Talking About Talking: The Hearth Teaches Storytelling By Listening
The Hearth’s full program begins with a three-and-a-half-day online intensive April 19-22, 2022 and closes with another three-and-a-half-day intensive September 20-23, 2022. The intensives will involve lecture, small group sharing, and group discussion. Online sessions will be three hours, held twice each day, with breaks in between.
Rogue Valley Messenger: Storytelling is both a traditional art as well as a modernday obsession (see, The Moth, etc.). I recognize that your trainings are multi-faceted, but is there one or two pieces of advice you can share about how to be a better storyteller?
Mark Yaconelli: One way to teach yourself how to be a better storyteller is to simply pay attention when people are telling stories. Why are you so engaged when Martha shares stories? What is Martha doing? Why are you so bored with Uncle Bob’s stories? What can you learn here? Often the people who tell engaging stories get to the action quickly. They don’t dawdle on long explanations or detailed descriptions. Also try and relive what you’re telling. Conjure the sounds, the sights, the feelings. The more you relive it, the more others will feel it with you. One way to do this is to simply visualize the scenes of your story and then describe the images without lots of background: “She was short, stout, with a face like a withered apple. She was also the best lover I ever had.” Don’t give us your thoughts on the justice system, give us the smell of the mattress, the light through the window, the echo of the jail you sat in. Like a movie director, create an internal storyboard: Scene One: My grandfather gives me a BB gun. Scene Two: Sitting in the Medford police station. Scene Three: My mother enrolling me in Catholic school. Turn on your mental movie projector, light up the screen, then show us what you saw, heard, and felt.
RVM: The Hearth is returning to in-person trainings and events. After two years teaching and hosting online, what new skills have been learned and can transfer to the in-person teaching?
MY: Mostly we’ve learned the human capacity to connect deeply with others transcends technology. Story is a relational practice. When we share a story we’re inviting others to live what we have lived, see as we have seen, feel as we have felt. In every personal story we are saying to the listeners, “this is what it’s like to be me.” I always thought this had to happen in person, but over the past two years we’ve had trainings full of strangers (from across the United States and Canada) sharing stories on these cold, digital screens. It amazes me that at the end of day people will say: “I feel so connected to everyone. I feel renewed hope for humanity.” This is the power of sharing stories. Even with computers and sketchy internet, our hearts still find a way to reach across space and time to make contact with another soul.
RVM: What do participants do with these skills?
MY: Our work is to help people understand the power and methods of personal storytelling and then use what they’ve learned to strengthen, heal, and mobilize their communities for the greater good. Recent participant projects include pop-up gatherings in Columbus, Ohio where victims of gun violence shared testimonies in order to motivate their neighbors to support gun restrictions. A woman in Richmond, Virginia created a written story gallery to save a park. She set out paper and pens and people wrote a favorite memory of the park. These written stories were posted to help neighbors get to know one another and recognize the importance of green spaces. A student in Minneapolis created a “Gallery of Mentors.” People from around town shared a picture and story of a mentor who made an impact in their lives. The project was used to encourage people to mentor underprivileged youth. Some of our participants use the training to improve family relationships, or to build stronger bonds with work colleagues, or help their town heal from tragedy. In this time of ongoing crisis, we all need to develop resiliency. I’ve learned that relationship is resiliency. The stronger relationships you have, the more equipped you are to weather the coming storms. Sharing stories builds resiliency. It is a democratic practice that all of us can use to strengthen our connection to the people, places, and values that matter most.