have been storytellers. With the Native American oral traditions telling the tales of how the world began, from the brutal honesty and injustice of slave narratives to the voice of a new America through Walt Whitman's definition of America's identity. These and many more have been the stories impressed upon me because they are the voices that have told tales of a very personal humanity.

Sometimes I fear that storytelling has become a lost art. We, however, have all become emotionally invested in stories, even as small children. We wondered if the shoe would ever fit, if the mermaid would ever sing again, if the villain would ever be defeated, once and for all. Sympathetic tears have fallen at the drop of bad news, at the retelling of some heartbreaking tale. And laughter has burst forth from us, as friends tell with eager hearts that one story, that gets us every time. These are the words that become interwoven in us. These are the things that shape us as we grow.

Growing up, I read many books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary that helped shaped my love of words to this day. I grew up with Beezus, Romana, Junie B. Jones, Margaret, and Jill. I was shaped by worlds of fantasy in Warriors and Seekers, where anything and everything became so possible.

I do not think I understood then. I did not understand that the voices I read, over and over, would echo throughout my own growing up.

I now better understand Isabella's struggle in "Perfect," I know the damage of bullying because of "Dear God, It's Me Margaret," and I caught such an early glimpse of injustice in "Iggie's House." Words shape us, sink into us, more than we know.

I believe it so vital to surround our children, to surround ourselves with stories that tell the tale of us. Writers do not merely create for themselves. Writers create to unravel and portray our commonality as human beings. They take the smallness around them, a sunrise, a stubbed toe, cold coffee, and turn it into a message that reverberates against our hearts.

I do not believe we value writing enough. We value fast-paced, 3-minute quick-fixes. How-To's in five steps, written with quantity, not quality, in mind. When was the last time you have lost yourself in a classic work, lost yourself in a book you've been dying to read, or allowed yourself to feel a poem?

The words that have stuck closest to me have not simply been words to heal, but have been words to understand. They speak subtly, but they remind us that we are not the only ones living. Storytelling reminds us that pain is real, loss will leave gaps, but that we are never alone in what we face.

Please do not allow writing, or storytelling, to become a lost art. Do not give into a world that values quick fixes over a real understanding of who we are. Read to your children. Read to your loved ones. Grant poetry to the lost, gift stories to the broken. Jesus' parables were no mistake. They spoke to the people of the time, allowing them to unite in a very human pursuit of God's word.

Humanity is complex, and answers do not come easily. But I am grateful for the understanding hearts and minds of writers who seek to reveal what is common in all of us. I am thankful for pursuers of truth, who reveal what is so dimly lit around us. And I am thankful for a God who plants and sews storytellers from the earth, with His son as the greatest model of all.

"When someone dies, we go searching for poetry. When a new chapter of life starts or ends—graduations, weddings, inaugurations, funerals—we insist on poetry. The occasion for poetry is always a grand one, leaving us little people with our little lives bereft of elegies and love poems. But I want elegies while I’m still alive, I want rhapsodies though I’ve never seen Mount Olympus. I want ballads, I want ugly, grating sounds, I want repetition, I want white space, I want juxtaposition and metaphor and meditation and ALL CAPS and erasure and blank verse and sonnets and even center-aligned italicized poems that rhyme, and most of all—feelings."

-Jenny Zhang, “How It Feels”

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