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Last week I attended the second storytelling night in Ely, instigated by Julie Nester and Terry Cooper, who had discovered a shared love of storytelling. They thought there should be more opportunities in Ely, so they set about to do it, inspired by advice in the Underground Optimist about pursuing ideas: gather your crowd, build connections, collaborate like crazy, and take small steps. They didn’t seek out a sponsoring organization, apply for grants, or conduct a market survey; they just did it and named it “Stories from the Edge.” By my lights, I’d say it has been wildly successful from the get-go. The first night about 45 people attended, with a similar turnout the second night. There was no shortage of people willing to tell a story.

The format is based on that of the Moth Radio Hour StorySLAM: people put their name in a hat if they wish to tell a story: it must be real, connected to the person telling, and five to six minutes long. Names are drawn until there are no more names or no more time. A theme is suggested each month, such as “My eyes were opened when…”, but all stories are welcome and appreciated.

I love it when people are encouraged to share real stuff about their lives. It would be hard not to notice that storytelling has been sweeping the land. On the weekends, public radio in our area offers This American Life, TED Radio Hour, Live Wire, New Yorker Radio Hour and Moth Radio Hour and Live From Here. Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor ran for 42 years with a couple years of defection to New York. Garrison’s monologue about life in Lake Wobegon kept people coming back even when it seemed to me that there were too many corny skits and music featuring Garrison’s not-very-good singing. Wondering at first why New Yorkers or Floridians appreciate these midwestern stories, I realized he was telling universal stories we can all relate to, and he was a gifted storyteller who knows how to hold his listeners’ attention. At its peak in 2015, four million people tuned in. He spoke of a simpler place and simpler times that we may yearn for, but four million people listening to a radio show? That’s a lot of yearning.

Researchers say that people respond differently to a strong emotional story, creating a second personal movie in their head with themselves as leading characters. Melanie Green and Tim Brock suggest that we then drop our intellectual guard, becoming less critical or skeptical. Consequently, salespeople, marketers and non-profits have learned to use the story format to persuade people to buy or donate. The Super Bowl ads are so entertaining that even people who hate football will tune in to see them. Voted “Best Super Bowl ads” were Budweiser’s with the adorable lab puppy adopted by the Clydesdales in 2014 and rescued in 2015. Viewers could connect emotionally with the puppy, his owner, and the horses, many saying they cried. Offering the polar opposite to cute and cuddly, an anti-tobacco public service announcement featured the guy with an electrolarnyx (a mechanical voice box) singing with an electronic voice through the hole in his neck, “You don’t always die from tobacco; sometimes you just lose a lung…etc.” In one verse, it changed the story quite effectively from “we all have to die sometime” to “you could live for years with any of those consequences.”

Throughout time, storytellers have played a key role in their communities, beginning with ancient cave paintings showing crude representations of animals and humans. The oldest known figurative art is in Sulawesi, Indonesia, determined to be 35,400 years old by geochemist and archaeologist Maxime Aubert in 2014. Paleoneurologist Harry J. Jerison suggests that it was the very capacity to make pictures in our brain that compensated for our comparatively weak sense of smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste, enabling us to find our way around in the world. A good story helps us create mental pictures.

Before written language, storytellers were the historians, holding the memories so they would be passed on to the next generation. Aesop’s fables were written down in the 200s B.C., 300 years after he died, but his stories were so powerful, they were remembered. Even today, 2,200 years later, they are still being used to teach life lessons.

In “Who Says?”, editors Carol L. Birch and Melissa A. Heckler say that the amazing plasticity of the human mind and the opposable thumb allowed us to create and wield tools, to learn and evolve. They posit (isn’t that a great word?) that perhaps stories are a mental opposable thumb, “allowing humans to grasp something in their minds, to turn it around, to view if from many angles, to reshape it and to hurl it even into the farthest reaches of the unconscious.”

History could be viewed as nothing but a series of stories that can teach, inspire and entertain us. Without that collection of stories, what role models would we have? How would be learn from our mistakes? Philosopher and poet George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We certainly see plenty of examples of that currently as we scratch our heads and wonder, “When will we ever learn?” Many feel history and civics are not given the attention needed in our schools.

I think the yearning for a saner world, a world in which we feel more connected with each other, is at the heart of this surge of storytelling. Caught in the whirlpool of technology and whirlwind of activities, we have lots of material things and rich opportunities, but we may lose track of what really feeds our souls, including our connections with the broader community. We know things could be different but often aren’t clear on how to change or simplify.

Perhaps it’s just as simple as taking time to tell our stories and listen to others tell theirs. Last week Steve Voiles told a hilarious story about his mom sending him to the store to buy a few bananas when he was seven; he’d heard an adult say that buying in bulk was a way to save money, so he loaded up two grocery bags. Ask him for the rest of the story, because it’s his to tell, but it embraced all the components of a good story: people could relate to being young, wanting to make mom proud, making a silly mistake; it was humorous, emotional and visual, walking down memory lane with him as he tried to figure out how to get all those bananas home. He let us in to his personal life, and I do feel more connected with him and the others who shared stories. I chickened out about telling a story, but I will in the future!

Come share your stories, usually on the third Thursday, 6-8 p.m. at the Ely Senior Center. We’d love to get to know you better.

Last week I attended the second storytelling night in Ely instigated by Julie Nester and Terry Cooper, who had discovered a shared love of storytelling. They thought there should be more opportunities in Ely, so they set about to do it, inspired by advice in the Underground Optimist about pursuing ideas: gather your crowd, build connections, collaborate like crazy, and take small steps. They didn’t seek out a sponsoring organization, apply for grants, or conduct a market survey; they just did it and named it “Stories from the Edge.” By my lights, I’d say it has been wildly successful from the get-go. The first night about 45 people attended with a similar turnout the second night. There was no shortage of people willing to tell a story.

The format is based on that of the Moth Radio Hour StorySLAM: people put their name in a hat if they wish to tell a story: it must be real, connected to the person telling, and five to six minutes long. Names are drawn until there are no more names or no more time. A theme is suggested each month, such as “My eyes were opened when…”, but all stories are welcome and appreciated.

I love it when people are encouraged to share real stuff about their lives. It would be hard not to notice that storytelling has been sweeping the land. On the weekends, public radio in our area offers This American Life, TED Radio Hour, Live Wire, New Yorker Radio Hour and Moth Radio Hour and Live From Here. Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor ran for 42 years with a couple years of defection to New York. Garrison’s monologue about life in Lake Wobegon kept people coming back even when it seemed to me that there were too many corny skits and music featuring Garrison’s not-very-good singing. Wondering at first why New Yorkers or Floridians appreciate these midwestern stories, I realized he was telling universal stories we can all relate to, and he was a gifted storyteller who knows how to hold his listeners’ attention. At its peak in 2015, four million people tuned in. He spoke of a simpler place and simpler times that we may yearn for, but four million people listening to a radio show? That’s a lot of yearning.

Researchers say that people respond differently to a strong emotional story, creating a second personal movie in their head with themselves as leading characters. Melanie Green and Tim Brock suggest that we then drop our intellectual guard, becoming less critical or skeptical. Consequently, salespeople, marketers and non-profits have learned to use the story format to persuade people to buy or donate. The Super Bowl ads are so entertaining that even people who hate football will tune in to see them. Voted “Best Super Bowl ads” were Budweiser’s with the adorable lab puppy adopted by the Clydesdales in 2014 and rescued in 2015. Viewers could connect emotionally with the puppy, his owner, and the horses, many saying they cried. Offering the polar opposite to cute and cuddly, an anti-tobacco public service announcement featured the guy with an electrolarnyx (a mechanical voice box) singing with an electronic voice through the hole in his neck, “You don’t always die from tobacco; sometimes you just lose a lung…etc.” In one verse, it changed the story quite effectively from “we all have to die sometime” to “you could live for years with any of those consequences.”

Throughout time, storytellers have played a key role in their communities, beginning with ancient cave paintings showing crude representations of animals and humans. The oldest known figurative art is in Sulawesi, Indonesia, determined to be 35,400 years old by geochemist and archaeologist Maxime Aubert in 2014. Paleoneurologist Harry J. Jerison suggests that it was the very capacity to make pictures in our brain that compensated for our comparatively weak sense of smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste, enabling us to find our way around in the world. A good story helps us create mental pictures.

Before written language, storytellers were the historians, holding the memories so they would be passed on to the next generation. Aesop’s fables were written down in the 200s B.C., 300 years after he died, but his stories were so powerful, they were remembered. Even today, 2,200 years later, they are still being used to teach life lessons.

In “Who Says?”, edited by Carol L. Birch and Melissa A. Heckler, say that the amazing plasticity of the human mind and the opposable thumb allowed us to create and wield tools, to learn and evolve. They posit (isn’t that a great word?) that perhaps stories are a mental opposable thumb, “allowing humans to grasp something in their minds, to turn it around, to view if from many angles, to reshape it and to hurl it even into the farthest reaches of the unconscious.”

History could be viewed as nothing but a series of stories that can teach, inspire and entertain us. Without that collection of stories, what role models would we have? How would be learn from our mistakes? Philosopher and poet George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We certainly see plenty of examples of that currently as we scratch our heads and wonder, “When will we ever learn?” Many feel history and civics are not given the attention needed in our schools.

I think the yearning for a saner world, a world in which we feel more connected with each other, is at the heart of this surge of storytelling. Caught in the whirlpool of technology and whirlwind of activities, we have lots of material things and rich opportunities, but we may lose track of what really feeds our souls, including our connections with the broader community. We know things could be different but often aren’t clear on how to change or simplify.

Perhaps it’s just as simple as taking time to tell our stories and listen to others tell theirs. Last week Steve Voiles told a hilarious story about his mom sending him to the store to buy a few bananas when he was seven; he’d heard an adults say that buying in bulk was a way to save money, so he loaded up two grocery bags. Ask him for the rest of the story, because it’s his to tell, but it embraced all the components of a good story: people could relate to being young, wanting to make mom proud, making a silly mistake; it was humorous, emotional and visual, walking down memory lane with him as he tried to figure out how to get all those bananas home. He let us in to his personal life, and I do feel more connected with him and the others who shared stories. I chickened out about telling a story, but I will in the future!

Come share your stories, usually on the third Thursday, 6:00 - 8:00 PM at the Ely Senior Center. We’d love to get to know you better.

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