This weekend I told a lot of stories.
At our local Waldorf School’s holiday fair I told stories throughout the day including a new story called “The Rag Maiden”. I told this same story last night in our Advent gathering round the fire in our backyard.
The two locations created two different stories. The first was in a large room with loads of people and some of them coming in and out, poking their heads in to see what was up and either joining or moving on to a separate event or room. The second was with a few families round the fire after we had all walked our spiral under a quarter moon.
In the big room I found myself wanting to explain things in the story – it being a complex and layered story. The audience was still and attentive, but I could also feel a tension in the air – a desire to “understand”.
Round the fire, there was no explanation, only an unfolding. It seemed to assume or not concern itself with understanding but to live in the images.
This kind of experience reminds me of the truth in storytelling. If you try to explain a story to a child, they will try to understand. There is stress in that action – which is not a bad thing – growth comes from stress. But it is not a gentle thing. Understanding lives in the thinking, which is undeveloped in children. It asks them to build capacities right then and there in order to participate. The ticket to this story is a neural pathway – and for some, that is expensive.
A story that lives in the images is a familiar one to children. They know this island. They’ve been here before and have tasted the fruit and conversed with those that live there. Images do not need to be understood. They are experienced.
You don’t need to understand a bike to ride it. You need to experience it. You don’t need to understand the color red, you need to see it. You don’t need to understand cake, you need to taste it. Dreams are the same thing. Dreams are experienced and the moment you try to remember them and understand them, they start to run away.
Stories are dreams. They are given in the waking state but they are basically the same thing. Children respond to them the same way too. Their eyes glaze over, their jaws slacken and they are transported.
This is a gift. And they are grateful.
It is also a gift with the grown ups. Try explaining something. Then give yourself and them a simple image – not one that explains anything – just a stand alone image. A crow. A cheesecake. A man looking down a drainpipe. A girl holding a pine bough. Images evoke and excite – they sooth and sanctify. They are a gift.
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.